Dawn comes late to Segovia. Despite Spain being on the same longitude at the UK, it is on Central European Time. Add in daylight savings and, now in October, you get sunrise at 8:15am, and sunset at 8:10 pm. Breakfast was at 9am – even in town, if you wanted it earlier, apparently you had to know where to go.
We picked up a map and tourist guide-book in the information centre, then began to explore. First we followed the aqueduct. From the viewpoint near our lodgings, the aqueduct disappears underground, eventually making its way to the Alcazar at the far end of town. In the other direction it stretches across the valley and disappears behind buildings. The guide-book explained how the Romans had built it – getting their levels right all the way from the mountains 15km away. They had built a covered channel, lined with lime mortar to keep the water sweet and clear during its journey. Then there was a settling tank, where any grit and other impurities were separated out. You can climb up a stairway to the top of the aqueduct here – it isn’t very high.
But enough of human history.
The map showed that turning north here would soon bring us out at the Parque del Sango Angel de la Guarda – a landscaped area on the slopes below the main cemetery. To get there, we had to run the gauntlet of avenues of horse chestnut trees raining down their ripe conkers. However, as the sun was now coming out, the shade was welcome. The park had that end-of-summer feel, with few plants in flower, and virtually no bird sounds. Nevertheless we found a few species, including pied flycatchers on migration. Though this and other parks were laid out with footpaths/running routes, the surface was compacted gravel with some loose stones on top.
In the afternoon we looked for more natural places. Segovia is surrounded by a green belt formed by the Eresma and Clamores rivers. According to an information board, The Clamores river passes under a good part of the town of Segovia and makes its ‘appearance’ mysteriously at the Sancti Spritus bridge in the neighbourhood of San Millan. Here is it a stream that flows through the Terrazas de San Valentin. The trees provided ample shade for a picnic, and even the road above was fairly quiet. Above that, there was the old Jewish Cemetery, and the Montes del Pinarillo with more footpaths to explore at another time.
We continued our slow ramble, and suddenly there was a larger shallow pool, with Iberian water frogs Pelophylax perezi enjoying the sunshine along the edge, particularly on the concrete base of the bridge. Seems strange to see frogs out in the sun, but it seems typical of this species at least. Of course, they don’t like to hang around when you have the camera ready!
The Clamores continues through a deep valley (the Paseo por el area natural del valle Clamores) that borders the south side of the city and joins the Eresma river directly below the Alcazar. As we came into view of this Cinderella Castle (apparently Disney used it as the model for the castle in his film) our attention was taken by several griffon vultures floating overhead. And when they were gone, a speckled wood butterfly danced in and out of the shadows at the woodland edge – very well-camouflaged when it landed.
According to an information board: The rocky cliffs that are the base for the Alcazar are home to a good number of rock doves, jackdaws and red-beaked choughs, which find refuge in the holes formed out of the eroded limestone. Quite often you can see the fleeting silhouette of house martins, crag martins, and swifts. The swifts and house martins were long gone south for winter, but the other species were much in evidence.
Along the cliffs you’ll find pines, cypresses and almond trees with lots of vines climbing their trunks. The limestones are covered with lady slippers, Rhamnus pumila and other epipetrics. This information took a bit of sorting out, as we think of Lady’s Slipper Orchid, but the habitat was definitely not right. Googling the Spanish name zapatitos de la virgen pointed to Lamium amplexicaule – hen-bit deadnettle. Rhamnus pumila is dwarf buckthorn, and epipetrics are plants growing on rocks.
In the valley there is a dense population of poplars, ash, horse chestnuts, maples and walnut trees, along with an abundance of bushes such as hawthorns and wild rose bushes. Robin redbreasts, chaffinches, blackbirds, wrens and wagtails live along the riverside. And we saw all of these.
The path now follows the Eresma river along the north side of the city. Through the Pradera de San Marcos, and on under the road bridge to the Royal Mint. A weir across the river here suggests the Mint, used in the 16-18th centuries, was powered in some way by the water. A bright jewel of a kingfisher called, and flew across the water to the weir, and stayed there as Bob and I moved closer with the cameras (see top photo). When the bird did fly again, it zoomed over Jane’s shoulder before disappearing over the wall into the Jardine del Rey.
We were still enjoying the pleasure of the kingfisher when another jewel fluttered in – a male Adonis blue butterfly. The colour was glorious, much brighter than the photograph – though the intensity of it depends on the angle of the light.
After that, a grey wagtail limping through the fallen leaves. Then a common wall lizard moving amongst the fissures in the bark of a tree. The landscape here seemed more man-made – formal lines of trees in the Alameda de Parral, and the track itself a rather straight line. With the sun behind us now, it was very pleasant.
The various paths and tracks of the ‘green belt’ continued further eastwards, and we could have walked on to the park we were in this morning. But the idea of a drink at one of the many cafes in the Plaza Mayor beckoned us towards the city centre. The footbridge across the Eresma provided views along the river – and of a Mandarin Duck and his friend a Carolina Duck. East meets West here!! However, both birds wore the kind of rings that said they came from captivity.
The ground here wasn’t quite so well-manicured as on the other side of the river, and the strong smell of ivy wafted on the breeze. Ivy in flower usually means insects, and we weren’t disappointed. While a long-tailed blue butterfly was easy to identify, most of the bees and flies will remain a mystery.
At St Cebrian’s Gate, the top of the city wall is accessible by a stairway, so we took a look back along the way we had come. Many of the other old buildings – like the St Mary of Parral’s Monastery above – beyond the city are also chough roosts.
As we sipped our drinks in the Plaza Mayor, choughs were already flying around the cathedral and other buildings, and more vultures drifted overhead. Most were heading towards the Hoces del Rio Duraton – where we will also be heading in a couple of days.
Back at our lodging, we met up with a few more people in town for the chough conference. Eight of us went as a group for a meal at one of the restaurants in the Plaza Mayor, but were disappointed with the food. Again we chose local dishes from the menu del dia, but all came away with the feeling that the staff didn’t really care – after all, they were dealing with tourists who would probably be gone tomorrow and never seen again, so why bother serving a decent meal.
Yesterday – Getting to Segovia
Yet to come – the Parque Natural de los Hoces del Rio Duraton