A Walk in the Rice Fields

Shore-bound still as a result of the fall out from big storms in the Gulf of Leon, we decided to go for a walk into the countryside of the Ebro Delta. We have not tried this before as the roads are narrow, the traffic swift and the footpath non-existent. After seeing various school parties cycling off into the delta, a long wobbly line of children on small bikes holding up the traffic, we decided to walk the cycle trails. The only problem we had was that John has hurt his knee, pulled or twisted something in his engine room acrobatics yesterday, but he thought it would walk off, as knee problems had during his coast to coast walk, so we slapped on the sunscreen and set out.

First we stopped for coffee at the marina bar and met Dave. Dave and his wife are on their way back from Greece, after years of running a skippered charter business. A fascinating man, he was a mine of information about passages and anchorages and had a wealth of anecdotes. We lingered longer over our coffee than we had planned. He probably did too; his wife came to find him at one point to check he had keys, because she was going out. Dave assumed we would be heading to Ibiza via the Columbretes, a small cluster of islets about forty miles offshore. His information about the number of mooring buoys provided there was both more up to date and more encouraging than our pilot book. He also said the shelter was good from three points of the compass and in the case of a Easterly it was easy to hop round to buoys on the other side of the bay. These little islands sound beautiful and would save slogging back round the coast to Denia, making up lost time. We are going to give it a go tomorrow.

In the meantime we set off on our walk. Heading out along the road was unpleasant, with cars and vans speeding past us and dogs barking vigorously if we strayed too close to someone’s back yard. After a false turn we found the cycle path and our walk became much more pleasant. The trail formed a raised pathway, through verdant paddy fields, with a concreted channel of fast flowing water along one side, carrying a sliver of the river Ebro out to the lagoon. At intervals along the channel small sluice gates operated by blue metal wheels could allow the transit of water into the rice fields. Our new friend Dave had told us how local youths line up with surfboards to ride the bore of water that issues when the main sluice is opened. In front of us spread a big country with a wide sky, where dainty white egrets picked their way through the rice seedlings, ignoring the flags and ribbons set to deter them. The low, flat landscape spread out for miles around us, behind us when we turned around the steep limestone hills erupted suddenly from this plain, with the white buildings of Sant Carles scattered along the join. The broad landscape of sunken fields was punctuated with small vegetable gardens, often in front of elegantly ramshackle sheds. It was odd to us English gardeners to see succession sowings of the likes of tomatoes and courgettes, and rows of geraniums providing flowers. There were also raised groves of small orange trees and further from the water olives. Eventually we came to a wide dyke on the opposite side of which a tall line of bamboo provided a susurrating windbreak and decided to turn back. The assembled masts of the marina blended with the long reeds at the other side of the main road. By crossing over a low footbridge we were able to enter the marina higher up and avoid having to walk along the road. Instead we wandered along the pontoons looking at other people’s Biminis and anchors. We are looking forward to doing the walk again in summer, to see how the atmosphere changes with the grown rice.

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