The Reed Seats of Galaroza: Sillas de Anea.

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A typical Sevillana chair with a seat made of “anea” or “nea”, manufactured in Galaroza, Sierra de Huelva. This is one of the chairs at Picadero La Suerte. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

After the Hostal Venecia, on the Seville/Portugal road, closed its doors to its last guests, I had to look for a house to rent for my visits to Galaroza, in the Sierra de Huelva. I took a house in Calle San Sebastián, in the upper part of the town, and on my adopted street there were neighbours further up, who made and repaired the seats of Sillas Sevillanas, the typical Sevillian chairs that are not only popular in the province of Seville but also here in Huelva. In the Picadero where my horse, Chaparro, is stabled, they have both red and green personalised tables and chairs, so I was familiar with them but hadn’t seen how the seat part was made till I stayed in that street. I would see the van from the carpenter’s workshop come to deliver chairs and the anea, which was tied to the roof of the vehicle. Anea or nea, as it’s known locally, is a kind of bulrush/reedmace (Typha) that grows on the banks of the Guadalquivir River.

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Chairs on the Calle San Sebastián, Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Over the last year or so a boy called Ale has been coming to help with out with the horses at Picadero La Suerte. He loves horses and has a grey Andalusian filly, Lluvia (Rain), of whom he is very proud and plans to bring on for riding. I took some photos of Ale and his little mare to make a drawing of him. After his mum had seen the photos she stopped me on the outskirts of the village to say how nice they were. I finally made the connection that my old neighbours, the women who made the seats of the chairs, were Ale’s mum, aunt and granny.  (Seems I am still joining the dots even after ten years).

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Ale with his filly, Lluvia. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

In January I asked Ale if he thought it would be alright to visit the women of his family the next time they were weaving seats. It was, so I popped up to see them one sunny but cold afternoon. The room they work in has large double doors which open out onto the Calle San Sebastián and there was a small electric heater which I don’t think did much to combat the bitter, cold air.

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Rosario, veteran of anea seat making, Galaroza. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Rosario, Ale’s granny, is retired from making the seats but can’t resist giving a hand. She started making the seats when she was only 9 years of age. Often after a day’s work doing something else, Rosario would come home and start weaving the seats and keep working on them into the night.

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Rosario with her two daughters. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

It’s now Rosario’s daughters who carry on this work; Fali, Ale’s mum and her sister Mari Loli. They started helping out when they were 13 or 14 years old. It was fascinating to finally get a proper chance to watch them more closely as they worked. They explained that now that the carpenter’s workshop that made the chairs has closed down, they tend to just do repairs for people. The chairs they were working on while I was there were from a client in Valverde del Camino.The seats can take anything from 1- 4 hours to make. The anea material, a kind of papyrus, comes from Coria del Rio in Seville province and costs about 20 euros a bunch.

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Fali keeping the seat making tradition alive. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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Mari Loli keeping the seat making tradition alive. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Most houses in Galaroza have the ubiquitous sillas de anea. As they say, the chairs are “de toda la vida”. Sometimes these are painted and decorated with flowers and pastoral scenes but many are just plain solid colours or simply left unpainted. The chairs come in different sizes, from babies’ high chairs, childrens’ seats, low armless chairs or grander highly decorated and carved chairs. These are the seats of the country towns and villages of Andalusia, the furniture of the casetas of Seville’s April Fair and the chairs favoured by flamenco singers and guitarists.

The flat I rent now when I’m Galaroza is situated in the Avenida de los Carpinteros. Even in the ten years I’ve been coming to this town I have seen a marked decline in the number of carpenters working in this special street. When I first came walking here many years ago with my husband, Paul, we were reminded of the streets of country towns in Guatemala; a long row of practical, low, rustic buildings made from stone and adobe, the walls limewashed, with clay tiled roofs and great chestnut wooden doors.

Although Galaroza is a picturesque serrano town, it has always depended on agriculture and the manufacturing of furniture. That’s changing. Now as Ikea has opened it’s doors in Seville, the doors of the carpenters’ workshops have closed and the surrounding huertas or kitchen gardens tend to be looked after by the older people of the village while more and more people shop at Mercadona and Lidl in Aracena.

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Iluminado Tristancho of Picadero La Suerte tending his huerta. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Serrano broad beans and extremeño garlic thriving on Plot 16, Glasgow.

Three years ago a friend from Galaroza in the Sierra de Huelva, Southern Spain, gave me a big bag of broad beans that he’d dried and saved from the previous growing season. Manolo has a lovely plot just on the outskirts of town where he grows his veg, keeps chickens and stores his harness, because before he retired, Manolo worked as a muleteer or arriero. He still looks after his ancient mule, Curro, once one of a pair, in a neighbouring paddock. Manolo also cultivates his son-in-law’s plot on the other side on the town, on the path that leads to Valdelarco. I am the happy beneficiary of dried herbs; oregano, wild echinacea, spearmint and tila (dried lime flowers that are good for calming the nerves). During the growing season I often ride home with gifts of vegetables (tomatoes don’t travel well on horseback!) and Chaparro, my horse, has become accustomed to bags and watermelons dangling from the pommel of the vaquera saddle.

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Manolo’s broad beans at his huerta in Galaroza, Sierra de Aracena. Photo: Jan Nimmo©

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Manolo and his mule, Curro. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Back home in Glasgow, on my allotment at Hamiltonhill, I often remember, with envy, the fecund kitchen gardens of the Sierra de Huelva. On our plot we struggle with an inclement climate, poor soil, occasional vandalism, biblical plagues of slugs and snails and have to make a sojourn to south Ayrshire where our friends keep three black Clydesdales, to gather up bags of horse manure to try to improve our soil and to import worms to what used to be a completely worm free zone. Whilst we may not have the sun, fertile earth and on-hand horsey “Brown Gold”, we love our plot because not only does it sustain us around the year with seasonal vegetables and fruit, it is also our all year “No Straight Lines” haven, a green space which makes tenement dwelling bearable and which eases the stresses of long hours spent working at a computer, or al least indoors away from sunlight or cloud.

