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Spanish Secrets: Bid For Freedom

….Running between the seafront apartment blocks are a series of dark, thin alleys. Strolling down these paved alleyways is like a voyage with Jules Verne, travelling back in time hundreds of years….

Craig Briggs visits Baiona on Spain’s Atlantic coast, a place where Galicia’s rich and privileged arrive by helicopter for Sunday lunch.

With the exception of a man-made beach on the river Mino, our closest beach resort is Baiona on the Atlantic coast. This seaside town sweeps around a natural bay. Dominating the seaward end of the bay are the ancient ramparts of Baiona castle.

These days the castle is home to a national Parador - a sympathetically restored and beautifully appointed, luxury hotel. On bright, clear weekends it has become commonplace to see helicopters circling the bay before descending into the hotel grounds - Galicia’s rich and privileged dropping in for Sunday lunch.

The bay is home to a small marina. Expensive-looking motor-cruisers are given the most prominent moorings. Local fishermen and the less well-heeled, make do with the remainder. Aside from these floating palaces, the most high-profile vessel is a life-size replica of The Santa Maria - Columbus’s flagship on his voyage to discover the Americas.

The port of Baiona is credited with welcoming him home after his important discovery. A fact that’s not strictly true. On his voyage home he was captured by the Portuguese. Seven years past before his release and return to Spain. I wonder if his capture created the same media and political circus that the detention of a few British sailors by the Iranian authorities has just done?

At first glance the town of Baiona is quite nondescript. Modern apartment blocks line the coast road that arc’s around the bay. It’s clean and tidy but lacks character and charm. Look a little closer and you’ll find architectural treasures waiting to be discovered.

Running between the seafront apartment blocks are a series of dark, thin alleys. Strolling down these paved alleyways is like a voyage with Jules Verne, travelling back in time hundreds of years.

Behind the high-rise blocks a narrow, twisting lane runs parallel to the new coast road. Perfectly preserved, stone buildings line this ancient corridor. Low doorways lead to quiet fish restaurants and busy local bars. Without the hum of traffic, there’s just the echo of footsteps as they bounce off the hard surfaces of the lane. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the laughter of ancient mariners, joking over the size of the day’s catch.

It was at Baiona, over four years ago, that we almost lost our friend Harry to the unforgiving sea. A crisp, yet sunny winter’s day persuaded us to visit this coastal town for the day. There was Melanie, Harry, our dog Jazz and me.

At one end of the bay is a small stretch of golden sand. One sniff of the sea and Jazz can hardly contain her excitement. Even Harry seemed excited by the prospect of playing on the beach with Jazz. As I skimmed pebbles across the still water of the bay, Jazz bounced in and out of the cold sea in uncontrolled delight.

Unlike Jazz, Harry’s behaviour was far less predictable. To make sure he didn’t wander off, we fastened a thick leather collar around his neck, and clipped a spring-coiled leash to that. As the leash extended to over 15 metres, Harry seemed delighted and joined in the fun. By the way, Harry is a jet-black Labrador.

A piece of driftwood brought them both to heel. With one almighty swing I launched this weathered lump of timber into the icy Atlantic. Both hounds turned heel and sprinted headlong into the sea. Like the spool of a big-game fishing rod, the retractable leash whistled as Harry’s chase unwound its length at high speed.

As the leash reached its limit there was a brief but sharp tug on my arm. This was instantaneously followed by a loud twang as the thick leather collar tore from Harry’s neck. Still attached to the leash, the cannon like recoil sent the collar high into the air. An eternity seemed to pass as the collar arced higher and higher before plummeting to earth and landing at my feet.

Harry was away. Swimming for all he was worth into the distance. Time and again we called but without response. Harry was free.

Just as our thoughts turned to the possible repercussions from Harry’s owners, he glanced back at us. Perhaps it was the thought of swimming the Atlantic Ocean alone, or maybe some kind of unknown canine telepathy. Whatever it was, his decision to return came as a great relief.

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Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs


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