Pyrenees (i) Espot – stone, slate and wood

Written by Lucy Brzoska

There’s an air of expectation about the village of Espot. Hikers are shouldering their packs. The main drag is lined with jeep taxis, ready to run people as far as the Sant Maurici lake. No sooner had I arrived, I was longing to be off, up the long Escrita valley, to the lakes and high peaks.

For Espot is essentially a place for practicalities, somewhere to find food and a bed: a good base for exploring the Aigüestortes and Sant Maurici National Park. It was only after three days, when a storm chased me down early from the heights, that I went to look around.

The river Escrita runs west to east and divides the village into Espot Solau (sunny) and Espot Obago (shady). The Solau is the flatter side- it’s where the wealthier villagers established their homes in the past. There’s the usual smattering of cranes as apartments go up. A new complex advertises “the privilege of living in the Solau”. You too can have your place in the sun.

But there’s still a meadow, recently mowed, and the old slate roofs have rustied over with a moss that glows mustard yellow in the sun.

Over on the shady side, the houses shelter close together on steep and narrow streets. Cats slip through gaps under wooden doors. Near the top, sheep were bleating inside a barn. Stone, slate and wood, and the occasional boulder, are the building materials.

After the downpour, children, supervised by their grandmothers, were back out playing, and birds had resumed their activities. In Espot Solau, there was a constant traffic of swallows flying in and out of a half-restored barn. A bunch of young Crag martins (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) perched on the end of a wooden beam.

They exercised their wings, took short flights and begged – off each other as much as their parents.