Thursday, 13 October 2016

Day of amazing views

This morning, I drove out to Los Galliardos to meet Fr Alan and travel together to Aljambra for the Eucharist. It was great to have the company of a fellow priest for the day, as I did in Malaga with Doreen last month. There were sixteen of us for the commemoration of St Edward the Confessor, and the singing was again enthusiastic.

After the service, we were invited by Lay Reader Duncan and Jean his wife, to visit their place for lunch. The house is perched on top of a mountain to the east of the valley in which the village of Aljambra is situated. It's at the end of several kilometers of steep winding unmetalled road, quite a challenging drive, so Duncan took us there, plus friends John and Ann in his six seater four wheel. It's at roughly the same altitude as Mt Snowdon with wonderful views in all directions, down to the sea plain in the east and even higher mountains to the west, and north.
The track affords many remarkable views during the ascent, and winds through a fascinating range of geological strata from different eras exhibited in exposed rock faces. The soil is mostly pale grey soft slate, but there's also streaks pushing through of old sandstone, limestone and volcanic rock, all mixed in a chaotic way, evidence of a turbulent ancient history. How I wish I'd been in a position to study geology properly when I was young, after initiation into what underlies the landscape by my Grandpa John Kimber in childhood.

Duncan and Janet's house is called Nido del Aguila - Eagle's Nest - a natural choice, since there were golden eagles riding the thermals above the ridge on the day they first visited twelve years ago. The house is way off grid, self supporting, sustained by solar electricity and rainwater storage. It even has a terrace with a swimming pool! There's an adjoining old house that's been renovated by the Spanish landowner to which the modern one is attached. Such an impressive building project with all the logistic complexities this entails is a true labour of love for a retired civil engineer. It's a delight to all who visit. Best of all, as we were leaving, I spotted an eagle soaring high overhead and got this photo, which is better than I could have hoped for given the difficulty of scanning overhead with the 50x zoom of my Sony HX300.
After a splendid meal and conversation on the terrace, Duncan took us back downhill, though not to Aljambra where the car parked, but to Albox, to take the road north for our promised visit to the Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de Saliente perched on a terrace high on a south facing mountainside beneath the peaks at the end of the 20km valley.
It's the principal locality for Marian devotional pilgrimage for the people of Albox, and has been recently renovated, receiving Papal recognition this year, for the third centenary of its foundation.
The site is referred to as a monasterio. There are many auxiliary buildings and a couple of cloisters. The church and sanctuary, however, is a larger version of the layout in many other Ermitas, with no monastic choir or presbytery, causing me to wonder if it ever had been run as a monastery.
As a place of pilgrimage offering hospitality, it may have been looked after by an 'active' religious community of men or women. Evidently, Mass is being said there regularly, no doubt baptisms and weddings as well. New signage as you enter the domain from the parking lot calls it a 'hospederia', a place to stay. Auxiliary buildings attached to the church have been restored to provide modern accommodation and there's a restaurant on a lower terrace with amazing views. We called in for a drink, and the proprietors greeted Duncan with delight. They're his hill top neighbours although for them it's a second home.
Again the valley soil here pale grey, almost white in places and orchards of almond trees pattern the landscape. Tree trunks are either blackened by flame or painted with a product (I don't know which) for protection from pests. At the moment, leaves are yellowing or have fallen, but across the end of the year, the valley will be transformed by pink and white almond blossom. I wish I could be here to see that.

As there'd been thunder and rain an hour or so before dawn, the morning was overcast, but clouds began to lift by the time we set out for Saliente, so we were fortunate to enjoy a sunny afternoon under cloud decorated skies. I'm just so glad to have been told about this place, and being taken there by Duncan. So nice not to have to drive, to be able to take photos on the move. I only posted one that was shaky and out of focus, just to show how amazing it is to look up to the destination from the pilgrims' way. People walk the 20km from Albox, and there's a stepped pathway that climbs up the last fifty metres elevation, for those who want to walk up, or go on their knees. Our visit was all too brief, as we all needed to get home before dark (or the Archers in my case), but there are more photos to look at here.

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