We've recently spent a day or two in the lush, fertile area inland from Benidorm. On the coast the weather was just about perfect and it was on a warm, sunny morning that I suggested we visited the monastery at Guadelest. We've been before, several times actually, and it's pretty special.
There's a fancy new road up the mountain too – well, new to us since our last visit anyway – and the views back to the coast are spectacular.
We parked on the main car park, next to at least twenty motor homes, and as soon as we got out of the car we felt the full force of a bitterly cold wind. There was enough snow on the edge of the car park to suggest it had been even colder quite recently. A small woman wearing several layers of clothes shuffled up, handed us a raffle ticket and asked for 50 centimos. I had my doubts as to her status as an actual official car park attendant, but on such a cold day a few pence was pretty scant recompense for her car park vigil.
Marigold was complaining bitterly about the weather as we walked towards the castle entrance. I’m normally complainer in chief when it comes to cold weather, but thought it best to say nothing as it had been me who suggested a coat wouldn't be necessary on such a warm day when we set out. Yes, common sense would suggest conditions may be very different on top of a thumping great hill, but common sense has never been a strong point.
We climbed the steps andwalked through a tunnel leading to the house and castle. We toured the house of the Ordunas, the family who have cared for the monastery for hundreds of years. It's part house, part museum and was built here after the great earthquake of 1644 demolished much of the original housing in Guadalest.
The castle dates back to the Moorish invasion and retained a strong Muslim presence after the Christian re- conquest of Spain in the 13th century. The castle passed through the hands of a number of Spanish noble families until 1543 when King Carlos gave it to the Cardona family in perpetuity.
Another family, the Ordunas, gained greatly in prominence locally as successive mayors of Guadalest and it is their house that now adjoins the castle. The last surviving member of the Ordunas family died in 1934 and the, by now very neglected house was bought by the Town Hall in 1994 and converted into a museum.
One half of the house is supported by the rock while the other half occupies areas over the chapels of the adjoining church. The house is on four levels plus an attic with several small stairways leading to it. It's an impressive place, but the main attraction is the castle perched high above.
Ceramic markers denoting the Stations of the Cross lead to a small cemetery right at the top. From here the views are amazing, especially the glorious blue water of the lake formed by damming the Guadalest River far, far below.
Marigold loves an ancient cemetery, especially those where the departed have photographs embedded in the marble headstones. One man who died at the age of 102 is pictured wreathed in smoke from a cigarette - so much for all the health risks attributed to smoking!
As we wound our way back down the hill, getting warmer at very turn, we decided to seek out a better class of hotel for the night to make up for the chill of the day.
We chose a sea front hotel - very reasonable rates for last minute customers - where a wedding was being celebrated. The ladies still wore their finest gowns, but every single one of them had removed their vertiginous and evidently unbearable by now high heeled shoes. Most of the men were asleep. ‘It's like the aftermath of Christmas lunch,’ said Marigold as we tip-toed through the lounge. Even the bride was asleep.
One of the older guests, a venerable old lady, snarled at us when I inadvertently jarred the arm of her chair. Her false teeth, shoes and hat had been removed for comfort, making her appear even more scary. ‘She reminds me of my Grandma,’ I said and she did. I was instantly transported back into the mists of time long gone by.
‘Don’t sit with your back to the fire. You’ll melt the marrow in your spine and then where shall we be?’
My maternal Grandmother was the wisest woman in Liverpool. She told me so. Many times. Only 4’9” but never lost an argument, even when everyone, including herself, knew she was wrong. That advice on avoiding spinal meltdown has stuck with me since the age of two and was just one of the building blocks that defined my early life.
She lived in a terraced house on Scotland Road. Scottie Road was the epicentre of Liverpool in those days. Officially declared a ‘slum’ the houses were demolished when I was very young and replaced by a dual carriageway; most of the residents shipped out to Huyton and my Grandma had to be virtually carried, kicking and screaming, by Council workmen to her new Council house in Huyton Quarry.
