Category: Environment

Being alone!

A repeat of an essay from the 12th October, 2019.

We were truly alone when we went to Utah. (September, 2019.)

But then again, one of the privileges of being on 13 acres, 13 very rural acres, here in Southern Oregon is that being alone is not that far away!

I don’t want to underplay the importance of this posting, republished from The Conversation website (with permission), because we live in so busy times.

Written by three professors, it’s a very wise and profound article.

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Spending time alone in nature is good for your mental and emotional health

June 4th, 2018

By , Professor of Outdoor Education, Montreat College
, Associate Professor and Program Director of Parks and Recreation Management, Western Carolina University

, Associate Professor of Outdoor Education, Montreat College
Today Americans live in a world that thrives on being busy, productive and overscheduled. Further, they have developed the technological means to be constantly connected to others and to vast options for information and entertainment through social media. For many, smartphones demand their attention day and night with constant notifications.

As a result, naturally occurring periods of solitude and silence that were once commonplace have been squeezed out of their lives. Music, reality TV shows, YouTube, video games, tweeting and texting are displacing quiet and solitary spaces. Silence and solitude are increasingly viewed as “dead” or “unproductive” time, and being alone makes many Americans uncomfortable and anxious.

But while some equate solitude with loneliness, there is a big difference between being lonely and being alone. The latter is essential for mental health and effective leadership.

We study and teach outdoor education and related fields at several colleges and organizations in North Carolina, through and with other scholars at 2nd Nature TREC, LLC, a training, research, education and consulting firm. We became interested in the broader implications of alone time after studying intentionally designed solitude experiences during wilderness programs, such as those run by Outward Bound. Our findings reveal that time alone in nature is beneficial for many participants in a variety of ways, and is something they wish they had more of in their daily life.

On an average day in 2015, individuals aged 15 and over spent more than half of their leisure time watching TV. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans Time Use Survey

Reflection and challenge

We have conducted research for almost two decades on Outward Bound and undergraduate wilderness programs at Montreat College in North Carolina and Wheaton College in Illinois. For each program, we studied participants’ experiences using multiple methods, including written surveys, focus group interviews, one-on-one interviews and field notes. In some cases, we asked subjects years later to look back and reflect on how the programs had affected them. Among other questions, our research looked at participant perceptions of the value of solo time outdoors.

Our studies showed that people who took part in these programs benefited both from the outdoor settings and from the experience of being alone. These findings build on previous research that has clearly demonstrated the value of spending time in nature.

Scholars in fields including wilderness therapy and environmental psychology have shown that time outdoors benefits our lives in many ways. It has a therapeutic effect, relieves stress and restores attention. Alone time in nature can have a calming effect on the mind because it occurs in beautiful, natural and inspirational settings.

Spending time in city parks like Audubon Park in New Orleans provides some of the same benefits as time in wilderness areas, including reduced stress levels and increased energy levels. InSapphoWeTrust, CC BY-SA

Nature also provides challenges that spur individuals to creative problem-solving and increased self-confidence. For example, some find that being alone in the outdoors, particularly at night, is a challenging situation. Mental, physical and emotional challenges in moderation encourage personal growth that is manifested in an increased comfort with one’s self in the absence of others.

Being alone also can have great value. It can allow issues to surface that people spend energy holding at bay, and offer an opportunity to clarify thoughts, hopes, dreams and desires. It provides time and space for people to step back, evaluate their lives and learn from their experiences. Spending time this way prepares them to re-engage with their community relationships and full work schedules.

Putting it together: The outdoor solo

Participants in programmed wilderness expeditions often experience a component known as “Solo,” a time of intentional solitude lasting approximately 24-72 hours. Extensive research has been conducted on solitude in the outdoors because many wilderness education programs have embraced the educational value of solitude and silence.

Solo often emerges as one of the most significant parts of wilderness programs, for a variety of reasons. Alone time creates a contrasting experience to normal living that enriches people mentally, physically and emotionally. As they examine themselves in relation to nature, others, and in some cases, God, people become more attuned to the important matters in their lives and in the world of which they are part.

Solo, an integral part of Outward Bound wilderness trips, can last from a few hours to 72 hours. The experience is designed to give participants an opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts and critically analyze their actions and decisions.

Solitary reflection enhances recognition and appreciation of key personal relationships, encourages reorganization of life priorities, and increases appreciation for alone time, silence, and reflection. People learn lessons they want to transfer to their daily living, because they have had the opportunity to clarify, evaluate and redirect themselves by setting goals for the future.

