The Simple Things

Return of a rural idyll

WOMEN ARE THE KEY TO SAVING SPAIN’S GHOST VILLAGES, AND A NEW SHEPHERDES­S SCHOOL IS SHOWING THEM HOW

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Green rolling hills dotted about with little stone villages, connected by centuries-old sheep herding paths – it’s not perhaps the image that comes to mind when you imagine Spain. The rural landscapes of Cantabria in the north of the country are far removed from urbanised seaside spots on the

Costa Blanca, or cities like Barcelona.

Idyllic as it sounds, Spain’s towns and cities have long proved more alluring, especially to women who are more able to find work in urban areas. But without the women, villages disappear, depopulate­d and emptied.

However, a new school for shepherdes­ses hopes to change that. Escuela de Pastoras was founded by Susana Pacheco to offer women a foothold in what has traditiona­lly been a male-dominated profession, and to give them a reason to stay in the thousands of countrysid­e towns that are fading from the map.

The nine-month long course has been designed around women’s needs, factoring in work-life balance, and networks of mutual support. Trainees are able to bring their children along with them, and the course includes additional modules on beekeeping, cheese making and sustainabl­e tourism – all tools that will allow these newly-trained female shepherds to diversify their income. It’s already proved overwhelmi­ngly popular – with 265 women applying for the 30 places available.

Women have always been involved in rural work; this school hopes to give the work they do a new dignity, and show proper recognitio­n of their importance to the ongoing life and future of places like Cantabria.

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