The Borderlands

Guadalajara - Soria - Zaragoza
Route:From Atienza (Guadalajara) to Calatayud (Zaragoza)
Journeys:5 days (54 km / day approx.)
277.95KM
Cabecera mapa BTT-MTB Tierras de Frontera
Click image to enlarge

 

 

On MTB bike around Borderlands. The route for survival: raids, sieges and battles

  • Route: From Atienza to Calatayud.
  • Provinces: Soria, Guadalajara, Zaragoza.
  • Kilometres: Approx. 278 km.
  • Days recommended: 5 days (4 nights)
  • Difficulty: Low-medium

 

Information you can download on this page
  • MTB tracks in GPX, KMZ and TRK format.
  • The MTB route guide: contains technical and practical information, a description of the route, maps, gradients, difficulty, bicycle repair shops, stamping points and relevant milestones, etc.
  • List of accommodation.
  • List of points for obtaining and stamping the Letter of safe conduct.
  • List of tourist information offices.
  • Tourist brochure (this can be obtained at any of the tourist information offices on the route).Only available in Spanish.
  • Guides: castles and countryside of the Way of El Cid as he passed through the province of Zaragoza, published by the Provincial Council of Zaragoza.Only available in Spanish.

Remember that you can obtain more information about each route at the tourist information offices on the Way of El Cid, including brochures and the Letter of safe conduct.

 

Plot: raids, sieges and battles

Exiled by King Alphonse VI, El Cid abandoned Castile and entered the former Taifa of Toledo under the dark of night to avoid being discovered. This section begins in Atienza, an advanced Moorish post at the time and, according to the Poem, a 'very strong' crag. It continues towards El Henares, where those who were in exile, in need of food, took a fortified village identified as Castejón de Henares or possibly Jadraque. At the same time, Álvar Fáñez, El Cid's lieutenant, set off with 200 knights to pillage the valley; this attack is the plot of El Ramal de Álvar Fáñez. The route continues north-west through the desolate plateau of Layna, towards the Valley of El Jalón, along a route that is described in detail in the Poem of The Cid. The Moorish villages on the riverbank were dedicated to farming and forced to ensure the upkeep of El Cid's troops.

On the 16th day of exile, El Cid set up camp opposite the fortified town of Alcocer (today an archaeological site), very close to Ateca, and after a siege of more than three months, he succeeded in its conquest. In reprisal, an army from Valencia with 3000 horsemen took on El Cid and his men. The latter won one of the fiercest battles told in the Poem and the vanquished generals were chased off to Terrer and Calatayud. With this victory, El Cid's fame and wealth grew enough for him to be able to continue his journey to Valencia.

This section also includes part of the journeys made by Jimena, his daughters and followers on their journeys to Castile and Valencia; its epicentre is the border fortress of Medinaceli.

 

 The journey: what you will find

Up until the disappearance of the caliphate at the beginning of the 11th century, Atienza, Guadalajara and Medinaceli were places of much importance in Andalusia: they were highly militarised and responsible for defending the border and ensuring supplies for the Andalusian troops, who launched their attacks from there on the areas colonised by the Christians. Between 1085 and 1104, they succumbed to the attacks by the kingdoms of León and Castile. However, set in huge areas with low population density occupied by thieves and armed bands of a wide variety of origins, they remained dangerous places.

At the beginning of the 12th century, Medinaceli separated the lands of Castile from the Taifa of Zaragoza, a brilliant Islamic court governed by the Hudi dynasty of Yemeni origin since 1036. The Hudi were hosts to El Cid on more than one occasion and remained independent from Zaragoza until they were conquered by the Almoravides in 1110. In 1120, the Aragonese King Alphonse I the Warrior took Calatayud and the basin of the River Jalón. However, the land kept its border character and was the scenario of conflict between the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile.

Evidence of this conflictive past can be found in the many castles, walls and watchtowers travellers will come across on this section. They date from very different periods and are in various states of repair. Of particular interest are the castles of Atienza, Jadraque, Pelegrina, Sigüenza, Medinaceli, Montuenga de Soria, Monreal de Ariza and, especially, at the end of the journey, Calatayud: one of the most important examples of Islamic walls in Spain. The route also passes through four towns declared historical and/or artistic sites that are well worth a stop-off: Atienza, Sigüenza, Medinaceli and Calatayud, as well as small, peaceful country villages (only 10 of the 52 villages on this route have more than 400 inhabitants) where it is easy to feel safe and sound. Interestingly, on this section, on the river plains of El Jalón in Zaragoza, you can see the early examples of the Aragonese Mudejar style, declared a World Heritage Site.

The route is characterised by the diversity of the land, starting in Serranía de Atienza at 1320 m above sea level and ending on the river plains of El Jalón in Calatayud at 536 m above sea level. In general, the route follows valleys formed by the Henares, Dulce, Tajuña and Jalón rivers, passing through spectacular sections with gorges and narrow valleys, which alternate with scrubland and crop fields. After Medinaceli, the countryside is more arid, typical borderland which, depending on the sections and time of the year, will make you think you are in a medieval Western: large plains that turn into a fertile river plain, that of the Jalón, and, finally, a near moonscape of hills of gypsum and clay in Calatayud. The route crosses five protected natural areas: the Gorge of the River Dulce (an impressive limestone gorge with numerous birds of prey); the High Moorlands of Maranchón and Layna (extensive countryside with a wide variety of steppe birdlife, including Dupont’s lark and the juniper forests and riverbanks of the Jalón.

 

Culinary delights

The 'gastronomic route' starts in the northern mountains of Guadalajara, where you can enjoy roast lamb and kid (the most famous is the one of Jadraque). Traditional cuisine in Guadalajara and Soria ranges from garlic soup to Migas de Pastor, including seasonal dishes such as game and wild mushrooms. On the banks of the River Jalón, the Aragonese tradition and the proximity of the local farmland means that visitors can enjoy some of the area's fruit and vegetables. Here, gastronomy focuses on Calatayud, with typical dishes that include ternasco (young lamb), chickpeas with conger eel and fardeles. Wine from Calatayud, which was highly appreciated by the Roman poet Martial, has greatly evolved and some of the wineries included under this designation of origin make different wines that will surprise enthusiasts. You can complete your meals with typical sweets and deserts, such as yemas de Sigüenza, the tempting marinated sponge cakes from Guadalajara or frutas de Aragón, which are sweets made from crystallised fruit covered in chocolate, or you might prefer the main product from Guadalajara: honey, in any of its varieties and origins.

 

Signposting and condition of the route
  • In general, the BTT route follows the hiking route, which is why BTT users mainly follow the same signposts as hikers. However, when the hiking route becomes very difficult or technical, alternatives appear signposted specifically for BTT. These BTT-MTB alternatives run along country roads or tracks and, when that is not possible, along minor roads.
  • Signposting for hikers When cycling along the hiking route, the signs are: (a) two red lines (in sections where the Way of El Cid is not certified as a GR, in other words, a long distance track); and (b) a red and white line in sections where it is certified as GR 160 Way of El Cid or coincides with another GR (long distance track). Both the maps and the route guides indicate the type of signposts you will find.
  • BTT-MTB signposts: the BTT alternatives (those that are separate from the hiking route) are signposted according to international IMBA standards. At the beginning of each BTT stage, you will find a panel showing the alternatives for that day (if any) and then, at the beginning of each alternative, another information panel.

 

Tips and recommendations
  • Length of the stages: it is best for each one to decide their own stages according to their strengths and personal preferences. Some people place the emphasis on doing exercise, others on the cultural side of the route and others on the simple pleasure of taking in the countryside and locations. The stages we suggest are a combination of all three and have been designed for average tourists cycling under stable weather conditions to enjoy the route without too much stress. We recommend not extending it too much since we have seen that stages longer than 90 km can be difficult and not very gratifying, even for experienced cyclists.
  • Travel safely and unhurriedly: take the tracks and route guide with you. The route is signposted and we do maintenance on the signs every year; however, signs can also disappear (by accident, the weather, vandalism) and, in that case, especially when you are in the mountains, the track and route guide become very important. The route guide also indicates the levels of difficulty of each section and it is a good idea to check it out before starting each stage. The main problem as far as getting lost is concerned comes in the villages: although we have placed signposts in many of them, we have not covered all of them and, even in those with signposts, you might not see the marks and not find the exit easily. Of course, it is best to ask a local and take the tracks and route guide with you, since they contain the indications you need to follow the route.
  • On your way, you will come across fences with gates and the occasional electric fence. They are there to stop cattle escaping. If you see any cattle, don't worry; there are no fighting bulls! Simply go past the animals without frightening them and please remember to leave the gates as you found them!
  • Food and spares. One of the main advantages of the Way of El Cid is that it runs through very attractive places with few inhabitants: many of the villages are very small and they do not have food stores. Unless you have planned to eat in a bar or restaurant, it is very important to take some food with you (sandwiches, nuts, energy bars, etc.) in case you can't find anywhere to eat or buy food. Also remember to take water with you. In most of the villages, there are drinking fountains: remember to refill your water bottles before setting off again. The same applies for spare parts: remember to take a repair kit with you and the more complete it is, the greater your peace of mind will be. Welcome to the Middle Ages.
  • Book your accommodation in advance. You are about to travel through one of the areas with the lowest population density in Europe. Some villages are very small and have limited infrastructures. Book your accommodation at the end of the stage in advance and if you change where you plan to finish the route, check that there is accommodation available there.
  • Don't forget your helmet: it is compulsory for adults to wear helmets on roads outside cities and for under 16s it is compulsory at all times. 
  • Get your Letter of safe conduct. The Letter of Safe Conduct is a personalised 'passport' you can have stamped at many towns and villages on the Way of El Cid. You can use it to get discounts of at least 10% in more than 200 places of accommodation and benefit from special offers. It is free and you can apply for it at any of the more than 70 tourist information offices on the route or at the Way of El Cid Consortium.
  • Your literary guide. You might think it's unnecessary weight, but for many it is essential: don't forget to take with you a copy of the Poem of The Cid; you will be able to recreate some of its passages on site. If your old Spanish is not so good, take a modern version!
  • And, of course, respect the signs you come across: damaging, knocking down or changing a sign means that those behind you might get lost.

 

How to get there… and get back

For more information about how to get to Atienza, click on the information about the municipality.

In the area with practical information about Ateca, you will find information about the transport options in the municipality. Travellers who end their route here continue their journey to Calatayud, which is an important communications centre and is located 15 km from Ateca: the Provincial Council of Zaragoza has made a hiking track between both towns. For more information about the transport options in Calatayud, click on the information about the municipality.

Rev. JGG 02.08.16

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