To really appreciate Spain, I believe you need to spend time on foot – and not only gambolling through Elysian fields. A camino is as much about the journey as it is about reaching the destination.
A few kilometres from Cabezon de la Sal in Cantabria, we enjoyed a rural mountain wander. A 10km walk with a 620m ascent in the hills outside Renedo. The area is criss-crossed with walks and generously populated with free-roaming cattle and horses, meaning that the walk required you to keep your eyes on the trail even more than the view. I am responsible for making the hills ring with the echoes of “cooee”. Just to check how wide and deep the valleys were. and there was no-one else around.
By way of contrast, a 12km urban industrial trudge from Santurzi to Bilbao in the Basque country, following the Rio de Nervion o de Bilbao. It is warehousing and wharves the whole way. Piles of rope, chain, containers and crushed rock decorated the waterfront. Weeds press ed their way through cracks in the concrete. We followed the wharves as closely as possible, stopping for a snack in a couple of small bars where the bar tender knew everybody’s names except ours. Small apartment blocks interspersed among small factories and warehousing were embodiments of drear. Laundry sagged miserably on clothes lines attached below windows. The grey rain ensured nothing would be dry. I knew the ponchos that survived the Winter Solstice storm at Stonehenge would come into their own again! A delightful lunch in a great find restaurant: off the tourist track, full of Spaniards, are you willing to wait 20 minutes? sort of place. All these things are sure fire indicators of good food and good value. The bonus was a long conversation with a charming elderly Spanish couple at the table next to us.
Getting to the pueblo was an adventure in itself: snow depth poles (two metres) marked the entire distance of the single vehicle road that meandered across the landscape; one pueblo parks its snow plow in the middle of its only roundabout (how’s that for an installation?); everyone had to wait for a cow to get off the road in the middle of an even tinier pueblo on the way to Cubillas (just how close can you tailgate a swinging udder?); we had to hit the brakes when a large dog launched itself off an embankment into the middle of the road – then stopped and looked at us; and – finally -what about the flock of sheep (bells ringing) that tootled through?
Yes – the place is that small. And the walk? After a hearty country lunch, climbing the church bell tower and ringing the bell – just a teeny dong (naughty me), the climb up and over ancient drystone walls and across several streams, the view across the river plain to the distant hills was spectacular.