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Sunday, 28 November 2010


Still walking…..

The next day instead of getting on the bus back to Santiago, I continued walking up the coast to the town of Muxia, the absolute ultimate end of the camino!!! From here I even turned around and started walking back, returning to Santiago, where finally I put down my stick and stopped walking. I felt it was time. Plus, my sister had arrived to meet me!
All in all I walked 1350km……it was a privilege and I loved every (almost) step.

end of the road.....again

Olveiroa – Finisterre

Very early morning, following the stars. First time this was a bit of a problem as the path by the river was narrow and overgrown and blocked out even the starlight and I couldn’t see a thing. Nearly turned back but glad I didn’t as the route around the mountain looked down on a huge river and, as soon as I could see where I was going, was beautiful. Passed lots of hunters arriving with their dogs for a day of stereotypical drinking and accidently shooting each other. Reaching the road I stopped for rest at the ‘last place for 15km’ café. I only wanted coffee but the owner did her very best to hustle money out of me. Every time someone walked in she made a huge fuss about being the ‘last place for 15km’….’no food’…..’you must buy food’….’there is nowhere’…… ‘nothing’. Now even a fairly novice walker would surely not be too perturbed on a sunny day about the lack of provision for the next, what, 3 hours?! As a seasoned peregrina I was quietly confident that I would not starve by 1pm. She did manage to convince 4 guys though who ordered 4 cans of coke, 4 bananas and one ham roll and then handed over 15 euros with an impressive calm considering they had clearly fallen pray to the modern day ‘camino bandito’ or bandita, as it were. Still, all the talk of barren wilderness had got me quite excited that I might be walking through a barren wilderness but in reality the path was never more than 500m from a road and never out of sight of houses, even if they were a long way off. By 1245 I had reached the coastal town of Cee and was pleased to find I had not starved to death despite not buying a 10 euro ham sandwich two and a half hours ago. It was quite momentous to reach the sea and signaled the end of my walk was in sight…..well, just out of sight, over the next headland. I reached Finisterre after a very long walk around a long long crescent beach. After signing in to the albergue which only took pilgrims on foot I left behind my backpack once again and took the final walk out to the lighthouse at ‘the end of the world’. This spot was incredibly similar to Lands End where this walk all began and I sat with Italian Francesca who had also made it out here and two other pilgrims who shared their wine as we huddled together keeping warm until the sun winked out behind the horizon and a great cheer rose from the exhausted peregrinos who had assembled there. Again, a perfect ending. Back at the albergue Francesca prepared pasta which, of course, was cooked to perfection!

ohoto shoot

Negreira – Olveiroa

Very long day today, made longer by my decision to stop for coffee break at a café clearly shown on my map and yet not anywhere in existence on the landscape. Served me right for choosing to indulge in such luxuries. Rested at a cross in a deserted village with the Spanish woman I met last night when I bumped into the Tall Danish Guy again after weeks. She had taken some kind of self development course organised by the company she worked for and had found it so enlightening she had discovered that she no longer wanted to work for the company that had financed the course. I found this quite ironic. The snap happy German and Mexican guys arrived but stayed behind to take photos. Psyched myself up for big climb over steep hill this afternoon but it never materialized due to a small ‘pilgrim diversion’ around the hill. This came out on high ground far above a huge reservoir lake and the scenery just got better and better. Olveiroa was a small hamlet which smelt strongly of cows, as did my laundry the next day after drying out on the line outside. The albergue was once again converted farm buildings with the same stable style doors painted in the same batch of blue paint as the albergue at Ribadiso. Had picnic down by the river with my legs in the freezing water. It’s good for the muscles!

back on the road again

Santiago de Compostela – Negreira

Up early and ready to get out there again. The first section on the path to the very end of the camino was the shortest section and would be followed by two pretty tough days so it was nice to take an easy day after having a day off. I had stocked up while I had the opportunity to get cheap supplies and carrying an additional week’s food the pack was super heavy this morning. I would have to start eating it soon! Quite up and down today but much smaller paths and no one about which was fantastic after the franticness of the last 100k. Halfway up a hill came upon a box of apples free for pilgrims….it was a bit Snow White maybe but I trusted most things on the camino by now, except my maps. I did meet a couple of pilgrims, a German guy with lots of badges on his hat who was walking with a Mexican doctor who spoke good English. They were taking hundreds of photos and I soon left them behind. They caught up with me again when I stopped for picnic by huge river at Ponte Maceiro, which had the obligatory picturesque stone arched bridge and little waterfalls. It was so gorgeous it was hard to leave but they got me involved in another photo session then eventually we started over the bridge. Halfway across they stopped to take more photos so I waved and left them to it. Arriving in Negreira I saw a huge supermarket and was so pleased I had just carried that 5 kilos of food for the last 25km!

the end of the road.....

