Douglas and Christine

Walking the Camino Frances

In 2015, two pilgrims to undertake the Camino Frances walk were Douglas and Christine Ball, from Gateshead in the northeast of England. Here is their personal story of ‘Walking the Camino’.  (I have split this into three parts as it amounts to 20,000 words and would make for a very slow loading and long page). The next two posts are the middle section of the Camino Frances and the last part, the last section on the Camino Frances.



Day 1: Newcastle to Biarritz and St Jean Pied de Port

Well, we have started the journey, slight pre nerves when we discovered that there was no public transport from Biarritz airport to Saint Jean Pied de Port, 54 kilometers away. We had to start looking for a taxi, at the last minute we received a response from a taxi firm at a reasonable price.

Miliband was at Newcastle station while we were waiting for our train to London, so if you noticed someone in red or blue with a rucksack walking past him that was us trying to photobomb his talk to the public bit on the station.

We arrived at Biarritz airport and found 7 individuals who had not sorted out their transport; we were able to help out four people, one from Germany, one from New Zealand and two from Leicester which reduced our costs. The lass from Germany as well as not having sorted out her transport had not sorted out anywhere to spend the night. She was still wandering around an hour later. I was willing to share but Christine was less keen.

We had our evening meal at a very friendly, (not), French Restaurant, we had to sit in a particular place, he offered us a choice of chicken or chicken despite what the menu said, he tried to force cake on us rather than a choice of crepe, but we asked the waitress when he was not looking.

Off to bed and tomorrow, we start walking over the Pyrenees, 8 kilometers uphill climbing 1300 meters. Hopefully dry and cool.

Day 2 St Jean Pied de Port to Orrison

Today we set off for our big steep walk over the Pyrenees, only 8km to our accommodation at the top. We have our first stamp in our walk passport, everywhere we stay the night we need a stamp as proof that we walked the route. As it turned out the first day was steep & sunny & hot, but not half as bad as we expected, completing the 8 km in 2.5 hours including a very welcome coffee stop halfway up. Not quite Costa but a very welcome Auberge all the same.

A group of Spanish guys booked in there for overnight having had enough walking for the day & that was only 4k!

So luckily, as we were first, we managed to bag the only room at the camping barn; the other 10 people all share the upstairs space in bunks!! We have a range of nationalities, Australians, German Swiss with Oriental partner. The lovely wood fire which I started and then had the task of feeding with “le bois (wood). Showers hot, last night the showers were cold. We have to be out of the barn by 8 am tomorrow, but if we want breakfast then we need to walk half a kilometer for breakfast as it finishes at 7.30.

Just picked up a leaflet on bed bugs which is a problem, they say, explaining that when we get home, most things should be either washed at 65 c plus or put in the freezer for several days. I may make Christine stay outside for a week when we arrive home to be safe. For those looking forward to their tea, I will not elaborate on the checks on body and clothes the leaflet advises.

Having a beer and red wine while waiting for our evening meal, then we walk back to our camping barn, we have to be back before 8 pm as they lock us in!! Health & safety, what?

Downhill tomorrow & a bit further – 18k.

Day 3 Orrison to Roncesvalles

Day 3 was a longer harder walk as expected, should’ve checked the map probably! After boasting yesterday about it being relatively easy, today had to walk a further 7k uphill to height of 1300/1400 meters (depending upon which signage you believe) and then 10k down to 800 meters. We started off on the road and then off road for the last 10k, walking beside snow, not all of it has melted. We were the formal wake up monitors for the 12 sleepers in our pilgrim refuge, 6am call, fight for facilities and off by 6.45, 1/2k walk (uphill of course) to breakfast but witnessed the most amazing view of morning mist in the valley & subsequent sunrise.

Last night at the communal meal we all had to stand up and make a little speech covering where we were from, why we were doing it. The majority of the 60 odd folks were non-Europeans from China, New Zealand, Australia, a number were doing the walk as therapy for issues in their lives.

It was touching to hear them speak. There were blokes who were doing it because their wife said they had to; Christine was the odd wife there being the other way around.

The camping hut was cold and noisy and therefore sleep was intermittent, tonight we are spending the night in a pilgrim hostel which holds over 200 people so the noise in the bigger dormitory may be worse. A German Swiss with his Chinese girlfriend, who stayed at the camping barn, although enjoying my wood fire, now complains that all his clothes smelt of smoke.

The walk today was tough, there was a French van near the top of the mountain selling coffee which was welcome at 11 am. Walking downhill from the Pyrenees was mainly through woods, muddy tracks covered by golden brown leaves, but oddly no bird songs. Christine has struggled with her bag today on the long ascents & descents & may have to reluctantly jettison some hair & face products to get the weight down.

