Francis Wharton.

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case, we have preferred to avail ourselves of certain notes
for which we are indebted to two good friends and thorough
sportsmen, in the hope that the change may be to the
reader a pleasing contrast from the semper ego otherwise

On a bitterly cold March morning we found ourself, as
day slowly broke, traversing the outspurs of the sierra —

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on the scene of the great earthquake of 1884, evidences of
which were plentiful enough among the scattered hill-
villages. Already many mule-teams, heavily laden with
merchandise from the coast-town of Motril, were wending
their laborious way inland. It is worth noting that in
front of five or six laden mules it is customary to harness
a single donkey. This animal does little work : but always
passes approaching teams on the proper side, and, more-
over, picks out the best parts of the road. This enables the
driver to go to sleep, and the plan, we were told, is a good

At Lanjaron we breakfasted at the ancient fonda of
San Eafael, where the bright and beautifully poUshed
brass and copper cooking utensils hanging on the walls
were a sight to make a careful housewife envious. We
watched our breakfast cooked over the charcoal-fire, and
learned a good deal thereby. We were delayed here a
whole day by snow-storms. There is stabling under ih^ fonda.
for 500 pack-animals, for Lanjaron in its ** season " is an
important place, frequented by invalids from far and near.
Its mineral-springs are reputed efficacious : but the
drainage arrangements are villainous in the extreme, and
altogether it seemed a village to be avoided. Sad traces
of the cholera were everywhere visible, many doors and
lintels bearing the ominous sign : it was curious that in so
few cases had it been erased.

We left before daybreak, and a few leagues further on
the ascent became very steep and abrupt, the hill-crests
whither we were bound within view, but wreathed in mist.
Only one traveller did we meet in the long climb from
Orjiva to Capileira, and he bringing two mule-loads of
dead and dying sheep, worried by wolves just outside
Capileira the night before. Expecting that the wolves
would certainly return, we prepared to wait up that night
for them : but were dissuaded, the argument being " that
is exactly what they will expect! No, those wolves will
probably not come back this winter." But return they
did, both that night and several following. The night
before we left Capileira on the return journey (a fortnight

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later), they came in greater numbers than ever and killed
over twenty sheep.

Capileira is the highest hamlet in the sierra, and is
celebrated for its hams, which are cured in the snow. Here
we put up for the night, sleeping as best we could amidst
fowls and fleas, after an amusing evening spent around
the fire, where one pot cooked for forty people besides
ourselves. The cold was intense, streams of fine snow
whirling in at pleasure through the crazy shutters : so we
were glad to go to bed — indeed I was chased thither by a
hungry sow on the prowl, seeking something to eat,
apparently in my portmanteau.

Heavy snow-falls that night and all next day prevented
our advance : but at an early hour on the following
morning we were under way — six of us — on mules, though
I would have preferred to walk, the snow being so deep
one could not see where the edges of the precipices were.
No sooner had I mounted than the mule fell down, while
crossing a hill-torrent, and I was glad to find the water
no deeper. After climbing steadily upwards all the
morning, the last two hours on foot, the snow knee-deep,
we at length sighted the cairn on the height to which
we were bound. Before nightfall we had reached the
point, but few of the mules accomplished the last few
hundred yards. After^bravely trying again and again, the
poor beasts sank exhausted in the snow, and we had to
carry up the impedimenta ourselves in repeated journeys.
The deep snow, the tremendous ascent, and impossibility
of seeing a foothold made this porterage most laborious :
but we had all safely stowed in our cave before sundown.

The overhanging rock, which for the next ten or twelve
days was to serve as our abode, we found a mass of icicles.
These we proceeded to clear away, and then by a good fire
to melt our ice-enamelled rock-ceiling, fancying that the
constant drip on our noses all night might be unpleasant.
The altitude of our ledge above sea-level was about 8,500
feet, and our plateau of rest — our home, so to speak —
measured just seven yards by two.

Early next morning we proceeded to erect snow-screens

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at favourable passes, wherein to await the wild-goats as
they moved up or down the mountain-side at dawn and
dusk respectively, their favourite food being the rye-grass
which the peasants from the villages below contrive to
grow in tiny patches — two or three square yards scattered
here and there amidst the crags. It is only by rare
industry that even so paltry a crop can be snatched at
such altitudes, and during the short period when the snow
is absent from the southern aspects. At present it
enveloped everything — not a blade of vegetation, nor a
mouthful for a wild-goat could be seen.

Although in going to our puestos during the day the
snow was generally soft — ^the sun being very hot — ^yet in
returning after dark we found the way most dangerous,
traversing a sloping, slippery ice-surface like a huge glacier,
where a slip or false step would send one down half a
mile with nothing to clutch at or to save oneself. Such
a slide meant death, for it could only terminate in an
awful precipice or in one of those horrible holes with a
raging torrent to receive one in its dark abyss, and convey
the fragments beneath the snow — where to appear next ?
Each step had to be cut with a hatchet, or hollowed — the
butt of a rifle is not intended for such work, but has had
to perform it.

Every day here we saw goats on or about the snow-fields
and towering rocks above our cave. They were of a light
fawn colour, very shaggy in appearance, some males
carrying magnificent long horns. One old ram seemed to
be always on the watch, kneeling down on the very verge
of a crag 500 or 600 yards above us, and which com-
manded a view for miles — miles, did we say ? paltry words !
From where that goat was, he could survey half-a-dozen

These ibex were quite inacessible, and though daily seen,
nearly a week had passed away ere a wild-goat gave us a
chance. One night shortly after quitting my post, little
better than a human icicle, and not without fear of the
dangers of scrambling cave-wards, in absolute darkness
along the ice-slope, a little herd of goats passed — mere

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shadows — within easy shot of where, five minutes before,
I had been lying in wait. On another morning at dawn
the tracks of a big male showed that he, too, must have
passed at some hour of the night within five-and-twenty
yards of the snow-screen.

But it was not till a whole week had elapsed that we
had the ibex really in our power. Just as day broke a
herd of eight — two males and six females — stood not forty
yards from our cave-dwelling. The fact was ascertained
by one Esteban, a Spanish sportsman whom we had taken
with us. Silently he stole back into the cave, and without

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a word, or disturbing the dreams of his still sleeping
employers, picked up an " express " and went forth. Then
the loud double report at our very doors — ^that is, had
there been a door — aroused us, only to find • • . . the
spoor of that enormous ram, the spot where he had
halted, listening, close above the cave, and the splash of
the lead on the rock beyond — eighteen inches too low ! an
impossible miss for any one used to the " express." Oh,
Esteban, Esteban! what were our feelings towards you
on that fateful morn !

Life in a mountain-cave high above the level of
perpetual snow — six men huddled together in the narrow
space, two English and four Spaniards — has its weird and
picturesque, but it has also its harder side. Yet those
days and nights, passed amidst majestic scenes and
strange wild beasts, have left nothing but pleasant
memories, nor have their hardships deterred one of us
from repeating the experiment. Probably both these
campaigns were too early in the season (March and

The only birds seen in the high sierra were choughs and
ravens : ring-ouzels a little lower down. There were
plenty of trout, though small, in the hill-bums. On one
occasion we witnessed an extraordinary circular rainbow
across a deep gorge, with our own figures perfectly
reflected in the centre on passing a given point.

The ice-going abilities of the mountaineers were some-
thing marvellous — incredible save to an eye-witness.
Across even a north drift, hard and *' slape " as steel, and
hundreds of yards in extent, these men would steer a
sliding, slithering course at top speed, directed towards
some single projecting rock. To miss that refuge might
mean death: but they did not miss it, ever, in their
perilous course, making good a certain amount of forward
movement. At that rock they would settle in their minds
the next point to be reached, quietly smoking a cigarette
meanwhile before making a fresh start. How such per-
formances diminish one's own self-esteem ! How weak
are our efforts ! Even on the softer southern drifts, what

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balancing, what scrambling and crawling on hands and
knees one finds necessary, and what a "cropper" one
would have come but for the friendly arm of Enrique,
who, as he arrests one's perilous slide, merely mutters
" Ave Maria purisaima ! "