Santa Irene – Santiago

Having resigned myself to walking into Santiago without seeing any of the old faces of the route today started with passing a French guy whom I vaguely recognized but did not remember, but he remembered seeing me in Roncesvalles all those km’s ago and we shared a kind of understanding which heartened me. This was followed when I later noticed someone walking toward me with their head bowed but something familiar in their gait. As the walker approached I saw a familiar green sleeping mat peeking out behind their backpack and realized it was CrazyFrench! I had not seen him since Leon and was overjoyed though I nearly had to rugby tackle him to get him to stop at my exclamations of Bonjour. When he recognized me his face lit up and we spent several minutes of hugging and back patting. He proudly showed off his new boots and told me he had arrived in Santiago two days before, spent a lot of time in the cathedral and was now hoping to walk back now to Toulouse to the house of his son, but again he never took it for granted that he would make it. Again he thanked me for my smile and we said farewells once more. This meeting had lifted me immensely and I joyously walked on towards Santiago. The surprises were not over yet though and I arrived at Monte de Gozo just outside the city from where the spires of the cathedral can be seen above the trees. I was sitting talking to a young guy with dog that was walking the camino over several months with little money. He was sleeping out and carried with him equipment to make items of jewellery which every so often he would stop and sell to keep him and his dog in chorizo. I heard someone shout my name and I looked up to see Veronika from Poland who was staying here with her parents til morning. She wished me well and I told her I would see them in the cathedral tomorrow and I happily set off into the city. Outside the old centre of the city I found an albergue with a very jovial owner who was planning a quemada at 10pm that evening. Whatever it was I wanted to see it but first I had to complete this part of the walk and leaving my pack behind I walked towards the cathedral. I was sitting in the sunny plaza in front of the cathedral as pilgrims flopped to the ground around me when I noticed another familiar face high on the steps of the cathedral looking out. I jumped up and started walking towards the waving Polish Cowboy, waving back. I hoped he was waving at me or it could have been a bit embarrassing. More hugs and congratulations followed and we stood looking out over the plaza for a while as he talked candidly to me about how the camino had affected him and what he had learned about himself. Not long after this I walked around by the pilgrim office and saw the French couple whom I had also not seen for a very long time. I was absolutely elated and once again they jabbered away in French to me amidst more back patting. I remained in Santiago for the following day to rest and during my time there I came upon most of the familiar faces from my time on the road and those I missed I saw again on my journey to Finisterre. It was poetic in a way and I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect ending. That evening I also got the scoop on the deal at the Hostal de Los Reyes, a luxury parador in the plaza. I had read stories about how this hotel was originally built for the sheltering of pilgrims by order of the King and when it later became a 5 star hotel the ancient decree meant they had to continue to make provision for pilgrims and fed them 3 times a day for 3 days after completion of the pilgrimage. I didn’t quite see how this could work now but it turned out that if you went to the car park entrance of the hotel at mealtime and if you were in the first 10 then you would be taken into the hotel for your complimentary meal. I did this for dinner and there were only 10 of us in total so no one missed out. We did indeed parade through the grand entrance of the hotel foyer and through the elegant courtyard which was being set for some canapé reception later. OK, so we didn’t eat in the restaurant and had to get a tray and fetch our food from the kitchen, but we had our own pilgrim dining room and were given a full three courses with several bottles of wine and we had an absolute ball. Early the next morning I went to the pilgrim office to get my compostela when who should walk up but one of Hot Spanish Guy’s gang. Sure enough he got on the phone and passed on the news and as I came out of the office with my latin certificate I fell into Hot Spanish Guys arms on the stairs. (there was nothing romantic in this before you get carried away, it is just standard procedure by now!). It was, in fact, wonderful to see them again and in true style I bumped into him all the rest of the day. In fact being in Santiago those two days was like being somewhere you had lived all your life. Around every corner you saw people who by now felt like your closest friends and even with the peregrinos you didn’t know you shared some kind of solidarity and understanding. It felt like a very special place indeed. Although most people were now heading home I was very pleased that my walk had not yet finished and I was keen to get on the road again. That evening back at the albergue our host put on the quemada display which was along the lines of creating a highly potent alcoholic ‘witches brew’ in a cauldron that burns in an immense display of rising flames and pouring fire while incantations are said. When it finally burned down we all drank the strong hot brew and toasted a safe arrival at the end of the camino. Life could not get better than this……slept sooooo well.

lipstick and earrings

Ribadiso – Santa Irene

It is said that pilgrims start to slow down as they approach Santiago as they do not wish the journey to be over. With the exception of yesterday I did not walk far on the the days since Sarria but much of this was to avoid the crowds. Didn’t sleep much due to Spanish girl in bed above me whose mobile phone kept going off in the early hours. The next morning she apologized, apparently it was her boyfriend keeping tabs on her. She said it annoyed her immensely. Yet I noticed she did not think to press the ‘off’ button after he had rung eight times between 11pm and 3am. I considered mentioning this but let it pass as it hardly mattered any more. Thought about having a coffee at the bar which was advertised as being ‘5 metres away’ before heading out but it was full of breakfasting peregrinos so I walked off into the peace and quiet of the early morning. Passed a memorial to Guillermo Watt, a 69 year old pilgrim who had died on the camino in 1993 and a pair of iron boots had been erected here in his memory. It was a long time since I had passed such a memorial, most of which seemed to have been closer to the Pyrenees and I thought how frustrated I’m sure Guillermo would have been to have fallen just a day from Santiago. Passed more and more pilgrims again, I was staggered in the bathrooms this morning to see a woman in tight jeans wearing big dangly earrings applying a third coat of mascara and lipstick. Where were the faces I knew, I had seen no one since the influx of weekenders in Sarria and wondered if they had not just given up in despair and gone home.

picture perfect

Hospital – Ribadiso

Drizzly day though lots more farmland and hamlets with guard dogs for cows, guard dogs for chickens (which impressed me) and even a guard dog sitting in a field presiding over a horse. I wondered if this level of livestock security was entirely necessary, was chicken rustling big in Galicia? Generally these dogs displayed nothing more than total indifference at my passing but I was curious as to how quickly they might jump to their feet and rip my arm off if I crossed some invisible boundary into their yard/field/veg patch etc….but I didn’t try it.
Passed Melide, which was famous for its ‘pulpo’ (octopus) which featured highly in Gallician cuisine. Every town had at least one ‘pulperia’ in this region, they had become more common than bakeries. I watched at the open window counter as the chef took the large bright purple cooked octopus and snipped up its tentacles onto a plate with a large pair of scissors. I wasn’t tempted. Stopped today at idyllic albergue on the banks on the archetypal babbling brook with little stone arched bridge through which horses splashed. The albergue was made up of converted farm buildings with bright blue stable doors into every building. I had always thought these doors attractive but I knew they were not for me after the first hour of trying to open and close them without smacking the top half into my face or trapping my fingers between the swinging sections. If I ever do build my house with my bare hands I will not be installing stable doors. I sat on the bank of the stream with a hot chocolate in my new cup as the weekend walkers continued on into the next town and the last warmth of the sun was gone.

dodgy showers and shiny kitchens

Barbadelo – Hospital de la Cruz

The mornings are now very noticeably darker, being still pitch black at 8am, though it’s still light quite late into the evening. I think a more productive use could be made of daylight saving time but the clocks are still not due to change for another couple of weeks. Reached the 100km stone marker post this morning which was adorned with flags and messages. From here the marker stones appeared regularly counting down the km’s to Santiago. The morning was bright and sunny but I could see a huge thick cloud filling the low valley below and this was were Portomarin was situated and into which I would have to walk. On lower ground just before the edge of the fog cloud I stopped in another barn where a guy was selling a few trinkets to passers by. He generously made me tea and gave me a hojaldre (a squidgy sticky sweet pastry) and we sat and chatted for a while. As it was Sunday which made it difficult to buy food outside of the bars as nowhere was open he also gave me a pack of chorizo to keep me going. By the time I left the mist cloud had even receded a little and not long after heading into it it began to break up and blue skies shone through again. Given the amount of people now on the path I decided not to stop for picnic but to carry on to Gonzar to bag a bed. I also decided to stay out of the main towns as I hoped this would avoid the crowds and would be where most people would stay. Gonzar however was very busy so I walked on to the next albergue which was excellent, had radiators which I could dry my clothes on when the hospitalera wasn’t looking. The showers were not built for modesty however and was interrupted several times by passers by and a troop of kids popping in to use the loo whilst I was trying to shower. The design of the bathroom also meant that each time the door was opened anyone in the building could see directly into the shower. I concluded that this was the Galician councils little joke – a bit like the state of the art unusable kitchens, of which there was also one here! I had beaten the latter problem though by picking up a stainless steel mug which I could heat up water in or make soup in on the hob….just had to remember to let it cool a little before drinking out of it! Only other people to arrive for the night were a Swiss couple who were walking from Sarria to Santiago and were not at all shy of the shower arrangements.

the last 100km!!