For some participants, time alone outdoors provides opportunity to consider the spiritual and/or religious dimension of life. Reflective time, especially in nature, often enhances spiritual awareness and makes people feel closer to God. Further, it encourages their increased faith and trust in God. This often occurs through providing ample opportunities for prayer, meditation, fasting, Scripture-reading, journaling and reflection time.

Retreating to lead

As Thomas Carlyle has written, “In (solitary) silence, great things fashion themselves together.” Whether these escapes are called alone time, solitude or Solo, it seems clear that humans experience many benefits when they retreat from the “rat race” to a place apart and gather their thoughts in quietness.

In order to live and lead effectively, it is important to be intentional about taking the time for solitary reflection. Otherwise, gaps in schedules will always fill up, and even people with the best intentions may never fully realize the life-giving value of being alone.

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I would modify that advice from Thomas Carlyle and that is to include a dog.

For in my experience when one is in the mood for a bit of solitary reflection your dog seems to sense it as well.

Picture Parade Three Hundred and Thirty.

A young, talented photographer.

My grandson, Morten, who had his birthday yesterday, he is now nine, took some photographs recently. They are fabulous and are republished here with Morten’s permission. Completely untouched by yours truly!

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I think these are fabulous. Morten used the following camera.

A Lumix DMC-TZ10

 

What on earth are we going to do?

A very powerful essay from George Monbiot.

Today and tomorrow I am posting essays that have nothing to do with dogs! Today, I am sharing George’s gloom about the future, tomorrow I am sharing our human capacity for incredible ingenuity and technology.

Because I sense we are a species of two extremes; the very mad and the very clever!

I don’t have an answer but I can share these two essays.

Today, I give you George Monbiot’s essay Suing For Survival.

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Suing For Survival

Our legal action against the government aims to shut down fossil fuels

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th March 2020

Our survival is not an afterthought. The defence of the living planet cannot be tacked retrospectively onto business as usual. Yet this is how almost all governments operate. They slap the word “sustainable” on damaging projects they have already approved, then insist this means they’ve gone green. If we are to survive and prosper, everything must change. Every decision should begin with the question of what the planet can withstand.

This means that any discussion about new infrastructure should begin with ecological constraints. The figures are stark. A paper published in Nature last year showed that existing energy infrastructure, if it is allowed to run to the end of its natural life, will produce around 660 gigatonnes of CO2. Yet, to stand a reasonable chance of preventing more than 1.5°C of global heating, we can afford to release, in total, no more than 580 gigatonnes. In other words, far from building new fossil power plants, the survival of a habitable planet means retiring the damaging projects that have already been built. Electricity plants burning coal and gas and oil will not secure our prosperity. They will destroy it.

But everywhere special interests dominate. Construction projects are driven, above all, by the lobbying of the construction industry, consultancies and financiers. Gigantic and destructive schemes, such as the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, are invented by lobbyists for the purpose of generating contracts. Political support is drummed up, the project achieves its own momentum, then, belatedly, a feeble attempt is made to demonstrate that it can somehow become compatible with environmental promises. This is what destroys civilisations: a mismatch between the greed of economic elites and the needs of society.

But last week, something momentous happened. The decision to build a scheme with vast financial backing and terrible environmental impacts was struck down by the Court of Appeal. The judges decided that government policy, on which planning permission for a third runway at Heathrow was based, had failed to take account of the UK’s climate commitments, and was therefore unlawful. This is – or should be – the end of business as usual.

The Heathrow decision stands as a massive and crucial precedent. Now we must use it to insist that governments everywhere put our survival first, and the demands of corporate lobbyists last. To this end, with the Good Law Project and Dale Vince, the founder of Ecotricity, I’m pursuing a similar claim. In this case, we are challenging the UK government’s policy for approving new energy projects.

On Tuesday, we delivered a “letter before action” to the Treasury solicitor. We’ve given the government 21 days to accept our case and change its policy to reflect the climate commitments agreed by Parliament. If it fails to do so, we shall issue proceedings in the High Court to have the policy declared unlawful. We’ll need money, so we’ve launched a crowdfunding appeal to finance the action.

