Up To Pigra

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Next day we took the cable car up Monte Pasquella, from Argegno to Pigra. It’s called a funivia, which translates as a ropeway (not funny street) rather than a funicolare which runs along tracks. Cable cars can be a bit more bouncy than funiculars!

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There was a photograph on the station wall, lovingly framed with branch wood and climbing rope, showing the steeply raked route we were about to take. It’s said to be the steepest funivia in Italy.

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On another wall was a plaque with the maker’s technical specifications. The cable’s full length, station to station, is 1137 metres; the car travels 928 metres horizontally and 648 metres vertically; average gradient is 71%; maximum gradient is 95.72%, which sounds almost vertical but I think it means it’s nearly 45°. That was probably the bouncy bit.

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We climbed the mountain with a confident couple in Lycra adrenalin suits, their mountain bikes suspended from the ceiling, and with a family of four, the father’s eyes tight shut all the way in brave sacrifice, relieved to get his feet safely back on the ground at the top. And to see again.

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The view was amazing and spectacular and so overwhelming that we were distracted from thinking too much about our precarious position, airlifted up from the lake. We could see our house from here.

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We could see the road snaking around Argegno, the hairpin curves, the bridge over the river running through the village, spilling into the lake, and the shore road away into the distance towards Como.

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Later I found this video on YouTube. It shows take-off and flight but it doesn’t show a safe landing. We’re left hanging. But you get the idea. Gravity is switched off; we’re falling backwards into the sky.

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We landed safely, docked smoothly, disembarked wobblingly, ears and eyes popping, stupefied by the bella vista, and on the belvedere we gazed in wonder, taken aback by the cable car’s simple efficiency.

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The panorama was breathtaking. We seemed to be above the surrounding mountains. Looking down we saw eagles soaring below us; climbing higher into Pigra we were warned that hunting was banned.

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Through the village, past the wash house, along Via Sociale to the Antica Societa Operaia (which I guess is the equivalent of a Working Men’s Club not an Old Opera House) and out into la campagna.

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We followed the sign for Corniga, down the track beside a tiny chapel dedicated to the Madonna del Soccorso, out of the hot midday sun and into the welcome dappled shade of the Valle della Camoggia.

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The track lead us through the woods, winding around tributary valleys and across rushing streams, surprising us at every turn with the light dancing through the leaves. There were crumbling walls, signs of earlier occupation, an old molino, still standing but not milling and a shuttered farmhouse beneath a tree full of sweet chestnuts. And everywhere the sound of chirruping cicadas and crickets.

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Then down by the river (click on the image above to zoom), the Torrente Valle della Camoggia, we crossed the bridge to an enormous buddleia, alive with butterflies in a drunken, dizzy nectar feast.

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There were fritillaries and tortoiseshells, peacocks and painted ladies, red admirals and commas and lots more unidentified and nameless, all dancing in the sweet air around my head. I was spellbound.

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Then away, up and along the valley side, the path running like a stream, moist and damp for moss and for cyclamen, luminous pink waymarkers pinned to the wet and dry stone wall, keeping us on track.

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Along the way the path was littered with hazelnuts. Some looked like cobnuts and some looked like filberts. Some of them had legs and looked like beetles. It was an Oasis of Protection and Refuge.

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We came to a patch of open ground and the sun came out, walls grew higher, there were more sweet chestnuts and an orchard of apple and walnut trees, there was playfully woven fencing and a precious allotment, carefully tended, all of which suggested we were coming close to the settlement of Corniga.

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It seemed like a sleepy place. In the centre of the village there was a well, with a sign advising us not to use it as a toilet. I wondered if there was electricity up here, then I saw a few television aerials and satellite dishes. Everyone seemed to be indoors. I’d imagined country folk involved in rural pursuits, weaving baskets and preserving fruits but maybe they were party people like these – BBQ in Corniga.

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Fortunately the party was over by the time we arrived and the air was filled with a more gentle noise.

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But soon it was interrupted by the sound of approaching engines, first a quad bike then a few minutes later a motorbike, both driven by grim-faced hillclimbers in their 70s, both intent on reaching the top.

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The path was crazily steep, at least as steep as the roofs of the houses we passed and in some places steeper, not really the place for our untrained knees and calves. We were stepping in rhythm, better keep moving. If I stopped too long to take in the view my feet might easily grow roots here, join forces with the walnut, sweet chestnut, oak, hazel, olive and fig, and the tree with the abundant red berries.

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A couple of donkeys came over to say Salve! and to get their backs scratched, then threw themselves down on the ground and rolled around with their legs in the air, as if to show us a proper back scratch.

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Long distance views alternated with nearby fences and hedges, a mesh of branches could be a three-dimensional map, a network of routes or even a cloud of thoughts, something along those lines…

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A tangle of ivy tying together a wall of stone and taking it back to the earth, this little thing happening repeatedly for miles around, as far as the eye can see, knitting the landscape safely back into place.

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Coming down now into Colonno and there’s another view of the Dosso di Lavedo peninsula and the Isola Comacina, Lake Como’s only island, a place we intended to visit but never quite managed to.

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Colonno tumbles down along a rushing stream, the Torrente Pessetta, and over L’Antica Strada Regina, the ancient Roman road through the Alps from Como (now the start of the Greenway), and then over the lakeside road where an underpass leads us down to the edge of Lake Como.

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From here the way back to Argegno is either to catch a bus like we did, but be sure to buy a ticket first to avoid upsetting the driver, like we did, or to take a ferryboat, though the Navigazione appeared to be closed, or to make like Christopher Corr and swim with the fishes. Either way, it’s a beautiful day.

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Frames of reference

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