I’m 1,400m up and can see the whole world. The only souls in sight are my children and a hearty Croatian tour guide called Radamant, who speaks six languages. In old money, which I still use, 1,400m is almost 4,600ft and higher than anywhere in the UK. I would love to say we hiked the distance but my children are a teen and a teen-in-training and it’s a four-hour climb in 28 degree heat. So Radamant drives us in his VW minibus and we stroll the last 100m. I’m ashamed but the teen and a teen-in-training seem quite pleased with themselves.
We’re at the top of Ucka, a verdurous nature park in north Croatia’s Istria region. To say I’m demob happy is something of an understatement as a few days earlier I’m told by the UHW neurologist that it’s the 20% risk. There remain a whole lot of tests to be done and it could still be one of a few freakily rare conditions that scare the shit out of me but, for now, I *probably* don’t have MS. What’s more, we survive the M25 on a bank holiday weekend and jet out of Gatwick as thousands have their half term ruined by BA’s mischievous plug-puller. Someone up there really must love me after all.
By the time we (don’t) climb Ucka, we’re already in love with Istria and the hearty, happy Croatian people. We shriek like Brits abroad in an ice-cold, ice-blue sea, watch tourists (probably British) dress as Romans at Pula’s amphitheatre and pop over the border to Slovenia, where life slows to the blissful pace of the red tractors that pull out ahead of us at every turn.
We swap flip-flops for trail shoes to visit Postojna Cave, which is 24km long and where visitors ride in on a train (A train! In a cave! So much better than Dan yr Ogof). It’s like something out of Middle Earth (apart from the train) and I’m having the best time ever, although the teen and teen-in-training won’t cheer up because they didn’t listen when I said ‘take a jumper. It’s a CAVE,’ and are turning as ice-blue as the sea.
We visit Predjama Castle, which literally means ‘a castle in a cave’ and is in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s biggest castle in a cave. I wonder how many castles in caves there are in the world before being amazed by the ingenuity of the Slovenian Robin Hood, who built a whole other castle within the castle in a cave for defence purposes but who but died anyway because he put the loo right on the edge of the cliff, and the enemy blew up it up when he popped in. A friend on Facebook later comments the castle looks like Rivendell (another says it resembles Colditz, but I prefer to stick to the Middle Earth theme).
And now we’re on Ucka, where the teen and teen-in-training have had enough of looking at the nature park and the ice-blue sea through their phones and Radamant is inching back along the track towards the minibus. I steal a last glance into the most beautiful hazy distance I’ve seen since a long-ago solitary trek to Goat Mountain in British Columbia, when I was little more than a teen myself and where I cried with the enormity of the fluffy-peaked nothingness of it all. Life really is quite astonishing. I *probably* haven’t got MS, I think, but I can’t cry here because Radamant is waiting and he’s been so hearty. I grab the teen-in-training’s tee-shirt just before he launches himself off Ucka from the paragliding ramp and we leave. For now.