"ASTURIAS - AND BEYOND" AsturArcadia's Profile
To orientate yourself, after reading these notes please continue to the ‘AsturArcadia’ Travel Map page. If you are not using Broadband, this page may take about one minute to open fully, since the list of locations is rather long – and it is growing all the time.
As you will have already gathered from the collective name I gave to the pages, the main focus is upon the Principado de Asturias in northwest Spain. This has been my home since 2003, although from 1987 I was a close neighbour, living in San Vicente de la Barquera in western Cantabria – a ten-minute drive along the notorious N-634 to the bridge over the Deva river at Unquera and Bustio, which forms the border between the two autonomous communities.
The list of place-names for which there are galleries of photos (and in many instances texts, too, these being added as time permits) is long. Try not to aim always for the obvious, well-known place names (such as Oviedo, Gijón, Covadonga and Llanes). Be curious. Go for obscure locations you have never heard of – click on them with the cursor, and if you strike lucky you will understand why the official publicity for Asturias has, for the past two decades, used the term ‘Paráiso Natural’ as its slogan.
Paradise, yes, but one which is at risk of becoming a ‘Paráiso Perdido’, under attack from various fronts. Rural depopulation, unscrupulous property development in coastal areas, sprawling industrial and trading estates, careless tipping of rubbish, a motorway network whose density rivals that in the Ruhrgebiet . . . all are leaving an indelible mark on the landscape and its communities. I endeavour to examine some of these problems in the Travelogues. The photos in the galleries are not all pretty Arcadian scenes, though there are plenty of these, to tempt you to visit. Here you will see Asturias with warts and all. A record for making comparisons with in another twenty years’ time. And one day I might even make an expedition to photograph rural rubbish tips, a phenomenon that persists in spite of campaigns, sanctions, and a very widespread and efficient recycling service.
Most of the Asturias photos are recent, taken since my faithful old Yashica camera, bought secondhand for 24 quid in 1974, packed up in March 2007 during a lunch stop at Teverga . . . the same day that we bought a cheap Fuji digital. Presumably it was offended. Two years on, I wish I had had access to a digital back in the 1980s in Cantabria, to record in copious detail rural and urban scenes that have now been lost forever. The small selection of views in the Cantabria galleries, together with some inserted in those for Asturias, mainly scanned transparencies, will have to suffice. As will the few very old black and white postcards from a century or so back that I have in my collection. For other parts of Spain, as time permits, I will be splitting up the Travelogue pages into smaller groups of photos with more specific place-names. Here again, most of the photos date from the 1980s and 1990s, and are scans of prints or slides.
Do not be surprised if some of the Travel Map names for the pages, in Spain and elsewhere, are not the same as the names of the places described and photographed. The VT place-name database for Spain has a few curious ‘black holes’ – for instance the large village of Urbiés in the Turón valley in Asturias, and the famous pilgrimage and miracle village of San Sebastián de Garabandal on the slopes above the lovely Nansa valley in Cantabria. Wherever possible, I choose the nearest place-name that IS in the database.
The Morocco pages were the fruit of three visits, one in 1995 and two in 2002, in connection with undertaking recces for and leading railtours there. The one-day visit from Algeciras to Ceuta, Tetouan and Tanger in March 1995 was notable in one respect. It must have been the first time that a party of railway enthusiasts was ever treated to a post-prandial unrolling exhibition of pricey Moroccan carpets! If you are not really interested in trains, do not be unduly put off – there are plenty of landscape views as well, and in autumn 2002 we toured the desert area south of the Haut Atlas as part of the itinerary, to get from the railhead at Bou-Ârfa to that at Marrakech.
France is, to a large extent, an essay in 1980s rural views. I plan to add accounts of some, at least, of our travels there during that period in the Travelogues, probably under the ‘France’ title page (which may be a little confusing, since our long, off the beaten track drives also embraced either Italy or northwest Spain . . .)
Germany, first visited in 1991 just after Unification, provides an opportunity to publish some pretty village and town scenes, centenarian paddle steamers on the Elbe, steam trains in the Harz, and a good deal else besides. For a while in the mid-1990s Germany was extremely cheap to visit, even calculating costs in pesetas. The coming of the euro changed all that – many prices virtually doubled overnight (2 DM = 1 EUR).
