Ancient pilgrim

Middle Section of the Camino Frances

This is a continuation of the emails of Gordon and Christine Ball’s time on the Camino Frances during 2015. This section covers the middle stages of the Camino Frances. You can read the first part here – Walking the Camino Frances, and the next section the Last stages of the Camino Frances.

Day 16 Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino 

Thank you to all those who have sent birthday greetings to me for today, and also to those who sent cards before we left, Christine has carried them and given them to me today, (note I now carry them!). It was very kind if you all.

christineJust to prove Christine does more than drink “vino tinto”, we have included a photograph of her out on the road, taking a welcome break with the backpack off the back!

However we have to be careful not to park it where ants abound, which can be difficult to do. Last night our accommodation was really good, but was next to the church and every hour during the day and night the bells rang to let us know what time it was just in case we needed to know while asleep.

To add to the joy of the bells just before two am the cats’ choir started. At first I thought it was some drunken women, luckily someone closer than I to the choir got out of bed and frightened the cats off.

What with the bells and my bent back from carrying all Christine’s face products, I feel like shouting “Esmeralda!” from one of my favourite black and white films. A further clue is Charles Laughton. We had a communal meal with six fellow pilgrims, from USA, Germany and Australia. Christine and I were strategically well placed to serve the food and the wine to the table. We heard strong opinions on Obama, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel and the Australian voting system! The recent election gave us lots of ammunition to discuss Brit politics! Well makes a change from having to examine other people’s poorly feet!!

Up for breakfast at 6am and on the road, they are becoming long with fewer breaks than in the more populated areas. As it was my birthday we sent the luggage on by the post man, to give us a rest. I have a swollen ankle/ lower leg, but I cannot complain too much.

When Christine had her infected leg I offered to have her put down to save her further agony, I feel that she might offer to do the same for me. Without our backpacks we reached our first coffee break about 8.30am.

Overall on the day’s walk it would probably have taken us an extra hour and a half walking, quite significant on the long roads and the increasing heat of the day. There was one steep climb; even the cyclists pushed their bikes. Sadly we saw three separate gravestones to recent casualties, their photographs still fresh. We passed the ruins of a convent, when St Anthony’s Fire, a disease causing burning skin boils and eventually gangrene, (sorry if you’re eating), was in Europe in the 11th century.

The order blessed pilgrims with their symbol, Greek letter tau, as insurance against the malady. The symbol is apparent in the ruins. We hadn’t heard of this so assume it didn’t reach England.

In the morning we can smell the fresh grass, and the farmers have already started to cut the grass, leaving it to dry. We forget to experience this at home, but of course there is no way we would be out walking at 6am at home.

My large chocolate Guinness cake and champagne have not materialised yet, there is still time. Temperature is in the 30s but when we asked about the air conditioning not working his comment was that it was not yet hot enough to put it on. Tonight no doubt we will melt again. This village is very small and the choice of food limited so what you had for lunch is probably what you will have for your evening meal. There is a swimming pool, (covered over), but it is probably not hot enough to take the cover off.

Day 17 Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de Los Condes

Well birthday over, back to normal, Christine had brought her party dress but where we ate last night was rather basic, surly waiter, (again), microwaved pizza and a bottle of local wine. Both of these very welcomed and good. Thanks for all the additional birthday emails that arrived.

No church bells through the night, what a relief, peaceful sleep for a change but we were still up at 5.30am strolling out of the village in the dark along a canal tow path. There were a lot of frogs making quite a racket to compete with the dawn chorus and later just as Christine tried to record the frogs’ song, two Americans walked past with the usual loud greetings. Their bodies will add to the ambience of the canal. Breakfast was about an hour’s walk later at Formista.

Funny how there were three cafes, but only one was attracting the majority of the business. There were options regarding which route you wish to take, we opted for the route along by the river which was slightly longer, offered more shade and had the frogs again singing with/against the ducks this time.

It was quite windy this morning blowing and tumbling the flies around your feet, some were doing somersaults, not seen that before.

As well as the sounds of cuckoo, (which to be honest Christine finds a little irritating, she’s convinced he’s now saying “yoo-hoo”), at the moment we also see the morning storks. There were a lot more walkers en route today so many must have missed out the difficult two days walking and picked a place they could get to by bus.


Above: The attached picture is Douglas with an ancient pilgrim, (guess which is which), you can see the shell symbol on his hat and cloak. These statues are everywhere, we think funded by European money for Spanish tourism in this area. Now in this picture who looks like a REAL pilgrim, Douglas or him??? He isn’t even wearing a bandana, say no more.

Yesterday we visited a pilgrim building where you can stay the night that was used by Martin Sheen in his film ‘The Way’. We also passed a family with two young children, the father was pushing a baby buggy which had one child in but could carry two, he had a rucksack, sleeping bags. Their little boy about 4 years old was walking alongside. His wife was not carrying anything! To cut down on weight he must have left his shaving gear behind, we decided he was probably clean shaven when they started, in fact they may not even have had any children when they started!