Samos – Barbadelo

It rained all night and was still dark and wet when I was wished farewell by the kind hospitalero. Walked through village called ‘Perros’ which was full of barking dogs! Met up again with Polish Cowboy guy when I stopped for coffee and the Portuguese girl also arrived and we all sat huddled trying to get warm while the owner shuffled in and out of her kitchen bringing us the best toast I have had. The Portuguese girl emptied out her supplies of biscuits, crackers, nutella, chocolate and cheeses onto the table and we all had a great breakfast. Soon after I reached Sarria and rejoined the main route. Sarria lies 114km from Santiago and so is a popular starting point for most pilgrims who just walk the 100km which is required to receive the compostela. As such this town marked a hugely noticeable and rather unwelcome change. Unknown to me this was also a holiday weekend and from nowhere there were suddenly lots of people with shiny new boots and small backpacks or no packs at all making lots of noise. A huge group of teenagers waving flags and playing music set on their way and I was so unbalanced by this change, particularly after the peace of the route to the monastery that I decided to stop early in a small place just past Sarria and let them all go on ahead. It was still early and I saw a few familiar faces as I sat outside. The French singing quarter passed by and the Polish Cowboy guy and then the Jolly Brazilian whom I had seen a few times before. Twenty minutes later he was back having decided that the next albergue was too far and we found a vending machine dispensing cold beers and spent a long time sitting on the hillside as the sun finally came out.

vespas with the monks

Hospital – Samos

Windy again but dry for now this morning. After a while I caught up with Marta and Pedro whose beds were empty by the time I woke up this morning. They had limited time off from work and were walking from Astorga to Santiago in two weeks. Today there was an option to take a scenic route via Samos where one of the oldest Benedictine monasteries in Spain was situated and it also took in pilgrims. This was were I was headed but it was quite a bit further than the direct route to Sarria so they would be taking the other way. I walked with them to the town which was the junction and chatted with Marta about their family and our respective travels. She spoke no English but it seemed to go well. We caught up with Pedro trying to climb a huge tree, took photos and said buen caminos and goodbyes and then took different directions. Ten minutes later I saw them again in the supermarket. Spent the afternoon walking again through very cornwall-esque scenery on the way to Samos. The monastery was a wonderful place to stay, simple but authentic with lots of atmosphere and plenty of monks in robes gliding through the cloisters. The Polish cowboy guy arrived and I was a little sad to hear that he was ready for his walk to be over and just wanted to get to Santiago now. He was also chorizo’ed out as that is pretty much all he had been eating. I had also started to think over the last couple of days that we were now getting close to Santiago but I was in no way ready to stop yet and was thankful of my plan to be continuing on to Finisterre. Having run out of food I decided to go to the bar across the road for a ‘menu peregrino’, the pilgrim menu which was available in most towns but which I hadn’t take yet partly as it was usually served at a time by which I was already in bed and partly due to my tight budget but for 8euros that night I was given an absolute feast. Firstly a giant serving bowl of Caldo Gallego or Gallician Stew was brought out to me which contain about four servings most of which I polished off with the mountain of bread alongside it. Then came roasted chicken with potatoes. This was followed up by cinnamon bread pudding and hot chocolate sauce and the whole meal was accompanied by a full bottle of red wine, from which I only drank two glasses to be polite and to avoid a bad head at 7am in the morning! Arrived ‘home’ at the monastery just in time for vespas which was held in the huge church inside the monastery and sung by the monks. The polish cowboy guy thanked the diminutive monk who was in charge for a wonderful mass, praise which he took very modestly and said “ah, well, it was much better yesterday”.

til the cows come home

Trabadelo – Hospital de la Condesa

The first 10km today passed through a beautiful river gorge which was slightly marred by the motorway built through it which usually ran half way up the hill sides but sometimes towered overhead on giant concrete legs. I was close to the border of Galicia now and the signage and place names were increasingly written in Gallego. In fact where signs were written in Spanish they were usually crossed out and graffitied in Gallego alongside, clearly the people of the region had strong feelings about this. There was a great pride in the identity of this region and an independent feeling from the rest of Spain. It was a little like being back in Cornwall and very soon the countryside also reminded of Cornwall on a daily basis, and the mud and rain was quite similar too. Stopped off in small farm hamlet at water fountain were I ran my arms under the fresh mountain water for an age to ease my itchy bites. Arrived at the historic and picturesque O Cebreiro with its round stone thatched houses and slate buildings. It was a popular spot but a bit touristy for me so I carried on over the hill to find somewhere to stay. A bit further on I passed a huge iron sculpture of a pilgrim in traditional garb on a mountain ridge. The figure was bent and leaning into the wind and holding onto his hat and I realized that this was the exact posture that I had been adopting for the last hour. Clearly the wind here was a common feature. I found a very tidy and smart municipal albergue on the edge of a small hamlet with views over the hills for miles. This place had a spotless new state of the art kitchen but not a single pan, plate or piece of cutlery in the building which was quite frustrating. Roberto the Italian and another Italian girl, Francesca arrived but given the kitchen arrangements decided to find somewhere else such was their eternal need to cook pasta and they wished me ciaos before disappearing back out into the howling wind. Marta and Pedro arrived late and we compared our ‘lanas’ that we were still wearing from Foncebadon. I sat and watched the rain clouds moving over the distant hills from the window ‘til the cows came home, literally, as a farmer and his wife and dog herded them back into the hamlet from the fields.

shaken but not stirred

Ponferrada – Trabadelo

Seemed to get bitten (a lot) during the night and this irritation revealed itself more and more as the day went on. Greeted Hot Spanish Guy this morning and let them go off ahead. Later I saw the familiar rucksack outside a café so decided to continue on to the next one. There were several towns on the route this morning and when I finally stopped for a coffee I was in a place that must have had a dozen bars. It was raining now and I hung my wet waterproof in a corner to dry and ordered my coffee. I stayed there a while sheltering from the rain and getting warmed up and just as I was getting ready to leave who should pop their head through the door???... of all the bars in all the camino…..
When I finally left and said goodbyes again I walked out and felt radiantly happy with the world. I did not see them again. I kept walking today not really knowing where to stop til it got quite late, I had walked a long way and somehow knew I had finally got well ahead of Hot Spanish Guy and the group and could forget about bumping into them all day.
Passed an old woman in the road collecting walnuts and later passed some men stirring a huge tub of walnuts to clean them. I picked three for myself and put them in my pocket along with the three almonds I had picked much earlier. Free food! Some French people in the albergue went out for dinner. They headed across the highway to the petrol station to microwave some shrink wrapped burgers so I threw some pasta in a packet soup and had a quiet evening in.

