This month sees the publication of Quick Read, The Anniversary – a collection of irresistible stories from ten bestselling authors, collected together by Veronica Henry.
To celebrate the release, Fanny Blake, who wrote one of the stories in the book, tell us about an unforgettable anniversary in her life.
In May 1999, on the second anniversary of my father’s death, my mother and I went on holiday alone together for the first time I can remember. Until his death, they had travelled together a great deal but without him, she hadn’t felt like venturing far afield. Neither of us was looking forward to the anniversary and the memories it would evoke so we decided to go away. Strictly speaking, we weren’t exactly alone. We joined a group of about ten strangers on a guided walk through the mountains of southern Spain. However we did share a bedroom – a definite first and last for both of us!
The walk was organized by a couple who put us up for the first two nights in their house in the Serranía de Ronda. Facing south, the view from the terrace spread across the countryside as far as the Mediterranean and, on a clear day, to the coast of Africa beyond. Immediately above was the white village of Gaucín, bright in the sunshine.
We met our fellow travellers then gossiped about them like naughty schoolgirls once we’d gone to bed. One thing was immediately clear. Mum, at 70, was by far the oldest of the group while I was definitely the youngest. What worried her most was whether she would be able to keep up. She needn’t have. What worried me most was the generous way she was helping herself to my moisturizer and suntan stuff. I hadn’t brought enough for two of us. (Later she explained she thought it had been provided with the room!).
On the first day, we went on a gentle walk, acclimatizing ourselves to the heat, before visiting Gaucín, exploring the twisting streets all the way up to the ruins of the Moorish castle. The following day our walking began in earnest as we set off on the ‘Ronda camino’ walk.
Everyday we made our way through the mountains, passing through cork oak forests, olive groves, or along fertile river valleys to the accompaniment of goat-bells, or following old goat tracks that wound through rocky limestone terrain – the one walk that defeated Mum.
The smell of wild lavender and herbs scented the air. Huge black umbrellas were provided to shade us from the sun as we walked and when we stopped to eat local bread, cheese and ham and drank sherry squirted from a leather pouch.
Everywhere we went, we were accompanied by two muleteers and their mules that carried our picnic lunches, the umbrellas or us, if the heat ever proved too much. A couple of nights we stayed in a farmhouse converted into a comfortable small hotel. Another we glamped in a tent with beds, hoping the black ants that teamed across the ground wouldn’t make it up the bed legs.
We passed through the white villages of Cortes de la Frontera, Montejaque. Grazalema and, five days later, we reached the town of Ronda set high above the plain. I’ll never forget us walking towards it – yes, Mum had more than kept up with the group – the sun beating down, the brilliance of the wild flowers. Our last night there was the anniversary of Dad’s death, Mum and I raised a glass to him together over a meal of cold tomato soup with garlic, stuffed red pepper with black pudding and olive oil ice cream,
I have never forgotten that holiday – one of the best I’ve had – the landscapes, Gaucín, the fact that it marked the beginning of a new, much closer relationship between Mum and me, and perhaps in a small way, the start of a new life for her. So much so, that when I was dreaming up a setting for my latest novel, House of Dreams, I decided to set it there.
Exactly fifteen years later, I went back in May 2014 to revisit those memories and found little had changed. The scenery was every bit as dramatic, the wild flowers as profuse. Even the couple who organized the walk still lived in the same house, and welcomed me back. With swifts wheeling and screaming as the sun went down, I was able to raise a glass once again – this time to both my parents and in memory of Dad.
Fanny Blake’s House of Dreams is available in paperback, ebook and audio.