It alarms me that I can slot in more easily with the Irish than with some Australians. It seems to take no time till irony, gossip, and teasing become the quick-set but firm foundations of a friendship. Our first stop on the road toward Spain was a little bar with a mountain torrent under it. When I asked the girls what sort of chocolate I should buy for the trek, I was expecting the usual Saturday-supplement-reader insistence on dark, 70% min. cocoa, organic for preference, with some gabble about anti-oxidants…
But no! These ladies wanted gooey milk chocolate to go with the gummi bears and other bright coloured lollies they were snapping up from the shelves. I’m with you, girls!
And to go with the delicious edible junk, I suggest some delicious historical junk. Let’s forget that Roland might have been killed somewhere else, that instead of facing a saracen horde he was done in by some local Basque christians.
Guys, this is our day for Charlemagne, Carles li reis, nostre empere magnes, and his Paladins, and Roland at the pass of Roncesvaux.
It’s unsure exactly where we first entered Spain, but Valcarlos was our first definitely Spanish town. It’s Basque, but with a much darker maroon in its colour scheme.
By its situation, and the name meaning “Valley of Charles”, the locals and others claim this as the site of the so-called battle of Roncesvaux – but they would say that wouldn’t they?
Those who go by the classic high track see much…but the alternative route is not just a road trek. It’s a fine hike in its own right, and much of the way is off-road.
Neither route is for dawdlers, I hate to say. To cross the Pyrenees in good time, unless one starts further up at Valcarlos or Orisson, requires a long day’s walk at altitude. Feel that altitude.
Those who went via the actual pass that day found it heavy going. It doesn’t surprise me that lives are sometimes lost up there, though it’s such a well trafficked way. Even in mid-May it was hazardous.
It all comes together at the top, where there is a monument to Roland, who either wouldn’t, couldn’t or actually did blow his horn, depending on which legend you like. I like cavalry movies, so I’ll plump for the legend where he blew his horn at the last moment before death, to alert Charlemagne that there was danger at the rear. I think I saw Burt Lancaster do that once.
So it’s over the top…
…and down a pretty wooded slope…
…with the odd view…
…to Roncesvaux! But now we have to call it Roncesvalles. The long dawdle had taken me to Spain.