Thursday 30th May
Zarautz! If you are come across a place that begins and ends with the letter ‘Z’ there is a good chance you are in the Basque Country, that fiercely proud region that straddles the western border of Spain and France. Many of the Spanish regions we have visited have had their own dialect, but here they speak Euskara; a language older than any other in Western Europe. It is clear from road signs and place names that Euskara is very fond of the letters ‘Z’ and ‘K’, so a good place to play scrabble, given my luck at drawing tiles out of the bag.
Well we are in Zarautz; Gran Camping Zarautz to be exact, high on a cliff top above the town and the sea and about ten miles west of San Sebastian. There is a flight of 430 steps (they are numbered!) down to the town and its impressive promenade and board walk stretching 2.5 km. It is another place with a classy feel and a good surfing beach. All the buildings seem to have been built in the last twenty years, but tastefully so.
This morning we drove for a couple of hours along the increasingly busy motorway from Loredo. It is the first time we have been on a motorway that couldn’t be described as empty of lorries. It is our last full day in Spain, and it is a lovely campsite to spend it in.
I’ve mentioned that Spain came to the industrial revolution late, but they did so with vim and vigour. We have already enjoyed the iron ore railway in the hills and the canal path in the Picos and now we have stumbled across the wonderful, if slightly bizarre, Harria Malla (or Mollaharri).
At the turn of the 20thcentury iron ore was discovered in the hills behind Zarautz and a Belgian architect, Guillermo Vahl came up with a plan that Heath Robinson would have been proud of.
He created a cable car system, 6 miles long, suspended by 112 pylons to carry the ore to the coast. Here it was dropped into a warehouse to be stored until a cargo ship arrived, then the ore was deposited into a second cable car system to take it to a big rock 300m off shore where a magnificent, cantilevered arm delivered the ore into the hold of the ship. The whole system ran on gravity, with the weight of the loaded gondolas lifting the empty ones back to the top. It was in use from 1909 until 1927 and all that is left is the remains of the warehouse just below our campsite and a few of the pylons’ concrete plinth.
As if to bid us farewell at the end of our tour of Iberia, Zarautz laid on a spectacular sunset.