Sunday, 4 September 2016

Spanish rocks

Aldea de Trasgo is a modern courtyard style hotel, in very confident bright soup-and-mustard colours, and a tinkling Moorish fountain in the centre providing a soothing (or loo-inspiring) sound day and night. La Senora makes a selection of really delicious marmalades, curds and pates to adorn the breakfast table, and croissants so spectacular you wouldn’t be surprised to see them on sale in a Viennese boulevard. She was very taken with my Bernie Mev elastic sandals (and in fact I forgot to give her the details of them, and had to go back later. She was especially thrilled with the idea that you can put them through the wash).

Pilgrims plodded their way with sticks and backpacks along the Feve railway right beside the hotel.

We followed signs for a medieval bridge which we never found, but wended our way through tiny cliff-edged valleys filled with cider-apple orchards and small farms. Eventually we came out to the cliff top on the west side of the sea-spout bay which we went to the night before, so we could see the shapes and scale of the caves at the water’s edge where the tide and wind force their way up into the vertical sink holes to produce the stupendous geysers and organ-noises under the right conditions. Even with still waters and calm, the booming and buffeting sounds are tremendous. And the rocky clifftop plateau where we were standing was itself another marvel of landscape – more sink-holes, vast extents of craggy sills and crevasses, vertiginous cliffs, masses of small but brilliant wild flowers, terrifying descents, glimpses of blue sea between swirling cliff edges, and in the distance, two goats almost totally hidden on the horizon. The scale of everything is very deceptive – it looks small and close but is often very large and much more distant. Our shadows on the lower towers of rock were tiny.

After we stopped to give Madame the Bernie Mev information, and took advantage of her exemplary wifi set-up – strong free signal even in the carpark at the back of the building – we set off west. I wanted to buy some better watercolour paper so we went back into Ribadesella – but the shop was closed almost every hour of the week, so we grabbed a cortado and empanada and then set off to to Cuevona Caves, which the little boy at Aldea de Trasgo had told us about – a road going through a real cave with stalactites.

Over the bridge towards the Tito Bustillo, then keep going. The landscape becomes almost Kentish up on the plateau, and then we arrive at the mouth of the tunnel – huge like a cathedral, and about 300m long, winding and dark, echoing and sinous, with the road down the middle. Pedestrians cower at the side of the roadway and it’s a tight squeeze with cars passing each way…. The other end opens into a pretty village with a level crossing and lots of small houses. A bold pair of information boards explains everything and also describes the Camino des Molinas – taking you to see the little water-powered vertical mills established to grind grain, including the maize which came from America from 16thC onwards.

Back we came, turning west – but getting lost again and deciding on lunch by the beach, so we found (yet another place called ) la Vega which means rich fertile lowland… and boldly parked outside the carpark and took a light meal on a terrace overlooking a huge sandy bay…. I did a pencil sketch, trying to capture the colours – brilliant aquamarine, dark blue, white breakers, distant misty purple-brown-black hills……

Then up and onto the motorway, occasionally giving our satnav heart-attacks when the new stretches of road divert from the old ways….. And we arrived at Navia (with the paper plant which chomps up all the eucalyptus in a foul-smelling process), and turned up again into the mountains. Coming back to la Palacio de Prelo is extraordinary – the antiquity and simplicty and awkwardness of the building, the luxury and quiet.

Antonio suggests tea on the terrace under the trees away from the heat (thirty degrees), and stands over us talking about ‘everything’ for an hour or so.

All the troubles faced by post-Brexit Britain are mirrored in Spain – with the new regionalisation giving control of education and police to various governments headed by crackpots. In Catalonia, the health service budget has been smashed to pay for foreign embassies all around the world. ‘Don’t get sick in Catalonia. You will die’. There are so many dialects in Spain that the revival of local languages is a popular objective – Bable in Asturia, for instance – but no dialect is extensive enough to cover any one region, so completely new amalgamated local languages are being invented and imposed in the schools alongside Spanish, pushing English out. These languages are completely useless outside the regions and pretty well useless inside them, with publicly funded TV stations using them, but no-one able to understand them. The dialects often require different spelling for place-names: Boal becomes Bual, for instance… so local tourist attractions suddenly disappear from the google searches, and incomes are plummeting as a result. You might not ‘hear’ the difference if the placename is spoken but signposts and online information get more and more confusing.

Our salon during this conversation is on a little terrace at the back of the house, giving onto a marvellous view of fields, forests and mountains. We sit under a row of limes planted about ten feet from the house, in a secluded cell of glittering shadows and murmuring bright green light. Upstairs, the rooms are polished, hushed. He has given us a suite…. The bathroom is black slate and shining wood. Later we have supper – Alicia’s home-made aubergine quiche and salad, and then some cheese flan. Nothing could be nicer.

We walk up the lane to the pile of huge rocks (tiny from the terrace but each as big as a mini when you get close up) to see how they are arranged. This cairn of granite is as big as the house beside it. We meet a dog, and two horses in a field who look thirsty, and look at a little farmstead which someone has started to repair… beautiful new hand-cut slates on part of the roof, tiny windows with massive stone coins and lintels. Antonio says, there is another huge granite boulder somewhere in the village, which at one small point can be rocked with one finger. He challenges anyone – if you can find the point which rocks the stone, you can stay for a week for free in the Palacio.

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