The Spanish tend to use timers/ sensor on their lights, especially toilets and showers, so if you spend ‘too long’ or do not move about, off goes the light. In one gents toilet they had a dividing door but the problem was it stopped the sensor detecting if anyone was there, so you had to keep opening the dividing door to keep the light on, (Christine -I think this is a “man” thing. I’ve encountered no such problem) – (Oh yes, trying to go to the loo in a field on a windy day with a 12kg weight on your back is a challenge men don’t have to cope with!).

Christine’ leg and feet are not good, the pain has come back and is worse, it is hard to tell whether it is a strain or a bite. I have something similar but not quite as painful. I could tell it was hurting because her walking pace dropped dramatically. She just made it to the venue tonight and can now hardly cross the road so we have decided that, given that the route for the next several days does not appear to be on any bus route, she will go straight to Leon, which is our target in 3 days time, on the bus and rest her leg, but if no better see a doctor to check it out, (but forgotten to bring her EHIC card!, Tut!). I will continue walking the route and reach Leon on Sunday.

So tomorrow I have about 32km but for the first 17km of that there are no villages, cafes or water stops, so it’s a long stretch in one go. Hopefully I’ll be able to get that bit over quickly.

Day 18 Carrion de Los Condes to Sahagun

Douglas having a rest.

Douglas: Arrived at my final destination Sahagun for the day to find staff on lunch break from 2pm to 4pm, just have to wait in case there is a queue, and there was by the time they opened at 4pm. Christine in significant pain yesterday, she gets to lie in while I am on the road by 6am looking for breakfast. Found a place for coffee but all they were offering to eat was wrapped cakes.

A few walkers out on the road at that time, a pair of South Korean girls who are early rises.

Three hour walk to breakfast, I had bought some seeds to keep me going, joking I called them bird seed, just trying them while typing this and I keep having to remove stalks and husks, so maybe it is bird seed after all. Oh well, tweet,tweet!! Serves me right for complaining about the little bird that dropped a present on my arm while I was having dinner on my birthday! How can that possibly be lucky? Or was it just my Dad that said that?

It’s odd that before dawn it was warmer but as the sun came up it became colder today, so cold I lost the feelings in my fingers and couldn’t pick up the knife or open the butter packs when I arrived at my breakfast stop.

Not many on the path today and as the day progressed there were even less walkers. Some must have missed out the long walk; there is another long walk tomorrow with no facilities.

An hour later I found a coffee stop but no real food despite the book saying there were sandwiches available. There was a walker there with a prosthetic leg, he had discretely taken it off to rest his limb, and we complain about a little pain! Met an older couple pulling their luggage on one of those trolleys used to carry crates of bottles, they used the road rather than the rough track so I passed them twice.

I found a pilgrim passport dropped by a Canadian, might come across him, if not we will post it to him. You need a pilgrim passport to stay in pilgrim hostels and it can give you discount for entry to churches and cathedrals. We had to pay to go in Burgos Cathedral and again at a Knights Templar church. I heard an accent so I asked whether they were Canadian or American and apologised if I was offending them. They were from Canada, I explained that I had found the passport, another Canadian over heard, looked up the name on Facebook, saw two individuals one who went to college near the address in the passport, sent him a message and next minute he is outside the hostel, they had rung the last bar and was about to hire a taxi to take them back there. Own and passport reunited, to which I heard them say another miracle on the Santiago Camino.

Has Spain declared war?? I kept hearing loud bangs, then I saw a bright light followed by a smoke cloud going in the opposite direction and then another loud bang. They kept this up for quite a while, (someone may have found it irritating), so I thought I do not want to stay the night near a firing range. The next place had a road digger going up and down the street which again was not conducive to a peaceful sleep.

Walking by oneself becomes a head down approach to cover the distance, think I cover about 37k today. We have passed half way although the actual distance it’s hard to tell! Certainly yes in terms of days walked -17; days left to walk -15. Hurrah!!

A number of the American/ Canadians are discussing how they miss out the boring bits on the walk which does confirm our thoughts about why the numbers keep fluctuating.

Christine: Meanwhile, yes I had a lie in of sorts, but it’s quite spooky when everyone has clomped their way down the stairs and you’re left in total isolation.

Hobbled my way down to the bus stop to join up with other limping walkers or those who just decided to hop forward without the effort of walking it.

This area of Spain is totally flat and yes quite boring, especially from the bus, just acres and acres of fields stretching for miles, reminding me of walking through France when we did the Via Francegina and bored to death with the same vista day after day. Walking it can still be boring but at least you hear the birds and frogs etc and see the farmers at work. Thankfully we’ve left the awful wind turbines behind now as there are no hills.

Leon is quite a big town with a very famous and beautiful cathedral, afraid that will have to wait as I cannot face the walk to it today, although only about half a mile. I hope to get to the pharmacy if possible for an assessment of the damage to my leg.

I’ve booked into the monastery or nunnery not sure which and it has separate male and female dorms so no snoring disturbance tonight as of course women do not snore, they just don’t have it in their DNA!

I’ve a long day to fill tomorrow especially if I cannot walk much! I really can’t decide whether that’s preferable to walking 34km.

