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Castells of towering human achievement

02 May, 2019 — By John Gulliver

The Castellers in action on Saturday

IT isn’t a sport – not by any acceptable definition, I suppose.

There are no competing teams. There isn’t a figure leading the line. There are no clashes between individuals. It doesn’t offer glory and fame to a star who will suddenly be grabbed by every newspaper, TV channel and Twitter account.

Uniquely, anyone, almost any age, any sex, can take part. And it attracts all ages, all shapes, all types of ethnic and social groups.

It’s a gathering of human beings obsessed with the need to pull together and create a tower, with one person standing on the shoulders of another until you suddenly have . . . a human tower 30 or 40 feet high rising into the sky.

Anyone can form part of the “team”. At first you may find that you are placed in the group, with 50 or more others, who form the foundation of the tower, all bent forward, arms around each other’s shoulders, all to be part of the base on which the tower will begin.

Let’s call it a collective sport: a people’s sport.

It began its life in Catalonia nearly 200 years ago in 1813 as Castells and is recognised by Unesco.

I saw my first human tower in the Stables, Camden Market, on Saturday afternoon.

I didn’t need to ask anyone for directions, a reverberating sound, echoing between the buildings, drew me forward to a crowd of several hundred.

Then a grey-haired man, in his fifties, seemed to take charge and shouted out words that sounded Spanish, and dozens of men and women began to form a circle, arms around each other’s shoulders, the back row pressing forward.

Stephen ‘Cuss’ Andersen

And then began the ascent by a little girl, Yvette Belliver, until she had climbed to the top, six people up.

After she had reached the pinnacle she carefully climbed down, one shoulder at a time until she reached the bottom – and sprang forward to cheers and loud shouts of Olé!

Then someone shouted out something again in Spanish and scores formed up as lilting music sounded and people danced in formation as if in a square dance. Music, laughter, a sense of achievement, ran through the crowd.

The grey-haired man is “Cuss” – nicknamed thus because of his yellow hair as a youngster. His real name is Stephen Anderson, who earns a living as a modern day blacksmith, working in metal, and sculptured architectural pieces. His other passion is the Castellers who form the human towers.

Many of the spectators on Saturday seemed to be Spanish to whom, perhaps, that country’s elections the next day would have meant something. It did to Cuss who has a house in Catalonia but he kept politics out of his conversation with me.

His Castellers are the only troupe in the UK, set up four years ago. And they meet every Sunday at the Thanet Youth Centre in Queen’s Crescent, Kentish Town.

A typical local enthusiast is Kirsty Walker, a young mother of two, who works in Camden as a teacher and carer for people with learning difficulties, one or two in wheelchairs, from children to those in their forties.

It’s demanding work – physically and emotionally. And on Sunday off she goes to the Castells where she can relax and re-energise herself. It’s not all a matter of learning the centuries-old skills, there’s also food and drinks in the centre.

“I saw it for the first time two years ago in Gillespie Park and I was hooked,” she told me. I understand what she meant.


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