Plot 16, Hamiltonhill, Urban Haven. Photo:  Jan Nimmo©

Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow, Urban Haven. Photo: Jan Nimmo©

This year's broad beans hardening off at Plot 16. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

This year’s broad beans hardening off at Plot 16. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Broad beans form Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Broad beans form Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

One of our joys has been to successfully grow good healthy crops of broad beans from the beans that Manolo gave me. (This is our third year growing them). We intercrop them with Marigolds and enjoy preparing dishes with them: cooked with jamón serrano and a quails’ eggs or just tossing them into stir fries. My Auntie Carmen from Jaén told me that her aunts used to prepare whole habas or broad beans, pod and all, for her when she was young. We’ve tried this too but they have to be young and tender to prepare them this way.

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Allotment tourists: Uncle Archie and Auntie Carmen, Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotments, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

This summer, when our beans are ready to harvest, I am planning to try out a typical recipe from the Sierra de Huelva:

Habas enzapatadas. (Broad beans in slippers).

  • 1 kilos of large broad beans
  • Spearmint
  • Mint (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Lemon

Method:

Peel the broad beans, the bigger the better, and wash them.

Put the water in a large pot and when it’s almost boiling add salt.

When the water is boiling add slices of lemon, the mint and peeled garlic and let that simmer for a minute.

Lower the heat and leave for a minute then add the broad beans for 15 – 20 minutes but ensure that they don’t get overcooked.

This is a recipe from the Sierra but there is a variation from Moguer and Palos de la Frontera, on the coast, which substitutes the mint with coriander so I think I may give that that a go too. In Huelva you’d wash this down with a cold Cruzcampo but we’ll be in Scotland so it might have to be a Williams Brothers Grozet.

The broad beans aren’t the only crop of Spanish origin that does fine on Plot 16. Every year in January I buy garlic at the Wednesday market in Galaroza. There is a man who comes down from Badajoz Province every fortnight and has a stall with plants, trees, seeds and flowers. The garlic he sells is the excellent ajo castaño; the head is covered with white skin, flecked with purple and inside the cloves are covered with shiny purple skin. It is strong and flavourful. Once you have tried this no garlic will do. Our garlic doesn’t thrive quite so well as it does in the huertas of Galaroza but the favour is the same. So with exception of lemons I think we can get all the ingredients to make this when summer comes.

Spanish Garlic/Ajo Castaño, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Spanish Garlic/Ajo Castaño, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Jan Nimmo 15th April 2015 ©

Picadero La Suerte: A home from home.

Chaparro at 5 years old, at his previous home in La Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro at 5 years old, at his previous home in La Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Paul and I first came to walk the paths of the Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche, Huelva, in Southern Spain about 16 years ago. If anyone had told me then that I would come to know this landscape as intimately as I do now, let alone that I would do so with my own horse, I’d have said they were completely bonkers. But eleven and a half years ago, in 2003, in another part of the Sierra Morena, the Sierra Norte de Sevilla, I had the unlikely chance to become the owner of a horse – Chaparro. How this came about is another story but buying Chaparro changed my life.

Starting to love Chaparro - soon after I bought him. Photo: Anne Elliot ©

Starting to love Chaparro – soon after I bought him. Photo: Anne Elliot ©

By the autumn of 2004 I knew I had to move Chaparro to another stable, as things weren’t working out where he was. I wasn’t around all the time and needed to rely on folk at the stable to care for him. I did a lot of soul searching and Internet searching too, in an attempt to find a solution. I even considered bringing Chaparro to Scotland, but I soon realised I couldn’t afford livery in Scotland on an artist’s income, and it probably would have proved traumatic for Chaparro.

Although I had only owned Chaparro for a year or so a bond between us existed, a bond, which now, twelve years on, is so strong that Chaparro is completely under my skin, an integral part of me. Losing him would be like losing part of my very being, like losing a limb, or worse. All sorts of ideas went through my head; I was desperate to find somewhere safe for him. I recalled a bus journey that Paul and I made on that walking holiday to Aracena and Cortegana all those years before and remembered the bus going through Galaroza. We had passed a riding stable called Picadero La Suerte. I remembered we had joked about it at the time, the name – La Suerte – which means “Luck” in Spanish – and we wondered if you needed to be lucky to stay on the horses there! As it turned out La Suerte was the name of the land and the farm. I found a website for Picadero La Suerte and wrote down a mobile number and took it with me to Spain that December, when I next went to visit Chaparro.

Chaparro days before we left La Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Chaparro days before we left La Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Photo: Paul Barham ©

This was not to be an easy visit. It felt like the two of us against the world. I managed to get temporary accommodation for Chaparro in a field next to the church in the village. The man from the livestock feed store came and delivered two sacks of oats for us and the guys in the neighbouring carpenters’ workshop let me store Chaparro’s tack there. I bought a couple of big buckets for water. It was freezing at night and I was terribly worried about Chaparro as he was used to being stabled – and he’d not been getting all the food he needed while I had been away, so he was a bit skinny. During the days he was in that field I got up at the crack of dawn – I wasn’t sleeping anyway – and was always relieved to find him at the corner of the field, waiting impatiently for me, pawing the ground in anticipation of his morning feed.

I took the scrap of paper with the La Suerte number and phoned from a call box. “Hello, do you do livery for horses? How much does it cost? Do you have a horsebox? Can you come and pick up my horse from here? How soon can you do this? What else do I need to do? Should we come and visit you?” I directed all these questions to Julio, one of the sons of the owner, Iluminado, at La Suerte. Happily the reply to all the fundamental questions was “yes”, and that he would come and pick up Chaparro the day after Boxing Day but that I would need to get some paperwork sorted at my end. A visit to the vet sorted this so that I was able to transport Chaparro between provinces. There had been an outbreak of Lengua Azul (Bluetongue, a disease affecting pigs and other livestock). I then anxiously waited for Paul to come from Scotland to join me. During that time I spent as much time as I could with Chaparro, we rode out together in the freezing cold and I tried to make things as alright as I could for him, to make it normal for it just to be him and me.