We went back to Liverpool every holiday: my mum, me and my sister. My dad stayed at work, shovelling coke into a blast furnace. He told me, years later, he was never happier than when he was at work and avoiding his mother-in-law was a massive bonus.
I loved the new house. In the kitchen was a huge iron range with a fire that burned all day, every day, winter and summer where all meals were cooked. My job – one of many – was to chop sticks in the Anderson shelter outside, crumple paper and lay the fire ready for lighting by my Grandma when she got up at five o’clock. ‘Never slept a wink in the war with all them bombs raining down on me,’ she said in justification for being up and about in the dark. There weren’t enough chairs in the kitchen for visitors so me and my sister, a year younger, sat on the rug in front of the fire and were largely ignored. The chief rule of the house, children were to be seen but not heard, was rigorously enforced.
I once enraged my Grandma so much – talking during The Archers – she took me next door to ‘Dermot’ for a ‘good hiding’ as her arthritis was playing up.
Dermot, Liverpool Irish like most transported from Scottie Road, duly obliged, although I suspect his heart wasn’t really in it.
It was a house ruled by one tiny woman, after the fashion of the Indian sub-continent. One set of rules and one set only. My Grandma frequently baffled me with her sayings and yet I still apply some of them to myself.
‘Don’t pull your face like that. If a draught comes under the door your face’ll set.’ Gulp! Draughts were an obsession and woe betide anyone suggesting a little fresh air would be beneficial on a hot day.
‘You want Tizer? Do you think I’m Lady Docker? There’ll be no fizzy pop in this house. Twists your blood. You’ll drink water. Lions drink water.’ (I remember once pointing out that lions had very little choice and was hit over the head for insolence.)
‘Put a cap on, you’ll catch your death.’ Oh, so very many things would cause a person to catch their death.
‘Those that ask for summat don’t get; them as don’t ask don’t want.’ A no-win system, indeed.
‘Don’t play with that Timmy Salt. His mother died of TB.’ Timmy Salt was the best footballer in the street and my best friend. Of course, I still played with him. His mother had been dead for at least a year and I remembered standing outside with a shovel in my hand watching the mourners set off for church. The shovel was for any ‘droppings’ from the horse that normally pulled the milkman’s cart, but now pressed into service for funeral duty. ‘Horse Droppings for the garden’ were highly prized and required speed, agility and occasional belligerence on behalf of the shovel carrier to avoid the shame of returning home with an empty shovel.
‘Wanting summat never did anyone any good. If the good Lord wanted you to have that (insert random object of desire here) you’d have it already.’
I was eight when the old lady died. I’d never known my Granddad who’d been ‘mustard gassed and never got over it’ and died many years previously. Just before she died, she told me she’d put some money aside for me, but not for my sister, in her will. ‘Don’t expect either of you will ever amount to anything, but you’re a cheeky devil and afraid of nowt so you might just stand a chance. Maybe, one day, you’ll live over yonder with them as has it easy.’ She waved an airy arm towards the back door.
Later, I was outside, chopping sticks, and saw Dermot (I never knew his other name) in his back yard. ‘Dermot,’ I called out, ‘where’s yonder?’
‘Where’s over yonder?’
‘Oh, yonder’s over there,’ Dermot said, pointing to the exact opposite direction my Grandma had indicated. My opinion of Dermot went downhill at that point. The poor man knew nothing.
In the will, I was left £20. A huge sum. As promised, my sister got nothing! My mum put £10 each in the Post Office accounts we both had. I sulked for days; shallow and selfish little toe-rag that I was, and at times, still remain!
Almost time for a return to England now. Don't want to overstay our welcome. Not seen much evidence of ‘Brexit toxicity’ as yet, but it's early days. Will be hard to leave the sunshine and bright blue skies behind, but needs must. Perhaps England will be in the middle of a March heatwave when we get there.
Ha! Was that a pig I just glimpsed flying overhead?