I read recently there are 17 kilometres of coastline in Carboneras, and as we drove down the hill towards the town with the long abandoned hotel on the left we reached the first of many beaches, that of Playa Los Algarrobicos. Latterly, this has become merely the foreground to ‘that’ hotel, or more accurately, putative hotel, that has blighted the landscape since the denial and then withdrawal of planning permission left a building site as its legacy.
Before the ill fated project even began, this beach was seen by millions throughout the world as it was one of the settings for the film Lawrence of Arabia.
One of the most spectacular scenes in the film was an attack on the city of Aqaba which was reconstructed on Algarrobico beach as it would have looked back in 1917. This was quite a task, involved the building of over 300 buildings and employed more than 200 local people over a period of three months. Four huge cannon were installed and they also built a Turkish military camp with more than 70 tents. Best of all, most of the residents of Carboneras were engaged as ‘extras’ and able to boast of being part of a major Hollywood blockbuster.
Unsurprisingly, nothing remains of ‘Aquaba,’ but if the film producers wanted to build their set in this spot today, they’d first have to demolish and remove any trace of the abandoned ‘hotel’ which now dominates the end of the beach and which I wrote about in a previous blog post. here’s a link to that blog post, if you’re interested http://www.marigoldsays.co.uk/438264947
Maybe they should have kept the cannons in situ.
There’s a statue of a robed ‘Lawrence’ in the town which we’ve admired on previous visits, but today our attention turned to an equally legendary figure of more recent vintage as we came across a mural commemorating the association of John Lennon with Carboneras. In fairness, the association is on the minimalist / tenuous spectrum as the former Beatle’s stay in the area was scarcely extensive, but, come on, this is John Lennon we’re talking about and Spain's largest Beatles-themed mural is right here, in Carboneras.
Lennon had described himself as being ‘at a loose end’ after the Beatles decided their touring days were over in 1966. The final break up of the band was four years in the future, but John Lennon was then only in his mid twenties and perhaps viewing an uncertain future out of the public eye, so he took himself off to Almeria for seven weeks to make a film, How I Won the War. The Director was Dick Lester who had directed the Beatles’ films and offered John the part of Private Gripweed, a fairly minor character who serves as Batman – no, not ‘that’ Batman – to an officer played by the film’s main star, Michael Crawford.
During his stay in the region, John Lennon wrote ‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ and gave a rare interview to the press, seated on a beach in Carboneras. Strawberry Fields has stood the test of time, but Carboneras has made a big effort to ensure the visit of a Beatle hasn’t been forgotten either. The 50th anniversary of that visit was wildly celebrated in Carboneras, as was the 50th anniversary of the filming of Lawrence of Arabia, and the mural itself is pretty impressive. I read that magazine interview, however, and John Lennon wasn’t exactly thrilled to be in Carboneras. The location was intended to mimic North Africa, but the great man himself was far from enthralled by a desert landscape and the relentless heat. This was in September too, so just as well they weren’t filming a month or two earlier!
There’s a John Lennon statue in Almeria which we saw recently. There were a constant stream of people waiting their turn to take a photo next to John Lennon. The Beatles broke up 48 years ago and it’s almost 40 years since John Lennon was killed, yet the majority of those surrounding his statue weren’t even born when Lennon was killed. A poignant moment for me too. I saw the Beatles play ‘live’ twice almost two years before Love me Do hit the record stores in 1962 and John Lennon was even then the heart and soul of the group.
As for Strawberry Fields, the song was inspired by a Gothic-style mansion in Liverpool which had been converted to a Salvation Army children’s’ home. It’s long gone now, but those bright red gates remain a place of pilgrimage for Beatles fans.
John Lennon apparently used to play as a child in the grounds of Strawberry Fields, but I only remember it for the annual party the Home put on for the children of Liverpool in Calderstones Park. I’m sure John Lennon would have attended these too, but I’m less sure whether me and my friends ‘gatecrashed’ the event as I’m sure we didn’t get invitations. Maybe John Lennon was a gatecrasher as well.
A short distance away, approaching the port area of the town, is another remarkable mural which serves as homage to Pablo Picasso. We sat on one of the benches, studying each individual section of an extensive mural and could have stayed much longer, but we had much more to do today.
I do like high quality ‘street art,’ as distinct from ‘graffiti,’ but architecture has been a ‘fascination’ of mine - less than a passion but more than just an interest - for many years and I especially like boldness and originality of design. When we lived in France, a few years back, We came across a house, by chance, and I’ve never forgotten it. ‘Position, position, position’ is the oft repeated mantra of estate agents and that house was sited next to the lighthouse on Cap D’Antibes, arguably the most desirable area of the entire French Riviera.
Perfection of situation brings its own pressures and the house that Claude Parent built to the exact specifications of his fellow architect, friend and mentor André Bloc as Bloc’s summer home back in 1966 was unique. It has produced many imitators, but when we saw this house for the first time in 1971 it took my breath away, and still does. Built to make the most of one of the world’s most enviable vistas it was an architectural triumph.
