Under dull, monotone skies and with heavy hearts we again said our goodbyes to San Sebastián and drove south, away from the coast. The morning was chilly, a damp, hanging fog had descended and, combined with a light but bitingly sharp breeze, the heat from our limbs was ripped away. This was very different weather from our glorious arrival. For twenty miles we remarked on how green Spain was looking, until suddenly the entire countryside transformed into blonde stubble fields and burnt grass, a palette of pale yellows and muted browns. It looked like this region had suffered drought and burning sun for long months. We were on an easy dual carriageway, twisted and steep as it navigated the hilly terrain, reaching the northern outskirts of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
We had plans to visit Ulibarri-Gamboa lake for a few days of gentle running, walking and, perhaps, swimming. Our first stop was a tourist office at Garaio, near the south-east lake shore. Here we were informed that we could park overnight at one of the nearby car-parks, which proved ideal for us. We went there and ate lunch, marvelling again at our luck. The sun had broken through, burned off all the fog and the sky was a cloudless pastel blue. The trees lining the park were turning to the muted reds and amber of rich autumn colours, and best of all, there were no other visitors; the stunning lakeside park was all ours. During a leisurely lunch armed with detailed maps from the tourist office we planned a 44km cycle (tomorrow) and a 13km easy walk/run (today), each hugging the shore. We set off in perfect running conditions; still warm air, wonderful autumn foliage providing occasional shade, no time constraints and with no one else in sight.
We passed timber miradors overlooking wide, still rivers alive with grebes, coots and egrets, feeling a little guilty when our presence disturbed their restful day. The paths were leaf-strewn gravel or compacted white sandstone dust, perfect for exploring on foot. We crossed a low timber bridge, more of a pontoon, then later another more substantial, arrow straight bridge, built high above the water. We could see energetic sprites darting in skittish shoals below our feet. Just beyond this bridge crossing stood the ivy-clad remains of a stone church, the sole remaining structure from one of the many abandoned villages that were flooded back in the 1950’s during the formation of this important regional reservoir. Exactly on our 13km expectation, after passing loose cows on the path, we crossed a raised timber walkway that returned us to the rear of the quiet car-park where Benny was patiently waiting. Joyed by the beautiful weather and happily weary from our beautiful, exploratory run, we spent a restful afternoon sipping tea and scoffing pannettone, amazed we’d found yet another gem of a stop.
The stillness and quiet, mixed with fresh-air and exercise, led us both to a deep, lengthy sleep. After nearly 11 hours in bed, we were well rested and utterly famished. After breakfast we chatted to our new motorhoming neighbours Nadine and Chris, a couple who lived in the Vendée coastal town of St Jean de Monts. We have long been considering a circular coastal trip round Brittany, starting near Nantes, and their kind offer for us to visit anytime may make a very good starting point for our planning.
We finally got moving, wary under very different conditions. The sky was now streaked with muted greys, almost black in places, layering the whole park with a shroud. Autumn foliage was no longer vibrant and bright, but consisted of muted browns and muddy olive greens. We hoped it might clear with time, but sensibly planned for the more likely scenario – dull, persistent rain. With waterproof jackets donned, we started off in the reverse direction of yesterday’s run, following the lake shore on easy paths. We covered distance quickly and soon were back at the tall straight bridge, but passed by rather than crossing. From here the path quickly deteriorated, a less used route. It was steeper now, up and down in rugged, rocky bumps, the surface deeply cracked and broken like it had recently been subject to flash floods.
We had to dismount and push for a couple of the steeper climbs, the path too poor to gain traction. Soon after we joined a tarmac road, glad for the easy going. With a miserable drizzle filling the air, and with low visibility across the lake, we decided to stick on the road and enjoy a simpler stretch, cruising downhill and across a river before rising smoothly up to meet the main dam. We paused soon after to nibble fruit cake on a timber bench and could barely see the walls of the dam opposite – such a different day from before. Soaked through and devoid of views, we pushed on with a shortcut in mind. Before we got there Nicky’s front tyre was punctured and we had to pause on the path, in heavy rain, to fix it. Only here did we discover all our glues had expired so a patch was impossible but we also carried a spare tube, so this was fitted and we were on our way again.
At the top left-hand corner of the lake, near Landa, we decided to forego the shore-hugging cycle route and, heads down, quickly progressed down the shorter, straighter, easy tarmac route to Marieta. Turning right off the road, we re-joined the wiggling cycle path, walked across a pedestrian bridge we’d ran over the day before and, after another grassy shortcut, we happily arrived back at Benny. Our shortcut had reduced the lap to 37km, rather than the expected 44km. Drying, cleaning, rinsing, showering and packing dominated our next hour, as we faced the usual motorhome struggle of what to do with a load of sodden gear, especially when the rains persist outside. We steamed cosily inside, reading and supping tea much of the afternoon.
Late afternoon, after a warming rest, we got a little restless and decided on a short walk. The weather had dried up and small patches of blue sky were visible in the otherwise grey murk. We followed the road back towards the tourist office, before cutting left to ascend to a local high point. Stone steps formed the route, our leg muscles being tested again. Adding just this small raise changed the perspective over the lake. We spent a few restful moments at the top picking out places we had visited and spotting key landmarks in the rolling landscape. A small number of vivid copper trees lit up the vista, set between a sea of darkened green, lime and white leaves. At a distance we could just see the river that had been dammed to form the reservoir.
At the bottom of the mound we passed a metal sculpture of a dinosaur-like creature that, like the polar bear in Tromsø before it, just had to be climbed. (always a child at heart).