The longest part of our year travelling has begun. Temporarily delayed by my operation, we gave the journey the official start when we drove off the ferry at Cherbourg. France was cold and closed. We clung to the coast and saw some wonderful skies over the Atlantic. At Fougeret we checked out the town and found two bars, but these both closed at 7.00 pm. We stayed one night in the railway station car park at Zumaiya. This was the rainy town where our spirits crashed.
La Rochelle was a welcome delight, busier with interesting maritime architecture. After this we said goodbye to France and headed over the border into Spain.
Driving through the Basque region, at Dos Hermanas we spied walks up into the hills as we drove along the motorway. We pulled over and parked up. We found an ancient castle on the top of two sisterly hills, part of a series of fortifications across this part of the valley of the Ebro. We watched Griffon vultures circling above us flying repeatedly from one high rock tower to the other. In the end we walked far further than we intended to. The walk back to the van was down a track clearly made for donkeys. John disappeared off to another little hill and I walked along the dusty track in the hot sunshine watching the shadow of the vultures on the ground, as they wheeled around in the sky above me.
The wind picked up as we headed south, reaching Pamplona (Nevarra Region) on Saturday 12th January. We rode into town on the mountain bikes, along a good bike path. Generally bike paths are plentiful in this part of Spain. Pamplona is the place where the bull running occurs each July. Men of all ages run through narrow streets just ahead of angry wild bulls. A great statue commemorates this in the shopping precinct. Pamplona also has the third largest bullring in the world.
Avoiding the toll roads to save costs, we were now making good progress on our way south towards Barcelona, we stopped at Agueras on the edge of the Badenas Realas country park. This little town was like the set of a wild west movie. Low, white and stone coloured buildings with gravel roads, and no-one to be seen. The cliff we parked in front of, was peppered with cave dwellings cut in the soft, crumbly rock. Going for a stroll, we were lost for an hour or so on motorcycle tracks cut through the ravine. Thin sandy, switchback trails turned endlessly in the thorny landscape. We followed the tracks, marvelling at the skill of the rider as occasionally the tracks plunged vertically down for a couple of metres.
For a couple of hours we drove through the Aragon region and the Depression del Ebro, the wide river valley of the Ebro. We were on a straight, narrow road and apart from the occasional lorry hurtling past, we were the only ones on the roads for mile after mile of sandy desolation. The occasional fuel stops had long closed down.
Nearing Barcelona we stayed at Cervera, an out of town stopover for campers. The sound of dogs barking carried on the night air. In the morning we found the way marked trails (GR 171) were cut by a motorway and seemingly inaccessible. We went for a run in the icy early light, on tarmac tracks alongside the railway line.