MANY interesting things grow on the ridge of the Sierra de la Contraviesa, the fold of hills that separates the Sierra Nevada mountain range from the Mediterranean sea. One of those things is cork. And – let’s acknowledge an obvious truth – things do not come more interesting than cork. Here are ten significant facts . . .

  1. Andalucia is the world’s largest producer of cork – which is harvested from the cork oak, quercus suber. Portugal was the largest producer prior to wildfires destroying vast areas of forest in 2003
  2. A cork harvester has to undergo two years’ training before he or she is allowed to strip cork from a tree
  3. Cork is harvested between the dates of June 15 and August 15
  4. The material is used for aeroplane insulation as well as obvious things such as wine-bottle stoppers
  5. Early man and early woman used cork for firewood in Africa as far back as 6,000 BC, and traces have been found of its use in southern Spain as early as 4,000 BC. Raquel Welch used burnt cork as an eye-liner in One Million Years BC, and I have to admit I actually went to the pictures to see that film
  6. It is thought that corks were first used as stoppers by Greeks and Phoenicians to seal their little urns
  7. Corks have been used to seal glass bottles since the 17th Century. Their sealant qualities are said to have been first utilised in this fashion by a French Benedictine monk called Dom Pérignon
  8. A wine bottle cork is not one single piece of bark. It comprises several layers of cork compressed together, with the highest-quality cork being at the ends
  9. The world’s annual production of cork is about 200,000 tonnes. When you consider how light the material is, that’s an awful lot of cork. In fact, it would cover Wales to a depth of half a metre. I made that last bit up
  10. Some other uses for cork: badminton shuttlecocks; floor tiles (the type that turn up at the corners after a couple of years but still keep your feet warm); bulletin boards; fishing floats and fishing rod handles; acoustic and thermal insulation; model railway scenery. See, I told you it was interesting.

So we drive into a cork oak forest on the crown of the Sierra de la Contraviesa. And to tell you the truth it looks and feels a bit sinister. All these half-stripped trees, robbed of their skin and dignity. Or is that just me bestowing human values on lumps of wood?

Because we haven’t seen cork trees before, we rummage about in the undergrowth to see what we can find. We find cork. Not surprising, perhaps, but if we hadn’t found any we’d have been pretty disappointed.


Published by Alen McFadzean