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 ©

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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…..

 

Travels with Chaparro – a letter from the Sierra de Huelva

The Sierra

An uncharacteristically green part of Andalusia, the Sierra de Huelva forms the western end of the Sierra Morena, the line of hills running from Portugal in the west through the northern provinces of Andalusia and marking the boundary between this region and the vast open landscapes of Extremadura. Most of the Sierra (apart from the areas still exploited for the region’s rich mineral wealth) now forms part of the Natural Park of the Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche.

Jan with Chaparro, La Ribera (Cumbres)

Jan with Chaparro, La Ribera (Cumbres)

You can take a white horse anywhere…..

How I got there is a long story – let’s just say that after a close shave filming on the picket lines of Ecuador I decided life was too short, and when I got the chance to buy a beautiful Andalusian gelding there was no way I would say no – I’d waited 40 years to have horse of my own (after all, miner’s daughters didn’t have horses).

For the last ten years I’ve been lucky enough to spend chunks of time exploring the drove roads and bridle paths of the Sierra Morena on horseback. Rides can last anything from three hours to five days and the countless kilometres covered with Chaparro have given me the opportunity to meet and make friends with people who have shared with me something of their intimate understanding of the landscape and local history.

Cork oaks have been in the picture throughout our travels, from San Calixto in Cordoba to the Sierra Norte de Sevilla, into Extremadura and as far as Barrancos in Portugal. Cork is part of the culture – even in Chaparro’s name, which means wild cork oak.

On horseback you see things differently, and Chaparro has been instrumental to my meeting and getting to know the folk who live and work in the Sierra and who care about the country they live in. This is especially true of some of the older serranos whose recollections span three quarters of a century of changes.

I have found paths described to me by old men in bars who had not walked them for 50 years, paths open but now overgrown and neglected. And I am moved by the accuracy of the description, such recognisable detail after so many years absence. They tell me the paths are the veins of the Sierra – or used to be when transport was on foot or on hoof. Today these same paths are in danger of being closed, either through neglect or the willful self-interest of land-owners.

Rural economy

Emilio "de La Huerta Grande" Antunes Tristancho with Chica.

Emilio “de La Huerta Grande” Antunes Tristancho with Chica.

The beauty of this landscape had always struck me but what I did not understand was how it had come about. It is a partially abandoned landscape, part overgrown and tumbledown – romantic, but to the farmer, an abhorrence. This was not a wild forest but the result of generations of hard work, and a unique pattern of arboriculture suited to the climate, the terrain and the needs of its people.

However, the Sierra has been vulnerable to external pressures – in the past civil war and hunger, then migration to the cities and industrial centres of Europe, and now threatened by changes in land ownership, enclosure, commodity values and the present economic crisis.

As in many parts of southern and western Spain the traditional mode of agricultural practice has been that of the “Dehesa”, which has evolved to sustain a diverse mixed agriculture on poor soils in a climate of hot dry summers, and which has created an open, pastoral woodland which supports both cork oaks (Quercus Suber) and holm oaks (Quercus Ilex). Both trees are evergreens. The trees provide essential shade in summer and food in winter for livestock, and help to stabilise the soil while the livestock improve the fertility of the land.

La Ribera de Hinojales

La Ribera de Hinojales

Low intensity grasslands become wildflower meadows in spring, supporting a wealth of pollenating insects, birds and other fauna.

This is an open forest with a delicate balance between light and shade, plant and animal, and according to local cork expert Miguel Ángel Benítez Benítez this is the most bio-diverse region outside Amazonia. The Sierra is home to genets, otters, deer, wild boar, mongooses, and in the course of the year sees almost 200 bird species including imperial eagles, griffon and black vultures, eagle owls, black storks and bee-eaters. People younger than me remember hearing the wolves at night – the last one was shot in Valdelarco in the late-sixties.

These woodlands are grazed by a variety of livestock, including merino sheep, goats, handsome red retinta cattle, vacas bravas (breeding fighting bulls) and the black Iberian pigs.

The sweet, highly nutritious acorns of the alcornoque (cork oak) and the encina (holm oak) are valued as fodder for livestock, especially the Iberian pigs whose meat and cured ham (jamón serrano) is sold at a premium. The Sierra de Huelva boasts of arguably the best “pata negra de bellota” in the whole of Spain. This free range, slowly produced but luxury product is currently suffering from the effects of the economic downturn and many jobs have been lost locally.

Traditionally crops such as oats, barley, chick peas and broad beans were planted in areas of this open woodland which weren’t being grazed. This surprised me because none of these crops are grown any more.

According to local testimony there has been a long-term change in the climate and the rainfall in the past was much higher than today. My late friend, Tobías López García, described how sixty years ago his father could be rained off for weeks during spring. Ex-director of the Natural Park, Rafael Hernández Mancha believes it is too early to say whether this change is due to human impacts or is part of the natural Mediterranean climatic cycle.

The Antunez Tristancho family polllarding chestnut trees.

The Antunez Tristancho family polllarding chestnut trees.

Another of my friends, Emilio “de la Huerta Grande” Antunes Tristancho worked in the cork harvest and still manages and coppices his own chestnut trees. Emilio is 79 years old but still can be seen in winter time high up in a chestnut tree, axe in hand, no harness, delicately removing this branch or that. His son and grandson are working further down the same tree and his daughter, Emilia, is building a bonfire of the brash.

Sweet chestnut trees are found in ancient plantations, especially on the higher ground in the centre of the Natural Park, and give their name to the Park’s highest hill, Cerro del Castaño, (hill of the chestnut). Some of the trees have been coppiced for centuries for the wood, equalled only by oak in its durability for construction, fencing, gates etc.

Many of the chestnut trees have grafts of up to four different varieties growing on the one tree. This ensures the owners of the castañares that at least one of their varieties will bear fruit. Chestnuts provide food for livestock in autumn and in the past were dried and ground to make flour. Today the produce is marketed in Galaroza through one of only two chestnut co-operatives in Spain (the other one is in Ronda) although now both co-operatives face fierce undercutting from chestnuts from Turkey.

If the dehesa typifies the open landscapes then the outskirts of the towns and villages are marked by the huertas and orchards.

Iluminado and his homegrown organic tomatoes

Iluminado and his homegrown organic tomatoes

Huertas or kitchen gardens, although in decline and often showing signs of neglect or more permanent abandonment, are characteristic of the boundaries between the towns and villages of the Sierra and the surrounding countryside, stretching out into the fields along the ancient lanes. Nothing much happens in the huertas over the winter apart from sowing broad beans. They come to life in the spring with the sowing the typical crops – lettuces, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, beans, courgettes, aubergines, melons and pumpkins (used as feed for livestock in the winter). Growers used to cultivate chickpeas too but this is something that I haven’t seen in the ten years that I have known the Sierra.

Iluminado gathering peppers

Iluminado gathering peppers

Beyond the huertas lie the orchards. Many of these are also neglected, with apples left to rot in the autumn (although this may provide a bonus for the wildlife or the occasional passing horse).

The fruits grown in the orchards are often specific to a particular town or village – peaches in La Nava, apples in Galaroza – where differences in microclimate or the abundance or otherwise of water may favour one fruit or another. Other fruits seen in the summer are early figs (brevas) and cherries, in the autumn figs and walnuts, and in the winter, persimmons.

Settlement in the Sierra is marked by a concentration of large villages and smaller aldeas between the towns of Aracena and Cortegana. Folk are known by the produce that their village was famed for – Los Paperos (potato growers) from Fuenteheridos, Los Cebolleros (onion growers) from Aracena, Los Cachoneros (apple growers) from Galaroza and Los Colmeneros (bee keepers) from Valdelarco. These names show how local produce was integral to the communities’ identity and the importance of local trade between villages before the modern era.

Iluminado using the cantero style of irrigation for his potato crop

Iluminado using the cantero style of irrigation for his potato crop

Families also carry nicknames from generation to generation, often deriving from a particular skill or product (although sometimes the meaning has been lost in the course of time). The friend who looks after Chaparro, Iluminado Tristancho, carries the family nickname, Lechuguino, appropriately enough since he also grows very fine lettuces.

