Visiting the abandoned.jpg

Visiting the abandoned

By: MARGARET BROWN

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Margaret Brown is one of The Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years. As well as Country Matters, she also writes Point of View every week.

WITH ANOTHER YEAR under our belts, the Boss and I look forward with quiet confidence as each day dawns, count our fingers and toes then decide to get out of bed and face the world.

That is the way when one is knocking on a bit and every day a bonus. As for 2007, it was the usual mixed bag of good, middling and rather painful happenings ending with a wonderful holiday among the glories of ancient Portugal.

If we had started exploring when we first pitched our small caravan down south 21 summers ago, there would still be more to see than we had time enough left in

‘Whether this isolated resting place was provided by their Portuguese hosts or by other Britons employed at the mine I have no idea’
‘Whether this isolated resting place was provided by their Portuguese hosts or by other Britons employed at the mine I have no idea’

which to browse.

Having brought our treadmill with us from England in the shape of two horses and two dogs, what we had fondly imagined would be a graceful and lazy retirement, turned out to be a time of great activity and a step into the unknown.

The arid earth rejected fencing posts as fast as we could hammer them in, our animals were driven mad by foreign flies lusting after their blood and the well was dry.

Every drop of water had to be carried from the nearest village in 25 litre containers until we could sink a bore hole and that, after a couple of years, was swallowed up (pump and all) on the occasion of a violent earth tremor.

Eleven months in a 9ft 6ins caravan while we refurbished our semi-ruined farm house, without telephone, electricity or sanitation, taught us how little one needs to get by and when the time came, I did not want to move into the big house.

Adventure

So to 2008AD and the pull of this place remains as strong as ever despite the heat in summer, the shortage of water, the unreliability of SAPO and the prospect of one day being unable to manage without help: as long as a sense of adventure remains the future can take care of its self. Happy New Year!

Early in the 15th Century, the age of discovery, initiated in Portugal by Prince Henry the Navigator and continued by Bartholomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama, opened up routes into the western Atlantic as far as Brazil and eastward to China and Indonesia.

The modern exodus seems to be the other way round with European nationals seeking adventure and a better life over here.

Cushioned by kindness and protected by the European Court of Human Rights we have it relatively easy today.

Émigrés at the beginning of the 20th Century found work in many different spheres, particularly Scotsmen noted for their engineering skills, evidence of which can be found all over the world.

While we were pottering along the border with Spain in the vicinity of Mértola, we came across the disused Minas de São Domingos.

Copper was mined there over a period of 4,000 years, first by the Carthaginians and Phoenicians, followed by the Romans and successive occupying nations until 1966AD.

During thousands of years, the region changed hands many times and a variety of minerals was extracted but mainly copper.

The area round the workings is covered with deposits of acidic slag from centuries of smelting, a by-product also dumped in the deep foul smelling lake made by opencast diggings.

High in sulphates and oxides leached by rain, this smelter’s rubbish continues to pollute local waterways through seepage, including a lake retained by the River Chança Dam, which today supplies water for drinking and irrigation.

British cemetery

Exploring the gaunt surroundings of mine and lagoon, we found a small compound surrounded by walls about 10 feet high within which were five graves, sheltered from the sun by nine mature Cypress trees.

The gates were padlocked. Their inscriptions were faint but with binoculars the Boss managed to decipher names and details on three headstones.

The first read: “Sacred to the memory of Margaret Purves, widow of James Brown of Anstruther, Scotland. Died 28-11-1901 AD.”

Another read: “Sacred to the Memory of Dora Maud, beloved wife of Marriot-William Clinch who died at sea June 1901 and was buried in the Bay of Biscay aged 24yrs and also of Pollie, daughter of the above who died in infancy”.

The third was brief. “Sacred to the Memory of John Venner who died down the Mine of San Domingos”.

Perhaps they were immigrants from Britain who came to Portugal to find a better living than in their native land and never returned, their histories buried with them.

Whether this isolated resting place was provided by their Portuguese hosts or by other Britons employed at the mine I have no idea.

Last November, grass was overwhelming the little cemetery, the walls were in need of repair and the iron gates wanted a lick of paint.

The nine Cypress trees appear to have survived years of adversity, their roots deep in acidic soil cast layer upon layer from successive smelting operations.

These long dead emigrants might be of interest to armchair researchers seeking to build their family tree, a popular occupation that seems to have sprung from the lonely internet age of isolation.

May they rest in peace so far from home.