Wednesday, 18 June 2014
Day 22. Rabanal del Camino to Valle do Seo. 44 miles
Reaching the Cruz de Ferra proved to be a very emotional experience for me. As soon as I saw it looming over the horizon on the last stretch of the climb, tears came to my eyes.It's an iron cross atop a tall wooden pole supported by an enormous, cairn of stones. There are photos of people, and items such as ribbons, flags, and pieces of cloth pinned to the pole. There is a tradition that here pilgrims place a stone from their home country. For some this may symbolise the laying down of burdens, psychological or spiritual, as a part of the pilgrimage. To me, this place seemed to have a far greater sense of spirituality to it than all the churches I have visited so far. I was thinking of the words we use in our church to begin our worship: "Divinity is present everywhere. The whole world is filled with God. But in certain places and at certain times, we feel a specialty of presence..." This was certainly one of those places and times. I felt exhilarated to have reached this high place, but am conscious that another mountain range had to be crossed tomorrow, with an even longer climb. The stone I laid was taken from the river Liddel at my home town, Newcastleton, in the south of Scotland. Brendan too laid a stone from Scotland on the cairn. We spent a while quietly before messaging our families. B gave me a scallop shell to attach to my bike as a souvenir of the journey.
Downhills can be exhilarating. But this one was scary. Long and steep, with a rough surface and many bends. I hoped the brakes would work. Half way down is a tiny village called El Acebo. I had read that cyclists have died here due to slipping on the paved surface of the road. In fact, the concrete paving has rough stones set into it, so it's a bit uncomfortable to ride through. There was a smooth concrete shallow drain down the centre of the road, with water running in it. But I managed.
Our planned meet up in the next big town, Ponferrada, proved a challenge. The place turned out to be vast, a city of maybe 100,000 or more. But thanks to mobile phone technology we found each other. B unfortunately had a minor tussle with a door in a supermarket. He had been attended to kindly by one of the shop ladies and emerged with a plaster on his nose.
Second stop was in the charming town of Villafranca del Bierzo, in the foothills of the next mountain range. Exit from the town took me through a road tunnel by which the N-IV road traffic could avoid the town centre. That road has now been bypassed by a motorway which runs up the valley on a series of viaducts. Many hillsides have been scarred by construction of this road, and although there is some evidence of landscaping/tree planting, it will be many years before the vast scars turn green, if they ever will. The other hillsides of this valley are covered in lush woodland (oak, with pine higher up).
A gently rising, quite road led me to the camping site at Valle do Seo. A quiet meadow surrounded by trees and with the best soil of any camping site so far.