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 de Santiago.’ This is long, get a coffee or tea and settle down for a while.
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 arrived in Estella and 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!
Mr 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
Breakfast 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!
The 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
I 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
Yesterday 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.
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.
Just 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!!
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.
We 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!
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.
We understand that one of our readers has, incentivized 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 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 parent’s 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 27 Vega de Valcarce to Fonfria
Well you just cannot tell how it’s going to be. We were anticipating a really hard day with significant climbs; our guide book said this was the hardest day on the route.
In fact there were climbs, but not nearly as difficult as we had anticipated. About 10k uphill with a couple of downs, started off on road for hour and then forest track/ mountain goat-like for an hour then breakfast.
The views today have been breathtaking and the track edged with countless wildflowers. We have encountered amongst others Spanish white broom, (Christine thought this was orchid which sounds much more exotic, but no – white broom).
Anyway it is beautiful, even more than the yellow variety we have at home and here at the lower levels. We could see at one point six valleys leading to the mountains of Leon in the distance which we passed several days ago. We saw very few people on the climb, had breakfast half way up at a vegetarian hippie sort of place, served fried eggs on toast for Douglas, yummy change from toast and jam,
I had to make do with toast – no “pan a chocolat”. At the top of the climb was O’Cebreiro, which was packed with tourists and probably the most commercial place we have seen, selling Camino related trinkets, (junk), etc. It turns out most of the visitors had taken a tour bus up to the top. Cheating or what! But missing the best bit of the walk. We think they were probably a Sunday walkers group. The church at O’Cebreio has parts built in the 9th century which is the oldest on the Santiago Camino journey. We visited it; there were about 50 bibles in different languages including Braille opened at different places. The English bible was opened at Psalms 138/139, 139 being most relevant for us.
We are now in Gailicia as per the picture, (note Christine’s bandaged poorly leg- max sympathy please), showing that we are both here. Unfortunately the signpost has suffered badly with graffiti, a common problem here.
Galicia apparently gets lousy weather as it is the first weather hit from the Atlantic, like the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland I suppose and we’d been warned about the likely rain and mist.
The Spanish food ordering failed again today, our tuna sandwiches, (tuna in Spanish is “a tun”), turned up as cheese and ham. How tuna could be interpreted as queso and jamon is a bit mystifying, anyway we will obviously need to improve our Spanish verbal skills. We have realised that “Adios” sounds a bit like “Aseos” so let’s face it – easy to mix up. This means that sometimes, instead of saying “goodbye!” as we leave, we are in fact wishing people “toilets!”. Anyway we have been really lucky with the weather, today anyway, and had a marvellous view from the top and experienced the so called “floating islands” ie mountain tops above the clouds (see pic below). It was at a spot where a lost pilgrim trapped by fog heard a shepherd bagpipes playing sonorous music, (what bagpipes??), music and followed it to safety, or so the legend goes.
Fonfria where we are staying for the night is a tiny tiny village consisting of a church which will hold about 6 people, a farm plus our albergue. Luckily we have signed up for the in house “communal meal” tonight which is always salad followed by paella, otherwise it would have been our emergency rations, (ie muesli bars), and bird seeds, still not got rid of them as Douglas has one packet left.
One week today, we will be walking into Santiago, hurrah!!
Day 28 Fonfia to Samos
We are now sitting waiting for our tour of one of the oldest monastery in the whole western world, with one of the largest grounds and cloisters in Spain. This is where we are staying the night, (see picture), or to be more precise in a Benedictine hostel located to the rear of the main building (see 2nd picture!).
Depending upon which guide you used we are either still on the main route to Santiago or we have taken a secondary route, we did decide to detour to see this monastery which is amazing and has added 6.3km to the journey. Unfortunately there are now only ten monks inhabiting the monastery, all aged, there is no plan what to do with the building which is massive and belongs to the church, not the government or the community, perhaps a parador (mentioned those last week) but probably too big.
Up this morning and out by 6.10, starting above cloud level and walking down to below cloud level. We were able to see the clouds moving like a creeping fog into the valleys below us and mountains behind us.
It was a beautiful sight, lovely warm day, two hours walking down hill and we found breakfast, I was forced to have bacon and eggs, (again), and poor Christine toast and marmalade, the bread is so hard you could get a cracked tooth, but no pan a chocolat yet again.
Last night we participated in a community meal, we had two German blokes to the left of us, a Canadian Catholic priest and also an Irishman opposite and French girls to the right of Christine, quite a cross section. We were slightly surprised by the behaviour of the priest though, nothing improper, but he kept calling to the waiter “there’s a dead soldier here!”, which apparently means “there is an empty wine bottle please may I have another one?” An enjoyable event, prior to the meal we were sharing a bottle of wine and tapas of cheese on toast with some Germans. The Camino is certainly a friendly sociable event.
