For two years, we have been regular visitors to the Las Merindades region, in the province of Burgos, where we have family. Little by little, we have got to know the area and discovered its artistic and archaeological wealth. From perfectly preserved Roman churches to large mediaeval castles, with stop-offs at hermitages carved into the rock, the region is a hidden gem.
In towns like Bisjueces and Espinosa de los Monteros, you can find the origins of what would later become the Kingdom of Castile. But, before this happened, the Romans also lived in the area. Today, you can find numerous remnants of their time here.
Specifically, we chose the path that connects the town of Almiñé to the sanctuary of Santa María de la Hoz, which follows a Roman road. It is a stretch of the Camino Real, which connected the Meseta to the Cantabrian coast. Known as Almiñé Hill (Cuesta del Almiñé), the path connects Valdivieso Valley at the bottom, with the plateau of the Meseta at the top.
It was built as a carriage road, for four-wheeled vehicles, and was sufficiently wide to allow them to pass each other comfortably. At the sides, the stone sits at a slight angle, probably to assist drainage when it rained.
This trading route connected Cantabria to Burgos, and was used by such illustrious figures as Isabella I of Castile and Charles I of Spain. We started the route at Almiñé, a small town with an extremely well preserved Roman church (San Nicolás de Bari). The bell tower, with its sober adornment, is its most remarkable feature. There are studies to suggest that the first synagogue in the region may have been here.
The road starts at a slight incline, which, as we soon discovered, gets steeper (taking you up 300 m). It progresses through forests of holm oak, which sometimes seem to hug the stones.
We had our first stop at the start of our walk, where you can see remains of stone stables formally used by local villagers. We took advantage of the opportunity to try to record some sounds from the nearby forest. This is an important part of the project we are running, Unusual Journey, where we talk about different trips. We record the sounds of the places we visit.
However, it is difficult to find places sufficiently isolated from civilisation to be able to capture pure sounds of nature. Despite being completely alone on our route, it was impossible to get even a second of recording without noise from the motorway or nearby village.
We walked along the road for about 2 km, without stopping to consider how the primitive wooden carriages were able to climb those slopes. Doubtlessly, the journey must have been an adventure where you risked your life. Today, locals use the path for the romería celebrations, which take place the first Sunday in July. The revellers walk to Santa María de la Hoz sanctuary, also known as Ermita (hermitage) de Santa Isabel.
This building was constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries, and it has views across a large section of Valdivieso Valley. The location is also home to another building, known as Casa de las Lanas (the fleece house). That was where goods brought from Castile were left for the mule drivers from Las Merindades to take them to the Cantabrian ports.
Despite being much further away from roads and motorways, once again, we were unable to record any pure sound. Tired and hungry from our steep climb, in a few minutes, we made ourselves a delicious paella, which we enjoyed next to the hermitage. Duna, our dog, would have liked to have tried some.
We went back along the same path, this time going downhill, thank goodness.
Website | Instagram: @unusual_journey | Facebook: @unusualjourney | Twitter: @unusual_journey