Monday, 22 February 2016

From Castell to Woburn - The Story of my Summer (Part 1)

From Castell to Woburn, it sounds like an epic journey doesn't it? Alas, it is one that I did not take. If I had attempted it however, I would not have used a car. I would have walked as our forbears did before us. Or at the very least, I would have stolen a horse and rode it off into the sunset. But the mountain passes of Spain are no place for a nag. Indeed, I sometimes wonder how man makes it through. 

For me to have walked from Castell to Woburn, I would have trudged 1,721 kilometres and it would have taken me 319 hours. No small feat. As it was, I did make a journey, but it was somewhat shorter. I took a walk from the Spanish village of Castell de Castells (Castle of Castles), the last of a line of villages that dots the Vall de Pop (Jalon Valley) to the summit of a mountain, where lies the castle that the village's name derives from, Penya Castellet (The Castle of the Rock) or simply El Castellet.

I kid you not, the journey was thwart with danger. And I say this not because I am a fictional author who wishes to add value to the story, nor because people before me such as the protagonist of my novel Mercenary, Sir Richard Longsword, have stumbled it's steep and horrifying steps. I say it because I went up there against my better judgement, on the last day that I could, right into the heart of a storm.

Now believe me, I am no fool. It was a cloudy day, for sure. But even then, I did not foresee what was to come. No sooner did I step foot at the base of the mountain, I felt the first drops of rain tickle my brow. Luckily, I thought to myself, I remembered to bring an umbrella. So somewhat senselessly, I decided to push on. Perhaps I was thinking of those who had built the castle so many years ago. To be honest, I do not remember. But whatever I was thinking, I bravely carried on.

The path was wide to begin with and it's rise was steady. It wasn't long, however, before the path narrowed and with each twist and turn, it slowly started to steepen. By the time I was halfway up, the path was little more than a foot wide and for want of a better phrase, it had turned in to a water slide. The rain was falling so heavy, you'd have thought there was no path at all, just a fast flowing stream.

My feet were cold and wet. My arms and legs were sore from the bombardment they'd received from passing twigs and branches. Then, before I knew it, I was in the clouds. It was quite surreal, if not somewhat eerie. And little did I know, down the bottom waiting for me, in a nearby cafe, my step father was being told off by a Spaniard, who believed it was necessary to call the Policia, because I was probably dead!

I made it to the top and despite my tribulations it only took me about an hour and a half. I headed round the last turn, then before me was the wonderful remains of this spooky castle. Of course I had to get up close, because I was still in the clouds and it was just like fog. The castle isn't just at the top of the mountain, like it's name suggests, it's on top of a rock, on top of a mountain.

I walked around the base of the rock, which was on a steep slope and it was hard to picture how the castle would have stood. But as you got closer to the rock, you could see what looked like stairs cut into the stone and an idea of where certain rooms would have stood began to fall in to place. Despite thinking it was probably wrong, I decided to climb these steps, which were very hard to access to see if I could get to the very top.

There was evidence that others had climbed here before me, including an empty cigarette pack, but I came to the conclusion that it probably wasn't allowed, as it was downright scary and I'd chosen the worst day to do it and I couldn't see more than a few metres in front of me. I made it to the top and I was so glad that I did. It was flat which suggests there would have been some type of hall up there as the space was big and at the end were the remains of a tower.

I took some photos, which I will be sharing on my Facebook page. Unfortunately the view from the mountain was not great, as each way I looked all I could see was cloud. But what that did do at the very least was mask the few hundred feet drop, that would have led to a certain death. I could only imagine what the view must have been to those that lived there, hundreds of years ago. But hopefully one day I can go back and see for myself.

The castle, was built by the Moors, during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. One of many they built in the mountains, such as the Castle of Guadalest which features prominently in Mercenary. The reason they built them here, was firstly because, they could see for many miles around, but secondly because they were downright impossible to capture. During my novel in 1513, the castle belonged to the Order of Santiago and my protagonist only spent the night here.

I did not spend the night. In fact, I hurried back down, to a disgruntled step dad and thankfully, no Policia. I was cold and drenched through, I even gave up on my brolly. But there was one thing the weather could not dampen on that day and that was my spirit. For though I was alone, and I say that lightly because I never truly felt alone. I always felt as if I was walking with those who had come before me. But on that day I had an adventure of my own and my destination was remarkable.