Day 4 Roncesvalles to Zubri

It was a noisy night, lights out at 10 pm and then at 12.30 am a French girl was having a loud mobile phone conversation. I thought it must be time to get up and checked the time. Some people have no consideration for others! The staff came round at 6 am this morning to chase us out. I found that I had not closed my shower gel properly so the bottom of my rucksack is soapy; the good news is I have less to carry. Each evening meal we meet a new set of pilgrims from different countries. Most places have pilgrim meals; you sit in rows like at school in our day. As part of the meal they ‘ force you’ to drink a glass or two of red wine. Wine normally does not touch our lips but it would be too rude to refuse. The pilgrim’s meal seems to always include meat & chips, we have not seen any cows & few sheep & no pigs – but a lot of – horses (with cowbells, oddly). Christine says she is on the fish option from now on.

Today was wet, it was raining at 6.30 am when we set off and it is still raining in the evening.

Our army store cagoules worked covering both us and our rucksacks so we looked like some weird huge beasts of burden bipeds.

I had been wearing the same shirt for three days now to economize on the washing then realized that I could be detected at 100 yards! Christine commented that when we went into a coffee bar people kept checking their armpits, I can take a hint, but that thought has made me chuckle throughout the day despite the rain.

There are a large number of people walking this route and it appears we have to say “Buen Camino” to everyone we meet, we think it means “Good Walk” but it might mean “Beautiful Feet” as far as we know! And if we arrive late we may not get accommodation & have to walk on to the next town. We had our breakfast 3kms after we set off today. Saw some lovely scenes of mist as we walked through the woods but the supposed “flat” route was undulating for every down there was an up. Going downhill we were often walking in stream beds, you can see how pilgrims have through walking worn down the paths.

Pilgrim’s burden in Pilgrim’s Progress increased as he carried the sins of the world. My bag gets heavier as I increasingly carry more of Christine’s bag contents to lighten her load! I’m not complaining though, wouldn’t dare in case she hits me.

Day 5, Zubri to Pamplona

Hi, to quickly backtrack for those who have maps of Spain and wish to track progress.

  • Day 1 was arriving in St Jean Pied de Port.
  • Day 2 was setting off from St Jean Pied de Port to walk halfway up the Pyrenees, staying the night at Orrison.
  • Day 3 was walking over the Pyrenees down to Roncesvalles in Spain.
  • Day 4 was walking from Roncesvalles to Zubiri in the rain.

Today it was dry; the majority of the route was through woods, up and down, quite difficult. They had concreted parts of the route to save the ground to the detriment of pilgrims, it was very slippery. One walker ahead of us had slipped on the path and when we arrived was lying in a sleeping bag to stay warm.

Two walkers had left their bags and ran for help, others were trying to carry him 2 km out of the woods. We met the ambulance men on their way in.

It’s the second incident, last night at evening meal, (all sitting in school rows), the lady opposite fainted while eating her meal and I helped carry her out. She was exhausted; today they were taking a taxi to the next town.

I now have two blisters, a heel blister which I should have treated yesterday at the first sign of trouble. I tend to have tender feet, whereas Christine does not have any problems with her feet, they are as hard as old boots. I realize now her secret, at home, she stuffs them into unsuitable high heels to toughen them for long walks. Before we undertake our next walk (Christine – dream on!) I am going to start wearing high heels (Christine -what size 11s?) for a while as part of my training program.

Christine continues with her HIP (husband improvement program), I know some of you will be aghast, knowing how perfect I am. We are currently going through the “learning flower names” program, so far I am up to cowslip and violets, can’t remember the third flower. I understand that all wives have to become masters of HIPs, I think it might be part of Clive’s vicar talk to those about to be married. I try to combat these techniques with the deaf ear approach or, at my age, forgetfulness.

Today was the first day we had not booked accommodation, resulting in us tramping around the town trying to find a place. We have ended up in the “municipal” pilgrim refuge. It is like a prison housing 114 pilgrims in a single vast space. Even in prison, you have a cell! So we thought last night’s snoring was bad, let’s see how tonight’s goes!!

We have a much longer walk tomorrow & it seems there is a summit to reach halfway through. Hey-ho! And nowhere booked for tomorrow night either!

I was reminded today about how much we look down concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, forgetting to raise our heads and see the beauty around us, hidden waterfalls, and horses at play. Sometimes it is very difficult because if you do raise your head you can easily trip over unseen branches and stones, which prevent us from completing our planned journey.

We have completed 45 miles out of approximately 500 miles, which I know we can. I wonder could I make a song out of it?

