Today would have been my mother’s 101st birthday. I’m not given to noting birthdays of the deceased but I couldn’t help but think about mother’s today. She absolutely hated having her birthday in February because it’s usually the worst month for weather in the UK. She wanted to follow the example set by the Queen and have an official birthday at a more pleasant time of year.
Today in Jalón was the kind of day that you almost never get in the UK at any time of year. If we do get one, it would most likely be in winter, when the atmospheric conditions seem to be more conducive to very clear conditions. Today in Jalón the sky was a carpet of brilliant, unbroken cerulean blue with never a cloud in sight. Our recent battering high winds had gone, in the early afternoon the temperature was forecast to be nudging 17°C and it looked like being a perfect day for the Costa Blanca Mountain Talkers Walkers so-called Almond Blossom Festival.
February is almond blossom time in Spain. Had she got to see it, the blossom would have cheered mother’s heart in her least favourite time of year. CBMW arrange four walks of varying degrees of severity, on the same day, culminating in a tapas lunch at what is probably our favourite local Spanish venue, Casa Aleluja. The two more severe walks, being longer and with a greater degree of climbing, kick off at 09:30. Ours, the moderate walk, together with the gentler option for those that want/need it, set off at 10:30.
Timing the so-called festival is a challenge. Whilst February might be the month, given the variability of weather conditions and season, knowing just when in February is something of a lottery. Last year, just before the blossom would have reached its peak, Jalón suffered some heavy rain followed by high winds which stripped a lot of the blossom off the trees. This year we seemed to be a little early; the valley was not yet the carpet that almond blossom tourists might expect. Another factor is, we’re told, the way the trees are managed, pruned trees coming into flower later than those which have not been pruned. We’ve even seen folks pruning off branches in blossom, which is said to concentrate more growing energy on the remaining branches giving larger almonds.
Recently nature has produced another unwelcome problem. There is a disease affecting some of the almond plantations. The official “fix” requires that, if you have a diseased tree, all the trees within a 100m radius be felled. Essentially, the poor old almond farmer stands to lose an entire orchard. Consequently, the valley is now less densely planted with almond trees than it used to be.
There are three different species of almond, the blossom being almost white on one, with the two others being pale pink and a deeper pink. There were trees/orchards in blossom but we suspect a week later could have been beneficial. Certainly, looking down on the valley from above didn’t show much in the way of pink. Given the absolutely perfect weather conditions, it was a pleasant walk, even if there were 60 souls on it enforcing a very gentle pace. Lugging proper camera gear at such times isn’t the best of ideas so Francine made do with her phone camera to grab a snap or two from the more photogenic of the orchards that we passed on our descent back into the valley.
Hallucinations of beer were now drifting before my eyes. Eventually my thirst was quenched and the tapas lunch was most enjoyable. I have to admire the way three ladies managed serving six courses to 80 diners – very well done, indeed.