There’s a photograph of me at the end of the walk. I’m sitting on a rickety chair outside a nameless bar in Villa Viani in Liguria. It’s the only bar in Villa Viani. I have a bottle of Poretti Tre Luppoli beer in my hand, white stubble on my chin and the smile of someone who has found a nameless bar dispensing cold beer at the end of a long day’s walk. It was actually the last day of the three-day trek my Aussie chum, Rory Gibson , and I had made from Mendatica in the Ligurian Alps to Imperia beside the Mediterranean, or from the mountains to the sea as I rather more romantically put it.
Only those who have spent a day plodding up hill and down dale under a brilliant sun can really know the beauty, excitement and joy of the first cooling beer, the shock of cold, the spirit-lifting buzz of bubbles against the roof of your mouth and around your tongue, the nip of bitterness at the back of your throat, the lilt of malt as it gathers force, and the gush of relief as it slides down.
But more than the immediate physical pleasures, that first beer carries a weighty symbolism. It’s a ritual that marks the end of one process and the beginning of another. Before your muscles have relaxed and the sweat dried, the harder realities of the day’s walk gives way to memory and reminiscence . It signals the move from the present into the past, from story into history.