Paul arrived from Scotland just before Christmas and I think was quite surprised and impressed that I’d managed to get so much sorted out in such a short time. I was running on adrenalin. Paul had hired a car so we drove over the Sierra Morena to Galaroza and met Julio and his brother Ilumi. We had a look round the stables, which were only a short walk from the village. They were clean, tidy and would make a good new home for my horse. Nowadays the facilities are even better as the family is always making improvements. We confirmed with Julio that he would come to collect Chaparro on the 27th. We had lunch at the Hostal Venecia, and drove back to the Sierra Norte where we spent Christmas Eve with some Dutch friends

Julio arrived punctually on the 27th and we bought him lunch. We then went to box Chaparro. I had no idea if he had ever been in a horsebox. We rode everywhere. I didn’t know whether to expect trouble or not. But it seemed almost as if Chaparro knew that it was time to go and that something better awaited him. Chaparro was finally learning to trust me. Julio didn’t even have to put the ramp down at the back of the van. Chaparro meekly stepped in which surprised me because in those days there wasn’t anything remotely meek or understated about Chaparro. We set off in the car, following closely behind Julio and the horsebox.

It was strange to leave the Sierra Norte; we’d ridden to most of the towns and villages there and into Extremadura, past the Ermita de la Virgen de Ara to Fuente del Arco. On one occasion we rode into Córdoba province, to San Calixto, to the Carmelite convent there. We knew the Sierra Norte well, from the strange mine workings of El Cerro de Hierro to the open Senda that leads to the north, and loved our rides along the Ribera del Huéznar up to San Nicolás del Puerto.

We rode all over the Sierra Norte in all weathers: Chaparro and Jan, Paul with Yuya. Photo: Anne Elliot ©

We rode all over the Sierra Norte in all weathers: Chaparro and Jan, Paul with Yuya. Photo: Anne Elliot ©

By the time we got to Galaroza it was dark, we backed Chaparro out of the horsebox and I heard Iluminado, whom I hadn’t met yet, remark how skinny he was. I held onto the lead rein and waited for him to stop feeling wobbly from the trip, and Iluminado, without saying anything to me (I think he thought I didn’t speak Spanish), approached me with a two kilo bag of carrots and held it out to me. I felt like weeping. It probably seems silly, but this generous gesture seemed to me like he was offering me and Chaparro the hand of friendship; a friendship which, over the years, would become stronger; between Iluminado, his wife, Virtudes, their family and myself and Paul.

A winters day in Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

A winters day in Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro in his new home, Picadero La Suerte. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro in his new home, Picadero La Suerte. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro and I were directed up to the stable block and he was put in the first loose box on the left, which, to this day, remains his box. During the following days Paul and I made a stab at getting to know some of the local paths. Paul was given Marco to ride. Marco, a hispano-arabe, came to the Picadero as a baby, a “tordo picasso” with brown patches on his head, neck and ears, more reminiscent of the colouring of a Shorthorn cow. On our first ride, young Ilumi showed us the way to a pretty white village, Fuenteheridos. After that we rode on our own to Castaño del Robledo, La Nava, Valdelarco and, on my birthday, the 6th of January, we missed the turning for Navahermosa and ended up riding to Cortelazor. We didn’t see that much of the family on the visit as one of their sons had been involved in a bad motorcycle accident. In spite of that we would come back from rides to either a brief chat with Iluminado or to find that he’d left a couple of bottles of Cruzcampo out for us. We very much appreciated that they trusted us to let Paul ride out with Marco.

I returned to Galaroza the following March. Chaparro had been very well fed and cared for to the point that he seemed like a different horse; he was strong, full of beans, a complete handful, and took advantage of me at every turn, to the point where I wasn’t sure if I was able to cope. But after a subsequent trip in June, I went over again in September and by then we were doing long rides to Aracena and beyond. It wasn’t always easy, as Chaparro could be very full of himself, and over and above his youthful energy I still had a lot to learn about his residual stallion behaviour… but as long as we were out riding and going to new places, we both managed with just the occasional bit of outrageousness.

By this time I had started to get to know the family more, the village too and the surrounding countryside and the paths that criss-cross the Sierra.

Iluminado with his horse, Marco. Drawing. © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado with his horse, Marco. Drawing. © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado is an exceptional person. He has strong hands and a booming voice so the horses are in no doubt who is the “lead horse” at La Suerte, and who keeps everyone in line. That said, he has a very gentle caring side. He prides himself on having well nourished, properly shod and well cared for horses. I would describe him as both a no-nonsense and fun loving man, and if you are straight with him, you will have a firm friend for life. He is totally honest and says exactly what he thinks, so what you see is what you get. He’s gregarious and loves to sing and dance to Sevillanas and we’ve enjoyed a good few romerías together, riding, eating and drinking beer.

Iluminado and Jan enjoying a beer at the Romería in La Nava, Huelva. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado and Jan enjoying a beer at the Romería in La Nava, Huelva. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado has taught me so much about the Sierra, its history, and its people, the geography and traditions of the area. He has, like his 92 year old mother, Felicita, a marvellous memory and an eye for detail. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite so observant. Our post-ride beer and tapas, either by the roaring wood fire in the bar at the Picadero or sitting outside at dusk on a warm night, with the bats fluttering around and the ravens making their way home, have been a vehicle for our friendship. I admire his astuteness and judgment too, and like to run ideas by him when I am thinking about doing a bit of research for a long ride or thinking about a project for work. I have taken on a lot of Iluminado’s advice regarding Chaparro, and my horse remains the most indulged horse at the stable.

Virtudes. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Virtudes. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado’s wife, Virtudes, has become a great friend over the ten years I have been going to Galaroza to ride Chaparro. Virtudes, a devoted mother of four and grandmother to María and Ilumi (III), has incorporated me into her family and makes sure that I am never stuck for anything. Last trip I broke a tooth and then, later, cut the top off my pinky with a knife whilst mushroom hunting, and it was she and Iluminado that made sure I saw a dentist and got an emergency dressing for my wound. Many’s the time someone from the family has come to pick me up in Seville to complete my journey to the Sierra. If I’m alone in Galaroza it’s because I choose to be.

Virtudes is a fair-minded person who has a personal take on everything around her and will pick up on people when she thinks they are being unreasonable or unkind. She is a fantastic cook, able to prepare all of the specialities of the Sierra but not averse to trying out new recipes… I am the happy beneficiary of the wonderful meals she prepares and I especially love Sunday lunchtimes when the usual fare is egg and chips cooked in a great black enamelled frying pan over the holm oak wood fire. This meal is what my friend Sarah Henry would call a 100%er – eggs, onions, potatoes and crispy nuggets of garlic, topped with slices of home cured jamón serrano, all produced on their farm. Once that has all been washed down with a glass or two of Ribera del Duero, a siesta is necessary but dinner that evening isn’t.

