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TONY LEWIS; OPINION.

NDEED, it was Five Going Cruising. For seven days last week we drifted along the Duoro River in Portugal.

ILet me offer you a gentle profile of our team - three men who had arrived at the same college on the same day, at the same moment, in October 1959 and a London schoolmistress who was there on most weekends in those early days. All four hit the age of 79 in 2017.

Luckily, last week we fielded a fifth traveller - another wife, but of much younger vintage, who was happy to be our tour-leader. What a saviour was Emma! At airports she knew how to insert computerised air tickets into electronic machines and get them back again amazing!

She was always ahead of the travelling game, carrying a long list of email addresses in case problems arose en route while our least-travelled man fussed around the boat's programme director asking if we could post letters while on board.

The director responded brusquely that "all staterooms have free wi-fi", but she could see that he didn't have the first idea what she was talking about. I did ask how I could find out the Swans score against West Brom but, instantly, she morphed from unctuous helper into Rosa Klebb.

Emma was out and about, whizzing up mountains and back in Porto cable cars and taking on every hiking trip on offer. And as for knowledge of all our travel timings, she could have outplayed Michael Portillo without a single reference to Bradshaw's Guide.

We men tended to stay on board the boat while our intrepid women explored on land. We spent some time checking out the progress of Lt General Sir Arthur Wellesley when he was in charge of troops from Britain, Spain and Portugal facing the army of Napoleon's General Soult in the Peninsula War. One battle fought on the very spot where our cruise boat stopped was the was the Battle of the Passage of the Duoro on May 16, 1809, forcing the French General Soult to make a hurried retreat all the way out from Portugal and Spain.

France's strong position on the north bank of the Duoro, at Porto, was abandoned. Wellesley became Duke of Wellington in 1814. His progress led us to victory in 1815 at Waterloo and, when we decided to swap history research for a drink, we toasted Copenhagen, Wellington's famous horse.

In the past, seeing so many older people struggling on walking sticks with heavy bags to hot countries, I always wondered why they left long, hot journey's so late in life. Our ladies considered that comment to be absolute proof that the male gender lacked the inner strength of women.

But travelling certainly becomes more and more arduous. I recall an essay by Alan Coren who also saw that holiday injuries were on the increase and, in his own magical style, offered tips, especially for older travellers.

"Pack your case a month before you leave and practice throwing it into the boot of your car every day, so that when your Bulgarian mini-jalopy driver turns up to take you to Heathrow and stares at you while you lug your case out, your shoulder will be up to the task of chucking it on top of his filthy spare wheel.

"This exercise will also strengthen muscles required later when you have to get your handluggage into the overhead locker without the cabin crew giggling themselves helpless at the new dent in your head.

"You would also be wise to suss out the route to Heathrow. Several per cent of all holiday cardiac arrests occur when a Bulgarian with a conked-out satnav arrives in Slough at the moment your plane is passing overhead."

What were our difficulties? What advice can I offer? Only to let you know that the cruise boat had a very limited library of seven books, three of which were factual about Roman Catholicism. Take your own.

But I would go again, understanding above all that the heroes of this wild, silent river valley are the great river itself and the peasant farmers tending the only vine that will grow there on the steep slopes of the true home of port.

Sip the port slowly. Take a look at the huge signs on the mountains announcing their presence - the Sandeman don's black cape, regal on the horizon, Cockburn, Dow, Graham, Taylor and Warre all based within a half day's cruising downstream to Porto. Avoid the steep rocky terraced vineyards up in the sky - let the port come down to you, as it surely will.

To be honest, I raised several glasses, modestly poured, to Croft, but in my case to Robert Croft, head of cricket coaching at Glamorgan, whose team won their last match at Swansea against Durham, just as we returned.

A drop of the vintage stuff.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Article Type:Travel narrative
Geographic Code:4EUPR
Date:Jun 3, 2017
Words:810
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