The moment we left Cizur Menor behind, fortified by a good breakfast and a welcome night’s sleep, we started to climb. We were on the NA6000, a tarmacked road that had seen better days, but at least it was very quiet, as we followed it through farming countryside. To our left, some distance away, we noticed a line of pilgrims as they made their way along the trail and we stuck to the road. By now I had realised that much of the tracks the walking pilgrims stuck to rose much higher up into the hills than the roads did so I was glad to “take the low road” rather than the high road. We had the road to ourselves most of the time, only being passed by a few cars as we made our way through a few sleepy villages.
The surrounding hills were littered with huge wind turbines. Far in the distance the turbines appeared to move silently in the breeze.
I could have ridden for hours, lost in my own thoughts and enjoying the view. Sadly, all too soon we reached a sign telling us that we were about to enter Campanos. Having just ridden along some of the more quieter roads, Campanos jolted us back to reality as we turned into what is a large industrial and quarrying area with a dual carriageway running through it. We were back on the N121, but this was a busy section with heavy goods vehicles thundering passed at breakneck speed. A small café here meant that we could stop for a quick coffee before getting back onto the road. Although there was a cycle track running alongside the road, I still had a hard time keeping my bike from going off in a tangent whenever a truck passed us, generating a swirl of wind behind it. We were both relieved when the much quieter NA601 came into view.
So with every cloud comes a silver linking and we soon found ourselves back on a much quieter road, not only flat but narrow and virtually carless. We had come across the main pilgrimage route once again. A large formidable building came into view and I asked John if we could see if we could look inside. This was the “Casa Rural Eunate” called the Church of Saint Mary of Eunate. The origin of this church is unknown but it is thought to have originated during the times of the Knights Templars in the 12th Century.
Apart from two women sat by a small bridge, everywhere seemed to be pretty much deserted. I stopped to talk to them and they said that entry was only possible later in the day. The temperature had been steadily rising as the morning wore on and both looked exhausted but wanted to carry on to the next albergue before the heat made walking impossible. One of the women remarked that it was wonderful to see a husband and wife doing something together.
Puente la Reina. This was a delightful area which we came across unexpectedly, although it is one of the landmarks on the Camino de Santiago. One of the first buildings we came across was a small shop doing a roaring trade with pilgrims. We stopped for a cooling drink. This shop must do well in the summer months.
Puente La Reina literally means “Bridge of the Queen” or “Queen’s Bridge”. As we drank our cokes at the foot of the bridge, a steady stream of walking pilgrims passed by. The bridge itself has five arches and is built over the river Arga.
This town is heavily influenced by the Pilgrim’s Route to Santiago de Compostela, and boasts quite a few remains of walls and several religious buildings. The Church of Santiago El Mayor, built around the 11th or 12th Century was later extended to give it a more Gothic appearance. It has a beautiful Romanesque main frontage with Moorish influences. Not to be outdone, we also came across a second church (the Church of Crucifijo), which was founded by the Knights Templars in the 12th Century. Although not well documented there is plenty of evidence that the Templars had a huge bearing in this area.
Very reluctantly we tore ourselves away from Puente la Reina and rejoined a quiet N1110. Approaching Cirauqui John excitedly pointed out that we needed to look for the remains of an old Roman bridge, and soon a sign pointing us in the right direction came into view. We locked the bikes together and followed a stone path. We were actually walking along what had one been a major contributory road from the Roman era and was now part of the Pilgrims’ trail. All this time later and pilgrims still walked over the bridge towards Santiago. It was obviously not good for cycling on so we didn’t stay long and were soon back on the tarmacked road.
Relentless heat made the going tough and it was hard to find any relief from the overhead sun. Coupled with this the road was steadily climbing. Now quite exhausted – this is heat I wasn’t used to – I was startled when a lone cyclist passed us. I noted that he was not carrying any panniers on his bike – unlike both of us – so wasn’t surprised that he was making light work of getting up the hill. And now, away from towns and cities, we were finding a rarity of trees by the roadside. Just as I was beginning to feel desperate I was very relieved to notice one tiny tree way in the distance and made for that. Miraculously, it turned into a small clump of trees and we stopped again for a refreshing swig of water. Sitting there basking in the shade, John pointed out the same cyclist who had passed us, only this time he was going in the opposite direction. Rejuvenated from the stop we got back on the bikes, although I would have been quite happy to stay by the welcoming shade for the next few hours. After some minutes of being back on our bikes, the same cyclist passed us once again, this time going back up the hill. A bit later I decided that the heat must have got to me as I watched the same cyclist riding back down the hill. I marvelled at his energy to be able to keep going in the heat that was by now taking its toll on both of us. If I wasn’t so exhausted I might have stopped him to ask if he was training for the Tour de France!
Eventually we rode into Lorca, not a particularly exciting looking village, it seemed quite deserted. Here we spoke to two young men waiting for a bus to take them on to the next stop. They told us that we could find somewhere to get a bite to eat just around the corner – which inevitably meant climbing a nasty little hill.
I couldn’t face getting back on the bike so we wheeled them up the hill and found a beautifully hidden quiet lane which took us straight to the Albergue de Lorca. There we ordered two slices of Spanish Omelette. We were ready for something more sustaining than a piece of chocolate, and that little slice of Spanish Omelette was manna from Heaven.
As much as we would have like to give up for the day, it was still too early so once again we rejoined the N1110 until we reached the outskirts of Estella. The road into the town centre seemed to go on forever but eventually, and after stopping to ask for directions, we located a large albergue – halfway up a small hill. Taking the panniers off my bike, I noticed that the solar charger was missing. It must have dropped out of the side pannier somewhere along route. Fortunately, as most of the albergues have a few communal points where we could charge our mobile phones there was no need to panic.
There were still bed spaces available at the albergue and they had a small evening menu so we didn’t much more than have showers, eat something (I was so tired I don’t even remember what I ate) and hit the sack. Today, we were both so exhausted that I very much imagine I was asleep even before my head hit the pillow. If people were snoring, I certainly didn’t hear them.