Around 8PM on the evening of the Monday June 17th 2019, roughly 46 years since first reading As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, some 4 months after walking down the road from Laurie Lee’s house in Slad, 7 weeks after coming to Spain, I arrived in Almuñécar.
And after the commanded journey, what?
Nothing magnificent, nothing unknown.
A gazing out from far away, alone.
Seamus Heaney, Squarings
My son Daniel –for very good reasons, my nephew couldn’t make it – and I had walked from the far side of Málaga, through the Alameda, jungle-thick with impossibly large palm leaves, then down along the paseo marítimo. Stopping to rearrange our baggage, kicking shoes off to cool our feet, we were enjoying ourselves but making slow progress. From El Palo we decided we had to speed things up, a late morning sun burning. We caught a local bus to Rincón de la Victoria – last time I had been there was with Eddie and Liam on our Andalusian cycle tour. We walked a few more miles before the 35º sent us looking for shade. Once the esplanade runs out walking is difficult, on a busy main road. Passing resort after resort the route became boring as well as over-heated. Tourism has changed Spain’s south beyond recognition. It took Daniel and me over 12 hours, with only the odd short stop for a caña or a coffee to travel the 60 miles, by local bus and on foot.
Lee doesn’t mention the journey at all which makes me think that he didn’t walk it himself. If he did he did it, sensibly, in early winter.
They were working on the esplanade where the plaque to the writer stands, so my musical tribute got lost in the drone of the cement mixers, pounding and hammering, a back-up band for the scrape of my violin. Still, I played Danny Boy, Loch Lomond, Granada… your tunes, Laurie. And, in honour of my cycling partners, Mairi’s Wedding; for Brendan and Brian and Ana, O Andar Miudinho; for Ethel and for all those who keep alive the memory of a lost but noble war, the Freedom Come-all-Ye.
The older of the two inscriptions on the plaque reads: From the people of Almuñécar in recognition of the great writer Laurie Lee who lived in our town in 1935-36 and 1951-2, immortalizing it under the pseudonym “Castillo” in his books “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning”.
Below, the hotel Laurie Lee worked and played violin in 1936. Now gone, and about a hundred uglier hotels in its place…
Can’t be absolutely sure this is Almuñécar but it does look like it, and the two hotels that were there in Laurie’s time. Early tourism before the Costa del Sol was invented…
Perhaps the greatest civilian massacre of the Spanish Civil War took place along the road from Málaga and Almería, where Almuñécar lies. Over 20,000 people lost their lives.
In 1937 Franco’s nationalist army broke through from Málaga, causing thousands of civilians to flee in panic, along the narrow coastal road. ‘The persecution was merciless, with the column of bedraggled civilians mixed with retreating Republican militia being shelled from the sea by the heavy guns of a rebel cruiser and strafed and bombed by rebel aircraft.’Martin Myall
The horses are black.
The horseshoes are black…
They have leaden skulls
so they do not cry.
With souls of leather
they ride down the road.
Federico García Lorca
A tragic history, wherever you go in Spain. Hard to connect what you are seeing with what happened, and within living memory.
We did some walking on paths behind Almuñécar and Salobreña the next day. Beautiful, even if we both did get burnt…
So, having crossed the breadth of Spain with two wonderful friends, 1142 kilometres in all, over 60 Category hill climbs, reaching an overall height of over 11,000 metres, then a few miles walking… I finally finish something I began nearly half a century ago. And I wondered how the teenage me might have been if he’d got to Almuñécar in 1975…
And was he there, waiting?
Where have you been, old man,
what happened to you, along the
Oh this and that. Lost some, found some, y’know.
And what about you, kid? How’d it go?
Same. Won a few, lost a few.
How’s Paul? We both ask. And Maggie and Mark and Brian
and the rest?
Answers lost in the continuous drilling,
like machine gun fire.
You’re looking tired, we both say
Perhaps we see something of the other in
the young man holding the mic.
What’s he doing?
Oh it’s for, well, this… thing.
And we nod to one another, Okay.
One a ghost on a road he never travelled,
the other, a shadow moving uncertain
somewhere further along
that same road.
This post is late, I know. But I’ve been obsessing over the book of the trip, but am finally home now in Scotia. Before I left Spain, I had one last – ever, in my life! Promise – busk…
‘I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.’
Don Quixote / Cervantes
And finally, to go back to the start. Another version of Auld Lang Syne / Los Viejos Tiempos with Maeve Mackinnon, Eddie, Liam and Moira. It’s good to be home…
And it is not particular at all,
Just old truth dawning: there is no next-time-round.
Unroofed scope. Knowledge-freshening wind.
Seamus Heaney, Squarings
Two beginnings …
Danak Jainkoak eiñak gire
zuek eta bai gu ere.
(Traditional Basque song)
A weelcome and a hauf.
We’re in it thegither
wan and a’.
haste ye back.