Leaving León, the pilgrim notes small changes in the landscape. The mountains across the flats are closer, there are scatterings of trees, more shape to the land.
The first towns out of León have some of the most attractive names. Virgen del Camino conjures a touch of medieval romance. Though the legend of an apparition is attached to the town, it’s mostly a modern strip flanking the N120, with the AP71 humming not far away. Its main landmark seems to be the modernist basilica begun in the late 1950’s.
Ah, the era that popularised the muumuu dress and pineapple fritters! I was there!
Along the N120, I had lunch at a bar which was quickly transformed to an organised card game after I was asked to move my plate and glass to a corner of the room. Every table was needed. No money touched those tables, and, unlike tobacco, cards don’t emit any giveaway smoke for the nostrils of any prying gov’mint men.
Animals outside of sheds and feedlots are a rarity in Spain. At last, a glimpse of livestock:
These winter tubers were being harvested in enormous quantities.
An interesting architectural feature of the trail to Astorga are the ornate silos of the region. This was probably the most striking, but there were others.
Something else that struck me was a certain freedom and eccentricity in the design of private dwellings. People did this sort of thing in new Sydney suburbs in the post-war years, enraptured by the idea of having their own cheap land to do as they liked.
This sort of suburban-frontier expression is probably a healthy thing. I don’t know why.
An old and renowned structure of these parts is the Puente de Orbigo, a bridge of extreme length which once had to span a much greater body of water. It leads to the old pilgrim town of Hospital de Orbigo, where the Knights of St. John had a major complex.
The thirteenth century bridge was scaffolded for extensive renovation when I crossed it. Who could complain?
Al-Mansur, the greatest of the Andalusian potentates, carried away the bells of Santiago de Compostela after sacking the city in 997. He took them across the previous bridge on this site on his way home to Cordoba. That’s what they say. Nobody knows why he left the tomb of James intact; some say their own fire held back the Muslim troops. (But we know who really stopped those Moors, don’t we?)
On the other side of Orbigo, I was tempted, for obvious reasons, to stay the night at this roadhouse.