A cup full of surprises

“Surprise!”
It’s a word that either brings joy and excitement or trepidation and wariness – depending on your perspective.

I like surprises… well I like ‘good surprises’ like a bunch of flowers, an unplanned evening out or unexpected visitors at the door.

On one particular birthday I arrived home from work to find the drive lit up with fairy lights and a large pair of knickers decorating the front door… I knew something was up. When I stepped inside I saw a large group of friends, some from far away, who were all grinning at me as I stood by the open front door. It was unexpected and there was lots of laughter, except I felt a bit work weary and in need of a change. I was ushered upstairs where clean clothes were waiting and it was the start of a lovely Bridget Jones themed party that helped take the edge off turning 40.

Out sailing last week, it was also drawing towards the end of a long day. We’d set sail mid morning and the wind was strengthening. It was still a few miles to go before we would arrive at the safety of our next port and the bows of the boat were dipping and crashing through the waves. The sea that had been calming, seemed to be building up for heavier weather. Suddenly a dark shape caught my eye as it disappeared under the boat, then another and another and out across the other side two dolphins jumped in unison their bodies glistening in the late afternoon sunshine. We smiled and laughed – it was a lovely surprise and helped us on with the last leg of the journey.

Sometimes it’s the little things like this that surprise me. They offer a glimpse of joy when I’m not expecting it.

I’m constantly surprised by the beauty of the sea and the changing coastal scenery around our home where there always seem to be unexpected views and finds, from abandoned boats to useful bits of driftwood. Today was no exception. sea viewOn a walk to the beach I’d been keeping an eye out for colourful painted rocks hidden around the island. One ingenious army wife came up with the idea of painting some rocks and leaving them in various locations for children (and adults) to find… it’s called Thorney Rocks and has its own Facebook page. Coming across the hidden gems now makes walking round the island even more engaging as we wonder what surprise rocks we’ll spot in unusual places.

I didn’t notice any rocks this morning, but sitting down amongst the pebbles watching the receding tide I spotted something yellow and ‘unpebbly’. It turned out to be a tiny teacup. I don’t know what made me look down or how it got there… I suppose it must have been left by a forgetful fairy after a beach tea party!

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Anyway it was a good surprise, but easily missed. If I’m not careful surprises pass me by because my head is so full of ‘to do’ lists and issues I don’t have time to look around and see them. They may not be the gob-smacking surprises that leave me gasping for air, but they are the kind of unexpected sights or detail that prompt a smile and offer a glimpse of joy.

P.S. If you’ve lost a tiny yellow cup the size of my thumbnail do get in touch, I have it safe. It is currently part of the beach treasure trove on the bathroom windowsill…

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What’s in a name?

I never liked my own name when I was growing up. Other friends’ names seemed much ‘cooler’ and less old fashioned. I knew Rachel was a name in the Bible and that didn’t help. I wished I had a name like Mandy, Sally or even Jackie and worst of all I didn’t even have a middle name. I guess my parents ran out of ideas by the time they got to number five! So upset by this omission, I gave myself a middle name and for a few years I was ‘Rachel Mandy Reay’ – if anyone asked. To cap it all one teenage boyfriend told me my surname didn’t have enough syllables to be respectable. His was Buchanan!

Giving out or choosing names is a big responsibility. As I grew up Rachel didn’t seem such a bad name – I got used to it. Over the years I have puzzled over names for pets, followed by the joy of picking names for our own children. This was even more complicated as the names had to be agreed by two of us and they mustn’t include names of former boyfriends or girlfriends…

One thing I’ve never done until recently is give a name to a house. All our homes had numbers, although the last one also had a name. It was called ‘The White House’ – not because it had large pillars or an American flag but because it was painted white. But after we’d sandblasted the paint back down to red bricks the name didn’t fit anymore, so we just stuck with the number.

This Spring after a long search we bought a new home in Devon. It’s not a new house, but it’s new to us. It isn’t even a house really – it’s a barn. After several weeks of trailing back and forth and working on the garden and setting up the furnishings, we often referred to it as ‘the Barn’ and we could have simply called it that. But we wanted to invest a little more of ourselves, our hopes, dreams and history into this home, which we hope will be a place to welcome friends and family and even strangers.

We had several evenings of brainstorming names and batting them around for views from the family. ‘Farmer’s Den’ was ruled out early on and so were many popular ‘seaview’ options. After all it is a barn so we decided that should be in the name. We talked about our dreams and what was at the heart of all the journeys we’ve been on so far as a couple and as a family. We love wild places and wild activities, we like space and freedom and we love God. When the name was first mentioned it was so obvious, we knew it was right. Wild Goose Barn was chosen.