Now we have left the ice and snow and the ibex to wander
in peace over their lonely domains. To-night we have
dined at a tahle : there is a cheery fire in the rude little
posada and merry voices, contrasting with the silence of
our cave, where no one spoke above a whisper, and where
no fire was permissible save once a day to heat the oUa.
Now all we need is a song from the Murillo-faced little
girl who is fanning the charcoal-embers. " Sing us a
couplet, Dolores, to welcome us back from the snows of
Alpujarras ! "

Dolores : With the greatest pleasure, Cahallero, if Jose
will play the guitar. No one plays Uke Jos6, but he is
tired, having travelled all day with his mules from

Jose : No, senor, not tired, but I have no soul to-night to
play. This morning they asked me to bring medicine from
the town for Carmen : but when I reached the house she
was dead. I find myself very sad.

Dolores : " Pero, si ya tiene su palma y su corona ? "
.... but as she already has her palm and her crown ?

Jose : That is true ! Bring the guitar and I will see if it
will quit me of this tristeza !

Next morning the snow prevented our leaving : and the
day after, while riding away, we met some of the villagers
carrying poor Carmen to the burial-ground on the
mountain-side. The body, plainly robed in white, was
borne on an open bier, the hands crossed and head sup-
ported on pillows, thus allowing the long unfettered hair
to hang down loose below. It was an impressive and a
picturesque scene ; and as I rode on, the rejoinder of
Dolores came to my mind — "Ya tiene su palma y su

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A LAND without Trout labours, in our eyes, under grave
physical disadvantages ; its currency is, metaphorically,
below par, its stocks at a discount. The absence of many
modem luxuries in Spain — say, manhood suffrage, school-
boards, and the like — we can survive ; the absence of trout,
never. Not even the presence on mountain, moor, or
marsh, of such noble denizens as Spain can boast — the
ibex, bustard, and boar, the lynx and lammergeyer — can
wholly, from an angler's point of view, fill the void, or
atone for the absence of sparkling streams and that
gamest of fresh-water game, the trout. The reproach,
however, does not apply ; for, to her many sporting
treasures, Spain can claim, in addition, this gem of the
subaqueous world. No one, however, it should be added,
who has other lands open to him, should ever go to Spain
expressly for trout-fishing.

Subject to the provisoes that follow (fairly extensive
ones, too), trout may be said to exist sporadically all over
the Iberian Peninsula ; but, in the south, they are limited
to the alpine streams of the sierras, and seldom descend
below the 2,000 feet level. Troutlets abound in the
mountain-torrents of the loftiest southern sierras (Nevada,
Morena, Bonda, and all their infinite ramifications), the
larger fish seeking rather lower levels and deeper pools.
Three-pounders grace the classic streams of Genii and
Darro, and deserve attention from angling visitors to the
famed Moorish fortress of Boabdil and his dark-eyed
houris. The Guadiarro, also, and some others of the

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Mediterranean rivers, afford shelter, in their middle and
upper waters, to Salmo faiio.

In the sluggish, mud-charged rivers of the corn-plains,
and of the upland plateaux, the trout, of course, finds no
place. The finned inhabitants of these regions, so far as
our Umited knowledge goes, are the shad (scihalo) and
coarse fish, such as dace {lisa) and his congeners, with
monster eels, crayfish, and the like. But as the rock-
ramparts of the Castiles and Northern Estremadura are
approached, our speckled friend again appears. Beneath
the towering sierras of Gredos and Avila we have landed
him while resting from the severer labours of ibex-hunting
on the heights above.

These upland streams of Castile run crystal-clear, with
alternate pools and rapids in charming sequence. Many
closely resemble our moorland burns of Northumbria —
even the familiar sandpiper, the white-chested dipper, and
the carol of the sky-lark (a note unheard in Southern
Spain), are there to heighten the similitude; but here,
heather and bracken are replaced by hresos and pionmles
— shrubs whose EngUsh names (if they have any) we
know not. The trout run smaller in inverse ratio of the
altitude ; in a stream at 3,000 feet the best averaged four
to the pound ; in another, barely below snow-level, six or
eight would be required to complete that weight — small
enough, but welcome as a change, both of sport and fare.
Who, but an angler, though, can appreciate the heaven-
sent joys of casting one's lines on ** fresh streams and
waters new " ?

