For centuries, the Valley of Roncal has based a good part of its economy on livestock. Shepherding has been, and still is, a traditional local occupation.
But in Roncal this work is somewhat different to shepherding in other places, because it involves transhumance. Every year, come September, the flocks of Roncal are driven to Las Bardenas Reales in Navarre’s Ribera region, where they spend the entire winter, far from the ice and snow of the Valley of Roncal, and then return in May, when the pastures in the Pyrenees are at their lushest.
As the name indicates, Las Bardenas Reales was land belonging to the Crown. Over the centuries, and history, different Navarrese localities earned royal permission to use these pastures in the winter.
In 1705, the list of localities and bodies with this right was closed for good. 19 localities from Navarre’s Ribera region, the Monastery of La Oliva and the Pyrenean Valleys of Salazar and Roncal hold the right to “bardenaje”, i.e. the right to enter Las Bardenas Reales with flocks of sheep.
The first place in Navarre to enjoy this right was the Valley of Roncal, earning it in 882 for merits of war.
A wide, 130km-long track, which still exists today, joining the Pyrenean pastures of Roncal in the north to the desert-like lands of Las Bardenas Reales in the south was created so that the people of Roncal could drive their sheep to Las Bardenas Reales. The track runs from the Valley of Belagua, in the vicinity of the Chapel of Arrako, to the Ebro Valley, on the boundary with the Aragonese locality of Tauste.