In the morning there was a huge improvement in the weather and as we sat by ourselves in the breakfast room sunlight flooded in through the large windows so we finished quickly so that we could start our drive north towards the glacial lakes of the Zamora Province.
To begin with we took a long straight road from Ciudad Rodrigo towards the town of Lumbrales and we scanned the sky nervously as it changed frequently from clear blue to patchy cloud to overcast and back again. Once through the unremarkable little town we entered the Arribes del Douro y Águeda National Park and although the road was straight we were climbing steadily all of the time and eventually we found ourselves in an elevated position above the clouds and that is the first time I can remember doing that since I went to the top of Mount Teide in 1989 on the island of Tenerife. Eventually we arrived in the border town of La Fregenada and then the road descended quickly and steeply through a succession of hairpin bends down towards the Douro and the border with Portugal. The scenery was dramatic as we clung to the side of the mountain and dropped into the bottom of the narrow river valley and once at the bottom crossed the Águeda into Portugal at the same place as it flowed into the Douro.
We drove into the Portuguese town of Barca de Alva and turned north to follow the river on the edge of the National Park. The sun was shining now and the river looked splendid as it reflected the golden yellow of the last of the leaves clinging to the trees and we followed a twisting road for a few kilometres stopping every so often to admire the views. For one hundred and twelve kilometres the river forms part of the national border between Spain and Portugal and is a region of steeply sloping mountains and narrow canyons making it an historical barrier for invasions and a linguistic dividing line between two nations. This was a scenic and dramatic part of the journey, across the river in Spain the river valley was heavily wooded, green and verdant but on the Portuguese side it was carefully managed with fields of olive trees and vines for growing grapes for port wine.
The Douro is one of the most important rivers of the peninsula and has been regularly dammed to provide hydro electricity for both Spain and Portugal. After about fifteen kilometres we arrived at one of these the Barragem de Saucelle and crossed over it back into Spain stopping at a tourist information centre that was glad to see someone and asking for directions along the way. The dam forms part of the hydroelectric system known as the Duero Drops, along with the Castro, Ricobayo, Suacelle and Villalcampo dams of Spain, and the Bemposta, Miranda and Picote dams of neighbouring Portugal.
From the river their was a long climb to the top of the ravine using long raking hairpin bends with magnificent views at every twist and then once at the top the road levelled out and we took a direct route through the National Park towards the town of Saucelle. This was different again, with lush green fields, wild animals and dry stonewalls that made it reminiscent of the Peak District or Bodmin Moor. After Saucelle we continued to Barruecopardo where we thankfully came across a tiny garage and bought some fuel and then struck north again through the park heading for the river and the lakes.
We drove a long time without finding either through a succession of dusty little towns that weren’t expecting visitors at this time of the year and the men on street corners watched with interest as we threaded our way along the route towards our objective. We drove through the towns of Trabanca and Almendra and caught glimpses of water through the trees but it was clear that the water level was very low and there were lots of fields that should be submerged but instead were green and lush and strewn with boulder debris and interesting rock formations.