another english peregrina

Foncebadon – Ponferrada

After a communal breakfast we all headed out around 8am, wishing each other well on our way and waving off the cyclists. This morning we would pass the Cruz de Ferro which marked the highest point on the whole camino and was a shrine to pilgrim’s most personal reasons for walking to Santiago. Traditionally pilgrims would place a symbolic stone here to represent the shedding of the metaphorical weight on their shoulder or a letting go of the past and from this point they would move forward in their lives and be in some sense reborn. The stone pile was by now so high you had to climb it to reach the foot of the cross. There was a feeling of sadness mixed with hope amongst all the discarded trinkets. Some had left perhaps an old mobile phone as a symbol of their desire to break out of the rat race, many had written messages on large stones, there were lots of religious items but saddest of all were the many photos, stories that I would never know, but undoubtedly of loved ones lost and carried in the hearts of those walking, even memorials of lost children. Many pilgrims chose to make this journey after losing someone close to them. I spent some time reading the messages then found a shell and a stone placed by some pilgrims from Devon dated the day after I set off from Lands End so I placed my own stone, carried from Seaton beach on top of this stone and thought it would feel at home there. On the other side of the cross a few odd shoes and other walking paraphernalia had been left so I decided it would be OK to leave my dilapidated boots on this hill. They had brought me from Lands End to Leon and I had carried them for three further days with the idea of placing them at this very spot. After a few more minutes and one last look at my boots I moved on and felt instantly lighter, which was probably due to the shedding of the boots but I considered to be something far more profound.
A short way on I reached Manjarin (population:1). The road signs denoting the start and end of the town had been moved to sit either side of the sole inhabited building which was also adorned with flags and distance markers pointing off to the four corners of the globe and from which was emanating the smell of hot coffee, light classical music and the huddled bodies of a couple of pilgrims who were proving popular with the resident kittens. Tomas, the resident, was allegedly the last Templar Knight and provided accommodation and refreshment here for passing peregrinos. It was more basic than the small church in Foncebadon having no running water and only a long drop toilet way over the road but was yet another oasis in an unforgiving landscape. Tomas himself was quite a character, ringing his wall mounted bell quite often and without warning and signifying nobody knew what.
Took late lunch picnic under another stone bridge at the entrance to Molinaseca and was soon joined by Hot Spanish Guy. They were surprised that I was going on further today and I guessed they may stay in this town and that would be the end of that. However after quite a considerable further distance I arrived at the albergue in Ponferrada and my jaw dropped in astonishment to see one of the group sat in the garden. I really didn’t see how this was possible. Anyway, signed in and went through the usual routine of shower, laundry, food before setting out for a walk around the town. At the end of the road I saw a small huddle of people pointing in all directions and saw it was Hot Spanish Guy and the rest of the group. …oh, how we laughed…..again!!! I pointed them off in the right direction and continued my walk to town, where I bought a new ‘towel’ which measured 40cm by 20cm and was huge by my recent standards, this could probably cover a whole thigh at once. My previous towel had been a small flannel so you see what I mean.
That night I shared a room with the second English person I had met and she regaled me with flamboyant stories of her wayward adventures with a variety of men on her various travels. One time she had hooked up with a dive instructor in Asia but by the time she arrived at their arranged rendezvous point she was late and he had already met another girl so she had got together with a hammock salesman which apparently worked out really well as she was in the market for a new hammock and got a very good deal. In fact, it still hung in her garden today, five years later, such was the good quality. She even had her eye on a couple of peregrinos but didn’t want to pursue it as that was not why she was here and she feared it would ruin the whole dynamic of her camino. This I could relate to and let slip about my mini crush on Hot Spanish Guy and how it might start distracting me. She had divulged all this information quite matter of factly, without modesty and with far more colourful language and I liked her enormously.

The wild dogs of Foncebadon?

Astorga – Foncebadon

The albergue in Astorga provided the best breakfast I have come across on the whole journey so I was pretty gutted when I overslept til 7.30 and realized I had missed it. Made fast progress this morning as I wanted my breakfast, passing all of Hot Spanish guys’ group who were walking separately this morning. Finally allowed myself to stop in Santa Catalina where a local suggested that the “second bar” would be a good place for breakfast. “Not the first. But the second” he reminded me. The countryside was really making lovely walking now, into green hills and despite the chilly morning the day became sunny and glorious. Passed Hot Spanish guy and his crew a couple more times before arriving in Rabanal where I had planned to stop at the British run Confraternity of St James albergue but it was not open for a couple of hours so I decided to get a picnic and continue on to Foncebadon. I left my backpack at the top of the hill hoping it would still be there when I got back and walked back down to a café where I noticed they were selling hot chicken rolls and was quite excited about this. When I entered, of course, Hot Spanish Guys group were there. I passed some time with them while waiting for my roll and when I left I thought I am going to have to try to shake them off as it is becoming a bit of a distraction. Had fantastic picnic perched on a hillside above Rabanal with stunning views and the sun on my face, I could quite happily have dozed off, but the time came to put my boots back on and climb the remainder of the hill up to Foncebadon.

Foncebadon held some considerable fascination to me after the tales I had read of the dangerous wild dogs that occupy the abandoned ghost town shrouded in the hill fog. It has however gained a new lease of life recently and a few people have moved back in. There was smart private lodging near the entrance to the village and a new private albergue. Plus the sun was shining so it did not look at all ominous. There were, however, a motley band of feral dogs hanging around, one of which seemed to be almost leading me through the tumbledown houses most of which were without roofs and in a state of ruin. There was also no road, just a grassy, stony track leading up to the tiny church. This was run as a donativo and was currently in the process of being opened up for the day by a comfortably disorganized German volunteer who was running very late. She was quite in a flap but very friendly and welcoming. A few bunk beds were squeezed into the main body of the church and a separate room served as a communal dining area with kitchen facilities in the narrow corridor. It was basic and would be a cold night at this altitude but it was just perfect. As I put out my washed socks in what remained of the sun, the air was already getting very cold. I thought I must have shaken off Hot Spanish Guy now as I was sure they would not choose to stay here (based on the observations that they had taken a bus and walked on the ‘senda’). Shortly they arrived…ah, how we laughed…
As we started to prepare dinner an Italian couple and two Spanish cyclists arrived and we set the table for 10. The hospitalera made a chickpea ‘chilli’ which sent all the Spanish at the table reaching for the water jug and caused Hot Spanish Guy to start removing layers….steady on! I loved the Italian couple, Marta and Pedro, next to me and as the cyclists kept liberally dispensing the wine the evening descended into fits of giggles at jokes we couldn’t even remember and it was one of the best evenings I have ever had. On a slightly more serious note the hospitalera had some interesting party games planned which included the tying of ‘lanas’ (small strings like friendship bracelets) around the wrists of our fellow pilgrims with a wish for their journey on the camino. In days to come I would look out for these on other walkers to see if they too had stayed in Foncebadon.