Day 6 Pamplona to Puente la Reina

We would like to thank everyone for their responses, but no thanks to those who came up with pet names for me just because I have become more of a real pilgrim, washing when there is a ‘r’ in the month. I did not show Christine the suggestion regarding ironing boards and hair dryers, a girl has to rough it at some time in her life.

Pamplona for the less well-read is where they allow the bulls to chase brave/foolish men through the streets. I did not remember until we saw the posters and bronze statues of bulls chasing and trampling people. Pamplona has the second biggest bull ring in Spain, we passed it three times, twice looking for lodgings and once looking for food. We saw two demonstrations, one for the Basque separatist movement which is why I assume the police were present with gas guns. We did not identify what the other group was about, they had drink and a good band that made the crowd dance.

Being a multi-linguist I order a large hamburger which turned out to be a fish baguette with octopus and other delights. Christine ordered the vegetarian option, no cheese but plenty of meat.

Today the three Korean girls who were in the nearby bunks arose at 5 am waking up those around them, i.e. me. They did not leave until 6.30 am. We were up and out by 6.45, breakfast 5km down the road. It was 17 degrees at 7 am, today we basically had a 15k walk uphill and then a 10k plus downhill with ups and downs in between. We had to climb to a wind farm ridge which spoilt the skyline. On a warm but dry day, otherwise walking over loose stones going downhill would have been twice as difficult. We did have spots of rain but nothing serious.

The photograph of the two of us shows some of the artwork at the top of the ridge which depicts medieval pilgrims & says “where the way of the stars and the way of the wind meet” as the ancients linked the Camino with the Milky Way as they roughly parallel & used to find their way by following it.

Luckily we don’t have to do that. The symbol of the Camino is the shell (coquille) & we see it everywhere marking the trail. It is a tradition that you carry one on the trail, as we didn’t read the literature we didn’t know that, so I complained so much about not having a shell, that Christine bought me one (see the picture of my shell on my backpack). You can see our path ahead leading into the distance. Of course, I then complained about having something else to carry! We are still keeping pace with a Pole, Americans, French, and one or two others we recognize on the route. Spotted catkins today and some fine soft fluff balls of cherry blossom covering huge areas of grass, like soft down.


Day 7 Puente la Reina to Estella

It was raining when we went out to find an evening meal last night and it rained through the night. The dorm was a six berth, three sets of bunks, it was like a sauna but our wet clothes dried nicely, the air conditioning did not work, some people were in sleeping bags and others like me slept outside of my silk sheet.

Everyone is in bed & asleep by 9 pm (that’s 8 pm UK time), up at 6 am & off as soon as we are ready. So the walking is obviously making us really, really tired.

The hedgerows are full of wildflowers, forget- me-nots, Poppies, birds singing, big black beetles doing the Kamikaze run across the pilgrims’ footpath, and buzzards circling Pilgrims as they tire during the day. Today we have seen vineyards for the first time so we are obviously into the northern Spain wine-making areas, will sample some tonight just to test it out.

I finished a paperback and left it at a hostel, Christine should finish hers today, less weight to carry; we will then use our electronic books and delete the stories as we finish them to further lighten the load.

Some of these distances are very suspicious, we see one signpost, and then round the corner is another with the same place but the distance has increased. Pilgrim miles sometimes are, (or at least seem to be!), a lot further. The views continue to be magnificent; today we saw a field which had been planted with hedgerows into a map of the world, very stunning!

We have had a comment that Christine should put her side of this, well she has an editorial veto over these emails and there is nothing that I write I would not say to her face and then run. Also that I seem to be complaining all the time (what, me??). Anyway, I’m now trying to convey only happy thoughts especially when my feet are sore & I have blisters…… oops sorry!!

We have now completed 6 days & 75 miles out of roughly 500. We are currently on schedule but every day is more of a challenge.

Day 8 Estella to Los Arcos

Yesterday for me was difficult due to incorrect weight balance in my backpack and today proved difficult for Christine, probably due to dehydration.

Last night she once again was the snoring monitor, whoever snores loudly keeping the rest of us awake gets a finger poked at them to stop them.

She sometimes tries tickling their feet. It was a busy night with groups chattering away outside then coming to bed at all hours. Slight panic when Christine realized she had lost her phone, it turned out that she had dropped it in the street and someone handed it in at our hostel.

The route blurb told us that food places were limited so backpacks on, (which is a difficult task in itself), then just across the street, backpacks off, and breakfast before setting out to walk. The day started overcast and seemed to threaten rain which did not transpire but turned into a warm, then hot day. Trying to book our beds now to avoid turning up to find places are full. The wonder of the Internet and free wifi available everywhere!