It’s hard to see how the government could resist our case. The Heathrow judgement hung on the government’s national policy statement on airports. This, the judges found, had not been updated to take account of the Paris climate agreement. New fossil fuel plants, such as the gas burners at Drax in Yorkshire the government approved last October, are enabled by something very similar: the national policy statements on energy infrastructure. These have not been updated since they were published in 2011. As a result, they take no account of the Paris agreement, of the government’s new climate target (net zero by 2050, as opposed to an 80% cut) or of Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency. The main policy statement says that the European Emissions Trading System “forms the cornerstone of UK action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector”. As we have left the EU, this, obviously, no longer holds. The planning act obliges the government to review its national policy statements when circumstances change. It has failed to do so. It is disregarding its own laws.

These outdated policy statements create a presumption in favour of new fossil fuel plants. Once a national policy statement has been published, there is little objectors can do to prevent damaging projects from going ahead. In approving the Drax plant, the secretary of state for business and energy at the time (Andrea Leadsom) insisted that the policy statement came first, regardless of the climate impacts. Catastrophic decisions like this will continue to be made until the statements change. They are incompatible with either the government’s new climate commitments or a habitable planet.

While we are challenging the government’s energy policies, another group – the Transport Action Network – is about to challenge its road building schemes on the same basis. It points out that the national policy statement on road networks is also outdated and incompatible with the UK’s climate commitments. The policy statement, astonishingly, insists that “any increase in carbon emissions is not a reason to refuse development consent“, unless the increase is so great that the road would prevent the government from meeting its national targets. No single road project can be disqualified on these grounds. But the cumulative effect of new road building ensures that the UK will inevitably bust its carbon targets. While carbon emissions are officially disregarded, minuscule time savings are used to justify massive and damaging projects.

Transport emissions have been rising for the past five years, partly because of road building. The government tries to justify its schemes by claiming that cars will use less fossil fuel. But because they are becoming bigger and heavier, new cars sold in the UK now produce more carbon dioxide per kilometre than older models.

The perverse and outdated national policy statement locks into place such damaging projects as the A303 works around Stonehenge, the A27 Arundel scheme, the Lower Thames crossing, the Port of Liverpool access road, the Silvertown tunnel in London and the Wensum Link road in Norfolk. A government seeking to protect the lives of current and future generations would immediately strike down the policy that supports these projects, and replace it with one that emphasised walking, cycling and public transport.

A third action has been launched by Chris Packham and the law firm Leigh Day, challenging HS2 on similar grounds. Its carbon emissions were not properly taken into account, and its environmental impacts were assessed before the government signed the Paris agreement.

Already, the Heathrow decision is resonating around the world. Now we need to drive its implications home, by suing for survival. If we can oblige governments to resist the demands of corporate lobbyists and put life before profit, humanity might just stand a chance.

http://www.monbiot.com

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Now this essay is about the situation in the U.K. but only a fool would think that it’s not relevant to the rest of the planet.

I beseech you to read it!

“Life before profit.” Now there’s a thought!

Days Nine and Ten of Tom and Chica’s walk.

This is becoming compelling!

Susan said in response to yesterday’s post: “It feels as if we are joining them on their adventure.

I said I truly felt the same way.

This walk of Tom and his dogs is so wonderfully described, and written up by Gilliwolfe, that it does feel that we are sharing the adventure; albeit in spirit only.

The photographs are to die for as well.

Here’s the next chapter.

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Days 9 and 10 Bonacoaz to Indiana via Montejaque 34k

By Tom and Chica, 29th January, 2020.

Written by Tom’s wife.

Another glorious day but it took us quite a while to get organised. Tom was determined not to forget anything vital for the first overnighter so it was 10.30 by the time we left. Making our way back to Benacoaz through Ubrique, where Los Alcornacales gives way to the Sierra de Grazalema, the landscape looked stunning in the sunshine.

Setting off all together, we climbed out of the village between fields dotted with wild iris onto the ridge above where I left the intrepid pair for their two-day trek. Tom had done this walk before a few years ago and had loved it so was keen to revisit.

Grazalema Natural Park was designated a Unesco Biosphere reserve in 1977 and the Sierra de Grazalema was declared the first natural park in Andalucia in 1984. It is one of Spain’s most ecologically outstanding areas. The 51,695 hectare park is famous for its spectacularly rugged limestone landscape of cliffs, gullies, caves and gorges.

The region is well known for being the rainiest place in Spain, with an annual rainfall of 2,200mm, which means that the 1,300 Mediterranean plant species that have been registered here, many of them endemic and some of them unique to the Sierra, flourish.

The town of Grazalema, which nestles between two rugged peaks is well worth a visit, not only because of its spectacular setting, but because there is a bakery selling the best cakes I’ve ever tried. Sadly for Tom, this wasn’t on today’s route.

