The sad saga of the gearbox continues, with the latest news that it is now being held hostage by Customs in Madrid. No, wait – in news just to hand, half of the gearbox has made its way here with the other bit missing in transit somewhere. Is that good news or not? I think I’m past caring.
Anyway, we planned a welcome day of escape from Gibraltar, where the big Rock continues to cast its little cloud of miserable weather over the town and the marina. You start by taking a stroll across the runway of Gib airport into Spain, where the general atmosphere instantly lightens. You catch the bus over to Algeciras on the other side of the bay, then board the train to Madrid. We have our Gold passes, so we get a nice discount on the trains in Spain. This time we are heading to the pretty and historic town of Ronda, a couple of hours away up in the mountains. This bit of line is Henderson’s Railway, constructed back in the 19th century for soldiers to enjoy a bit of R&R from the garrison of Gibraltar, especially during the heat of summer. The line runs through fertile farming country and forest. The towers of the powerlines are all topped with stork nests, fully occupied at this time of the year with the vivid black and white birds guarding their eggs. The land gradually rises and vertical outcrops appear suddenly. Villages of white villas and stone farmhouses flash by. Clouds still nestle in some of the gorges and around the peaks of the hills.Ronda itself sits high on the rocks overlooking a massive gorge – you would not have to worry about defending the old town from the north, east or west. Three bridges connect the old town to the newer settlements across the river. All three bridges offer breathtaking views of the gorges, the town and the lovely farmlands in the valleys beyond. The ‘new’ town is a huddle of typical white Spanish villas, while the ‘old’ is mostly golden stone, much of it Moorish in origin. The sky is winter blue and swathes of golden poplars cut across the countryside. It is one of the most beautiful towns we have seen in all our travels.
|The best way to travel (when your boat won't go)|
We begin with a walk from the station to the old bridge, with a brief diversion into a little gourmet shop for a baguette with jamon y queso made on the spot – yum! It’s a steep walk up the hill but every few steps offers an amazing view so there is always an excuse to stop for a photo. We divert into a Moorish palace and garden, built right into the side of the gorge. It features an old ‘mine’ which doubled as a secret passageway for the women of the house to travel unseen down to bathe in the river. I believe ‘palace miner’ was a popular profession back in the day. The old town is full of interesting old buildings from the different stages of its history – its earliest records are of a Celtic settlement, “Arunda’, conquered by the Romans and the Moors in turn before the Reconquista saw it back in Spanish possession. You would need more than our single day visit to explore all these layers properly.
We make our way to the ‘new bridge’, an engineering marvel constructed between 1751 and 1793. This iconic bridge gives head-spinning views of the gorges and the river as well as both parts of the town and miles of countryside beyond. We are so lucky to be there on a perfect clear winter’s day.
Ronda has several other claims to fame, including a residence of the ubiquitous Ernest Hemingway and the burial place of Orson Welles. His ashes lie in a well somewhere in town, but we don’t have time to search them out this time around. Bullfighting is very big here, and the new town has one of Spain’s oldest bullrings. It is famous for helping to develop the flamboyant ‘Goyaesque’ style of fighting, featuring swordplay, capes and the ‘suit of lights’. If bullfighting is not your thing, a good substitute is a steaming hot plate of oxtail stew with spicy patatas bravas, from the Toro Tapas Restaurant.
A pleasant downhill stroll back to the station for the afternoon train (which is unaccountably much cheaper than the morning train) and a restful journey back to Algeciras. Spanish transport works very well, though it is sometimes difficult to get a straight answer on times and destinations. In the end, it is pretty easy to get from anywhere to anywhere else at a reasonable cost. Our day out on four buses and two trains cost us about 40 Euros.
Ronda is a must see in Spain. I think we’ll be heading back there in the camper van for a closer look at this lovely historic town.