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Wounded knee mountain

Back in Torri and eager to be walking up mountains again, as soon as we could Kate and I strapped on our walking shoes and were off up the valley to Collabassa. Taking the easier, right-hand path up, we returned by the much trickier, low-level route down beside the River Bevera. This has rocks worn smooth by generations of Italian feet, rocks which when dew-moistened become as slippery as wet soap.

But even knowing this and taking great care stepping cautiously downwards, the mountain managed to catch us out anyway. On a particularly steep section, Kate stepped delicately onto a sizable rock which promptly shattered underfoot, imparting a sharp twist to her left knee. Being a few metres ahead I heard the stone crack and fall but could see nothing of Kate until I took a few steps up again. Somehow, on a mountainside covered with sharp, spiky shrubs, she had dropped onto a soft spot and was lying full length on her back as if she had decided a spot of sunbathing was in order. All was not well, however, and the rest of our journey home had to be taken slowly and carefully, Kate being in some discomfort as the knee swelling increased. She must now endure a regime of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation – with some assistance from a piece of aluminium tubing and lump of olive wood, swiftly fashioned by me into a very attractive crutch for Kate to prop herself up on.

Many years ago I was in the final week’s training for a fell-running event of some importance in which I was teamed up with an equally fit friend. I remember stepping off a low wall into long grass in which a rock was hiding, waiting for me to put weight on it so that it could do a sideward shift, twisting my ankle and throwing me onto my back on the ground. Just in that tiny fraction of a second all my hopes of competing the following week evaporated leaving me hobbling around for the next few weeks. My friend had great difficulty accepting the situation and urged me to go ahead notwithstanding my swollen ankle but I knew that it would be too weak to use for running around mountains. Kate must now accept that even when the swelling in her knee has subsided, full strength will take a bit longer to achieve and the rough paths we have been walking on around here are out of bounds for a while.

Having walked extensively in Britain I try to put my finger on what is so different here. I suppose the main thing is the dryness of the land, the absence of running water other than deep within shaded gullies or valley bottoms. Anywhere in the UK it is impossible to venture far into the mountains without encountering water seeping across your path and in winter wet feet are a given for any serious walking. This area of Italy is not barren, far from it, but everything living is geared to survive on far less moisture. Much of this comes from condensation, only rarely from rain. There is evidence, however, that when heavy rain does occur it can do immense damage to the landscape. Deeply cut scars of run-off channels are mostly hidden beneath the undergrowth but it takes little imagination to visualise powerful flows quickly building up carrying rock and vegetation debris downwards at speed.

Down in the village of Torri, part of the river bed only a metre or so above the normal water level has been levelled for use as a rough car park. For most of the year this presents no problems but when the rain arrives and the river goes brown, the locals begin to get nervous. Nobody wants to see their car being carried away by a flooded river. As a result, the inhabitants of Torri are also avid river watchers and most times of the day one or more can be seen passing the day leaning on the low wall beside the bridge, gazing over at the fish swimming lazily in the clear pools below. Happily in recent years the river level has risen dangerously only a couple of times, none since we have been here.

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