Sunday, October 26, 2008

Of Bridges and Baths

We have been walking in the country today. There is, just a few miles north of here, a 19thC iron railway bridge, which crosses what is left of the river (which isn't very much; most of the time you can cross without getting your feet wet). When the high speed line was built in 1992 the route was straightened, leaving part of the track dead, including this bridge, which was in any case incapable of taking the new trains and only had one line crossing it. I have always found railway lines fascinating. I trace then on maps, I follow them on Google Earth, I track them through countryside and then across towns, diving down alleyways or sneaking through gardens to reach them and see exactly how the space they occupy is cut out of the houses. There are areas where they cross each other, slide under or over streets, or form enclosed spaces where one can be completely surrounded by railway lines. (Why this should be interesting I couldn't say, I just like the feel of such places).

They seem to connect places in ways that roads don't. And there is a haunting feel about old lines, or the traces they have left when the tracks are removed, or the disused stations, or the old bridges. They are a reminder of a time long gone when people moved at high speed, through a spot you can now stand on calmly, on an infrastructure that is decayed, rusting, or simple not there.

I have always liked this bridge. It has a simple elegance, without being magnificent. I have a painting of it on my wall, done by my wife years ago. The views are attractive, and today was warm and sunny.

Nearby are the remains, apparently still usable, of old Roman baths. They are known as some combination of the Manantiales/Hervideros/Baños de Trujillo/Emperador, and two sinks remain, in which it is, they say, possible to dangle the feet or immerse the body in smelly, sulphurous mud. This is undoubtedly good for the body and soul, since there can be no other reason for doing it. I speak from hearsay as we have never actually reached that exact spot, for motives which are neither relevant not interesting. We intend to do so one day.

I mentioned the river. The Guadiana is dammed just a few miles downstream, making a reservoir used for irrigation, and also for fishing and occasionally swimming and boating. It is a beautiful body of water on a summer's day and you can watch varieties of duck and members of the heron family do the things that waterfowl do on fine days. Despite the dam and the body of water behind it by the time it reaches the bridge it is little more than a series of pools, although it does grow at times.

The new(ish) line and trains are fast, reliable, fairly comfortable and have a certain style, but what we have gained on these things we have lost on the bridges. The improvements in baths, I should say, are unqualifiedly good.

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