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Orchid hunting days

Flying into Cyprus at the end of March you see a very different island. It's not the sunburnt bare rock of summer beneath you. It's green. There are green fields of cereals, knee high and almost ready to harvest. There are rows and rows of huge green artichoke heads. (We have an artichoke festival over here.) Green salad vegetables, cabbages, lettuces and every kind of herb are ripe for the picking. And where it's not green, it's gold. At first I thought Cyprus had taken to growing oil seed rape. Then I realised this was Nature's bigger splash. There are the sunshine yellows of the thorny gorse and broom, herbs from chamomile to sorrel to giant (and I mean giant – 400cm) fennel, glowing celandines and lots of acacias and mimosas. For a few weeks, the island is a riot of golds and lemons and yellows.

It's my first day here and I am on a mission – to find Cyprus's wild orchids. Up above our house in the Kyrenia mountains, I'm told, they can be found during a short springtime window just about now. So the Major and I set off along the mountain path to Bellapais scouring every inch of the way. We are richly rewarded. There are fragile white and pink cyclamens, riots of scarlet poppies, wide-eyed giant daisies and rock roses doing what a rock rose has to do – climbing higher and higher into the mountainside, cerise, cream and golden-eyed. The only sounds are the wind in the trees and the tinkle of goats' bells. But orchids? Not a one.

Lunch is fresh fish next to Bellapais' beautiful abbey ruins where we are almost mobbed by flocks of skydiving house martins and swallows. We count as swallows too, here, temporary residents usually in the baking hot summer. In March, it's a different island made for walking in the mountains rather than basking in the sun or cooling off in the pool. So it will be back to the mountains again on a different path in search of those mysterious orchids. Better yet, I've had a tip off....

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