Why Wild Goose Barn? Here’s a bit of thinking behind the name, with thanks to a diligent researcher Simon Farmer.

Wild geese are inspiring birds. They can live to 30 years or more. They travel huge distances in migration and are often seen in ‘V’ formation. Geese are flocking birds reflecting a sense of community. This is something we’ve been enjoying in this special part of Devon with the local village, the church and the friendship in the Dolphin Inn. It was here we met a friendly agricultural engineer who came to help us with our ageing mower, while others passed on tips about the best wild swimming spots and generally made us feel at home.

When a Goose flies, its wings create ‘uplift’ for the bird following. By flying in a ‘V’ formation the whole flock actually adds 71% greater flying range than if a bird was on its own. Whenever a Goose falls out of formation it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and so quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the Goose immediately in front. When the lead Goose gets tired it rotates back into the formation and another Goose flies at the point position. Finally, while geese fly in formation they make quite a noise sometimes as they honk from behind. This isn’t just a random noise but these sounds are their way of encouraging those up front to keep going and keep up their speed.

Devon has wild geese passing through and shortly after choosing the name we spotted a flock of geese flying in formation one evening. We watched as they changed course and flew directly overhead to continue their journey towards the sea into the setting sun. It was almost as if they were giving us a fly past of approval.

In the old days domesticated geese would have been kept around the barn. The Greylag is the ancestor of most domesticated geese. It is the largest and bulkiest of the wild geese native to UK and Europe.
‘Greylag’ either means “grey-legged” or “grey-laggard”, that is late, last or slow to migrate, or in other words, a loiterer or as we like to think just plain ‘laid back’.

Living near the sea, we’ve become accustomed to a deep sense of rhythm, especially the daily ebb and flow of the tide. And in the surrounding countryside the changing seasons are a part of life too, as farmers plough the fields, scatter seeds and gather the harvest. Migrating birds, nesting swallows all lead to this same sense of rhythm.

The Wild Goose is a symbol going back to Celtic times. In 500 AD the Celts developed a strong sense of spiritual rhythm living by the sea in places like Lindisfarne on Holy Island in Northumberland, Iona in the western isles of Scotland, parts of Wales, Ireland and the South West. And it was here in Iona and then Lindisfarne that Christianity first came to the British Isles. The Wild Goose in Celtic Christianity is traditionally aligned to the Holy Spirit although it can’t actually be proved. It is said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 8). In Celtic tradition unlike the dove of peace, the wild goose fired up the mind and soul with song and dance and reveries of beauty. The Wild Goose is all about a spirit of adventure.

We hope Wild Goose Barn will live up to its name and be a place for coming together while offering a base for exploration and adventure. We’d like everyone who stays to receive a renewal of inner strength or ‘uplift’ as they gather with friends and family for adventures along our beautiful wild coastline.
To find out more or if you want to book a stay click here.

that sinking feeling

Devon has been seeping into my soul this week. Its hazy afternoon horizons, skeletons of trees lining hilltops and rocky coves where cliff outcrops rise out of ice blue water have been reeling me in. I’ve watched the tide licking its way up estuaries and curling its tongue around bobbing boats and buoys. The painfully narrow lanes have become less threatening, switch backing through rolling hills, as cars and buses breathe in and kiss wing mirrors to squeeze past. Pretty painted houses line the sides of steep estuary banks like stacked dominoes staring down at themselves in silver water snaking through the valleys. This land of white washed cottages, beam-laden pubs with log fires, sailing boats and fishermen is pulsating with stories and intrigue.

A few days ago, lunch and water carefully packed, we set off along one of these mesmerizing estuaries as the tide ebbed out. When we reached the sea an ancient smugglers’ pub provided liquid refreshment on a rocky island just offshore, reached only at low tide. I checked out the barman for eye patches and parrots – the tell tale sign of a pirate or a smuggler. He seemed fairly law abiding and even provided free blue plasters for customers with sore feet – a bit soft for a smuggler perhaps. As we’d diligently followed a footpath across fields on the first leg of the journey, we decided to make up our own route on the way back and follow the curving river inland. How hard could it be with the tide out?