Cirauqui - Villamajor de Monjardin 26 Fuente de Irache 02Mr field mouse just ignored us and continued his scrounging activities, while we may not view snails and slugs as pretty as a field mouse, in the early morning; they achieve some interesting positions hanging off grass and plants, shining in the morning sun. Today we have seen tiny blue butterflies & also delfi.. delphun….long, tall spiky flowers. Lots of vineyards and an ancient fountain which dispenses both water AND red wine (yes of course we tried it!).

Laughter transcends language barriers, Christine was mimicking smelling my shirt and then collapsing, it had me in stitches and then a French lady saw Christine’s actions and joined in the laughter, all at my expense.

There are still groups that we saw on the first night keeping pace or maybe we are keeping pace with them. The church at Los Toros is extremely ornate; it certainly hits you with its splendor when you enter.

Tomorrow we have a big walk, 28k and the following day 32k all with ascents & descents. Unfortunately for us, the weather seems to be set to remain hot, we could do with some cloud & cool breezes!! By the way, Christine’s feet are not infallible; she has a swollen big toe (it is HUGE!) caused by steep descents which makes putting the walking boots on difficult. She is currently checking out the bus timetables, just in case!

Day 9 Los Arcos to Logrono

The days are quickly fading into each other, I suppose because they are becoming similar. Makes you wonder about life before clocks and calendars when you only had the seasons to show you that time had moved on. Up at about 5.30 am, starting to get into a routine, breakfast at our lodgings today for a change and then off on to the road by 6.30 am. Already there were a lot of pilgrims on the road. I overheard someone in the wash room pass on a rumour that 600 walkers had started at St Jean Pied de Port on the 1st May so if true they will be chasing us for accommodation, it can prove difficult if you have not booked ahead but some places do not have internet booking, so it is not possible. The day after tomorrow night accommodation will be on a first come basis for the beds.

This morning with the sunrise on our backs we walked through avenues of thistles, lovely pink flowers, avenues of poppies, also lots of lovely wild flowers. We realise this is what hedgerows used to be like in England, but not so much now. We are in the main Spanish wine growing region, “Rioja” for the wine buffs. The ages of walkers vary tremendously, but the majority of them are over 50s, 60s and some are in their 70s? I guess they can commit the time and some people are only doing part of the route. There are all shapes and sizes and yet we all end up at the same place, doing it at our own pace. There are younger ones on the route; some arrive before us and some after us, so what? We all share one thing and that is we intend to arrive somewhere and that is what keeps us going, even if we all have different reasons, many spiritual, for our journey. This is the pilgrim journey of St James to Santiago that we all follow.

However, when we are tired, the old adage about the journey being more important than the destination is rubbish, the most important thing becomes how far away is it and when will we arrive. Climbing the steep hills makes you think about the baggage you are carrying, in life we pick up a lot of stuff and forget to discard that which has no real value or you feel you need to keep an eye on.

The unnecessary stuff holds you back; it is hard to throw away good stuff even when you no longer need it. With every step the more you lighten your load the better you feel, then you find time to look around at the wonders in the world which lifts your spirits and puts the spring back in your step. As we progress on the walk, the physical demands will force us to be more brutal in discarding stuff if we wish to walk all the way. One of the older walkers who has walked this route before told us that when the temperature hits 30 degrees, which it will do, he refuses to walk and takes the bus. Good idea!!!

Emails are a blessing and a curse; I was on a conference on a boat which was a deliberate ploy by the organizers to ensure that they had our attention, no Wifi. The speaker told us that there would be hundreds of emails waiting for us, so his advice was to delete all those who copied us in, they were from people ‘covering their backs’, delete all those from staff to whom you had delegated work, explain that when the activity was completed then you would discuss the outcome with them, do not delegate and then retain responsibility for it. If they are from your boss delete them as he is only trying to give you more work!! The only ones to answer were from family & friends! (Try this at your peril!). But the blessing is that we can keep in touch in this way & receive many messages of support, we know that many of you are thinking of us and praying for us. We thank you all!

Last evening we again met the Chinese lady and her Swiss friend (boyfriend we think although he’s in his 70s); she wanted to take our picture since she thought we were a “perfect couple”. (Think she was giving him a hint). Tracey is the English name she uses, she always has a lovely smile, her Swiss friend said she wears three pairs of trousers and five tops to lighten her backpack as she prefers to be too hot rather than carry the load!

Christine now has impressive bruises caused by clambering up to the top bunk, which I persuaded her to do. I am now relegated to the top bunk.

Today was hard and long, Logrono is an industrial town, much different to the small villages we have stayed in to date geared to ‘peregrinos’, tomorrow is longer still; we have walked about 108 miles, over a 5th of the way in 8 days, we have 23 days left to walk & no planned rest days!