Only 2 and a half more kilometres!

Mazarife – Astorga

After tucking into excellent breakfast of tea, coffee, juice, toast, churros and biscuits headed out into dark (very dark), wet and windy morning. As it was 7.45am and decidedly darker than usual my by now highly attuned natural instincts suggested there was a very heavy low cloud overhead which could mean a pretty miserable day of weather ahead. A few hours later after crossing beautiful old medieval bridge which must have been 400m long I decided to treat myself to a hot coffee but the waitress in the bar was so overwhelmed with the aftermath of the hotel breakfast crowds recent departure that it was impossible to get served so I headed on to the next place and was soon at the end of the town with nothing but fields ahead so sat awhile on the pavement against a wall sheltered form the driving wind and rain and ate a Danish pastry. A woman from Oregan joined me and we watched as passing pilgrims reached a fork in the road and made their decisions between taking the easy and direct ‘senda’ or the longer, bendier ‘el campo’ scenic route. Before my joints seized into place on the ground I hauled myself up and set off ‘el campo’, obviously. Despite the increasing howling wind and driving rain this choice was to be highly rewarded when in the middle of a long stretch through fields I came upon a large, slightly dilapidated barn. As I approached, a man, dressed slightly as if he might be backpacking through Thailand, only with the addition of a couple of jumpers, slid open the large metal door and beckoned me inside. Once the door slid shut and the wind and rain were outside I could see a couple of sofas occupied by 3 other peregrinos and a cart laid out with a vast array of drinks and snacks. David, our host lived here in this old barn for about 9 months of the year, dispensing refreshments to passing pilgrims for free or a small donation. Only in the bleak winter months did he leave. He had hung large plastic sheeting around the interior to block out some of the weather as much of the roof was gone, but at the front were we sat he had built a small room with new roof where he slept and put together a semi open air kitchen alongside this. He had a wealth of goodies on offer and I even tried almond milk which was completely new to me and I wondered whether I might find this in Sainsburys. David had no transport, not even a bike and carried all his supplies on foot from Astorga which was still some 8km away. If this included the gas bottles I was suitably impressed! Really had to force myself to leave and head back out into the wind and rain after a hug and a stamp for my credencial. In a small town before Astorga I was tempted to stop, soaked as I was but Roberto the Italian passed me and asked some locals how far to Astorga to which they replied 2 and a half kilometers. He beckoned me on, ‘only 2 and a half kilometers!!’ . It seemed to remain 2 and a half kilometers away for quite some time after that, not least because the yellow arrows seemed to be sending us in every direction apart from towards Astorga. But Roberto continually called out ‘only 2 and a half kilometres’ and we kept going. At a railway line we walked close to 2 and a half kilometers getting over a bridge which zig zagged up a ramp continually back and forth to a great height from where it crossed the railway line and then slowly zig zagged back down. It must have taken five good minutes to get to a point 5m from where we had started. Despite the fact we were incredibly soggy pilgrims it was still comedy…..just 2 and a half kilometers to go now. Just as it looked like we might finally be heading directly into Astorga the route veered sharply left and directed us on a tour of the outside of the city walls before finally entering the city at the furthest point away imaginable. Roberto had given up by this point and stomped off into the first albergue he saw. I decided, in for a penny so to speak, I might as well get across town and stay on the other side since I wasn’t going to be getting any wetter. As I finally got through the door dripping all over the flagstones who should be standing there but Hot Spanish Guy! Would you credit it?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Day 15 Spain León – Villar de Mazarife
Met Spanish lady with dodgy toes at breakfast who is now walking with her father whom she met up with in León. Exchanged a few words with Hot Spanish guy at breakfast table and resisted the urge to throw bits of baguette across the table at him for taking the bus. Very dark morning and very dark narrow, slightly seedy, slightly scary streets through the city. First time i´d not felt completely at ease and beyond threat. Serves us all right for getting up so bloody early!!! Lucky i had my amazingly acurate map (not) otherwise i doubt i would have found the right way out and may still be wandering around León, though it was a very nice city so i wouldn´t mind too much. If i didn´t know better i would say there was a bit of cheeky camino flirting going on this morning this morning as i passed Hot Spanish guy at first light but he soon caught back up with me, pretending to jog to keep up and then walking just in front of me leaving his group at the bottom of the hill. Anyway, i lost them at the Café Bombón place and that was that. The landscape had vastly improved since the meseta and much of what i walked through this morning reminded me of the African plains. In fact if you could find an area with no electricity wires running through it was possible to stare across the savannah like countryside and imagine that you might at any moment see giraffes on the ridge or black rhinos hiding amongst the clumps of trees…….(possibly i was potassium depleted but at a later time when i met Tall Danish guy again he said exactly the same thing.) Found great albergue with sunloungers in the garden…this was the ultimate height of luxury. Wandered around the village and bumped into Aussie girl who, over the course of a couple of café con leches told me she had discovered she was pregnant and i instantly forgave her for the taxi incident. Her whole camino would now, of course, have a new focus and it was becoming a very spiritual experience for her. I found I liked her much more than when we had first met.

