Grim weather in flat terrain justifies compressing two days of walking into one post.
The country west from Sahagún has its historic touches, including the Canto bridge at the start; and, near Bercianos del Real Camino, an enormous but isolated ermita, afloat in a mud Sargasso.
As a courtesy to pilgrims…
We should never have built that Tower of Babel.
Even better if you know some French.
There are many lagoons in this region, due to a solid clay-pan which is making possible an ambitious irrigation scheme, as well as encouraging much birdlife. In a wet winter, however, you don’t do much lingering here, even if you can find a seat.
Here are some buildings in El Burgo Ranero and Mansilla de las Mulas. They all have something interesting in common.
And we shouldn’t omit that famous crazy bar in Reliegos, where nobody seems to care what you pay or what you scrawl, and where the new anti-tobacco laws are so scrupulously ignored.
These, like most structures in the region, are made of mud.
I got keen on mud-brick and adobe when visiting a friend in our local aboriginal nursing home, which is something of a showpiece. Some mud-brick cottages for independent living have been built on the capacious grounds. When I visited my friend it was a bitter winter’s evening, yet the cottage was not cold. Nor was there any vibration or transmission of noise. He assured me that the cottage was cool in summer.
I here offer no enviro-message, no familiar cant about sustainability. Mud has to be mined and worked, and the specialised labour, special foundations and transport of materials mean that even on the meseta some people find it preferable to use modern materials. Adobe is durable, but unsuitable for geologically unstable areas.
So it’s personal! I love the stuff because it’s comfortable and huggy, and because something so good is in endless supply. I never stay long where people are talking about scarcity; and when you look across that vast meseta it’s hard to believe in any peak-adobe theories. It’ll be there whenever humans turn their eyes and hands to it.
A lady I chatted with in Mansilla was explaining how many buildings that seem to be of concrete or other materials are just faced adobe. She pulled off a little chunk of a neighbour’s house to show me. That’s the other thing about adobe: it’s valuable without being at all precious. It can last hundreds of years, or it can fall apart and go back to being mud. Patching and alteration are simple affairs, even if they require solid understanding of the material.
It was also explained to me that, because of its porousness and active qualities, good adobe is not so prone to mould and odours as one might suspect. I’m guessing much would depend on the builder’s skill; the clay component, which is high in these parts; and on the straw and other fillers/reinforcers. I’m trying my hardest not to glamorise…but check this out. It could be new work, a patch-up, a facing removal job, or some cleaned-up bricks pulled from a wreck. Please tell me more if you know, pilgrims.
Mansilla de las Mulas is worth a stroll. It was near a Roman way, though that energetic Hispano-Italian, Trajan, had his very straight road a bit away from the present town. (A second local lady I chatted with was of the opinion that the way was indeed through Mansillas: the line had been broken by later developments. However, she was a particularly proud local. The evidence consists of the purported but disputed remains of a Roman bridge. Everyone in this world wants to be Irish or Roman, oppressed or oppressor, for some reason!)
After the wars against the Moors, the town was not only repopulated but very strongly fortified: to do with the strategic nature of the Esla River and its bridge here at Mansilla.
Clearly, the twelfth century fortifications weren’t of mud. You can’t have everything.