Not far north of Seville, there is a track winding back through the northern slopes of Andalusia, through the Sierra Morena, a gorgeous corrugated mountain range covered in olive and oak trees under which graze pigs, sheep and goat. The track follows and old railway line built a century ago to service an iron mine at the end of the line. Mostly dead straight and mostly an easy incline, the Via Verde is the perfect way to see Andalusia by bike. I followed its twenty or so kilometres up and back to see what I could see.
Along the track, the vestiges of the old rail link can still be seen. For nearly a century, this railway linked an ore mine at Cerro del Hierro – Iron Hill – with Seville, where the ore was loaded onto boats bound for England and Scotland. Prior to this, the mines were exploited by man as early as the Romans, but in the late twentieth century the ore was exhausted and operations came to a close. Today this natural wonder is protected, and the cavernous pits and tunnels can still be explored and its landscapes can still be appreciated.
Halfway along the track I found my half-way house at the Río Huéznar, where, they told me, I’d find some waterfalls; the perfect spot for a mid day pit-stop. Approaching the river a flock of goats came clanging down the hill with their bells swinging at the necks and their udders swinging at the ground. Their shepherd told me with pride that his cheese is 100% cheese, no added nothing for him and his old man old-man calling at him from the hill. The old fella was telling him to bring in the young one, a little kid goat born three days ago, her umbilical cord still drying off in the sun. Spring is well and truly here.
In Spain jamón – a type of cured pork – though ubiquitous, is not normally seen alive and walking, but on the Vía Verde jamón oinks at you, sniffs at you, and, boring of you, leaves you to search for more acorns to dig up with its snout. These walking, snorting jamón pigs eat only acorns fallen from the big old oaks that shade them, making them the finest pigs there are for a little bit of jamoncito.
These same oak trees which feed the pigs with acorns feed your wine bottle’s neck with cork. For hundreds of years, humans have harvested these trees to keep their wine safe from oxidisation, and so long as Europeans remain romantic, that is, so long as they choose the cork-stop over the screw-top, these trees will keep receiving their yearly bark cuts. Not that the tree minds, as the cork just grow back with time. These trees, known as alcornoques in Spanish, pepper the hills here, creating a truly unique landscape.
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