Via de la Plata: Day Twenty-Six

Entrepeñas to Puebla de Sanabria

Saturday October 10, 2020

19km   20֯C

I woke up from a wonderfully deep sleep in a gloriously comfortable bed and got ready for another short-ish day of walking. But first I took an unreasonably long hot shower to ease myself into the day, and then rubbed myself down with the ointment I’d bought from the local medicine woman the evening before. The texture of the salve was satisfying in its own right, but the act of rubbing it on my problematic ankles, shins, calves and feet was pleasing to an entirely different level. My aches and pains hadn’t been given anywhere near as much attention as this over the course of the previous four weeks, and so I perhaps spent an unreasonably long time massaging my pains away before finally lacing up my shoes, strapping on my backpack and heading downstairs from the guest house.

When I finally did hit the road the sun still hadn’t quite made its presence felt across the path. I left the guest house and stepped out into a cold and slightly damp morning. The combination wasn’t disheartening though as the landscape suited the wintery vibe with dense woods and dew covered fields. My only concern however was that I was technically still in wolf country, and I wondered if any of the nocturnal creatures might still be up and about so close to sunrise. Perhaps, if anything, it would simply be the party-animals amongst their ranks, too exhausted from a night out with their mates to bother me much. I kept an eye (and an ear) out for them nonetheless.

The long forgotten path…

The journey was only a nineteen kilometre walk, making it another easy foray throughout the Spanish landscape. It would find me in Puebla de Sanabria by the end of the day, which I was very excited about. With its 13th century church, 15th century castle and 16th century town hall there were plenty of historical goodies on offer to whet my appetite. My eagerness for exploration put a bounce in my step as I retraced my way back to Asturianos where Benedetta and I had eaten dinner the night before. By car the journey had taken us about five minutes. By foot it took me the better part of half an hour to arrive, by which time the sun had made its way over the horizon, but the sky still remained heavy with clouds and dimly lit nonetheless.  

Most of my morning walk took me down long neglected paths that meandered through thickly wooded areas. The denseness of the woods further restricted the availability of light along the path and made for a gloomy, slightly foreboding atmosphere. Adding to that mood was the knee-high grass growing along the track, suggesting that it had been some time since any meaningful amount of foot traffic had passed by. And as far as I knew it would only be Benedetta and myself making any indent into the grass that day, so it would remain largely unmolested by human activity. Ancient stone walls delineated the worlds of the path and the woods, although they were in such a state of disrepair that the darkness of the woods was allowed to creep across the boundaries in plenty of spaces along the path.

Into the forest I go…

The silence was wonderful. But even more magnificent were the occasional moments when that silence was interrupted by the snap of a twig somewhere deep within the woods. My head went straight to the idea of wolves (of course), but the reality was so much lovelier. Instead of snarling beasties I found myself face to face with Bambi instead. Multiple Bambis I might add as deer after deer made itself known to me along my way. Of course, as soon as they got wind of my presence they scampered off into the dense bush within a matter of seconds, bounding away in great fearful leaps. But those few fleeting moments I had in their acquaintance were nice enough nonetheless. I tried my darndest to capture a photo of the little cuties, but they were such flighty wee things that they weren’t having a bar of it.

Despite the short distance travelled and the adorable company I was keeping I found the walk to Puebla de Sanabria a little arduous nonetheless. I think it was my excited anticipation for the town that tripped me up and made me impatient for the days walk to finish. In the meantime more autumn colours crept into the serene scenery and leaves fell from their summertime homes to the ground below. The lovely cold climate stuck around also, as did the smell of wood smoke from cosy fireplaces in many of the houses that I passed.  

A sign, perhaps…?

When Sanabria finally did come into view I was chuffed, and impressed. It was exactly how I imagined it to be, in that I imagined an ancient town fortified on a large pinnacle of even more ancient rock. Below it was a slowly meandering tributary of the Rio Tera, the Rio Castro, and it looked especially cold in the gloomy afternoon light. It was home to a group of elusive otters nonetheless, but I was too excited to explore the town above to take my time and explore the river below. I crossed the bridge in a hurry, only to confront the one fly in the ointment of satisfaction at having made it to my destination. That fly was the fact that the ancient, fortified town of Puebla de Sanabria required one hell of a climb to get to. I was still especially eager to start exploring it though and so I raced on up the steep path regardless, huffing and puffing as I passed other pedestrians walking the same route. And there were a lot of pedestrians loitering about also. Despite Covid-19 and the ongoing chatter about another imminent lockdown Puerta de Sanabria seemed full to the brim with local tourists making a daytrip to the ancient town.

