We bade farewell to Valladolid, a little tired for lack of sleep, the town being in uproar for half the night. But the next day’s journey was a balm. Smooth roads, six knees and legs all still spinning smoothly enough too.
It was about this road that Laurie Lee wrote one of our favourite quotes:
‘Never in my life had I felt so fat with time…so free from the need to be moving or doing.’ Laurie Lee
We resolved to busk again in the city of Machado, and had a couple of practices en route. This photograph is by Eduarduco ‘Man Ray’ Morrison:
Our lodging for the next two nights is a lovely old hotel bang smack in the Plaza Mayor – El Gran O never lets us down. (Having said that we had to cycle up about 200 feet over cobbles and between cars to get there. He gives us our sweeties, the Boss, but we have to earn them.) If you’re going to make a public display of yourself, then you might as well go for broke. And, as usual, our screaming groupies followed us. Sexygenarian-mania is alive and well…!
That was us at the high end of the legendary Aqueduct – ‘both benevolent and mad’ as Lee put it. An engineering wonder of the world it worked up until the beginning of the 20th century, almost two millennia after the Romans built it. Elegant, silently towering over the bustle and tourists, it’s essentially a ridiculously ambitious dry-stane dyke.
It was under the beautiful aqueduct’s arches that we met up with Robin Cunnighame Graham. He is the great nephew of Don Roberto Cunninghame Graham. This journey of ours has several ghostly guides – Laurie lee, of course, Rosalia de Castro, Antonio Machado (who wrote Cantares – scroll down to hear Liam and Eddie sing it, and my rough translation of some lines). Soon we’ll be entering the land of Cervantes and Quixote. For me, Don Roberto and his partner Gabriela have long been guiding spirits, and particularly so for this venture. So it was a joy to meet up with Robert’s descendant, a fascinating and charming man.
There’ll be much more of Robin in later podcasts and writing. For the moment, three short clips we’ve run together. An introduction to Robin and his remarkable family; and how neglected his great-uncle is:
Ours is a period of writing particularly devoted to the facts, to a fondness for data rather than divination, as though to possess the exact measurements of the Taj Mahal is somehow to possess its spirit. Laurie Lee
The following is a pen portrait of Gabriela de la Belmondiére Cunninghame Graham. (It was written and recorded before speaking with Robin who had some different data but, as you’ll hear, it’s not just about the facts…’) It’s nearly 10 minutes long – sorry about that. But she is such an fascinating woman that that’s as much as I was prepared to cut the sketch down! I reckon she’s worth the time.
‘Facts are not the truth, though they are part of it – information is not knowledge. And history is not the past…‘ Hilary Mantel, in her Reith lecture.
Segovia is a crossroads for us. Our next steps will lead us out of the Campos de Castilla, to La Mancha, where somebody long before us took an even madder and more comical journey. But we say farewell, for the moment, to Laurie Lee. For our leave-taking, here is a terrific poem Eddie wrote before we even left Scotland. After our adventures so far it feels even more apt and perceptive:
Just Like Laurie LeeEddie Morrison 2019
Cycling oot one bright spring day
“Just like Laurie Lee”, you say.
For wan, he did it on his ain
Nae bike, nae pals, nae plane tae Spain
“He had a fiddle!” Aye, ah know
Is that the only string on yir bow?
“He wiz a writer”- oh aye, so are you
But he wrote stuff the school weans knew
“He spent a year in the world of Don Quijote!”
Exactly. No 30 days ya donkey. “Go tae
his books you’ll see whit ah mean;
It’s full of hopes and fears and dreams
And memories of a land he loved
The people, places, wine and stuff
The dusty roads that wind forever
The blistering heat that gies ye fever
The place that seeps intae yir veins
That’s what ah mean by Laurie’s Spain.”…..
Cycling oot wan bright spring day.
Just like Laurie Lee, I say.
‘We’re all more multiple than we think we are and we all have things that we either do, or wish we had done – they form part of who we are.’ Jackie Kay in conversation
I will return to Laurie’s path next month, ending my journey where he did his nearly 90 years ago, in Almuñécar in the south. So it’s not adios, Laurie, just hasta la vista. Guiding lights and chasing ghosts, time getting ever thinner.
‘We arrive at who are first by following, then by divergence.’ Andrew Greig, The Loch of the Green Corrie
If you want to see more photos and clips of our journey so far, here’s the link to Liam ‘Annie Leibovitz’ Kane’s album: