Day 21 The Big Iberian Tour - El Real de la Jara

Edited by Christine

After 4 nights in Seville we are on the road again and have started what was always the main purpose of the trip, doing the Ruta Vía de la Plata: an ancient Roman route north, and part of the St James Way network.  We are taking the road-bike version to Leon before leaving la Ruta and going to Santander. La Ruta continues north to Gijón -- other versions go to Santiago de Compostela, but because we want to catch the ferry home we will turn east at Leon.

So far so good. Actually 10kms from the destination, Christine declared it was the best day's cycling she'd ever had although I think this had more to do with a premature sense that the journey was over. The last 10kms were a bit of an ordeal and finding the hotel was an absolute nightmare.

First, weather news. After fabulous weather for the first three weeks of the tour it has broken. In Spain when it rains it's cats and dogs. It rained all day yesterday and throughout the night so we felt ourselves lucky when it stopped as we were packing up to leave Seville. Black clouds threatened all morning but we escaped a downpour and the heavens didn't open again until we were snugly indoors having lunch in El Ronquillo. The forecast suggests we could be dodging showers tomorrow, after which normal service will resume and scorchio will again be the order of the day.

Today we did 86kms and because we were climbing from Seville - virtually at sea level - into the mountains of the Sierra Morena, there was uphill to be done. The highest point reached was 560 metres but according to my GPS we gained something like 1700m, losing 1200. Tough work for a pair of cyclists who normally mess about on the south coast.

The road has been brilliant. For the next 3 or 4 days we're tracking the motorway heading north. What this means is that our N630 road, the old main road, is virtually traffic free. Things were a bit messy for the first 10kms but then we got into wide open countryside and it just got better and better.

The landscape, once we had climbed a couple of hundred metres, changed and we left huge fields full of baby sunflowers behind us and entered classic Spanish terrain dominated by holm oak and flower-filled permanent pasture. As we got higher the cattle lower down were progressively replaced by sheep and the famous acorn-fed black pigs that satisfy the Spanish obsession with ham (so much better than its more famous Italian rival).

We stopped for lunch at El Ronquillo and gorged on scrambled eggs and asparagus. Wild asparagus - we've seen the hunters out gathering the stuff - is nothing like what you buy in the supermarket at home. The only better way to eat scrambled eggs is with baby broad beans, quite expensive but not yet in season. Any vegetable/ egg dish here is called revueltos: don't be put off.

Shortly after lunch we left the route tracking the motorway and headed east into the Sierra Morena. The landscape was similar but much more remote. We zipped through Almaden de la Plata, I town I'd been to before on a hike with my Spanish friend Juan. It was at this point Christine announced that this was her favourite day's cycling but the downhill stretch she was clearly anticipating didn't materialise and she was running on empty. When we eventually arrived at the El Real de la Jara she lost confidence in my navigational excellence and refused to follow me up a hill to the hotel convinced that she knew a better route. She then rang me to ask me the way to the hotel but it was hard to give her any guidance when I didn't know where she was. Miraculously we did eventually arrive at the same place at almost the same time.

This is one of the many weekends in Spain when everyone is partying. It's the feria or fair: we saw the signs in Seville but it's here as well. I suspect this could effect our sleep tonight. The hotel we're staying in, on the edge of an industrial estate, has a massive restaurant which tonight is closed, and instead of serving food it's hosting a rock band.

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