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"We used Paul to help us organise a wedding in Ronda for my English daughter and Scottish son-in-law. It was a very tricky matter, because it is not normal for foreigners to marry in the town. Nevertheless, we persevered and Paul did all the interpreting, talking to officials and making phone calls on our behalf. Needless to say, the wedding went perfectly, with a large part of the thanks going to Paul."
Mary Jackson, Colwyn Bay, Wales, May 2006

To Boldly Throw Where No Man Has Thrown Before PDF

By Liam Kellehar

alt  Olive Country Life magazine, December 2009



It being our wedding anniversary, La Señora and I found ourselves in Barcelona. Our romantic weekend was temporarily postponed when we were kidnapped at the airport by our Catalán friends. We were spirited away and force-dined at a Basque restaurant opposite Estación França.

After a delicious meal of tapas the inevitable argument over who should pay the bill. Finally, our Catalán friends trumped us. One of them produced his expense account. His German clients would pay; deal done.

Less enjoyable were the frenzied crowds that seem to visit the local market, famed not only for the quality of its produce but also the attractive way it is displayed. The temptation seems too great for many tourists who photograph rather than purchase. I turned to La Señora and complained about all the “Bl©@dy Tourists”. She reminded me that we, in fact, formed part of that throng. Priego had spoiled me. I was no longer used to the anonymity and mêlée of a large city.

“Well, we’re not in Kansas now Toto!” La Señora informed me, Judy Garland style. Possibly true. But this, and the coincidence of our Spanish arrival and matrimonial anniversaries, started me thinking. In just four years our lives had changed so much. London had been all hustle and bustle but even there the job of architect had thrown up many strange situations and characters. But nothing to compare with the eccentricities I have discovered here in Andalucía. Of course the eventualities of itinerant Romanian builders, Marbella mafia and the dubious nightclub can happen to anyone at anytime, but those stories can wait for another day. So too the tale of Tronco.

What has struck me about Andalucía, is the way that the simplest everyday event can seem to transport you to a parallel universe, or at least something akin to the world of Monty Python. Take, for example, a recent site visit to an aldea of Alcalá la Real. The client had come over from England. It was the first chance to visit the site together and to check its boundaries. I had already drawn up some plans and superimposed them on the site boundaries downloaded from the Catastral Office. We scrambled over rocks and through gorse bushes trying to relate the official layout with the site that confronted our eyes. Here and there were sticks and painted rocks which seemed to both confirm and deny the validity of the drawn plan. We were just discussing the best way forward when I became aware of another presence.

Later I was to discover that this was Diego. I say “later” because of the unusual manner in which Diego conducted a conversation. He had abandoned the formality of introductions or even starting sentences at the beginning and working through them to the end. When I met him I had the disconcerting feeling that we had in fact been talking for some time. Finally, I got Diego to tell me that he was sixty-seven and was born in this very house, although he did seem somewhat perplexed that I should have already forgotten this information. I tried to look apologetic and mumbled something about overwork. Then my client had, what at the time, seemed like a good idea.

“If Diego used to live here, he must know the site boundaries. Why don’t we ask him?” I concurred and got out my site plan. I waved it in front of Diego’s face, pointing out various salient features. He seemed unimpressed. But at the mention of “¿donde están los linderos de la parcela?” he was at once galvanised into action. I have often heard the phrase “a stone’s throw” with regard to emplacement of one thing or another. But I had not previously experienced it as a recognised method of surveying.

En esta dirección la parcela va,” he paused while he bent down to retrieve a small rock from the ground which he then hurled to the far end of the site. “Hasta allí” he said as the projectile hit the ground with a resounding thud. I was impressed. I made a note on my drawing. But Diego had not finished. He strode off in the direction of the stone. Upon arrival he waved his hand in the general direction of the Sierra Nevada and informed me that from here the boundary followed that line “hasta allí”, another thud of rock on terrain. Diego clearly belonged to the school of thought, that if he could throw a stone that far, he must still be on his land. But by now we were heading towards the house. My client threw her hands over her eyes.

“Don’t let him hit the house, I’ve only just bought it.” I took my cue and enquired about the boundaries in another direction. Diego obliged and threw another stone at some olive trees. Unlike me, Diego has not ruined his eyesight by spending endless hours staring at computer screens. What to him was a row of individual olives in pin-sharp focus, was to me just a green blurry mass. To me one olive tree looks pretty much the same as another. Without recognising the recklessness of my actions I strode towards the offending vegetation.

I looked back towards Diego “¿Este olivo aquí o ..?” I had barely uttered the words when I heard a whistle and then the thwack as another rock hit a tree just behind me. “¡No allí!” he confirmed, somewhat unnecessarily. I decided that I would just make a mental note of the boundaries and only take measurements when I was sure that Diego had left the vicinity. In this way we proceeded around the site in an anti-clockwise direction, I to the rear.

Even before I started to mark up my drawing it quickly became clear to me that there were wild differences between the borders Diego had described and that of the Catastral. True, Diego’s memory might have been dimmed by age or the site re-parcelled. But the homestead he described responded to the terrain and pathways that criss-crossed the site. That from the Catastral Office looked like two rhomboids stuck together and was reminiscent of the configuration of the Orion constellation. My money was on Diego. But if I were to ensure that we were not building on someone else’s land, I would have to do further research and gather a conclave of all the neighbours. But that would be another story.

Liam Kellehar BA (Hons) Arch., RIBA, COACo no 570, is a British qualified architect registered to work in Spain.  He  lives in the Sierra Sur area of Andalucía.  He can be contacted by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by mobile telephone on 690 721 141.