Walking too far in a day....again

Spain day 14 Calzadillos – León
After morning stretch of super straight 17km before any hint of life….roman roads for you i caught up with the less scenic ´senda´ that i had deviated away from yesterday. Had bit of trouble with direction and new water channel this morning but i went with my instincts leaving two french guys walking off the other way and trying to tell me i was going the wrong way….later they caught up with me having realised the error of their way and retraced. This happens a few times but i always trust the map(foolhardy really)/ the arrows/ my instincts/ the sun?? and it always works to the good (so far). Down the hill to Mansillas de las Mulas i saw Tall Danish guy striding across the ridge shouting something along the lines of ´No, it´s this way´. But i was happy in my choice. That was the last time i saw him for a very long time.
Caught up with Hot Spanish guy again and was most disapointed that he was waiting by a bus stop with his small group. I had intended to stop in this town but it was not very nice, just a main road really so thought i would carry on til the next albergue but after seeing this was more determined to break my knees by walking on the whole way to León just to prove that it could be done without resorting to jumping on the bus. So, telling myself that i should stop as it had been quite a long day and i was tired, of course that was not what i did but strode on past the last albergue before León leaving myself no option but to walk on into the city – pig headed comes to mind. Boots now really giving up on me, full of red dust which had become a layer of red mud coating my sweaty socks…not ideal. Arriving in León i was overjoyed to see the French couple standing on a corner fiddling with a street map. After much salutation and shoulder patting i gleaned in my slightly improving french (since i met them at least) that there was indeed room at the inn….well, the convent. Signing in the hospitalero asked were i had set off from and tried to suggest i was slightly ´tonto´(a fool) for walking so far. I had to agree.
Went in search of new boots and despite very helpful woman disapearing off down the street for 10 minutes before returning laden with shoe boxes….the cheapest everyone had in my size, the price was still not encouraging. Later i did manage to find 30euro pair which i prayed would stay the distance. Wandering around the convent grounds (which had the required presence of nuns for authenticity) trying to break in my new boots in the space of 30minutes i saw a prone figure on the ground in the dusk doing some kind of execises…lo and behold it was CrazyFrench whom i hadn´t seen for a while. He once again offered me supplies from his camino larder, should i be in need of bread, cheese, salami all i had to do was say the word.
Getting into bed, i noticed Hot Spanish guy´s friend in the laundry room and then realised that the dorms were seperate for men and women. It seems strangely inconsistent that in some places it is wholly inappropriate for men and women to share the same dormitory and yet in others bunks are pushed together so you are, in effect, as good as sharing a double bed with a complete stranger who may be male/ female/ young/ old/fidgety etc, and in still others it is deemed perfectly acceptable for men and women to be sharing the same showers which, depending on the bathroom architect, can be quite a challenge for your modesty. Still, we are all pilgrims together and to be honest, generally you are so tired none of it is of any consequence…..except perhaps the fidgeter.

Taxis and Buses???????

Spain day 13 Tempranillos – Calzadillos de Hermanillos
Did i mention meeting hot spanish guy a couple of nights ago? He came to my bedside and whispered away to me, barely half of which i understood but that really was irrelevant. He was impressed by my speed and of course i tried to explain how i was now paying for my frivolous folly and he promised to lassoe me if i tried to walk too fast the next day…..i should be so lucky.
Saw other familiar faces today, Aussie girl and Liz the vet who was walking with very tall danish guy. Passed and repassed each other as the meseta spread on. Stopping off to purchase usual fare of lunchtime cheese and bread i saw Aussie girl jumping into a taxi….´hello´what´s going on here? She was not feeling well but there were places to stay where we were and my confusion was increased further as a little further on a handful of people were loitering by a bus stop, including the only english person i had met so far….well, i wouldn´t be speaking to him again!! I was very disapointed. Reached the donativo albergue in Calzadillos and was greeted by a very enthuisiastic Francisco. Lovely , quiet small village with a small park and two ponds brimming with frogs…as i walked around them (because this is what i do….go for a walk, not like i get enough walking all day!!) hundreds of frogs leapt out of my way and into the water. After a slow day on the meseta this qualifies as quality entertainment. After sharing more cheese and bread with Liz the Vet , Tall Danish guy and Italian Roberto we went out for ice creams…this is indeed the life.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The end of the French water bottle

Spain day 12 . Carrion - Terradillos de Templarios 27km

Started today as yesterday, late and slow. More of the meseta and today following a roman road so was a bit doubly lacking in interest. Straight straight track through fields and fields. Lack of accomodation and lack of beds meant i was very lucky today to get one of the last spots in a private albergue. A few late peregrinos were turned away and i did not envy their options. Met lovely spanish lady who was having some issues with her feet which were quite swollen and mishapen form her ill fitting boots but she was in good spirits as once again the french quartet arrived and sang. Lost my water bottle in the flurry for bed space and spent a good hour searching the entire albergue, includung the bins, for it. It was unnecessary to be so attached to an easily replaceable plastic bottle but it had been with me since france and i felt a little sad that it would go no further. You needed very little on the camino but what you had was everything and so it became a part of you. The pack, hat, stick and water bottle were companions on the way and other pilgrims shared jokingly with me how devastated they would be if they lost their walking stick for example, and i was surprised and pleased that they even empathised with my loss of a plastic bottle! (i think you had to be there to appreciate it)

A road less travelled

Spain Day 11 Boadilla - Carrion de los Condes 26km

Happy to find i could stand and indeed put one foot in front of the other this morning. However, took heed of the warning and decided to take very slow day. Had morning coffee dispensed by lively man with huge hot kettle of coffee in one hand and huge hot kettle of milk in the other which he deftly poured at the same time into large glasses. Left the albergue last so as not to be encouraged to speed up by the sight of another pilgrim ahead and practically crawled along at snails pace. This was actually a really nice change, followed a canal for quite a while with the morning mist sitting on the water in the early light and had very peaceful amble. Spent several minutes with a camel who was part of a circus on the edge of another town which was quite unexpected. Took route along river which was certainly the path less troden and met ´Pepe´, a friend of the camino, or so the talisman around his neck stated. He sat by his car on a quiet road giving sweets, chocolate and a credencial stamp to any passing peregrinos while his friend tended his vegetable patch. He declared us friends forever and wished me well on my way. Picnicked under bridge soaking my feet and iffy tendons in the icy water...what a great day. Reached my destination late but without any leg problems just as the Polish family were boiling up the pasta and tomato sauce.....ahhhh

Pilgrim luxury

Day 10 Hontanas - Boadilla del Camino 28km

Very early morning setting out in the dark and guided only by the stars since i don´t have a head torch and my wind up penguin torch is of course in the bottom of my backpack where it will undoubtedly remain til christmas. Spent half an hour trying not to trip over til the first light meant i could just about see where i was going, again....daylight saving time??? Still unsure of how to solve the problem of my rapidly dilapidating boots the camino provided a solution, or temporarily at least. Having had a vision of gaffa tape being the answer to my problem i chanced upon a small shop just opening which looked like it might just about sell everything you could possibly ever imagine needing and a lot of other stuff too. I spent a few moments trying to tell the elderly shop owner what it was i was looking for by means of random related words and descriptive gesticulations and he seemed to get it for just a few minutes after shuffling off into the back of his store he shuffled back from the sets of high shelves with none other than a roll of gaffa tape in his hands, not only that but it was affordable too. I taped up my boots in fine style, for sure they would get me to Leon now. Picnic pickings were meek today, a crisp sandwich and some hedgerow brambles before once again into the desert.Passed through a real oasis at lunchtime, again in a dip in the landscape, a small village surrounded by trees and clinging to the banks of a tiny river, before pushing on the last 9km to Boadilla. To pass the time i listened to music and perhaps chose a beat slightly too uptempo as i was flying along for little over an hour on my ´disco camino´ before arriving in Boadilla. This proved to be most foolhardy as i had developed over the morning a new pain on the front of my lower shin....a sure indication of potential tendonitus and skipping along at 7km an hour with 10kilos on my back was the exact opposite of how i should have behaved based on this discovery. Sure enough by 7pm that evening i could barely walk anywhere. At least i was in the best place possible. Boadilla had a fabled albergue that was true luxury for 4 euros. As i sat with other peregrinos in the beautiful garden with my feet cooling in the pool and an ice pack on my leg, a quartet of french pilgrims sang and entertained us as the sun shone and cold beers were passed around...this was a good day to be a pilgrim. As for my leg, there was nothing to do but wait and see.