This watershed marks the southern limit at which
(within our observation) the art of fly-fishing is practised
by Spanish anglers — of their more usual modes of taking
the trout, we treat anon. Fly-fishing, did we say ? Fish-
ing with fly would be a more accurate definition ; the
moment a trout seizes the rudely-tied feathers, he is jerked
out, regardless of size or sport — the tackle used, it goes
without saying, is of the strongest and coarsest. To play
and land a trout secundum artem was, we were assured,
impossible, by reason of the malhas — weeds, snags, and

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rocks, which stud the arcana of the depths. But it fell to
our lot to demonstrate to our worthy friends that this
theory was untenable. With a light twelve-foot bamboo,
and on gut finer far than ever entered a Spanish angler's
dream (though it all comes from Catalonia), we had the
satisfaction of raising, playing, and landing sundry creels-
full of shapely fish that exceeded, both as to numbers and
weight, the best local performances in manifold propor-
tion. Do not, kind reader, attribute egotistic motives for
this statement. No great measure of skill was required to
treble or quadruple the natives' takes ; and any angler

will say at once that such was just the result that might
have been expected. While we write, comes a letter from
that out-of-the-world spot, asking for a supply of our
English gut and flies.

In Portugal also — save on the monotonous levels of the
Alemtejo and Algarve — the trout exists in nearly all suit-
able localities — that is, they are confined to the streams of
the hill-country of the north. Years ago, on the virgin
rivers of the Entre-Douro-e-Minho, our friend Mr. J. L.
Teage enjoyed good sport with trout and gillaroo. It was
indeed, to some extent, the success of his viosca encantadu
that helped to arouse the slumbering utilitarian greed of

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the simple Lusitanian peasant, who, seeing, or thinking
that he saw, an undreamed source of wealth in his rivers,
borrowed of his Basque and Galician neighbours their
deadly systems of poison and dynamite, and proceeded
forthwith to kill the goose that laid this golden egg. As a
natural result, at the present day many of the waters
of Northern Portugal are all but depopulated — ^hardly a
sizeable fish can now be taken where four or five-pounders
swam of yore.

It is, however, the northern provinces of Spain, the
Asturias and Cantabrian highlands, and the rivers that
run into Biscay, that form the true home of Iberian
Salmonidie. Here, in a land of towering mountains,
pine-clad and mist-enshrouded, and of rushing, rapid
streams, are found both the salmon, the sea-trout, and
the yellow trout.*

Of the Salmon (Salmo salar) in Spain, we have had no
experience, and will say nothing more than that the
southernmost limit of its range appears to be the river
Minho, on the frontier of Portugal, and that the resist-
less energy of British sportsmen has succeeded (despite
the local difficulties referred to later) in acquiring fish-
ing rights of no small excellence. Nor have we fished
specially for the sea-trout, which are killed with fly and
other sporting lures, both in the upper streams and in the
brackish waters of the tideways, all along the Biscayan
coast, commencing to ** run " in February. Some of their
habits appear here to differ from what we observe at home ;
but, without more precise knowledge, we prefer to pass them
by for the present.

No more lovely trouting waters can angling introspect
conceive than some of those in Northern Spain. Now
surging through some tortuous gorge in successive
pools, dark, and foam-flecked, each of which look like
" holds " for monsters ; now opening out on a hill-
girt plateau, where the current broadens into rippled
shallows, with long-tailed runs and hollowed banks, the
Cantabrian rivers offer promises all too fair. For the
* Specific names not guaranteed.

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unfortunate trout has no fair play meted out to him in
this hungry land. No count is taken of his noble qualities,
nor of his economic necessities. Poor Salmo fario is here
3imply a comestible, and nothing more. In season and
out, throughout the twelvemonth, he is persecuted — done
to death with nets, poison, and dynamite. We have else-
where remarked on the paradoxical character of the
Spanish cazador^ and that of the pescador is the same.
Though observant of his quarry, apt, intelligent, and highly
skilled in the arts of sport, yet he is not a sportsman in
the truer sense of the term. His object is utilitarian, not
sentimental — he cultivates knowledge and the practices of
field-craft simply that he may fill the puchero.

