“Corfu is spectacularly beautiful. The mountain spine that runs down the centre means its core is still rugged and wild. The lower slopes are clad with olive groves and cypresses leaning towards the sea. There are white beaches and clear blue water.” – Nancy Hines, daughter of Nancy Durrell
We visited Corfu town a couple of times this week, both times by speedboat and both trips ended with a potential disaster.
On the first occasion the skipper of the boat collected us from the harbour for the return journey to Kalami but the journey in a glass bottom boat was to include a short leisure stop for a swim in a secluded spot and a visit to some caves which allegedly could only be reached from the sea.
I rather like going into caves so I was quite looking forward to this but as we approached I knew instinctively that I was going to be disappointed.
It wasn’t so much a cave in the sense of the Blue Grotto on Capri or the Drogarati Caves on the island of Kefalonia it was nothing more than a hole in the limestone cliffs carved out by sea erosion but going no further under the cliffs than just a few metres or so.
At the small horseshoe bay with a white pebble beach shelving steeply into clear water and where the reflection of the cypress trees growing on the very edge of the limestone cliffs turned the water from blue to green the skipper invited us to jump into the water.
After a day in the dusty streets and the heat of Corfu town I was ready for a swim and like an Olympic athlete from the ten metre diving platform I lunged from the boat and like a kingfisher speared the water as though I was a stiletto dagger splintering the water like glass and sending silver shards splintering like a kaleidoscope.
Well that’s how it seemed to me but I am prepared to concede that for anyone watching it was all rather less elegant than I imagined. The water was soft and warm and I fell through a shoal of small fish scattering them in all directions and then I stopped falling and started to rise swiftly up through a chain mail of bubbles and surfaced in an explosion of white foam.
The swimming here was good, the water was soft and salty, deep and cool and and so clear that from the surface I could see my shadow stalking me along the sea bed. The skipper encouraged us to swim to the cave entrance that was sucking at the sea like a chain smoker and I have no explanation for why I did it because I knew that there was nothing to see in there. Kim wisely refused but while splashing about in the sea was stung by a jellyfish.
Inside, there was no cavernous chamber with magnificent stalactites, no curiously back-lit coloured water, no interesting marine life to speak about just a dark space accessed through a saw edged rock entrance and then a sea bed littered with sharp rocks.
And this is where I had my accident.
As I was approaching the edge of the water a sudden wave coursed through the entrance and made me stumble and my right foot slid between two rocks and a felt a stabbing pain in my little toe. I knew it was serious so turned around immediately and swam for the exit of the cave so that I could carry out an examination of the damage. There was a lot of blood from a cut on the joint but worst of all was that the toe seemed to have adopted an angle that I am not normally familiar with in the normal arrangement of my toes. I grabbed at it and there was a sort of popping sound as it returned to its normal position and there was a savage pain that reached as far as my knee. The water was quite cold so I think that helped numb the pain so I stayed there as long as I could but eventually there was nothing I could do but return to the boat.
Hopping like a frog and with blood splashing onto the deck this behaviour soon alerted the attention of the skipper who produced a first aid kit and invited me to pick over the contents for some emergency assistance. I found some cotton wool and wipes and after I had dried the toe, some sticking plaster to apply to the wound. The skipper poured me a glass of razor blade white wine and with my pain thoughts swiftly transferred from my foot to my throat the stabbing sensation started slowly to ease away but for a while I worried that the rest of my holiday may well be ruined.
With my foot throbbing like a bass drum beat the boat now returned to Kalami, stopping (it seemed to me) unnecessarily several times at more equally unimpressive caves searching for sea life but eventually we came across somewhere that I found interesting.
A short way out of Kalami we came to a cove where many years ago an icon of St Arsenius was allegedly washed ashore after a storm. A fisherman found it and built a small shrine set amongst curiously carved white rocks where once a year a service is held and the congregation approaches by boat.
That isn’t the interesting bit – but this is: In the 1930s this cove became Lawrence and Nancy Durrell’s “private bathing pool”. Where they spent leisurely days, dropping cherries into the water which lay “like drops of blood on the sandy floor two fathoms below” and Nancy “like an otter” would bring them up in her teeth.
For obvious reasons I didn’t enjoy the swim to the cave but I was intrigued to come across this hidden location as I had read Durrell’s account of their sunbathing and swimming in his book about his time on the island, ‘Prospero’s Cell’.
Back at the beach I assessed the damage to the toe and was alarmed to find it swelling and turning to a crimson several shades redder than my sunburn. I bathed it in the sea, did some sympathy fishing and being unsuccessful in this decided that I probably needed some sort of anaesthetic so I found a table at the adjacent bar and ordered a Mythos beer.
Nancy Durrell, wife of Lawrence