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      November 2011 > Transhumance
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Transhumance

Cows in the roadWhen I was growing up I seem to remember countless occasions when we’d be out for a drive in my father’s bright blue Standard Ten (showing my age there!) and the road would suddenly be blocked by flocks of skittish sheep being moved to new pastures further along the road or herds of nonchalant Friesian cattle making their way ponderously back to the farm for evening milking by a red-faced man in tweed and wellies.

It doesn’t seem to happen much anymore – it seemed much more prevalent back then – though it is still a very common occurrence in the more rural areas of Europe. In Spain, shepherds have the right to use over 78,000 miles of drovers’ trails throughout the country, often taking animals to fresh pasture at different times of year.

Sheep on the passThis migration is called ‘transhumance’ and, with a million animals on the move throughout the year, you may just come across them one day, whether it’s through the mountains of the Alpujarras (right) or across the plains of Castile. The Spanish are very forthcoming when protecting their traditional rights (and rights of way) and, as recently as last Sunday (30 October), Spanish shepherds took 5000 sheep and 60 cattle through the centre of Madrid in on a traditional droving route that had existed long before the great city of Madrid appeared. You just can’t tell where you’re going to come across them…

Walking along the dramatic Guerges Ridge, high above the deep Masca Gorge on Tenerife earlier this year, I suddenly detected the faint tinkling of bells from far below me, the only sound to disturb the otherwise complete silence. It took me a while to spot them – a herd of goats, browsing their way through the scrub down an unfeasibly steep ravine, as they slowly made their way up and over vertigo-inducing outcrops where no man would dare to tread. Eventually, I reached a narrow section of the ridge (below)just as the goats arrived at the far side.

They looked at me; I looked at them, not knowing who had right of way, when suddenly a voice made me turn round. A swarthy goat-herder was coming along the path behind me, grinning and proffering me his bottle of water. I gladly accepted a sip and we got to chatting about the weather, his fine goats and the way ahead. His English was better than my Spanish, but we made ourselves understood and our chat reaffirmed my long-held belief that it’s important to stop and pass the time of day with shepherds and farmers as no-one knows that land quite like they do - they have intimate local knowledge - and they’ll always point you in the right direction if you’re ever in any doubt.

When it was time to part, I indicated that he should call his goats along the ridge before I went forth, but, “No”, he insisted, “after ewe!” I could still hear him chuckling as I went on my way… 
Guerges Ridge, Tenerife

Posted: 07/11/2011 10:13:02 by Peter Williamson, Inntravel | with 0 comments
Filed under: heritage, Spain, walking


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