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Gradually rock and sand gave way to mud and fallen trees. OK so far. The banks began to turn steep and the mud became stickier. “Stay close to the rock,” was the instruction passed back – apparently this mud was less ‘sinky’. Some time later we had gone a long way, too far to turn back if the mud became impassable. There were fallen trees to clamber over and it became a case of picking a route on solid ground wherever possible. Curves in the river threw up new challenges as we had to navigate streams and more sinking sand and mud. So far we’d made it and surely it couldn’t be much further? A particularly substantial barrier of fallen trees and undergrowth blocked our path and although we tried to follow a line of firm-looking sand, we soon began to sink and had to head back to the bank and battle through the trees to make progress. By now we were convinced we had passed the worst of the sinking mud, so we crossed a narrow stream onto a line of solid sand, striding confidently onwards. Gradually I noticed the stream between us and the bank was widening and the sandbank felt more like the middle of the river. It was time to cross back to the safety of the bank because the tide had now turned and gullies of water were filling up. I had visions of being up to my knees in mud waiting for the air sea rescue helicopter. But before I knew it I was on my own and the lead member of the party was safe on the stones at the edge, urging me to run and not stop until I reached solid ground. I took a deep breath and began running, pulling my boots and legs out of the squelching mud threatening to suck me down. Obviously, I made it. Just. Mud up to the knees of my lovely blue jeans and coating my walking boots, seemed a small price to pay for the walk up the river and along the tidal road… but never again. I won’t be trusting Devon’s river estuaries, which look like sand, but turn into sinking mud.

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I realized it was a very near miss, when a few days later we witnessed a full RNLI rescue of a dog up to its neck in the mud on the edge of another estuary. When he was eventually carried out exhausted and mud drenched by several firemen and RNLI rescue crew everyone breathed a sigh of relief and I thought… it could have been me!

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sea addict

I have to confess. I’m addicted. I can’t go a day without it and I’m afraid I may get a little shaky if I don’t see it. I didn’t realise it could be so addictive or I’d have been a bit more careful. Photographs don’t do it justice – they don’t capture the smells and sounds that make it such a wonderful ‘drug’.

I never imagined moving to live beside the sea would be so delicious and leave me craving for a sight of it every day. This afternoon I ‘ran’ to the beach (not the kind of running you do when being chased by hungry lions – just the kind that keeps pace with a slow cyclist). I knew it was going to be beautiful when I noticed golden blades of grass casting sharp shadows on the sand in the dunes. A bright white sun was starting to slide towards the horizon across the channel lighting up the ripples in the muddy coloured sand as the rays danced across the water. There were shallow dark pools on the wide expanse of empty beach. In the distance a solitary sailing boat bobbed mid channel and high up in the distance a flock of migrating birds swooped and swirled in a cloud, before disappearing out to sea.

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This is a special place. The only sounds were some strange sea bird noises and what I think might have been baying seals on the sandbanks. This afternoon it was as quiet as a nature reserve. I had the beach to myself. The light was unreal in a golden ethereal way. It felt like it was going to be the kind of night for smugglers to pull up their boats and haul their contraband up the beach…the kind of night for stories and secrets to be shared around a fire on the cool sand while the waves creep closer.

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I’m not sure how or why I’ve developed this addiction to ‘see the sea’ over the past few weeks. I could also describe it as a love affair because no matter what the state of the water – dark and stormy, grey and choppy or calm and blue – I can’t help but love the view. I even love it when the tide is out and messy dark green sea plants are left exposed, with the channel a remote blue strip beneath the boats. There is a reassuring rhythm to the tides. I’ve been waking up trying to remember what state the tide will be at – we can’t go far around here without noticing if it’s in or out. Now we’ve stuck a tide chart up in the kitchen and most days someone checks out the tide times and heights.

The sea here gives me a sense of space and freedom as its wide-open skies wrap around the island. It’s a sea of possibilities. A reminder that there are so many stories out there as people set sail or launch into open water – a lone fisherman inspecting his nets, an anxious sailor battling against a retreating tide, or a man on a motorboat heading into the deep. It’s a place of inspiration too. There are mysteries here to unravel and stories to be told… even crimes to be solved. I’m going to indulge my addiction for now. After all it’s not expensive or unhealthy and I have a suspicion the sea has something to tell me. And most of all – we live here…

