At 15.4km, this stage is by far the shortest of The Northern Way, which I had been looking forward to in order to give my body a bit of break. But it has to be said that its brevity is in direct proportion to its aesthetic appeal.
The first three of four kilometres take you out of Lezama along a B-road directly under a flight path, flanked by row after row of characterless suburban housing. Which then turns into a huge industrial estate.
The contrast from yesterday’s leg could not have been stronger: bright sunshine, lush greenery and eclectic musical backdrop were replaced by a persistent grey drizzle accompanied by the echoes of guard dogs’ barks ricocheting around the estate.
The drizzle was soon replaced by a fairly heavy downpour as industrial gave way to rural, with a steady climb out of Lezama to a height of around 250 metres through a nondescript section of woodland pathways, which in turn gave way to asphalt again as the urban sprawl of Bilbao hove into view.
As you might imagine, after a week of being treated to consistently stunning natural vistas, Bilbao came as something of a visual shock, but I’m getting the feeling that each stage of The Way is likely to hold its own idiosyncratic appeal.
Like the challenge of navigating an alien city assisted only by yellow arrows painted on the pavement. I don’t think it’s that they are necessarily less regularly placed than on other sections of the route; it’s just that you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled a little more closely – at times, this journey feels like nothing so much as one giant treasure hunt:
I’d like to be able to say that I made full use of the metropolis after seven days of bucolic retreat. But walking round the city streets strangely sapped my energy much more than climbing 1 in 10 slopes had.
First of all I went to the laundrette to sort out an increasingly pungent section of my rucksack (the challenge of ensuring a daily supply of fresh clothing given the necessity of travelling as lightly as possible soon starts to become something of an obsession).
I then did the predictable tourist stuff.
Given the choice of these two horizons…