Happy Valleys

happy vallies 1THROUGH a settling of plaster dust I snatch glimpses of snow-capped mountains. Above a hammering of nails I hear gusting wind in treetops and the cry of a bird. And when the wind sweeps away the sharp tang of varnish there are traces of pine and wild herbs in the air. I think about the track that runs along a riverbed from our front gate and off into the hills. In the three months we have lived in this place I have failed to venture more than three-hundred metres along its stony course. If I possessed a spark of adventure I’d drop these tools, pick up my rucksack, and set out to explore this new country. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as someone once said in a memorable film. So off I go . . .

The peaks of the Sierra Nevada rise before me to the north as the track climbs through olive groves towards the snowfields. Then it veers west, labours steeply and stonily to green orchards above the riverbed, passes a cheese factory and an olive mill, and delivers me into hilly countryside where poppies bend and butterflies glide on a warm March breeze.

2 3 4 5This is more like it. Fresh air; fresh land; fresh horizons. A chap can plough himself into a rut when working on a new house. I don’t like DIY at the best of times. It can be a frustrating yet sometimes unavoidable intrusion. In fact, I had a panic attack in the B&Q store in Darlington once while searching for carborundum paper. Shortage of breath, racing pulse, sweaty brow, spinning floor tiles. Palms going wet and dry.

Just needed to get out beneath open skies, away from those claustrophobic aisles of flashy tools and monstrous equipment that people buy to bugger up their weekends.

I have a theory that DIY – like dusting the house and scrubbing the front step – is an invention of the idle classes to keep we lower orders occupied during our spare time. Measures like this prevent social unrest and insurrection. They divert our energies.

Hungry masses on the streets? Lower the price of hardboard and get them boxing-in their bedroom fireplaces. The dockers after another tanner? Start a craze for plywood pelmets. Chartists marching through Newport? Roll out the loft insulation and offer fifty-percent improvement grants for a limited period.

Forget strong drink and gambling – DIY is the curse of the working classes. I realised this while growing up in the 1960s. Why put yourself out to build a new Jerusalem when for a couple of days’ wages you can cover the kitchen ceiling with polystyrene tiles, concrete the forecourt garden and remove every last trace of those beautiful red and black tiles that graced the lobby floor?

Did anyone ever see a picture of Che Guevara with a Black and Decker orbital sander in his hands, or Nelson Mandela wielding a cordless hedge trimmer? No. What more proof do you need? Back to the walk.

6 7 8I have no map of this area so I possess only a vague notion of where I’m heading. Tried to buy a map in Orgiva, the local town, but maps as we know them are not widely available here in Andalucia.

Luckily, because I was a sixer in the Wolf Cubs (1st Askam and Ireleth, 3rd Duddon) I am able to navigate by the angle of the sun and the rings in tree stumps. So although I no longer own a pair of those tracker shoes that had a compass in the heel and animal paw prints on the soles, I am pretty adept at finding my way.

My path drops me down into a delightfully narrow valley, its slopes clad in pine and eucalyptus. I’m winding my way south and the gigantean bulk of Sierra de Lujar dominates the view. Lujar is the last mountain before Africa. And pretty damned impressive it is, too.

9There are ruins in this valley – tumbled walls of homesteads long abandoned; overgrown terraces where olive trees still flourish; the remains of water courses and reservoirs. And it is so peaceful. No one lives here. Nothing challenges the silence but birdsong and a whispering breeze.

10 1211The track descends to Lujar’s feet and the valley basin of the Rio Guadalfeo. How many mountains have been crushed to form this massive alluvial plain, I wonder? How many millennia have marched past, back to back, while these sediments accumulated? The forces at work here are too formidable and the timescale too vast to contemplate. Better just to sit on the warm shingle, eat a tin of tuna, and watch the river swirling past, bearing its occasional microscopic grain to add to the pile.

13 14 16

Barley was once one of the main crops in this area but now it just grows wild. It would have been nice to wander along this valley and doze for a while in a field of golden barley

Barley was once one of the main crops in this area but now it just grows wild. It would have been nice to wander along this valley and doze for a while in a field of golden barley

I climb another river valley and head back towards my starting point, passing through the settlement of El Morreon. This is one of Orgiva’s thriving alternative communities. Its citizens inhabit a variety of structures, from traditional Spanish cortijos to old busses, caravans, horse boxes and shelters manufactured from recycled materials. Bald tyres and industrial pallets are items of necessity. B&Q decking and Ikea bookshelves don’t get a look in. Thank god.