With large birds of prey cruising on the thermals above, the pair headed down the concrete track – easy on the feet – through the forest with views to the Montes Grupo de Libar (Libar mountain range) beyond. The path then climbed up a rocky staircase between peaks before descending through scrubland to the vast flat-bottomed Libar valley. This is really a high plain and the lush grass provides grazing for the local cattle, giving the area the appearance of a prairie in a Western.

They headed west on an undefined path until reaching a large stone hut which offers shelter to hikers in summer but was closed up, presumably not anticipating mad Englishmen and their dogs arriving in mid-winter. However, it provided a good spot to strike camp, with water and a table for cooking and eating. Once she’d been fed and watered, Chica wanted to go to bed. She sat in her night jacket demanding entry to the tent but had to wait while Tom ate his freeze-dried hot pot!

Sleep was a little disturbed as Chica growled at the various grunts and howls in the night. At one point, Tom got up to investigate, concerned that there may be a hoard of marauding wild boar in the vicinity. There wasn’t, but the clear night sky was beautiful so far from civilisation.

In the morning, it was cold as the surrounding peaks screened the sun. Out of the early mist, a herd of small deer, probably roe, crossed the valley and a fox passed close by, alerting a sleepy Chica who opened one eye and then went back to sleep.

By 10, breakfasted and packed, they continued to the end of the high plain. From here the track gradually descended towards the pueblo blanco (white village) of Montejaque. Here they relaxed in a café for a while before continuing over the next range of hills to meet me on the road a few miles outside Ronda. Chica looked very pleased to see us!

“Was it as good as you remembered?” I asked.

“Absolutely, and more.”

“And the camping? Everyone here thought you’d freeze to death”

“Ha – as if! It was great!”

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Wonderful! Just take, for example, that last photograph. What colours, what intense contrast, what a beautiful scene.

That isn’t the only one by far!

I don’t want this walk to end and I’m sure you echo my thoughts.

Day Eight, again, of Tom and Chica’s walk.

Yours truly can’t count!

For my previous post was entitled Day Eight etc. and this one is also called Day Eight.

Ah well, it’s the content that counts!

Which is to say that the next three days are, again, devoted to Tom’s walk along GR7.

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Day 8: Cerra de la Fantasia to Benacoaz 16k

By Tom and Chica, 27th January, 2020.

Written by Tom’s wife.

Authors note: Because we have had such a long weather delay, I have decided to number only the days that Tom and Chica actually walk otherwise it is going to give a very unrealistic idea of how long it takes. That is why today is Day 8 and the last walking day was originally Day 10 (but is now Day 7). I have updated all the blog references to correspond.

We were up with the lark this morning. Earlier in fact, as it was still dark but we were keen after such a long rain delay. We left the village in fog and went in and out of the sun and mist all the way up to the start point miles into the forest. It was still murky there too and we didn’t hang around as there was a gathering of hunters. Their dogs were in trailers, barking with excitement as this is probably the only time they ever get let out of their cages. But what happens to them after the end of the season next week? I can’t bear to think about it. But that’s why we’re doing this – so onwards and upwards my faithful duo!

After coming out of the forest onto the road, the trees gave way to scrub and the track roughly followed the same route as the road. The mist made it hard to get a feel for the surrounding landscape at first but then as the mist became patchy there were glimpses of the majestic valley and surrounding mountains – a truly spectacular view but impossible to capture on a phone camera.

The track crossed the road and descended to the river – Rio de Ubrique – which heads towards the town of the same name. After a bit of a clamber up a steep, wet, rocky and rather unsavoury path between agricultural outbuildings, we popped out right next to the town sign.

It was a pleasant stroll through the comparatively large and bustling town centre. The sun was now properly out and so Tom stopped in a plaza outside the Town Hall and had a coffee while Chica scrounged titbits by breathing in and contriving to look half starved! Carrying on up through the narrow streets, they arrived at the Convento de Capuchinos where a sign to Benacoaz pointed up a cobbled road: the Calzada Romana (Roman Road).

This proved quite tough on the feet as the cobbles were uneven and scattered but after 3.5k it emerged into the village of Bonacoaz, perched on the side of the mountain with vast panoramic views south –  stunning end to today’s beautiful walk.

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I know I have said it before, and undoubtedly I will say it again, but this account of Tom’s walk with his two dogs is astounding! They have been walking for over a week and they are experiencing countryside and more that must be unique to Spain.

Keep it coming!

(And thank you, Gilliwolfe, for penning it.)