Morning by starlight and bedtime in the sun

Spain Day 9 Burgos - Hontanas 31km

Slept well and managed to produce something of a breakfast from my leftover bread and pate and the subsidized vending machine. Set of before 8 into darkness and heavy clouds and made easy progress out of Burgos. I really needed to do something about the boot situation but again it was a sunday so i figured they could get me to Leon?!? Stopped in small village to find some picnic food and shop proprietor gave me a small Saint Apostal pendant as a well wishing token. Onto the meseta now which meant days of flattish straight tracks through nondescript fields and fields and fields of stubble.....a mental challenge rather than physical. This dull and featureless land was much like a desert with gently rolling dunes of bleached shades of yellow swallowing up everything within it. Saw signs to the small village of Hontanas, hopefully where i would find a bed for the night, indicating it was a mere 2km away, yet i could see no view of anything all the way to the horizon, just this ´desert´. Where was this town? Soon it was 1km, then 500m and yet still there was nothing but fields. Then, i almost quite literally fell into it. Situated in what could easily be described as a hole in the ground was the beautiful ancient settlement of Hontanas. Spent a leisurely afternoon watching the children playing in the street and the old men continually moving the street bench into the sun as it shone between the buildings. The speedy French guy, Josef, was also here as was the Polish family who invited me to join them for the popular pilgrims dinner creation of pasta with tomato sauce.Bit concerned about strange twinging in the back of my left knee, anything that is not a blister or muscle pain is always more of a worry as plenty of people have scary stories of the dreaded tendonitus which, it seems, can put you on the first train/plane/boat home. Went to bed whilst the sun was still shining, i´m sure some use could be made of daylight saving time here!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

How far?

Spain Day 8 : Tosantos - Burgos 48km (*¿^! - much expletives)

After another communal breakfast which thankfully didn´t include any type of food that Italy was famed for I headed out just after 8am. Passing through many quiet villages arrived at San Juan de Ortego at lunchtime which had a very well thought of monastery and be fair they were very pretty. Saw the French couple again as they were diagonally heading across the field behind me and an Italian couple whom i had thought were with them but they walked around and i saw them in a new light. Walked at a fair rate of knots through 12km of oak and pine woodland tracks where for the first time i started ´wolf watch´.....pretty slim chance but a pilgrim can hope.Did see quite a few deer on the hillside in the morning mists so wolves might not be an impossibility. Again i arrived too early to want to stop in a very lovely village on route but decided i´d just ´pop over´to the other side of the big hill and stay somewhere there. Things went from summerry balm to scottish highland bleak in a short space of time and i was soon battling the wind and rain over said blessed hill. I found one of El Boracho´s friends battling with his waterproofs on the horizontal rain engulfed summit and helped him pull his poncho over himself and his backpack which then blew out sideways giving me a feisty slap in the face. He intended to reach Burgos and i wished him well as there was no way i intended to go that far, nope didn´t want to, was no way.

So, as i found myself with no other choice but to be walking on to Burgos i was substantially miffed. The place i had intended to stop didn´t exist so there was nothing for it.....13 more km and boy were they drudgy kilometres at that. Walked around airport boundary for an age then followed long busy roads through industrial outskirts that outskirted for miles. Reaching the long slog into the city centre proper the guiding yellow arrows decided to have a bit of fun directing me down dead end streets and then disappearing completely...a bit like an early version of sat nav. Was suitably in a proper mood with myself by the time i arrived at last at the ultra modern, organised and swish city albergue opposite the cathedral which charged 4euros for the night. A lipsticked cyclist i had seen a few times today patted me on the shoulder and then the equally drained friend of El Boracho crashed through the door, his poncho twisted around his neck. Oh, how we laughed.

Hospitality versus Vinyl mat

Friday? Santo Domingo - Tosantos 28km

Today was one time when i had a goal for the day. In other words the ´Cuatro Cantones´ alburgue in Belorado as i had read that it was a true oasis of lushness. Made easy progress in the morning passing the usual familiar faces and the french couple who were cutting across the corner of a field and i arrived at 12noon. I sat outside the wondrous place of rest but felt uncomfortable.....this was no time to stop, there was a whole afternoon ahead and how special could it be? Generally a decent matress and workable shower constituted a pretty lush albergue by camino standards. So i got up (which wasn´t the easiest maneuover from pavement level) and ´saddled up´and walked away, leaving some slightly confused pilgrims at the door.Stopped instead at very small parochial in hamlet in the usual ´middle of nowhere in particular´. While waiting for the hospitalero who´d gone out for lettuce i popped in the bar over the road (as of course these middle of nowhere in particular places could never be without the obligatory bar) and had myself both a coffee and a glass of red wine AND change from 2 euros.
The albergue was of the mat on the floor variety which was slightly less than impressive but i thought perhaps i had harshly judged the experience in Logroño and maybe it had been the noise that had kept me awake not the cold hard floor and sweaty skin stuck to vinyl side of the matter, so would give it the benefit of the doubt. Not as if there were any other options open to me anyway within the next 12km.Six people stayed here this night and we prepared food together under the watchful instruction of the hospitalero who often came under criticism by an italian man who clearly felt that, as an Italian, no one....and i mean absolutely no one, could tell him how to cook pasta and was getting decidedly ´cheffy´about it all. We left him to it which worked best, and the rest of us prepared salad and poured out the wine which seemed the better end of the deal anyway. It was a wonderful evening though ran so late (9pm) that some of us were falling asleep at the table and didn´t make mass..oops.
Yes, and slept badly again...cold hard floor and having to peel sticky limbs off vinyl definitely the culprit. I was going to have to avoid mats in the future, which was a dilemma as these albergues had been the most generous places to stay.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Cockerels in a golden cage

