21st March 2021
Cadiz, Spain – Barbate, Spain via Puerto Sherry, Spain
A name can tell you a lot about a place. Would you expect to find new castles in Newcastle, does a city like Dublin just keep getting bigger (think doubling) and would you expect to find asbestos in Asbestos, Canada? Going to Puerto Sherry we were pretty convinced that we’d find some sherry, but as we headed to Barbate we couldn’t fathom what a town named after beards or tufted hair would have to offer.
After being tied up in Cadiz we felt a sense of freedom as the anchor plunged into the blue waters of Puerto Sherry that sat just across the bay. As we sat there all the usual challenges of being at anchor felt familiar. Was this such a good anchorage (as kite boarders flew around us)? Where would we get ashore (as everything was new)? And where was the sherry in Puerto Sherry?
Apart from expecting sherry we knew nothing about Puerto Sherry, but we were about to be schooled in its unknown charms. The once full warehouses loomed large on the waterfront, their contents had been long ago exported and their roofs seemed to have departed at the same time leaving nothing but shells and walls for talented graffiti artists. These monuments to now dead industries hid a huge monument to the ancient industry of religion and power. A castle resplendent with turrets, banners and keeps, loomed high over everything.
As we scaled the castle’s steps we could feel the weight of history on us; and as we entered its calm interior its history was on every surface. On one side we found Moorish doors and ceilings, and on the other there were Christian vaults and alters, but commanding everything was an Arabian wall, complete with gold wallpaper, gold paintings and gold. It was so like new we felt it was new, but then as the guide bought the place to life, we discovered it was 800 years old, but had been hidden for 750 of those years behind a false wall!
It transpired that shortly after it had been built it the castle had be overrun and a Christian cleric covered it up. As empires rose and fell its existence had been forgotten, but then, in the 80’s as the place needed a sprucing up, a decorator chipped a little too hard, the false wall fell away and there in front of him was 800 years of history.
The delights of Puerto Sherry didn’t finish at the castle. We happened across one of the oldest cathedrals in the word, the 2nd largest bull ring in the world, the dock where Christopher Columbus left for America in 1492 and even a dedication to the father of all cartographers who made the mappa mundi, the first map of the whole Atlantic. All this was in an unassuming little town, overshadowed by Cadiz, named for its sherry*, where we found a little sherry but took away so much more.
With the wind moderating and turning to the north there was going to be an exodus from Cadiz bay as boats headed south. We had a little Ovni in our sights and Satori had us in their sights. We all slipped south in the most perfect of sailing conditions, all closing the distance between us and all thinking that if we won the race it was down to our skill and if not, then we were just relaxing and not trying.
We were all heading for a town called Barbate, but on route was another historic cape, Cape Trafalgar. In these flat seas there was nothing to mark what had happened here 215 years ago, nothing to mark the graves of all the sailors of the 33 Spanish ships that the British sunk, and nothing to mark this as the defining point of British Naval supremacy.
After a long day on the water we settled down for a quiet night in the harbour. The wind had abated, the sun had set on the distant horizon and not a soul stirred as curfew set in. As slumber was taking us, we heard heavy footsteps pounding on deck, running a mock, clearly without any care of Ruffian. Were we being robbed? Who was this intruder? What were we to do?
Iain rushed up on deck and as he thew back the companionway hatch the footsteps increased in ferocity and volume. The owner of the feet was now clearly in a panic at the sight of Iain’s white torso and his small black pants. There was no man on deck just the blur of quick moving black and white cat. Had we just scared away a potential new boat cat called Frank?**
With Barbate being named after tufty hair we headed out to the hike the national park wondering what we’d find. Scaling the cliffs, we became aware of the ‘beardyness’ of the slopes. The rare tree’s that covered the horizon smoothed out harsh terrain and looked like manicured heads of hair. We walked for solitary mile after solitary mile in dappled shade as butterflies struggled against the wind and new spring flowers soaked in the energy from the sun.
As Sunday dawned the town of Barbate stood in stark contrast to the solitude of the national park. The whole populace had turned out to enjoy the sunshine, promenade along the seafront, drink in the throbbing bars and play games with their children on the beach. After months of seeing no people, no crowds and no life we were enthralled by the spectacle but appalled at the Covid potential. As quick as we could we headed to the quiet side of town, to less trodden paths and a quitter side of life.
The river proved to be a hotbed of interest. Old wooden fishing boats were being slowly eaten by sea, while fishermen cast their lines between their ribs. Smells of family lunches wafted from open windows while the waiters in the quieter cafés had time to stand and chat. The docks were full of huge sea anchors waiting to be hold open the tuna nets that are going to lay in wait for the unsuspecting fish. This was the side of Barbate we really wanted to find.
With Puerto Sherry and Barbate serving up exactly what their names suggest soon we’ll be heading into the Mediterranean Sea. Mediterranean derives from the Latin for Inland Sea and we’re sure that it will be living up to its name as we head into new waters and new adventures.
* Technically all this was in Santa Maria where Puerto Sherry is a district.
** We’d still really like a cat and the only name we could give him would be Frank.
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