Follow one crying eye on

A tunnel too far

Mad excitement! I’ve finally been on a plane, after very nearly three full years of abstinence. 

I was fortunate to have been on holiday just before the first Covid lockdown was ordered, so for several months I accepted being grounded. There were other things to think about in 2020. 

2021 rolled in and again there was acceptance of the next wave of lockdown. I am generally a law-abiding person and not by nature a rebellious soul (although I am perhaps getting there with this, on my own terms at least), so I shrugged and grumpily accepted my lot. We were at least able to travel around the UK and I managed to knock off a few more miles on the Coast Path in Cornwall.

2022 – I would normally have expected to be back in the skies seeking exotic climes, but a combination of unreliable airlines (loads of cancellations) and my Greta-Thunberg sympathies meant that I still didn’t have the gumption to book anything. My British Airways Gold Card (that divisive old thing) lay tarnished in the drawer, apparently never to be resurrected. Towards the end of the year I began feverishly investigating trains, in the hope that an Interrailing adventure might materialise. And it still might.

But by the end of January 2023, I was almost beside myself with itchy wings. Friends still working were back on the overseas meetings circus, fellow retirees seemed to have notched up at least one trip each since lockdown and some of them were fully back on schedule with their four hols a year. And my house was mostly cold, dark and still in need of serious refurbishment; the old avoidance reflex finally kicked in and in early February I found myself back on the annoying platform that is the BA website.

It is now March 2023, and I can tick off a new place – although sadly not an actual new country because, although it is miles from the mainland, Madeira is an outpost of Portugal and I’ve been to the capital, Lisbon, already. This time I have the passport stamp to prove it – one small Brexit benefit for an ‘evidence and statistics’ travel enthusiast such as myself. I can sometimes sadly be found fondly reading through my passport – one of those with extra pages which my employer paid for me to have because I needed regular Indian or Russian visas which use up the pages of a standard passport too quickly.

So, Madeira. I travelled with British Airways from Heathrow. I have written a full account on my ‘holiday’ blog site – which you can find here if you’re interested. It was a much-needed and much-appreciated trip and I have now joined the ranks of enthusiasts for this beautiful place.

However, right now the most enduring effect of the holiday is my unfortunate and continuing inability to kneel. 

Now, this may not be a particularly dreadful handicap for a non-church-goer and, as accidents go, mine was pretty trivial – but the annoyance factor is huge.

As part of my trip planning, I had booked myself on a Levada* walk for my final full day. I was confident I would be able to complete the advertised 12.5 km and that I would not be troubled by the steep drops, the narrow slippery paths and the occasional bursts of uphill trudging.

My fellow walkers, six in all, were younger than me by at least 9 years. I know this because the guide, who I suspect was in fact older than me, very chivalrously sat me in the front passenger seat of the minibus (the most comfortable seat with the best view) and ensured I was the last person to complete the registration list requiring us to write our names and birth dates so I was the only one to see all the ages and no-one saw mine. No doubt this was, in fact, part of some clever “I absolve your company from all liability in relation to the stupid things I am about to do” legal waiver which of course didn’t seem important at the time other than to remind me of my great age. And of course, this chivalry also allowed my fellow walkers to assume I was much OLDER than I actually am. Ah well.

We set off from near the top of one of the volcanic mountains and ticked off all the promised features of the walk: beautiful views; many stunning waterfalls; perilously narrow sections with steep drops to one side and sheer rock water channels on the other; uneven and slippery rock steps; occasional bird-life and plenty of different trees and plants identified for us. Finally, the last feature was an 800m tunnel through which the Levada flowed and which we were required to navigate in the pitch black. We were each given a stylish, and slightly damp-smelling head-torch to supplement our personal phone torches, and we marched single file to the end. As my night vision is generally poor and in this type of condition I normally lean heavily on Mr J (who, of course, was back in London so of no use at all on this occasion), I was more nervous of this part than any of the other obstacles – but I was pleased to reach the far end unscathed and not even the slightest bit traumatised.

I congratulated myself on how well I had been able to keep up with everyone and enjoy the whole experience and turned round to take one last photograph of the tunnel we had just traversed – and the next thing I knew I was on my hands and knees on the wet volcanic rock path, in excruciating pain. I don’t remember what words I may have exclaimed – quite possibly not Portuguese – but my fellow travellers turned as one to view my embarrassment as I paused to consider whether I could summon a modicum of composure or indeed rise to my feet before the mud and damp soaked in too much. 

I was helped to a standing position. I remember at this point rejoicing that I had not immediately dissolved in tears and was, in fact, to be heard bravely claiming that there was no real harm done. My knees and left hand were quietly but insistently telling me this was a great big lie, but there’s nothing like middle-aged British stiff-upper-lippery to paper over emotional cracks and overcome mere physical adversity. I was persuaded to roll up my walking-trouser leg on the more agonising of the two lower limbs. This revealed actual blood, despite the material of the trouser apparently being unharmed – a feature I have unfortunately experienced before. A kind American proferred a small sanitiser pack and I wiped my knee boldly. “I’ll be absolutely fine. No worries.” 

The guide was solicitous but not overly so and after a few further moments of mutual reassurance, and a pained rolling-down of the trouser leg, we proceeded on the last 0.5km to the mini-bus which had magically relocated itself to our finish point. At a small cafe shortly afterwards I thanked the guide and the kind American as we sipped our caffeinated rewards and looked back towards the mountain. 

I was dropped back at my hotel. Rather than go to my room to (metaphorically) lick my wounds, I decided I should first buy some more essentials (biscuits) from the little supermarket down the road. Having done that, I realised I had yet to purchase a fridge magnet – a necessary trinket from every trip to the big overseas. This involved quite a protracted walk along a previously unexplored road, and it was more than half an hour before I finally returned to my hotel room. I had been planning to take a quick dip in one of the selection of pools, or even risk the sea, but on inspecting my knees I judged that no-one would want such open wounds polluting the swimming pools and the sea option involved clambering down a metal ladder with potential for adding further grazes against the many rock faces. I therefore retreated to a sun lounger, although even this was quite brave given that in order to reach my preferred location I had to parade my bloodied knees down 8 flights of hotel stairs, into a shared lift and past several other occupied loungers before I could settle myself.

By this stage I was tired and still mildly annoyed at myself, but otherwise sufficiently chirpy to send Mr J a photograph of my wretched limbs. I later enjoyed a warm bath and the legs looked decidedly better. It was only late on in the evening, after resting and catching up on my reading, that I realised I had lost the ability to bend my left leg. This was more than mildly alarming, but deciding there was nothing much I could do about it and that perhaps if I took a couple of Ibuprofen it might be better in the morning, I retired to bed.

And I was right. I was able to shuffle down the four flights of stairs to the breakfast room, and then clamber onto the airport transfer bus. Later still, and when more awake, I managed to drag my over-sized luggage onto two buses from Heathrow to Kingston and then the 20 minute walk home from the town centre with only the occasional wince. Sadly, my camera – which took the full clattering force of my fall onto volcanic rock – has not bounced back so easily.

One week after my return, now rather enjoying the spectacular colour changes of the bruising, I made the stupid mistake of kneeling on my office carpet to sort out my music folder. The ensuing screaming and swearing (of which I am not proud) revealed that there is still something quite unpleasantly wrong. We are currently working on the assumption that this is a bruised bone and that it will go away with the passing of time.

I am quite determined that this will not stop me from future expeditions. I resolve to take more care, never relax and always be wary of looking forward to that light at the end of the tunnel! It may not be as good as it seems.


*Levada = irrigation channel or aqueduct specific to Madeira.



Follow one crying eye on