“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.
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.
Came down ‘ere about a fortnight ago, following the line of the river through town. Wasn’t having much luck until then, it was all shopping malls and traffic wardens. None of them wants you around, see. There was the occasional park and that, but they gets trouble up there in the night, so it wasn’t much use. Anyways, I ‘eard about the dockyard from some swanky magazine, believe it or not. Found a copy lying on the street someplace and had a read of it in a quiet doorway. Said the place had managed to ‘retain its historic character’, which I took to mean, it hadn’t all been turned into flats and restaurants like every other blinkin’ place I’s come across. So I followed the course of the water as best I could, and I see’s its already started; people spillin’ out to the water’s edge with cappuccinos and what ‘ave you. But there’s an old train line running through, with moss and spring flowers all mixing in. So, I started following the tracks as they curved downriver; like a highway of old it was, all crusty sleepers and rusted iron. Eventually led me ‘ere. There’s not a lot around, but that’s what I like about it. You can always find yourself a proper little nook where no one’ll bother you. Feel like I got friends in the cracks, y’know, and the peeling paint. And that water’s always running, churning through them old gates as sure as times passin’. Makes me think, if it all goes to pot, I’ll just find myself a nice bit of driftwood and float on out of ‘ere.