There may be more gorgeous beaches in other parts of the world, higher mountains, faster ski-slopes, wider estuaries, more extensive wetlands, denser forests, deeper gorges, more flowery meadows but I believe there are few places on this planet where these natural features are so close to each other. I can reach so many beautiful places so easily well within the space of an hour from where I live. How much longer would I have had to travel before exchanging deserts for green pastures or endless prairies for Rocky Mountains in other continents, I wonder?
Yesterday I decided to swap the snow of the previous day for sand and headed for one of my favourite places: the mouth of the Serchio River.
(The Serchio near our local Penny Market discount store)
The Serchio, which begins in the Apennines above Piazza al Serchio, flows through Garfagnana as an often angry torrent, collecting the melting snows from innumerable rivulets flowing through serpentine gorges until it calms down a little (not very much though because every year it threatens to overflow its banks) when it enters the Lucca plain and sweeps in splendid meanders ambling past the last outcrop of the Apuans and then coursing majestically through the coastal wetlands before meeting its destiny in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
That point of confluence for me is a magical experience and yesterday was the ideal day to experience this merging of fresh and salt water. It brings memories of “The Wind in the Willows” and everything sweet and pastoral in life and also those lines from another lover of this beautiful river, Shelley:
Our boat is asleep on Serchio’s stream,
Its sails are folded like thoughts in a dream,
Entering the Versilia beach at “La Bocca del Serchio” one can walk for miles and miles and meet only the occasional couple with their dog and a lone fisherman.
The sand is strewn with flotsam of bamboos and other wood brought down in the winter storms, the air is pure, the wind gentle and the strand clear of those thousands of sun-tanning bodies which strew it in the summer season. And behind it all are those peaks of the Apuan mountains appearing like mirages from a fabled fairy-land.
Now truly is the time to enjoy the natural beauty of the umbrella pines and Mediterranean macchia which here when flooded seems to evoke primeval mangrove swamps – I almost thought I saw a crocodile’s toothy jaws emerging from the waters at one point but it was only a piece of wood!
Those who must enjoy this lovely area of Tuscany most are, clearly, the fishermen and anglers who have created a truly convivial society of their own here far from the madding crowd.
O, the pleasures of fishing and messing about in boats!
Smetana wrote a fabulous tone-poem on the Vltava River which flows through Prague depicting the entire river’s varied moods in the most descriptive music. Perhaps a composer should tackle the Serchio River in a similar piece – what sounds would be evoked from a river that turns from adolescent tear-away in the mountains to stately grandfather at its estuary and flows through centuries of history.