Friday, 11 November 2016

Armistice Day on Parade, then underground

I drove to Aljambra again this morning earlier to preach at an Armistice Day service with the Royal British Legion Albox branch, one of several in the region, indicative of the strength of the population of expatriates, and Armed Service veterans among them. There were forty present, but I was told this was half the number attending just two years ago, and that was a disappointment to the church team that had turned out to welcome them. There are all sorts of possible reasons for the change. Sickness, infirmity, holiday absence, or return to the UK among them, the branch itself has been less active until recently. One thing is certain, military veterans wherever they are stay loyal to their annual remembrance-tide commitment, and that is most honourable.

After the service, I was invited to lunch at John and Ann's house, together with Duncan and Jean, the other side of the Almanzora Valley from Albox, in a hamlet not far from the village that gives its name to the river and valley. Their house has to be reached by driving on a rough track across the dry river bed where the Arroyo Albánchez joins the rio Almanzora. The house stands above the arroyo itself, which is covered with almond and citrous trees. It's a deeply rural area where shepherds still walk their flocks or sheep or goats out to pasture on the steep slopes above the valley floor. 

It also has history of mining, like the villages in the Sierra Bédar, though not on a huge industrial scale. The ruins of the building from which the work was managed can still be glimpsed at the base of a ravine, near the valley road, but the iron-rich hillside above present no obvious sign of industry. There are dry stone terraces, and these have supported orchards. Some may be very ancient, local hearsay reckons they go back to Roman times. Some of those terraces are where mine working entrances can be found, not they are not visible from down below. 

We had a splendid lunch, preceded by a drink on the patio in full sunshine. Too hot to eat outdoors on November 11th! This is a steep sided valley, running south to north, so the sun rises late and sets early. Temperatures change dramatically once the house goes into shade. It was a peasant farmer's house, with door arches wide enough for a pannier laden donkey to be brought indoors with produce for unloading. The outside door wasn't hung on hinges but pivoted around a pole. A narrower entrance was called for during renovation. Using the ornate wrought iron attachments from the old one, John made a substantial door to fit the new space. The quality of the ironwork which he restored has him wondering about their origin, as they seem seem rather sophisticated for such an originally humble dwelling.

After a brief post-prandial pause we drove up the mountain road to spot where it was possible to park and then scramble down the upper reaches of the ravine from where several jagged rocky apertures about a metre and a half across could be seen on the slope opposite. We reached a terrace which had an entrance tunnel to the workings, driven through the hard iron bearing rock. It was obstructed by a heap of stones a metre high, possibly from a collapsed section of terrace above. There was enough clearance for us to climb over and into the entrance tunnel without difficulty. 

After about fifteen metres, the tunnel opened out into a cavern. It wasn't dark at all, but illuminated by sunlight, pouring in from the holes in the roof above and to the side. On closer inspection these other holes glimpsed from the outside showed signs of being man made, or a widening of natural fissures. In parts of the cavern, columns of stone had been left in place as roof supports, and there were signs that other tunnels had been started, following seams of minerals wherever they went. There was a great mound of rubble below these tunnels, suggesting a work in progress had been abandoned.

We found remains of boreholes in a few rocky surfaces made by the drills of shot-firers, as the teams of explosives experts were called when I was a boy. I can remember seeing holes like this in large slabs of coal delivered to our house, and in shale rocks on the spoil heap where I used to play and hunt for carboniferous fossils. This was the only visible evidence of 19th-20th century mining as there were no remnants of equipment or fixations anchoring equipment into the rock. The cavern, like the external terrace, was so lacking in evidence of recent industry, that we could have been standing in mine workings a thousand or two thousand years ago, as basic mining technique used was the same. 

Only the ruined building at the bottom of the ravine spoke of the existence of mining in this area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, right into the civil war era. I wondered if this was a modest kind of cottage industry, using traditional techniques in an area deemed unfit or too expensive for expansion or modernisation. There's so much to learn.

Rather than go straight back to the house, we drove on over the top of the mountain and down into the next valley and paid a brief visit to the small valley town of Cantoria. The Moors had established a fortress and a hill village on a high rocky promontory to the south west of the town, and after the Moors' sixteenth century insurrection both were demolished and the sites left bare, A new town was built on the valley floor next to the rio Almanzora. It's one of a few towns of this period laid out in a classical grid pattern, such as the Romans used, and Napoleon revived later.

We re-traced our steps from here back to the house, following the rather rough track of the railway line which ran through this region to the coast, which closed in the early sixties. Quite apart from offering an interesting perspective of the valley and a few tantalising glimpses of birds I couldn't recognise, John took us back this way, to show the approximately 10km detour which must be taken from home to Albox when there's there a mighty deluge of rainwater that fills all the dry river beds to overflowing, and makes them impassible. It only happens sporadically, and who knows what will happen in future as extreme weather events get harder to predict, and likewise their impact.

I was most annoyed with myself, to have left both cameras behind, with so many sight to photograph, but Ann came to the rescue with a Sony point 'n shoot, of the same kind that I used to document the city centre redevelopment work when I was at St John's. The card slot on neither of my computers will take a Sony Memory Stick, but the connecting cables were still available. I was able to take fifty photos, transfer them to my computer, edit and upload them to the web for sharing with great ease. I was most disconcerted when I started getting notifications that people were viewing them, but I couldn't get them to display on any device. 

After a while the penny dropped. I hunted down the array of albums stored, and found them hidden at the bottom, filed in date order. The camera's operating system was still at its default date setting, 1st Jan 2008. I sorted that out, and then went through the uploaded photos altering the metadata file for each to show the proper date and time. Picasa wouldn't let me do this on originals, but Google Photos editor makes this easy and convenient. Normally I don't have a good word to say about this Picasaweb usurper, but this is one undeniable positive. All that now needs to be done is to find a simple app which will do the same on the originals on the PC. But not tonight.

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