Wednesday 11 April 2007

The Santiago Road: The Seventh Day

The Puenta de Canto

Day 7–Thursday, May 30, 2002 Sahagun to Léon
64.96 km, total for trip 609.69 km

At 6:00 am, the first pilgrims were gathering their packs and crashing around in the refugio as I tried to get some sleep but it was no use. We let most of them clear out to begin their walk in the cold morning air and assembled our own stuff without any hurry. We knew that within an hour we would have passed the walkers and left them behind as even a slow cyclist will easily overtake the most determined of those on foot.

We were out on the road by 7:00 am, heading westwards as ever. We passed through an impressive arched gate leaving town and then crossed a remarkable bridge, the Puenta de Canto, over the Río Cea. This structure was commissioned by Alfonso VI in 1085 and was the only bridge across the river until 1992.

On the shore of the river across from the bridge is the legendary site of a battlefield where Charlemagne’s force was reputed to have met a Moorish army. Some of the Christians stuck their lances into the ground the night before the battle and when they awoke the next morning they found that the lances had grown bark and leafy branches. This miracle was not enough to stop Charlemagne’s forces from being annihilated, however.

Bercianos del Real Camino

The route, running parallel to the A231 highway, was not terribly interesting. We rode through the village of Bercianos del Real Camino, which had been given to the monks of Sahagún in 966, and continued on, passing concrete benches and picnic tables, and a gravel walking path for the pilgrims. The road took us under and then over the highway at Grañeros and into El Burgo Ranero, a town with a pond and some colourful houses but little to recommend it. El Burgo is an agricultural town on the great plain of wheat of Castile, but it did not look very prosperous.

The road was empty and the whole area a bit desolate as we proceeded through the villages of Villamoratiel de las Matas and Grajalejo de las Matas, before turning right onto the N601, a busy road with, luckily, a wide enough shoulder for us to ride on. Four kilometers along the road we came to Mansilla de las Mulas, a small town that was originally established by the Romans. It was famous from the 10th Century, when it was retaken from the Moors, for its mule market; hence the latter half of its name. It was a major commercial centre for the region and still maintains the major part of its medieval walls.

Spain: the open road

The next 14 kms. passed uneventfully as we rode through the gently rolling countryside, crossing two rivers and passing through Villamoros de Mansilla, Puente de Villarente and Valdelafuente before rolling into Léon through the traditional route via the Barrio de Santa Anna in what was becoming the uncomfortable heat of midday. At this point Max took his leave and headed westwards as I decided to explore Léon and relax for the remainder of the day. And see about getting laundry done somehow.

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