Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Walking with a gadgette October 24 - October 31

   There has been a gadgie walk this week, but not for me as I have been on holiday with my wife Kathleen, who is 65 and qualifies as a gadgette, although she is not too keen on walking.
   We went with our friends Evelyn and John to Madeira, an island we have visited several times. It is an excellent holiday island, far south enough to remain warm all year, high enough for some serious walking and for pleasant easy strolls there are the famous levadas. There are 1335 miles of these irrigation channels on the island. They were built to carry water down from the higher ground to irrigate the rich agricultural areas below, and they are still used for that purpose but they are also popular for walking. Generally speaking they slope very gently down hill, occasionally passing through tunnels, often apparently  stapled to the sides of cliffs with vertiginous drops to the valleys below. Choose with care if you suffer from vertigo.
   For one afternoon's stroll I chose the Levada dos Tornos *which carries water from the north of the island mainly through tunnels but a good starting point is near the Monte Gardens, accessible by bus or cable car from Funchal the island capital.
  We travelled by bus, mainly because we had bought 5day passes from the local bus company but also because  the gadgette is terrified of cable cars ever since an American fighter plane cut through the cable of an Italian cable car some years ago. I did persuade her to ride a cable car up a mountain in Austria, she sat in silence with eyes shut for the whole journey.
   To reach the start of the walk from the bus stop we had first to negotiate a rough path through woodland until we came to the spot where the levada emerges from a tunnel. After an easy start my problems really started. We soon came to a section where the path alongside the levada was about 18 inches (45cm) wide and the drop about 200 feet (60m) and there is no railing.  I knew the gadgette was not too happy when she threatened to smash my head in for bringing me to this place. The problem was solved quite easily. Evelyn and I got a stick about  4feet long  (120cm). I held one end, Evelyn the other and the gadgette, still cursing, walked between us with a movable handrail!  It boosted her confidence and saved my head. Sadly I was unable to take a photograph of the happy scene.
   Eventually of course we passed the hairy bit and the levada  wandered on through woodland, eucalyptus trees, agapanthus plants, brightly coloured finches and a dead rat in the water.

Kathleen, assisted by home made walking poles climbs towards the Levada dos Tornos (right). This is an easy section the side sloping quite gently to the left.

   We walked on for another  4miles (6.4km) where we came to a small settlement and after walking down the road for another mile or so found a bus stop and bus to take us back to Funchal.
   Before you start thinking I am being cruel to my wife I should point out that she has suffered from a very rare form of arthritis for several years and her achievement on this walk demonstrates that the drugs she is taking are having some positive effect and she is determined to overcome the problem.  In my humble opinion, her walk today was, as young people say, AWESOME. ** And I felt proud of her.
  We had several other walks on the island, mainly proper tourist walks with pauses for tea and scones or something more adventurous like Fanta.
  One day we visited the Madeira Story Museum, very interesting and buttons to push for children. The island gets a mention from Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy, which fascinates me. The ancients must have been brave to travel so far across the Atlantic. They refer to it as "The Purple Isle". Modern Europeans found it in when Zarco, a Portugese sailor sailed there in 1420 and claimed it, as you do, for Henry the Navigator. However there is a tale that in 1344 an Englishman on the run with his lover landed on the island but both sadly perished. This man from Bristol was called Machin. Now I have a nephew by marriage called Tim Machin, actor, singer, teacher and general good guy living in Toronto. I think he could possibly have a claim to the island, becoming King Tim or at least president. Tim, if you do, you will need a Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have a calculator.
* A good guide to walks in Madeira is  Walking in Madeira by Paddy Dillon, published by Cicerone.
** Normally I attribute being awesome to God or the universe, but there are exceptions.

Back to proper gadgie walks next week, the days are getting shorter, we could be walking railway lines. And thank you Estonian person for reading my blog! Getting to be quite international.