Every November a small group of Spanish semi-nomadic shepherds from Teruel set off on a 3-week long journey and walk a flock of 5,000 sheep across 250-miles of Spanish landscapes. They leave behind the exhausted summer pastures of their native Serrania de Albarracin and head for greener, winter hillsides in Jaen, Andalucia.

They are the ‘trashumantes’, the very last ones who still practise a 1000-year-old tradition on such a large scale.

I recently accompanied them for the whole duration of their seasonal migration. This project took three years from inception of the idea to realisation. A series of sheep epidemics and the subsequent government ban of nation-wide movements of animals almost finished off the already precarious lifestyle of the trashumantes.

During the journey I felt the pervading sense of camaraderie amongst them and witnessed how the activity completely defines who they are. They are trashumantes and could not, would not, be otherwise. Sadly, they’re often seen as an anachronism in our technology-driven society. However, for the trashumantes the journey is not an exercise in nostalgia but a cost-efficient, environmentally-friendly alternative to road transport: they save money by walking the sheep instead of taking them in lorries. So the activity is unquestionably rooted in a modern market economy.

I don’t know how long they will keep doing it, but I hope that the young shepherds who came with us eventually take over the responsibility from the core of mature trashumantes who drove the expedition. It would be a great loss if the drovers’ tracks eventually faded in the landscape because no trashumantes walk them anymore.

All images copyright © José Navarro

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