RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Beautiful but unforgiving landscape reveals the harsh reality of life

We awoke to the smell of smoke. My son Brent said it had the sweetish scent of eucalyptus burning.

Helicopters dangling huge buckets hurried high above. But it was a few miles away so we were safe.

Blackcap warblers sang deep among the bushes and trees. A wild mare wandered by the garden, taking marjoram and mint and the leaves of vines.

A small green lizard fell off the granite wall on to Fatima’s shoulders and disappeared between her bosoms. She squealed and it fell dazed to the grass and disappeared into a crack in the flagstones.

We sipped tea and watched the vast green mountain valley light up to the rising sun. Far below a blue lake; high above, the Serra do Geres, a nature reserve stretching on towards the Spanish border. It all seemed like paradise, despite the cost. But the smoke was worrying. So we thought we would drive towards and so beyond it and see the damage.

In four miles we had come to the acrid and blackened forests. A square mile which included mountain moors and steppe, orchards and pines and high-standing eucalyptus trees were charred black: the fire all but out.

As we drove onwards into the hot white sky, the hills were already sprouting green tufts of bracken and heather, grass and herbs. They had burned in the spring. And so would much of what we travelled through now onward to Spain.

At last we arrived. The border post was deserted. A metal sign was a perch for a crag martin. This was the best of Spain for me. Wild countryside of mountains and high rocky peaks, sheer and smooth with ancient glacial marks. There was a deep, satisfying silence into the half-mile-deep valley.

We bathed in a mountain stream, surrounded by royal ferns and blue demoiselles. Far away a white water marestail cascaded like a soothing veil.

Yet modern living and convenience cannot hide completely the barely-discernable history of harsh yet honourable conflict this country has seen.

You see it in the boulders, the people’s burnt-brown faces, in both gaunt yet luscious churches with their sad suffering that all Catholic cultures so much enjoy.

You are reminded at every roadside shrine, at every terraced field from which the stones were dragged into walls of ownership.

You see it imprinted on the imperious noonday sun crossed by the eagle and the vulture that stare into the unyielding earth for their share of what little this parched landscape can give to them.