Preparation of the Sunday egg and chips at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Preparation of the Sunday egg and chips at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Galaroza holds a market in the town square on Wednesdays and it has now become a ritual for Virtudes and I to have breakfast at Bar Serrano (Casa de Miguel) followed by a wee saunter round the market stalls before she heads back to her household duties or up to the picadero, and I prepare to go for my ride with Chaparro.

Wednesday breakfast at Bar Serrano, Miguel's place. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Wednesday breakfast at Bar Serrano, Miguel’s place. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado and Virtudes were childhood sweethearts; she was 14 when she started seeing him. They work as a team, are equally hardworking and family orientated. If there is anything I would wish for them it is for them to have a little bit more leisure time as they never seem to stop. If I ever won the lottery one the first things I would do would be to book Virtudes into a spa for a month of pampering!

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Of their four sons, two work at the Picadero; Julio and Ilumi. Juan Jo, the eldest, works as a municipal policeman in Galaroza and the youngest, Gonzalo works as a bank manager in the Sierra. Julio and Ilumi complement one another  at the stable and while Julio is great with paperwork, searching for funding, running courses and devising marketing ideas, Ilumi is extremely practical, dexterous and can make or fix probably just about anything. They are both experienced riders and have good horse sense. The brothers have brought on many horses over the years and become qualified guides. Julio has learned to shoe his horses and has taken this job over from his father. Like their parents, they have been good to us over the years; helping us arrange horsey accommodation on our long rides to Portugal, Extremadura, over to Zufre and helping us with the logistics of getting from A to B. I in turn take photos for them and translate the odd email that comes in English.

Julio polishing up his riding boots. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Julio polishing up his riding boots. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

 

Ilumi and his horse, Juguete. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Ilumi and his horse, Juguete. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Ilumi: an accomplished rider and mushroom hunter. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Ilumi: an accomplished rider and mushroom hunter. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The number of horses at the Picadero varies from between around 25 to 30. Most of the horses belong to the Tristanchos but there are a few, like Chaparro, who are at livery there. Most of the horses there are reliable and suitable for all sorts of riders, from those who have little or no experience to people who want to ride long distances. But the boys and their father have their favourites: the late, great Hechicero, a huge dark horse from Portugal, with a white flash; Marco, of course, who shows off his Paso Español at romerías; Hotelero, Julio’s purebred Andalusian grey, who arrived as a wild 2 year old colt; and Ilumi’s beautiful, big, kind eyed, chestnut gelding, Juguete. And there’s Canastera, the glossy, black Andalusian-Arab mare, a favourite of Iluminado’s, and who is now ridden by Julio’s 6-year-old daughter, María. When Paul is here he comes out on our rides with Nerón (Nero), a big white horse with a big personality to match. Nerón has a loud trumpety neigh with which he proclaims his arrival in new towns. He’s a great character; another friend who gets along very well with Chaparro.

Paul with Nerón at La Ribera. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Paul with Nerón at La Ribera. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Julio with Hotelero. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Julio with Hotelero. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Old friends: Iluminado and his horse Marco, demonstrating the Paso Español. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Old friends: Iluminado and his horse Marco, demonstrating the Paso Español. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Over the years the family have made many improvements to the picadero: a covered school, new stables, a horse walker, a new sand school and new corrals. The installations, like the Forth Rail Bridge, are constantly being painted and cleaned. The farmhouse they rent out there is the same, always being upgraded, painted and cleaned to within an inch of its life.

Iluminado used to keep black Iberian pigs, until recently, and one year the family allowed me to make a film about the annual pig kill, which is a two day event where the home reared pigs are slaughtered, butchered into cuts of meat and made into chorizo and morcilla. It’s a family event but not for the faint hearted. If you are a meat-eater it’s good to know that the pigs have been reared free ranging amongst olive and cork oak trees, have not been put on a lorry and transported the length of the country, and that their passing is celebrated with food, drink and music.

Iluminado showing off a plate of beautifully cut, exquisite home cured jamón serrano. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado showing off a plate of beautifully cut, exquisite home cured jamón serrano. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

There are goats in the top field and many’s the time I have come home to wherever I am staying with a bucket of still warm, frothy milk. Turkeys, chickens and cockerels sally forth from the hen house in the mornings to gobble up the corn scattered in the yard… but not too early because there may still be foxes and meloncillos (mongooses) at large. I am often the grateful recipient of fresh, golden-yolked eggs that make lovely, sunny tortillas. There is a pond with a couple of ducks too…

Iluminado with one of his new kids. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado with one of his new kids. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of the various cockerels at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of the various cockerels at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado has a huerta or kitchen garden at La Suerte. I plan to write about that separately as it deserves special attention but suffice to say that I never go home empty handed and especially enjoy September, when my fridge is filled with tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, beetroot, onions, potatoes, coriander, chard, spinach, lettuce – and Chaparro gets the odd sly carrot from Virtudes.

Iluminado showing off his bumper crop of tomatoes. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado showing off his bumper crop of tomatoes. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The stable has become a home from home for me. If I think about the place when I am in Scotland then a lump comes to my throat. Over the past decade I have been in lots of different rented houses around Galaroza but what has been constant has been Chaparro, the Picadero and the family, my family, our family.

It’s a place in which I love being. I love getting up early and being first there, feeling the burst of heat from the horses as I open the big stable door, feeding Chaparro who sticks his pink nose through the bars of the door to his box and nickers at me as I get a bucket of feed for him. I cherish listening to him as he chomps his way through his oats. His nose busily moving along the trough, and me happy knowing that he always has food and a clean bed; grateful to know that he is safe when I’m not around. Iluminado looks after Chaparro as if he was one of his own – perhaps even better because Iluminado doesn’t have to tell me that he knows how much Chaparro means to me. I know he knows. He sees my teary face every time I have to leave.

Chaparro stopping off to visit friends at Navalonguilla. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro stopping off to visit friends at Navalonguilla. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Virtudes and her granddaughter, María. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Virtudes and her granddaughter, María. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Often, as Chaparro eats his morning feed, I heat up a coffee and sit outside and just enjoy the morning, watching the ravens, culebreros (short toed eagles – circaetus gallicus), red kites and other birds… Sometimes, having sanctioned it with Iluminado, I go and pick a bag of cherry tomatoes in the huerta – “Cuando hay, hay y cuando no, no hay!”, sometimes I deadhead the roses or just use the time to sort out the saddle bags for the day’s ride.