Day Eight of Tom and Chica’s walk

Now it gets very interesting!

This is a longer post and with great interest.

For it covers the Park at Los Alcornacales as well as the Spanish cork industry.

As always, the post is a republication of the original and is gratefully offered to my readers.

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Los Alcornacales – cork and pork and much, much more.

By Tom and Chica, 24th January, 2020

Written by Tom’s wife.

So far, during this part of the walk, Tom and Chica have been travelling through the unique habitat of Los Alcornacales. We fell in love with this beautiful area the first time we visited back in 2013. As we are rained off at the moment, I thought I’d take the opportunity to research more about the area, especially the amazing cork oaks which comprise large areas of the forest.

 Granted natural park status in 1989, Natural Park Los Alcornacales occupies a protected area of 170,025 hectares in Andalusia. Soil, moisture and traditional uses have been the main factors in the conservation of the largest productive area of cork trees anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula. Located in the province of Cadiz and part of Malaga (mainly in the municipality of Jimena de la Frontera, where we have just been walking), it runs from the mountains down to the recently created Estrecho Nature Park on the coast and is home to a variety of landscapes, flora, fauna, history and folklore.

This rich diversity is mainly due to the many rivers, streams and reservoirs but also the moisture that comes from the coast. This latter accumulates to form banks of mist in the deep, narrow gorges known as ‘canutos’. In these conditions, the ancient laurel forest flora has flourished. Characterised by smooth, bright leaves, it can make the most of the moisture and limited light that penetrates the alders growing on the edge of the gorges. So, amidst the scent of laurel and the beauty of flowering rhododendrons, you can walk through this dense forest accompanied by the sound of dippers, kingfishers, blackcaps and finches.

Egyptian mongoose
Griffon vulture

In the more clay-rich areas lower down you can see the wild olive tree, cleared from time immemorial to make way for pasture for the region’s most typical livestock, the brown Retinta cow. On the valley sides, the Mediterranean scrub of rockrose, heather, lavender, daphne and hawthorn is perfect for Andalusian deer, as well as buck, roe deer and carnivores such as genets, badgers and also the Egyptian mongoose – the largest population anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula.

Cork production

Los Alcornacales and the surrounding areas are home to the Iberian cork industry. As well as its most well-recognised use as bottle-stoppers, cork is also found in many products from car construction to aeroplane insulation.

The cork oak, quercus suber, is a native of both the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean. Its age is unknown, but quercus suber or its ancestors have been around for at least 147 million years. It is a prophyte, ie a species adapted to survive fire. While other species rely on seed propagation to survive fires, the cork layer protects the stem of the tree so it only has to regenerate branches. This makes it very well adapted to the fire-prone forest of southern Spain.

Archaeologists have found evidence of tribes actively working with cork oak in northern Africa before 6,000 BC. Early man would have used the various species of oak for fire wood, tools, weapons; and for building as the hunter-gatherers began to settle. Similar evidence has been found in Andalucía and other parts of southern Spain dating back 4,000 years BC or more.

However, it would take a few thousands more years before the special sealant qualities of cork would be utilised. This property is due solely to the presence of one particular constituent: suberin. Suberin is a fatty substance found in the cells of the denser forms of cork which stops the passage of air or liquid.

Cork was probably first used as a sealant in containers by the Greeks and Phoenicians, for wines and other liquids in pottery containers but it would take the invention of the glass bottle, a fairly recent innovation in historical terms, for cork to finally meet glass. Legend claims that Friar Perignon, a French monk, discovered this use for cork on a slender glass bottle neck in the seventeenth century. As news of its efficacy spread, so a new industry appeared.

Cutting the cork is a highly skilled task and requires two years training. It is unusual for a tree to survive ring barking (the bark being removed around the complete circumference) and it needs to be done with care and at the right time. The cutters’ experience tells them how far to cut up the tree to avoid harming it.  Cutting is only legally permitted between 15 June and 15 August which is when gangs roam the oak forests, each of the usually five members having a specific role, from chief cutter to lowly carrier.

These gangs traverse the forest in a nine-year cycle, allowing the trees they cut to regenerate the cork in the intervening period. Their mules roam free in the forest except for the two month harvest period when they trek back and forth between harvest site and cork factory. So expert is their knowledge of the routes that, once loaded, a tap on the back will send them off unaccompanied. The town of Cortes de la Frontera actually holds burro-loading contests at its annual summer feria, with a prize for the most ingenious loading of a burro.

