The Spanish Pyrenees – Part 2      Cheese sarnies for Christmas lunch

Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on December 30th 2022.

I hope you all had a good Christmas. Whilst many of you might have been tucking into a huge meal, wearing paper hats, pulling crackers and wincing over the jokes, we were sitting on top of a hill eating cheese sarnies and home-made mince pies. We were supposed to have a cup of tea with it but somehow the mugs got left behind!

The Yesa Reservoir

You might be thinking to yourself that this was a lonely way to spend Christmas Day – or possibly you are thinking that it sounds heavenly and you might try it next year! Whatever life one leads, whether it be nomadic or static, no-one can be in two places at one time. When we first moved away from the UK and began travelling, there were times of the year when we missed family and friends more intensely, obvious examples being Christmas Day, New Year and birthdays.

I can remember our first Christmas in France on Olivia Rose quite clearly. It was five years ago, in 2017, and we had decorated the boat, opened our Christmas presents, been out for a long walk with the dogs and all got soaked. We had planned a special evening meal but at one point it all felt flat, an anti-climax, as if some vital element was missing, which of course it was. By the time we’d had a couple of glasses of Prosecco balance was, thankfully, restored.

Since then we’ve learnt to adapt to our situation, doing something to mark these particular days in a pleasing way and accepting that our special times with family and friends will not be governed by fixed days of the year but will happen when we are actually with them.

And so on Christmas Day of 2022 we sat on a hilltop in northern Spain and looked down on the Yesa Reservoir, about an hour away from our house-sit. Behind us was a village called Tiermas, the walls a light sand colour, mellow in the unseasonably warm sunshine. This ancient settlement was situated on top of a hill, a perfect position for defence as it commanded a fine view in all directions. The valley had been dammed in the early 1960’s to make way for the reservoir and the rest of the village had disappeared beneath the waters. These few houses behind us were all that remained but nobody lived there any more. The fields that they used to farm were buried beneath the water for much of the year and they could no longer earn a living. They had been re-settled in other villages but I wondered what level of compensation they had received for losing so much.

We made our way past buildings with no roofs and gaping windows. Peering into small terraced cottages, where families would have shared their own Christmas meal years ago, we saw piles of stone and roof timbers sticking up at odd angles, abandoned where they fell. Spindly saplings had self-set in this barren ground and were growing up and out through the holes in the roofs whilst the brambles smothered everything as they always do. The church would once have been the heart of the village but was now a sad place, graffiti scrawled over its crumbling walls, most of the roof gone, and the painted ceiling above the alter fading with each passing year.

A sad end for a church.

Further down the valley was Esco, another ghost village, abandoned but for one family who stubbornly remained, looking after the animals on an adjoining farm. It seemed such a terrible waste, a landscape of ruin and rubble, more reminiscent of a war zone than the natural and gradual degradation that happens when humans move away.

The main track into the village of Esco.
Esco ruins

Looking down to the flooded valley floor we could make out the remnants of the thermal baths, part of the lower village of Tiermas, and with ten or fifteen people floating in the warm, health-giving waters. The baths traditionally disappear as the water levels rise over the winter but with so little rain this year, the water levels were very low, yet another sign of changing weather patterns.

What is left of the baths. With water levels so low it gave the appearance of a lunar landscape, slightly surreal.
An interesting place to wild camp. It gives an idea of how low the waters are.
Not the most attractive place to go for a soak!

Later that evening we sat down to our Christmas meal and an excellent Spanish Rioja. It had been a good day, an unusual day where we had seen something different. A travelling life may take you away from your family, but it compensates in other ways. This had been a day when history had come to life, transformed into an experience that would stay in our mind in a way that flat words on a page never could.

As I write this blog, we are approaching New Year’s Eve and the beginning of another year. Where do these years go to? They fly by ever faster. I would love to say that we will be having a wild party and dancing the night away but, as you have no doubt guessed by now, we are not. At least we have each other and that is good enough – plus a dog and four cats of course.

Alfie in the mist
And me in the sunshine on another day.

For those of you who are having a wild party, enjoy! I hope that 2023 brings what you wish for. See you next year.

All the best.


13 thoughts on “The Spanish Pyrenees – Part 2      Cheese sarnies for Christmas lunch

  1. Your words and pictures cleverly illustrate those sadly deserted villages, but not untypical elsewhere in the name of progress or war. Hoping the New Year brings you all the happiness you wish for.


  2. Ruins always seem so melancholy to me, sadly abandoned, relics of a more lively past. If only the walls could speak, right?
    Our new year will be equally quiet, probably asleep by 10 pm. I guess you could say our party days are well behind us!


  3. It’s sad to see places that were once lively communities crumbling to dust. That church with its disintegrating wall paintings is particularly poignant. Nature reclaims its rights very quickly. We had a quiet Christmas, which suits us. New Year’s Eve will be spent with two friends. Here’s hoping that 2023 brings happier times for the world. Bonne fin d’année.


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