The situation was ripe for murder. A dozen or so disparate individuals, randomly drawn together in a foreign hotel, under the cover of being on a Walking Holiday around the Sorrento peninsular. There seemed little chance that we would all survive the week.
Over dinner, ActorLaddie and I started cautiously to probe the veneer of respectability presented by the other guests. Under our subtle questioning, most admitted to having been on Walking Holidays before. Nearly everyone was retired. And some were planning to stay for a second week. Such optimism in the face of such menace!
The following days offered frequent opportunities for foul play, yet Death’s scythe remained strangely sheathed. Elderly ladies skipped, goat-footed, along lofty ridges whilst swapping tales of hip replacements, leaving me – ostensibly the youngest in the group – plodding along in their shadows. One gent plotted the course of each day’s walk on his GPS; yet somehow the machine passed up the opportunity to lead him over the edge of a cliff. Truly civilisation is a wonderful thing.
On the Tuesday, Death’s breath seemed particularly hot on our necks. In the morning, we climbed Vesuvius. Peering into the crater, I was disappointed not to see red, bubbling lava, evident in every child’s picture of a volcano. In the afternoon, we looked down into the caves of Herculaneum, and saw skeletons of some who had taken shelter there, only to have their lives whipped away in what our guide described as a ‘pyroclastic swerge’. Three quarters of Herculaneum is still covered by modern housing as thousands live with their giant neighbour; a constant reminder of the fragility of life. You do have to wonder about the effect on property prices.
As the week progressed, our party became closer, cheering each other on through a shared loathing of mosquito bites and showing concern at every trip and stumble. Even when ActorLaddie tumbled into a rosemary bush, and I got my leg stuck down a hole by a mule track, people were kind and solicitous and managed not to laugh. By that point, AL and I had securely established ourselves as the Additional Needs section of the party, in need of nurturing.
Dinner on the final evening found us jolly, relaxed and chatty. The weather had been lovely; the views phenomenal; and we’d made it through the week uninjured. There would be no need to gather us all into the library and reveal who’d done it. We’d escaped unscathed.
We climbed Vesuvius with our then 8 year old son. He peered into the crater and unforgettably uttered “Is that it?”