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Costa Blanca - Book of Wonders Poetry

© Sarah-Jane Dobner

Sarah-Jane Dobner reflects on a sun-rock trip to Costa Blanca...

Costa Blanca is my happy place. A refuge in winter, holiday in summer. Gorgeous, positive, pocketed rock. Brilliant trad and fantastic sport. A generous, safe, welcoming region of cafés and sea and flavoursome tomatoes. Small wonder I come here year after year. As so many of us do.

Martin Kocsis on the amazing Bernia Ridge.  © UKC Articles
Martin Kocsis on the amazing Bernia Ridge.


Any car ride

In Costa Blanca

From the open window


You'll see

More rock than you will ever eat

Walls, pinnacles, towers, ribs


A banquet

Laid out

Each trip rack up and


Taste a single black olive

Nibble a fragment of nutty turrón

Peel off that sliver of jamón


A feast

Of rock

To last a lifetime


Fruit (Xaló)

Naranja! Naranja! tres euros, seis kilos

Dutch you? English? juice eat – yes! - these – juice!

you try – take, take! tomates? green, red?

this – doesn't matter! – medio kilo? lekker, lekker!


She proffers tissues for our sticky orange-hands

but I've already wiped mine on my trousers

Ha! where wife, wife? she mimes – slapping the

air-husband who smears his shorts whilst always insisting


on wearing white. Siete euros cincuenta. We pay and turn

then hear her call - Venga! two huge, yellow suckable lemons

hitched up at breast-level - then! guttural laughter -

she drops them lower - offers us, gratis, sour fruity balls

Lemons.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


Book of Wonders (Peñón de Ifach)

Days on the balcony leafing through novels

or cycling to the Masymas on an overcast afternoon

to buy peaches and pimentos and mosquito coils

Lengths in the pool with marine blue tiles

Strolling through terraces of fruiting trees

gathering sweet almonds. None of these bother me

As long as, each trip, I get to climb on the Peñón


Just once. A big day out. For the sea and the sun

and epic yarns. A treasury of chapters from

Diedro UBSA, Vía Valenciano, Polvos mágicos

put together to satisfy shade and teams and looseness

kicking off with a stomach-churning walk, fully racked

past cafés, marina, holidaymakers, debris

of shattered rock on the promenade. Look up! and gasp


A book of wonders. Hardback. Grey frontispiece and inside

red, rip-roaring tales - pockets and pillars, features and scoops

Unbelievable stories which turn into truth. Bolts

which seem fine, then fade into myth. The sum

of everything you've ever learned. An essential

like the Bible or Complete Works Of Shakespeare

A cliffhanger where your body reads every line

A party on Costa Blanca (6c+) on the Peñón.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
A party on Costa Blanca (6c+) on the Peñón.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


Bar Dracula (Calpe)

The barman greets my friend with handshakes

and backslaps. A familiar face. Local, almost


belonging. Rock-climbing a shortcut

to community, to fitting in


We sit at a pavement table, view of the sea

the Peñón behind us, dwarfing the tower blocks


of tourists and seaside-goers who are

shaded inside with plates of paella and tapas


We're still in harnesses. Quick-draws

helmets, screwgates, belay plates


scrape on the chairs. Order first! Tres cervezas

a plate of calamares fritos


¡Salud! Drink. Breathe. Look. Smile

Re-tell that bit about the abseil. The gorgeousness


of pitch six. Gradually divest ourselves

make a pile of ropes and day-sacks and kit


until we're in ordinary clothes

and become like everybody else

Dracula Bar.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
Dracula Bar.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


Resort (Calpe)

Classic beach resort

Hexagram-slotted sun brollies

Mosaic of gaudy towels and bodies

Pink skin, white skin, baggy skin, scorched skin

Well-padded, portly, pampered people clustered

On the shoreline, some knee-deep, some all-in

Permed heads, bald heads, swimming caps bobbing

As a few doggy-paddle to a yellow and green

Inflatable playground anchored

At the epicentre of the bay


All this looks fun from the café

Front row seat, whicker chair. I am

Comfortable, unremarkable, fitting right in

With a handful of words order coffee. Its easy

Tourists the mainstay, a leisure community for

Travellers. A slender man, ink black, approaches

Holding patterned sarongs. Not for him

This snorkelling, supping, sleeping

Spendthrift, sunburnt


View of Calpe from the top of the Peñón.  © UKC Articles
View of Calpe from the top of the Peñón.



It was akin to finding

a phoenix on the path or

a unicorn or

a little woolly mammoth


I thought they just lived in books

or coddled in people's homes

but, no, she was there on the dirt track

a stepping stone


in the scrub of rosemary and thorn

between the mountains and the sea

I crouched down

slowly, slowly


and met her

shiny black eye

smooth, unscratched, unpainted shell

her chunky front stumps poking out, stirring rhythmically


I knew it was a blessing

that we should meet like this!

Thought she must be sick to be seen by a human

Should I give her water? Place her in the bush?


But my duty was simple - to get out of the way

and later when I turned back

watched her stretching her legs and owning the path

like a kindly tank

Tortoise.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


The Ark (Espolón Central, Puig Campana)

Swept away in a flood of

Christmas excess, we welcomed the excursion

Up before dawn, gear pre-packed

Drove an hour in the little hire car


White, I think it was - a dove

Parked below the bulk of Puig Campana

which loomed, judgmental

darker against the darkness


Hiked up, arrived flushed at the start

The sun rose above the Mediterranean

turning the slab pink

We loosed our ropes and embarked


Full-length pitches, trad gear

it says Hard Severe but that's harsh

It's a test - Board two-by-two!

Keep going! Do your best!


My partner marked progress

on a sheet in her pocket

time being limited

for a December voyage -


non-stop, rope swaps, time jots - raced

sundown and imminent calamity

made it to the top of pitch thirteen

the original finish


Kept on best behaviour

for the descent - fixed cables, painted markers

a sea of scree to the motor, white

in the lay-by. Sunset


as we unlaced our shoes. Feet on dry land

Head torches un-used

Saved! I kept the scrap of paper

an olive sprig. Proof we'd survived the adventure



The default


in winter

(or autumn or spring)


(and warm)


(or trad)


(or red)

Single pitch

(or multi-pitch)


(or a short walk-in)

Inland crags

(or sea cliff)

Café con leche beforehand

(or fresh-pressed orange juice)

Bar afterwards

(or a dip)

Air miles making this

A guilty habit

McKenzie Lloyd-Smith on Toix Ridge.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
McKenzie Lloyd-Smith on Toix Ridge.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


Washed Away

Angling up into warm air

below, white houses, the coastline, boats



Weather warning in Britain

Heavy rains in the south-west

A friend texted Are you being washed away?


No! In Spain!

Watch Bernia Ridge from the oval window

get smaller. Why did I get on the plane?

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20 Feb


Favourite lines include "sour fruity balls" and "...an essential like the Bible."

20 Feb

This reminds me a lot of those poetry anthologies that you used to get 'published' in when you were in primary school - with parents beholden to buy a copy for the shelf, never to be read, purely because their child was in it.

Come to think of it, so do all of SJD's articles.

20 Feb

But Dob's a poet, Don't ya know it? And a climber, Gota show it. I don't read it, as I don't need it.


20 Feb

I don’t think I’m clever enough for this kind of publication ‘cos I just don’t get anything at all from it.

Reminiscent of the earlier work of the great Eric Jarvis Thribb.

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