17 18 21 22 23 2419 2025 26 27 28Back at the house, paint brushes are stiffening on dusty windowsills. A depressing array of tools lies scattered across the kitchen floor. I have returned to the land of the non-dead. But at least I cast off the chains of servitude for a few brief hours and tasted the sweet air of freedom; raised my eyes to the sky and beheld the heavens, not a newly-fitted Bricomart ceiling rose with twin flex and retro lampshade.

So let the struggle continue. La lucha continua, as they say over here. The fight goes on. ¡No pasaran! And no more polyfiller. Not much anyway.

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Barry Bucknell, Childhood, DIY, Environment, Footpaths, Hiking, Life, Mountains, Politics, Ranting, Rivers, Ruins, Walking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Happy Valleys

  1. Brilliant! I wondered how you were getting on 🙂 I too hate DIY – my partner Shirls’ ex-husband and her father were both DIY fanatics and I am expected to follow suite – I don’t. I hate it. Looks like a great place you have moved to – enjoy your exploring 🙂

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  2. Great stuff cuz. Makes me want to be back in Spain again. And, yeah, F%¤k DIY! 🙂

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  3. Dave B. says:

    Hi Alen, It’s been a while, for which I apologise. Hope Espana is proving to be everything you’d hoped, and more besides. I’m in a DIY phase at the moment (from necessity, not inclination); you have to wonder if Michelangelo would have faffed about with that ceiling for as long as he did, if Wickes trade emulsion had been available back then.

    Liked by 1 person

    • McEff says:

      Hi Dave. Spain’s great, though still very much an enigma. It’s going to take a lot of getting used to. Michelangelo’s style of DIY I could handle, though he probably had a keener eye for colour and detail than me. I’m sure he would have approved of Wickes.
      Cheers, Alen

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  4. alan.sloman says:

    Thank you.
    I shall now spend the rest of the day smiling.

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  5. Great post Alen.
    Pleased you escaped for a few hours, presumably you are back in the ‘Awkward Roads’ box now.
    I’ve seen the hippy village near you.and have come across many more in Southern Spain – must be the weather and cheap wine. Is there any conflict in Orgiva, they have been there so long now.
    On the Cabo de Gata they have a really well organised ‘village’ [? San Pedro] complete with cafe for passing strangers, worth a weekend down there when the DIY is palling again. The bus goes from Motril via Almeria [a city for exploring]. You probably know all this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • McEff says:

      No, there’s no conflict at all, everyone appears to get on with everyone else. There’s another community up in the Beneficio, which is high in the narrow valley below where the GR7 crosses just west of Canar. Actually, it’s the same valley, with one community at the top and the other at the foot. And we live in the bit in the middle.
      I came across another hippy settlement in the hills above Nerja when I climbed Cielo a few years back. Like you say, they are probably all over the place.
      Not ventured as far as Almeria yet. I’d better finish the painting first or I might get into trouble.
      Cheers, Alen

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  6. qdant says:

    Better just to sit on the warm shingle, eat a tin of tuna, and watch the river swirling past
    how about a ‘fray bentos steak and kidney pie’
    how’s yer Brassicas ?

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    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. Thought you must have got lost in the bracken or choked on that home-grown baccy, Danny. You’ve got me thinking about Fray Bentos pies now and whether I can buy them over here. Not seen any pies at all, to tell you the truth.
      Brassicas: I’ve got some kale, caulis and Hispi cabbages coming through. Have to get some ground dug over next. Too many bloody jobs to do!
      Cheers, Alen

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  7. Stunning scenery! Makes me feel like watching a Spaghetti Western or two….

    Liked by 1 person

    • McEff says:

      Hi Chrissie. Apparently, the Spaghetti Westerns were filmed just east of here near Almeria and there’s a “tourist experience” to be had in the studios. Not been there yet but I might take the grandchildren when they come over. Have to practise my Clint Eastwood scowl.
      Cheers, Alen

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  8. Hanna says:

    This is great to see a new walk on your ‘climbing blog’ Alen, and I love the quirky things you find, and all the colours too. I’ve missed that. The wagons are just replaced with Volkswagens, this is the right spirit.
    I looked for you in The Sixer Annual 🙂
    Jack Nicholson is brilliant playing the incarnate evil. He is unsurpassed when he gives it as a bizarre charmer in Eastwick. Not much DIY in that part. Apart from the unorthodox floor decoration of cherry in the church.
    Your walk looks wonderful. I like the river very much and snow-capped mountains in the background. I enjoyed the pictures and reading!!!
    All the best,
    Hanna
    PS The amazing tree with all the roots, it’s probably an olive tree? It looks like one of the trees, I have written so much about – the hawthorn.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Hanna. Yes, Jack Nicholson. I went to see The Shining when it came out. Can’t believe it was 1980. Where did all those years go? Witches of Eastwick, too. Great actor.
      Unfortunately, I never made the Sixer Annual. Can’t imagine why. I was good at all those knots. I can still tie most of them. And despite being a republican and anti-monarchist, I can fly the Union flag the correct way up – and that’s a skill that eludes the vast majority of Britons.
      Yes, the big tree is an olive. They grow to many hundreds of years old if left to their own devices. Andalucia is famous for its ancient olives and there are moves to protect them because there is a growing industry in digging them up and transporting them to northern Europe. Haven’t seen many hawthorns down here, but they do exist. I shall keep my eyes open for them.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I could picture your camper van in the middle of that settlement. And seeing the picture of the dogs made me wonder if Spanish dogs bark in Spanish or whether barking is a universal language.

    I went to school in the ’70s with a lad whose dad owned a big DIY shop. This was before B&Q and the like became high street names and his family were loaded even then. He was as thick as one of his dad’s 3×2 planks, but it didn’t realy matter I suppose. (He paid me 10p to do his art homework every week.)

    I wish I was in those mountains. On picture they look too dry for my liking, but I know I’d be consumed by the atmosphere, the circumstances of being in a foreign country and the prospect of going home in the evening and watching Valencia on the telly getting another hammering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • McEff says:

      Hi Chris. My campervan would blend in perfectly. It now has Spanish number plates and a new identity. All I need is a dog on a string.
      I think the dogs do bark in Spanish because they respond to Spanish commands. The birds sing in Spanish too, except the ones that migrate and they are multi-lingual. Birds migrating from northern Africa to Britain practise tweeting in English before they get to Dover to confuse the border police and Ukip supporters. I’ve just read that in The Daily Mail.
      We never had homework for art. I would have liked that. All we got was maths, physics and the other stuff I had trouble doing. And you made money out of it, too. Am I jealous, or what?
      I’ll have to look out for Valencia. They sound interesting. Only boring teams win all the time.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

      • Valencia are a lesson in how not to run a football team. They’ve had seven managers in two years, still eating their way through a 750 million euro debt mountain, lost 7-0 to Barcelona one week, beat Rapid Vienna 6-0 the week after. After one season you’ll have no fingernails, hair, nerves, healthy blood pressure or a functioning life. (You can read all about it in an eerily apocalyptic blog post: ‘Supporting Valencia.’)

        Multi-lingual birds; they’d have to be. I never thought about that. And the campervan with Spanish number plates is like a badge of honour.

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  10. I´d somehow missed that you´d moved/fled, or what ever!!! Well done you and good post!

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  11. rthepotter says:

    Glad you got out, and the photos are gorgeous. Hang whitewash and spring-cleaning, as my soulmate the Mole said.

    Liked by 1 person

    • McEff says:

      Coincidentally, I had that book in mind when I set out for my walk. I was trying to remember the bit about the Sea Rat’s adventures. Must read it again!

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  12. I’d never do DIY as I’d make such a hash of it, it would need to be redone anyway!

    I like to see rustic re-use of things like pallets and other junk to keep buildings and fences together 🙂
    Carol.

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  13. Steve Bibby says:

    Marvellous post, Alen. I loved the pallet-galleon. The only glitch was the, hopefully inadvertent, insertion of a Sting song into my head.

    I lost the top of my middle finger last December when I dropped a concrete post on it.

    It grew back.

    Just as well, there’s a roof to fix.

    Steve

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    • McEff says:

      Sorry about the finger, Steve. I hate stuff like that. I managed to drill through one of mine once when fixing mud flaps to a Land Rover.
      The galleon’s great. A couple of days after the walk I met the man who built it.
      Cheers, Alen

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      • Steve Bibby says:

        Did he say why he’d done it?

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        • McEff says:

          It’s a recycling point for the people who live in the settlement. It’s full of clothes, shoes and children’s games. I guess the idea is that rather than chuck things out, you leave them in the boat so others can make use of them.

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  14. Lovely! Hope all is well! X

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  15. Darren Smith says:

    Hi,

    Wonderful, crisp photography and I am a fan of your writing style, look forward to catching up on your backlog.

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