Monte Ulia

I've been mostly cycling recently because of niggling injuries making running and hiking tricky, so I was determined to get something on this site about a trail run or a trek. So, forgive me for this, but I'm blogging a 45 minute run up a hill in Spain. Best I can do at the moment!

After our gathering in Pays Basques in southern France, where I celebrated my 48th birthday with a 2 mile race at full pace (it's been a while...), Kokila and I headed down to the border to take a look at San Sebastian. Believe it or not, although we've been fortunate enough to travel pretty widely we had never been to Spain!

The town is built around 2 amazing sandy bays, one a surf break and the other a perfect swimming beach thanks to it being almost totally enclosed so the waves are very gentle. At either end are forested hills and in the middle of the city, right by the old town, is another hill that overlooks both bays and was once a key target for would-be conquerors like the Anglo-Portuguese back in the days of the Napoleonic wars. Some time in more recent history the fort and gun emplacements have been adorned with a huge statue of Christ that now overlooks the old town and dominates the skyline much like the larger and more famous version in Brazil.

We were staying at the very end of the eastern beach, Zurriola, so being at the foot of Monte Ulia it was an opportunity to run up a hill for the first time in ages. Calf and hamstring trouble have been limiting my running but after the race two days before having been trouble-free I decided to go for it. Years ago I'd print maps or memorise them before running in a new place, but these days google makes it so easy to pick a spot and follow a "walking route" to get there so I just headed out through winding urban lanes towards the top of the hill. Soon the city streets climbed steeply then I was led up steps to a narrow road that contoured round the hill, gradually gaining altitude. The road was in thick forest now and I was thankful for the cool breeze coming in off the Bay of Biscay.

From the road I headed off on trails for the last part, through woodland and bamboo forest, past the fronts and sometimes the backs of houses, some guarded by some quite aggresive dogs who were fortunately behind high walls and fences. After around 25 minutes I was at what appeared to be the summit, though with all the forest it was hard to be certain! It was overlooking a phone mast and it had it's own car park so I soon worked out that I was indeed at the summit of Monte Ulia, so far my legs carrying me without protest on the hilly terrain.

The views weren't great from the top because of the thick woods but on the way down, on winding trails and paths before I hit the road agagin, I was treated to some amazing vistas over the city and out across the bay. I didn't stop to photograph these sadly, but I grabbed a couple of shots of the route down to give a flavour of the terrain, a view throught the houses towards Monte Urgull (you can just make out the Christ Statued) and a shot of the beach at Zurriola.

Once google had pointed me in the right direction it was easy to find the hotel at Punta Monpas, right at the end of Zurriola beach, where already the early morning session at the surf school was underway and the novice surfers were catching waves and wiping out in rapid succession.

It felt so good to run on hills and trails again and actually have my legs carry me to a summit, albeit only a few hundred feet above. Now I have to go carefully so this can carry on - will I get to race on the Welsh hills again? Hope so...

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