Published 1st August 2018, 18:25

    THE heatwave weather may have been familiar but I enjoyed a wee change of mountain scenery last week.

    I was in the south of Italy, on the spectacular Amalfi coast, where vertical towns cling precariously by their fingernails to the mountainous landscape.

    There was one walk in particular that had intrigued me. The Path of the Gods is a high-level route running above the picture postcard town of Positano.

    It is the stuff of legends, but then virtually everything is in Italy. They do history well, no half measures; gods and monsters, heroes and tyrants.

    The official line is that the gods descended from here to reach the sea where the sirens used their bewitching songs to lure sailors to their doom until they were thwarted by Ulysses.

    The more down to earth explanation was that Path of the Gods sounded more exciting for attracting the tourist trade than the more appropriate Path of the Shepherds.

    There's plenty of signage to keep building the legend, including colourful quotes from Calvino and DH Lawrence, as you pass through grottos beneath soaring, pitted limestone faces which curl outwards like massive petrified waves, vertical rockeries with an abundance of plant life sneaking out from every orifice.

    The overwhelming sensory experience, however, is smell. The instant you emerge from the first rocky echo chamber into more open ground, it hits you. It's like walking into the world's biggest herb garden, with mint, rosemary, thyme, lemon thyme, fennel and garlic all fighting for your nasal attention.

    Lemon and olive trees are a fixture on these tiered slops but the many ruins of farm houses are a reminder of how hard a life it must be to earn a living here. We heard goats but never saw them. At one point, we were passed by man and horse, still the best way to get around in this terrain.

    The insect life is abundant. For one moment I thought it had started to snow, but it turned out to be hundreds of white butterflies dancing amongst a spread of wild flowers. Several other species, including some the size of dragonflies, added to the pallet. The gossamer of spiders' webs sparkled in the sunlight on their long stretch between bushes, the occupants well hidden in preparation for ambush.

    And with this bounty of insects, the air was alive with swallows, their aerial acrobatics being launched from nesting holes in the faces of the ever present limestone walls. Far below our feet at the foot of a deep valley lay the white buildings of Praiano, Lilliputian in scale. We could also make out Positano far ahead in the distance, a staggered high-rise collection balanced tentatively.

    The island of Capri was somewhere out there as well, but the heat haze kept it invisible. I had earlier heard some excited youngsters talking about a Kardashian being spotted there. It was a disappointment to hear that it wasn't in fact a rare beast but a common one despite the flattering plumage.

    About an hour and a half into the trek, our hosts led us to an abandoned farmhouse where the gods (more likely some shepherds) had left us a feast, goat's cheese, bread and a selection of vegetables and fruit. And wine. Lots of it. Only in Italy could you go for a mountain walk and stop to consume vast amounts of wine and cheese. I suspect it won't be happening anytime soon on The Ben.

    Then came the bad news. We wouldn't be able to complete the walk. Heavy rainfall in the spring had caused massive landslides and rock falls which had blocked the path further on at its narrowest point. It had been closed for safety reasons, and is likely to remain so until next year.

    Now this was a bit of a bummer, especially as no one had told us this before we set off. I wondered if that was the reason they had plied us with wine. Still, we were only tourists. The little mountain village of Nocelle, which relies on visitors for income, was suffering as the various administrations argued over who should pay for repairs.

    We ended up doing a loop instead of dropping down the 1800 steps to Positano, and we never got to visit Nocelle. I wonder what the inhabitants had done to incur the wrath of the gods (or shepherds).