In the depths of winter, gloomy in more ways than one, my imagination and I sat down together and tried to decide what we could do to make life feel lighter and brighter.
We ran through the unrealistic options first (win the lottery, marry a prince, stop eating cake and drinking wine) before landing on some things that were more attainable: sit outdoors with the sun on my face, eat good food cooked by someone else, and spend time in fresh, fragrant air, taking in a decent amount of exercise.
Entering all of these things in to my Travel Venn Diagram, what should pop up in the very centre but the suggestion of a few days on the island of Mallorca. So I had a splurge on a flight, found some cheap and cheerful accommodation to use purely as a base, and began the countdown to a journey towards feeling much better.
Planaholic that I am, I researched what I could look forward to during my trip to Soller on the northern part of the island. I discovered that there was plenty of fine walking to be done in the Serra de Tramuntana, chiefly along the GR221, a 140km trail known as the Dry Stone Route. I invested in a Sunflower guide, the holy grail of walking books, and, after some studying and understanding what to expect, I decided on a couple of ‘intermediate’ routes to try.
Together with planned visits to Port de Soller and Ecovinyassa, my itinerary was almost complete. I just had one day left to fill.
And then, quite by chance, I discovered The English Walking Guide.
It turned out that Jeremy Leaning was leading an 11km walk during the dates I would be in Soller, starting from nearby Fornalutx, recently named as one of the prettiest villages in Spain. I decided that it would be a good idea to mix things up and join a guided route, as well as the solo walks I had planned, since there was less chance of getting lost, I didn’t have to worry about reading a map, and also it would be nice to meet some people.
Having emailed an enquiry, Jeremy responded quickly, confirming that there was space for me to join. And the day before the walk, he added all the participants to a WhatApp group so that we could connect and have the details we needed to hand. How organised! Messaging me separately, he also confirmed that he would be able to give me a lift to the meeting point. Jolly nice of him – and certainly above and beyond.
Our group met at a café in Fornalutx which gave us chance to have coffee and a chat with our companions for the day before the walk began.
And then it was ready for the off.
It started with some stone steps.
Very steep stone steps.
A seemingly endless number of very steep stone steps.
About a quarter of an hour in, it dawned on me that I might have been a little, shall we say, ambitious, in deciding to join what had been described as an ‘intermediate’ walk.
Another 15 minutes after that, I realised that I had made a truly terrible error of judgement.
I wanted to turn back. But I’d already climbed so high. Besides, I told myself, it wouldn’t be uphill all the way.
Except I might not have read the walk description properly.
Puig de Sa Bassa.
‘Puig’ means ‘Hill’.
I’ve walked up hills before so I begged to differ. This was, in my opinion, no hill. It was a mountain.
It quickly became obvious that I was going to spend the day being the fat girl at the back puffing and panting the entire way, while the gazelle-like lycra lovelies with all the right gear were going to stride effortlessly up the mountain-side, stopping periodically to wait for the red-faced sweaty pig to catch up.
And all I could do to survive with my dignity intact was to rely on my super-power.
Yes, during the day, I certainly dug deep into my catalogue of classic Long-Bashing:
“Someone has to be the fattest and the slowest”
“Here she is, fat lass at the back”
“Wow, that was embarrassing. Thank goodness I’m never going to see you all again!”
After the seemingly endless number of very steep stone steps came some very steep inclines without stone steps.
Then there was some incredibly spiky grass.
And if all that wasn’t bad enough, we started climbing actual bits of rock.
It hadn’t taken Jeremy long to recognise that I was WAY out of my depth. But rather than just let me struggle, he was absolutely fantastic, imparting his advice, helping me to choose my footings, and offering his arm for support when needed.
I genuinely can’t stress enough how brilliantly supportive he was.
And somehow, even though I thought I might die (or at least die of shame), I made it to the top.
The exhaustion, exhilaration and embarrassment all became a bit much and I burst into tears.
Puig de Sa Bassa stands at 819m, the 57th tallest mountain in the Balearic Islands. Might not sound that high, but let me tell you, the view from the top was jaw-dropping.
A rest for celebratory photographs, jam sandwiches, chit chat and watching the black vultures circling overhead (“That sweaty, bright-red one would be enough to feed us all twice over!”) it was time to start our descent.
Which required endurance of a different kind entirely.
I hadn’t walked with poles prior to this trip but, being now officially middle-aged and starting with some joint aches and pains, I had decided that I would give them a try. I’d bought an entry-level pair that would fold small enough to go in my carry-on luggage to see how I got on with them. I can honestly say there is no way at all I would have managed even a fraction of the walk without them. Although vastly improved since losing weight, my balance is still pretty poor and it was reassuring to have something extra to rely on.
However, they were not foolproof and, despite the confidence and stability they gave me, nevertheless, I managed to take, shall we say, a bit of a tumble.
It was silly really – I only slipped on some dry leaves.
But down I went, like the sack of spuds that I am.
Those of you who follow my escapades know that I’m spectacular at falling over so if there was ever going to be an occasion when it was ‘best’ to go bottom over boobs then this was it – with an experienced guide who had just renewed his mountain first aid training the previous week.
Jeremy to the rescue. He was, of course, amazing, and took really good care of me. He told me not to move and then proceeded to patch me back together – wipes, plasters, a makeshift bandage.
A cut to my head and a grazed arm, it could have been much worse.
Upright once again, it seemed much further going back, even though it was downhill. A couple of weeks prior, Mallorca had experienced some devastatingly bad weather – heavy rain and snow, meaning that a large number of trees had been uprooted, all of which had to be navigated – an obstacle course of sorts. It was much more challenging than it sounds and towards the end I was absolutely exhausted and just wanted to be back in the safety of Fornalutx.
And so it came to pass. We fell into the nearest bar for post-walk pints.
There was a collective groan: never did beer taste so good.
We were all smiles as we celebrated our success and shared stories.
I can honestly say that it was the first time in a very long time I’ve felt such camaraderie, and they were genuinely the loveliest, most supportive bunch of people I’ve ever met in 13 years of travelling solo.
The day after the walk, Jeremy shared this with the group and it certainly seemed to sum it up for all of us.
Limping back to the hostel and into a long, hot shower, I reflected on the day. It had been HARD. In all my years of travelling solo, and all my accomplishments, it had been the most terrifying and tiring thing I’d ever done. I’d also wrecked my boots. But what a way for them to go! Starting out on the cliffs of County Antrim, in their nine years they’ve taken me all over the world. It seemed fitting that they should finally give up the ghost doing the most challenging walk I’ve ever attempted.
Physically, I was drained. Emotionally too. Being a strong and independent woman, and quite a proud person, I wasn’t happy with myself for being the fat lass at the back and felt as though it had dented my confidence. Always a fierce self-critic, I admonished myself for apparently not having fully understood what I was attempting to tackle, and making such an idiot of myself.
But at the same time, I’d done it! Jeremy said afterwards that I got “full marks for determination” but I can’t take any of the credit. I couldn’t have completed the walk without his expert guidance and the incredible support from the lovely group of people I spent the day with.
I wouldn’t want to necessarily want to be responsible for giving Jeremy another bad day at the office (I can just imagine the conversation over dinner that night, “How was your day, dear?”) by recommending his ‘intermediate’ walks to inexperienced walkers.
However, if mountains are your thing and you’re looking for guided walks (group or private) while you’re in Mallorca, I genuinely couldn’t rate The English Walking Guide highly enough. Walking up Puig de Sa Bassa was certainly the highlight of my trip, and the memories I made that day will last a lifetime.