I didn't do the Fontecha Berantevilla stretch of GR1 earlier in the year because I couldn't find anywhere to stay on the route. Instead I got a lift from Fontecha to Medina de Ebro and then a taxi to Berantevilla next day. I wanted to see what this stretch of walking was like and if it was worth doing. Instead of Medina de Ebro, which wasn't a particularly nice place, I wanted to try Vitoria-Gasteiz.
I'd stayed the night before in Bilboa and had been there just long enough to work out where everything was and conclude that it's definitely worth a return visit with Christine. It would be an excellent place to tack onto the beginning or end of some GR1 walking.
From Bilboa I went to by bus to Vitoria-Gasteiz which, with a lovely medieval core is much nicer than Medina de Ebro. It's where Wellington beat the French in the final battle of the Peninsula War, a victory which lost some its sparkle when the British troops, instead of pursuing their enemy, went on a drinking binge.
Early next morning I caught the bus to Fontecha. It was a little mini-bus with only one passenger on it for the 40 kilometre journey - me.
|One of two castles at Fontecha|
Fontecha has two impressive defensive towers guarding the valley which leads to the ancient salt works at Salinas de Añana. When I was there last time it also had a bar where I hoped to get some food for the walk. The bar was shut.
My plan involved walking to Berantevilla and then catching a bus back to Vitoria from a nearby main road at 3.30. I had worked out that the total trip was 29 kilometres and if everything went perfectly I should make it
The route heads west out of Fontecha along the side of a shallow valley. It was a pretty route with the dark green Holm Oaks contrasting with the browny yellow of the cereal stubble. The route was well signposted - not only was I walking the GR1, I was also on the GR 99, the long distance Ebro trail.
|Early morning to the east of Fontecha|
The route, clearly an old road, joins together a series of small villages. No longer used, it had in places become overgrown and impassable with brambles and walking across the stubble next to the path was sometimes the only way through.
|Overgrown old road|
Just before arriving at the third village, Salcedo, and contradicting the route shown on the map, the GR1 signs send you north. It's a detour designed to show you some megaliths (which I couldn't find) and the San Pedro chapel.
I was now under a bit of time pressure and was noticing every bit of unanticipated climb. I knew I had some significant motorways and railway lines to negotiate but I thought they were all in the same valley. As it turned out they were in two separate valleys and there was a 200 metre climb separating them.
|Romanesque church at Quintanilla de la Ribera|
Of course I knew I would never actually have crossed a motorway but I did start to have doubts when I got to Armiñón. The map, and initially the way marks appear to direct you over the motorway (a new one), and it was only when I said to myself "they can't be serious" that I spotted some newer signs taking me via roundabouts underneath.
Safely past the motorway and in the village of Estavillo there is a sign saying Berantevilla via the GR1 9 kilometres, and another one saying 6 kilometres via the St James Way. I probably should have gone along the St James Way but pride comes before being called "Pilgrim" and I stuck with my GR1. Not only was it further, it was also uphill. I then missed a turn and went all the way up San Formerio, about a kilometre further on, before I realised my mistake.
By the time of got to Berantevilla it was 4 o'clock. I drowned my sorrows with a couple of beers and some crisps (first calories since breakfast), was told that a taxi was impossible but that Miranda de Ebro was only 8 kilometres away.
Then, as is often case, my luck changed. I walked about 3 kilometres to the edge of an industrial estate. There was a bus stop, 15 minutes later a bus was dropping me off at the train station in Miranda de Ebro just in time to hear the train announced for Vitoria. 20 minutes later I was walking towards my hotel eating a huge ice-cream - and they say the Irish are lucky.