Italy – well, the Venezia pages have been in position for some months now, and will eventually be accompanied by a history of public transport in La Serenissima and the surrounding district. I plan to add more pages from our travels (most with only one or two photos, from the pre-digital era), as soon as I can get another large batch of slides scanned professionally. More recent short trips to Calabria and the Cinque Terre district are also covered.
My pages on Norway (and Svalbard) focus on the country’s domestic shipping services, and above all on the ‘Hurtigrute’ (Bergen to Kirkenes) in the era when it was operated by ships which looked like ships rather than like floating blocks of flats. I have a huge collection of old postcard scenes from around a century ago, used in my books on Norwegian shipping history. Take a trip back in time in Bergen! Some restructuring may take place here, to split up the large collections of photos misleadingly under one location name into smaller place-specific ones, as time permits.
Poland, where I spent three years ‘in exile’ from Spain between 2000 and 2003, is, like Germany, still under development, but providing the scanner keeps working the selection should offer something of interest to the traveller who likes to get away from the tourist hot-spots.
Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republicas, Slovakia, Hungary and Portugal feature on a few pages, the fruit of trips made in the 1990s.
Scotland is regrettably sparsely represented, since in the early 1970s I was using a very old and very basic camera which ate 120 print film (rolls of 12 exposures). The small selection of pages includes two long Travelogue texts describing trips made there in 1972 and 1973. Another slide-scanning session, as for Italy, will result in a substantial expansion of views (mainly 1970s and early 1980s) of locations in England and Wales.
In other words, there plenty of work to be done over the coming years. Please be patient!
And perhaps VT could develop a symbol we could use to indicate that a page, or suite of pages, is still ‘under development’ but nevertheless ‘accessible and published’?
It is a sobering thought that in the mid-1950s a journey by private car was a fairly rare experience. I was born near Manchester, in Prestwich, and my earliest travels were by electric train to Bury (usually for the market) or by No. 40 or No. 13 bus into the city centre. My first long journey, at the age of three, was by coach via Cheltenham to Weston-super-Mare for a fortnight's family holiday at the boarding house of a cousin (related to the poet Philip Larkin). A year later came a train journey to North Wales, for two weeks in a caravan at Llanfairfechan. By 1960 my father was tired of his routine job as a barrister's clerk, and was looking for a 'small business' to run.
After a bit of exploration (North Wales, and Ulverston in the Lake District) we decided upon a clothes/shoes shop with hairdresser and dry-cleaning agency in North Curry, near Taunton, Somerset, and moved there in September 1961. And that was my home for the next 26 years. At the age of fourteen, I was taking myself off alone for days out by train. Unfortunately, by then Britain's secondary rail network had been decimated, and just as unfortunate from my point of view, adult fares applied from the age of fourteen. I was also a regular passenger on the excursion steamers on the Bristol Channel, eventually 'graduating' to steward on MV Balmoral and thus getting free travel, board and lodging and a very modest wage in return for a gruelling 18-hour, 7-day week. Longer forays, to Scotland in 1972 and 1973 (see my Scottish Travelogues), and to Scandinavia in 1974 and 1975, followed.
Universities (Cambridge - Geography, and Cranfield - Transport Studies) did not automatically mean more travel. In fact, I stayed within the UK, exploring by bus and train. It was in 1982, academic career over, and with my mother recently widowed, that I picked up the threads - or rather, we both did. On a very limited budget we went off each autumn, exploring Europe by car. Avoiding main roads, sticking to country lanes. Avoiding the tourist attractions, visiting places where a right-hand drive car still caused surprise and amusement. I am adding a few Travelogues describing our itineraries – see some of the France and Italy pages. Early in 1987, seeking a lower cost of living and a property that was easier to run, we moved to the fishing port of San Vicente de la Barquera in Cantabria.
