Author Archives: Simon Beckmann

Bowl of the Scarlet Oak – Guest Blogger Simon Beckmann

Guest Blogger Simon Beckmann is setting up something wonderful in this, his most secret corner of Spain…

I step from the door and look aloft to the azure sky expecting to see the white scratch of the sun seeker’s jet stream, reaching from the north, moving south.

But not here, here the sky is clear celestial blue, and high in a rising kettle, I count seventy six vultures, tea trays in the sky blown upward in a levant. And beneath this tower of griffons pass a pair of golden eagles preparing to quarter the forested hillside, a surprise offensive against breakfast.

Our home, our secret Spain, is a cortijada, Cortijada Los Gazquez, a collection of small cortijos folded across a mound in the Hoya de Carrascal, the bowl of ‘scarlet oaks’.

These oak, Quercus coccifera, or kermes oak, were historically important as the food plant of the kermes beetle from which a cochineal type of red dye was produced. Kermes is the origin of crimson. It is more of a prostrate shrub than a tree, it’s leaves akin to the leaves of a holly, it’s acorns sitting in a spiny cup. It is evergreen and perfectly exploits the limy soil forming thickets called chaparrals.

Within these chaparrals on the edge of the barranca springtime brings a tribe of yellow bee orchids to flower. Ophrys lutea clearly displaying it’s mimicry of a bee abdomen on it’s extended lebellum, drawing unsuspecting andrena bees to fertilise a flower, not a fellow bee.

Here too we have seen three ibex, strangely unperturbed by our presence, and wild boar, the progenitor of our domestic pig, concealing their preponderance behind mauve and white florescences of rosemary.

The cortijada lies in the centre of the Parque Natural Sierra Maria-Los Velez in the top right-hand corner of Almeria. It is a primal place of semi-wilderness and long abandoned farm houses. Life, as it was in this alpine desert, was hard and fleet footed farmers moved to France years ago, never to return to the campo. Fifty years later time and the cortijada have changed.

Los Gazquez, today the power of the sun and the wind provides hot water and light within. Wood fires of almond, olive, poplar and pine, centrally heat the floors on cold winter evenings. Routine is to carefully stack the kitchen wood pile with chopped almond in preparation for cooking supper on our Spanish range.

Rainfall is collected from the roof in a series of acequias directing water to the aljibe for storage and provides the house with all it’s domestic needs. A series of reed beds cleanses waste water, and grey water from the showers and basins is filtered and used to irrigate the orchard terraces.

And today we make the final touches to the grey water system. We have prepared three south facing terraces, away from the north westerly wind. Their walls built from dry stone from the fields. On each I mark a corridor with string running the length of the terrace, as wide as I am long. This area I turn with a fork and rake smooth.

And here we plant a pear, kaki, fig, apricot and more, making wide circular depressions around their bases which are filled with wood bark to mulch the trees. On either side of the corridor I leave the profusion of wild flowers that sing with insect life, poppies and tangier peas, pheasant’s eye and tassel hyacinth.

Next I make clay from the soil and fashion a small canal. When it is dry, baked by the sun, the grey water from the household is directed to the base of each of the saplings. Our grey water contains only ecologically sound detergents so it will not damage the tree nor taint the flavour of the fruit.

Like every other member of mankind I am not a figure in a landscape but a shaper of the landscape. I manipulate land and life form to suit my needs.

As an artist I have made this project fulfil my aesthetic needs as well as my practical needs, I am an explorer of nature who has made his home in this wonderful place. And when I look aloft to the golden eagle in the sky at the apex of the food chain, I take great sustenance from having fulfilled a project which aimed to exist benignly on this land, and that our being here will no more effect the natural ecology other than to serve it.

Simon Beckmann can be found at, please check out this wonderful project!