Day 8 | Ruesta to Puerto del Palo
Today we were up with the lark. Well actually I was up with the tractors and combine-harvesters which left the village at around 5:07am… and left barking dogs in their wake. The larks started around 6:00am… as did the swallows, sparrows, pigeons and blackbirds. Our little house is directly under the walls and garden of the church above. In the garden of the church are many many trees and I suspect they are home to many many different species of birds; including larks.
I tried to get back to sleep but I was really cold. I searched in the dark for my blanket (we have separate covers on the bed). In the end I got up and searched and realised that Gerry was snuggled up with my blanket whilst his lay abandoned on the floor beside the bed. I tried to gently retrieve my blanket and replace it with Gerry’s… but he woke up… but only for about 10 seconds before returning to sleep… obviously larks don’t bother Gerry!
I decided to get up before the alarm and make breakfast. It’s nice to be awake at this hour. We can open the windows in the kitchen and the lounge and because the house is open plan the cool morning breeze runs through; and it’s a good idea to make the most of that cool air because today was going to be 36c and our walk was going to be exposed!
We ate breakfast and made ready. We were driving back to the Camino Aragones, and picking up the trail close to where we ended yesterday beside the Yesa Embalse (a huge and somewhat controversial reservoir). At first we drove along the major road of our valley and then we turned off onto a much newer road that ran along the Embalse but then the new road ended and a rather shabby old road took it’s place. Google maps was very confused and showed us heading off up a mountain… which gave us pause for thought and we wondered if the old road would just end too! But we needn’t have worried because as we turned the corner, we’d arrived at Ruesta.
Ruesta is another amazing little village, tucked away in the hills and chocked full of historical gems, not least the castle. The site of the original castle was destroyed in 996 but in 1016 work started to rebuild it. The work continued on and off until 1254. The village had a chequered history but had been continuously inhabited until 1959, when the villagers were forced to leave to make way for the Yesa Resevoir. The village today is in ruins; with their agricultural land flooded there was nothing to keep the residents there. More recently there has been a movement to restore the village and currently there is an Albergue and a conference centre, the castle and the church however look almost beyond repair.
We wandered around the village and it’s surroundings before starting our walk. We even met our first pilgrims! (although they weren’t too chatty so we simply exchanged buen caminos). You leave the village by a bit of a downhill path, which seems to be the remains of an old road. There are large loose stones/cobbles and of course inevitably Gerry stumbled. Nothing major. Not a fall. Not anything really. But what it did was irritate his already sore ankle. We continued for a little while but he was slower and limping so we stopped. Today’s route is solitary. Gronze describes it as: The stage takes place in an environment of melancholic loneliness; At the exit from Ruesta we face a long and monotonous climb, in which we gain 350 meters of unevenness in 6.4 kilometers, with splendid views over the controversial Yesa reservoir. Like yesterday, today there are also two long stretches without provisioning and, furthermore, there are few places to take shelter from the sun.
We only planned to walk about 6 or 7 kilometres before returning to Ruesta so this would mean our trail would be all ups and downs. This wouldn’t work for Gerry. And we want to be sure he’s feeling fit for tomorrow and the rest of the week so we decided to head back and make another plan. As we left the village we spotted a notice board which showed the route of the Camino Aragones but also other GR routes. One passed through the village of Binies… a few kilometres from our village (Canal de Berdun). Gerry likes the name of the village and has wanted to visit since we arrived so we decided that we would take a circular route up into the Pyrenees again, visit a village called Siresa, maybe find a small trail to walk and then head back to Binies.