Early doors: breakfast at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Early doors: breakfast at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

But the Picadero is also a sociable place, I need never be lonely there; there’s always a beer, a tapa of homemade goats cheese, home preserved olives, salchichón, occasionally a revuelto de setas (scambled eggs with wild mushrooms, foraged for amongst the chestnut trees) and in winter, migas cooked over the wood fire and eaten with grilled sardines, or a warming cocido of chickpeas.

The picadero is the base for our rides, near and far, and the place where I start researching the things that I might use for work, for my drawings, my photos, my films, my writing. I learn new words there – words like “Talabartero” (harness maker); I make contact with people who can teach me about cork, about the dehesa, the flora, the fauna and the livestock – like the rare Manchado de Jabugo pigs. I know that as long as we’re there we will keep on learning.

Riding into La Nava in springtime. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Riding into La Nava in springtime. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The view from north of Las Murtiguillas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The view from north of Las Murtiguillas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

After the long ride to Cumbres de San Bartolomé. Photo: Paul Barham ©

After the long ride to Cumbres de San Bartolomé. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Jan and Chaparro: Riding to Extremadura. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Jan and Chaparro: Riding to Extremadura. Photo: Paul Barham ©

This place is a refuge for my horse and for me. It’s somewhere he loves to come home to after a good ride out along the serrano paths – and, well, that goes for both of us. Over the last decade there we have shared Christmas Eve and Hogmanay feasts, celebrated the arrival of grandchildren, mourned lost friends and family, shared stories, dried ourselves by the fire, and watched thunderstorms from inside the old, chestnut doors of the bar, relieved that we got the horses in on time, and glad of the slow burning holm oak logs in the hearth and the delicious smells from the kitchen.

The photos on the wall of the bar are of family and friends, some two legged and some four legged, some now absent, a mixture of old family snaps and photos that I’ve taken during my time there, so Paul and I are there too. The Picadero and its people are now so familiar to me that, when I am here in Scotland, I can shut my eyes and remember where everything is, how it smells and how it sounds… I know it like the back of my hand, a magic place, one that I never take for granted.

The Bar, Picadero La Suerte. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The Bar, Picadero La Suerte. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

An old photo from the Tristancho Family collection. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

An old photo from the Tristancho Family collection. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

 Picadero La Suerte

© Jan Nimmo 24/03/15

Manchados de Jabugo: The rare spotted pigs of the Sierra.

Chaparro and some Iberian pigs in communion on the path from El Talenque to Las Cañadas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro in communion with some Iberian pigs on the path from El Talenque to Las Cañadas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

On our countless rides on the paths of the Sierra de Huelva, it is not at all unusual for Chaparro and I to come across herds of black Iberian pigs foraging under the holm and cork oaks of the dehesa. You’ll see the pigs rooting about in the chestnut groves too.

Sometimes we spot pigs of dubious parentage; that is when the wild boar that roam the forests of the Sierra make an “illegal” incursion into a field of sows…

Iberian and wild boar cross piglets at Tierra Amarillo, Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iberian and wild boar cross piglets at Tierra Amarillo, Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Very occasionally we’ll see the odd ginger coloured pig with black spots. The first time we saw these was on the circular Roblecillo ride, just to the west of Galaroza. The pigs there belong to Faustino, who is often there with his wife, and who we pass on the path with his mud-spattered white Land Rover.

Riding the Roblecillo path with Chaparro: Faustino's pigs. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Riding the Roblecillo path with Chaparro: Faustino’s pigs. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

I have also seen shy, spotted pigs on the ride over Los Altos de la Dehesa, on my way from Galaroza over to El Talenque and beyond. I had always assumed that these pigs where some sort of mix of Iberian with, maybe, from way back when, some Old Spot or something like that… after all it was English people who ran the mines in the Cuenca Minera of Huelva Province so who knows, they may have brought Gloucestershire Old Spots and Tamworths with them.

Those of you who read the blog will have heard me talk of Francisco’s farm, Navalonguilla. It is one of mine and Chaparro’s favourite places to ride through. One day in September, when we were passing, Francisco asked if I had taken any photos of the piglets.

“No, what piglets? I haven’t seen them.”

“Oh they’ll be round here in the shade.”

So I dismounted and tethered Chaparro to the gate opposite, got my wee camera out and followed Francisco into the southern field where the Sweet Chestnuts grow. And there they were; lovely little hairy piglets, with black spots. Mum was there too and Dad. Francisco picked up a couple to show me and began to explain to me that these pigs were actually a specific breed: Manchados de Jabugo.

Francisco showing off one of his "jara" coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco showing off one of his “jara” coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco with a Jara coloured Manachao de Jabugo piglet. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Francisco with a Jara coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglet. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of  Francisco's sows with her piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of Francisco’s sows with her piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The breed, along with Torbiscal and Lampiño pigs, is now in danger of extinction; this was made official in 2012 in a declaration by the Spanish Government. While there were numerous Manchados de Jabugo at the beginning of the 20th Century there are now at best only a couple of hundred left, maybe less. The breed was developed by wealthy farmers, D. José Sánchez Romero and D. Manuel García Moreno, on a farm called “El Mayorazgo” in the municipality of Jabugo, around the middle of the 19th century.

With the rise in popularity of ham from black Iberian pigs there was a perception that anything that didn’t have patas negras or black trotters, was of inferior quality – and while this may be true of the intensively farmed, factory pigs it certainly isn’t the case with the Manchados de Jabugo, who while not growing as large as the black pigs, produce excellent meat. However, the pigs cannot be hurried in any way, so are seen as being less “profitable”. The breed was also adversely affected by the Peste Porcina Africana (African Porcine Disease), which was a virus that hit Spain and Portugal in the 1960’s.

Francisco's Jara coloured Manchado de Jabugo sow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco’s Jara coloured Manchado de Jabugo sow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

The Manchados can be either red (Retinta) or pale blonde (Jara) with irregular, black spots. They are long and rotund, they are much hairier than the black pigs and have pale/white trotters. Their heads are wide, their snouts long and they generally have pale eyelashes. The Manchado sows are fierce mothers. Their distribution is limited to the province of Huelva.

