I'm glad I learnt to map read - David Kennedy and Sarah Sheehan

I'm glad I learnt to map read

Tunèl de Vielha to Barbastro

Technology means that driving from A to B, one can just tap the destination in to a sat nav and follow the little blue arrow, confident that after you have left A, you will end up at B at around the estimated time.

However, I like to have a road atlas open in the front of the car, partly to understand where we are in relation to the rest of the country, and partly to look out for interesting diversions. I know I’m a bit of a Luddite, but then that is the name of our pub quiz team! Motorways and autoroutes are fine and dandy, but the smaller side roads can be far more interesting if you have the time and inclination to be spontaneous.

On our way south from Vielha to Barbastro, northern Spain, we could have followed the main road to Benabarre then taken another red road to Barbastro. Good old Mr Michelin though helpfully colours roads with a green border if he thinks they are particularly scenic, and looking at the map I could see if we went west then south, rather than south then west, we'd drive along some wonderfully squiggly green roads taking us over a couple of cols and along a river valley. Embracing our spirit of adventure, we turned right.

The reward was a delightful drive with stunning views of the Spanish Pyrenees to the north from our route winding through tree covered hills. Descending in to the river valley, we crossed a small bridge and were suddenly in a narrow gorge. Steep pink and grey cliffs towered above us, and somewhere below was the river Ésera which has spent the last few centuries cutting down through the rock to create the gorge.


The road is quite narrow and covered over in places to protect traffic from falling rock, so we were happy to spot an opportunity to pull over into a lay-by to get a closer look. I did get a bit twitchy when we nearly caused a diplomatic incident as two large lorries met trying to negotiate the narrow buttress (seen in the photo) from different directions, but apart from that, we were so pleased that once again we had stepped off onto the road less travelled, and seen a bit more of the fantastic landscapes that northern Spain has to offer.

I often have reason to embrace modern technology – I couldn't work the way I do without it – and have been grateful for sat nav on many an occasion, but there is nothing quite like getting your hands on a good old fashioned road atlas and planning your own route.

Clearly earning my Girl Guide Pathfinder badge was worth the effort.