There are places where time concertinas, when history thumps you in the chest. Marçà-Giné’s ledge, a 60-seconds eagle glide from Mother’s Garden, is one such cradle of whispers.
A vast lump of limestone, as big as a bus, rests, tilting slightly, at the rear of this human eyrie, beneath the summit of the little Miloquera mountain. Scars on the face of the cliff tell of where it once protruded, giving shelter to a Neolithic community. Scattered artefacts have been found, and suddenly you witness with your mind’s eye the trauma of that second it lost its grip. What – who – may be have been crushed beneath?
Fifty feet in front of it, half way to the lip of the great ledge and the mosaic vista of farms and forests in the river valley, a crumbling earth bank cannot hide its Roman secrets among the stones: A finger bone, the shattered end of a forearm relic. Who was it? What did that life amount to? What was their world, their experience, their voice?
The ledge, as ample as a football pitch and now only inhabited by the wind and tortoises, once offered the vital elements to an early existence – relative security, water from an inexplicably high spring, a closeness to the heavens. Beyond the Roman graveyard the neat footings of a temple run east to west. The twisting track from below is a way of sorrows, with Stations of the Cross leading skyward to a site of Christian devotion for the faithful.
And at the peak, 100 feet above the ages-old refuge, one defiant jagged corner remains to tell of the castle that looked down on the long lost timber homes that crowded this perch through the Dark and Middle Ages.
Over recent centuries the village has trickled to the base of the mountain and turned to brick, where, in one house among the many leaning into the narrow streets, Marçà-Giné was born in 1918. This renowned sculptor and later-life recluse was the final master of the ledge, the last of the ghosts. Revered by his community they gave him the space and peace he needed to work, reforming the scattered Roman temple stones to build him a great house high above them.
Marçà-Giné died five years ago and the village council decided to transform the space around the cobwebbed house from abandoned vineyard into a startlingly beautiful herb garden and sanctuary for the rare local tortoises. But the money ran out before work could begin within the walls.
Every time I have taken visitors to the “Garden of Scents”, to count newborn tortoises, breathe deeply and look out over the timeless sierra as all chapters of humanity have done, the house and its secrets have been sealed. Until this month.
We had ascended with two Norfolk friends, with good reason but little hope of getting beyond the gates because the garden is closed to the public in winter.
Teresa Verney, who runs Sing For Joy gatherings in orfolk (Norwich, Cromer, Sheringham and Binham), had come to plan with Maggie a Sing Away holiday tour at Mother’s Garden next April – sold out in a week, but we are making plans for more. The ledge seemed a perfect place for the guests to spend an hour in full voice, if Teresa agreed. The idea is to base the singing and socialising at the farm, with outings to beautiful places, with walks and feasts, laughter and beauty.
Jane Stevenson of Cromer-based Creature Comforters, the flower essence maker, was there too. She sings for joy with Teresa and also works with Maggie on essences, so came for two enriching reasons.
As we approached the gate our friend Pere the retired blacksmith and village historian with a timeless face and steady heart was just locking up after an hour of pottering. He pulled his pipe from his mouth, smiled like the sun and put the key back in the padlock.
We entered the great house from the side, climbing and crossing the flat roof of the pottery and kiln to emerge into the vast second floor, where all interior walls had been removed. Bunches of bone dry herbs were strung from beams. Cobwebs curtained windows and sewed a black wooded chair into a door frame.
A grand fireplace dominated the far end, and round the corner on the kitchen wall the sculptor had painted in great letters “I WILL NOT LET FAME ROB ME OF MY LIBERTY”.
Pere guided us down narrow stairs patterned with Marçà-Giné’s clay hand prints. We slowed, fanned fingers and pressed our palms into his. Below was the dusty ground floor leading to the cold kiln and redundant workshop with its line of empty shelves. To the back of the building a hole had been punched through into the now dry chapel chasm of the old water store. Teresa ducked and entered and it resonated with song as, from another corner, Pere turned holding an unopened wine bottle caked in time.
The house was not without the living. Four tortoises who had yet to hibernate were stocking up on lettuce leaves on the bare earth of an ante-room.
Back at the farm, Maggie, Teresa and Jane sat at the kitchen table and worked excitedly on the detail of the April singing holiday, agreeing that they would begin with a group of 15. I, meanwhile, lost in time, wandered outside and gazed up at Marçà-Giné’s ledge.
I will post again in a few days, with news of the olive harvest…………