Some of Francisco's pigs L-R Iberian pig, Manchado de Jabugo (Jara colouring) Iberian pig and another Machado de Jabugo (Retinta colouring). Photo: Jan Nimmo

Some of Francisco’s pigs L-R Iberian pig, Manchado de Jabugo (Jara colouring) Iberian pig and another Machado de Jabugo (Retinta colouring). Photo: Jan Nimmo

Nowadays there is only one farm to source legitimate bloodstock: “Los Remedios”, El Almendro, near Cabezas Rubias, south of the Sierra. Previously these could also be sourced in Galaroza at “La Dehesa” which belonged to the Diputación de Huelva but that was sold off a couple of years ago. This is a great loss to Galaroza as not only could serrano farmers source local breeds of pigs but this was also a base for the conservation of old, local varieties of fruit trees.

Riding by, a few days after my first encounter with the piglets, Francisco said that one of them was very poorly. I dismounted and went to have a look at the piglet, which was in the cortijo, in a box with a blanket and a hot water bottle. It was very weak and Francisco was sure that it wasn’t going to make it but wanted to give it a chance. Sadly it didn’t make it.

A few days later I arranged to visit the farm again, but this time with my “good” camera. Chaparro got to rest under the shade of a tree, in the company of the farm cats and Leona, Francisco’s beautiful mastín. There had been a new litter of piglets, this time they were retina coloured and were in a cortijo in another part of the farm which is hidden away at the back of the marble quarry. They were still quite tiny and rather beautiful. Francisco was justifiably proud of them. He is doing crucial work to conserve this lovely but rare breed of pig.

Francisco_piglets_SM©

Francisco of Navalonguilla with two of his Retinta coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Francisco showing off two of his Retinta coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco showing off two of his Retinta coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Video clip of the piglets feeding…..

 

Serrano portraits from the cork harvest of 2013

KIKO

Kiko, Cork Harvester, Galaroza. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Kiko, Cork Harvester, Galaroza. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Francisco “Kiko” Muñiz is a cork harvester who lives in Galaroza. Like others working in this field, he does all sorts of other agricultural work. I spent a couple of days with his cuadrilla last year on farms near Jabugo and Alájar. Here Kiko sits with his axes and various “cucharos” which are prized amongst the cork harvesters. Traditionally these could be used for anything from drinking cups at wells, to bowls for making gazpacho, or if big enough, for bathing a baby. Nowadays they mostly decorate the local bars.

MAUNEL AND ANTONIO

Manuel Santos and Antonio "El Cordobés" working as a team. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Manuel Santos and Antonio “El Cordobés” working as a team. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Manuel Santos Carvajal is from a new generation of cork harvesters from the Sierra. He lives in Galaroza. He does all kinds of forestry work. Maunel likes to sing and joke while he works which makes being with the caudrilla enjoyable. Here he is working with Antonio “El Cordobés” from the village of Alájar. Antonio also keeps 50 or more goats so I think there is a visit in the offing for Chaparro, the camera and me…

FRANCISCO

Francisco, an arriero from Aracena, with Marquesa and Rodolfo. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Francisco, an arriero from Aracena, with Marquesa and Rodolfo. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Francisco is a rare breed: a young arriero or muleteer. There used to be hundreds of arrieros travelling across the Sierra but now there are very few so I felt really lucky to catch a rare glimpse of an arriero at work during the cork harvest; tractors are the norm nowadays. The days I was with the cuadrilla, Franciso was working with his two mules. Rodolfo and Marquesa, who know their work and who are extremely well cared for.

Francisco "Juntando". Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Francisco “Juntando”. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

ARRIEROS FROM CAÑAVERAL DE LEÓN

One of the many lovely things about riding the paths of the Sierra is the probability of chance encounters with farmers, goatherds, walkers and in some instances, cork harvesters. On a ride through Valdelama, Paul and I came across these arrieros or muleteers from Cañaveral de León, a village situated in the far north of the Sierra, They were loading up cork near the village of Navahermosa and had brought their mules and donkeys down to help with the work.

Arrieros from Cañaveral de León. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Arrieros from Cañaveral de León. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

There are some photos from the 2013 cork harvest here.

Jan Nimmo ©2014

The Naked Oak: This Year’s Cork Harvest in the Sierra.

An Alcornoque or Cork oak (Quercas Suber) in the Northern Sierra. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

An alcornoque or cork oak (Quercas Suber) in the Northern Sierra. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

In the ten years that I have been riding the bridle paths and drove roads of the Sierra de Huelva with my horse, Chaparro, I have become fascinated by cork oaks/alcornoques (Quercus Suber) and cork. It’s no surprise really as the alcornoques populate the landscape we ride through, whether it is the lush green central valley of the Sierra or the dry hills to the north and south.

Chaparro and I take a break in the winter sun to take photos of cork oaks in Navahermosa. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Chaparro and Jan take a break in the winter sun to take photos of cork oaks in Navahermosa. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Cork appears everywhere, being used variously as guards to protect the front doors of houses in the villages to repel the teeming rain, as insulation (as in the roof of the 16th Century church, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, in Navahermosa), as receptacles for drinking water- cucharos, as low squat stools held together by nails made from Jara/ Rock rose (Cister Landafer), as protective sheaths for axes, as primitive beehives and for all sorts of other improvised DIY uses…

Emilio Antunez Tristancho sits on a typical cork stool and holds a cucharo. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Emilio Antunez Tristancho sits on a typical cork stool and holds a cucharo. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

P1080199Serrano style cork stools - these were made by Emilio and are held together with Jara or Rock Rose wood nails. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Serrano style cork stools – these were made by Emilio and are held together with Jara or Rock Rose wood nails. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

The alcornocque gives it’s name to a person with specific characteristics – clumsy and not very bright – I suppose we would say “thick”.