Day 10 Logrono to Najera

Yesterday we passed a recent cross in memory of someone who had died on the route, there were notes and photographs. It can be tough and yet today we passed a man doing the walk but pulling his gear on a homemade luggage trolley. Obviously, he could not carry it, but was determined to do this journey all the same. For those who were lucky enough, (or not), to read our walk over the Alps in 2011, you may remember we met an older gentleman who was doing the Via Francigena pulling all his gear.

Last night was a quieter night, the only people in the room were us, so the only people snoring were us!  We had to wear eye masks; the emergency light was so bright. Tonight we are accommodated with 6 French people; already one man taking an afternoon nap has demonstrated his snoring prowess.

Logrono is a large busy town and as such does not have to rely on pilgrims and so does not bother to put on anything special for pilgrims. It is the first time we have seen people sleeping on the streets and drunks. A place needs to be a certain size to support beggars.

We were accosted not only by people asking us for money directly but also while eating, by musicians playing a little number and then coming round for money, which seems to a common European trait, once OK but after that, we felt less generous.

No breakfast at the hostel but our walking literature said breakfast was available “at end of the reservoir” after about an hour’s walking. We were on the road by 6.15 but no shops open, end of the reservoir, guess what, no cafe, so we had to survive for 12kms on a banana. Later at Navarrete (for Eileen’s benefit who wants to know the villages we pass through), we had a very late breakfast/ early lunch, then back on the road again, next food stop 16kms away.

We have left behind for now at least, the wheat & barley fields & the peas & asparagus crops & now there are vine fields everywhere as far as the eye can see, but not a drop to drink, only what we carry. The soil is very red, clay & full of stones, clearing the stones doesn’t seem to be a requirement for a vineyard. Quite an effort to avoid the auto watering systems at times in order to avoid an unexpected drenching. We also saw a lot of small scale “market gardening” in people’s back yards, one very old Spanish lady was tending a garden full of asparagus, beans, strawberries, onions and much more that we couldn’t recognise.

The vistas can be quite awe inspiring & often unexpected, just round a corner & there is a huge landscape in front of us. Nothing of course quite equals the Lake District in terms of scenery, but at least it’s only rained once here so far, (unlike the Lake District).

Today was the furthest we have walked about 30k, luckily it was overcast for most of the morning which prevented the draining heat, but still exhausting, I felt at the end I had reached my limit in terms of distance & bag carrying. We have a big 37.7km planned one day this week & have decided to have our luggage transported that day, meaning we only have to get ourselves to the destination, many people do this every day! Which we feel is cheating slightly!

I saw a sign which suggested we might be walking near 550 miles, rather than the 500 we had anticipated! As long as we reach our planned destination in one piece & at peace, then we will achieve our end goal.

Day 11 Najera to Santa Domingo de la Calzada

The best time of the day is just after we have set off with the fresh morning air, the sun behind us, beautiful vistas once free of the towns and feeling strong in our limbs, ready for whatever the day brings.

The 2nd best time of the day is after we’ve arrived, had hot showers, sorted our stuff for tomorrow & sit in the sun with a glass of vino tinto.

As we’re walking east to west and the prevailing winds are from the Atlantic, we have to endure a lot of headwinds, sometimes leaning hard into them to maintain any progress. Today Douglas had a Spaniard who came up right behind him to walk a foot behind to get the benefit of his slipstream! When we realized I then got behind him to get the benefit of HIS slipstream, but he didn’t like that! After zig-zagging back & forth across the path a few times, he eventually gave up, but we did laugh. Europeans do not understand the English requirement for personal space.

Another problem with the east-to-west walking is that the sun is always at the South, which is on our left. Douglas will need to start walking backward soon in order to even out his suntan otherwise he’ll return home looking like a zebra!

The farmers were up early watering their vines, they have special tractors and water bowsers that fit in between the vines, and they also make use of irrigation canals to move the water around the fields. Some of the birds were showing off their singing skills and were quite happy to sing as we walked past. The cuckoo which has accompanied us the last three mornings is obviously having a day off.

We have had a shorter walk today only 21k and 5 hours including a breakfast stop at Azofra. Christine wanted a rest day so she has the whole afternoon off, (once we finished the walk that is). We had coffee at a very posh golf course which was at the center of a brand new residential area at Ciruena, however, at least 50% of the houses were up for resale, probably due to the economy.

We passed someone selling trinkets & soft drinks with a sign saying he was unemployed & that there is 60% unemployment in Spain. The villages we pass are certainly very keen for pilgrims to spend their Euros there; the Camino is big business here. But we don’t really know the trials of the Spanish people in their economic climate.

