The biodiversity of Castilla y León through the Way
Through the town of Redecilla del Camino, the Way of Saint James enters Castilla y León to cross its territories during sixteen stages. The Pilgrims’ Route leaves behind the landscapes of La Rioja and enters the Castilian plateau, crossing Burgos, Palencia, and León.
Of the 750 kilometres that pilgrims travel from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, 450 runs through Castilla y León. It is the largest Autonomous Community in Spain and therefore has a large geographical and natural diversity.
The stages through this Community are the hardest for the pilgrim. The lack of shade and the depopulation of some areas can complicate the pilgrimage. However, it is worth walking them to appreciate the change in the landscape and finally enjoy the nature of Galicia.
The pilgrim enters Burgos on the tenth stage, through the town of Redecilla del Camino. The first stop on the Pilgrim’s Way in Castilla y León is in Belorado, a village of Roman origin located to the north of the Sierra de la Demanda.
Although the Castilian plateau is characterised by its plains, in this first stretch, the pilgrim faces the continuous ups and downs of the dreaded Montes de Oca. According to the Codex Calixtinus, bandits used to stalk pilgrims in these mountains to steal their bags.
On the way to the city of Burgos, the pilgrim crosses the Sierra de Atapuerca. From the town of Agés, after a two-kilometre walk, the pilgrim arrives at Atapuerca. The village owes its fame to the cave paintings and fossil remains found in its mountains.
Further on, after leaving Burgos behind, the pilgrim finds one of the most appreciated monuments on the Pilgrim’s Way. Blending in with the surroundings are the ruins of the monastery of San Antón.
Itero de la Vega is the first town in Palencia through which the pilgrim walks. The fourteenth stage leaves Burgos behind and ends in Boadilla del Camino. The geography of Palencia does not present any difficulty for walking. When pilgrims pass through its territory faces the flattest and the least slope stages of the whole Way.
River Pisuerga is the natural border between Burgos and Palencia. It is a tributary of the river Duero, and its waters are ideal for fishing all along its course. During the winter, large black cormorants can be seen in the surrounding area.
From stage fourteen onwards, the pilgrim will be immersed in Tierra de Campos. This region is characterised by its flat geography. However, it has some small hills that, in ancient times, were used as a strategic position for building castles.
Its territory is a clear example of the landscape of the northern plateau. It is one of the most extensive cereal-growing areas in Spain. The colour of its meadow’s changes depending on the time of year, making it possible to enjoy a very different environment in spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
The region is home to the largest population of Great Bustards in the world. From Itero del Castillo to Carrión de Los Condes and Terradillos de Los Templarios, the pilgrim walks through Tierra de Campos and says goodbye to Palencia.
From stage seventeen onwards, the pilgrim enters the province of León. The Pilgrim’s Way continues through the Castilian plain until it reaches the climbs that mark the arrival in Galicia.
The first town in León where the pilgrim rests is Sahagún. Its origin is due to a legend that tells that two brothers were martyred on the banks of the river Cea because of their Christian beliefs.
Within the itinerary of the Way through León, the most relevant natural enclave is the Cruz de Hierro. Two kilometres from Foncebadón, the pilgrim reaches the highest point on the entire route, at an altitude of 1,500 metres.
Another important river in Castilla y León is the Sil, the main tributary of the river Miño. Within the itinerary of the Pilgrim’s Way, the pilgrim reaches its waters in the town of Ponferrada. The iron bridge that spans the river gave its name to this town in 1082.
From Ponferrada, just over twenty kilometres from the town, the pilgrim can take a slight detour to visit Las Médulas del Bierzo. This natural site located next to the valley of the river Sil is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has its origins in a Roman gold mine.
It is considered the largest open-pit gold mine in the Roman Empire. The work carried out in the area to extract the precious metal completely transformed the environment. Today, Las Médulas is a landscape of reddish sands covered with chestnut and oak trees.
Flora and Fauna of Castilla y León
Castilla y León has 44 areas included in the Network of Natural Spaces. The size of its territory gives the region a rich natural diversity. The orography is conducive to a wide variety of vegetation, with a large presence of forests, although extensively cultivated meadows predominate.
Among the deciduous tree species that can be found, beech and birch trees predominate. However, along the Way, the pilgrim can also find oak and oak groves. Among the evergreen, are holm oaks, cork oaks, pines, and junipers.
The extensive meadows of the Castilian plateau, through which the Way passes, mean that livestock is the most frequent animal found along the route. However, among the wooded areas, pilgrims may spot some mammals such as wild boar, deer, and roe deer.