Bed choices were interesting, you could have a bunk bed or a double with a single bed above, and depending upon how full the albergue was would depend on whether anyone would sleep above the double bed.
We declined this option as we thought it was a bit too weird! We were warm last night or maybe the blankets were too good, for a change. We doctored our light, (i.e. unscrewed the light bulb), so that late comers to bed could not wake us up by putting the light on. However Christine is becoming increasingly frustrated with having to get ready in the mornings in total darkness trying to find stuff and not wake people around us. No matter how well prepared the night before there is still a search for a clothing items and the very real prospect of leaving something behind.
As we near Santiago the preferred dessert, (postres), seems to be Santiago cake which is actually almond cake, very nice depending on how moist it is. Anyway there seem to be some negative side effects, last night Douglas decided to descend from the upper bunk facing forwards and ended up getting his rear end stuck between the ladder rungs! So no more Santiago cake for him at least until bunk beds are no longer in use.
On a mission to the quescerio (cheese shop), the serving lady held up 3 pictures for Douglas to choose from, sheep, goat and cow, he said it felt like primary school. He chose sheep’s cheese by the way.
Today’s walk was a mixture of lanes, forest tracks, walking between a gorge and a main road, dirt roads. It was lovely walking through forest tracks covered by dropped leaves. I saw the pile of leaves in front of me start to move, but when I investigated, whatever it was disappeared back down its hole. One little hamlet obviously had a particular problem with pilgrims and there was a sign saying no pooping, next to one saying no dropping litter. We have seen a lot of ancient limestone quarries and apparently pilgrims used to carry what they could to the lime kilns in order to build Santiago cathedral. Well thank goodness it’s now built as the last thing we’re inclined to do is add a chunk of limestone to our already groaning bags, (admittedly lighter as we discard clothing and use up our beauty products).
About 75 miles left to go we think, still targeting Sunday arrival.
Day 29, Samos to Ferrerios
This morning on our walk to breakfast we passed a sign telling us we had 140 kms to go which meant we had increased our total distance by going to Samos, (boo), later after rejoining the busy route we passed the signpost indicating only 100km left to go to Santiago. We believe the 2nd signpost. Hurrah!!
Today we walked on a mixture of tarmac roads, forest trails and dirt tracks. We saw a Stork with two youngsters in the nest, we had not seen them for a while as they must not populate the mountainous regions, not that today was flat, there were some very steep climbs.
We walked past lots of old, gnarled chestnut trees, a bit like us, I suppose. We have seen two dead snakes, one a baby about six inches and one today about 5 feet long. Being a gentleman, I always let Christine go first, especially through grassy and dark areas and by chance she might flush out anything waiting to strike. Speaking of flushing reminds us to be careful when looking in the grass for a private spot; you never know what might lurk there.
We had originally planned to arrive at Santiago on Saturday to see the service where they use the “botafumeiro” a huge incense burner which requires 6 attendants to handle it and originally used to fumigate the sweaty and disease ridden pilgrims, (purpose unchanged I suppose sniffing some of the people here).
We had thought this was on Sundays but it we just found out this week it’s actually Friday evenings and there is no way we can get there in that timescale and enjoy the walk at the same time. Douglas is very disappointed but accepted it won’t happen. He feels strongly that we should enjoy the last few days of the Camino rather than just try to sprint it at pace.
Likewise we hadn’t realised that some pilgrims continue the walk after Santiago to Finisterre, which is on the west coast and means literally “end of the earth”. This is where it was thought the world ended prior to Columbus discovering the West Indies and Americas. I just remember the term from Home Service shipping forecasts when I was young, (last century), possibly still broadcast, didn’t know then where Finisterre was.
Anyway this would be another 4 day walk which would not allow us time to get back to the airport for the flight home.
We have said we’ll come back to see the botafumeiro and finish the walk to Finisterre where apparently you have to watch the sunset over the world’s end, (sounds a bit like Pirates of the Caribbean!). I’m not sure that we will though.
Today was our longest search yet for breakfast, setting off at 6.10am it was after 9am before we arrived at anywhere open in the nearest town of Sarria. We were so desperate that we had to stop for water, peanuts and chocolate after 2 hours. European milk chocolate, that is, not as good as Cadburys!
Sarria is a town where many people start their walk as starting there gives you the required 100km of walking to get accredited at Santiago, so people flock in by bus and train. Those of us who have walked 800km have no negative thoughts for those apparently taking the “easy” option.
