Could anything be more idyllic than anchoring in a quiet bay, 200 metres from a golden sandy beach that stretches in a semi-circle around the bay, and between the beach and lush green mountains that rise behind, a pretty Spanish town? We are in Galicia, north western Spain, in Ria de Viveiro. This whole coastline is dotted with rias, old drowned rivers with spectacular hills and mountains rising all around. We hope to explore a few of these rias in the coming weeks and months.
A lone common dolphin makes the bay his home, swimming lazily around the four or five boats at anchor, swimming close to the dinghies as they make their way to shore, curiously investigating swimmers in the water. The girls and I saw what Julian didn’t while he was in the water the other day cleaning the hull. The dolphin silently came close to Julian who, when I told him, swam to the dinghy like he was Ian Thorpe! Silly man!
A short dinghy ride to shore and we are on a spectacular beach of soft golden sand. There are no waves, just calm warm waters – perfect for the girls to practice their swimming, and for Julian and me to take turns enjoying longer leisurely lone swims. As soon as we reach shore the girls insist on stripping off and running around naked, splashing in the water and playing in the sand, so full of joy and freedom. Lily’s swimming is improving, although she gets frustrated. Katie still refuses to kick her legs!
The beach is littered with tiny pink and purple shells and bleached oyster shells, which the girls have been gathering – some to bring home, some to make shell gardens or other beach decorations.
There are three separate towns in this ria all within short walking distance of each other and we have visited two. Covas has been celebrating the Fiesta de San Juan since we arrived five days ago, with loud canon fire at seemingly random times of the day, live music on a stage facing the water, a fun fair and street food. The fun fair is extremely pricy; at 3 euros per child per ride we would be out of pocket in half an hour. It’s difficult to explain this to two little girls whose eyes are popping out of their heads from the bright lights and beckoning rides. Thankfully, there are playgrounds aplenty and they soon forget the more costly distractions.
Away from the sea front, the roads quickly run up into the hills, with gardens displaying enviable plots of sweet corn, potatoes, and onions and trees bearing lemons, pears, apples and, occasionally, olives. In some gardens there are pigs, goats, sheep and chickens, and I’m reminded of Chris Stewart’s wonderfully comic memoir, Driving Over Lemons, about moving from the UK to a small-holding in Andalucia. The old houses bear the most amazing roof slates – large, randomly shaped slates that gradually decrease in size from the apex to the bottom of the roof. The architecture in general is delightful and exotic to our eyes. On our first evening in Covas we enjoyed a plate of fried whole baby squid. Lily devoured hers, but Katie refused to try. True to form, she stuck to the chips/fries.
Across the river is the ancient town of Viveiro, with streets so narrow that I imagine one could lean out a window and shake hands with one’s neighbour across the street. This beautiful town is dotted with 12th, 13th and 14th Century Catholic architecture – churches and convents still in use today. Iglesia de Santa Maria del Campo, Convento de las Concepcionistas and Iglesia de Santiago-San Francisco are decorated with the distinctive Spanish Catholic iconography of scarily life-like statues of Jesus suffering or crucified, Mary in black, crying and looking pained.
The churches are dark and beautiful and very creepy. Irish Catholicism looks lightweight compared to this! All of this imagery required a lot of explanation and the girls had endless questions that pushed Julian and I on our Christian doctrine, knowledge of saints, and on how to explain these things to young children. We have now established that ‘naughtly people killed Jesus’ which made ‘Mary sad’ and we’ve been talking more generally about the Romans. I showed them a confessional and Lily was wide-eyed as I explained Confession and told her that from when I was only a little older than she is now, I had to do that every few weeks.
We will soon move on from here, west and then south, to explore more rias, visit the world’s oldest still functioning lighthouse near La Coruña (built by the Romans), and, hopefully, enjoy more wonders of this wonderful country.