BACKGROUND: GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY

The Coast of Death (Costa da Morte in Galician) is a coastal region in the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, located in the province of La Coruña (Galicia, Spain). It encompasses from Punta Roncudo to Cape Finisterre. The coast is beautifully landscaped with beaches such as Do Trece, Balares, San Pedro, Area das vacas, Reira, O Ariño (Camariñas), Laxe, Traba and Soesto, Mar de Fora and O Rostro (Finisterre), Carnota, plus a long list of stunning beaches that are solitary even in the month of August.

Geographical demarcation

At the end of the 1920s the writer Eugenio Carré Aldao was one of the first people to refer to the name «Coast of Death», which according to him came from an old documented legend dating back to the middle of the 16th century dramatising the whole geography to the right of Finisterre due to its lack of navigability consistency.

Considering that the name of the region refers to the huge amount of marine disasters because of the dangers posed by its cliffs and frequent storms it can be demarcated between Punta Roncudo and Cape Finisterre.

It includes the coastal towns of Malpica, Ponteceso, Cabana, Laxe, Vimianzo, Camariñas, Muxía, Finisterre, and the villages of Corme, Ponteceso, Traba, Camelle, Arou, Santa Mariña, Camariñas, Merexo, Muxía, Lires, Nemiña, Dumbría, Finisterre.

This demarcation (Cape Roncudo – Finisterre) was established by English seamen over two centuries ago. They considered that the Finisterre arc was the most dangerous stretch of the coast due to the amount of shoals or reefs hiding a few metres below the surface away from the coast, its strong currents, the storms, the sudden blankets of fog and multiple shipwrecks.

Historical background and legend

Its people have witnessed countless shipwrecks, especially on the coast from Camelle to Camariñas, where over 60 ships sunk in less than a hundred years. A Punta do Boi proved to be the most fatal spot.

As part of its historical interest, its strong stone tradition and its shaping around pre-Christian symbols are worthy of note. This is reflected in the legends of Monte de San Guillerme (in Finisterre), the “pedra da serpe” (Serpent Stone, in Corme), the legend of the drowned city of Valverde in Lagoa de Traba, or the “piedras” (stones) in Muxía, which reputedly have healing powers.

The tragedy of the Serpent

The tragedy of HMS Serpent took place in 1890 in Punta do Boi, Camariñas, where 172 English seamen lost their life just a few metres away from salvation. Only 3 were saved, one them severely injured. Wandering around at night they reached the Pescadoira spot, in the parish of Javiña. The parish priest, Fábregas, ordered the “holy mission” of helping them, and most of the corpses were recovered from the sea and buried at the edge of the sea. Nowadays the site is known as “the Englishmen’s cemetery”. This tragedy raised the authorities’ awareness on the dangerousness of this coast and the lighthouse of Cape Vilán was built. It was the first electric lighthouse in Spain. It is a majestic tower of pink granite, measuring 24 metres high standing on a rock over 80 m from the sea, and is one of the major lighthouses in the Iberian Peninsula.

Other shipwrecks

  • On 28 November 1596, 25 ships from the Spanish Navy sunk amidst a terrible storm in front of the “ría” (sea inlet) of Corcubión with a death toll of 1,706. In the middle of the night with the only light coming from the storm flashes, the sea was littered with the wrecks from the ships and hundreds of drowned seamen and survivors shouting for rescue.
  • The Great Liverpool, also known as “the little Titanic”, sunk in 1846. Its wreck allowed for the reconstruction of how a voyage was like aboard one of the first regular ocean liners in history. It contained many objects and belongings from the passengers that had to abandon the ship in Cee.
  • On 6 September 1870 HMS Captain, a British warship prototype, sunk several miles away from Cape Finisterre as the turret collapsed. Over 400 people were killed due to the speed it sunk.
  • In 1875 John Tenat sank in Punta Langosteira, Finisterre, with sugar, coffee, fur and other products onboard. Nobody was killed.
  • On 3 February 1897, in the inlet of Arou, Camelle, the City of Agra sank with 71 crew and 2 passengers. 32 were saved; most of them thanks to help by residents of Camelle and Arou.
  • On 10 October 1927, on the beach of Arou, Camelle, the Nil, a French cargo ship, sank.
  • The Boris Sheboldaeff, an 11,000 ton Soviet oil tanker, run aground and broke up opposite Camelle on 24 August 1934. The whole crew was rescued.
  • The Nord Atlantic, a German vessel trying to escape from the Allied air force, run aground on 18 August 1943 in the “ría” of Camariñas.
  • On 6 November 1950 in Piedra de Sal, Camelle, Maria Laar, a Greek cargo ship, sank.
  • In September 1951 Castillo Monteagudo sank in Arou. In order to save her it was necessary to unload on the beach part of the coal that she transported.
  • In May 1953 the Arada, a Spanish merchant ship, sank in Cousiñadoiro, Nemiña. The following night she was boarded by local “pirates”, taking advantage of the abandoned ship.
  • On 15 April 1955 in Punta Boi, Camelle, the Olympe sank. She was transporting from Brest 4,800 tons of Russian cement.
  • In July 1964 nine miles away from Cape Finisterre the Bonifaz sank after colliding with another oil tanker, the Fabiola, which produced sparks and the gas-filled vessels exploded. Five corpses were retrieved, but most of the bodies never appeared so 20 crew members were unaccounted for. Apart from them, 6 people from Galicia were killed in this accident. It was the greatest tragedy of the last century in the Coast of Death due to the high death toll. And we have to go far back, to the Serpent and the Captain before it, to find shipwrecks in the area with a higher death toll.
  • In November 1965 in El Corno, Camariñas, the Banora sank. The residents of Mugía (La Coruña) helped her crew. Their solidarity was fruitful; the Moroccan merchant strewed the area with 12 million oranges.
  • The Casón sank on 5 December 1987 and 23 crew drowned. The substances she transported were not known for certain, but it was believed that they were toxic. This is why before the freighter sank completely, the residents of Finisterre, Corcubión and Cee were evacuated. Even today, the locals can remember distinctly what happened.
  • The Prestige disaster was one of the most recent accidents on this coast. A Greek oil tanker broke apart on 13 November 2002 in the open sea, causing one of the most devastating ecological disasters in Galicia.

