Position: 43°32’48″N 5°39’54″W
Every schoolchild learns that their world floats on big plates. It’s also obvious to every 10-year-old that the land masses of the world should snap together like a puzzle. As an optimistically precocious urchin, I used to hand draw maps. I’d lie on the living room floor with an Edwardian atlas and replicate the outlines of continents and countries completely freehand. For hours on end I explored every nook and cranny of Africa from Upper Volta to the Gold Coast and on down to Rhodesia, up to Abyssinia and around to Tripoli, and back round again. Through my pencil and my imagination I could move mountains if I wished. It is hard to believe that tectonic plate theory only became established in 1967! Good grief! Looking at a chart, any sailor can clearly see that Newfoundland was belched out of the Bay of Biscay. It’s as though France had finally drunk one too many beers and busted its gut.
The Bay of Biscay has something of a fearsome reputation. In the days of square riggers if you didn’t cross the bay in the right conditions and at the right time of year, say July or August, you’d be blown against a lee shore in France, or Northern Spain. Worse, the continental shelf shoals up in the middle of the bay generating lots of energy and making bad conditions worse. Our goal was to cross Biscay before September and then, after a few days touring around Northern Spain, continue on past Cape Finisterre before the weather gods suspected anything.
A window opened and we slipped out of Port Pendennis Marina and sailed to Gijón in three days, motoring only when the wind died completely. In the English Channel Carol skillfully avoided dozens of cargo ships. One behemoth was so large it measured its length not in feet, but fractions of a mile. Later, several happy dolphins rose alongside and surveyed Aleta.
Gijón is an ancient city, once part of the Roman Empire. Today it bustles with shops and holidaymakers enjoying the last few days in August before school reconvenes. Spain’s adoption of Brutalist architecture was immediately obvious, even from the marina. Bluff concrete offices, some lying empty due to the recession here, sit alongside more romantic belle-epoch buildings. On the headland separating the town’s two beach fronts sits a 19th century fort and battery. Judging by the addition of a skate park covered in barely mediocre graffiti, the site is zoned utilitarian, not historic. Dominating everything is an odd, poured concrete sculpture straight out of that bizarre sci-fi epic Zardoz (see photos).
Just down the hill is the old town square, the Plaza Mayor, with a clutch of pubs and sidrerías. Cider is the drink favored by local Asturians. Tasty and inexpensive, like most drinking traditions, sidra it has its own way of being served. Holding a bottle high above his head, your barman pours, no cascades, the cider into a glass that he is holding as low as he can in his other hand. He maintains direct eye contact with you at all times. Once your glass catches a couple of fingers worth, he hands it to you and you down the light, dry, slightly effervescent alcoholic cider in one gulp. Repeat between bites of tapas. For the record a 70ml bottle of cider costs three euros. The Wurzels would be proud (see video).