Day 19 Sahagun to Mansilla de las Mulas

Sahagun is not on my list of places to revisit. Few places to eat and because I asked for a special “pilgrim meal” I had to wait until 8 pm, (and I’d had nothing since 11.30am), if I’d wanted something else to eat then they would have served me earlier.

Municipal hostel was OK; they have a break from 2pm to 4 pm, no concept of shift working so we all need to wait in queue. Customer service training does not seem to feature highly in this part of Spain, or so we have found, maybe they just don’t like pilgrims in some places.

I had not realised how cold I had become and spent half an hour under the shower, did not want to come out. Some pilgrims were awake at 4 am to get on the road, (good luck to them as they’d 2 hours of walking in the dark); I waited until 5.30am before getting up.

Starting to dump stuff that weighs more than their value, I left a ground mat that I had picked up on the route and thought would be useful, (it wasn’t), and an expensive solar panel charger which I had brought which doesn’t really work. (Christine thinks I should apply these principles to my garage at home, which is full of “might be useful one day” items).

Both were immediately picked up by a German who was in my humble opinion already overloaded. I have still retained my 3 torches though but I have made a strategic decision that the extra underpants may become “lost”. Town was quiet at 6am, no one around and cold. It is the first day I have started out wearing my fleece; normally I am in short sleeved shirt and shorts. I can appreciate why Christine feels nervous when there is no pilgrims around, I did wonder whether I was on the right route. Breakfast was an hour and a half away, a cheese Breville toasty sandwich, (ages since I have had one of these, they used to be all the rage), apologies to those who still have one lurking in a cupboard.

The route is becoming a head down slog, a bit boring, fields either just ploughed, cropped or fallow. I did walk for a while through an avenue of yellow broom bushes which were in bloom, very beautiful. I passed frogs practicing their singing waiting for Christine to record them and send to Simon Cowell so they can appear on Britain’s got talent.

Often the path is 6k or 10k in a straight line; the only variation is if there is a walker ahead who I gradually catch up.

I was playing tag with an Englishman now living in Morocco, I would catch him, stop for a drink he would stop and then set off before me.

One bit of excitement which shows the level my day had stooped to, on either side of the pavement is the evidence of a stream often filled with leaves, suddenly there will be a movement in the leaves, eventually I saw they were small green lizards, (6 inches), not rats.

There is a real risk that when we arrive at a small place, (like today), if all the hostel accommodation is full, there is no choice but to walk onto the next place, which might also be full.

Some people can sleep in fields or hedges for those who have brought Gortex sleeping bags. We of course have not brought sleeping bags, although have brought everything else you can possibly think of. We have been lucky so far in that when our target accommodation is full, we have found somewhere else.

I came by bus from Leon to meet Douglas today and sort out the accommodation. My leg has been diagnosed with tendinitis caused by too much walking so it needs to rest. Douglas has something similar but not as painful. We will try walking on to Leon at a slower pace tomorrow, if I still have pain then I can either catch the bus to the next point for the remainder of the walk (not really an option as too much hanging about and there isn’t always a bus anyway) or go home early. We’ll need to make that decision tomorrow. If this happens then I will come back and finish the walk next year – perhaps!

We do have to slow the pace down though and eat into some of the 5 days contingency, as Douglas’s legs are now suffering from both the pace and the heat.

After the half way point, as you do running a marathon, (if any of you haven’t done one this is what happens!), you then count down the miles left to go, not how many you’ve done. It’s 209 miles left out of the 500 (or 510 we’re still not sure if the precise measurements).

Day 20, Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon

Sorry but the days are starting to seem the same here meaning Douglas messed up the day numbers and something seems to have happened to one or two place names. Today’s journey, from Mansilla de las Mulas to Lean, was definitely day 20, Sunday 18th May. Today was a shorter walk to help me test whether I could walk with my backpack at a slower pace and an achievable distance without too much pain.

We were originally aiming to arrive in Santiago on 30 May as we thought there was a big pilgrim celebration service at the cathedral then, however it seems there are so many pilgrims they have this service every day, but the swinging of the huge incense is only on special Sundays and in May it is the 24th which we will not make.

Anyway the slower pace walk today was successful, much more achievable for us both so we will now revise our schedule and make use of the contingency days we have at the end. This means I do not have to abort my Camino journey and can probably walk most of it, if not all. Thank you to all who thought of us and prayed for us.

We continue to improve our Spanish, building on our previous message last week and have learnt the work “postres” which means desserts. So we have to say “postres?” In a questioning manner as we do not know how to say “Do you have any……. ” We don’t usually know what the options are though unless they’re written down, today the only word we recognised was “chocolat” so we chose that, luckily it was a good choice for a change. Sometimes they use an upside down question mark but getting into the punctuation is becoming far too complex!

Douglas last night had rib-eye steak for dinner, it was massive, he had been warned off it due to its size by a German guy but insisted on having it, talk about Desperate Dan’s cow pie!! Actually the staff were extremely friendly, small place relies on pilgrims for trade. Christine had good and bad news for me, the good news was the underwear I had washed and she had hung up on the window frame should dry faster, the bad news was that they had dropped on to the garage roof below.

