Sunday, 10 February 2008

France on the horizon

One of the things this blog has had to accommodate along Mark's route around the world has been time difference. As he cycled east, he kept getting further and further ahead of me so each day I was doing catch up with the blog. Then, once he got to the States, he was 'behind' me and I had to wait until the following day to chart where he'd been on the previous. It was, therefore, quite a novelty when he got back to Europe last week and for a brief time while he was in Portugal we were in the same time zone. For now and the remainder of the journey he is only one hour ahead, meaning that I can make a start on the blog in the morning and finish it later once he has reached his day's destination.
So, at 11.00 on the 10th (noon in Spain)Mark is already across the Ebro valley and heading for Pamplona....
The weather is again set fair for today. I was looking earlier at the forecast for Agreda where Mark stayed last night and noticed that it was only 2 degrees and foggy at 8am this morning. That is entirely in keeping with high pressure in winter. As the earth loses energy to clear skies overnight, the ground gets super cooled and the contact between it and the air condenses any moisture in the air to give fog. As the sun rises higher and the air warms, so gradually the fog dissipates. The problem of high pressure fog is particularly pronounced in valleys as cold air sinks and gets trapped .... so this morning the fog in the Ebro valley on the satellite photo of Spain. However, the fog is lifting, the sun is coming out and it is already 15 degrees in Pamplona. For the rest of the week, the pressure chart looks wonderful.... high pressure all the way to Paris!
For the first part of today, Mark was descending into the Ebro valley following one of its tributaries. Valverde caught my eye - a reminder that in this part of Spain, it is not always cold and frosty (as most of the Google imagery is showing). For much of the year it will be hot and dry and valleys like these will be the only green areas in the otherwise parched landscape of the long Mediterranean summer. The Google Maps imagery has clearly been captured in winter. In fact, much of the north of Spain seems to have been 'snapped' then - probably in the same sort of high pressure conditions which are prevailing this week. When you look closely at some of the images, they are really beautiful - almost reminiscent of Medieval maps on parchment....

The Ebro is Spain's longest river. (The Tagus is longer but it is shared with Portugal.) It has the highest discharge of any river in the Iberian peninsula and its importance can be measured by the fact that it drains almost 20% of Spain's land area, delivering a large sediment load to its mouth where it is building up a large delta. Despite its volume, the river often runs very low - particularly in summer and autumn - after the abstraction of more than half of its water for irrigation. The Canal de Tuesta, first dug almost 8 centuries ago, parallels it course and is the main artery of irrigation over the Ebro's floodplain. The river can occasionally flood badly in spring when snow melt from the Pyrenees joins run off from seasonal rain.

On his approach to the valley floor, Mark crossed this local boundary cutting through neatly tended vineyards. This is Rioja country! Tucked in between the Meseta to the south and the Pyrenees to the north and protected by the Cantabrian mountains along Spain's north coast, the Ebro valley enjoys the warming effects of the Mediterranean without the moderating and wetter effects of the Atlantc and so is ideal wine producing country.

This image shows Rioja vines in winter and is therefore representative of the current state of the vineyards as mark will be seeing them. Amazing to think that in less than a year they will produce fine wines like these.

Mark crossed the Ebro at Castejon which, and as with so many of the rivers we have encountered along his route, the arial imagery shows how a river breathes life into semi arid environments.
Apart from the intensive cultivation which the river supports, there is also, if you look closely, evidence in the form of an old meander loop that the Ebro has changed its course over the years. The image below, which comes from the Panoramio layer in Google shows the river just a mile west of the bridge which Mark would have crossed.

North of the Ebro the route weaves gradually away from the irrigated lowlands and into a landscape of cultivation which is dependent on seasonal rainfall.
Between the river Ebro and Pamplona the largest settlement is Tafalla which, like many small municipalities these days, uses the Internet as a way of advertising itself . If you click on the coat of arms, you can link to the website of Tafalla and explore some of the pages.

The 'Galeria Fotos' has many views of the town and its surroundings. I have included one below since I think it shows a marked change in architecture from the buildings of central Spain. Here in the north there is much more stone and less of the whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs.

Between Tafalla and Pamplona these limestone quarries at Tiebas caught my eye...

They are very similar in scale to limestone quarries I visit each year with pupils when we are doing fieldwork in the Yorkshire Dales.

Ten miles north of Tiebas is Pamplona , capital of the Basque country and spiritual home of the Basque Nationalists. I won't even attempt to give a summarised version of the cultural and historical background to Basque nationalism and would suggest that if you are interested, you follow the link above to the Wikipedia entry which is pretty comprehensive. The event for which Pamplona has earned some notoriety is the annual running of the bulls which takes place each year on the 7th July. On a more positive note and entirely in keeping with the spirit of this blog is the fact that Miguel Indurian, five times winner of the Tour de France is a native of Pamplona. I am guessing that since mountain climbs are
so much part of the Tour, Indurian probably cycled many times the road up to the French border which Mark tackled late today. Below are a sequence of images which I found on Flickr taken along that route....

.....leading finally at the end of the day to Aurizberri which by my reckoning is just a few miles short of the French border.

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