La Cuadrilla

Over the last three years I have been gathering still and moving images of cork and the people who are involved in the nine year cycle of the cork harvest. This is a slow burning project which I plan to make into a documentary and an exhibition. In the course of collecting this information I have got to know Francisco “Kiko” Muñiz and his cuadrilla or team.

Kiko and his team are young men, but they use the traditional tools of the cork forester, the short-handled, wide-bladed axe and long wooden pole for prizing off the cork, la burja. Cutting the cork is a delicate skill but one which still requires physical strength and stamina. You have to know where to cut and not cut too deeply – which could damage the tree and make it susceptible to the various diseases and parasites, which can take advantage of the freshly exposed, flesh-coloured wood below the cork.

Antonio "El Cordobés" stripping cork in Alajar

Antonio “El Cordobés” stripping cork in Alajar

The cork has to be cut in the heat of summer (with the first cut of young cork, the bornizo, being carried out in May). Many of the people who cut cork in summer also pollard chestnuts in winter.

An important member of the cuadrilla is the arriero (muleteer) Francisco. Mules and donkeys are a more effective means of removing the cork from the steep hillsides than any wheeled or tracked vehicle. However, hundreds of mules have disappeared from the Sierra in recent years so it is a happy sight to see these animals so well looked after and doing the work for which they have been trained. A working mule can command a higher price than a good-looking horse.

Francisco is an arriero or muleteer who works with his mules to remove stripped cork from inaccessible hillsides.

Francisco is an arriero or muleteer who works with his mules to remove stripped cork from otherwise inaccessible hillsides.

Much prized by the harvesters are the cucharos – the knobbly burrs measuring up to a metre across which can be cut from the tree in one piece, to serve as receptacles for a variety of uses, depending on their size. Cucharos have been used since time immemorial as drinking cups beside watering troughs and as mortars for making gazpacho. Emilio bathed all his children in a cucharo and Manuel Santos Carvajal, one of Kiko’s cuadrilla, also remembers being washed in a cucharo as an infant. Today the cuadrillas have to deal with the problem of illegal removal of the prized burrs, often before the nine years growth has developed and causing sometimes irreparable damage to the trees. This is of course also theft but in a remote region this is a crime which goes unpunished.

Samuel, Kiko’s son, enjoys being with the cuadrilla during school holidays and seems to be in his element learning the skills from the older men and enjoying the banter and singing of the cuadrilla.

Samuel, gathering up the cork

Samuel, gathering up the cork

While it is great to see this resurgence and the resilience of the cuadrilla, the underlying trend is towards decline and the overwhelming feeling is one of crisis – a crisis facing all of Spain, where no-one can afford rural tourism, jamón serrano or fine wine with corks.

The cork industry is under threat from screw-tops and plastic corks backed by petro-dollars and New World and European wine makers whose corporate lobbyists have even tried to discredit the cork industry on the false premise that it destroys forests.

The Natural Park has a defined role in the protection of the environment but from what I have seen in practice this is marred by ignorance and petty bureaucracy. Commercial developments and publicly funded enterprise initiatives appear out of nowhere in the park – dehesa ripped up to lay out an industrial estate with no industry while smallholders are fined for clearing brushwood and brambles from the paths that lead to their farms – when what they are doing is protecting the park from forest fires. The relationship between the Natural Park and small farmers is not helped by a set of park regulations based on a very different Mediterranean woodland, Los Alcornocales Natural Park, in the province of Cadiz.

Today I can ride for a whole day and hardly see a soul – a beautiful way to enjoy nature but not what the paths were made for. People only a generation older than me recall the paths as being sociable places, where people from different towns and villages greeted one another and exchanged local news and gossip passing through the farms along the way. Long hours talking to Tobías about the abandoned steadings along the paths has brought these places to life for me. Though sometimes now no more than a pile of stones these are places people lived in less than fifty years ago.

In some places the hillsides have been turned into eucalyptus plantations – economic monoculture which effectively closes off large areas of the land. Very recently I experienced a “Get off my land” incident in a eucalyptus plantation – on a path that I’ve ridden at least forty times… I have had to pass through there, as do local farmers, because the legitimate drove road has been padlocked.