Anyway her dexterous use of walking poles enabled her to pick them up using them as chop sticks, all those Chinese meals not gone to waste. No room at the municipal hostel today where generally people are conscious of being quiet after 9 am, in other hostels where we ended up, people talk/shout until a lot later unaware or not caring about disturbing others.

We were nearly asleep when a Frenchman started a very loud telephone conversation and ignored hints to shut up.

Today we are at Leon which is quite a big city; it has concrete lion statues at the entrance, so guess what Leon means! The cathedral is one of the most beautiful we have ever visited, one of the first early Gothic cathedrals to be built. Full of amazing stained glass windows, which to the east depicted the life of Christ getting the first light of the day, to the south, the New Testament characters who receive light all day and to the north the Old Testament characters who receive no direct light.

It was very clever and highly symbolic.

Today there were lots of Pilgrims walking, hordes, not sure where they have all come from. We saw a couple with “his and her” luggage trolleys, an idea for Christine and I in our dotage if we are still walking, (Christine – NOT!). There is a German walker who greets me like a long lost brother, I have no idea why as I don’t recognise him at all, but must have exchanged pleasantries at some point. It’s a bit embarrassing, I have to greet him with similar enthusiasm and we Brits don’t do men kissing!!

There are still some faces we recognise on the route, new ones appear for a while to replace those we forget. It was quite cold again this morning, lots of storks and for the first time we saw some baby storks in the next. Saw one stork trying his luck in a mating display to chat up a female stork, we didn’t wait for the conclusion of this, we’re no David Attenboroughs.

Sunday is still respected here, all car show rooms closed, all major shops closed, families out playing.

Saw what looked like a children’s confirmation and first communion event the whole family dressed up, photographer on hand to record the moment.

We have re-jigged our timetable and will take one day at a time depending upon where we end up. We are writing this sitting opposite a park, where kids are playing in a fountain, enjoying themselves, the sun is shining through the water droplets.

There was a blind man here dressed in his Sunday best who was walking up and down the park side with his white stick, I lost count of how many times he went up and down the same route.

This scene is what used to be a typical Sunday afternoon activity, now replaced by the Metro Centre!!

This picture depicts abandoned boots; we see these all the time, generally left on a Camino way marker. We will never know their story, boots don 'tfit? Camino abandoned? Boots lost? Or just the soles fell off
This picture depicts abandoned boots; we see these all the time, generally left on a Camino way marker. We will never know their story, boots don ‘tfit? Camino abandoned? Boots lost? Or just the soles fell off

Day 21 Leon to Villar de Mazarife

Leon last night was very lively. As with most mainland Europeans, Spaniards start late, (nothing much opens before 9.30am, slightly awkward when we start out at 6pm), then busy morning, lazy long afternoon then they start partying at 9pm just when we’re trying to sleep! So we are living most of our days totally opposite to the Spanish way of life.

We had a lovely dawn walkthrough Leon’s empty streets passing through St Mark’s square which is huge and hosts the largest most beautiful parador right on the square.

Paradors are government buildings which have been taken over and converted into luxury hotels. This one looks like an ex-palace and our guide book advised going in to have a look at the amazing foyer, which we did. When we left there were several pilgrims passing through the square, obviously thought we had stayed there overnight, (dream on), which is definitely not the pilgrim way and as a result would not speak to us! But maybe it was just that they were French…

We have walked the stretch between Leon to Villar de Mazarife at a slower pace to alleviate our leg and ankle problems, which seems to be working, together with a quadruple elasticated bandage and half an aspirin each morning to reduce swelling, (suggested by a very nice French lady, yes some can be friendly). So we will finish this but at a slightly later date than planned.

Today the route was undulating, changing scenery, which made it more enjoyable than some of the previous day’s, with long straight paths. Today the top was moorland; we climbed up a bit, nothing too steep. Christine had a small croissant and coffee in a bar before we left the outskirts of Leon, the barman offered her a green coloured homemade jam, but she was not that adventurous, I had to wait an hour before we reached a suitable, (i.e. open!), toast and coffee opportunity. We usually sit outside, but I go inside to order and bring it out.

This time I was chased out by a waitress, when we got the bill, we will not accept outside service again.  Saw my German friend again at ‘breakfast’, very busy on the route today.

camino-houseWe have seen many ‘Hobbit houses’ as shown today’s photo, they are built into the hillside with chimneys poking out of the top of the hill; some are lived in and some appear to be abandoned. They must be very dark inside; some have roof lights, but not many.

We have a dichotomy between walking at a reasonable pace and securing accommodation at the day’s end. We are not very successful with booking ahead for various reasons and that means needing to arrive early, between 12 and 1pm in order to get accommodation which fills up very quickly.

If that fails we either sleep outside or walk onto the next place. So it all can be quite stressful. It all depends on how many pilgrims end up in anyone place. We cannot tell by the number of people on the route, listening to a group next to us, they just take a bus whenever they think the route is boring or hard. We met a older English couple, the lady has difficulty walking and they do not have anytime constraints so yesterday they just walk 6k, but they are determined to finish.