As I’ve lost weight recently I no longer have the usual roll of fat on my hips. I am walking in Rohan shorts, I used this type 4 years ago, these were new bought for this walk and have security zips just were my hips are.

To carry a rucksack properly you need to have the waist strap pulled tight as you need to bear most of the weight on your waist strap which sits on the hips. So I have abrasions on my hip bones! Christine says she does not have this problem (she said this, not me, I wouldn’t dare!). She has problems with the shoulder straps having bony shoulders! Her feet however are now down to a size 10.

We passed a large ‘rollo’, no not a sweet, it is a medieval judicial pillar used to hang villains, which has been converted to a cross. Maybe we should bring it back for litter louts?

Our grateful thanks to our dear friend Margaret, who has kept us up to date with the royal baby arrival & naming as well as election results, and others for their responses. We do try to download the daily newspaper to keep us in touch with what is going on, but not always successfully.

Day 12 Santa Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado

headgear-caminoBreakfast was at half six just after setting off. At a coffee stop later the owner just asked for a donation, she was making lovely egg sandwiches, I was very tempted. The distance to Santiago showing on today’s signs, along the stretch between Santa Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado, is now about 550km. Also I seem once again to have a tree growing out of my backpack, no wonder it feels heavy!!

We walked about 25km today in the hot sun most of the time. Christine has had a very hard time today, we thought she had shin splint trouble as she had a very painful leg, however it looks like it is a big bite of some kind on the shin causing the pain. In any event she found today’s walking very hard, so I carried her back pack (as well as my own) for the last 5 miles. I offered to do this; she did not ask me to, by the way. Remarkably, it did not seem too difficult, although I wouldn’t want to do the next 350 miles with that weight. So tomorrow she will take the bus to the next town & have a rest day while I walk it.

We hear there are lots of ups & downs tomorrow, more ups because we are starting to climb again.

There are many people who are having to give up the walk at this point due to problems with their feet, blisters usually. We talked to someone who resumed the walk this week at the point he abandoned it last year. It took 6 weeks for his blisters to heal then. We continue to improve our Spanish, we can now say vino tinto (red wine!); quanta costa?; buenos dias; buenos nochas, (although never had a chance to use this as we’re always asleep by nightfall); mucho gracias; manana. (Spell check put that punctuation in-not me!). If Douglas doesn’t know the right word he might just use the Italian or French instead (it’s all European after all!), if he still don’t know it he just says the English word in what he thinks is a European type of accent. Seems to work most of the time although some of our meal orders have been a bit of a surprise!

pilgrims-middle-agesThe cuckoo was back this morning, small creepy crawlies cross your path, each trying to reach the other side; they must have heard that the grass is greener. Don’t we all feel that sometimes? It normally isn’t! Tonight we will go looking for our evening meal before bed; some people go to the supermarket for ingredients & cook up their own dinner, but not us, not yet anyway.

A pilgrim meal sometimes includes egg and chips which used to be one of the staple transport cafe type meals when I used to travel back and forth to London before motorway restaurants existed.

We spoke to a lady today, who is doing this walk for the 5th time, she must be mad! When she asked how many times we had done it, I said it was our “first”. Christine then said it was our “only”!

Just had a snooze on a seat while Christine started the journal today. Zzzzzzzzzzz

Day 13 Belorado to Ages

camino-headgearI have received several comments about my headgear as a result of yesterday’s photo from Belorado, most of you obviously do not realise this is the ultimate in fashion for walking and is called a bandelo, (we think), in Spain. The first one I modelled was from England the latest one I bought here.

Christine has one as well to prevent a sunburnt neck. Mine shows the Camino route so that when anyone enquires about what I am wearing, I will be able to take it off and bore them for hours so beware.

It can be tied a number of different ways so I have included a pic of it tied “pirate” style. Complements gratefully accepted! Yes Johnny Depp, dream on! Sometimes I wear it Sahara style to keep the sun off the back of my neck but won’t subject you to another picture.

Today I, (Christine), took the bus walking only the last 4km which has eased my leg pain and I hope to manage the full 27km tomorrow. I did have to wait for 3 hours in the town square to catch the only Sunday bus, drinking coffee and reading my book but luckily the logistics did work out. I met a 77 year old Brazilian lady who is bussing it all the way from place to place but she is a pilgrim nonetheless. Brazilians speak Portuguese but as she said, (I think), Spanish is very close to Portuguese so language is not a problem.

We have seen a lot of Brazilian men on bikes wearing their national flag on their shorts. I have taken on the arduous role of examining these closely for accuracy as they pass us.

Whilst Christine was enduring the luxury bus travel, I was tramping along up hill & down dale in sweltering heat. My 2nd breakfast at 9am kept me going & I arrived at Ages, (accent above the “e” but don’t know how to type that), about 12.30pm having covered 28km at warp speed on my own, passing people as a blur!

