David Cramp | On 25, Sep 2010
Castellar was unique. The bees loved it. We loved the views – Africa, Spain, Gibraltar and so on and Mara’s bar in the medieval Moorish castle. The scent of dama de noche and jasmin pervaded the place and the sound of flamenco music filled the evening air. We placed the bees on a small piece of land on a knoll overlooking the valley, a 400 metre walk from the house and within visual range. As usual however we had a heap of DIY to complete before the place was really habitable. We plumbed the place, connected water up from a supply from the castle and built a precariously perched septic tank between two rocks halfway down the cliff on the far side of the house. We met the neighbours in the castle and realised that we were the only people in the world who didn’t take drugs of one sort or another (alcohol excepted of course). Everyone else did and it wasn’t long before we realised that the culture of the castle was almost entirely based on drugs which even extended to us finding ourselves in the middle of a gun battle.
We decided to move some bees one night and when we arrived with the new set of bees to position on the knoll in front of us, we realised that we may not have been alone. Perhaps it was hunters out after deer we thought, so we whistled and sang as we worked moving the bees into position reckoning that as bees and deer didn’t whistle or sing we should be OK. Then the gunshots began and we felt the urgent need to sort the bees out as swiftly as possible and get home. We soon realised that it wasn’t deer rustling because the sound of gunshots moved to the castle and we knew then that it was something to do with the local industry.
It was a shame in a way because apart from this aspect it was an idyllic spot. I met several really talented people there – one who could out play Pink Floyd on the guitar and who gave tremendous renditions of their music and song at the castle talent nights but he ended up in prison for manufacturing, and another who could make the most fabulous jewellery but she eventually gave up because it was just too difficult any more in her cloud of smoke. Huge talents just wasted.
I then heard that a famous American beekeeper (Steve Taber) then living in France wanted to return to his home in the USA and he wanted to give his beehives away and so I quickly contacted him and set off for the Toulouse area in France in a hired van. It was beautiful trip right up through the entire length of Spain, over the Pyrenees and into France. The bees were soon sealed into their hives, over which I placed on each hive an extra empty box with a gauze cover. In the box I placed a wet sponge and every hour I stopped and sprayed water through the gauze onto the bees, always keeping the sponge wet. The hives were crammed into the van with as much extra equipment that I could carry away and the initial part of the journey back over the mountain went smoothly. I passed the Valencia region where the smell of citrus blossom was overwhelming but as the bees were well and truly locked in I thought all would be well. I knew trouble was coming however when a bee floated past me with a small bit of sponge in its mandibles and buzzed against the front windscreen. Then another, then a few more and then hundreds. I quickly pulled into a motorway service station to reseal the hive(s) and leapt out of the van. A small group of spectators gathered to watch me but unfortunately I had left the van door open and the small group soon became a small panicking group as the bees launched an immediate attack. I quickly leaped back into the van and fled before authority arrived but with more and more bees coming out of the hive, the windscreen began to fill up. It must have been about twenty kilometres down the motorway when two police motorcycles finally got me. The van was full of flying bees however and the policeman motioned at me not to open the window. He shouted at me from safely outside the van, waved his arms in all directions, thumped the van door and finally waved me on telling me to leave the area. I did. And things got worse. I had to do an emergency stop later that afternoon and bumped into a grass bank. Despite having nailed the hive boxes together, six of them came apart in the van and in seconds I couldn’t see to drive because of the number of bees on the windscreen. I kept wiping them out of the way and pressed on, leaving the main road and travelling into the local hills where I finally stopped and waited for nightfall. The bees dutifully returned to their hives and I carefully reassembled everything and blocked them up more firmly. For the rest of the journey which took three days, there were still bees floating around but in very small numbers.
Arriving back home at around ten at night, we were both able to quickly set the hives on their prepared stands with little fuss except for bees crawling all over us. For a few days after, the bees were more than usually angry but they are hardy creatures and they soon settled down to their new accommodation. It did actually show me that even if locked in their hives, bees will be fine if they are given sufficient room and plentiful water for cooling purposes and using this method years later I was able to keep bees safe in their hives during local crop spraying times.