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in search of treasure

I love treasure hunts and this past week I’ve been introduced to an alternative sort of pursuit. In fact I’m not sure it is really treasure hunting at all, but it did involve clues, searching and finding things or sometimes not finding things.
We have prided ourselves in knowing quite a few of the major ‘must see’ visitor spots round and about and also some of the hidden gems, but suddenly last Saturday afternoon we found ourselves guided to places we had never been to before by my visiting sister-in-law and an iPhone app. At first this was a case of making unplanned detours on our journey to hunt out special locations which led us to an area called ‘ground zero’. First stop we found ourselves in a children’s park by an ancient medieval church. While some were intent on a hunt for a hidden canister, I wandered over to the pretty stone building and drew back the heavy bolt on the ancient wooden doors and stepped inside. It was lit by a soft glow of candlelight from small tea lights on a rough table with bowls of charcoal and bottles of incense and oil piled around in a homely state of untidiness. In front of the pale stone walls there were easels and tables scattered around with gilt framed icons, while some paintings were fixed on the walls. Further in I noticed ancient crumbling frescoes in blues, greens and reds still visible on the walls. In a darker area of the church, not penetrated by the candlelight, a pair of frescoes were just visible through the gloom. We all spent time peering at the worn paintings and images, captivated by this little ‘jewel’ on our doorstep. It was a fascinating little church and it is only about a mile or so from our house, but we probably wouldn’t have gone there without the ‘treasure hunt’.

The next day we ventured into our favourite walled city for a ‘frappe’ and a wander and here too were new discoveries. Following the arrows on the iPhone we climbed the mountain of steps without a hand rail to the top of the ancient Venetian-built walls. Here they were as wide as two cars parked end to end, and at the far corner there were views across the city and out to sea. It was beautiful and there also happened to be another hidden cache somewhere up there amongst the gaps in the walls.
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Other searches involved looking underneath medieval canons and picnic tables, peering below low hanging branches and just generally scanning locations for clever hiding places. It’s probably obvious to some of you that I’ve been learning about ‘Geocaching’…it’s been fun and frustrating at the same time. I’ve enjoyed the way it’s taken us off the beaten track to a sunken church on the edge of a reservoir and remote paths to surprising viewpoints. But I’m slightly disappointed by the ‘treasure’ at the end of the hunt. At the very least I was hoping for a message in the hidden cache pots.

We found a message in a bottle once. We were on an island at the time and it was very exciting when we first spotted it bobbing near the shore. We waded out into the water to rescue it very intrigued about what might be inside and what secrets it would reveal…when we fished it out we saw there was a message inside. I thought it must be from a shipwrecked sailor and was all set to dial 999, but in fact it was a bit dull….so dull I can’t remember what it said, except that no one was in danger and I think someone had just thrown it in the sea to see if anyone would pick it up. We scrawled our own message and threw it back in the water further round the coast and tried to make the message slightly more dynamic.

Geocaching is a bit like this unsatisfactory experience…there are no mysterious messages to solve once you find the little box or container, you simply sign the paper inside and move on. The biggest excitement is finding a ‘travel bug’ which is a trinket that can travel round from cache to cache, so you don’t even get to keep it! Rather like a lot of things in life – the hunt was more exciting than the end result. Now if geocaches contained clues or maps to a small pot of gold or hidden jewels I could get into it… and then it really would be treasure hunting.

steal or salvage?

Can you steal from the sea? This moral dilemma has been troubling me for a couple of nights…as I hunt around for a corner of the sheet in the middle of the night. These fresher September nights are a refreshing change from the routine of tip toeing out to the water cooler in desperate need of a fresh breeze. So I have been a little troubled about the legalities of sea salvage and what’s allowed. It all began with a ‘run of the mill’ trip to the nearest beach…

We have been out to the same little bay on a number of afternoons, but each time with a different set of visitors. The last few weeks have involved a never-ending stream of ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’ – some sad as we wave goodbye to loved ones for several months and others bringing a smile as familiar faces appear through the arrivals door. It’s a little weird to keep driving to the airport so often but never actually boarding a plane. On departure for her flight, our daughter commented: “It’s odd you’re staying here,” and I’m still getting used to that fact.

