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LetsGoNorth meets LetsGoSouth

Scotland and Spain have been inextricably linked since the time of the Crusades. There are many historical and cultural connections.. Read all about them on this blog!

Doñana National Park..and the Peatlands of Caithness
21 May 2015

The Peatlands of Caithness in the far north of Scotland are an unlikely "parallel" with Spain´s Doñana National Park near Huelva.  Strange as it may seem, though, it has been identified as such as the same birds breed on both sites.  The Peatlands of Caithness is subject of a huge project at the moment, supported by Scottish Natural Heritage and the European Union.  I hope to get out to Doñana shortly, but meanwhile, below is an article written by Patrick Raines, a keen bird buff who lives in Canillas de Albaida and is a great fan of LetsGoNorth meets LetsGoSouth.  Patrick has given me permission to use his writings here.

"Surely the Doñana National Park can be described as the 'jewel in the crown' of birding sites in Europe.  It is certainly the "lungs" of south-west Spain.  A few years ago that was nearly not the case, when a chemical spillage upstream spewed into the Rio Guadalquivir and began to leach into the Doñana ecosystem.  Fortunately the Authorities reacted rapidly, stemmed and eradicated the disaster.

The Parque is truly wonderful with the number of different bird species too numerous to list.  There are species you would not see in the Peatlands of Caithness, but there are many which do occur in both locations, ie. Curlew, Hen Harrier, Redshank, Lapwing, Teal, Tufted Duck to name a few.  A real oddity is the Chiff Chaff/Iberian Chiff Chaff.  Both occur in the Doñana, but never together.  As the Iberians migrate north from Africa the Chiff Chaff, as we know it, migrates to Northern Europe.  They are virtually identical but with different calls.

The Parque Nacional has the highest protection, surrounded by farmland that is classed as Parque Natural and therefore also protected.  To visit the former, one needs to book a guided tour.  The latter is open for exploration with numerous hides and a huge thatched visitor centre, open to the public.

Two nights and three days are ideal for the avid birder.  The town of El Rocio is a good base with hotels and hostels available.  From this bizarre town which has no paved roads or sidewalks (just sand and hitching rails for horses) one can visit the Doñana and nearby sites.  For wader enthusiasts, the Paraje Natural Marismas del Odiel, near Huelva, should not be missed.  For all visits a car is a must!

Some of the rare birds worth mentioning are - Avocet, Calandra Lark, Purple Swamphen (Gallinule), Red crested Pochard, Red knobbed Coot, White headed Duck, Purple Heron, Squacco and Night Heron and on occasions Golden and Imperial Eagles.  Other raptors, vultures,  Glossy Ibis, Azure winged Magpies, black and white Storks abound.  If you see the Andalucían Hemipode ( Little Button Quail) tell a Ranger, as they are very rare, if not extinct!

Getting to El Rocio is fairly easy.  From Malaga airport drive East on A7 motorway, then North on A45 following the Antequera/Seville signs ( be careful to avoid both Granada and Cordoba junctions).  Near Antequera join A92 West to Seville.  At Seville join the new southern ring road signed for Huelva.  Join A49 West to Huelva/Portugal.  Join A483 South to Almonte.  Follow to end which becomes A483 single carriageway to El Rocio.

In conclusion, the Parque Nacional de Doñana is a spectacular birding site, especially in the pre-nuptual migration months of April and May. The importance of this natural wonder cannot be over emphasised.  The birdlife has to be seen to be believed, not to mention the Iberian Lynx!  Let us hope the agricultural (in some cases historical) workings do not encroach into the Parque Nacional de Doñana

For more information on this wonderful site the book "Where to watch birds in Southern and Western Spain" by Ernest Garcia and Andrew Paterson is recommended."  Thank you Patrick!