The acorns or bellotas from the cork oaks fall on our paths in winter and nourish the black Iberian pigs, cattle and other livestock we meet along the way. Horses are also partial to acorns. In February when you gather the acorns up in your hands you can see them starting to form shoots. These then become chaparros – wee cork oak seedlings. So my horse has a good Serrano name…

A chance encounter with men from Cádiz Province loading cork destined for a closure factory in Algeciras. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

A chance encounter with men from Cádiz Province loading cork destined for a closure factory in Algeciras. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Over the last three years I’ve been documenting what I can of the local cork harvest. My idea is to do this through film (a slow burning project), drawings and photography. During the many conversations I’ve had with older, local people, like Emilio de La Huerta Grande, I’ve become acutely aware of how much this skilled work is in decline and how the men who know how to harvest cork are scarce now compared with 50 years or so ago…. Before, in towns like Galaroza, there were many cuadrillas of cork harvesters working but now there are just a handful. The cork can only be harvested every nine years and it takes a mixture of skilled sensitivity and brute force to handle the axes used strip the cork, leaving the tree unscathed. No machine can do this and there is no way to hurry the time it takes for the tree to produce more cork (the harvests are also strictly controlled by the Parque Natural and the Environmental Agency). That said, no good cork harvester worth their salt would try to strip a cork oak before it was time. To them the paperwork and permission required is secondary to the well-being of the tree, and often there is friction between “Park” officials and men who have a daily working knowledge of the job. Every tree is different and requires special handling. The axes have a slightly curved blade, a wooden shaft made from chestnut, and this is tipped with a metal edge for prizing off the cork once it is cut with the axe blade.

"Cano" - Manolo Valle, Galaroza, holds holds a piece of cork which shows the number of times that the oak has been stripped. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

“Cano” – Manolo Valle, Galaroza, holds holds a piece of cork which shows the number of times that the oak has been stripped. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

"Cano" and Manuel Santos working as a team. Photo:©  Jan Nimmo

“Cano” and Manuel Santos working as a team. Photo:© Jan Nimmo

Luis, Fuenteheridos, from Emilio's cuadrilla, examines his axe. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Luis, Fuenteheridos, from Emilio’s cuadrilla, examines his axe. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

The harvest starts in June when the weather heats up… to safely strip a cork of its bark and not damage the tree it has to be hot. Traditionally the “bornizo” (the tree’s first harvest, when the bark is still not yet cork) was harvested in May; now it is harvested at the same time as the cork – a change that happened with the advent of Natural Park status. The Agencia de Medioambiente controls what happens agriculturally speaking in the Parque Natural and permission has to be sought before harvesting cork, pollarding chestnuts, felling trees or clearing scrub.

This year I worked with two cuadrillas.

Emilio Antunez Tristancho peeling garlic: Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Emilio Antunez Tristancho peeling garlic: Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

My friend Emilio “de La Huerta Grande” Antunez Tristancho, is almost 80 years old and has been, amongst others of his generation, my teacher with regards to the popular history of the area. He has worked all his life in agriculture and loves trees. He is still tough, extremely fit, he walks for miles although a few years back he fell out of a chestnut tree whist pollarding it and broke his arm. I was lucky enough to see him pollard chestnuts one winter, alongside his son, José, and grandson, Isaac, at his smallholding, La Viriñuela. Now his family makes sure that his presence at the cork harvest is in a “supervisory” role. When I learned that Emilio’s cork harvest at his farm, La Caseta, near Jabugo was to be this year I was really keen not to miss it and to see three generations at work. La Caseta is now mainly worked by Emilio’s son, José, who lives there with his partner, Mayte. Emilio still works a smallholding at La Viriñuela and also has a sensational vegetable plot just on the edge of Galaroza.

I visited La Caseta on the second day of the harvest there and enjoyed a traditional serrano breakfast of toast with cured ham, olive oil and tomato, with Maria, Emilio’s wife and Mayte, before following the sound of axes down into a hollow to where the men were harvesting the cork.

Caremelo at La Caseta: Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Caremelo at La Caseta: Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Juan "Gitano" at La Caseta. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Juan “Gitano” at La Caseta. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

The cuadrilla was made up from men from various villages… Emilio, his son José, his grandson Isaac, Juan “El Gitano” and his son, Moises, all from Galaroza, Luis, Carmelo and Juan Antonio from Fuenteheridos and Manolo from Aracena. Lorena, Emilio’s granddaughter, the only woman on the team, was helping her dad load up the cork onto the trailer.

Lorena and Jose finish loading the cork: Drawing © Jan Nimmo

Lorena and Jose finish loading the cork: Drawing © Jan Nimmo

María, Emilio's wife, observing the cork harvest at La Caseta. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

María, Emilio’s wife, observing the cork harvest at La Caseta. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Emilio’s wife, Maria came with us too. It was touching to see that at 82 she still marvels at the beauty of the cork oaks and the skill involved in the harvest. Emilio talks about trees as if they were people, friends or family, and he treats them with the utmost respect. Since he fell from the chestnut tree he has been forbidden from climbing up trees or wielding a cork cutting axe but the minute he spotted anyone who was struggling to work out how approach a tree he would explain what to do and I could see he was just itching to get his hands on the axe. It’s an intuitive job that requires brawn, sensitivity and the ability to judge each cut.

Isaac and Manolo working as a team. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Isaac and Manolo working as a team. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Emilio "rajando" or trimming cork. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Emilio “rajando” or trimming cork. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Manolo and Juan Antonio working at La Caseta. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Manolo and Juan Antonio working at La Caseta. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Juan Antonio working at La Caseta. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Juan Antonio working at La Caseta. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

The alcornoque has a distinct and subtle smell when the bark has been stripped and the pale flesh feels cool and damp to the touch. You can see the sap trickle down the limbs of the tree.

Emilio is a larger than life character so he booms out instructions to the cork harvesters in the cuadrilla. It’s all good-humoured banter – cachondeo. It’s what I love about being with the cuadrillas.

José and Mayte keep black Iberian pigs on the farm – these are guarded by their very lovely mastín, Titán.

Titán and his herd of pigs. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Titán and his herd of pigs. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

At La Caseta there is a mixture of ages and it was especially impressive to see the likes of Juan or Luis shin up the mature trees and start cutting the cork from 25 feet up, in the fork of the cork oak’s trunk – la trepa.

