It is a bank holiday Friday, Madrileños are celebrating their Patron Saint. Throngs of people are coming into the capital for the festivities, Maria is working on a live TV special. I make a sneaky exit and catch an early morning bus to San Lorenzo de El Escorial and the low, rocky Machotas.
I cross through the enormous courtyard of the Palacio, early tourists wait to enter, while swifts and swallows take their breakfast in the skies above. Leaving both equally noisy groups behind I enter the tranquillity of the Bosque de la Herreria. I wander happily through shaded walkways of tall oak. The forest is overgrown and lush. A robin sits in a bush, crows caw high in the trees.
The wind is relentless, ferocious and bitterly cold. Standing on the peak of Monte Abantos the enormous, austere palace of San Lorenzo El Escorial looks like a miniature lego playset. The view stretches on for miles, grassland dotted with lakes and low trees sweeps on towards Madrid, bathed in a haze its 4 high towers rise like tiny fingers out of the pollution-induced mist. Far to the south, the shadow of the Montes de Toledo forms a distant barrier. To the north the high, snow-covered high peaks loom forward, shrouded in cloud. I can’t feel my face. We seek shelter.
A movement out of the corner of my eye, I lower the camera, ignoring the protestations of Maria as she poses for a photo, large granite boulders stain the pristine snowfield. It was nothing, back to the photo.
Then, appearing as if out of nowhere, a large male Ibex, horns curled in perfect symmetry outwards, leaves the safety and camouflage of a grey boulder and trudges out onto the snow fifty yards in front of me, over the shoulder of the still unaware Maria. Six others emerge, diligently following behind. Enormous black vultures soar high on the thermals above, two young males ‘play’ in the snow, horns clashing with alarming power, a mother tends to her kid.