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.