Jan and Chaparro: riding from Andalusia to Extremadura

Jan and Chaparro: riding from Andalusia to Extremadura

A handful of people like me pass through the paths on horseback, on foot or on bicycle. Riding the paths keeps these rights of way open but it is an uphill struggle. Here there is no right of access as in Scotland but there are various classes of path and drove road whose statutory definition and protection dates from the days when these were the economic arteries of Spain. Despite such official protection some old paths remain padlocked or fenced across with barbed wire with no willingness from the authorities to put pressure on the land-owners to keep the paths open. There are legitimate arguments that the paths make livestock vulnerable to rustling and poaching now that so many people have quad bikes and 4×4 vehicles but these arguments only hold against a backdrop of an under-populated landscape with no-one employed to guard the livestock. And often the land is closed off purely for the interests of hunters. Does this sound familiar?

(First published in Reforesting Scotland and then published by The Ecologist).

© Jan Nimmo 2014

Jan Nimmo

Jan and Chaparro. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Jan and Chaparro. Photo: Paul Barham ©

I am a Glasgow based artist and filmmaker. My work is essentially about sharing peoples’ stories through artwork, film and writing. I am especially interested in agriculture, the lives of working people and Latin American popular culture.

I have worked with banana and pineapple workers in Latin America and Central Africa since 2000. I want workers’ testimony to help us, the consumers, to understand that the work is backbreaking, that a 12 hour day may be routine and that workers are often exposed to harmful, toxic chemicals. It is often difficult or impossible for workers to join a trade union in order to defend the most basic of rights so international solidarity is important. My work has been to make portraits (both woodcuts prints and photographs), installations, documentary films and to write about the experiences of banana workers.

Deleafer, Banana Plantation, Cameroon. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Deleafer, Banana Plantation, Cameroon. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

I have travelled extensively in Latin America and am interested in Mexican and Guatemalan popular art and Cuban traditional music. Because I have a great affection for Mexico and am concerned about human right violations so I make artwork in solidarity with people and campaigns there. Since 2014 I have been making portraits in solidarity with the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero Mexico. These took a year to make and I continue to make work about Ayotzinapa. The portraits have been exhibited in the Scottish Parliament and thanks to human rights activist, Eréndira Sandoval Carrillo, my has work reached the parents of the missing students. The work has almost taken on a life of its own in Mexico and is frequently seen in the hands of the families at meetings and marches or decorating the Normalista college in Ayotzinapa, where the students were studying to become primary teachers. Recently I have made work in collaboration with with the families of miners who worked in a coal mine in northern Mexico, Pasta de Conchos, where 65 miners were killed in an underground explosion. Their bodies have never been recovered so the work is about naming them and remembering them.

GiovanniGalindrezGuerrero

Yo, Jan Nimmo,Glasgow, Escocia, quiero saber dónde está Giovanni Galindrez Guerrero. Artwork: Jan Nimmo ©

I am making portraits and gathering the testimonies of the agricultural workers in the Sierra de Huelva, a place I know like the back of my hand, thanks to my horse, Chaparro. Cork oaks are the backdrop to my rides there so I have gradually become involved in gathering moving and still images of cork, cork oaks and the people who work in this slow burning, sustainable but precarious industry. More drawings here:

Rafael, Cork Harvester, Sierra de Huelva. Drawing: jan Nimmo ©

Rafael, Cork Harvester, Sierra de Huelva. Drawing: jan Nimmo ©

Closer to home, I have been involved in an oral history project “The Road to Drumleman” about the coal mine in Kintyre where my father worked as a young man. I made a film but want to continue to gather people’s stories about the Argyll Colliery. I have made a series of portraits of people associated with the mine and am currently leading a heritage/arts project in Kintyre. Here is the blog and you can view the drawings here:

Neil Nimmo, Shot-firer, Argyll Colliery. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Neil Nimmo, Shot-firer, Argyll Colliery. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

I am interested in sustainable growing and food. I share an allotment, “Plot 16” with my husband. We also like to forage both in Scotland and in Spain.

My “bread and butter” work is facilitating community arts projects, educational work and graphic design. One of the most recent projects that I facilitated here in Scotland was A View From Here with Scottish Refugee Council, where I worked as Visual Arts Coordinator.

http://www.jannimmo.com