There could be many reasons, time, ability or yes, just taking the easy option!
We must have the gift of foresight when we said yesterday that you could break a tooth on the breakfast toast. Guess who had toast for breakfast and guess who has lost half a tooth as a result? (Christine clue – not me)
Today we got the last 2 beds available at this hostel, otherwise we would’ve had to walk another 4km or perhaps 9km, we’re never sure. So we both have upper bunks as they’re always the last to go, I have been told off by a Frenchman for moving his coat and trousers which were draped over my bed. Don’t you just love Europeans? Especially the French!!!
Two English people Diane and Mike, (who are “just friends -not a couple!), who we first met at the airport when we landed in France and whom we have occasionally met on the walk are staying the night here as well. We last saw them over a week ago. It will be interesting to see which of those people we have met doing the Camino will be in Santiago at the same time as us.
I have finished my book of 670 pages just need to find somewhere suitable to leave it.
Despite our assurances of NOT reaching Santiago by Friday evening, we are tantalisingly within reach.
The question is – can we achieve a marathon 35km walk to the end on Friday and still enjoy it? Will it be like the Great North Run and London Marathon where you become motivated and carried along by the crowds? See tomorrow’s exciting instalment!
Day 31 Palas de Rei to Azure
One of the villages on the road from Palas de Rei to Arzua had a band to serenade pilgrims on their way. We had hoped for a coffee but the band had taken over the cafe and were selling their CDs instead. We could hear their music for quite a distance until a selfish person decided to put his car music on full blast while stationary. It is interesting the number of individuals, mostly young people, who walk with earphones plugged in and miss the sound of birds, crickets, frogs singing, waterfalls.
I suppose they are in their own little world with One Direction or whoever while walking? I have been criticised for not carrying things on my head as well as back and front, the opportunity to rectify that matter will have to wait until our next Camino. (Christine NEXT Camino?!?!).
Today we could not set off until 7am so we were walking for longer in the heat of the sun, even without our rucksacks our feet and legs were aching. Last night while in bed our legs were painful preventing us from sleeping properly, but not long now only another 37km to go. We are now seeing more families walking the final 100 kms, mainly older parents with their daughters. Helen and Sarah, we should have brought you along!
We had the usual ups and downs, easier today without anything really heavy on your back, we passed through a range of different types of forest, some managed and some not. There are a lot of eucalyptus trees/ forests, we could smell their scent, we should be breathing more easily. Speaking of breathing Christine left her nighttime inhaler and thyroxine tablets at one of the hostels, we had to creep out in the dark in the early morning, (we could not subject them to seeing Christine with no make up). She says she will just have to manage without them.
The countryside changed from ploughed fields to gorse to walls covered with moss and lichen. The cuckoo is still with us, we think it’s the same one who has travelled with us from St Jean Pied de Port wearing his little rucksack. We did see a dog today walking with his own backpack, like saddle bags seemingly very happy with it. We have also seen people doing this on horseback in fact the evidence of horses in our pathway seems to exceed the number we have seen, or perhaps they just eat a lot!
We saw more evidence of apparently pointless road building which had been half completed then abandoned. Not sure whether cash ran out or somebody asked what it was all for. We have broadly followed a main road, hardly use which has been replaced by a very grand motorway the N547 which spans picturesque valleys on grand viaducts for miles and miles, must have cost a fortune to build.
It supports about 2 vehicles per minute at peak times!! When I think of the UK motorways and the nightmare traffic on those, it seems unreal.
It was another hard day for Christine today, despite saying we would take it easy, we seemed to have upped our game. (By the way, hard day for Douglas too, putting up with my “Slough of despond” i.e. whinging about my feet and knee!).
The lights in our accommodation last night were operated by a timer so I could not help them go dark early, they went off at 10pm which is quite late for any self respecting pilgrim who should be in bed by 8pm. I was just going off to sleep when some young people turned up at 10pm and started banging on the door to be let in, the receptionist who was on duty until 11 pm was somewhere else, probably having a nap. My kids bought me two presents, one for the previous walk and one for this walk. The first was a watch with an alarm which sounds old fashioned given that phones have alarms, the big difference, my alarm wakes me and I quickly switch it off, these phone alarms wake everyone while their owner tries to find it to switch it off. The second present was walking sticks which have taken some hammering and one of them may not last the walk. Both items I would recommend. We have both worn the rubber ends of our walking poles through to the spikes underneath.
