Kites and Caves

I don’t think I have too much in common with Craig Revel-Horwood – other than cutting rugs – but what I do have is sympathy for him as a judge; if you give out a 10 too early you have nowhere to go when you see something better later in the competition.

I think I may have been guilty of just this mistake. I got quite excited about a view of the Pyrenees previously but have now found a vista that surely can’t be topped. Note; I’m still pretty confident about my claims for the Sagrada Família though. We’ve moved to our second housesit in the heart of the mountains near to the town of Hecho, Spain.

Alfie the dog, Purdy, Mew, Jack, Dotty and Baa the cats are our responsibility for a couple of weeks. The house sits on the hillside and is reached via a steep gravel drive that takes a bit of welly to get up in the car. It is very nice but I can’t give it a 10 for reasons previously stated.

Our instructions for feeding the menagerie are waiting along with guides to the house and local places to visit. Intriguingly, there are instructions on feeding the red kites that can be found circling above or perched in the tops of nearby conifers.

Heart-shaped rock.

Heart-shaped rock.

The house is nice – really nice – and comes with a large CD collection and various musical instruments including a grand piano that are ours to play with for the next couple of weeks. It’s modern, clean and tastefully decorated with interesting artifacts that the owners have collected whilst travelling.

After unloading and putting the kettle on our first visit is to the fridge where we find strips of chicken breast in plastic containers. Waiting in the tree is a red kite and hopefully she’s hungry. Our instructions said they’re very cautious and not to expect too much so I launch a chunk in the bird’s direction then retreat back to the house. This gets no response so I increase the temptation with a couple of extra portions. Some minutes later she takes to the air in the opposite direction then doubles back to fly over the house but shows no interest in the treats.

Carole persists with the birds for several days and we witness a couple of low fly-bys and a swoop close to ground level. It’s a pleasure to see these majestic creatures close up and watch them riding the air currents with gentle twitches of their ‘V’-shaped tails.

We’ve been invited to a traditional Spanish Christmas event in the local town. We’re told there’s a walk into the hills where there’ll be something to eat and children singing carols. We’re up early and heading into the trees with Alfie the collie as our guide and hoping to meet up with Marta in the town square. She’s one of the few people in the town that speaks English and will be our host for the day.

On previous visits we’d seen only a handful of people in town but today the small square was alive with children and their families all dressed for some serious outdoor action. A large group set off up the road on foot while we wait for Marta. We climb into her Land Rover some minutes later and begin the journey along winding roads up into the mountains. After some 40 minutes we park up and start the hike to a cave system hidden in the hills, luckily we’re walking with Marta’s toddler nephew so the pace is leisurely.

We head up and down hillsides over rocks and under trees passing the occasional deserted stone building that years ago was inhabited by a shepherd and his family. In the distance we can see a large gash in the mountain ahead – this is our destination, the Susuie Caves and traditional location for the festivities. It takes about 90 minutes before we break through the trees into a huge cave that’s roof is about 30m (100ft) overhanging us. The walls are stained black with soot from the fires set by generations of shepherds taking shelter here.

The overhanging roof, Susuei Caves.

The overhanging roof, Susuei Caves.

The weather is unusually warm and Marta tells us that in previous years a waterfall of melting snow falls from a tongue of rock protruding from the cave top. In colder years it freezes forming an arch of ice that everyone would use to chill drinks.

There’s a collection of male town elders hard at work cooking up a traditional dish in large metal dishes. Next to them is a decorated Christmas tree and behind, set into the rock wall, is a belén (small nativity scene) made some years ago by the local blacksmith.

More people are arriving. The walk from the town takes about three hours and is considered a show of strength by the residents of Hecho who’s ancestors lived up in these mountains all year round regardless of the weather. We investigate the caves and study the interesting formations of stalactites and stalagmites then head back to the party for some food.

Nativity scene, Susuei Caves.

Nativity scene, Susuei Caves.

We’re handed a spoon and told to dive in. Everyone gathers around the large bowls that are now filled with migas – a mix of breadcrumbs and lamb’s fat traditionally made by shepherds and eaten with slices of onion that is followed by thick strips of pork cooked on the barbeque and washed down with wine. Various cakes and sweets are passed around for dessert.

With everyone renourished the children gather into huddles of boys and girls and sing carols for the adults. It’s been a great experience with everyone making us welcome and after the group photo we all head back to town.

Sadly, the two weeks fly by as swiftly as the red kites and we’re behind the wheel heading through the mountains. Christmas will be spent in Saint Marcet, France, entertaining a couple of cats and a shed of chickens – housesit number three.

We’re making a dash back to blighty to sort out an MOT and some injections. New Year’s Eve is spent driving north with an overnight planned in Tours. An early start New Year’s Day helps to get us to Calais by late afternoon in time for a quick stroll along the breezy sea front.