We have repeatedly seen an odd sight, a man walking this route with an ice axe on his back! Not only is it increasing his weight when we are shedding ANYTHING we can to reduce our packs, but does he know something about the weather forecast that we do not?

It is 24 degrees in the shade, must be 30 at the peak of the day. We have yet to check whether the ice axe is real or whether it is painted on his rucksack! The last 12k started with a 4k steep climb, at the top there was a lovely view of the mountains, some still with snow, but not many people stopped for the view. On the top it was a boring walk for 7k along a forest road, the most interesting thing was the queue of walkers in front of me, I came across 60 plus of the, mainly women, it turned out it was a local Sunday bus tour that drops walkers off and then picks them up again.

There are more unaccompanied women of all ages, ignoring the bus trip, walking this route than men for some reason; the common language seems to be English amongst the strangers chatting to each other.

TKMaxx is a man’s paradise full of stuff you did not realise you needed, a bit like Lakeland for women. One of my weight saving strategies was shaving cream paper sheets courtesy of TKMaxx. These are supposed to dissolve into cream on the face, well they don’t & I end up with attractive bits of paper stuck to my face after every shave. Buyer beware, they do sort of work, a bit like my Dad who used to stick toilet paper on his shaving cuts. Christine claims I sometimes do the same.

We have seen many storks which seem to be prevalent here & every church we pass has a huge untidy bunch of grass & reeds on its pinnacles, one yesterday had four nests, all with an attentive stork on top. The cuckoo was back today he had a great echo, could it be two of them? No vineyards now, we are obviously past the Rioja area.

We have covered about 170 miles now.

Day 14 Ages to Burgos

Ages is a small village, population 68, the numbers swelled by pilgrims residing each night, places to eat are limited to where you stay. Often, if eating where you sleep, you have to specify what you want by 6pm. We shared a table with a South Korean and an Irishman. They were both good company, we kept ribbing the Korean for having an iPhone and not a Samsung phone. He took it in good spirit.

The Irishman Peter has walked part of the Camino before, he did the first part over the Pyrenees in the snow just before they closed the route and that was in May a couple of years ago. He had been boring his family about walking the Camino, in the end his wife told him to either do it or shut up. She is joining him at the end of the walk and they have booked a honeymoon suite for three nights. That explains why it was not available when I tried to book it!

We were late for bed last night it was after 9pm, the others in our dorm were already in bed; they were planning to rise at 5.30 am to be on the road walking before the heat of the day. As it turned out they were awake before 5am so as a result, we were up and on the road by 6am still dark such that you needed your torch to see the direction signs. It was two hours later after a steep climb that we eventually found breakfast. The croissants were the size of a small country! Neither of us really does croissants, greasy blob of dough & let’s face it, you cannot make a decent jam sandwich with one, can you?

As for dipping it in your coffee as is the French custom, well yuk, you just end up with bits of dough floating in your coffee. But “pan a chocolat”! Now you’re talking!!!! Douglas had cold bacon & egg sandwich in crunchy French bread (no comment!).

We walked past Sierra de Atapuerca where they recently discovered the potential predecessor to Homo sapiens and Neanderthal man. Judging by his reconstructed picture, he obviously had not discovered the benefit of paper soap for shaving.

Today’s walk after the uphill climb to a cross, past a military training ground and sheep all fast asleep sitting on the ground, has been mostly downhill so relatively easy except for the heat, which hurts our feet & is very wearing.

We passed an airfield which was fenced off with a wire fence, some pilgrims had made crosses on the fencing with bits of grass or twig, and there were hundreds of them!

Coming along the riverside, a lot of locals were out power walking, we have seen the locals power walking at 7am before, they have the fitness craze as well. We passed a beach by the river and one attractive girl was in a bikini, I was keen to ask for directions but Christine felt sure she knew where to go.

We have arrived in Burgos which is a large town, El Cid originated from here & for a while Franco governed from here. Can the older folks remember which actor played El Cid; I think my grandmother told me it was Charlton Heston?

We keep forgetting how tough life is in the UK, one of our friends had to wait 10 minutes for a seat in a restaurant recently and then would you believe it had to put up with UNCHILLED white wine. Further, they are Newcastle United supporters (you know who you are!). We do not know how lucky we are, the red wine is chilled, beer ice cold, glasses previously chilled.

Trying to find a pilgrim hostel today, I went to the Tourist Info office and they directed us to hotels, this is the second time they have misdirected us (i.e. lied to us!).

It seems to be difficult to get hostels to respond to emails to try to book ahead to at least guarantee we have somewhere to sleep. This means we need to try to arrive early, which in turn puts pressure on the walking when we’re tired.

