The SLCenic Route – Episode 8

Graham Laing decided to retire 10 years earlier than planned to enjoy an epic driving tour with his SLC. The plan, inspired by conversations with his Father, was to drive the SLC from the southern most tip of mainland Europe in Spain to the northernmost tip of mainland Europe in Norway.

When he told his children, they said ‘you should write a blog about it’… So that’s exactly what Graham is doing. Graham approached the SLSHOP and asked whether we would be interested in hosting his work, and we were only too happy to share his story. The SLCenic Route was born!

In this episode Graham pushes the SLC to the limit with some off roading he wouldn’t recommend but would do again.

The SLCenic Route

Episode 8 – Toledo to Pamplona via Sad Hill Cemetery (245 miles)

Day 10

I have to write this first section so as not to forget about what happened today, but really they were all minor distractions in the end.

Leaving the city of Toledo after such a short stay seemed sad, but I will probably be back. The mountain ranges north of Madrid look impassable at first, you are slowly climbing, then turning, climbing more, through tunnels, ever climbing and suddenly over the top and a vast wild plain stretching out for miles ahead.

In the distance, another bigger, even more impassable mountain range ahead. Once again climbing, twisting and turning ever higher until this time the over the top to see a glorious vast fertile plain with a patchwork of crop fields and farms stretching out as far as the eye could see. Not sure how many mountain ranges there are in Spain, but I’m not sure you could fit more in if you tried.

The motorways of Spain give some marvellous views of the fantastic scenery as you blast along, but I had planned another stop on the way to Pamplona. Getting of the motorway and winding through many more castles and churches on top of hills on the fabulous Bu-910 I finally came to the little town of Santo Domingo de Silos. The closest town to Sad Hill Cemetery.

Normally, I would have been very happy to have had a lovely drive through northern Spain, but in time would need the pictures to remind me of the day. However, what happened next I will never forget.

If you don’t know, Sad Hill Cemetery is the location of the final scenes in the 1966 film, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, possibly my favourite film. It’s was not a real cemetery and slowly decayed and nearly disappeared until a few years ago, when a few film nerds decided to reconstruct it as faithfully as possible. Driving along the main roads, I wondered why Sergio Leone choose this area to film these scenes, Spain is so vast and has so many beautiful areas, I wondered if he just stuck a pin in the map and said we’ll try there next. How wrong can you be! It is located in the most beautiful, hidden valley, I have ever visited.

33 years ago I was working in Shetland and drove to a small Voe on the mainland; I remember the view as I rose over the hill at the end of the inlet like it was yesterday and until today that was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.

Getting to Sad Hill cemetery is only for the dedicated, and perhaps mad, it’s 3 miles from the town over steep, badly rutted impassable dirt tracks. Getting out of the town I had to give up twice on different routes and was setting off on foot when a short distance into the journey, I met an equally mad German couple coming back in a car. They told me of a third way which once past an initial terrible section was almost passible in a car with decent ground clearance.

In the future, I will tell people of this whole European trip in a 46 year old Mercedes SLC and some may believe me, but no one that has been to Sad Hill Cemetery will believe I made it in an SLC.

On the dirt track, you don’t drive on the right, middle, left or the shaded part, you drive on the part least likely to rip the bottom off your car. Where it is impassable, check the grass verge and get 2 wheels on it to give you that bit extra ground clearance. Three torturous miles of 1st and 2nd gear and suddenly you get the view of your life looking down the valley, not another soul in site and the cemetery on the grassy valley floor.

It may only be a reconstruction of what was a fake, but it has been done with such care and attention to detail that it enhances what is already a wonderful place. There are a few plaques in memory of Sergio Leone but there is no commercialised rubbish, no people, no let’s make a fast buck getting in the way of an iconic place. Essentially it is just part of someone’s farm with cows gently grazing. I don’t know how Leone knew about it, there is no reason to go there and no reason to pass by unless you are one of the local farmers, but I’m sure when he saw it he knew that it would be the perfect location for the final scenes in his epic trilogy of films.

I stayed as long as possible, screamed Blondieee as loud as I could and with the cows looking on disdainfully knew I would be back. Other than the mad German couple, I saw no one else in the few hours I had, there is even a rock with one blank flat side lying loosely in the middle of the circle. Amazing.

If you are a fan of spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone, the music of Ennio Morricone, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef or the real start of the film, Eli Wallach, you should visit.

A few words of advice, do not go the route I took, I wasn’t sure I would make it back the way I came so took the other route out of the valley to Contreras Province of Burgos, to say it was easier is a lie, perhaps slightly less hard is a better description. If you do have a classic low slung Mercedes, do not attempt it, I repeat DO NOT attempt it, you have to be mad to do what I did. Will I do it again, Oh yes!

Didn’t have time to see any of Pamplona, that, like everything else can wait for another day.

Click here to read Episode 9