Day 10 – Belorado to Ages (27.7 km)
The town of Belorado did not appeal to me as most others did; it was old but lacked charm and atmosphere and the name had no ring to it. For a short while I attended evening mass but then crashed early into bed. The next day I was eager to reach Villafranca Montes de Oca (Hills of Geese) – the name of this town fascinated me and I looked forward to climbing the chain of hills that followed. Knowing that I was nearing Burgos probably gave me extra energy. Snow still fell heavily and the temperature was well below zero. Early on I had seen an old and rusty thermometer next to an entrance door. According to its mercury, we walked in – 5 degree Celsius.
Yesterday was Sunday and all shops in Belorado were closed, so my chief priority was finding food for the day. The first place I stumbled into was at the outskirts of Villafranca, twelve kilometres past Belorado. The shop was a dark dungeon with an old woman grumbling from a back corner. Somehow my hair stood up; I felt distinctly uncomfortable and immediately walked out again, mumbling excuses. I have no idea what made me so jittery: a spooky atmosphere does not normally bother me.
In general, shops in these regions are small and full, with hardly any space to walk through and this does not really matter except that the backpack hinders progress. This shop, however, was everything but inviting. Maybe it was the vibe of the old woman in the dark corner that gave me the shivers. I continued and before I knew it I had left the church behind, passed a fountain with icicles around its basin and walked up to Alto Mojapán. It was a short but steep climb after which the path continued ascending over Alto Pedraja and Alto Carnero with river valleys in between.
On the way from Villafranca to St Juan de Ortega I had what was likely the most beautiful walk of this entire journey – through winter scenery. Never before had I experienced such a fairytale landscape: the path was winding through forests alternating with tall shrubs. Snow had powdered everything and weighed down the branches. It was extremely quiet and peaceful; the air was still and sounds were muffled. Every now and then I could hear the cracking of a dead branch collapsing under its added weight. Otherwise there was no sound other than the compacting crunch of snow underfoot.
The descent from Alto Mojapán led quite steeply down to the River Peroja and in the distance a path up the densely wooded Alto Pedraja was intermittently visible as a white stripe snaking along until finally disappearing over the crest.