Luis starting to cut cork at the "trepa". Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Luis starting to cut cork at the “trepa”. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Portrait of Carmelo, whose axe has a homemade cork sheath. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Portrait of Carmelo, whose axe has a homemade cork sheath. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

The harvesters had a break, down next to the camino real that passes through the farm. It is the path that would originally have gone from the south of Jabugo, famed for its Iberian ham, to Cortegana, once an important cork town. Now there is a big main road that crosses it and many parts of the path have become overgrown or are simply fenced off. Emilio is a staunch defender of the right to use these ancient public paths that criss-cross the Sierra and he knows them intimately because he has walked them all.

Work resumes until lunchtime when we all gather in the hilltop cortijo for a beer and a tapa of home produced cured ham and lomo.

Jan with the cuadrilla at La Caseta (Minus Lorena). Photo: © Lorena Antunes Martín

Jan with the cuadrilla at La Caseta (Minus Lorena) Top left to right: Jan, Mayte, Juan, Manolo, Luis, Juan Antonio, María and Jose. Bottom left to Right: Moises and Emilio. Photo: © Lorena Antunes Martín

Portrait of "Cano", Manuel Valle, cork harvester from Galaroza. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Portrait of “Cano”, Manuel Valle, cork harvester from Galaroza. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

My second block of work was with Manuel Valle’s cuadrilla. Manuel is known locally as “Cano” because of his fair hair and white skin; all of his family are fair. Cano is one of the few younger men (he’s 47) who make a living exclusively from farming – this is only possible because he is extremely hard working and juggles various farms and does all kinds of agricultural jobs.

When I worked with his cuadrilla they were harvesting cork at a farm called Buen Vino, near Los Marines. There were three on cork stripping duties, Cano, his friend Rafael, “El Pindo”, and Manuel Santos Carvajal. Ángel and Salvador were on rajando (trimming) and juntando (gathering) duties. The entire team was from Galaroza. Danielillo, Cano’s elderly uncle, was also present and sat quietly in the shade beside the mountain of cork that was being accumulated.

Portrait of Danielillo, Galaroza. Drawing © Jan Nimmo

Portrait of Danielillo, Galaroza. Drawing © Jan Nimmo

I was spared the 5 am start thanks to my friend, Iluminado, who gave me a lift to the farm and although I was there by about 8.30 the morning was already starting to feel very hot. Cork harvesters start at 7.00 am as soon as it’s light and generally work through till 2.30pm. By the time we finished that day it was almost 40 degrees!

I headed down the hill towards where the main Seville/ Portugal road passes the northern marches of the farm, following the sound of axes and followed by a herd of grunting, snuffling pigs who clearly thought I had come to feed them. The men were working close to the road and I was greeted by the barking of “Body”, Cano’s dog, which looked like a bodeguero; a bit like a large long legged Jack Russell. Once the men had sat down for a cigarette break, Body settled down and seemed to get used to me. I was reminded not to leave my rucksack with the sound kit on the ground, as the pigs would carry it off to investigate, after all I might have brought sandwiches.

Echando un cigarro (a fag break): Rafael. Manuel, Cano and Body.  Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Echando un cigarro (a fag break): Rafael. Manuel, Cano and Body. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

About 11 am the descorchadores break for their “piece” as we’d say in Scotland: bread, cheese, chorizo, salchichón, tinned fish, oranges and apples, which are peeled with the wooden handled knives that all county folks carry in the Sierra. The men carry green, insulated 5 litre water containers and drink the whole lot in the course of their shift and there is much conversation about the prospect of cold beer.

Piece break; Angel, Manuel and Rafael. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Piece break; Angel, Manuel and Rafael. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Afterwards the men started work at the top of the hill and the heat was beginning to intensify. The cork oaks on this part of the farm had been affected by “Culebra”, which is the larva of a beetle, and the beetle itself (Coroebus Undatus) which get under the bark and cause the tree damage. Culebra literally means snake but it is in fact a small white worm – but it does leave dark, squiggly lines, which stand out from the tan background on the freshly stripped trunks. When Cano spotted the larvae he shouted to me to come over to have a look. Some of the men form the Sierra have worked harvesting cork in Catalunia and talked about how in the North they spray the trees as soon as the cork is harvested – so there there is someone in the cuadrilla solely dedicated to doing this. This doesn’t happen in the Sierra, it’s expensive and most farms with cork oak are far from being big commercial concerns, far from the centres of wine making.

A threat to the cork oaks: Culebra (Coroebus Undatus). Photo: © Jan Nimmo

A threat to the cork oaks: Culebra (Coroebus Undatus). Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Portrat of Rafael "El Pindo" with the tools of the trade. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Portrat of Rafael “El Pindo” with the tools of the trade. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

All the alcornoques are stripped, no matter the size of tree, or the quality of it’s cork. This means that some are harder work than others to strip… the men look forward to and enjoy the satisfaction of harvesting of good quality cork, as it comes away easily in large sections, cut first with the axe and then eased of by the jurga, a long wooden pole made from Eucalyptus. This is team work. On the other hand the men dread a bad oak and the difficulty entailed in removing the bark safely. The jurgas have blunt points and in the case of the one used by Cano’s cuadrilla, it also has a forked end, which is both unusual and useful.

Manuel working in temperatures of almost 40 degrees. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Manuel working in temperatures of almost 40 degrees. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Manuel and Cano working with jurga and axe. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Manuel and Cano working with jurga and axe. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Cano and Rafael. Pohto: © JanNimmo

Cano and Rafael. Pohto: © JanNimmo

Manuel stripping one of the more difficult oaks. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Manuel stripping one of the more difficult oaks. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Rafael, Cork harvester from Galaroza. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Rafael, Cork harvester from Galaroza. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Since I’ve come back to Scotland I have been editing the photos I took and reviewing the footage I filmed; thinking about what the narration might be for a short film. I have been making drawings too, portraits of the cork harvesters and as I draw the details of each face, I ponder the world of cork and cork oaks and how different the landscape and vegetation is from where I was brought up on Kintyre. But I am also struck by something intensely familiar; some of the harvesters remind me of my father; wiry, skinny but incredibly strong, accustomed to hard, physical work in all weathers with their “farmers arms” and a tan that stops at the neck – and when I see Emilio’s muckle hands I am reminded of my father’s. A strange connection across climes and landscapes, so not really that odd for me to have become so interested in these wonderful trees and the work of those who care for them.

More photos of the harvest on Flickr

Jan Nimmo © 2014

Emilio. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Emilio. Photo: © Jan Nimmo