This is adapted from a
section of my book on Travels in Spain
Last time I was visiting Gibraltar I decided to take a
different route home, and turned left at San Roque, drove to
the bottom of the hill where I turned sharp right and headed
for Jimena de la Frontera. I am in search of Mr Henderson's
closed years ago," said my new friend as we sat and chatted
on the roof balcony of our hotel, overlooking Algeciras Bay
on one side, and the massive Rock of Gibraltar looming over
us to the south.
line was originally built between 1890-92 to enable British
garrison officers and their families to escape the
claustrophobic atmosphere of Gibraltar and enjoy the
surrounding countryside. Travel in Spain was difficult in
the nineteenth century. You could not tour Spain by road
without great difficulty. Heck, you couldn't tour Spain by
road without serious difficulty until the late
railway was the work of a British engineer, John Morrison,
backed by his friend and railway enthusiast Sir Alexander
Henderson (1st Baron Faringdon, 1850-1934). Henderson was
fascinated by the railways, and was heavily involved in many
rail projects in the UK and in South America.
new line ran from Algeciras to Bobadilla, just outside Ronda, where it met the main line to
Madrid. According to the records, when it opened it operated
no less than six passenger trains a day through twenty-two
stations at the grand cost of 11 pesetas and 65 cents for a
first class seat from San Roque to Ronda.
the travel easier Henderson arranged for a first class
hotel, the Reina Cristina, to be built in Algeciras within
walking distance of the station, and overlooking the bay
where the packet steamer would bring travellers across from
Gibraltar. Apparently the grounds overlooked a sandy beach.
Not so today as the port has grown substantially. In fact,
the railway line which originally ended right next to the
quay when I first visited Algeciras seems to have been moved
back somewhat, or the quayside has stretched out into the
line has disappeared altogether. When I first came to
Algeciras and Gibraltar in the sixties we camped on waste
land where there is now a massive oil terminal, and one
morning we were woken by the terrifying screech of a
locomotive that screamed past us at the crack of dawn. That
line would appear to be no more.
proud was the hotel of Algeciras's sub tropical climate that
guests were promised a refund on their room rate for any
days between May and September spoilt by rain. We could do
with a few more enterprising deals like that.
Alfonso XIII of Spain and his English Queen Ena, who was a
granddaughter of Queen Victoria, were frequent visitors, as
were a host of famous people since.
train itself was not renowned for its speed, and was dubbed
The Smugglers' Express, because it travelled so slowly up
some of the steep inclines that people could sell contraband
booze, coffee, and sugar from the train windows. These days
the train has a mechanism for overcoming this problem. When
the wheels begin to slip sand is released onto the rails to
help the wheels grip.
train still runs on a single track for most of the way. "In
the old days before electronic signalling systems were
operational, the stationmaster would give the engine driver
a cane hoop, which he in turn would hand to the next
stationmaster. This procedure would be repeated for trains
waiting to travel in the opposite direction, and acted as a
fail-safe back-up to the morse code telegraphing system to
signal that the line was clear."
we set off in search of Mr Henderson's railway. We drove
down the nice relatively new and well surfaced highway
towards Jimena de la Frontera. Town after town in this
region has a name that almost always seems to require the
description de la frontera (often abbreviated to fra). The
trouble is that back in the middle ages the frontier between
Moors and Christians changed so many times that virtually
everywhere was on the frontier at some time or another. One
of the towns changed masters about ten times over the course
of 150 years. Life must have been a real pain.
is peaceful, and we drove over a bridge, and into the
valley, and there immediately below us was Mr Henderson's
railway, with a freight train approaching a large
reclamation depot with trucks filled with crushed metal.
didn't really want to tramp around an industrial site, so we
moved on up the valley. At the village of Almoraima I
stopped to photograph the station, and then went on a trip
around the nearby new town of Castellar de la Frontera.
original village dates back to prehistoric times (round
about 25,000 BC), and that is quite some heritage. The
village is perched on top of a hill, and contains the usual
castle. It is quite some castle, and the views are terrific.
Unfortunately, on the day I turned up with my camera the
weather was dull and cloudy, with rain threatening.
the Spanish government expropriated the whole village,
declaring it to be an historical and artistic monument. In
order to put the place on the map and renovate the almost
ruinous buildings the government decided to build a new
village down in the valley next to Mr Henderson's railway.
This is, of course, Castellar New Town. And they got a new
station as well.
the main road turn right, over the level crossing, then turn
left, and there is this new town. It looks rather nice. As
new towns go I wouldn't mind living there myself.
neck of the woods has a rather ancient history. It is listed
as the last great rain forest area in Europe. It also has a
more primitive form of pine tree still growing in the
mountains. Not only that but there is evidence of human
habitation going back 30,000 years in this valley. And if
you follow Mr Henderson's railway line a little further
north you can see the cave drawings.
more modern history of this site starts with the building of
the castle in the tenth century. It was enlarged during the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This was civil war
time, with the Christians and Muslims at it hammer and tongs
over control of southern Spain, with the frontier moving
backwards and forwards throughout the whole period.
castle formed the whole village as was common in feudal
times. The main building was the military complex with the
lord's private quarters tucked away somewhere inside. Beyond
the central military complex was a honeycomb of homes
huddled together for protection within the castle walls.
place was a complete ruin by the nineteen seventies, with
only a handful of people living there. The government took
possession of the whole area in 1983 and declared it an
historical and artistic monument. Eventually the houses were
taken over by artists, and there are still artists there,
showing paintings, glass work, artistic work using cork, and
is also a restaurant in one of the houses with an
enterprising menu. The eating area is a small couple of
rooms and is a bit cramped, and to my mind it doesn't help
to have canned music belting out in such close quarters.
Please note restaurateurs, the piped muzak turned away a
potential customer. Those of us (10-15% of the population)
with tinnitus have problems with that particular racket.
That means if we eat in muzak-drenched surroundings we cant
take part in conversations, which is part of the reason for
eating out. I know it may sound odd, but some of us come for
the food, not for your crummy record collection.
the wind blowing a gale and the clouds gathering we drove
round and down to the main road, and turned towards Jimena.