Charles Marriott (1869-1957) was a writer of fiction who became an art critic for the Times. In 1908 he wrote A Spanish Holiday, a travel journal detailing his experiences travelling with a friend around Spain. In the following quote, he is travelling by train from San Sebastian to Bilbao, and finds the journey stunningly picturesque, but somewhat hair-raising!
At last, punctually to the minute, we were off, and for the first half-hour or so the experience was almost terrifying. The narrow-gauge line passing through a mountainous country, we crashed through cuttings and tunnels with a deafening noise which made the train seem to be travelling at a reckless speed, particularly when rounding the most violent curves I have ever seen on any railway. Sometimes the train seemed to be chasing its own tail and very nearly catching it. The gradients, too, were sharp ind sudden, and the pitch of the line round curves was so extreme that, the coaches being swung on bogies, the houses and churches we passed seemed to be leaning away at an angle of twenty degrees. I noticed that the coaches on this maddest little railway in the world were made by the Bristol Wagon-works Company. As there was only one lamp to the whole carriage, and that hidden from where we sat, the effect of broken light and violent shadow on the harsh, animated faces and restless hands was most impressive, and enhanced the devil-may-care character of the whole business. By and by we began to find it wildly exhilarating; a feeling which James expressed by suddenly sitting up in his corner and saying, a propos to nothing:
” Hang the expense ! ”
Before long we began to recognise, too, that whatever we were to see in Spain, we were now passing through some of the most fascinating country we had ever set eyes upon. It was like a glorified Devonshire; a country of deep, wooded glens and wide, fertile valleys redeemed from prettiness by the bare limestone peaks of the Cantabrian mountains. A broad, winding road, that seemed to gain rather than lose in beckoning charm from its well-kept condition as if the whole scheme of things were too big to need the pathetic appeal of picturesque decay kept more or less close company with the line, and every now and then we came upon a tumbling stream with brown, shadowy pools that looked troutful. Between Orio and Deva we had glimpses of the sea. The valley bottoms were bright with maize and corn framed in the woods of oak and chestnut, knee-deep in bracken, which clothed the lower slopes of the mountains. We saw many familiar flowers, heath and scabious and rest-harrow, but larger and fuller in their tints than those at home, as if their natures had expanded under happier conditions.
One brief note of explanation: a ‘bogie’ is a wheeled chassis attached to a coach to absorb vibration and improve stability, particularly on curved tracks.
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