Just when we thought it safe to go in the wa­ter…

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FRONT PAGE -

Debby Wal­dron

has an un­ex­pected en­counter with a group of bearded beach­go­ers in Greece

We hear the goats be­fore we see them; our backs are to the shore, swim­ming across clear Greek wa­ter to­wards the brown lump of Al­ba­nia. We’ve been in the sea for just min­utes when the bells reach us through the calm morn­ing air – dis­tant at first, but get­ting closer.

Turn­ing, we spy a pair of horns just above the hori­zon; then another, and another, un­til the low cliffs at the end of the beach are a mass of jostling crea­tures.

It’s at this point that we fo­cus on the pile of clothes, watches, and flip-flops we’ve placed oh-so-care­fully on the sand – right in the path of the steadily en­croach­ing flock.

We’d been alerted to the beach by shop­keeper Den­nis while buy­ing fruit and yo­gurt for break­fast.

“It’s the best,” he’d promised, draw­ing a rough map on the back of a post­card. “Go early.”

So we had, set­ting off in the per­fect post-dawn tem­per­a­tures of an Au­gust morn­ing, be­fore the sun rose too high and the other hol­i­day-mak­ers stirred from their beds. We’d greeted the tav­erna owner as he splashed his vi­brant pa­tio plants with wa­ter, and the boat-hire man as he pre­pared his craft for

another busy day on the main vil­lage beach. We’d crossed the rick­ety bridge onto the penin­sula, and fol­lowed the rough red track, skirt­ing rocks and herb-scented scrub un­til, upon round­ing a cor­ner, our ef­forts were re­warded with the sight of a de­serted cres­cent of pale sand.

Now, that beau­ti­ful beach is fill­ing up fast – with goats.

We be­gin to swim back to­wards the shore, all the time ob­serv­ing their steady progress to­wards our be­long­ings. As we plough through the wa­ter – des­per­ately slowly, it seems – I count. There are up­wards of 40 an­i­mals on the beach now, from huge grand­daddy goats with im­pres­sive beards, to tiny kids on wob­bly pipe-cleaner legs, in shades of brown and black and some­thing in-be­tween.

They reach our clothes be­fore we do – and file on past, with­out even a cu­ri­ous sniff. Clearly there are places they need to be, things they need to do. By the time we reach the shal­lows, only the bleat­ing strag­glers re­main, and they are more in­tent on catch­ing up with the flock than in­ves­ti­gat­ing what they prob­a­bly think the tide brought in.

As we stand to pad­dle the last few feet to the sand, a rush of wa­ter comes up be­hind us and knocks us from our feet. It races on ahead, swamp­ing our be­long­ings. We’re only just able to stag­ger up­right and grab them be­fore they dis­ap­pear out to sea.

“Ah,” Den­nis smiles, as we drip our way into the vil­lage shop half an hour later, “Twenty min­utes af­ter a cruise ship passes – then comes big waves. But – a beau­ti­ful beach, yes?”

Yes, we agree. It is.

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