Estella-Lizarra and the Carlist Wars

our hike from Puente la Reina to Estella was rough. hot, sunny, sunburny and rough. and to add to all that, it turned out our hotel (with reasonably comfortable beds, I’ll admit) was an additional 1.5km off the Camino route — a 1.5km that I did not have any interest in traversing at the end of this day. the old center fit the examples set by previous villages with narrow, cobblestone streets and a steep, narrow footbridge over the rio Ega, which the town straddles. the town was founded in 1090 with a charter granted by the king of Pamplona to the fortified settlement of Lizarra (the Basque name for the town), with an eye to develop a merchant center and encourage Francos to settle down and provide services for peregrinos.

farming around the town thrived in the subsequent centuries; olives, grapes and orchards were chief producers directly outside of town, while wheat and grazing fields spread beyond. the biggest industry, however, was leather, and the ruins of tanneries were visible up into the 1970s. additional defensive castles joined the original fortifications to protect the city, which lasted until the late 16th century, when the castles of Navarra were destroyed to allow conquering armies to focus attention on defeating Pamplona to bring it under a unified Spanish crown.

during the 19th century, Estella was the center of the Carlist movement, which backed an alternate line of succession to the Spanish throne. the unpopular and otherwise childless Fernando II had a daughter with his fourth wife in 1830 and (because the Spanish crown allows for women to inherit the crown) bumped his popular brother Carlos out of the line of succession. his followers established the Partido Apostolico and took up arms against the Queen regent and the supporters of Isabella II. 

the first war lasted seven years and ranged over most of Spain; don Carlos led an unsuccessful bid to take Madrid in 1837 that departed from Estella. the First Carlist War ended with the Treaty of Vergara in 1839; the Second lasted from 1846-1849; the Third from 1871-1876 following violence against Carlist electoral candidates. some argue that the Civil War stemmed from Carlist tensions and as a rejection of governmental secularism; there are areas of northern Spain where even today the red berets of the Carlists are worn as a symbol against secularism and in support of Catholic conservativism and regional autonomy.


the journey from Roncesvalles to Zubiri was our first lesson in the short-comings of our guide book. while it recommends continuing on to Larrasoaña — a further 5 or so km — with the afterthought addendum “if you’re feeling muy fuerte” we were more than ready to stop in Zubiri for the night. it was the first of many experiences in one of the numerous small villages that make up the majority of the stops along the Camino, as well as another albergue experience that quickly amounted to a strong preference for private rooms with fewer snorers and private showers wherever they might be found.

Zubiri is named for the bridge that connects the Camino to the town, crossing over the rio Arga. the name comes from Basque and roughly translates to “town of the bridge.” originally constructed in 1097, the current bridge dates from the 14th century. it’s known as the Puente de la Rabia because of a tradition (or legend) that held that walking around the central pillar three times would cure a domesticated animal (e.g. sheep, horses, cows) of rabies. until the 20th century farmers would bring their animals to receive help from the 5th century virgin-martyr Saint Quiteria, whose remains might have been found or ended up here.

the second day was challenging in a whole new set of ways. it still hadn’t really set in that we were in this for the long haul, though I worked assiduously on not thinking about how many days of walking we had left. even though on some level I knew we couldn’t possibly be facing 33 more days as arduous as the ascent over the mountains into Roncesvalles, I didn’t have any evidence yet to prove otherwise. swollen feet were my worst enemy the duration of the Camino and they showed up with a vengeance on this day; my body wasn’t prepared for the reality of walking for hours every day, for days on end.

physical pain aside, the countryside had a lot to offer, all of which differed from what we saw the on the preceding day. apart from a few days in the middle as we crossed the plains of Castilla y Leon, the terrain differed every day — offered new and incredible vistas and presented unique challenges. on this day, for example, we saw our first group of domesticated animals moving as a herd. after a brief rest and not-yet-underwhelming bocadillo in Espinal, the main road through town was briefly swarmed by sheep moving out to pasture. the shepherd and his dogs kept everyone in line, plodding along determinedly, the old sheep straggling along at the rear with periodic canine astonishment to stay with the group.

in all honesty, I am surprised we didn’t see more herds of farm animals moving through towns. we saw plenty of animals out in fields, sure, but only two or three in being shepherded to a new destination. suppose the farmers were up before even the peregrinos seeing to their animals and getting them out for a nice long, sunny meal in the pasture.

Trim Castle

there are many, many things to see in the Boyne River valley. Tara, Slane, Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Trim, Battle of the Boyne … and as with much of the rest of Ireland, the area is drenched in history spanning thousands of years.

the Castle at Trim was one of the few places where I decided to take the OPW tour, partly because it was the only way to get inside the keep, partly because it was departing the moment I arrived, and partly because I was quite interested in learning more about the site. the Castle was built primarily by Hugh de Lacey, who took possession in 1172 from Henry II, who was interested in stifling the expansionist ideas of Strongbow. it’s on a raised bit of land at a fording point right on the River Boyne. consequently, even though it’s some 25 miles from the Irish Sea, it was still rather accessible by water. initially, it had twenty corners, which made it exceedingly defendable (one of the towers disappeared after the Castle was neglected and left to ruin). the construction of the entrances and staircases, our guide mentioned, was such that it gave patent advantage to a (right-handed) defender. any (right-handed) attacker attempting to overtake the keep would be at a disadvantage because their right side would be open to attack while climbing narrow, circular stairs.

officially, the Castle is “John’s Castle,” after the King of England. fearing that de Lacey was getting to powerful, John showed up with some 5,000 armed men as a reminder of where power rightly lay. de Lacey, suitably cowed by the show of force, offered the Castle up to John, who shortly left and never thought about the place again.

also, during the Middle Ages, the Castle was the northernmost boundary of British control in Ireland–the Pale. to venture beyond Trim was to enter into territory defended and held by Irish clans; not a good idea for an Englishman.

in the 16th century, the last of the family holding the Castle died and it fell into disrepair. after changing hands several more times, including some interesting Cromwellian machinations, the Castle was abandoned and left alone until restoration/excavation work began in the 1990s.