Back on the green jersey trail thanks to stranger's kindness


EURO 2012 ROAD TRIP: DAY 9: ON THE outer approaches to Gdansk, we turned off the main road in search of our campsite. It was somewhat remote from the city, at least 15km we knew, but I had taken down meticulous directions from a Google map earlier.

So I left the main road in full confidence and, two or three road signs later, was still apparently heading in the right direction.

Then, as happens with monotonous regularity, new road signs started appearing that bore no relation to anything in my directions. And for the umpteenth time on this trip, I was pulled up at a junction, with scribbled directions in one hand and the Rough Guide to Poland in the other, when a driver going in the other direction noticed my confusion and stopped.

He was a small, moustachioed man, with a very businesslike manner. He also had a giant aerial on his car: at least five feet tall – almost bigger than he was. But when I showed him the campsite address in the book, he whipped a battered laptop out of the car, set it up on the boot-lid and ran the address into an off-line map application of the kind that I really must get myself one of these days.

Seeing where the campsite was on the map, he looked off into the distance thoughtfully, as if trying to make sense of a very complex equation. “For you it’s not easy,” he said, and I was encouraged to hear it. Then he added: “Follow me.”

First he had to do a U-turn, so I knew we were taking him out of his way – but surely he was only showing us around the corner or to the next junction. No. Instead, we followed him as he turned left and then right and took the third exit at a roundabout and then made several other turns, none of which was marked by a sign comparable to the directions I had.

Some time after that, we followed him across the most rickety wooden bridge I have ever seen, its planks hopping up and down under the car wheels like the keys of a piano. When he led us into a deeply forested area, I might have been worried, except I knew that’s the sort of place the campsite was. Sure enough, he left us outside the gate.

He must have gone seven or eight miles out of his way, in the process saving us several times that of driving around in circles.

When I offered him something – “for the petrol” – he waved it away, so I just shook his hand and thanked him profusely. I’m sorry now I didn’t ask his name.

After the madness of Poznan, the wooded campsite by the sea is like a spiritual retreat.

It is on a so-called “ecological island”, with all sorts of interesting wildlife, including insects with bright green wings that blend in perfectly with the background.

When we arrived, it seemed for a moment that we were the only football fans there. In fact, suddenly the Euros seemed to be only a rumour. Then we noticed a few flags dotted around the camp – and gradually we realised that, like the insects, the Irish fans were just temporarily camouflaged.

Soon they were appearing all over the forest. Remote as we thought our campsite was, when we caught the bus into town yesterday, it was already full of people with funny wigs and leprechaun hats, as well as the occasional, lesser-spotted Euro ‘88 jersey.