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From Orbea Bikes: Euskal Herria, the Basque Country or Pais Vasco. This is the land of the ancient oak and iron. This is the land of green mountains which stand steadfast against the savage Atlantic ocean. The immovable power of the old forests and deep seams of iron ore balance the wild, capricious Atlantic ocean, and this balance of energies drives the history of the Basques.
The Basque history stretches its roots way back into the mists of the past, and nobody can say where it started. We know that the language, Euskera, is one of the very few unique languages in the world, that it has survived many challenges, and that it is still widely spoken today. We also know that the Basques were whalers and fearless seafarers as much as they were shepherds and farmers. We don’t know when they started whaling, but we do know that they ruled the sea trade at the end of the middle ages. In the 15th century, around 80% of the boats docking in Bristol (UK) were Basque and they were laden with iron ore, whale oil, wool from Castile, and Bordeaux wine.
Of course, such an industrial history leaves traces on the land and today you can still ride the old trails which start high in the mountains around the coast. The tight, twisting trails which carried charcoal down the mountains are easily recognized by the regular punctuation marks of charred earth where wood was converted to charcoal through the centuries. The Iron trails are wider, with gentle twists and turns, often passing through tunnels in the mountainside. On these trails, the iron ore was mined and hauled down the mountain with horse and cart, and later with small trains.
These trails are still used and maintained by the local biking community, offering fantastic adventures deep into the Basque mountains. Trails that have been eroded into the hillside over many centuries offer bikers leafy toboggan runs through the beautifully preserved oak and beech forests leading down to the coast.
The historic use of the trails gives them distinct characters and, while it is true that many bikers are more concerned with the ride than the history, these different characters offer us a glimpse into the past.