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Exploring the Serra del Montsec

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« on: December 01, 2010, 12:44 PM »
I'm starting this topic as way of pooling information between me and a new member, Alastair, as between us we seem to have quite some knowledge of this spectacular limestone range in the Catalan pre-Pyrenees.
For the basic info check out the local tourism site and the relevant Wikipedia page. But as a general introduction read on:

The Serra del Montsec is a large feature of the pre-Pyrenean range which is most noted for being located some way to the soith of its peers - stading quite alone in fact. This isolation has led to thge presence some plant subspecies and the survival of populations of vertebrates and insects. It is the most important single geological feature of the Pre-Pyrenean mountain ranges. The south face is marked by dramatic cliffs, which were formed as the former seabed was pushed up as a result of the Iberian tectonic plate colliding with Europe in the Tertiary period. As the sedimentary layers tipped up they ruptured and, as it were, fell back to earth leaving several ridges of cliff faces with lateral ‘valleys’ running east-west between them.

Meanwhile, river systems formed and slowly cut dramatic ravines in their march southwards. The Montsec is pierced in three such rivers: the most important, the Noguera Pallaresa, bisects the Serra into two sub divisions, on the western bank the Montsec d’Ares which is visible from Casa Rafela behind the Castle of Mur, while to the east the Montsec de Rubies dominates the view to the southeast. The ravine itself, the Congost de Terradets, is the gateway to the whole region. Further west, the river Noguera Ribagorçana truncates the range at the Congost de Mont-rebei, forming a spur called the Montsec de l’Estal. Further east the Congost de Pas Nou is really a large and dramatic cleft in the Serra as its river, the Boix, rises at a watershed near the summit. This ‘ravine’ gives access to the attractive town of Vilanova de Meià, after which the congost is commonly known.

Apart from the interest to geologists, rock climbers and speleologists, the major importance of the Montsec range is its unique climate. Both the extent of the range and its separation from the much higher ranges to the north can be readily seen from topographical maps, and is especially apparent in satellite images. Being set apart from the cooling influence of the main mass of the Pyrenees proper gives the Montsec an important microclimate, sufficiently large to support subspecies like Petrocoptis Montsincciana, a tussocky grass that lives on rocky crags. The east-west orientation also makes for two highly distinct climates to coexist. The steep shady reaches on the north face support a cold continental climate, whereas south of the range the Mediterranean climate prevails. As well as the striking contrast in vegetation the passage of the seasons is markedly different with spring progressing a couple of weeks earlier than in the Conca de Tremp and autumn arriving rather later.

For details of access to the sierra check out my guide here. Meanwhile I'm going to pick Alastair's brains and add some more details in the next post!
« Last Edit: December 01, 2010, 12:55 PM by Simon »

Offline Dave

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« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2010, 16:34 PM »
Hi Simon
Interesting and informative

Offline nick

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« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2010, 12:32 PM »
Nice Simon, you're definately our geologist
Spanish Civil War Tours in Barcelona
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And also now The Natural History of Britain

Offline Alastair

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« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2010, 00:13 AM »
There are many things I could add to Simon's post but I will not tread on his geological territory, rather venture a little into the human side. That is apart from mentioning the Forat de Gel, a cave on the north face of the Montsec de Rubies where ice is supposed to be preserved throughout the year (doubtlful) and the intriguing rumour (legend?) that there was once a coal mine at the bottom of the valley. Certainly at one time the Montsec area was a centre of charcoal burning which of course accounted for considerable deforestation; rather a general Spanish weakness.

Present day agriculture consists mainly of the traditional trio of wheat, vine and olive and there are several old oil mills plus, I think, 3 working relatively modern ones at Guardia, Llimiana and Sant Marti/Miquel. Almonds are also grown but wine has declined ever since phylloxera and the local production is very old fashioned and unable to compete with modern commercial vinification (as yet!). In addition to these crops, sheep are still kept and the wider area of the Pallars has its own unique(?) breed, the txisqueta. An important addition to all this is, and has long been, honey production, once just for home consumption but now commercialised at St Miquel (L'Avia Clementina).

The road through the Vall de Barcedana was once an important drove road with an inn and regular fairs at Hostal Roig, today this is a ruin but used to corral sheep. Nearby are traces of trenches from the Civil War as indeed there are others nearby at Tolo.

All in all a fascinating microcosm. I could go on but I won't, just now anyway.



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« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2010, 06:52 AM »
Hi Alastair, et al,

A very interesting and informative 'history' of the Montsec.

The Tisqueta sheep is rather more widespread than just the Montsec, however, although I know it is definitely well established there - I highly recommend buying lamb from Castillo in Temp, who's family farm is at Ametlla del Montsec, on the way to Ager.

Funnily enough, you just missed the Fira d'Ovella at Sort, albeit quite a way away from the Montsec, which celebrates the local breed! Closer to 'home', and a bit better in my humble 'o' is the Fira de Ramader at La Pobleta de Belvei in early October.

There's also a cheese, Serrat, made from milk from the Txisqueta and its near neighbour the Ripolles sheep, although according to the Catalan Wikipedia it doesn't have to be made from sheep's milk at all! There's a very old thread on the Forum for domestic animals, otherwise check out this page for more info on Catalonia's autoctonous domestic animals.

Talking of Ametlla - it's more than a rumour that there were coal mines in the Montsec, and elsewhere in the Pallars for that matter. I think there is still a private mine near Ametlla - at least you can see the coal stockpiles! I always thought that your 'home' town, Vilanova de Meia, was built for this industry in the XVII century, hence the name 'Vilanova', but there's no mention of carbó in the Catalan Wikipedia history of the town, nor of the workings that you can find in the Congost de Meià if you look hard enough!

Rather more readily accessible from the comfort of one's armchair, however, is the Mineralogia Hispaña website, which ever details the mines around Vilanova and Santa Maria,

Seguint una uniforme configuració, . . . Ametlla del Montsec, Vilanova de Meià [Mina dels Rojos] i Montsec de Santa Maria [Mina del Reguer]. Es tracta d'un raquític representant d'idèntica qualitat i textura que les forma-cions carbonoses de Castel de Cabra. Utrillas i Aliaga, a Terol i el Ballestar, a Castello.

. . . Lluís M. Vidal dona notícia de l'existència d'un banc de combustibles barre-jat amb fossils Orbitolina lenticularis a la Coveta del Tarda, assussiada, situada a l'esquerra, pujant, al final de la Cabroa, poc abans d'arribar al corral del Fèlix, quan el camí de la Cabroa s'uneix amb el que ve de Vilanova i es dirigeix cap a Rúbies.

This explodes my theory of the reasoning behind Vilanova's foundation, as the initial geological report dates from as late as 1875! But as with all historical investigations, especialy mine (ouch!) it's the sidelines and snippets that are more facinating,

Pocs records i menys documents existeixen d'aquella primera explotació, llevat d'una Festa de Miners cele-brada el mes de desembre de 1919 a Santa Maria, en que va actuar l'orquestra de Vilanova Els Nois del Montsec pel preu de 12 pessetes.

The question for us now is what happened to Els Nois del Montsec?

More soon I guess - I'm supposed to be making some money!