In Leon and in Villar de Mazarife there are thousands of seeds like feathers floating in the wind, it’s like snow and in the evening sunlight it is magical to watch. They are landing on everything, food, drink, washing.

Every so often when there is time we pay for a wash and then let the clothes dry in the sun. How sad is that, when we are ecstatic about getting our pathetic washing done and dried? Not only that, but we feel it’s important enough to report in this message?

Today we have seen vapour trails in the sky all travelling west to east. Although we cannot see the planes, it is the first sign that Santiago is ahead as they must be coming from the airport there. Hurrah, or perhaps they are just reaching land from the Atlantic?

Today we had booked ahead and when we arrived they said they only had an en suite room, which was more than twice the price of what I’d booked. When I said this is what I’d booked by email, they suddenly couldn’t understand what we were saying! Only when we started to leave to find somewhere else did they suddenly find the space we wanted and had booked.

The only difference between the price since they gave us a room with only two bunk beds appears to be that we cannot have a key to the room. So we are becoming wise to the Spanish methods of trying to get as much money out of you as possible, beware. It is a shame because they can be very friendly. The Hostel is, (once again), next to the church with bells which have so far rung every half hour and so will they ring tonight, all night??

Day 22 Villar de Mazarife to Astorga

Well the bells did ring on the hour, we heard 11pm then quiet became more important than staying cool, the room was very hot having had the sun on it for the afternoon and evening, so we started with the windows open, but we needed to close the windows and shutters to keep out the noise of the bells. Up at 5.30 am, breakfast 14 kilometres away, a cold day, with a cold wind, even when the sun came up it was still cold so gloves and fleeces on.

The farmers were out early, ploughing and spraying their fields with the tractor lifts on, a lot of activity so early I think they are the only Spaniards up before we are! In one field there were probably 30 storks following the tractor, eating bugs, worms, not sure what, so unusual, what a sight for us. We had set off with the stars to light our way, the moon has waned away, it will start waxing soon, probably full moon when we reach Santiago. Today was a long 32k walk, we had looked at cutting it short but there was no compromise.

To help us we decided to send a backpack by taxi to our next place, the owners’ daughter, ( I think), who had previously tried to push us into a more expensive room booked our next accommodation for us. We filled in the appropriate form and then filled Christine’s rucksack with all our heavy things, face products, straighteners, high heeled shoes, etc, (just joking). I would still carry one rucksack but it would be a lot lighter. I trusted that the hostel had rung the transport company but I was not present when she did it.

The next morning I started to have severe doubts about whether there was a clear understanding with the hostel that they would ring the transport company rather than me. I did not say anything to Christine to avoid the third degree and have both of us worrying. Christine was already concerned whether it would arrive, as she had mistakenly packed all her asthma inhalers. In the end I gave it to God to see it right and that let me relax until we arrived near our destination when all my doubts surfaced. The bag was there when we arrived, problem solved. Hurrah! Hallelujah!

Last night there were limited places to eat so we ate at our hostel, the other residents ate earlier than us so the menu choice diminished before we could order, they must have said something to the cook, (mother), who slipped us a small piece of chicken and chips to go with our Tortilla, (ie omelette). But we did enjoy the cold rice pudding “postres” which seems to be a local specialty.

The guide book claimed that the last 8k today was the best scenery on the Camino. Well, it was very nice, passing through countryside, no major roads around and again not a lot of walkers. A couple of climbs, but nothing major, no real sweat, partly because we have slowed down our pace, (and partly that Douglas has at last acquired some deodorant).

There are some enterprising Spaniards who set up portable cafes on the Camino track, today as we dropped off the top to make towards Astorga, there was a man playing a classical guitar, he would wait until a walker came close and then start to play and sing, stopping once they had walked passed.

So we had a laugh pretending to set off when he would start singing, then sitting down, when he would stop! After a few goes at this, we relieved his suspense and gave him a few euros. Christine enjoyed him spinning his guitar, without losing the tune, so maybe I should practice spinning my guitar rather than trying to play it.

It is still cold out of the sun, this is our coldest day so far, it may be cold in the hostel tonight there are no blankets, just our silk sleeping sheets. Each hostel varies in what they do and do not provide, usually the showers are hot, today they were lukewarm, not hot enough to linger. We have been blessed with our own room in the hostel, so the only snoring that I have to contend with will be Christine!

One of our responses today suggests we will be emaciated when we return. Well hardly, with pan a chocolat for breakfast and a complimentary bottle of Spanish vino tinto with every “pilgrim menu”. We can wish though!

The long straight road ahead, dotted with other pilgrims, like ants on the road!
The long straight road ahead, dotted with other pilgrims, like ants on the road!

Day 23 Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

For those doubters who think I have bumped off Christine because she has not appeared in any recent photos, here is one I photoshopped earlier. (My sister thinks I must’ve swapped her for a free meal).

This was the reason we had breakfast in town this morning rather than on the route, Christine had wanted to have a look at it yesterday but kept poor weak me company instead, after my worry over her backpack and the relief at not having to carry all that makeup.