Tomorrow we have a very long walk 32k, that’s 20 miles, so we will need to be on the road again by 6am to get some miles in before the heat sets in. Remember that’s 5am UK time! But at least our wine is chilled!

Day 15 Burgos to Hontanas

christineYesterday in Burgos, we visited their cathedral a magnificent ornate building; various bishops have out done each other in planning their tombs. We forget that at the time these places were built most of the population could not read and the only way they could visualise the bible writings as told to them by the priest was through paintings or ornate sculptures. Today we perhaps dismiss them without giving them the time needed by sitting and looking at them in detail.

We ended up by chance in a hotel with our own room, expecting a good night’s sleep. It was not to be, as it was so hot, the air conditioning did not work so we had the window open which let in the considerable street noise. Just as we were dropping off someone knocked at the door, they would not go away until we opened it to prove we were not the French pilgrims they were trying to find. Christine wants me to point them out so that she can give them a sharp poke with her walking pole, but in a loving way of course.

We had dinner in the cathedral square & 4 older (than us) English guys sat at the next table, one was very keen to demonstrate his proficiency in Spanish. His ordering was definitely more Anglo than Spanish & when their starters arrived, one of them had 5 lumps of black pudding, (they call it blood sausage here), he was muttering “What’s this I wanted tuna fish” then to his friend “I thought you were ordering me tuna fish!” His response? “Well get it down you, it’ll do you good” (as we’ve all heard from our Mums!). Unfortunately we didn’t get to stay for the main course performance; otherwise we might’ve died laughing!

A lie in (not!), up at 5.30am and out at 6am, Christine was quite anxious about the prospect of walking 34km today.

Usually in the morning we see hordes of other walkers with us setting out on the road, today there were none at all so she kept questioning whether we were really going the right way!!

It seems that this is the central part of the Camino & many people miss this out, either leaving when they reach Burgos or getting the bus onto Leon. Wimps!!

We will reach Leon in about 6 days & is the start of the final push to Santiago. Usually we try and find somewhere to stop for a break & coffee/drink every hour and a half, today there was only the opportunity at about every two hours.

Most of the skylines that we have seen here from the start are studded, (i.e. spoilt), with huge wind turbines. Soon England will be similar, it’s already happening big time in Northumberland & elsewhere. We dread their advent to the Lake District skylines!

Mornings are always nice unless it rains, the fresh smell of grass, the rise of the sun, birds singing, later on when the sun rises and starts to warm up the day, your attitude becomes one of head down and keep going.

A cool breeze today helped to lift our spirits and took the burning sting out of the sun. We had three stretches of 10k mostly going uphill, the last being 14km with no shelter and no change of landscape, just putting one foot in front of the other, we can get so tired that we cannot talk, (yes even Christine!!), & sometimes we are too weary even to think!

Today we have arrived at Hontanas which is a small one street village. It was 32 degrees when we arrived here today at 1.45pm, desperately needing a beer to try to quench our thirst. Still it is good for getting our gear dried out. Our bunk house is luxurious! We even have our own individual bedside light, instead of having to appoint someone as the light monitor.

Having each day to get up and walk is a mixture of spiritual and physical renewal; it seems a bit like 40 days in the wilderness in that each day you are repeating the same basic thing with no breaks.

I know at the end of the day we have a wash, and eat, but the days blend into each other and you lose perspective of time. We create short term bonds with strangers who are experiencing the same trials & tribulations as ourselves. Some you see every day and you give them a knowing smile, others you see now and again depending on their pace and others come and go, we never see them again, we don’t know if they’re ahead of us, behind us or have given up!

Tomorrow is my birthday I will be 46, (Google won’t let me put anything else) – (Christine – it’s actually an anagram of that!), so tomorrow Christine will give me the huge chocolate Guinness cake she cooked and has been carrying along with the bottle of champagne and loads of presents.

She has been trying to fool me by saying her bag was heavy from all the face products she was carrying, but they surely could not weigh as heavy as that? Also as a birthday treat we are having our bags transported to our next overnight stay, HOORAY!!

Yes it’s cheating a bit but our feet will feel as if they have wings walking/flying over the next 30k.

2 thoughts on “Walking the Camino Frances”

  1. My husband & I walked the first 100 miles of el Camino Frances in September 2015, same year as Doug & Christine Ball. We had to leave as the injury to my right knee prevented me from further walking. It was wonderful reliving the walk with them & recognizing the town names, the scenery and laughing with them about exhaustion, dining issues along the way and meeting the various personalities from all over the world! Thank you for this.

  2. I loved every minute of that journey. It brought back so many memories thanks i passed that way in 2012

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