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Parallels between Spain and Scotland
25 April 2015

As well as identifying historical and cultural links between Spain and Scotland, LetsGoSouth looks at parallels between the two countries.  The most interesting one so far is that between the Senda Litoral, a 180km walking route along the south coast of Spain and the 180 mile walking route in the far north of Scotland.  The Senda Litoral is a built path, and the North Highland Way is a much wilder route using sheep and deer tracks, but nonetheless each has its merits.  The Spanish government are keen to promote the Senda Litoral, estimating that it will bring in millions of euros to the tourism industry every year.  There are some other great routes of course.  The Camino de Santiago being just one of them. This is actually a series of routes and based on the pilgrimages, but thousands of people walk it every year, bringing in the tourist dollars and pounds.  It cannot be claimed that the North Highland Way is a "parallel" with the Camino de Santiago, but nonetheless, we have been working with the administrators to raise the profile of the former by having a resource on their web site.


There are many others to be examined - the Donana National Park in Huelva and Seville and the Peatlands of Caithness.  The vegetation will be totally different of course, due to the climate, but the principle of wide open spaces and the unique aspects of both locations could be considered to be a "parallel".  Scottish Natural Heritage have a huge project to raise the profile of the Peatlands in Caithness, just as the environmental importance of the Donana National Park has been recognised for many years.  A trip to Donana National Park is a "must" if you are a nature lover, just as the Peatlands of Caithness should form the central part of a trip to the far north of Scotland.

Whether you are planning a trip to Spain or Scotland, are a nature lover and one who enjoys the great outdoors, the Donana National Park, the Camino de Santiago and the North Highland Way offer great places to visit.






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28 February 2015

What does a small Spanish town near Ronda have to do with Scottish history?  For those who have read Scottish history, this may not be such an obscure question, but for those who haven't, then it is not so strange. When King of the Scots,  Robert the Bruce, lay dying on the battle field in 1329, his last wish was for his heart to be removed, embalmed and taken on the Crusades.   Sir James Douglas duly carried out his friend's wishes and when he was on the way to Jerusalem a year later, he was carrying the heart in a silver casket, it is said.

Now, in the centre of Teba, there is a memorial to Robert the Bruce.  On his way to Jerusalem, Sir Douglas came upon King Alfonso  XI of Castile who was at war with the Moors of Granada when he was laying siege to the castle at Teba.  While the King was waiting for equipment to arrive to assist with breaking the castle walls, Sir Douglas was entrusted to be in charge of the foreign contingent. There is some discussion about whether Sir Douglas died in this particular battle or in another skirmish later on.  The battle was not conclusive. The Scottish poet John Barbour was in the entourage and collected Sir Douglas' body as well as the casket containing the heart and took them back to Scotland.

You would not think that nowadays that such battles could have taken place in such a tranquil place.  The evidence is, however, there.  The castle still stands proudly on the hill, dominating all around, like so many other castles.  You can visit the keep at certain times and there are lots of interpretive panels explaining about the area, the geology and the history.  Teba is well worth a visit. The most important day of the year is 7th October honouring the Virgin of the Rosary.   There are also events on 15th May and the summer fair from 10 to 12 August.


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Alhama de Granada
20 February 2015

High on a plateau between the Eastern Costa del Sol at Torre del Mar and 53 kilometres from the historical city of Granada is the enchanting town of Alhama de Granada.  As you drive into the town, you can see the holy Church of Saint Maria of the Incarnacion sitting proudly on the hill - still standing after being attacked by the French, the Spanish and, in 1884, an earthquake which not only shook Alhama de Granada to its foundations but which had a devastating affect on  Competa and other places in the Axarquia on the southern side of the Almijaras mountain range.  There is something about the ambience of Alhama de Granada which makes you want to pause your journey and stay a while.  If you are just driving through enroute to Granada and don't stop you are missing out on a gem. 

Until about eight years ago, Alhama and its citizens did not really make much of the tourist attraction which it is.  With so many important monuments, an atmosphere of openess and friendliness of the local people, and the smattering of bars and restaurants, ancient balnearios (hot springs) on the outskirts of the town, it is definitely worth taking a break and having a look around.  If you do not have much time, drop into the excellent tourist office and you will be made feel welcome and leave with so much information it will make your head spin!  In the nicest possible way.  We were given a whistlestop tour of the four most important monuments - the 16th century Church of Incarnation, which is made entirely of stone; the Church and Convent of Nuestro Senora del Carmen with its shrine of the Virgen; the Queens Hospital and the outside of the Inquisition House which is now a private residence.  You can take a four hour tour for 5 euros (generally bookable in advance) or use the guide book, but many places are locked so it is recommended that you take the official tour.

