October 20, 2019
A short mileage day encouraged us to take a side trip to the ruins of Castillo de Sarracín outside the town of Vega de Valcarce. This castle, first built in the 9th century, with extensive rebuilding through the 14th and 15th centuries, looked over a vast amount of the Bierzo region. Jay’s guidebook, The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago, informed us that at one point the Sarracín lords owned 35 of the nearby villages.
The path to the castle, pitched at an incredibly steep gradient, gave my legs a workout. As I labored, I reflected upon the vast amount of political power once stored in the stone walls above.
Then my thoughts turned more practical. ‘How did they get water from the river below up such an outrageously precipitous road? Perhaps there was a well?’
A sigh of relief and quivering leg muscles accompanied my first sight of the castle ruins.
The arched doorway, a gate swinging invitingly ajar, beckoned with promises of adventure.
A designated pathway guided us between roofless rooms, with signs warning of dangerous sections.
Peering into rooms and climbing to the top of the castle wall provided a good bit of exploratory entertainment.
This collage shows Jay’s progress up the stone stairs. Please note, there are no handrails!
The views from the top made negotiating the stairs worthwhile!
Hugging the wall tightly while descending introduced my face to intimate details of fall foliage within the nooks and crannies of thick stone blocks. Nothing like ivy and moss tickling ones nose while feet gingerly feel for the edge of the next step!
Most of the morning, clouds had played chase with very watery sunlight. Moisture-filled air kept water droplets beading on my glasses. While we explored the castle, the clouds quit playing tag with the sun, and began sending raindrops large enough to be affected by gravity.
Leaving the castle and coming downhill, I had energy to enjoy the amazing numbers of chestnut trees planted along the castle road.
Many of the trees had been pollarded – cut off as tall stumps, the branches encouraged to regrow. This is a way to use the chestnut wood through hundreds of years. One old stump had survived a fire. I couldn’t resist climbing inside!
That evening, the hostel gave us a beautiful view of the Río Valcarce, a meadow with deer and cows, and a steeply wooded hillside. I enjoyed looking at all that beauty, while my mind’s eye stayed busy with scenes of ancient stone habitation atop acres of woodland.