Six hours west of Logrono by bus (including a change at Burgos and a half hour break in Leon) is Ponferrada, also on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. I’m afraid I didn’t see much of the town itself beyond the bus station, two nights in a reasonably unappealing hostal and a bar with free wifi. I visited because it is the nearest town to Las Medulas a 1st to 3rd century Roman gold mining site.
Helped for the umpteenth time by an English-speaking Spaniard, this time at the bus station information office, I found that I had missed the two buses per week to the place itself. There are however four buses a day to a village about 4km away. When I got off the bus and asked a lady who was also alighting where the return bus halt was (there are no signs in small villages, you just have to know which bit of pavement to stand on) she seemed to view my plan to walk as either brave or foolish, it wasn’t clear which. It’s uphill all the way and with frequent rests took me about an hour, giving me just enough time to find the interpretation centre and get maps before they closed for siesta. They also gave me a glossy monograph in English on the site as a reward for “being brave” as they put it, for walking up!
The site is the remains of a hill which the romans collapsed in successive layers and sections using water. They would dig shafts and galleries into the hillside and then suddenly let in water that had been brought to the top of the site by an extensive network of canals, causing an explosive collapse. The resultant debris was washed downhill and the silt carrying the gold collected for panning. The method is called ruina montium after Pliny’s description and ruin the mountain is exactly what it does, just leaving a few upthrust slivers of land behind.
The hillsides are covered in piles of boulders (unwanted debris from the mining) and chestnut trees, which were apparently a Roman import. I took a remarkably steep walk up to a viewpoint at the top of the site through a beautiful chestnut wood where the only sounds were birds, the breeze in the treetops and the frenetic pounding of my heart.
The view was worth it though:
At the top there was also a chance to go down into one of the original tunnels. I paid my €2 and was equipped with a hair net, a hard hat and a weedy LED torch and sent off into the darkness. I was the only person down there which was both slightly scary and rather exillerating. A number of side passages had small “no entry” signs, there is absolutely no light other than your torch, the floor is uneven and the roof sometimes necessitates bending. At the far end it opens out into an aperture part way up a cliff with a barriered platform.
It’s certainly not been santised for tourists and quite possibly not risk assessed too heavily either and was a short by happy reminder of my days as a student caver.
After all this walking and climbing my feet were aching and I still had the walk back to the bus. There’s no way I could do the pilgrims’ walk. I can however offer you my Lego interpretation of Las Medulas:
I also saw the biggest black slug I’ve ever seen whilst I was filling my water bottle at a spring: