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17th April
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A sick motorcycle leads serendipitously to a scene from the past - a boar hunt in central Spain

It was a chilly, dull October Sunday as I left Ávila, riding a motorcycle that was in sore need of attention. This was in 1969 and I was nearing the end of my four week, 2,000 mile, ride through France to Southern Spain.

It was possibly the bad state of remote rural roads that had contributed
to a broken spoke in the rear wheel. How many spokes could I afford to lose before the wheel collapsed? I had no idea. There were now four days before my ferry departed Bilbao, and at Segovia I stopped to study the map for the best route to the port. I could take a longer route on a main road, or a shorter one with less chance of being helped if the bike broke down completely.

I decided on the latter and slowly rode more-or-less directly northwards on minor roads northwards towards Burgos. Had I not taken this shorter option I’d never have had the following unforgettable experience.

Twice I heard a ting! ting! that indicated another breakage. Wheel building is a skill beyond me, but I had to do what I could. Fortunately, I had a spoke spanner in my tool kit, so I could remove the broken spoke and recheck the others, testing their sound when struck, and evening out the tensions by tightening those that rang dull.

As the elevation rose to about three thousand feet above sea level, cultivated fields gave way to moorland scrub. Through the mist that was
beginning to settle in the late afternoon I could see in the distance small
groups of hunters carrying long-barrelled guns moving slowly across the moor. I could not see any birds. The scrub provided precious little cover for anything larger. They did not appear to be carrying anything, so what they were hunting?

As daylight faded and concerned about the danger of collapse of the rear wheel, I thought I’d better stop soon rather than risk being caught out in the dark in the middle of nowhere with a disabled bike. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the next village I rode into. Such a small place would probably have been recorded only on the most detailed of maps.

It did not look at all promising.  The streets were unlit and badly paved. Cattle occupied some of the ground floors of houses, something I was not to see again until I visited Northern India on another motorcycle tour forty years later.

At that time tourists could take only £50 a year outside the sterling area, plus £15 for a motorcycle. Foreign currency purchases were record in one’s passport. Thus, I’d had to eat and lodge cheaply throughout the trip. In this remote village I found the cheapest room of all, at 40 pesetas, five shillings (25p) at the prevailing rate of exchange. I didn’t like to guess how many had shared the bed since the last sheet change.

 Looking for somewhere to eat, I wandered around the village. In small low-ceilinged, dimly lit, bar I had a beer before realising that I had stumbled upon one of the hunting parties that I’d seen earlier in the day. Ancient
looking long-barrelled guns were propped up in one corner of the bar. On chairs lining the walls, old men in berets sat drinking quietly. There was barely a murmur of conversation, perhaps reflecting the efforts of the day or the quiet satisfaction of a successful hunt. Against a pillar in the centre of the room, its hind legs attached to a roof beam, a recently gutted boar bled onto a sawdust covered floor.

Exhausted and relieved to have found the night’s shelter, I’d left my camera in my room. I’m now sure there would have been no objection to my photographing the scene. It’s the photos I never took that I most regret.
This was a scene anchored in the past, never likely to be seen again, at least in Western Europe.

By the way, my bike did make it to Bilbao, and from Southampton to home without further incident.

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