An old lady emerged from the trees and hobbled towards us as we waited at the barrier. She must have heard our campervan engine.
‘Buonasera Signora, e aperto?’ I leaned out, startled to see her heavily bruised face.
‘Si, aperto.’ She nodded with a toothless grin. Surprisingly strong, she raised the heavy wood barrier and waved us up a track through the gloomy woods.
After a long drive we needed to rest and Camping ‘Panoramico Colma’ at Tagliolo Montferrato had been hard to locate in this remote region. We’d found the entry in a discarded 1971 Italian directory of Municipal campsites and decided these might provide rewarding encounters with locals, rather than those with other Brits on commercial sites.
Now, somewhat perturbed we drove past derelict shacks half buried in undergrowth. No sign of other campers; clearly the site had been abandoned for years. An air of desolation, even danger emanated from the dense woods. Keith’s frown reflected my thoughts - hardly likely we’d encounter jolly Italian families here camping al fresco who’d invite us to exchange tales.
The track ended abruptly in a tangle of brambles but we spotted a small clearing.
‘Hey!’ my husband jumped out and nudged away rusted jerry cans. ‘Relics of an army camp!’
His discovery was confirmed by the sight of a concrete ablutions block. He began determinedly to shovel debris out of a filthy sink served by a rubber hose.
He was enjoying this, I could tell; gave him a sense of early mans survival in the wild. I saw him nod with satisfaction as water shot from the ancient hose to disturb colonies of beetles that scuttled back into cracks in the concrete walls.
I shivered. ‘What do you think happened to the old lady? I ventured, ‘those bruises?’ My anxious voice echoed about the broken toilet stalls as awesome images of the film ‘Misery’ swept into my head - a mad axe man? I was spooked and in a hurry to leave.
‘Poor eyesight – walked into a branch no doubt.’ Intent on his task Keith shrugged off my fear. ‘The old girl’s part of the history – lives on in one of the shacks.’
Common sense returned and with a display of bravado I stripped off my clothes and stepped into a door less cubicle, eyes shut to the graffiti and twitching spiders. It proved the fastest icy sluice I’d ever had.
Like a gothic horror tiny caterpillars dangled on silken threads from trees and brushed my face as I struggled in the dusk to our van. Breathing fast, I halted to focus as my sight met a surreal image; a large bunch of black grapes and three wonky tomatoes sat on our campervan step.
Later, boosted by the old lady’s kindness and a restorative glass or two of strong Barolo wine I was ready to set out and explore our settlement. Trampling down thorny brambles we came suddenly upon an open high escarpment which overlooked the Liguria hills etched sharply on the horizon. Mesmerised we watched the vermilion streaked sky transmute from rose to mauve and sooty grey as the huge orange sun slowly slid from sight.
‘Good vantage point for the troops billeted here in the war,’ Keith commented, ever rational. Aware of my misgivings, he asked, ‘Think the place justifies its name?’
For me ‘Camping Panoramica’ would retain its doom filled ambience but with a show of camaraderie I smiled. ‘Yes, a lucky find!’
Besides, something suggested the old lady might have interesting wartime tales to tell – perhaps more intriguing than might have ensued from a jolly Italian camping party.
Yet return to this place again? Never!
K.& B Mackenzie