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Under the mountain

From the height of the mountains of La Alpujarras yesterday we went underground today. Near to Nerja is a cave system, “discovered” in 1959 by some local lads who broke through the narrow entrance in to the amazing caverns beyond. Their discovery demonstrated they weren’t the first humans to visit the caves. Human remains, prehistoric tools and many cave paintings show that these caves were first inhabited and used from about 25000 BC. Sea fishers and hunter gatherers painted their prey, and sometimes buried their dead.

Today as tourists we can access the first series of caverns, which are cathedral like in their size and splendour. Our own photos don’t capture the reality. So these are from the cave publicity. Since we first visited the Nerja caves some years ago the visitor experience is a bit better managed with timed tours and an audio visual orientation, but busier with lots of school children and more expensive!

We also located the new Nerja Museum in the centre of town which now houses some of the archeological discoveries from the caves as well as presenting the history of the area. The building is bright and modern, but not overwhelming in its content and presentation, and there was a lot of confusion as to when it was actually open! However, we were glad to see that attempts are being made to preserve and allow public access to the unique archaeological discoveries and historical research connected with these amazing caves and beautiful coastal town.

 

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Mountain high

Today we took a tour east from Nerja along the coast to Salobrena and then turned inland into the foot hills of the Alpujarras mountains. I had recently been enjoying rereading Driving over Lemons, the best seller written by Chris Stewart ex drummer from the band Genesis. He describes his experiences of living in this remote area in the 1970s. It is still remote, but there are signs of development, not least the amazing new reservoir and motorway systems running through the valley and completed since we last took this trip.

We made a couple of stops, one to view a set of three bridges which illustrate the history of the tracks which traced this area, an Arab bridge, a medieval one and a 21st century bridge, all one on top of the other. Then a coffee stop in Lanjeron, a spa town once as famous as Bath in the UK but now sadly neglected.

Then we climbed on, up and up, hair pin bends on the mountain road, the coach making some ominous noises all the way! Eventually we arrived at Pampaneira, a tiny white village perched on the side of the mountains, with the snow of the Sierra Nevada range clearly visible above us.

After a wine tasting, accompanied by the wonderful regional cheese and a ham, we wandered the village. I was especially thrilled to discover an artisan weaver, Mercedes Carascossa. Her handwoven tapestries are unique! And we had another enjoyable tasting sesssion in a tiny artisan chocolate factory, with its huge variety of flavours. We bought some too of course!

 

Sunny day lunch

Dawn over the mountains behind Nerja was beautiful, and promised a day of sunshine. So we walked through the town to Burriana beach. It is busier and more developed since we first came here, but the palm trees on the headland make their distinctive outline still. Perhaps just a little taller and thicker after a few years growth.

My attempt at sketching on the beach shows just how difficult painting landscapes are to do! Ah well, keep practising….

We booked for Sunday lunch at a restaurant recommended by some friends back home, Jackys (read more here…) They offered an eight course tasting menu which sounded intriguing. We were not disappointed, excellent food, a wonderful variety of interesting tastes and ingredients, and constant wine refills all included. A great way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was followed by a long siesta of course!

 

The rain in Spain …

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain… so the saying goes. Well, today we were heading for mountains under blue skies.

On a tour to Ronda we stopped off first for coffee and a wander in the strange little village of Setenile de las Bodegas. Situated in a deep gorge many of the houses are built under the overhanging rocks, and one street was actually a tunnel. A little market with some interesting stalls made it all feel cramped but quaint, and the coffee was very good (and cheap!)

Then on to Ronda, higher in the mountains but again built around a deep gorge. Inhabited by a successions of Romans, Arabs and others its Moorish influence was every where in the architecture and tiles. After an excellent wine and tapas tasting stop we were free to wander and take in the sites of this ancient city. Walking the amazing “new” bridge is one of them, even if the experience of looking straight down into the gorge is a bit daunting.

