Wednesday 29th April
Bearing in mind we were next door to a dual carriageway and in the middle of a city it was very quiet last night.
We set off along the Way of St James aiming for an aire at As Nobais but when we got there we could barely squeeze Frankie on. There were meant to be 6 parking places but two motorhomes could have got on at a pinch if all the parked cars had been elsewhere. Luckily it was only a short hop off the motorway and we were soon on our way again. The roads for the last two days have been mostly motorways which makes for very swift movement across the country but we can see snow capped mountains in the distance and have passed through a height of 4000 feet.
As we got close to Ponferrada we started seeing signs for Las Medulas and reset Stella who did her usual trick by saying it was only 5 miles away and then once she had calculated the route it magically goes up to 23 miles. We ignored her and followed the signs which took us up one of the steepest hills we’ve ever been on. I think Stella knew how much sangria was on board and was trying to be kind to Frankie
What is Las Medulas. This was the first sight to greet us, strange rock formations.
And then some more.
What on earth could be happening here?
Las Medulas is the site of one of the largest open cast gold mines in the Roman world. This all used to be a mountain but over 200 years the Romans blasted the rock away to reach the gold deposits.
The size of the place is staggering. 14 square kilometres of mine and our circular walk was only a small part of what was there.
Whole valleys have been mined and the spoil washed away.
Gold was found in the local river in ancient times and exploration was made of the upper reaches of the river until the source was found. Things stepped up a gear when the Romans arrived. They had perfected a technique of digging tunnels which were shaped in a particular way. They then allowed water to rush through the tunnels and as the water was squeezed through smaller openings it created a blast wave that tore the mountain apart.
Pliny, the great scholar was here and described the technique as Ruina Montium which is the term still used for this type of mining.
It is estimated that 1500 tonnes of gold were taken from this mine over the 200 years it was in use. They think that about 3g of gold could be taken from 1 tonne of earth (my wedding ring weighs about 6g) so using my abacus that is roughly 500,000,000 tonnes of earth that had to be moved, washed, sieved and worked by hand.
Flower for mum. The petals look like they are made up of crumpled up paper. There were loads of Iris’s growing like weeds but I think we’ve had enough flowers for a while.
It took us over 2 hours to do our walk and you can see that the sky is nice and blue. When we got back to the car park there was a German couple who had been parked next to us last night. They had tried to drive round the other side of the mountain where the gold sieving operations took place but had to turn back because their motorhome was too large. We had been about to go to that place since the guide had recommended it but if a fellow motorhomer says no, that is good enough for me. Las Medulas is a highly recommended detour and didn’t cost a penny.
On to Ponferrada, free aire with services and hundreds of wifi channels in the area, sadly all of them are locked up tight. Here is the Castle of the Knights Templar.
And another view. It looks almost Disney like but this was built in the 14th century, other parts of the castle were built far earlier than that. Since we had already had a good long walk, and the castle looked very interesting we decided to visit it the following morning and give it the time we thought it deserved.
View from Frankies wind screen. The Aquilana mountains in the distance and fields of poppies and other stuff in the field in front of us. We got our chairs out to soak up the sun and our German friends turned up next to us.
Behind us is one of the Pilgrims rest houses, the whole town is bedevilled with Scallop Botherers or “Grims” as we call them.
Bright and early the next day and you can see what is in the sky, the clouds and rain have caught us up again. We get to the castle gates and couldn’t believe it, just our luck. Wednesday the castle is free, we have to pay €6 each to get in because it is Thursday! Not only that but the railway museum is closed on Thursdays.
The tour started off very well. All the displays were in Spanish and English and very descriptive. We really learnt a lot about the life of stone masons, peasants and the nobility and there were many references to King Arthur and the Doomsday Book.
The castle itself was OK, not a patch on Dover Castle and after the first bit, most of the signs were in Spanish.
The inner part of the castle was dominated by a reconstruction of a large palace that was inside the walls but was in a modern style and out of place
We have arrived in Astorga, home to an enormous cathedral and situated at a convenient place for me to have a break. We’re are sharing the aire with two other vans and we are tucked away behind the bull ring. We’ve parked on top of an ant’s nest (huge ants) so Lucy splashed the ant powder round and about, we’ve had ants in a previous caravan and didn’t want a repeat. Can you believe that she has put ant powder round the step? The step is 9” off the floor, does she think they are going to build a ladder or try a bit of high jump? Sometimes I really do think she is losing it.
Lucy always checks my blogs to make sure that I haven’t said anything too contentious and after reading the last bit she said “but there was a fly helping them”. We’ve just found the only Ant Paratroopers in the world and she murdered them!!