A picnic. By the sea. At night. Well, it has to be done, really. In true English fashion, ignoring the fact that the forecast is for rain, Alex and I pack up a load of sandwiches and wine and head for the hills. Well, the cliffs. We’re aiming for Torre Miggiano, which is on the coast in between Otranto and Leuca. It’s a scary road to drive, as in places it is quite literally crumbling into the sea, but it’s also beautiful and the white-knuckle ride is worth it for the views.
All along this coast is a series of watchtowers. Quite what they were built to watch for I’m not sure (maybe invading Turks?) but they’re interesting structures. Most are crumbling nowadays, but that doesn’t lessen their impact. At the bleakest part of the road, where it runs along the top of sheer cliffs and the wind wuthers its wildest, is Torre Vado. Tonight, strangely, there is a group of about 10 men standing at the side of the road. They look as if they’re waiting for something or someone, but they must have walked a hell of a long way to get where they are currently, as there are no other buildings for miles, and there isn’t a car in sight. Curious. I shrug mentally and carry on driving. A little further up the road we see a couple more men, walking fast along the road towards us. Presumably they’re with the first group, who are waiting for their mates to catch up. It’s an odd time to be out walking in the middle of nowhere, but each to their own.
Rounding a sharp corner, suddenly the view changes. There’s a black police van parked at the side of the road, with yet more men sitting in the road in front of it, looking cold and desolate. A policeman prowls along the knee-height retaining wall running along the cliff side of the road, and there are large plastic bags dropped on the ground behind the van. Alex gasps in horror – I find out later that he thought they were dead bodies covered in blankets. It seems that, far from being hikers out for a walk, these men have come across from Albania. They all look dry, so presumably whichever boat brought them across managed to get them close enough to shore that they didn’t have to swim for it, but they’ll have had to climb a long way up some very inhospitable cliffs to get to where they are now. What makes someone want to take risks like that, knowing that the likelihood is that they’ll be caught and sent straight back? The desperation is heartbreaking. It makes our picnic plan seem a little bit silly, and conversation dies for a while.
When we get to Torre Miggiano, we clamber out of the car into a force ten headwind. Well, all right, not force ten, but it’s pretty blustery up there. We scramble past the tower and down into the chiselled cliff-face. At some point in its history this cliff must have been quarried, as there are regular squared corners everywhere you turn. This makes it perfect for picnicking, with sheltered spots at regular intervals, and a good view of the sea. It also makes it incredibly spooky when the light drops, as the shadows are many and varied. I’ve learnt that it’s best not too look too long at shadows at dusk, as they start to come to life. One I was sure was a dead dog. Or, rather, a half-dead dog that kept twitching its leg. I can’t even blame the wine, as I only had half a glass. Overactive imaginations R US. Anyone would think I used to be an actress …
Images by Kate Bailward