Puebla de Sanabria…

I was checked into my hotel room by the surly type of Spanish host I’d almost forgotten existed, but I was too excited about exploring the town for his dark mood to make a dent in my gleeful one. I showered quickly, put a load of laundry on and then dressed for the still cool mountain air before heading outside to discover. The streets were even busier than they had been before and it eventually dawned on me that the following Monday was a religious festival, and so many were here to enjoy a long weekend. It gave the town a lively buzz that had been missing in much larger cities such as Barcelona, Cordoba and Seville so many weeks beforehand. The streets felt, dare I say it, almost normal. Well, the new normal at least, where everyone wears a mask and makes great big pendulous movements around other pedestrians lest they come within two metres of their personal space.

Beyond the door of my hotel I discovered an impressively ancient town that was filled to the brim with history and oodles of character. Even seemingly insignificant buildings seemed to have the promise of a lifetime worth of stories hiding behind their respective doors. I had messaged Daan to announce my arrival and he hobbled down from his own hotel room, still walking tenderly with shin splints. We found a lively restaurant down a vibrant laneway and sat ourselves outside to share some lunch. The meal was delicious but soon enough we regretted our decision to sit outdoors as the cool afternoon air got whipped up by a breeze and felt decidedly cooler as a result. We persevered however, and still found it in us to drink cold beer, despite the cold.

The steep, steep climb towards the castle…

Many years ago I had lived in Edinburgh and while walking the streets of Puebla de Sanabria I kept being taken back there. The similarities were many, especially the number of ancient grey stone buildings that squatted down heavy into the surrounding landscape while marrying perfectly in colour to the grey skies above. Similarly, the path leading up to the castle in Sanabria reminded me a lot of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, leading to its own castle. The big difference however was the sheer steepness of the ascent in Sanabria, in that it really got a lot of huffing and puffing out of me. Because of the long weekend the streets were full of local tourists, visibly relaxed and buoyant. The calm clamour that they added to the setting while they ambled about the town further reminded me of Edinburgh. There was a pleasantly jovial sensation in the air and, despite the masked faces about me, I felt like I had reacquainted myself with a more carefree world such as had existed before March 2020.

The Keeper at the gates…

I paid my entrance fee to view the castle and wandered around its many nooks and crannies imagining what it might have been like in its prime. It had once served its purpose as a formidable fortress high on a rocky perch, overlooking the river below and the fertile landscape beyond. Now, stripped of its original purpose, but not its remarkable grandeur, it played host to a healthy volume of photo-happy weekend tourists. I climbed up and down the narrow staircases to better explore the battlements and take in the magnificent views of the countryside beyond. Because of Covid the routes around the castle were quite rigidly prescribed with ‘Entry Only’ points here and ‘Exit Only’ points there. Each stairwell essentially operated on a One-Way system – you could only go up one and subsequently down another. But, either because of poor visibility or just general community fatigue, the new outlay wasn’t being observed as best as it might have. This meant subscribing to the double act of making yourself as thin as possible against the cold stone walls as others passed you by while holding your breath furiously in such close proximity to others. And yes, although everyone around me was masked up, the instinct to hold my breath tight was there nonetheless.

Ding, dong…

The views from the top of the towers were incredible, and they coincided with the sun finally coming out from behind the clouds and warming up the landscape just a little. The stones of the castle walls, and in fact the majority of the town below, seemed to warm up with the sun also and everything began to glow brightly in the late afternoon sunshine. What didn’t warm up however was the overall temperature of the day and my winter jacket stayed on throughout the remainder of the afternoon.

The view from the top…

Daan met me at the bottom of the castle walls once I’d finished exploring and we took ourselves to a small terrace bar where we drank more cold beer and ate bowls of bar nuts. Benedetta wandered past and shared her tales about the day. She had met a real life wolf, albeit one being walked about the town with a collar and a leash. I was disappointed to have missed such a sight while Daan was notably relieved. The chilly temperature got the best of us all though and so Benedetta retired to her hostel on the other side of the river beneath the town while Daan and I decided to make our way to the slightly warmer setting of a restaurant instead. I say slightly warmer because we sat on the terrace of a restaurant in the heart of the town. It was at least surrounded by a plastic marquee, which kept in much of the heat from the gas burners around us. With a small level of comfort re-established we indulged in food and wine and chatted some more about the days ahead. Daan was still not 100% comfortable on his feet, but he was going to walk the following day nonetheless. And it would be quite a day too, with a hefty amount of climbing involved, just to keep us on our toes and stop us from becoming too complacent. For that reason we went softly, softly on the wine over dinner and ultimately called it a night nice and early.

Who else, but Don Quixote…

I headed back to my hotel suite, where I had left all the heaters running throughout the afternoon. It served a double purpose of warming the space up in anticipation of my return as well as drying all of my freshly washed clothes. I pulled out the Dolor salve that I’d bought from the medicine woman the evening before and re-anointed myself with its soothing, all natural properties. It wasn’t much longer after that that the evening saw me climbing into another big warm bed for a night of well-deserved sleep.

A sneak peek…
A slightly cheeky proclamation…

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