We set off towards Puenta la Reina. Every time we’ve driven that way we see a village high on a hill but we never notice it on the drive out. For the last few days we’ve said the same thing and so today we decided to pay special attention to try and figure out why we never see it… and why it was so invisible to us. All soon became very clear. It was our village! We chuckled to ourselves as we continued along the road. Unlike the last few days instead of turning right to follow the camino we turned left and headed back towards the mountains. The first section of the road was long and straight; surely it must be roman? Onwards we went and the air grew a little cooler and the grass a little greener and the hills a little taller! We were driving through the Hecho Valley and we decided to keep driving onwards beyond Siresa towards the mountains. We would have loved to keep driving higher but time was against us and we decided to stop in a large layby which seem to have several marked trails and the possibility of a walk to a campsite (with a bar). Oh it was glorious to be back in the mountains! All around there were views. We meandered and picked a trail. We crossed a bridge over a river gorge and on one side was a rocky river and the other a deep pond like section. It was so hot that if we had been able to, I would have gone for a swim! But Gerry had his mind on a cafe con leche so we carried on. The trail took us first down and then up, up and up but thankfully with shade from a pine forest. Every so often we’d pop out from the trees and have a view of the peaks around us. A few kilometres later we reached a campsite and on the far side of the the site with a fabulous view was the bar. We sat in the shade and cooled down in the mountain breeze. This was a good plan!
After we’d refreshed and cooled it was time to head back. I wasn’t quite ready to stop so Gerry found himself a little seat of tumbled rocks in the shade and I wandered on for a little longer. The path was easy but gosh it was hot… but I just wanted to see what was around the next bend… and the next… and the next. Gerry sent me a message. Have you found anything fascinating? I sent him a photo and decided I really should return to the poor chap. It was almost 1:00 and he would be getting hungry!
Back in the car we congratulated ourselves on a good choice! And headed back to Siresa where we hoped we’d find another plate of something nice for lunch. I had my eye on chicken but I’d told Gerry about Platos Combinados and he was already sold on that idea. We arrived in the village just as someone left so we grabbed their parking spot and we arrived at the cafe just as another couple left so we grabbed their table in the shade. Emboldened by his efforts yesterday Gerry again decided to order… and 15 minutes later Pollo y Papas arrived for me and a rather generous looking Cerdo Heuvos y Papas arrived for his nibs. I’m glad we did the walk in the morning because I don’t think we’ll be walking much this afternoon! It was a great little find and we sat amongst the locals all meeting and greeting and enjoying a cool drink and a few olives with their friends.
We left about an hour or two later and decided we should at least visit the Monasterio de San Pedro de Siresa that the village is famous for. Well! I’m so glad that we did! For starters the orginal Abbaye was on this site from as early as 833. However roman and pre-historic history also abounds in the region. In 852, the traveling monk and scholar Eulogius of Córdoba wrote about the splendor of the monastery and its library and that he had copied Greco-Roman manuscripts held there! We considered that. There was a fabulous library here in 852! We walked around the exterior of the building. There was a QR link to an english guide so we scanned it and listened to the history. What I learned was even more exciting for me! This village and the road and mountains around us had, until around 1000 years ago, been the most popular route for pilgrims crossing the pyrenees and heading to Santiago. They would cross the Puerto del Pato and head down the Hecho valley to Siresa and onwards perhaps even towards Binies and Berdun (our village which is already part of the Camino Aragones).
I wanted to know more about this camino and found this website : http://www.pasoapalmo.com/camino_de_santiago-puerto_del_palo.htm – it’s in spanish but my browser translates. How exciting! Another pass to walk through in the mountains. But not on this trip. Time is running out and we have so many other plans… and I don’t think Gerry’s ankle is up to it just now… but one day! I also learned that the pass was used during World War II and was called the Chemin de Liberte and was used as an escape route out of France and into Spain.
I didn’t want to leave the mountains but it was hot and time was marching on… we returned the car and headed back down the valley and on to Binies. Another beautiful little village with another castle. Binies, unlike Ruesta, was very much lived in and the streets were full of flowers and plants. We wandered around the narrow roads and headed off in the direction of the church and castle. The Castle of Urries is thought to be 12th Century but the village, like so many here has a much older history. The earliest mention of Binies was in 893 but it was thought the village existed before this. The castle is now privately owned and as the sun was hot hot hot we decided that we were ready to return to the cool of our little casa.
We’ve had another glorious day. We learned lots of history about the area and we found another camino for us to walk. My fitbit tells me I did over 12km today… so not a wasted day at all! We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Gerry’s ankle is better tomorrow as we’re heading back to France to tackle the Somport Pass!