Christine is standing outside our accommodation, and for those not easily conned (it was not our accommodation) and well read it is the Palicio Espiscolpal designed by Gaudi. Pic is a bit dark as it was 7am.
Christine is standing outside our accommodation, and for those not easily conned (it
was not our accommodation) and well read it is the Palicio Espiscolpal designed by Gaudi.
Pic is a bit dark as it was 7am.

We understand that one of our readers has, incentivised as a result of our walk, spent 15 minutes on a treadmill, they need to be careful, 15 minutes could be too adventurous for a first time, also they need to ensure there is a tree or bush nearby in case they are caught short.

The Spaniards have some weird rules regarding the serving of pilgrims meals, if it is sunny but cold they, (in some places), will only serve you outside no matter how cold it is, in other places if it sunny but hot, they will only serve you in a back room after 8pm. We think it depends on what their local patrons require, sunny and cold, locals inside, pilgrims outside, hot and sunny, locals outside, pilgrims inside and out of sight.

Today has been the coldest yet, Christine is using the three layer technique, I was at two layers, but for the first time we both have kept coats, fleeces, gloves and ear warmers, (don’t ask), on for the whole walk, although we brazened it out wearing shorts. The sun eventually came out but we had a cold wind against us for most of the walk, it has become distinctly colder than when we first started, probably because we are ascending.

Tomorrow is long trousers for both of us, I will be wearing three layers of clothes, Christine will probably require 15 layers. We will reach the highest point on the walk tomorrow nearly 5,000 feet. No blankets provided last night so we were cold in our bunks, tonight they have provided blankets. Lot of pilgrims walking today, it was a bit like a motorway at times with a slow, medium and fast walker lanes, swapping without signalling, so several collisions, usually Christine with the handsome young Spaniards strange to say.

We were not sure whether there would be accommodation available for us, we are staying in a hostel owned and managed by the London based Confraternity of St James.

They do not take bookings and look to help Pilgrim walkers only, no bikers, horse back riders (?) or walkers who have their baggage transported are allowed to stay at their hostel. It is managed by people from the UK, who spend a fortnight at a time looking after the place.

We have considered offering our services. The qualifications are that you must be able to speak English, Spanish, and perhaps a bit of French and German too, also provide a friendly welcome to visitors. As you know we are becoming so versatile in Spanish we are virtually fluent, (learnt the term for orange juice today), so Christine could cover the languages, (except for a bit of German that is), and I could cover the friendliness. I have also learned to point in Spanish so I am also becoming fluent in my communications.

A fair bit of today was walking through scrub land, not as much cultivation, mainly because we are starting to climb the Montes de Leon, some of the route would be fun in the rain, (ie not!), we would be walking up stream beds. The flowers are different at this height, some heather and increasing amounts of wild lavender.

Tomorrow’s walk is tough, climbing to 1500 metres and it is about 30km, we have been able to book our next accommodation, (ie we were able to get someone who speaks telephone Spanish – fast and incomprehensible, to call on our behalf), which means we can walk at a slightly slower pace.

I have to report that despite my whinging about the weight of my backpack, I have succumbed to a 671 page David Baldacci book that someone left behind. How could I resist?

I have told Christine it only weighs a few ounces, but if I struggle then out goes her anti wrinkle cream. I am making no further comment.

Only 150 miles to go.

Day 24 Rabanal Del Camino to Molinaseca

Last night in Rabanal del Camino was the coldest night we have experienced, despite the provided blanket. Yesterday started cold and stayed cold, the hostel was being managed by two English ladies. They are part of a group of volunteers from the UK who run the hostel for a fortnight at a time every year. One of the ladies saw Christine sitting in the lounge with a blanket around her so decided to light the wood fire to warm the place, given she thinks people from the Newcastle area all walk around in T shirts in all weathers.

We were not supposed to mess with the fire but it was obvious that she did not have a clue thinking that two logs was sufficient for the whole night. They have had a fire due to pilgrims “sorting out” the fire. I was assigned as fire monitor and if I say it myself, we had a good but safe fire. All pilgrims ended up in the “salon” because it had heat, however they failed to understand the need to close the door to keep the heat in the room so I became the door monitor as well, such responsibilities I have.

Christine only got warm in the cafe where we had our evening meal and had to subsequently wear every item of clothes she has with her apart from the rain mac, in order to sleep.

The XII century parish church was reputedly built by the Knights Templar and today Bavarian monks have “restored” the church. It is very old, in its day the colours must have been spectacular, now most of the colour and plaster has gone, bits are falling from the ceiling, Health and Safety would certainly have closed it and we were worried that a chunk of ceiling would fall on the monk’s head as he was speaking! We went to the evening service there which encompassed a number of languages, pilgrims from different countries singing in their own language sharing a common bond, pleased we did as pilgrims received a special blessing and we were pleased to not miss that special moment. However, it says something when a stone church with candles is warmer than our modern hostel!

Up at 5.45, breakfast of jam, bread and coffee and then on our way. There was frost on the grass verge until about 11am, showing how cold it had been. Christine started off wearing only slightly less clothing than she had slept in, even I wore my new merino jumper that I was keeping “for best”. The route was mountain passes, up and down, a chance to be a mountain goat on loose stone, rutted tracks, rocks smoothed by water and many boots.

It was tough, difficult and long, luckily for us today was warm, hot even, there was no cold wind. At every stop, we had to shed more clothes, my merino jumper is now safely back in its plastic bag! As we are back in the hills, so are the wind turbines.

Today they were totally stationary, bad news for the Spanish power network but good news for us, no wind, hurrah!!

Today's picture is us at the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross) situated at the highest point on the Camino (yes it's all down hill from here, believe that if you wish!). The cross is surrounded with messages to loved ones, there was a poster for a girl missing on the Camino
Today’s picture is us at the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross) situated at the highest point on the Camino (yes it’s all down hill from here, believe that if you wish!). The cross is surrounded with messages to loved ones, there was a poster for a girl missing on the Camino

Today I tried to order fried egg sandwich and chips with beer. The lady became so frustrated with my Anglo-Franco-ltalio Spanish that eventually she told me to go away, I think in a friendly way. Anyway I ended up with 2 fried eggs and chips, plus more chips. Undeterred, we have obtained our application forms to become hospidalos, they say our Spanish is good enough. Because we can say “Hola” and “Adios”. If we succeed and pass the test, we will be known as “amigos”, how amazing is that. (My Dad would have loved that – like an old cowboy movie). Only one slight problem – we don’t quite know what “the test” is yet.

We had lovely scenery today in the mountains, we came to a place called Manjarin, population of 1, very basic, the bloke there represents the Knights Templar and is trying to revitalise a dead village. We could have stayed the night, outside loo, water drawn from the well over the road, some warm water generated by his solar panel and slept on mattresses on the floor enjoying the other services enjoyed by pilgrims in the wild, I do not need to spell it out and experience what real pilgrims had to endure.

Tonight we have no blankets, so we hope this hostel is warmer, it should be since we’re now at a lower altitude.

134 miles left to Santiago! Hurrah!!!

Day 25 Molinaseca to Cacabelo

Tonight we are sleeping in a lock up garage, it is called the municipal auberge which is 70 garages or sheds in a old church grounds, no windows, just a set of doors, the adjoining roof is open and therefore any noise/ snores will be able to travel with no opportunity to poke someone. You can not lock your doors but you can be locked in. To add to the uniqueness of the place, the toilet paper roll is outside the toilets so you need to judge how many sheets you may require. Tonight is something to look forward to.

The writers of these emails reserve the right to misuse any emails sent to us in response in anyway we fancy so you have been warned. Speaking of misusing emails one young lady thinks freewheeling 15 miles to work deserves some recognition, we don’t. It is still cold at night in the hostels if there is no blanket, our silk sheets and gold satin nightwear is insufficient to keep us warm, next time we will need to pack sleeping bags and electric blankets. Last night, Christine had, once again, to shout “Quiet please!” in her stern voice, (I know, I hadn’t heard it either), to quieten down noisy people in the dorm.

At one of our communal meals we learnt the Mrs Merkel, (German Chancellor), was the daughter of a Protestant minister who took his family to East Berlin to spread the gospel, they had to fund themselves, Mrs Merkel when she was old enough, got married in order to get a flat in East Berlin. She is now on her second husband. The reason for mentioning this that there is a young man on the walk who was brought up by a Protestant family in East Berlin, his family had to be careful because of the Communist police and practice their religion behind closed doors.

Now after rejecting his parents religion he is only a journey on the Camino on his way to becoming a catholic priest and finds himself walking with an American priest with whom he has irreconcilable differences.

The churches have obviously tried to stop storks nesting by putting concrete balls on top of the high points, one even used fencing wire as a deterrent, but the enterprising stork just used the wire to secure its nest. Other smaller birds seem to use the nest as well, so it’s multi purpose.

We continue to see stork's nests on any tall building or telegraph pole or anything really. Whilst we think they're cute, they're apparently a problem for the buildings.
We continue to see stork’s nests on any tall building or telegraph pole or anything really. Whilst we think they’re cute, they’re apparently a problem for the buildings.

We have heard of people who are running the Camino, well they must be crackers. We did see 3 young men, yesterday running down the steep rocky path at great speed with big packs on their backs, it looked highly dangerous and we hear that one of them took a tumble. We thought about doing the same, but did not want to show the youngsters up!

This morning we started with a steep climb and then down hill for breakfast about hour and halfway walk. Most of the terrain was flat, we passed lots of small holdings been worked by hand, managing their own irrigation.

The 2nd picture is of us with one of the many pilgrim mosaics or paintings which we pass en route. We asked an Italian cyclist to take the pic for us, of course he couldn't resist including his bike, could he?
The 2nd picture is of us with one of the many pilgrim mosaics or paintings which we pass en route. We asked an Italian cyclist to take the pic for us, of course he couldn’t resist including his bike, could he?

We have met a lot of Australians here and have given them my sister’s address, saying if they pass that way, just to call in and they will receive hospitality and can stay as long as they like, just mention they know me. That’s OK isn’t it Shirl? There are both large and small vineyards, some machine managed and some by hand. The villages we pass through are extremely quiet, there are very old derelict houses, some renovated and some newly built. The old houses which used to house the livestock downstairs have now convert the cattle stalls into garages.

We have met an older, (than us), Brit now living in Australia whose 9 year old granddaughter has a map of Spain on her wall and is tracking wherever he gets to on a daily basis. She wants a post card from every place so she can add them to her map. Her school class is learning about Spain as a result. We thought that was really lovely!

We now have 120 miles left to go, we are more than three quarters there! We are likely to arrive in Santiago on Sunday 31 May.

Christine says I should not have called our accommodation last night a series of lock up garages, it was more like Butlins chalets, but then she has never been to Butlins, at least you get windows there.
Christine says I should not have called our accommodation last night a series of lock up garages, it was more like Butlins chalets, but then she has never been to Butlins, at least you get windows there.

We had two noisy elderly ladies in the next lockup/chalet discussing their shopping and ignoring Christine’s shouts of ‘quiet’. Then to add insult to injury, Christine’s snore finger came out and poked me during the night when I was totally innocent.

It was one of the women next door in the Olympic snoring team for Australia. Anyway we got our own back at 5.30 this morning rustling dour plastic bags and zipping and unzipping stuff as loud as possible! We couldn’t bring ourselves to actually talk though, that would’ve been just too unkind.

Up and out by 6.10am and up the hill, these last few mornings have started with a climb, breakfast was at Villafranca del Bierzo, hour and three quarters later and then by chance.

Day 26 Cacabelos to Vega de Valcarce

Thanks to those of you sending us messages of support in response to our daily musings!! They are much appreciated.

See the pic; it actually looks a bit better than it was! Temperature was not too low last night, we had been provided with a blanket, noise was a different matter.

Given that everyone has to be out of the hostel by 8am, you would have thought that most would go to bed early and sleep. We could hear everyone’s zips being done and undone, (sleeping bags we guess), and much rustling of plastic bags.

It was the worst place to find the yellow Camino arrow signs, sometimes they are on the ground, on a tree trunk, on a road sign. However some crafty hotel owners know pilgrims follow the yellow signs, so lay their own trail of yellow arrows leading to their hotel! It’s difficult to identify the real from the counterfeit ones and the last thing we want is to have to back track.

Today, being Saturday morning we found the only bar that was open; otherwise there would’ve been nothing for another three and a half hours.

In the bar they had morning TV on as well as background music, quite odd but they all do it, it was fiddle music playing and I was gobsmacked when “Salmon Tails” came on (Maggie C can you believe it, a little bar in a little town in the Spanish mountains playing a tune we play at our fiddle group?).

Leaving Villafrance del Bierzo, there were three choices of routes, easiest was to follow the road, but boring and dangerous having to contend with traffic, next difficult was a mountain route of 10k and then thirdly, a more mountainous “dragon” route.

We choose the middle route, 10k over the mountain, two hours to climb up and one and a half hours to climb down to a small village Trabadelo. The route was the most beautiful we have walked to date and we would recommend it. Jen might want to include it in her Saturday walks, it will obviously take longer to reach the place than to do the walk, but it would be worth it. Sometimes we were practising our mountain goat skills; such a variety of scenery, chestnut forests, Christine was enjoying the different wild flowers, ones she doesn’t know she sends a pic to her friend Jackie, horticulturalist extraordinaire, for identification. Many flowers we don’t have in England, or perhaps we just don’t take the time to see them?

Most pilgrims probably missed the start of the track we took, which was not obvious, but many would take the easy option anyway. We met four Australian women on the route. There are an amazing number of older women who are walking the Camino alone, (also younger women by the way). And also a man carrying a guitar.

Some crafty hotel owners know pilgrims follow the yellow signs, so lay their own trail of yellow arrows leading to their hotel!

The vicar at the mass we attended said that we should let the weeds grow as well as the flowers and that has stayed with me. I often think when out driving and I see on the curb side a sea of dandelions with their heads turned to the sun how lovely they look, yet if I find them in the garden, out they come. We are weeds to some nations, just as we see them as weeds, yet both to their loved ones are flowers and when we become acquainted with individuals we do not know they turn into flowers. Makes me think.

Our accommodation which is a municipal hostel is one of the worst we have come across, only one shower and the door does not close properly, one of us had to stand guard for the other. One pilgrim has just sprayed her bed with mosquito spray, warning us of the likely smell of it, not that we’ve seen any Mosquitos.

At the end of today, Christine was whacked and at the limit of what she could walk in terms of 25km distance and  over 500 metres of ascent/descent. Hopefully this afternoon’s rest will equip her for a very steep 10k/700 metres climb first thing tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow will be our last day in the Castille y Leon district as we cross the boundary into the Galicia district in which Santiago is situated. Only 8 more days to walk if we manage to keep to our schedule.

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