At that time there were probably only about 200 foreigners in Cantabria, and living in a 'barrio pesquero', we were considered a bit of a novelty by the friendly and welcoming local folk. Within a year the mayor's secretary had used his persuasive powers to get me to teach English (something I had never before done, nor ever wanted to do), to his son and daughter. Word spread via the grapevine; soon I had a clientele in all the surrounding villages! Our travels re-orientated themselves to local exploration, then, as I started helping British railtour operators to plan their Spanish excursions, to embrace the whole of Spain. Simultaneously, I started researching Spanish railway and industrial history.
Acquisition of a reliable Renault Twingo in 1994 enabled us to resume our autumnal European explorations, this time into the former Eastern Bloc, and it was in this way (through the strangest of circumstances) that in 1998 I found myself a partner for life. My mother succumbed finally to Parkinson's in 2001, by which time we had moved to Suchacz on the Baltic coast of Poland, just 80 km south of Kaliningrad. A district of enchantment for its subtle landscapes, but the hot, humid summers and up to seven-month winters can be wearying - and to be honest I was homesick for northwest Spain. Hence our move, after three years there, to Borines in Asturias, in September 2003.
I work as 'ghost writer' and feature/news writer-cum-editor for two of Europe's leading public transport journals (for the industry) - Railvolution and TransUrban, and also act as Spanish and Polish correspondent for Today's Railways (directed more at the rail enthusiast and traveller). For relaxation, I write novels (all published with www.lulu.com under my real name, Mike Bent), some historical, all based partly in Asturias or Cantabria, and all involving a good deal of travel. My spare time pursuits include gardening, to ensure that we are at least partly self-sufficient in vegetables, and cooking. We do a good deal of local walking . . . and within Asturias there is always something new to discover on a trip out!
The arrival of Tabs, from where we know not, in November 2004, means that we now both have to travel independently, and restrict our shared excursions to day trips and no longer. After Tabs came Fionan and Dupli-cat, both strays, who succumbed to a tumour and kidney failure in 2008 and 2007 respectively. We also feed a couple of semi-wild cat colonies in nearby hamlets. Other residents in the house - at least two bat colonies, innumerable lizards and an attic-dwelling pine marten or similar, look after themselves. The cats take care of the mice and rats. The squirrels ensure we have no hazelnuts by the time they are ripe - and they know they fetch five euros a kilo in town! Transient visitors include deer and destructive wild boar. A nocturnal visit by one of the latter can leave your vegetable plot looking as though it has been hit by a mini-earthquake.
And last but not least, meet the latest addition to our community, Anglo-Polish Tamara. She made history in June 2008 by being the first birth in Borines for nearly a quarter of a century. Over the past hundred years some rural municipalities in Asturias have lost over two-thirds of their residents the drift to the cities. It is high time this movement was reversed. With the spread of tele-working, for many people the journey to work should become a thing of the past. The village, not the city, is the sustainable living and working environment of the future - the larger the resident population, the greater the number of services that can be provided. Help us to revive Spain's dying villages, and ensure that the young folk learn to love the countryside and are not tempted to drift away to the urban wildernesses!
It is a sobering (and encouraging) thought that by the time young Tam is long (or tall) enough to get her feet on the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals, petrol and diesel oil will probably be rationed, to conserve remaining supplies for strategic needs (including, unfortunately, military ones). I like the hand position - 'twenty to four' might not be as good as 'ten to three', but for motorway driving it is reasonably OK. And she knows to look straight ahead (at her level, probably at the speedometer). The car does not have any airbags (thank goodness), so she can sit next to me (see seat on right) and one day before too long learn to read a map and navigate! No satellite navigation systems here . . . you can probably guess my opinion on THOSE wretched things.
This photo dates from summer 2009. Since then, Tam has reared herself up onto two legs, negotiated stairs, chairs and a good deal more unassisted, and, lucky lass, has enjoyed several cab rides on board local trains. Now (late December 2009) 18 months old, she is a keen observer of nature on our morning walks (almost daily, for over an hour), spotting wildlife and plants before I do. She can imitate the harsh bark of a deer (yes, she's spotted them before I have on occasions) and is fascinated by fungi. While I do not wish to bore any of you with 'family' photos, now I am on Broadband (after a battle of six months with the various awkward suppliers, worth a story in itself) I do plñan to offer a page or two somewhere illustrating the exploits of this vivacious young traveller. She is very easy to travel with, too.
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