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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Condensation Trails in a Remote Valley - A Night Under a Tree Pays Dividends (Updated)

Updated: May 27, 2021

Every Picture Tells a Story [Don't it?] 27 - Far from the Madding (Tourist) Crowd, July 75

I fell in love with this country when I first bunked a week off university for a short visit - and haven't changed my mind since. But, the otherwise very friendly people did have one slightly strange, socio-cultural quirk - at least that was my experience - as I'll explain in the update. But on this occasion, the quirk resulted in the above image.

This pic was taken in part of a massive area of the country which, at this time at least, was little visited and had virtually no tourist infrastucture whatsoever - and possibly remains so to this day. The nearest village, 100 or so metres in front of the train, had two bars and not much else, as I remember, not even a shop. It had, I think, two scheduled passenger trains a day.

But where might it be? Your suggestions welcome via the site message system or an email.

OK, OK, this is miserably difficult, but what can I do? I'm trying to post interesting images, and I've only got so many that don't give themselves away. I mean, what do you want, the Eifel Tower in the background as a clue? Maybe steam freaks will recognise the locomotive type and get the answer. I'll post another photo tomorrow that might help a bit, then I'll post the answer.

Unusually (at least in this series), this is originally from a colour transparency, taken on Ektachrome 64, if I remember correctly, probably with a 50mm standard or 35mm wide angle lens, with Canon Ftb camera.

Quick update: OK, I accept I'll have to give at least a couple more clues to give folks a chance, at least 'normals' ie those not interested in trains.

This was a mining area from many centuries - indeed, there are today in the region remains of mines from Roman times.

And the nearest town - which has a name meaning 'bridge of iron' and is about 20-25 km or so to the south - was probably visited even back in the 70s by a certain kind of 'tourist' - but there are far more such 'tourists' today as their destination has become much, much better known and popular.

UPDATE: ​Well, this photo had most of the super-sleuths in here stumped, in spite of my generous clue-dropping :) We've had suggestions from as far apart as Shropshire, England via Italy, Switzerland and Slovenia to Romania, plus a few within Iberia, including Rio Tinto (that was in the deep south of Spain), Sierra de Madrid or “somewhere north of Madrid?”. Hey, Csilla, that's really trying it on, isn't it? I mean, somewhere north of Madrid is half of a pretty big country! It is, as I admitted in the first place, a very difficult one, although nobody seemed to pick up on the clues, bar John McMillan (Italy, Ponte di Ferro?) and Owen Brison (see below). Well, I did indeed go to Rio Tinto, it might also have been in 1975. The mines there covered a huge area of red, sun-scorched earth, ie there was no water – it was like something out of a wild-west film based in Arizona or some such. So it wouldn't fit this photo, unless there is a monsoon season down there. But, Csilla, I have to admit that it is “somewhere north of Madrid” - about 275 miles (460km) north-west of the Spanish capital, on the edge of a tiny village called Santa Marina, which sat – and still sits - on the east bank of the Rio Sil. And someone at the turn of the 20th century found coal further north and decided to build a railway from the mines, in a place called Villablino, to the main state railway line in the town of Ponferrada.

Now there have been industrial lines since the beginning of railways. Indeed, in effect, all the early lines were industrial, their very existence being primarily to shift mineral and goods traffic. But in modern times, at least in the UK, industrial lines were usually of very modest proportions, typically of anything from one to five kilometers in length. But the route from Villablino to Ponferrada was 64km – about 40 miles - and it involved some serious civil engineering, including bridges, viaducts and at least one tunnel, as can be seen in the photo below.