Back at the beach, as we bumped along the cliff track to the secluded bay, we could all drink in the deep blue and turquoise scene on our left, where dark black rocks and yellow sandy cliffs curled their arms around the clear water. We’ve named this bay, Sea Carrot Bay, on account of someone finding what was believed to be a ‘sea carrot’ on the sea bed a few weeks ago (please don’t tell me you’ve never seen a sea carrot!). Bags, snorkels, beach mats in hand we eased ourselves carefully down the winding steps to the beach below, mastering the knack of feet slipping from flip-flops on the sand coated steps. At the beach some tried out snorkelling for the first time, others just put on flippers, while the expert son No. 2 just wore goggles! This particular bay affords a view of the crumbling old hotels and buildings lining the beach of Famagusta. Between the gaps in various jagged rocks forming archways and strange ‘windows’, the multi-storey blocks are visible like mini painted scenes on the horizon of the bright blue water. While we were floating around, some peering down at the fish and rocks below, a strange piece of wood was spotted on the seabed by the eagle-eyed Major and son No 2. promptly dived down to investigate. Earlier I’d seen him lift up a concrete weight with a rope tied to it. I was impressed, but then realised everything weighs less underwater and it wasn’t just the gym sessions taking effect. So, the piece of wood was brought to near the surface after a bit of panting and heaving and the salvage operation of swimming it to shore began. On asking, “why are you carrying a really heavy piece of wood to the beach?” The answer was: “Treasure!” Too many Pirate films had them thinking this was part of a wrecked ship. The huge beam was lifted onto a rock by the beach for further examination and looked like…a piece of battered brown wood, with some holes and bolts, slightly curved, with lots of sea creatures attached to it. And it smelt of fish. So I was a bit perturbed that they announced it was going home with us. There was no hidden key or map or even a hint of treasure hidden within.

“But it belongs at the bottom of the sea,” I protested…”and what are we going to do with it?” Apparently it would go in the garden. The question of who it belonged to, didn’t seem to be an issue. So two strapping lads were tasked with lugging the beam, or piece of ship’s hull, up the winding cliff steps and then it was manoeuvred into the car, with passengers dispatched to the other vehicle to make room for the salvage. The smell behind my left ear on the journey home wasn’t pleasant and I was glad to get out of the car when we got home.

Yesterday I went for a swim and noticed a kind of fishy-sea smell as I headed up one end of the pool. Glancing up I saw the gnarled-shipwreck-like beam of blackened wood staring down at me. Thank you guys for the authentic decoration on the edge of the pool – we won’t be taking this back to the UK with us, but we now have a little bit of history and something from the sea bed at Sea Carrot Bay in the garden. I’m a bit hazy about the laws of salvage and realise raids from customs officers are always a possibility – but I have planned my excuse. ‘Didn’t you know this area of Cyprus was once under the sea and this ancient scrap of wreck must have been left behind?’. One day it’s presence here will puzzle archeologists, because who would dream that a family would drag it from the sea and drive it home several miles as a trophy or even a garden ornament?

Mountain trails & trespassing

Planning a holiday with all five Farmers is tricky to say the least – how do you please everyone? Fine weather helps and usually something ‘boaty’ does the trick and so we started with a few hours messing about in a boat. But it was the wrong kind of boat for me because there were no sails, just a very noisy fast engine. Still, everyone enjoyed the doughnut ride, three managed some impressive wake boarding and we also motored into a few secluded rocky bays where we anchored and swam in the shelter of sea caves.

We were on an island tour of sorts, heading first for the remote and slightly inaccessible Akamas peninsular, which involved some very potholed tracks, much to the delight of the boys, who looked with envy at every passing open-top jeep. We found a lovely fish restaurant overlooking the sea and promptly ordered lamb from the menu..well, some of us did! We were like Swiss Family Robinson, all jostling about in a big red minibus, packed with food, drink and beach stuff, while whoever was in the front took turns to throw wrapped sweets to the sugar starved passengers in the back – it was a bit like tossing fish to seals, but they were slightly less noisy and kept complaining about the lack of yellow chewies…