What we see lying curled on the ground is still many stages away from fitting into the neck of a bottle. At the factory the cork is boiled in a vast, deep pool of water, which renders it malleable for flattening and then processing by machine. The cork then goes through several levels of compression, depending on its destination. It emerges as very thin sheets of varying sizes, perhaps thinner than a child’s little finger. It is then checked for quality – the oak trade has five levels, from excellent to poor – and the oak is assigned to an appropriate use.

Most interestingly, however, is how it does reach the bottles we uncork. Bottle corks are stamped out by machines at different widths for wine, champagne and cognac (Spanish cork is treasured by French brandy producers). When they pile up in the dumpers beneath the pressing machines, they look like big wooden pennies. These are graded by quality, and then carefully fed into further compressing machines. Cork makers reckon that it would be a waste of good cork to use it throughout a wine or champagne cork, so lower quality cork is placed in the middle, highest quality at either end, where the cork meets both wine and outside air. These layers are then compressed so tightly we do not even notice that a cork we pull is not one single unit but a compression of up to eight layers crushed together. The finished corks are then dispatched to bottling plants across Europe and beyond.

There have, of course, been concerns about the rise of the plastic cork. Its proponents say that it prevents a bottle being ‘corked’, ie, spoiled, by air penetrating the old-fashioned cork. Its detractors argue that, beyond the aesthetics of levering a wad of white plastic out of your favourite wine, it doesn’t allow the alcohol to breathe naturally. (French brandies breathe so profusely that the distilleries are wreathed in fumes which promote fungi on the roofs and keep nearby cattle happily sozzled year-round.) Yet with even the British supermarket buyer seemingly moving upmarket in their choice of corked drinks, and the Spanish and French keeping their noses in the air over plastic stoppers, it seems the Iberian peninsula can hold on to its two billion euro cork industry yet.

Other uses for cork include flooring. We have some of this in our bathroom at home. A long way from the basic dull cork tiles of old, now it comes in stunning patterns and looks beautiful. It is also sustainable, provides excellent insulation and is lovely and warm to walk on. If I could, I’d floor the whole house with this.

Iberian pigs

The Iberian pig is a traditional breed of the domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) that is native to the Iberian Peninsula and is currently found in herds clustered in the central and southern part of Portugal and Spain. Its origins can probably be traced back to the Neolithic, when animal domestication started.

The most commonly accepted theory is that the first pigs were brought to here by the Phoenicians from the Eastern Mediterranean coast, probably along the old droving tracks one of which our route, the GR7, roughly follows. They interbred with wild boar and this cross gave rise to the ancestors of what are today’s Iberian pigs.

Prized Iberico ham

The production of Iberian pork is deeply rooted to the Mediterranean ecosystem. It is a rare example in world pig farming where the pig contributes so decisively to the preservation of the ecosystem. The Iberian breed is currently one of the few examples of a domesticated breed which has adapted to a pastoral setting where the land is particularly rich in natural resources, in this case acorns from the holm oak, gall oak and cork oak.

The numbers of the Iberian breed had been drastically reduced since 1960 due to several factors such as the outbreak of African swine fever and the lowered popularity of animal fats. In the past few years, however, the production of pigs of the Iberian type has increased to satisfy a renewed demand for top-quality meat and cured products. Now, though, there is controversy over the providence of the highly prized Iberico ham as breeders cash in on the market and produce a similar but much less sustainable product more cheaply, thus threatening this ancient livelihood.

The Iberian pig can be either red or black or in between. In traditional management, animals ranged freely in sparse oak forest (dehesa in Spain, montado in Portugal).  They are constantly on the move and therefore burn more calories than confined pigs. This, in turn, produces the fine bones typical of this kind of jamón ibérico. At least a hectare of healthy dehesa is needed to raise a single pig. True dehesa is a richly diverse habitat with four different types of oak that are crucial in the production of prime-quality ham. The bulk of the acorn harvest comes from the holm oak (Quercus ilex) but also the Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica) and Portuguese or gall oak (Quercus lusitanica) and the late cork oak season, which extends the acorn-production period from September almost to April.

