In the Footsteps of the Pilgrims

DSCF5849I’m leaving France and following the ancient Route of St James through the foothills of the Pyrenees. This is the path trodden by many pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela and the young woman I see with the huge backpack and walking stick must have a lot of faith to be taking this path today. The only other creatures mad enough to be outside are a few scrawny sheep. It is cold and as I climb up the valley, the road twisting and turning in hairpin bends, I begin to see the remains of snow. It’s not long before more snow appears and by the time I reach the Ibaneta pass (1057m) there is at least a foot on either side. However, the road is snow free and a few vehicles coming from the other direction give me hope that the way is clear. When I reach the village of Roncesvalles I stop to stretch my legs and give Trixie a chance to cool down. It’s a good job that my hiking boots are handy because I have to wade through the soft white layers to reach the Colegiata Real where Sancho VII the Strong is buried.

DSCF5851The route down is much easier as the snow disappears and the view opens up across the forested mountains and lush green plains. I have driven this way to visit the city of Pamplona, famous for its San Fermin festival and the running of the bulls. The only bulls I see are cast in bronze. I’ve arrived during the siesta and all the shops are closed. It’s cold here too, so I seek refuge in the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Real. It is a huge place with gothic arches and intricately carved tympanums above the doorways. There is also a museum housing Roman and Islamic finds, religious art with modern visual and sound effects.

The following morning I drive to the coast along the main A15 motorway. I assume that because it’s a main route, the driving will be easier than before. How wrong could I be? Only 20 kms from Pamplona the road is lit up with warnings of snow and soon I am driving through a blizzard, the road surface white and slushy, with no sign of a snowplough or gritter. I think about pulling in at the services but perhaps it will get even worse or I will get stuck in the drifting snow, so I push on to the coast. Finally, I emerge from a long tunnel, about 20km from San Sebastian, and the snow has changed to rain. Now I can relax for a bit or at least until I reach the city limits.

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