Riego del Camino is a small village 28km north of Zamora on the Via de la Plata towards Santiago de Compostela. It has seen walkers on the Via de la Plata for about 2000 years. Two thousand years! So we'd like you to know you are welcome here.
The village has a lot of history, including a Roman well and signs of its past rulers: the Romans, the Visigoths, the Christians, and its temporary inhabitants of course, the pilgrims.
Riego del Camino literally means 'the watering place of the road' and around 15 AD, when some unknown military surveyor marking out roads for the Roman legions decided to run the main highway past here because it had an excellent spring, that's when the village came to international prominence. For a good few hundred years - longer than the USA has existed for example - the soldiers and merchants using this road stopped here. A few hundred metres around the spring was a collection of shops, pubs, bars, stables, shoemakers, wheel-menders, hostels, brothels - all the usual travellers services. The remnants are still occasionally turning up as people dig their gardens here! It was a serious place, marked on the Imperial maps - a bit like motorway services in France.
The main road went up to Astorga, a big centre, and a smaller road headed off into the mountains, into Galicia, to get to the sea quicker. Actually, it was all about the money, as ever. It cost a quarter as much to move goods by sea as on land - so the road existed to get goods to the coast as cheaply as possible.
After the Romans started to fade, the Visigoths moved in. They used the rather eroded road and wanted water, shops, pubs, bars, stables...same old, same old. This lasted for a couple of hundred years.
Around 780 AD much excitement came to Riego as newcomers arrived: Moors from Africa wanting to use the road to get to the warring frontier with Galicia. This meant big military build-up, civilian contractors, seriously sleazy negotiations to keep the road open from Christian insurgents. Oh, and shops, pubs, bars, stables...same old.
From then till about 1400 AD, and from Riego del Camino to Sanabria, this was the 'Wild West' - mercenaries, outlaws, local warlords, occasional interventions from superpowers like the Reconquista kings or Granada emirs. Endless skirmishing up and down the rutted, puddled, cart track that was left of the Roman 'Via Dilapidata' - The Stone Road. By now people were walking up either side, parallel a hundred metres away, to avoid the big holes. The remnants of those roads are now country roads - they're the ones running alongside the path you walk.
After the Christians took control, they built a few castles to control the local resentful insurgents, the bandits, the outlaws and alike. Just south of Riego was the biggest castle, at Fontanillas del Castro, exactly the Camp Bastion of its time - you walk past it because that's where the route has gone for five hundred years. It is just off the Roman road there, because they wanted to control the river crossing. Riego declines a little in this period since the castle sucked in the local investment and infrastructure. At the same time, the next village - Granja de Moreruela - gets very full of itself; they have a huge monastery which controls all the usable land from Riego to Tabara, all you can walk across in a very long day. Their ruins can still be seen.
But the local warlord makes some serious political faux passes and betrays the wrong guy once too often. The castle was destroyed. As people moved back on to the good old road, Riego in its usual way starts to offer shops, bars, pubs... same old.
The 19th century and the eternal economic truths apply - people follow the established routes, and whenever they travel, they need to stop off somewhere for sleep, food, a drink; they're still using horses and carts, it's still 30 km from Zamora (which is a good day's walk) a day's haul for a cart etc. It's a place where not much changes really, where being conservative is a sensible option.
And by the 20th century conservatism is hardening into fascism really, and Franco is made welcome in another pretty savage local war, along with those first few cars that made it to here in the last decade or so. Riego embraces the new wave, and now offers travellers a choice of garages, shops, bars...
Franco may have been welcome, but he doesn't do much for the region - still one of the poorest in the country, with levels of malnutrition that mean doorways here are about 15 cm lower than more prosperous areas. People get paid to rip out their vineyards (so in Granja de Moreruela you will see many underground winestores/bodegas, but no vineyards) and big landowners buy up the fields for cereals and create huge prairies. But locally what you have is not much: guess...garages, shops, bars...
So, just two thousand years later and the guys from the village are watching surveyors marking out a Big New Autovia, and it doesn't go through the village any more, and there are no travellers stopping off any more.
Oh, but wait. Here come the pilgrims, as they have been doing for a few hundred years, and they need a place to sleep, to wash, to eat, to relax, a bar...so, same old, same old again! And that Roman spring that made all this happen? You can see it still at the end of the Calle Espana.