The River Guardiana

Festina has turned her back on the sea.  We are in fact some 25 NM inland , anchored in complete solitude . It is  just before dawn and there is no wind , and the only sound we can hear is the distant musical tinkling of sheep bells. In a minute we are going to explore further up the river in our canoe , riding the flood tide for a couple of hours ,  returning with the ebb and retiring under our tropical awning  for a siesta in the midday heat , then perhaps  we will explore a side river in the cool of the evening.

It is an extraordinary place . The river cuts through hills dotted with olive trees and cork oaks, some in organised plantations ,but especially in the upper reaches ,mostly just growing wild. Down at the riverside huge stands of bamboo line the banks , intersperced with willow , pomegranates ,quinces and figs. Kingfishers race along under the overhanging branches whilst squadrons of azure winged magpies quarrel over the fruit.I got terribly excited when I saw some hoopoes – but I gather they are pretty common. Cattle Egrets fly past at dusk  and Sandwich Terns ( on their way to the Antartic?) swoop and dive around us . Herons stalk the shallows like pteradactyls, busily reducing the population of fish . In contrast my fishing career reached its absolute nadir ( you can tell Ive been boning up on the Astro!) when an agreeable fish took pity on me and actually jumped into the canoe . Lynda and I jumped even higher so that not only did we nearly capsize , but the fish took umbrage and  jumped out again!

Perhaps more extraordinary are the inhabitants. It seems that post Franco , the Spaniards ( the river marks the border between Spain and Portrugal) abandoned the area in favour of jobs in the cities. Soon afterwards the area  was “discovered ” by the british yachting community who sailed here for a few days , and stayed for 10 years. Thus on the Spanish side at least , most of the riverside fincas ( farms or country properties- mostly very small and simple ) are owned by Brits – who live here most of the year and send their kids to the local schools. Each has a boat anchored off ranging from the absolutely immaculate to a terminally decrepid state that indicates all pretence of leaving has been abandoned. Over the centuries the river has been engulfed by flash floods , and the village folk who are still  nearly all Spanish ( or Portrugese ) think the Brits are mad living on the river banks. In fact the upper reaches have been dammed so that hopefully there will be no repetition of these disasters.

Two thirds of the way up the navigable river  the twin villages of Alcoutin (Portrugal) and Sanlucar ( Spain) face each other across the river. Each has a castle ,  two churches and higgledy piggledy streets through  white painted houses decorated in Mediterranean pastel hues. Each church chimes the hour and half hour – but of course Spanish time is an hour further on , so that whereas they once fought each other over border rights , now the church bells  fight over the  time . In between them a small Armada of yachts from myriad nations lie swinging to the stream. Some are visiting , others are arriving to spend the winter here , and yet more have plainly been here for a very long time.

We were  very fortunate to meet Bob and Kate Saudek , who came here 10 years ago (from the Hamble) and now live in their own little riverside paradise with their 4 lovely children.Anyone interested in visiting this area should look at their website  ( where they have another riverside property to let.

We love it  , both the little villages and the wilderness around them  . The sense of being  gently ensnared is almost palpable.

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