Fri 29th Sept., Alcuéscar to Aldea del Cano, 15klms
I had many choices for the title of today’s post, but this one slightly pips the others at the post.
I don’t think on reflection that we are naturally albergue people. I say that with no criticism of others, rather that the albergue structure doesn't suit us as well as the independent casa rural or hotel offerings do. Last night’s gathering was certainly quite convivial, and we chatted to a range of interesting people. The recently retired florist from Slovenia was fascinated that some friends from home had recently visited her country, and I showed her some of their photos. The Argentinian-German lady who had travelled extensively including to many parts of the Himalaya and Australia, had some wonderful tales to tell. Serge, the French hospitalero, told us that in the last 15 days of his voluntary posting, there had been seven or eight pilgrims at the albergue each night. Last night’s gathering of nine people represented his largest number, and what's interesting is that most days we see absolutely no one. On the odd day we will see one or two others, but seeing seven or eight hasn’t happened. Anyway, all that by way of background. The rules of last night’s albergue were that one had to be out of the door by 7:00 am. We were the last to leave at 7:30, and for us that’s not bad. Most of the others seemed to depart somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 as they headed off on their 35+ kilometre walk for the day. Talking to some of the other folk, this seems to be a bit of a pattern. I’m trying to withhold my judgments here, but it does seem a little self defeating to head off predawn for a 7+ hour walk simply to get to the other end. I do realise that everybody’s circumstances are a little different, and all the same the “leave early and charge” mentality does seem to have some currency amongst many.
I said this all to put our day into a slightly different perspective. We had always planned a relatively light day - 15 kilometres in two stages. A “smell the roses” sort of a day. And so it was.
We had found Alcuéscar an unusual town; hard put my finger on it but it just had an odd feel about it. I wasn’t sad to leave, other than we had missed seeing the 7th century Visigoth monastery a few kilometres out of town – yesterday’s circumstances were such that it was an opportunity that couldn’t be fulfilled.
The walk out of Alcuéscar in the pre dawn light was very beautiful, as a couple of these shots hopefully show:
Moonset over some farm buildings...
Dawn long legs
But if Alcuéscar had an odd feel to it, Casas de Don Antonio, 8 klms up the road, was completely different. It’s a small village slightly off the Camino, which means that one has to divert to go into the main part of the town. When we got there a little after 9:00 am, the local cafe was about the only sign of life in town. We stopped for desayuno as always planned, And as the locals came and went there were holas, buenos dias and even the occasional buen camino all round. The place exuded friendliness, and we left with a lovely feeling. We even got a sello from the council offices. A few photos of the town follow:
Roman Bridge entrance to Casa se Don Antonio
Formal town welcome
Where's that door gone?
Simple, very clever water driven mill
But I guess the real treat of the morning was to follow in the second stage of our journey. Various Roman artefacts remain here, and I’ll let some of the official documentation explain it better than I can.
Apart from simply experiencing these things, it stuns me that as one wanders along a dirt track alongside the N-630 and very busy A-66 roadways, these 2000 year old artefacts are just standing there as if they were completely commonplace.
The Vía de la Plata leaves us traces of its intense and busy past. Remains of its original construction and historical reforms still survive, in a spaced manner, and edges and ridges can be seen. Between Casas de Don Antonio and Aldea del Cano is the Dehesa and the Cortijo de Santiago de Bencáliz. Excavations have been carried out there that have revealed remains of a Roman villa. At this point we find milestones. These archaeological remains are samples of a history full of walkers and travelers who needed the Vía de la Plata to trade, learn, preach, or simply live. One of the milestones is part of a fence, another remains in its original place, since it was used to leave the mail destined for the nearby Casa de Santiago de Bencáliz.
Here's the entrance to the modern day Finca de Santiago de Bencáliz. You can just see the outline of the main casa centre shot, to the left of the wall. Interesting to me also is the massive row of eucalypts which have just been cut down.
Miliario del Cartero
On the edges of the old road (viae publicae) and placed at regular intervals, Roman engineers placed the so-called milestones (miliarium), cylinders with a cubic base made of granite with dimensions between 2 and 4 meters high and 0.5 to 0.8 meters in diameter. In each one of them were inscribed information about the emperor who ordered the construction or reform of the road, the entity or person responsible for the works and, above all, since this was its main function, the distance between the milestone in question and the nearest city or manor. This distance was expressed in miles (milia passum) and each of them was equivalent to 1000 double Roman steps, about 1481 meters with our current system.
The first known milestones date from the period of the Republic, but the vast majority of the preserved charters were made between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.
It is probably the most emblematic milestone of the Vía de la Plata, known as the Correo or Postman milestone, due to that in it you can see a hole like a small niche that apparently was used by the postmen to leave the correspondence for the people who lived in the farmhouse of Santiago de Bencáliz, visible from here about 600 meters to the east. In reality it is about the milestone XXVIII, since this is its corresponding number in the sequence of the ancient Roman road iter ab Emerita Caesaraugustam, as identified in the Antonine Itinerary, whose beginning is located in Mérida and therefore 28 Roman miles from this place.
Here's one of the best preserved miliariums (and no, let's not get too pedantic about them collectivelybeing miliaria). Casa/Finca Santiago de Bencáliz sits in the background.
Face the other direction, and there's a 2,000 year old miliario flanked by modern day transport on the N-630 and A-66.
A modern day marker
Another - number XXV
And yet another, just short of Aldea del Cano, today's destination.
Along the path, a mediaeval bridge, just off the position of a previous Roman Bridge. How do they know it's not actually where the Roman Bridge was? Easy. The Romans built their roads/bridges in straight lines, and this one puts a kink in the line, so it can't be on the original spot!!
In closing, a couple of shots from around Aldea del Cano.
Our casa rural, outside and in
Calle Real - fairly obviously houseproud owners.
We closed the day out at Bar la Nave; I love these little places where you just sit out on the road and watch the local world go by ...
Long distance walking doesn't always afford one the luxury to smell the roses, but I'm so glad that today we didn't rush along at the expense of what we saw.
It’s a 23 kilometre walk tomorrow into the much larger city of Cáceres. We’ve adjusted our schedule to spend an extra night there, and I’ll say more about that later.