Costa Da Morte – Coast of the Dead

There are many reasons that the Galician coastline between A Coruna and Muros is named for the dead.

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For a start, it is dotted with dolmens, ancient burial chambers, dating from almost 6000 years ago. Between Baio and Serramo there is a signposted “ruta de dolmens” and I start with the most well preserved specimen in the area, the Dolmen Dombate. It is housed in a glass-walled visitor centre which, according to the signs, is only open from Friday to Sunday. It is Thursday but the security guard seems happy for me to go inside and have a look, reminding me not to use the flash on my camera. The dolmen is unimpressive compared to the Tables des Marchands in Brittany and looks slightly fake. It can only be viewed from a distance, which is most disappointing as I had read that the interior has an engraving of a ship. I contemplate asking the guard if I can have a sneeky peek but he seems keen to leave and have his lunch. I try to find the Pedra Cuberta, a dolmen with a 6m long chamber, but the “ruta de dolmens” follows narrow farm roads with no place to park a car, let alone a motorhome!

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The next day brings me to the Axeitos Dolmen, which is situated in a park not far from the village of Olveira. The site is deserted and I approach the dolmen along a path lined with oak and pine trees. The wind is strong, causing me to be bombed with acorns and pine cones. It’s possible to get up close and personal with this example, I can even venture inside. If there were any carvings they have long been eroded by the elements and covered with green lichen. Earlier, I had come across a petroglyph, hidden behind a supermarket. At first it just looked like a pile of rocks, covered in leaves and lichen, but then I saw it, the faint outline of a circular pattern, and I was excited.

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2000 years later, Iron Age fortified settlements were built along the coast. I discover the ruins of the Barona Castro in the most spectacular setting, on a promontory jutting into the sea below the Barbanza Mountains. The signed footpath takes me through a pine forest and then out onto the granite slabs which form a treacherous road down to the settlement. However, as I leave the shelter of the forest, I am most literally blown away by the stormy winds. The rain stings my face and the ruins are almost obscured by the sea spray. I might be British and therefore used to such inclement weather, but I’m not suicidal. I opt to view the site from a safe distance. Besides, it has apparently been “touched up” for the tourists and reconstructed to better simulate the original features.

During the Middle Ages, fortresses and defences were built at some of the inland towns and villages. Mens has a fine example of an ivy-clad castle with a tiny Romanesque chapel, supposedly linked by an underground tunnel, and at Vimianzo, a 16th century castle has been turned into an art gallery and exhibition space for traditional crafts. Others have been transformed into expensive, luxury Paradors.

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It’s not hard to forget the dead in these parts. There are many 12th century churches and stone crosses, as well as the modern-day cemeteries. Even the 18th century horreos (granaries) are adorned with crosses. The coastal rocks have caused many shipwrecks over the years from Armada warships, fishing trawlers and large tankers. Also, many people have drowned while swimming in the treacherous waters.

The 19th century Napoleonic Wars bought foreign soldiers to the region and battles resulted in many casualties, including Scottish General John Moore, who was killed by a cannonball during the battle of Elvina on 14th January 1809. He is remembered by a memorial in the San Carlos gardens in A Coruna.

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Finally, the 21st century brought an environmental threat to the coast and death to much of the marine and bird life as well as major disruption to the fishing industry, the main economic lifeline of the region. On the 19th November 2002, the “Prestige”, a Greek oil tanker, broke up off the Spanish coast and spilt 63,000 tons of oil. Even today we fill the seas with rubbish that won’t decompose. A short walk along the beach at Boiro found it littered with plastic disposable lighters, shoes, a comb, plastic bottles, bottle tops and a dead seagull, all washed up after the recent storm.

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