WE’RE ON the Ryanair flight from Leeds to Corfu and, from a geographical point of view, the route is simple to follow. It’s not so much a case of turn right after the Alps, it’s more just drawing a diagonal across Europe from Leeds to the island, off the north-east corner of Greece.
I don’t get a glimpse of the North Sea but as we reach what must be the Netherlands I can see field strips, waterways and flooded gravel pits through gaps in the cloud. The long thin fields are so different from the usual patchwork of English midlands fields. They radiate out like huge chevrons from a central point and I suspect the reason for this pattern is to allow for drainage, so the centre of the chevrons might represent a ridge of slightly higher ground in a landscape that is so close to being flat that no slopes are perceptable from up here at 3700 feet.
Unfortunately we soon run into cloud again. I try to take in the overall pattern of clouds in a quick pen and ink sketch. This serves as a diagram but I try pencil in an attempt to show the tones of the expanse of cloud that we fly over next.
Pencil never seems to work as I’d like it to!
But I’m soon peering down through gaps in the clouds again. It’s still a landscape of low fields and lagoons but now there are more wooded areas. White fields may be covered in cling-film, or perhaps it’s some unfamiliar crop that I don’t recognise.
Ridge and Valley
We fly over a wooded ridge, broken at regular intervals by small valleys. Where you’d expect there to be a fan of debris from each tributary valley’s stream there are a series of small settlements.
This reminds me of a pattern of settlements that you’d find in parts of England settled by the Anglo Saxons, some of whom might have migrated to our country from this part of the Europe after the collapse of Roman rule.
In places where there’s a ridge like this, the western edge of the Cotswolds is, I think, an example, you’ll get parishes laid out in this way. Each village is sited on an alluvial fan which keeps it above the level of regular flooding in the main valley, each village gets a fair share of different land; perhaps for pasture on the hill, woodland on the scarp slope and arable on the alluvium in the valley.
We’re soon above hillier country, flying over parts of Germany, I should think. Again the steeper slopes are picked out with strips of woodland. The valley here is filled with a town but not far away on the hill it still looks rural with villages and green pastures.
There are frosty-looking blue green forests of conifers as we reach the Alps. After getting to know a small area, from the Top of Europe down to Interlaken, on our holiday in Switzerland last year it’s great to have the opportunity to see the mountain range from a wider perspective.
The higher peaks and valleys are entirely snow-covered and I spot a glacier flowing through a high valley, cracks appearing in its surface as it turns a corner in its valley.
It’s strange to think that we’re heading for a Mediterranean holiday and that we’ll be touching down in a very different landscape in about an hour.
As I wrote in my sketchbook, ‘there was a cloud-filled gap at the eastern end of the Alps, then a range of lower mountains, still snow-capped peak but with more forest on the slopes.’
We were probably flying over the Brenner Pass then reaching the Hohe Tauern or High Tauern mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps.
Gulf of Venice
Over the years a lot of sediment has been eroded from these mountains, cutting down to create the valleys and enlarge the passes. You can see some of the sediment in this braided river channel. I think this is the river Tagliamento, or possibly the Bóite, which lies a little to the east.
Rivers like these have over thousands, probably millions, of years built up the Italian lowlands around the Gulf of Venice. I couldn’t spot Venice itself but these two rivers (the Piave, top, and Bóite?) reach the sea to the east of Venice.
The Dalmatian Coast
There’s quite a contrast as we continue south-east, along the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea. After all the earthy colours of northern Europe, the islands look as if they’ve been designed by a Manga cartoon illustrator. They’re set in a sea which is as blue as the sky above and they’re outlined by a sandy shoreline, rounded in cartoon style.
There’s a string of little islands. In each case the village is set around a bay, sometimes with a satellite island just offshore, offering additional shelter from the elements and, perhaps in historical times, keeping them out of sight of pirates and predatory naval powers.
The last time we were here this was the coast of Yugoslavia, now this Croatia but the final country that we fly along the coast of before we descend is Albania. An appropriate name for a country where snow caps limestone mountains.
We pass a river mouth which, as fare as I can tell from my atlas, is the Vijosë, an Albanian river.
There’s a plume of sediment which looks sandy where the river enters the sea and darker in colour, and deeper underwater, further out. This is probably finer, muddier sediment. To judge from the direction this sediment disgorges into the Adriatic Sea, the prevailing current is northwards on this coast.
Descending to Corfu
The northern end of Corfu lies only a couple of kilometres from the Albanian coast so I’m not sure exactly in my sketchbook where the mainland ends and island begins. I think that the vertical strata of limestone, fringed by wooded slopes are mountains at the north end of Corfu. The highest point, Mount Pantokrator, rises to 912 metres.
We turn around over the southern tip of the island, Cape Asprokavos to approach the airport from the south.
It’s a short taxi ride along the coast road to get to our apartment near Benitses and after checking we go for a late lunch – moussaka, what else? – at one of the tavernas near the little harbour.
Later, sitting on the veranda at the back of our apartment, I draw the crags on the hillside, rising amongst the terraces of olives.
Those are a couple of tall cypresses at the top of the crag.