Some recent research from Cordoba university concluded {the translation isn’t perfect but you get the idea}:

‘The couple Iberian pig and dehesa has proved to be very effective; so much [so] the Iberian pig is called the dehesa jewel, but the first needs this agro-ecosystem to reach its highest quality properties (organoleptic and nutritional ones); and the second needs a clear commercial differentiation for Iberian pork and cured products in order to receive a high price to maintain and conserve the dehesa. Spanish authorities should be responsible for protecting this traditional system from fraud and unfair competition. In this way, farmers economy could be enough to conserve this unique ecosystem and its values for the whole society.’*

Whether you eat pork or not you may still believe as I do, that this traditional and sustainable way of producing it is better for the ecosystem and the pigs than intensive farming on a huge scale. And we love seeing the black pigs snuffling through the forest. I hope it can be protected along with the rest of this remarkable and stunningly beautiful area.

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Well I must say that this is a tremendous post and a privilege to be able to republish it.

Gilliwolfe did an incredible job in composing the post and inserting all the photographs. Well done!

Well done!

 

Day Seven of Tom and Chica’s walk.

I’m republishing three in three days!

I want to get further ahead in the story of this walk and I get the very clear impression that you are in agreement with this.

My readership numbers have been high and there have been no negative responses to the generous offer from Tom and his wife to republish Tom’s long and interesting walk along the Spanish pathway GR7.

So on we go!

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Day 7: Jimena de la Frontera to Cerra de la Fantasia 20k

By Tom and Chica, 22nd January, 2020

Written by Tom’s wife.

The last two days were non-walking days, one for bad weather and another to move base again. Now we have the luxury of being in a house for a while in Jimera de Libar, a village we know well.

So the day started with the drive back to Jimena and the weather looked reasonable. Again, Merlin refused to be left so the three of them set off up the path, climbing steadily for the first hour and a half.

Climbing path.
Spanish Fir / Pinsapo (Abies Pinsapo) in the background

The path eventually levelled out and passed beneath the rocky outcrops of the Altos de Paneron and Cerro de Marin. After a bare rocky sections where the route was harder to determine, they went into dense forest of oak and Spanish fir (we love these and call them lollipop trees because of their shape). Both dogs in great form, but Tom was mean and moody :).

Dark clouds were gathering from all directions but the view to the coast was still impressive. However, it wasn’t long before the rain began and the temperature dropped.

Looking south – you can just see the sea.

Fortunately the rest of the route was on a well-defined and signposted track, winding down through the cork oaks in the midst of the Los Alcornacales. It was here deep in the forest that I eventually picked them up. I had forgotten that smaller Spanish roads aren’t always roads as I know them and the last five and a half miles I was driving along a rough track with no mobile signal, not at all sure I was in the right place. Even though we have a 4×4, I made very slow progress and it was with considerable relief that I found them, damp but completely unconcerned.

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I wonder why Tom felt “mean and moody”? Gilliwolfe doesn’t say.

But it is still a most fascinating walk.

Day Six of Tom and Chica’s walk

The walking tour of Spain continues!

Once more I will keep my introduction very short. Except to say that the original was here.

It’s turning into a fabulous walk!

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Day 6: Castillo de Castellar to Jimena de la Frontera 22k

By Tom and Chica, 18th January, 2020

Written by Tom’s wife.

Today was the longest walk so far and didn’t actually start until late as we decided to shift base. By the time we had the caravan installed on a site in Jimena de la Frontera and I’d driven Tom and Chica back to Castillar it was 2pm. Chica was obviously refreshed after her day off and keen to go. Castillar again looked amazing and it was great to know the start is downhill on a tarmac path through more lovely woodland.

As it levelled out, the tarmac gave way to a gravel track through scrub and grazing land occupied mainly by local brown retinto beef cattle. A huge old farmhouse had seen better days and seemed unoccupied, at least by humans. The scenery changed again as they entered the first cultivated area they had come across since the start. No idea what the crop is though.

The route met up with the railway track and would stay with it all the way to Jimena. There was a pony grazing here. Despite having a rug and being quite friendly, the white hairs on its nose indicate it has been put in a seraton – a noseband with spikes that dig into the soft flesh of the muzzle. These are still used a lot in Spain. Nearby there was a donkey that was hobbled – which is now illegal. Equines get a rough deal here sometimes.

A grand entrance

There were a few dwellings as they approached Jimena – one with a very impressive gate. The shell motif is associated with St James and is a common one on caminos (pilgrim trails) although more usually found on the famous Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

The light was fading fast and the last hour or so was done in virtual darkness with Jimena castle luminations acting as beacon to the weary traveller.

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Wonderful. And what a lovely job of writing it all up.

Keep it coming, Mrs. Tom.

Day Five of Tom and Chica’s Walk

Seeing parts of Spain that the tourists rarely see.

