Hoyorredondo – more questions than answers

Sierra de Gredos: Hoopoes are pulsing before daylight, while at dusk, Iberian Magpies converge with harsh squeals along the stone-lined lanes to the cluster of stone houses.

Halfway up the mountain, houses huddle and byres lean against granite outcrops. When did they first come here and for what purpose? The soil seems too shallow to grow much but grass, so was it a halfway house for transhumant herds and flocks moving up during the spring? Too cold in the winter, desiccated later?

Drystone walls, based on massive boulders and culminating in a loose assemblage of stones that let through points of sparkling light. Everywhere you can hear the nasal calls of Rock Sparrows, but they stay hidden away in cracks, holes and crevices.

At regular intervals, lanes no longer travelled lead off from the the spine road. Cirl Buntings flick over the brambles, attended by dozens of spectacular butterflies: Queen of Spain Fritillary, Purple Shot CopperWoodlarks flute from the dry paddocks.

From the shady interiors of Pyrenean Oaks, Bonelli’s Warblers are rattling and streamlined Golden Orioles dart across the gaps.

But the disposition of fields is not an organic one determined by the random distribution of the outcrops: the walls are straight, the areas regular. At some point, the terrain, rather than being carved out by hand, has been lotted up on a map, the project of a wealthy landowner. Who? When? What were the circumstances that made it worthwhile? Were inhabitants recruited, incentivised?

The answers don’t come readily to a casual tourist.

It’s not now; cows and a bowser occupy just one enclosure; farmsteads, their habitations, barns and fine gateways are collapsing once more into heaps of granite. Few remaining seem to be permanently occupied, others are holiday homes, another is our hotel.

Hardly intended as a temporary structure, with what pulleys, levers and labour was this dolmen-like lintel lifted? Hidden in the tree opposite, a Subalpine Warbler is singing.


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