‘Is it real, Mum?’ Jack turned saucer shaped eyes to me. The slow passage of kilometres as we trucked our way home from Catalunya had just been enlivened by the sight of a floodlit castle, turrets and all. ‘It is. It really is,’ I smiled. ‘Oh, oh, oh. Do you think they need a knight?’ Pause. ‘But I don’t have a suit of armour!’ We agreed that his approach for employment would have to wait until after Christmas, when he is convinced that Santa Claus will be supplying him with a *real* suit of armour.
Meanwhile, Mum’s eyes had also turned saucer shaped at the sight of equally loved icons flashing past the car windows. Bodega after bodega of famous (as well as lesser known but just as alluring) names are strung along this stretch of road, the N232, that courses through the heart of La Rioja. For a dedicated drinker of Rioja wines the sight was surprisingly stirring. I have heard pilgrims describe the depth of feeling they experience as they crest the hill into Santiago de Compostela and first catch sight of the cathedral at the end of the Camino. For me, this felt (shamefully) akin.
We over-nighted outside the attractive medieval town of Cenicero and woke to epic autumn landscapes. The vines are etched in regimented lines for as far as the eye can see, vividly cloaked in russets, golds and reds. On the horizon looms the silhouette of an Osborne bull alongside a honey-toned castle and its ramparts that tell a tale of more ancient Spain.
I stood for a while drinking in the rich Riojan landscape, waiting for the normally reliable Spanish sun to burst through and bring to life the photographs I was excitedly picturing. Sadly, a storm was brewing and the light never arrived. Instead, glowering clouds entrenched themselves and cast a purple haze that did nothing to lift the gorgeous autumn hues that I hoped to share with you here.
Oh well. I guess we’ll just have to come back again next year – with a suit of armour plus space for a crate or two in the boot, of course!