Sounds of distant thunder followed us as we wandered and when the first raindrops began to fall we decided to explore the Mondragon Palace,  a fourteenth century house which now houses a Museum. We were glad we did, not only because of the fascinating exhibitions showing the history of the region from prehistoric times, and the amazing cave systems running through the mountains, but also because of the torrential downpours which followed, which we observed from the windows.

Eventually emerged again under our umbrellas ( thank goodness we had brought them) and navigated the narrow streets which were now rivers. We paddled our way back to the coach and dried off slowly on the journey back to the coast (which was warm and sunny!) Seems like the rain in Spain can reach the mountains too.

A favourite place – revisited

We boarded the plane under grey skies and heavy rain, but broke through to sunshine. Arriving in the Costa del Sol in Spain we were greeted at the hotel with pleasant warm temperatures and a chilled Cava. It’s few years since we last visited Nerja and it is good to be back, this time treating ourselves to a stay in the large hotel Rui Monica.

We have wonderful views along the coast from our balcony window and the sound of sea in our ears. A stroll around the old town takes us to the Balcón de Europa with more views of coast and mountains, to the accompaniment of Spanish guitarists.

Later as we sunbathed and sketched on the Hotel terrace we watched the skill of the palm tree pruners. Much trickier than pruning roses!

Rhubarb resurrection

Earlier this week a friend sent me a lovely message which read “Sometimes, when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.”

I thought of the message again on this Easter Sunday, when we lifted the lid on our clump of forced rhubarb in the garden. Kept in the dark under an old compost bin through out the winter, it has been slower coming this year because of the cold. But it never fails to excite me to see what explodes from the dark, just like lime green and pink fireworks. How can so much colour be produced from a winter of darkness?

The rhubarb, like so much of the natural world at this time of year, reminds me that the dark is a necessary part of the light, and without the winter there would be no spring. Without the seed being planted under the earth there would be no new life. Without three days buried in a tomb, there can be no resurrection,

What ever your spiritual or religious beliefs may be, and even if the weather forecast for Easter Monday is snow, happy rhubarb resurrection, spring is coming, believe it!

Time travelling in Somerset

We have just returned from a couple of pleasant days in Somerset. We drove across the Mendip hills where there were piles of snow still lying under hedgerows and edging the roads. But the sun was shining and the sky was blue and there was a hint of spring in the air.

We explored the beautiful ancient city of Wells, with its moated Bishops Palace and fresh water wells, and an amazingly preserved medieval street of houses. And that’s not mentioning the cathedral with its quirky carvings, ribbed vaulting and almost modern looking scissor arched nave.

 

The following day we wandered around the gothic style house and sprawling estate at Tyntesfield. So much to see inside and out, the kitchen garden glasshouses holding almost as many treasures as the inside rooms!

 

Our journey into the past continued as we drove on to Weston-Super -Mare, a Victorian seaside resort much influenced by the coming of the Great Western Railway. We were searching for another, small and humbler, house which had belonged to my great grandfather Henry Bartlett. In 1911 he was living on The Boulevard, Weston-Super-Mare, a wide tree lined street of Victorian built houses. By an amazing coincidence of timing we met the lady who lives there now, and she asked us inside and we were able to stand inside his drawing room and look out of the window, This was the house where my grandfather Sydney Bartlett grew up with his little brother Ernest.

 

We drove a few streets further on and found the large town cemetery where I thought my great grandmother Lilian Mary Bartlett, Henry’s wife, might be buried. I had a photo of her grave taken in 1923 when she died of meningitis aged 52. By another amazing coincidence we met a cemetery worker who was able to help us locate the grave, now nearly 100 years old. To my surprise I found that not only was Henry Bartlett buried there in 1947, but another wife, Edith, who died in the 1960’s, well after I was born and yet I never knew anything about her! I do love family history surprises.

 

The modern photo includes me with the cemetery worker who has tended these graves for over thirty years and was so helpful.