Examining historical links between Scotland and Spain, which is the purpose of this blog, the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella, had an enormous influence on Alhama de Granada and ordered the building of the magnificent Church of Incarnation to be build on the site of a major mosque. Queen Isabella also commission the hospital. Ferdinand and Isabella were the parents of Catherine of Aragon, who was the first wife of the Tudor King Henry VIII. Their daughter,  Mary I (known as Bloody Mary), was Queen of England from 1553 until her death in 1558.  Mary Queen of Scots was a first cousin first removed of Queen Elizabeth I of England.  

As you walk round Alhama de Granada, admire its magnificent gorge, the birdlife in the gorge and enjoy the magnificent cakes of the cafe La Creme, think about the history of the place.  There is a lot to see - and you will want to come back for more.

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Another Spanish link
18 February 2015

Did you know that Catherine of Aragon was the daughter of Queen Isabella the Catholic?  Did you know that the first church of Spain was in Alhama de Granada?  Come back here and read more shortly!

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Dons of Westray
13 February 2015

Westray lies to the north of West Mainland of the Orkney Islands, just below its better known relative, Papa Westray. The ferry ride is about 45 minutes from Kirkwall, which is in itself an hour and a half by ferry from mainland Scotland. All in all, it’s a fair journey to the far flung corner – and not one where you would expect to find a Spanish connection. I was intrigued, therefore, when I saw a Westray farmer on his tractor wearing a jacked emblazoned “The Spaniard”. He must have bought the jacket on holiday, I thought, but, no, my guide informed me. His family are descended from Spanish sailors from a ship wrecked in the waters of Dennis Rost, off North Ronaldsay, after the Spanish Armada was routed by Drake in 1588.

History tells us that the Admiral of the Spanish fleet issued his last orders off the coast of Norway. These were to head for home west of the British Isles, and best to avoid the Irish shores. However, it is known that some floundered in the Irish Sea and some communities on the west coast of Ireland also have Spanish bloodlines, as do some on the west coast of mainland Scotland. The majority of the ships escaped to the Atlantic through what is commonly known as “The Hole” between Shetland and the Fair Isle. Others were driven on a more southerly course, and one lost mainmast and rudder and drifted as far as North Ronaldsay before breaking up on Dennis Rost. Some of the brave sailors took to the sea in boats, and landed at Pierowall in Westray. The residents offered food and accommodation, and a number of the mariners settled on the island, married Westray girls and this was the beginning of a unique community which lasts until this day. The descendents became known as the Westray Dons, and took Orcadian names such as Petrie, Reid and Hewison. According to an article replicated from the “Orkney Herald” on 1889 written by a Mr. W. Traill Dennison, a recognised authority on the matter, “the union of Spanish blood with Norse produced a race of men active and daring, with dark eyes…. In manners fidgety and restless… a true Don being rarely able to sit in one position for more than five minutes, unless he was dead drunk…” They were great mariners and most men left the county as sailors and many became sea captains. To this day, partly as necessity, the islanders are great sea farers. There are great stories of derring-do by the Dons, including the capturing of a French privateer and pouring oil on the waters of “The Hole” to make passage smoother during a raging storm – an activity definitely frowned on today – but they made it home to Westray, and other boats disappeared.

Anyone who has been to Westray would delight in its beautiful sandy beaches, its laid back way of life and its hospitable people – rather like Spain, actually – except for the weather!

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Is it really true?
12 February 2015

Is it really true that there are many links between Scotland and Spain?  Yes.... of course... Just think of the Spanish Armada being shipwrecked off the Scottish coast and the Scottish aristocrat who helped Spain during the Spanish civil war....

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