Well there are 37km to go, (only!), which is 23 miles. We have decided to try to go for it to Santiago in one go. Douglas reminds me that we have done several marathons before which is over 26 miles. Although we have not usually walked every day for 4 weeks prior to doing a marathon. We will be starting out tomorrow at 5.30am, that’s 4.30am UK time and hope to arrive late afternoon in time for the big incense service at 7.30pm. It is going to take a lot of effort tomorrow for us both. We have to think positively about it, we CAN do it! It’s hard to believe though, that if we reach Santiago tomorrow after 32 days of walking, there will then be no more requirement for pre dawn mornings and all day walking. It makes us think; why we did we embark on this in the first place? What have we achieved?
Are we different people as a result? I am concerned that I may continue to wake up early in England and be forced to walk around Bensham.
Day 32 Arzua to Santiago
This was to be our last day of walking, no matter what, approximately 23 miles. Up at 5am for an early start to what promised to be the longest walk day, even though we sent our rucksacks ahead. Nobody around when we set off in pitch darkness, some stars, no moon, Australia must still have the moon and have decided to hang on for it a bit longer. Walking through the woods in the dark was ok, they were young friendly woods, I can think of some of the old knurled woods which would have given us a less friendly feel. We found breakfast about 7 am and was joined by a German who had followed us, he felt a bit lost until he saw us and assumed we were going to Santiago. We were the cafe’s first customers of the day.
A great deal of today’s walk was through eucalyptus woods which we understood were introduced for the pulp industry. They shed their bark, and the attached photo shows the size of some of the strips of bark.
We saw a deer which ran across our path, the last one I saw was cross my path when I was out running around Lamesley at Gateshead early morning. We heard a crash and then in great leaps it ran through the woods.
We saw some pilgrims who are horseriding, 11 horses in the group, to Santiago. We had expected to see lots of people walking, rushing to the end but today has been quieter than other days, a lot less than we expected.
We had our lunch about 13kms from the end, egg bacon and chips and tuna salad, guess who had what, yes Christine had the egg and chips, for stamina she said. Pressure mounted on our bodies for the last 10k, the countdown distance signs disappeared and we could not yet see the city, so we did not know how far we had to go. Christine at 7kms was in a lot of pain with her knee and feet, being a caring chap I offered her an ice lolly at 5km and then pushed her on. There were tears of pain.
On the outskirts of Santiago there is big statue commemorating the Camino Santiago and John Paul II. One of the pilgrims asked Christine to take his picture jumping in the air with it in the back ground, it was a great success, I tried jumping and could hardly get my feet off the ground, we gave up. (Christine – the difference was possibly he was about 30 years younger!)
When we arrived at Santiago, there was a long trudge from the outskirts of the city, through the new part to eventually the old town plus the signs to the cathedral were unclear, eventually after I had circled the cathedral we found the pilgrims office for our final stamp and certificates. The queue was about an hour long and Christine nearly collapsed from her pain and exhaustion, I had not realised how much the final stages had taken out of her, should have given her two ice lollies.
We went to last night’s service, the cathedral was full, although Christine had gone early and got us pole position seats in the front row, I yawned a bit through the service and was told off by Christine (it was in Italian so didn’t understand a word, he never said ” Buen Camino” or “dos cafe con leche” even once!!)
The botafumeiro hung at centre stage and eventually they arrived with burning coals, (carried through the audience), then 8 attendants were involved in starting it swinging. First they put the red hot lighted coals in it and they walked straight past me carrying then.
The botafumeiro in action was amazing, this great big metal thing, full of fire, swinging up to the roof of the cathedral, which is pretty high!! Health & Safety?? Who needs it!!! We understand that twice during swinging of the incense they have hit one of the high windows. We meet a cyclist outside who we had met in Samos, he claimed that someone had paid for the incense to be swung, given it is the main attraction of a Friday service and the cathedral is full for a collection, not sure someone needs to pay extra for the event. It was the most amazing experience and really a worthwhile climax to the whole Camino for us. Christine assures me that the botafumeiro sight more than made up for the pain of the final day, that’s good cos I was starting to feel just a tad guilty about wife cruelty, making her walk so far in such heat.
Our thanks to everyone who has received our musings, wonderings, rants, complaints etc etc over the past 32 days. Thanks even more to those who actually read them and thanks a trillion to those who have responded with messages of support and encouragement, that really spurred us on.
We were tired last night, Christine almost fell asleep into her Galician pie at dinner
Many thanks to Douglas and Christine Ball for writing this and allowing it to be published here.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.
2 thoughts on “Day by Day Account of the Camino de Santiago”
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.
I loved every minute of that journey. It brought back so many memories thanks i passed that way in 2012