A large proportion of the adult male population of each
riverside hamlet in Northern Spain are Pescadores — pro-
fessional fishermen: and all day long one sees them
grovelling among the stones of the river-bed fixing those
hateful funnel-nets that, at night, entrap the luckless
trout as they wander over the shallows. But if they con-
fined their operations to these, and to the infinite variety
of nets of other shapes and forms that festoon the village
street, things might not be so bad, nor the case of the
trout so hopeless and desperate. They have far more
deadly devices for massacre by wholesale. Into the throat
of some lovely stream is tipped a barrow-load of quick-
lime : down goes the poisonous dose, dealing out death
and destruction to every fish, great or small, in that
stream : and, if that is not enough, or if the pool is long
and sullen, he proceeds to blow up its uttermost depths
with dynamite. And in the hot summer months, when
the streams, at lowest summer-level, run almost dry, the
heaviest trout are decimated by ** tickling."

These methods prevail in every part of Spain and
Portugal where trout or other edible fish exist. What
chance have they to live ?

There are, moreover, difficulties, either of law or of
custom, that, in some parts of Spain, render the preser-
vation of rivers troublesome, if not impossible. Hence
the poor Spanish Salmonidae can hardly hope to receive


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that aegis of kindly protection that has been so advan-
tageously (for them, and others) extended to their British
and Scandinavian congeners.

Another drawback — which, though common to most
lands, is specially pronounced in metalliferous Spain — ^lies
in the noxious effusions from mines, which are freely dis-
charged, for private profit, into public waters. This evil
was forcibly brought home by our first day's experience in
Cantabria. Hour after hour we had plied most lovely water
without success — fly, worm, and phantom alike failed to
elicit a single response. On returning with empty creel to
the posada, to us our host, " Hombre, have you been
fishing the Tesarco? Que disparate/ there is a copper-
mine two leagues further up : there have been no fish in
that river for years.'* Considering that we had employed
a local guide, furnished by the said host, the occasion
appeared to justify a protest of not unmeasured wrath.
But there is no use losing one's temper in Spain : no
quaUty there so valuable as patience : and the reward of
a modicum of reasoned restraint was that the rough,
but kind-hearted Asturian insisted next morning on accom-
panying us himself to another river, seven miles away,
where we enjoyed, for Spain, excellent sport.

Under the adverse conditions above outlined, it would
be irrational to look for any very great measure of success
in Spanish trouting — though, were it possible (which it is
noty to secure fair play for the SalmonideB, there is no
physical or other reason why the Basque and Biscayan
provinces might not rival either Scotch or Scandinavian
waters. The following brief records of a few experiences
in Northern Spain will serve to illustrate what may be
expected, in a sporting sense, of the Cantabrian trout.

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Santand^'R (Provincia).

The Province of Santander,
hardly less wild and moun-
tainous than the Asturias, pre-
sents somewhat similar condi-
tions of water, fish, and sport.
The Cantabrian range, extend-
ing from Pyrenees to Atlantic,
the common southern boundary
of all the Biscayan provinces,
attains in Santander some of its
greatest elevations, including
the celebrated Picos de Europa
(9,000 feet), the home of the
Spanish bear and chamois. The trend of the land dips
gradually from these inland heights towards the sea : yet
even on the coast the scenery is savage and grand, some
of the altitudes being very great. The view looking
across the magnificent harbour of Santander recalls in the
" Sunny South " the scenery of Arctic Norway, with all
the fantastic tracery of snow-mountains and jagged peaks
vividly reflected in the unruffled breadths of the fjord.

The rivers, of course, reflect the characteristics of the
land. Born of the mountain and the snow-field, they
come leaping and surging seawards, dancing to their own
wild music, as they crush through narrow gorges, by crag
and hanging wood, hurrying ever northward towards the
Biscayan sea. The angler's path along their banks is no
made road : often for miles, ay, leagues, he may be con-
strained to follow the goatherds' upland path — a camino
de perdices in native phrase — and only able to gaze down,
like Tantalus, on tempting streams, perhaps close beneath,
yet far beyond his reach.

Here, as elsewhere, success, we found, was not to be had
for the wooing, nor at the first time of asking. Eivers
that offered fair promise — beautiful waters, such as Besaya
and Saja, embedded amidst ilex and cJiestnut, where moss*

Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 14 of 36)