Headwater offers three new self-guided cycling explorations of the Ebro Delta from six to eight nights including accommodation, bike hire, luggage transfers, route notes and most meals. More: headwater.com.
Approaching the harbour at Port d’Illa, the huts of weekend fisherman owe nothing to gentrification, informed instead by style cues of washed-up flotsam. Sleepy jetties host tinkering skippers, piles of tangled nets, and peeling paint. It’s a bit smelly but it’s honest.
It’s not always been this peaceful. The Ebro has witnessed epic conflicts over the centuries.
In 218BC it saw a decisive sea battle that ended the first Punic War, fought between Rome and the Phoenician city-state of Carthage (now Tunis). Some years later the river was the red line crossed by Carthaginian commander Hannibal and his army to trigger the rematch.
Much more recently, in 1938 Republicans and Nationalists bitterly contested the Ebro shores in the Spanish Civil War’s bloodiest battle. In July that year, General Franco’s fascist Nationalist forces faced a loyalist Republican army across the river’s banks; by mid-November an estimated 20,000 had lost their lives in a fight that sealed the fate of the Spanish Republic.
The latest conflict is quieter but no less fierce. Nearby, Catalan graffiti writ large along the river’s banks angrily opposes plans to extract water for use elsewhere in Spain which, from a Catalan perspective, is another country.
At the harbour, we board Ruben Cabrera’s skiff. He guides the boat over clear shallows towards the wooden gantries of shellfish beds. “My family has been here forever,” he says. “Well, actually 34 years.” He says the fishermen are suffering now: “We make one production a year. There used to be two.” I ask why. “There’s not so many nutrients for oysters. The hydro-electric plants are part of the cause. There’s not so much sweet water now, and less silt. But the water is warming too.”
At Fangar Bay, Ruben cuts the motor. We chug to a halt and moor beneath a platform supporting a wooden