Day 4 – Puente la Reina to Estella (21.2 km)
Although the temperature today hovered around zero, there was no snow or rain. Now and then a little sunshine appeared, which made this a pleasant day. The terrain was quite undulating and the path went along rural farm roads through vineyards, wheat fields, grasslands and olive groves. Villages were medieval and well looked after; they are probably in a better shape now than they had been during the 12th century
A well preserved stretch of ‘via’, a road from Roman times, led to a single-arched bridge of the same period. A part of the road on the far side of the bridge was washed away, exposing its cross-section. We are talking here about road construction that is 2000 years old and it appears the Romans knew what they were doing. They spared no effort to build durable structures.
The road verges in this case were finished off with purposely shaped rocks, chiselled to form a raised outer edge. This was neat and quite sophisticated, but I was puzzled as to why the edges were raised by about 20 mm; after all, this would prevent rainwater running off sideways. In this part the road also had a defined centre constructed from longish shaped rock ‘kerbs’. They were not standing upright, like the kerbstones we know; they merely divided the two lanes rather like the white painted lines on our roads. Maybe they also acted as furrows for rainwater.
We walked on these Roman roads for quite a distance and in parts the farmland on either side had been elevated over the centuries by around a metre and were now encroaching onto the Roman via, leaving a track no more than two metres wide with the centre ridge guiding the pilgrim.
Mother Nature called and I took off my gloves. Why is this important enough to mention? One glove had suddenly disappeared. I searched all over, even inside my pants. I retraced my steps, frantically searching for the missing glove, but it was nowhere to be found – as if spirited away. I had previously lost one on the way and was now left with a right hand glove of the warmer pair and a left hand glove of the cooler pair. I decided that if the Camino swallowed gloves at this rate and after walking only for four days, I would have to find another pair! The last thing I needed was to be short of a glove in these temperatures.
Estella was my next stop for the night. The town is divided by the River Ega, and after some rest in the municipal albergue I crossed the river on Puente Carcel. This is a single span bridge, not dissimilar in construction to the Rialto Bridge in Venice: The surface also rises and falls very steeply by following the contours of the arch. Being a medieval bridge, it was built with large stones like all the bridges we crossed here. They have no refinements. Estella was established in the early 11th century and many hospitals and hostels for pilgrims that passed through were constructed.
Puente Carcel in Estella
Pilgrims came from France, Germany and other countries and many were artisans, stonemasons, builders and carpenters, as well as architects, surveyors and engineers. Local Royalty appreciated the skills of these people and offered favourable tax incentives and other benefits to entice them to settle along the Camino. Some took up the offer and returned with their families after completing their pilgrimage. In this way new building styles were introduced and construction techniques not previously seen in northern Spain appeared.
For a while Estella was also the seat of the kings of Navarre and the old town with the kings’ palace and the monastery stretches along the south bank of the river. On the north bank is what they still call the French quarter, where the immigrant pilgrims had settled long ago.
I explored this suburb, bought a new pair of desperately needed gloves and some provisions. The evening was icy cold with a sharp wind blowing up the river valley, so I chose not to walk the narrow streets any further, but to rush back over the bridge to the south side and to the albergue to find shelter and a warm cup of soup from Noelia. A Spanish pilgrim, not previously seen and never seen again, joined us.