Photo: a train of loaded coal waggons heads south, over the Rio Sil (which has been dammed for, I believe, a hydro-electic power station) in the summer of 75. The colour photo at the top was taken at more or less 90 degrees to this picture - looking at right angles across the water in the foreground, with the railway about 100 metres away to the left. The viaduct over this former tributary really is quite slender, a real work of art, if you take another look. Photo probably taken on the Friday afternoon prior to my visit to the bar in Santa Marina. (It may have been August, rather then July, I've lost my log book. )

The main depot and HQ of the line was at the southern end, in the town of Ponferrada, which barely anyone had heard of, even in Spain, when I was there in 1974-75. It is only now, looking up information on the internet, that I discovered it is a way station on what is today the popular (at least pre-Covid) pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. So I suppose some folks did pass through, even in the days before such hikes became a trend. Back then, it certainly wasn't obvious in terms of accommodation in the town. But what of Santa Marina, and this photo? Well, as I remember, I 'discovered' the village in the summer of 74, on my first trip to the line, and it looked a good place for photos, certainly much more scenic than the flat plain in the vicinity of Ponferrada. On my first evening there, I wandered into a bar and … well, the appearance of an inglese was probably the event of the month, and Spanish hospitality was at its finest. Beer was cheap, wine even cheaper, but I never bought a drink all night – despite my attempts to do so. I have no idea how we communicated, since I had taught myself only 100 words of Spanish, but communicate we did. I am equally oblivious to where I slept, perhaps on the railway station, because I'm sure there were no pensions in the place. A year on, and, armed with one or two photos of the night 12-months previously, I went back. I don't know if anyone really remembered me, but the photos made all happy, and, having now made my way to lesson 11 in the BBC Teach Yourself Spanish cassette tapes, I could manage a bit more in the vernacular – but not much more! Whatever, that night – it was a Friday, as I remember – I was invited back to 'taste the wine' at a local's home (not that, I suspect, I really needed much more wine that night). Whatever, to the home we all merrily went, and into the cellar, for a few more rounds. It was then, at some point, someone asked where I would be sleeping, to which I shrugged my shoulders and said something like: “I have no idea, under a tree somewhere I suppose.” Now, in my quest to travel to off-the-wall places to photograph steam engines, I'd slept all over – in stations, railway carriages, out in fields, all sorts – but on many occasions, on meeting locals, I'd been invited into a home, sometimes with proper bed, sometimes a couch or whatever. But in Spain, despite the open-hearted friendship encountered in bars, I'd never been invited to stay in a home. And here, in the tiny village of Santa Marina, where, I gather from Wikipedia today, the majority of the working population were miners back then, it was just the same - except that I was told: “Oh, we know a good field, and it has a very good tree.” And so it was, that somewhere towards midnight, I was led out by someone with a torch, into a field on the edge of the village, and shown a spot under a tree. Here, I laid out my sleeping bag, bid my guide buenas noches, and fell asleep. I didn't mind at all, why should I? But it seemed in such contradiction to the otherwise open-hearted welcome in the bars and dives I managed to find myself in. Anyway, the upshot was that, it being summer, I woke at some awful hour, maybe 05.30, and decided to make the best of it. Since I knew the rising sun would be behind the viaduct you can see in the photo, I made my way across the Rio Sil and positioned myself in what was an excellent location to catch a silhouette of any train that was to appear - bathed in glorious, deep golden-red morning light. Or so I thought, except …... the minutes ticked by, 06.00, … 06.30 … 07.00 and still no train appeared. With the sun most definitely risen, and no more golden light, I was about to give up, when, as I remember it was around 07.30, this train of empty waggons came along, heading north, and, as you can see, the air was still cold enough to condense the exhaust steam. Not quite the image I'd hoped for, but, in the end, very satisfying. I remember wanting a drink, and I must have headed back into the village, but with no place open, I suppose I must have been thankful for some water at the station. I confess I really can't remember. But that's the story behind the pic. Oh, and one reader more or less got it. Owen Brison (again!), living in Lisbon and a rail fan, translated “Iron Bridge” and deduced it was on the Ponferrada-Villablino line. He promised he'd look on google maps if he had time, but hadn't got back to me as I finished this tonight at … exactly 22.00 local time. Well done, Owen! You can find out more about Ponferrada here:

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