On such a small island as Menorca the dominant feature is the sea. It can be heard as it crashes against the rocks and cliffs, it can be smelled as the wind carries its salt breath inland and it is always there as a natural navigation aid, recalling where you have been and how to get back again. The southern and western sections of the island have a limestone geology from the Miocene, resulting in the clint and griek topography familiar in the limestone dales of Yorkshire and Cumbria, with all the weird shapes and exposed pavements from the hills we know. The flora of this southern coastal forested region is made up of heather (Erica multiflora), white rockrose (Cistus albidus), rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) and larger trees and shrubs such as the White pine (Pinus halepensis), Wild Olive (Olea europaea)and Myrtle (Myrtus communis).
It is thick and impenetrable. Those used to walking through British broadleaf woodland, with its neat and tidy understory and clear lines of sight, or even the denser plantations of spruce and larch will find a very different habitat. There are no paths, not even game trails to follow. The best one can hope for is to find one of the open spaces that have been burned back by fire but these are not linked, so to make any headway through the bush – or to get from A to B – one must brave the thorns and tangled spiny thickets and push on through. It goes without saying that this is very difficult country to walk through and almost impossible to track. The substrate is a hard baked red gravel lying on top of rock. Finding track or sign is a matter of good luck rather than good judgement and with every thicket and cover concealing a pile of stones that could form the den of a marten I decided that looking for the animal in this place was going to be a futile and thankless task and I may as well make what I could of the day whilst I was out.
I began to push through the dense bush, getting scratched and torn for my troubles as I went. Although I didn’t feel it at the time I was also getting eaten alive by flies. So seldom does anybody venture to this miserable, god forsaken place that every gnat, midgee, cleg and mossy within a mile must have woken up and made a direct line for the back of my neck. The next day I had a bite on my left wrist that had swollen up to the size of a golf ball and three bites on my neck aligned like Orion’s belt. I hope my blood tasted good.