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Sunday, 21 April 2013

My own Private Ida

There lies a vale in Ida, lovelier

Than all the valleys of Ionian hills.

The swimming vapour slopes athwart the glen,

Puts forth an arm, and creeps from pine to pine,

And loiters, slowly drawn. On either hand

The lawns and meadow-ledges midway down

Hang rich in flowers, and far below them roars

The long brook falling thro' the clov'n ravine

In cataract after cataract to the sea.

Behind the valley topmost Gargarus

Stands up and takes the morning: but in front

The gorges, opening wide apart, reveal

Troas and Ilion's column'd citadel,

The crown of Troas.
 Tennyson, Oenone

The Greeks might have their Mount Ida, the Japanese Mount Fuji, the hippies over in Glastonbury have their knobbly Tor but yesterday the unfeasibly handsome María Inés de la Cruz and I came across our own little paradise. Our very own Pico Bonito; a part of South Somerset that will be forever northern Honduras.

It’s fair to say that during our prolonged hibernation beneath the duvets in La Villa Ramblanista our thoughts have wandered to warmer climes; it was all I could do to tear María from the laptop where she was searching for a cheap flight back home to El Salvador. ‘You’ll be lucky,’ I told her, ‘we haven’t even got enough money for a cheap day return to Weymouth.’

So for the first time this year we flexed our pale limbs under the warm, West Country sun – well, my limbs are pale, hers are, as ever, a deep golden brown – our thoughts were still very much on the exotic. After nibbling on a pasty in the sublime surroundings of Wells Market Place we drifted out to and along the old railway line that, once upon a time, connected the ecclesiastical with the agricultural: Wells to Shepton Mallet It was there that Maria noticed the shapely outline of Dulcote Hill. ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ she asked. I nodded, images of the beautiful Pico Bonito flashed before our eyes like cartoon pound signs.

Dulcote Hill, Somerset
Pico Bonito, Honduras

It’s difficult to find any accurate information on Pico Bonito. It’s now the focus of a national park, in the Nombre de Dios mountains not far from the Caribbean port of La Ceiba and the Moskita coast. We’ve been there before, of course, but we’ve never got much further than the crystal-clear Rio Zacate. Apparently the first successful ascent didn’t take place until the 1950s and since then only a handful of attempts have been made.  The expedition takes a good ten days at best up vertiginous slopes with dense vegetation.

The ascent of Dulcote Hill, in contrast, doesn’t take more than a good ten minutes scrambling through thicket and scrub and in the absence of poisonous snakes such as the fer-de-lance the only threat to our safety came from slipping through the rusting fence designed to keep the likes of us out of the quarry. I’ll tell you something for nothing; there’s nothing like a ‘Private: Keep Out’ sign to prompt a Ramblanista sortie into the forbidden.

If the north, south and west slopes of Dulcote Hill are precipitous, its west face is a vertical wall of rusty-grey rock because it is, of course, a disused quarry. Just as well our summit celebrations weren’t over-effusive; one false move and either of us could have toppled over the edge. It was a languid afternoon so María and I lay under the sun enjoying the sublime view of England’s most exquisite Cathedral City.

In a couple of years’ time both María and I will be celebrating an important birthday; as we hopped and skipped our way back down to the picture-book literary village that is Queen’s Sturge, an unspoken we discussed what we might do by way of a party. You didn’t have to be a psychic to know what we were both thinking. That evening, sipping on out gin and tonics back in La Villa Ramblanista, the intolerably handsome María Inés de la Cruz fired up the laptop.

‘Shall I?’ she asked, her voice hoarse with anticipation. I nodded. ‘Cheapest flight from London to La Ceiba won’t be any less than eight hundred quid - call that a grand come 2013.’

‘We’d better start saving then ...’