Liam Rudden: Escape to the fire mountain

Lanzarote's spectacular Timanfaya National Park  Pic: Liam Rudden
Lanzarote's spectacular Timanfaya National Park Pic: Liam Rudden
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GAZING out over the stark lunar landscape of Lanzarote’s spectacular Timanfaya National Park earlier this week, I could easily have been on another planet.

Others obviously had the same thought. This is where Stanley Kubrick shot 2001: A Space Odyssey and where scenes for early Star Wars movies were filmed.

It also featured in Planet of the Apes, as did neighbouring Canary Island Tenerife.

Oh, and everyone’s favourite Time-Lord has visited twice. Peter Davison played the role when the Doctor Who crew first came to Lanzarote for the 1984 story Planet of Fire. Thirty years later, Peter Capaldi was at the TARDIS controls for the episode Kill the Moon.

An island of contradictions, the barren black, red and ochre moonscape of the south is in direct contrast to the palm trees and cactus plants of the north and many golden beaches.

I first visited Lanzarote in the 1990s. At the time it was fairly undeveloped and very much an escape. While Tenerife basked in the reputation of being the holiday island, life was lived at a more sedate pace on its smaller volcanic neighbour. It still is.

Then the town of Peurto del Carmen was party central, it still is, although remarkably it had yet to succumb to the inevitable arrival of a McDonald’s - at the time, the burger chain had just put in planning permission for their first foothold as I recall.

The old harbour too was very much just that, a sedate oasis from the main strip where adventures to Fuertevenura began, in my case 24 hours later than planned when I missed the boat after a night in one of the harbour’s ‘more’ sedate bars.

The trips still leave but the area has been built up over the years, apartments and hotels dominating what used to be open land.

Despite all this, Lanzarote continues to retain its unique magic, in no small way thanks to the late Cesar Manrique.

A local artist, he had a major influence on planning regulations - highrise hotels are banned and the exterior of buildings must be painted with traditional colours (white basically) with predominantly green or blue woodwork.

This trip, based in Costa Teguise where tourists of all nationalities mix easily, there was a strange air of melancholy shortly after my visit to the fire mountain as ‘that’ letter was signed.

24 hours or so later the UK had activated Article 50. Brexit had begun.

The irony of watching this unfold while exploring the Spanish island, eating tapas, and spending euros was not one that was lost on me.

Nor did I miss the reaction of those around, a bemused curiosity about why such a thing would come to pass from locals and a resigned acceptance from ex-pats on both sides of the divide.

Sitting in Arrecife Airport on Thursday, it was unnerving to realise I was about to fly home to a country that, while aesthetically the same had, in fact, changed beyond all recognition.