I never expected to find another Claude Parent / André Bloc house almost on our doorstep, but their experiment in shape and form, a melange of architecture and sculpture, sits on a hillside in Carboneras. Again, it was built as a holiday retreat for André Bloc and was termed ‘The Labyrinth’ for its bizarre layout. In fairness, I’d rather live in the house at Cap D’Antibes as the ‘Labyrinth’ is more of a sculpture than a house, but art doesn’t have to conform to perceptions of normality. The man who founded Architecture Today while still a young rebel was never going to build ‘just’ a house, was he?
We carried on, through the industrial areas and to the top of the hill overlooking Carboneras with one destination in mind. Our second visit to the Beach of the Dead in a couple of weeks and we chose the perfect day for it. We even found an easier way down. It turns out there are two paths, one we already knew about from the viewpoint overlooking the beach and the other, much easier, route from the car park which we parked right next to on this occasion.
Last time we risked life, limb and stubbed toes, but today’s newly discovered route was significantly easier. Not ‘easy,’ but not the ‘never doing that again, ever’ trek through a lunar landscape we’d previously experienced. We scrabbled down, complaints just a necessary part of the routine, no toes were stubbed, scarcely any blood was shed, (only mine, not Marigold’s, so insignificant) and eventually reached sea level. The only delay was when one of Marigold’s ear rings, one of a favourite pair, fell off into a bushy group of yellow flowers. I scrabbled around, squatting uncomfortably on a stony pathway, for what seemed like hours before they were found and returned to their anxious owner. Is Superglue a viable solution to prevent ear rings becoming detached?
The couple we’d glimpsed from far above were now nowhere to be seen. Did they drown, bury themselves in the sand? Who knows? We were in sole possession of this magnificent beach, the sun was shining, the blue sea sparkled and we’d entered a world of silence interrupted only by the soft whisper of tiny waves lapping the shore.
Marigold turned and waved to the group of tiny people on the viewpoint far above. One may have even waved back, but I imagine most were simply seething with jealousy. We were down here, experiencing this glorious setting and they were mere observers. Yes, maybe I shouldn’t allocate my own inadequate personality to others, but that’s easier said than done.
We followed the footsteps of the only people who’d crossed this stretch of sand today. They grew less and less defined until they faded away completely.
‘Spooky,’ I said.
Marigold looked out to sea. ‘No sharks,’ she said.
‘Well, not now, but...’
We gave up on the vanishing footsteps and walked from one end of the beach, a glorious half mile or so, to the other with one foot in the sea and the other on dry land. This activity has both mystical and healing powers.
No, it doesn’t.
It’s hard to imagine a beach anywhere where the water is so clear and so blue. It’s pretty steeply sloping so in a heavy sea with strong breakers bathing may be hazardous, but today the surface is flat calm and we’re only paddling anyway.
As we were climbing back up the track which appeared to have steepened in the last hour, we caught a glimpse of the missing couple, almost but not quite hidden amongst some scrubby bushes and very obviously involved in matters with a distinct possibility of becoming rather more unbecoming. We averted our eyes and moved swiftly, well as swiftly as possible, onwards and upwards. ‘Wise to wait until they were almost at the top of the hill,’ I said, puffing with exertion.
A couple, no longer in the first flush of youth, albeit younger than us, were about to set off down the path. English, dressed as if for Ascot not a beach located down a dusty and uneven track and bedecked with the appurtenances of an overland to India expedition. They were perhaps best described as a secretary of the WI and a Methodist lay preacher respectively.
‘Is it worth it?’ The woman asked Marigold.
‘Oh, yes, well worth it. The beach is lovely, but you need to keep your eyes open on the way down as there’s lots to see.’
Off they went, taking a route that would take them within a couple of yards of the amorous couple. We were tempted to hang around, but didn’t.
‘Should have warned them,’ Marigold said.
‘Yes, we should.’
We drove off instead, heading for Torre de Mesa Roldan, a fortress originally intended as an artillery watchtower perched high up on Mesa Roldan, actually an extinct volcano. The fortress was built in 1766 and hasn’t been well cared for at all. There’s a lighthouse up here too, but it’s to the fort we are headed. It’s one of those buildings where the planners were on a different page to the builders as although it was built to house a couple of large cannon on the roof, it proved massively not fit for purpose. The location, a pretty significant aspect of the design, meant the planned cannon were far too far away to be able to fire on any sea attack, which was the sole reason for building the fort.
Useless planning then and even though it was pressed into use as a lighthouse even that secondary facility was superseded when a replacement lighthouse, in a far better position, was constructed.
It’s been abandoned for a while and it shows, but even great lumps of crumbling stone in remote locations have their uses and it’s for this reason we’ve come here today. Immediately, we look at each other, nodding in recognition as this abandoned fort was used as a filming location for Game of Thrones. We’ve been to a fair few of these locations now, the last one being the ancient Roman bridge in Cordoba regenerated as the Long Bridge of Volantis, and recognise this site on a hill above Carboneras as the fortification in Meereen where Daenerys (Khaleesi) arrives with her army of Unsullied soldiers.
There’s just us here today, no sign of Daenerys, not even Grey Worm, but we can still imagine their presence. Next, we’re keeping up the theme of film locations and heading just a few miles up the coast, but that will have to wait until the next posting.
If you want a hint, try Sexy Beast. That’s a film title, not a description of Marigold or myself.
Oh, hang on though…