I went to Castilla la Mancha yesterday. Just the bottom bit, the part nearest home, bordering Murcia. I'd intended to go further, to a place called Argamasilla de Alba, one of the villages that claims to be the unnamed village where the Knight of the Sad Countenance lived, the one at the start of the el Quijote book. Then it dawned just how far it was so, when I was just about to join the Albacete bound motorway, I had a look at a paper map that I had in the car and chose a place that was in the middle of a bundle of mountains where the roads looked very wiggly.
The place was called Riópar. I made a bit of a diversion to stop at a reservoir which the sign said was 6kms from the main road. It was actually over 18kms to the dam wall but it was an interesting run nonetheless. It was also the first time in Spain that the "beware deer" sign was telling the truth, at least for me - four deer bounded in front of the car and disappeared into the long grass. Riópar turned out to have next to nothing to look at. The bar I went to for a drink and a sandwich didn't even have toilets but they did offer sliced tomatoes on the sandwich which was another Spanish first for me.
In Riópar I set the SatNav for Alcaraz, which I vaguely thought I may have visited before. Jane, the SatNav voice, didn't get at all angry when I took no notice of her at the turn for Riópar el Viejo. Again there was nothing much to look at but an old looking church and a nicely disordered cemetery. On the drive to Alcaraz the car climbed through the sun dappled pine forests (well they looked like pines to me) and went through yet another pass that was over 1,000 metres - I'd gone over one earlier that was over 1,100 metres (3,608 ft) - and even as I drove home across a flat plain there was another. High country. Alcaraz was nice enough, I had been there before, with a main square full of big impressive buildings. There were nice views to the olive tree planted hillside opposite but in the whole day I probably walked less than a couple of kilometres. Most of the time I was in the car, windows open, radio loud enough to compete with the wind noise and often going slowly enough to appreciate the countryside I was passing through.
And it was the countryside that I enjoyed most. Just driving through Spain. Whenever we go to the neighbouring town of Yecla Maggie comments on the beauty of wide valley, thick with vineyards, that we pass through. From Jumilla to the A30 motorway the road glides between mountain chains to left and right which, I don't know quite how to describe it, just reek of Spain. The colours, the dark hills, the bright crops, the dusty yet green valley floor, flat but rolling, tranquil yet always active.
As I drove up the hillside from Riópar to Alcaraz the deserted road twisted and snaked like so many that I've driven in Spain. I could have stopped to take photos tens of times but I've tried it before. Photos don't capture the heat, the sounds, the smells or even the look. I've grown to really appreciate the landscapes we have all around us and even on the humdrum runs it often strikes me how beguiling it all is. But I did stop for one last snap, not far from Hellín. The plain went on and on and on as it so often does in Castilla la Mancha and the colours were stupendous. At least I think so.
Mind you I should add that I grew to love the Cambridgeshire Fens too so maybe I'm easily pleased.