but no haggis
By F. C. PRICE
THE medieval pilgrim laboriously made his way on foot across the Pyrenees and across northern Spain to pray at the shrine of St. James at C.ompostella. Today's sun-worshipper seeks the overcrowded Mediterranean beaches along the Costa Brava and the Costa del Sol.
This change in travelling habits has resulted in the comparative neglect of Spain's north-western tip the province of Galicia. it may be visited en route to Portugal, but it is a land of such charm and fascination that a fleeting call will serve only to whet the appetite for a longer stay, The Atlantic Ocean has bitten deeply into the mountain studded coastline to fashion scenery that is scarcely equalled. With the lush green slopes precipitating into the sea along the numerous deep inlets it is reminiscent of Norway and Western Scotland.
Like the Scots, the local inhabitants are of Celtic stock, so it is not surprising that the bagpipe is the traditional instrument, still heard at folklore festivals and, occasionally, at Mass. Ribadeo on the Cantabrian coast, has a large monument of the Galician bagpiper to mark the provincial boundary.
They are fisherfolk, too; Galicia is famous for its abundance and variety of fish dishes including octopus, hake, eel, oysters, mussels, lobsters and crabs. Every visitor should try Cachellas (potatoes boiled in their jackets and spiced with bay) and Empanadas (patties filled with lampreys and eel).
To accompany these tempting dishes there is a profusion of local wines including El Rosal a fine sparkling variety. Often these are served in cuncas — white china cups without handles.
The scenic gems of Galicia are the fiord-like inlets on the western coast, the Rias Bajas. These tree-covered estuaries are honeycombed with secluded sandy beaches washed by a sea that is far warmer than many parts of the Mediterranean. In the late evening there is an eerie beauty as the hills stand silhouetted against the glowing red and yellow hues of the sun as it sets far out to sea.
The placid waters of the Ria de Vigo still cover the old galleons with their fabulous cargoes of silver and gold scuttled on their return from the West Indies to avoid capture by the British during an early eighteenth century battle.
Pontevedra, a charming old town where a former royal residence has been converted into a state-run hotel, makes an ideal centre, permitting leisurely excursions along the shores of the various firths.
Its "Zona Monumental" contains a profusion of churches including the basilica of Santa Maria, the 13th and 14th century churches of San Francisco and Santa Clara,
and the impressive ruins of Santo Domingo.
Vigo has one of the most magnificent harbour approaches in Europe. A short distance beyond lies the small fishing village of Bayona, dominated by the castle of Monte Real and also home of Our Lady of the Rock, a colossal statue in stone — its mantle carved out of the actual crags which crown the height—facing the sea.
North of Pontevedra, at the head of the vast Ria de Arosa, is Padron, legendary spot where St. James was landed. From here it is but a short distance to Santiago itself, the city where the pilgrim staff and scallop-shell adorn almost every building.
It is dominated by the massive cathedral, its granite mellowed into varying shades of grey by the Atlantic rains. Started in 1075 and completed in little more than a century, it is the third church to occupy this site. Rising from four surrounding squares, it is a marvel of romanesque, surmounted by flamboyant baroque.
Beyond Santiago lies busy Corunna—shades of Sir John Moore — and the splendid beaches and attractive villages of the northern coast, served by a coastal road that runs directly to the French frontier at Irun. For those who wish to avoid the long car drive from the Channel ports there are now car ferries sailing directly from Southampton to Bilbao and taking 36 hours for the Journey.