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Mr Henderson's Railway -- Ronda to Gaucin -- The Prehistoric Caves

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Mr Henderson's Railway -- The Prehistoric Caves

This is adapted from a section of my book on Travels in Spain

I'm back. There's a general strike on, so village after village is closed down. There are people lining the sides of the road, sitting, talking, doing nothing. I have never seen the villages so full. Oddly, not a single bar is open.

Map of Mr
                    Henderson's Railway

Luckily the service station on the Ronda bypass is open and we stop for refreshment. We are now almost at the point where Mr Henderson's railway meets the Madrid line, and we can work our way back down the line to Gaucin, where we left it last time.

We turn off the main road as it curves round to the bottom of the valley. Once again we are now following the river and the railway line. We zoom along until we reach the Cueva del Gato.

There is an interesting restaurant overlooking the railway line. On the menu are all kinds of interesting dishes; rabbit, deer, and partridge. Maybe next time I will stop here for a meal.


We cross the line and wind our way down the valley to the village of Benaojan. This is where things start to get interesting. Approximately four kilometres south of here the road passes a small parking area leading to a set of roughly made steps. These steps climb steeply up the mountainside to a small cabin and a set of wooden benches. Beyond the cabin is a metal door leading to a cave; the Cueva de la Pileta.

This cave was only discovered about a hundred years ago by a farmer who was trying to rescue one of his sheep that had slipped on a rock, and got stuck in a crevice. He noticed that bats would come out of this crevice at evening time, and decided to investigate. That crevice led down to a shaft that in turn led to a cave. With help from a neighbour the farmer widened the shaft and crawled in.

Inside is a whole galaxy of interconnecting caves that were hollowed out millions of years ago by a river. Obviously the course of the river changed, and eventually the caves were discovered by primitive man and used as a home.

It is estimated that at one time about fourteen people lived together in the caves about thirty thousand years ago. Habitation continued until about 3,000 B.C. There is evidence of fires set underneath gaps in the roof for the smoke to drift up and out of the cave. There are remains of primitive tools, bones, and even what appears to be evidence of some kind of religious rites. Most of these finds have been transferred to a museum in Malaga. What's left are the paintings on the walls.

There are marks which look as though they are some kind of calendar, where people have crossed off days. There are several paintings of horses, and a rather fine picture of a fish.

The caves wind around for several kilometres, and in places they double back so that there is a top cave, and a floor about four metres thick, with another cave below.

The caves are open throughout the year, but I would not advise anyone with a disability to try to get in. The steps up to the cave entrance are only for fit people, and there are many steps inside the caves.

There is nothing spectacular to see, but for those who like this sort of thing it is certainly worth the visit. It is indeed interesting to see what primitive man called his home and his castle.

It's warm inside. I went in on a blustery cold day, and we were all quite comfortable inside without jackets. In summer it is probably cool. There are guided tours roughly every couple of hours during the morning, and then again late afternoon. (Remember siesta time.) The tour takes over an hour, and parties of up to twenty-five can take the tour. You trek through the caves carrying a battery powered lantern. There is no electricity here. It's an adventure. It is a cave-man's home. It doesn't sport modern comforts.

We drive along the valley to the village of Cortes de la Frontera. Why this place was ever on a frontier goodness knows. It is a small village. The railway line runs through it, and it is at the bottom of a valley and cant possibly have had any strategic importance, and there is certainly no castle.


We stop for a coffee. There is a small cafe by the railway line. A coffee is seventy-five cents. I rather fancy a tapa. There are several tapas in trays on the counter. One is a rather nice salad, with the usual scattering of tuna, plus some quail eggs. The barman scoops up some, and some more, adds more eggs, and hands me a substantial portion, and asks me for eighty cents. Wow! Maybe we should come to live here. This is seriously cheap.

If you want to live in a charming valley at a slow pace, yet less than an hour back from Marbella or Gibraltar, then this is the place to be. It's beautiful, it's sheltered, it's quiet, but to get out again is another matter. I tried one road, and it went nowhere. I tried another. It ended in a cul de sac.

We drove back to the bar. "How the heck do I get out of here?" I shouted to my new friends sitting at one of the tables.

"You have to drive to the top of the mountain where you meet the main road," they said. And so we drove until we met the main road from Ronda to Algeciras, turned right, and drove back to Gaucin.

I really like it in these valleys. Things are quiet, the scenery is magnificent. The food is dirt cheap, living is simple and calm. Yet three quarters of an hour away is Algeciras, and Gibraltar to the south, and Marbella to the East, and it's only half an hour to Ronda in the north. And I bet you could buy a hideaway dirt cheap here.

On the way home we passed a rather unusual stork home. Usually storks live singly in a nest on top of an electricity pole or the like. Occasionally you see a couple together on the same pole, but we passed what amounts to a block of flats; four of them one above the other on one pylon.

Stork nests

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