TRISH TAKES FIVE - An evening of coincidences
Twelve weary travellers gathered round the communal dining table of Convento de Sao Saturnino in a hidden valley near Sintra in Portugal.
Six of us had met that morning as we began our Inntravel walking trail but the other six were strangers to us.
If I were writing a crime novel I would set the scene in this dimly lit room. How had these twelve come together in an isolated guesthouse? Who would be picked off first and how? Poison in the wine? A blow to the head from a stolen candlestick?
As the plot developed in my mind, the evening progressed and fact became stranger than fiction. Two of the British travellers were retired veterinary surgeons. It transpired that another couple at the table used to live in Yorkshire and took their dog to the same surgery in Whitby where our two vets used to work.
I turned to the American chap on my left and discovered he and his family lived in Philadelphia. I remembered we had met a couple from Philadelphia in France last year and that they lived in the mushroom capital of the world, Kennett Square. "Do you know it?" I asked. "Ha," he replied. "We're just five miles from Kennett Square."
Wine flowed and the coincidences continued. Our merry band of travellers shared universities, jobs and experiences and here we all were, walking along the old caminhos in Portugal.
Later that week we arrived at the end of our trail in the picturesque town of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its majestic palaces. Dougie and I were staying for three nights at the historic Lawrence's Hotel, established in 1764 and famous for its literary guests including Lord Byron.
The rooms have no numbers; they have names of literary or historic significance. We were given the key to ours: Eça de Queirós. I sensed the Portuguese pride of the manager as he led us to the exquisite room where the great man himself had been inspired to write. Time to do a little research.
José Maria de Eça de Queirós was a literary giant of his time, ranked alongside Dickens and Tolstoy. I read about his education and career and discovered something quite fascinating. Between 1874 and 1879 he worked in Newcastle upon Tyne as a Portuguese consul.
This revered writer sat in his rooms in Grey Street, Newcastle, penning some of his best novels. But he also wrote a regular column about life in Britain for a Lisbon daily newspaper. I was tickled to think that here I was, a native of Newcastle, sitting in his room in Sintra, scribbling my column about Portugal for a newspaper back in Britain.
On a recent trip back to Newcastle, I took a walk along Grey Street to see where he had lived. How wonderful to find a plaque on the wall highlighting his links with the city.
Now if some of his literary expertise could just rub off on me, I have a story in my head that needs a little work. It's set in a secluded guesthouse in the Portuguese countryside...
You can read Trish's blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk