“It should be just up here,” said Stefano, as we bounced along yet another dusty, isolated track at the base of Monte Nieddu.
As before, there was no signage to indicate if indeed, this was the right way to the swimming hole. All we had to go on from the beginning was word of mouth and the name of the nearest village. That, and some directions from an elderly woman who appeared to be the only resident in town on this particular day.
In the back, the children could barely keep their eyes open while Veronica and her sister leaned their heads wearily against the window like two convicts in cross-country transit.
Suddenly, a red estate appeared from the opposite direction. The driver stopped and exchanged words with Stefano. It turned out they were also looking for the elusive river and had information on its whereabouts. Stefano swung the car round at the nearest layby and headed back down the hill. By the side of the road, the driver and his son waved us down and pointed to a pathway heading through the pine woods.
With renewed vigour, we piled out of the car and followed them down a thin track. Before long, the trees petered out and we were surrounded by sun-bleached granite formations that seemed to weave and flow almost like a river. The path began to descend into a blind gorge and then we were presented with that most precious of resources – water.
Despite the midsummer heat, a steady stream made its way between the rock and collected in a pool just right for jumping into. On the far side, the water continued its journey off the lip of a ravine and plummeted into another gorge where a group of climbers were following its course deeper into the landscape.
The heat bore down on my head as I crossed the car park of Il Redentore. The door handle to the hire car was almost too hot to touch and the seat burned the backs of my legs as I sat down. I cranked up the air con to full blast, letting the coolness fill my lungs. Then I began to feel excited.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the festivities. After all, it’s not everyday you get invited to a traditional Sardinian wedding with all the wild boar, seafood and herbaceous liquors you could ask for being (literally) handed to you on a platter.
However, I was finding the 40 degree heat a struggle and the continuous effort to communicate as the only foreigner at the party was a strain. I needed a breather and the only escape was the road in this part of the island.
I took a right out of the gates and quickly realised I had made a mistake when the road veered towards the motorway. I imagined being forced miles away from my only reference point, before a slip road funnelled me, panicked and sweating, into the indistinguishable landscape.
Thankfully, this being the Sardinian countryside, I was the only car on the road so I casually swung it around and cruised off in the opposite direction.
No sooner had I passed by the venue than all signs of civilisation dissapeared. On either side of me, burnt yellow fields rose up towards the hilltops. Tufts of greenery still peppered the scenery, however, and great bushes of magenta flowers were bursting from the roadside.
Further on, the road opened out on to a spectacular straight, its vanishing point nestled far within the hills. I considered I should probably turn back at this point. It was hardly the most sensible idea to be driving away from the only place I knew, alone, in a foreign wilderness. But I also knew that adventure doesn’t often come from being sensible. So I put my foot down.
Down by the river, beneath the motorway is a place where the sun burrows deep. Concrete pillars are its pen, and the banks the paper, on which the light draws ever-shifting shadows.
Every so often, I venture down there, and try to capture what’s been sketched on the walls. Its particularly interesting visiting at different times of the day, with mornings casting a bright white light across the Easton side, while sundown brings a warm, yellow glow that dies out over the western end of the river.
There’s not many places like it, especially in an age where any unkempt space is quickly pounced upon by rabid developers. Closed in by the motorway in an area still overlooked by estate agents means it continues to exist for now; an obscure and gritty canvas for graffiti artists and sunlight, alike.
In March, I headed down to Putsborough in North Devon for a short holiday. On the way there, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving through Braunton Marsh, an area of ancient farmland close to the sea.
I was immediately struck by the tranquility of the area, particularly at sundown. There was hardly another soul around and the long empty roads and bleak landscape felt like we had stepped out of the world for a while.
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