Again, I’ll keep my introduction really short. After all you came here to read of Tom and Chica’s walk along GR7.

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Day 5: Castillo de Castellar (new town) to Castillo de Castellar (old town and castle) 14k

By Tom & Chica, 17th January, 2020

Written by Tom’s wife

After his adventure yesterday, Merlin was up early this morning bounding around shouting ” Me! Me! Me!” Chica opened one eye (she’s not good in the morning) and made it clear that she was happy for him to deputise for her today. She had a lie-in while Tom and Merlin headed back up to Castillar and as you can see, later she helped me deal with her social media fans!

Day 6 started as day 5 ended, by the road. This proved less hazardous than the next section which was on a track by the main road along which groups of lycra-clad cyclists flew in both directions. It was with relief that T & C were able to turn onto a lovely quiet road that wound through the oak forest towards the castillo (castle) high on a rocky outcrop ahead.

Inviting paths
Inviting paths

After a few kilometres, a very inviting track appeared to the right of the road and despite the marker not being for the GR7, Tom couldn’t resist, wanting to be off tarmac for a while. A bit further on, a post bearing the red and white stripes of the GR routes was a welcome sight and the path through the wood was cool and easy on the feet (all six).

A short cut.
Yay, A cold beer after a steep climb.

The path eventually came back out onto the road and the castle could now be seen high above. As it started to climb, the road also started to wind so Tom thought he’d try and cut off the corners. But we all know that cutting corners rarely works and sure enough, he soon had to retrace his steps. Eventually, a cobbled path did appear but it proved a steep slog. Plucky little Merlin who’d been trotting along happily up until now started to flag. His tail had been vertical all the way but now began to droop a little. Both were very pleased to see the bar at the top.

The castle
Information sign.

It is beautiful spot with wonderful views and the history of the village goes back to the Bronze Age. The prehistoric presence is still evident in the many caves around the area, where enthusiasts can see the wonderful cave drawings. It played an important role in the wars between the Spanish and the Muslims. In such an advantageous strategic position, many cultures wanted to control this strong vantage point.

In the 1960s the new town, where we started today, was built 7 km away in a more convenient location next to the road and the train station. This new model Andalucian town was inaugurated in 1971.

Two years later the Rumasa Group acquired the old village and in 1983 the Spanish government expropriated Castellar and declared it an ‘Historical and Artistic Monument’. By this time, the place was in a state of neglect and the Town Hall invested the equivalent of around £100,000 to restore the old castle and village.

If you ever find yourself in this part of Spain, we strongly recommend a visit.

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I can’t do any better than to repeat what I said after the last:

Keep it going, Tom. For the description of your walk is very engaging. To be honest, it is Tom’s wife, Gilliwolfe, who deserves as much credit. For without her then we would not be reveling in Tom’s walk.

 

Day Four of Tom and Chica’s walk

The walk along GR7 continues

This walk is really getting under way. In day four they achieve the stretch from Los Barrios to Castillo de Castellar.

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Day 4: Los Barrios to Castillo de Castellar 15k

By Tom & Chica, 16th January, 2020

Written by Tom’s wife.

In complete contrast to yesterday, this morning there was a clear blue sky – a truly glorious day. We all set off together for the first mile or two but when I turned to go, Merlin dug his paws in and and absolutely refused to come with me. So he carried on with Tom and Chica while Arthur and I returned to the car.

Mules

Mules are still used in Spain both as personal transport and as pack animals. Here in the forest, they haul wood and cork. These two look in good condition and don’t have any of the white patches or scarring that indicates poor loading or ill-fitting harness that is often seen. Happily, it is now illegal to hobble equines (ie chain the front feet together to severely restrict movement). This is a very recent change and six years ago when we first came to this area it was a common sight. To restrict the movement of a prey animal that naturally depends on flight for survival is very cruel, in my view, so it’s good to see it dying out.

View across Algeciras to Gibraltar

Today’s route wound gently uphill past an army camp until, at the high point, there was a fantastic view across the top of Algeciras, the main port, to the rock of Gibraltar. After that it continued to through pasture and cork oaks until the enormous rubbish dump made its presence felt well before it was visible in what appeared to be a disused quarry.

Eventually, the path came out on the road, which though not very busy was less pleasant to walk on and all three members of the party were quite happy to be picked up after 15k in very warm weather.

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Keep it going, Tom. For the description of your walk is very engaging. To be honest, it is Tom’s wife, Gilliwolfe, who deserves as much credit. For without her then we would not be reveling in Tom’s walk.