Although I’m a sea lover at heart, the two highlights of the trip for me were in the mountains. The heat here has been incredible for the past week and now we officially have a heat wave! A heat wave in Cyprus with average temperatures of 37/38 can’t be good…we’re heading for the 40s and we are sizzling. What do you do when it’s too hot for the beach? Head for the hills of course…so day 2 we waved goodbye to the sea and the boat and set off into the mountains as a pink sun was slipping into the sea behind us. Enter the Troodos mountains where pine trees line the road and red roofed cabins are tucked in steep valleys, with craggy rocks forming the breaks between the trees. As night fell, so did the temperature and after a few false routes in one mountain village we found our way to the top just below Mount Olympus. Our destination was a cabin near the village of Troodos and all we needed to do was collect the keys….sounds simple. But we were running late. This was in part due to the need for showers after speedboating and the fact that there was only one and that it turned out to be a tap in a cubicle and not a shower….then we had to pick up water and tea which we’d forgotten. Combine this with switchback mountain roads, a lack of signs and a navigator who was trying to read a book at the same time and the result was that we arrived around midnight to collect keys and get directions for the cabin. Helpful directions were given and we set off, negotiating more hairpin bends on a road that got progressively narrower until we found ourselves in front of a serious looking barrier that promptly lifted, so we drove in. Suddenly a man emerged from the cabin just inside and rushed towards the car torch in hand looking worried. We wound the window down and told him we were looking for our cabin… “Not here, you can’t stay here.” He seemed very adamant. But we have an email, we’ve booked and this is where they said we should come… He shook his head and called over a colleague. He shook his head too and looked shifty. Our presence was making them uncomfortable. Our driver became more insistent. Are you sure it’s not one of those cabins over there, should we drive and look? We have the keys here… They looked concerned and glanced at one another. “It’s not here, no you can’t come in here.” This seemed a bit rude and unhelpful. It was very dark and late and we needed to find our cabin. The bald headed man shone his torch into the back and promptly shook his head, “You should go to the campsite.” OK so the back was filled with sweet wrappers and sandy towels, but we weren’t visiting the Queen. A third man was called over from the cabin, this one had a bomber jacket on and was reaching behind him into his waistband in a Starsky and Hutch-like manor. What is this place we wondered? And why are all these people on the gate at midnight? They were becoming more insistent all shaking their heads in unison. “You must go, you can’t stay here. This is the President’s house.” So it all became clear, we were talking to his bodyguards – no wonder they were edgy. We decided to call it a day, or a night and turned around back up the hairpin road to where we’d come from. We would wait to be invited. If only he had known who we were, I’m sure he’d have offered us a room free of charge. Our cosy cabin in the woods was eventually found and so was the cool weather. We eagerly hauled out blankets and sat round eating pizza, excited about the possibility of sleeping under a duvet for the first time in months!

The next morning it was still hot, but several degrees less than the coast and we followed a trail through the woods down a steep valley to a waterfall, where the water was icy and refreshing.
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Two of the party were volunteered to hitch a lift back to the car to save us the hike back up the hill and when we had almost given up hope of seeing them again the big red bus appeared round the bend. Walking on a high trail around the summit of Mount Olympus later that afternoon we were treated to spectacular views across the Troodos mountains, where we looked out on a sea of hills in ever paler shades of blue, until they were just a mist on the skyline. That night we ate beside a roaring fire in the cabin lounge, after we had sent out a firewood party to forage for pine cones and dead branches in the dark. They returned from each foray in a flurry of huffing and slight panic due to a plague of biting flies who had swarmed around their legs in the trees. From what I gather they barely escaped with their lives and may be permanently scarred from the experience. How strange that we should revel in lighting a fire in August and snuggling under duvets in the chill of the mountains.

Our second mountain top experience was in the north of Cyprus, where we left the burning sand dunes to drive up to an ancient crusader fortress – Buffavento castle. Buffavento is one of three ruined castles clinging to the craggy hills above Northern Cyprus, which run like a backbone towards the wild expanse of the country’s eastern tip, known as the ‘pan handle’. And it is these same hills we watch the sun set behind each evening from our house. Turning off the road at the top of the ridge we followed a single track road which clung to the side of the mountain and gradually snaked its way upwards. Passing places were few and far between, sheer drops were everywhere and the mini bus could barely take each corner without its wheels running precariously close to the drop. We were all feeling nervous and as the bends got tighter and the road narrowed, we almost decided it might be safer to walk the remaining few kilometres. Finally we reached the end of the hair-raising road and it was a 40 minute hike up the side of the mountain to reach the castle silhouetted against a clear blue sky above us. As we tackled the 500 plus steps and winding paths, we paused for breaks and water each time there was shade. Each rest stop was a chance to look at the immense view of the parched plains spread out in front of us and the city of Nicosia – a hazy jumble of buildings and roads. Eventually the path crossed over the top of the ridge and we could see the other side of Cyprus below, the coastline edged with sandy bays scooped out of the landscape and lined by a deep blue sea. The path and steps continued upwards and it was another 15 minutes before we reached the first crumbling gatehouse of the castle where the views got more and more spectacular. A sign above the gatehouse told us that Buffavento had been captured in 1974 by the Turkish army after a raid at 4am and a battle which lasted till midday. Looking out from the highest point in the castle’s crumbling ruins we could see Cyprus spread out before us – east towards the pan handle, west to another cascade of misty blue mountains, south to the dry plains and Nicosia, then north to the scolloped coastline framed by a sparkling Mediterranean. Here was Cyprus in all its summer glory and we were standing on top of it.