Municipalities

Main ports

  • Malpica: fishing port, with recent opening of new port infrastructures, such as the new auction room.
  • Corme: fishing port.
  • Arou: fishing port, known as A Lagoa de Camelle.
  • Laxe: fishing port, where an outer wall is expected to be built to stop the sand from accumulating in the port.
  • Camelle: fishing port, with a loading/unloading ramp, out-of-use fish market, crane and outer dock as protection against the heavy swells affecting this area, which is expected to be expanded.
  • Santa Mariña (Camariñas): fishing port with a recently extended dock.
  • Camariñas: fishing port with a recent extension of the outer quay. Its facilities include a new fish market, ice factory with refrigerator, several loading/unloading ramps, crane booths for seamen, seafood farm, sailing club with 3 wharfs, sailing school, one wharf with about a hundred mooring points at the old dock, heliport and petrol station. At present a further 200 mooring points and an 80-metre expansion of the quay are planned. It is the most complex and biggest port on the Coast of Death.
  • Muxía: fishing port. Its big old quay disappeared when the jetty was built.
  • Corcubión: fishing port.
  • Finisterre: fishing port with fish market, crane, wharf, huts, petrol station, dry dock and ice factory
  • Brens: fishing port. Its dock has been recently extended.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

O Camiño dos faros (the Way to the Lighthouses)

This is a foot trail that encompasses the whole Costa da Morte going through all of its lighthouses, from Malpica to Carnota, so that we can get to know the treasures hiding in every lighthouse scattered along this mesmerising coast.

The Lighthouse of the Sisargas Islands, Sisarga Grande, Malante and Sisarga Chica.
The Lighthouse of Punta Nariga, the most modern lighthouse.
The Lighthouse of Punta Roncudo, so called because of the raucous sound of the sea beating against the rocks.
The Lighthouse of Laxe, with spectacular panoramic views.
The Lighthouse of Cape Vilán, the first lighthouse provided with electricity in Spain.
The Lighthouse of Punta da Barca, located next to the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora da Barca.
The Lighthouse of Touriñan, where the last rays of sunlight go out every night
The Lighthouse of Fisterra, the lighthouse of the “end of the world”
The Lighthouse of Cape C, to facilitate the entry to the “ría” of Corcubión.
The Lighthouse of the Lobeiras Islands, with impressive views to the Mount Pindo.
The Lighthouse of Punta Lariño, located in a rough environment.

Ézaro Viewpoint and Cascade of River Xallas

In the town of Dumbría we can enjoy a unique scene: the mouthing of the River Xallas. But a picture is worth a thousand words. From a height over 100 metres, River Xallas dives into the “ría” (sea inlet) of Ézare opposite Cape Finisterre in the Atlantic ocean. This sight can be enjoyed both at night and during the day. The “fervenza” (waterfall) looks wonderful on a clear night under the moonlight, reflected on the waters falling down from a height.

Dombate Dolmen/span>

It is a large-size dolmen preserving a four-metre long corridor made up of three overlapping orthostats in decreasing order per height and size towards the outside. The entry was walled up by a vertical stone slab. As the other “mámoas” (tumulus) recorded in Galicia, it had been violated. The external part of the tumulus is demarcated by a geometric structure, called circular crown –not the usual crown, as it seems not to cover the whole of the tumulus. Among the materials used, the following stand out: lithic materials (quartz and rock crystal prisms, arrowheads, axes), ceramic materials (fragments of closed vessels, one of them of fairing type), but mostly the art present in the dolmen stands out. It is one of the few cases where the orthostats have remains of parietal engraved art and paintings. Its chronology is estimated to be between 2,500 and 3,000 b. C. The dolmen has been protected with an attractive construction made of wood and glass to enable a better view of the monument. There is also a Visitors’ Centre offering a better understanding of the megalithic art on A Costa da Morte.

The Mill Route to the Castro of Borneiro

This route lets us enjoy a pleasant walk (the complete route is 7 km) through the greenery, the old mills and the whispers of water flowing down a brook from the mountain to the sea. The route takes us to the first Galician “castro” (iron-age walled settlement) dated with the Carbon-14 technique. This archaeological site is well preserved at present. This is a perfect route to follow with children.

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