The river Ebro & its tributaries, the Spanish Civil War and alternative uses for shoelaces.

Mountains around La Fontcalda
Mountains around La Fontcalda


Had it not been for the gloom, I would have liked to stay beside Pantà de Rialb longer in the eerie silence, but we chased the promise of sunshine South. Skirting around Lleida, we followed a succession of steadily diminishing roads, looking for a blank spot on the map as if paddling upstream to the source. 


Punta de Duc
(on the way to Punta de Duc)


From unpromising industrial zones, our surroundings turned to scrubby mountains and eventually onto a dubious mud track promising "Punta de Duc"(?!). Only just wider than Burt, with blossoming fruit trees either side, this track was one of no return and I got out to run ahead in fear that we might get stuck for the foreseeable future. Almost laughably, ten minutes along, there was another small "P" indicated to the left, so we ploughed ahead hoping it wasn't a huge cultural misunderstanding.


Punta de Duc, where you should not camp, but we did without leaving a trace, was described on the helpful information board as having been used as a Republican fortification against the Nationalists in March 1938 of the Spanish Civil War, until it was overrun and the defenders were forced to retreat across the river Ebro. There are still remnants of hollowed out bunkers in the rock, trenches and various military buildings across the river.


Punta de Duc
Punta de Duc
TV-7411 road


Now realising where we were, we pulled off the frankly terrifying "TV-7411" road (previously defended route from Riba-roja d'Ebro to la Pobla de Massaluca) with its sheer drops and hairpins, towards another site of importance.


The trenches at Berrús (les trinxeres de Berrús) are remarkably well preserved considering there are no barriers to restrict access and you can walk freely around the relatively complex network, admiring the view which comes free with a tactical advantage. 

Les trinxeres de Berrús
Les trinxeres de Berrús

In the small town Flix, we caused everybody a great deal of confusion; finding ourselves shepherded around an apparently one-way supermarket, trying to explain the dimensions of the gas canister I needed in Spanish as the friendly shop attendant pulled out everything apart from that particular one in baffled succession and by generally seeming to be the only people there not known by name to everyone else. The locals looked extraordinarily happy that particular Saturday and I wondered if this was the first bright sunshine of the year or if small town country life was always this enthusiastic. 


A little further South, we took a small road in the direction of "La Fontcalda", which I misread as "Fortunalda", thinking it might bring us good luck. After eight kilometres of hairpins which made the TV-7411 seem like your garden path, rockfalls on one edge and a gravelly precipice the other, the smell of Burt's brakes left me feeling quite fortunate to have made it down the right way up. At the bottom, there was a gorge melted out of the rock by a river where I spied a crayfish underwater and pointy toe-like mountains all around. We were in a circular valley and when the sun set, the starry sky appeared as a jaggedly ripped window in the surrounding darkness. It was blissfully quiet. 


La Fontcalda
La Fontcalda
La Fontcalda
La Fontcalda
La Fontcalda


On Sunday afternoon, when nothing but McDonald's is open for toilets and wifi, we (Dan...) locked both sets of keys inside the van in the car-park. With nothing but a couple of euros and our laptops, this seemed like a rather hopeless predicament, but Dan set to work trying to squeeze my shoelaces between the door and its frame in the hopes of lassoing the knob. This was no use, as wasn't trying helplessly to paw at the window or kicking the tires in frustration. 


He was just trying to use the back of his phone to wedge open the crack a little when an excitable Irish man jogged over to help. With several mysterious metal implements and a pen, he could force the door out just enough to slide my shoelaces through the gap and begin fishing. By now a selection of self-congratulatory McDonald's customers were observing from the outside seating area, obviously having decided that two men and a miserable looking girl in a dress would be unlikely to be trying to break into a van as crusty as Burt in this particular setting. I would hazard a guess at ten attempts at this method, but eventually the knob was hooked, the noose tightened and gently, gently pulled up.


Another crisis averted and we were on our way to the beach.




For previous legs of this journey try the UK to SwitzerlandMorgins in SwitzerlandFrance 

or Pantà de Rialb.


For other accidental historical encounters, you might enjoy reading about Ayacucho to Cusco, Peru.


Write a comment

Comments: 13
  • #1

    Hannah (Thursday, 23 March 2017 14:37)

    Hi Katie, I so enjoy reading your blog and this post made me long to be on the road in a Bert-like van too! The landscape looks incredible and so so bright. Thanks for sharing :) and hello from Iceland, from me and Johann! Oh and soon I will reply to your extremely delayed interview questions, sorry for taking forever. Are you two still planning on coming to Iceland this summer? Hope so! xxx

  • #2

    Katie Featherstone (Sunday, 26 March 2017 15:27)

    Thanks Hannah! I can't wait (for both the answers and Iceland!). xxx

  • #3

    danik (Monday, 01 May 2017 12:31)

    really enjoyed reading this blog and want to hire out a van and do a crazy mountain road trip. :)

  • #4

    Anna (Monday, 01 May 2017 15:55)

    I have solo traveled 33 countries but yet to do a "van trip" . Thanks for adding to the intrigue. Keep exploring.

  • #5

    Katie Featherstone (Monday, 01 May 2017 17:41)

    Good luck!

  • #6

    Kevin's Travel Diary (Monday, 01 May 2017 21:53)

    Really enjoyed reading this post, it filled me with excitement. I have always wanted to hire a campervan and just tour any country. One day I will and this post has made me more eager.

  • #7

    Rosie Benton (Tuesday, 02 May 2017 17:55)

    Love your photos, you have some great shots! Would love to hire a van someday and head on a road trip, so exciting and it's so much more fun to get off the beaten track.

  • #8

    Izel (Tuesday, 02 May 2017 20:03)

    Enjoyed reading this post. Love your shots. Road trips are always fun and a good adventure!

  • #9

    Katie Featherstone (Tuesday, 02 May 2017 22:56)

    Good luck guys, I hope you can make it happen!

  • #10

    Meg (Thursday, 04 May 2017 22:08)

    This is my kind of journey. I'm a huge hiker and love areas like this! What a perfect place for a roadtrip!

  • #11

    Danijela WorldGlimpses (Friday, 05 May 2017 17:52)

    Such a beautiful landscape! It looks so serene, and with nobody there but you? Amazing! :)

  • #12

    Paula - Gone with the Wine (Monday, 08 May 2017 03:21)

    That van looks awesome! I would love to travel around with a van like that, and even explore twisty mountain roads. Looks so beautiful there!

  • #13

    Winnie (Monday, 08 May 2017 13:57)

    Wow, absolutely stunning and breathtaking photos! Loved your post, seems you guys had an awesome adventure :)

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