Spain day 6 : Ventoso - santo Domingo. 31km

Strange night...nodded off at 9.30 ish, slept for hours then woke up and went to bathroom, slept for some more hours then woke again and tried to see what time it was. My mp3 machine suggested it was 7am but this had to be wrong as everyone was still and not yet rustling sleeping bags into rucksacks. Thinking it might be the time difference i decided it might be 6am, but still this seemed a little late. Switched on my mobile phone which read i was really confused and lay awake til 1am in disbelief. Eventually went back to sleep. having bought individual eggs yesterday i was able to have substantial poached egg breakfast. The older french couple (who cut corners across fields) wished me well and i set of again with Antya from Berlin. We missed a yellow arrow early on though and were left stood on the edge of the village unsure where to go next. i decided to retrace and pick up the arrows as we seemed to be turning in the wrong direction but she wanted to continue on as she thought ´maybe, it is this way´. Not entirely comfortable with a ´maybe´ that might involve walking several unnecessary kilometres extra i turned back and soon found the arrows we had missed which did indeed point in the opposite direction. I perhaps should have tried to catch her but it would have taken a long time and i was sure she would realise and retrace the way soon enough. i never saw her again.
Took picnic stop in the shade of a church belltower atop of which sat the most collosal birds nests i have ever seen. They surely belonged to a kind of prehistoric creature or else it was some kind of economical house share system in the bird world.
As i picnicked El boracho and the Mexican passed waving and calling salutations and then stopping up the street by an old woman who was chargrilling peppers on the pavement outside her home. later i walked with Lugomir (whom i renamed Boromir, for sake of ease, as in Lord of the Rings), from Bulgaria who had been living in Asturias in northern spain and sold me on its charms even further than my already keen interest. He told me a very sad tale of the events that had led him up to walking the camino and was very candid.
we arrived in a small place called cirueña where i had expected a rustic albergue and little else but a few trees. Instead there was a brand new housing estate with parks and play areas and community outdoor swimming pool, just no people...not a soul. The shutters were closed and ´For sale´signs hung around. Most pueblos seemed deserted when walking through but they were usually old villages and it seemed fitting enough but this was just disturbing. We walked on through quickening our pace as it felt a little as if a 3 minute warning siren had gone off and everyone had disappeared down their fallout bunkers and we had somehow missed it. Downhill to Santo Domingo where after some odd ´miracle´occurred years ago involving some chickens in the church tower they now keep a pair of chickens, hen and cockerel, in a gold cage in the belltower and the town is famous for it. Everyone comes to see them, indeed that evening at least 20% of spain were there. Cockerel souvenirs abounded and you could even buy cakes in the shape of roosters. Still it made a change from the usual preoccupation with the Camino. Though i did find a Peregrino Pastry in the bakery alongside the sugar hens.

A rest day

Logrono to Ventoso 17km.

So, after the exhertions of yesterday decided today was to be a day therefore i walked 11 miles....well, almost a day off. After the brothers forced endless amounts of hot chocolate and biscuits into us i set off with a girl from berlin and walked with her all day. She had quite a good pace but liked to stop very frequently for a variety of reasons and only walked half a day. For today this was fine by me. Bizarrly she had lived for a while in Guatemala so we talked at length about the situation there. Leaving logrono a long bearded ex pilgrim kept a table in the park where he dispensed free shots of moscatel and gave everyone passing an apple along with their credencial stamp - again he just did it for the love! Arrived at a windy ´Ventoso´at 1pm and that was it for the day, i kicked off my dillapadated boots and got an early start on the usual routine of shower, laundry, food. A young italian couple were working their way through the vending machines supply of Mahou beer cans and building a pyramid from the empties, i suggested they build a sculpture of the cathedral of Santiago and they took this idea on with gusto. I did not see them the next day. Later ´El Boracho and the Mexican´arrived with a few other guys from the fiesta at the wine font the other day. They were in good spirits and probably got stuck in to the beer can santiago cathedral sculpture too.

A mat on the floor

Spain Day 3 Montjardin to logrono. 41km!!!

After a free breakfast provided by the kind sisters who were up at 5am chopping baguettes I set out in the still dark, stars in the sky of 7.15am, though was still the last to leave. Lots more walking through vineyards which was cruelly tempting. I passed a couple of speedy french guys a few times and on the third passing they had succumbed to the tempting bounty of grapes and shared their booty with me, though did try to leave me with the evidence. Ran out of water rations today in the relentless heat and arriving at the public font of Lorca was like reaching a welcoming oasis where quite a crowd of pilgrims had amassed, one stood with his feet under the taps, but i drank from it anyway. For some unfathomable reason i decided to walk a seriously long way today though the building black clouds behind me did keep my pace up a bit, they never reached me with a downpour however and i was left to slog on into Logrono in the sweltering afternoon sun, always just one more hill. An old lady on the side of a road gave me a stamp for my credencial and a fig and a smile to keep me going before shouting and shaking her fists at some cyclists for speeding dangerously down the hill, this she did on a daily basis just for kicks. Finally arriving in Logrono i entered the gates of the albergue and thought i had reached heaven itself as pilgrims sat around with a cold beer on the lush lawn and others cooled their feet in the sunken had been worth all the struggle.......not so, however, as the hospitalero came out shaking her hands saying ´completo completo´....full! So i miserably plodded on to the parochial at the monastery where after struggling with some secret benedictine password at the door i was allowed admission and shown to my mat on the floor.....ah, the harsh cruelty. It turned out to be a wonderful evening though as the not at all pious brothers in charge were extremely jolly and made a huge free dinner for everyone and would never allow you to refuse just one more meatball. A grand fiesta was wildly playing out on the city streets but after the camino the crowds and noise were just a bit overwhelming. Spent the remainder of the evening chatting with the bandy legged french Georges who also covered the same distance today and shook my hand for it. He spoke french and italian and i spoke english and spanish which made it a completely unintelligible conversation but i enjoyed it nonetheless. With the combination of the late night revellers outside and my mat on the floor inside not too much sleep occurred this night despite the copious amounts of the communion wine that the brothers had been splashing about during dinner.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

El Boracho and the Mexican

Spain Day 3 . Puente de la Reina - Villamajor de Montjardin

km- 32

Left as the sun rose over the old stone ´queens bridge´. Soon got hot though and by 10am was stood by a fountain in a small village called Lorca with my arms up to the elbows in chilled spring water and my face under the tap....only got a few strange looks but i think on the whole this is acceptable ´pilgrim´ (peregrino) behavior.Stocked up on picnic items which generally involves baguette of bread, some style of cheese or ham or cheese with ham or just cheese and went in search of the perfect picnic spot. This came in the shape of the fuente del vino which is , believe it or not, a fountain where red wine flows from the tap on the left and water from the tap on the right. The tap on the right looked fairly unused. This wine has been supplied free from the attached bodega for many years to fortify the weary peregrino. Of course these days with the advent of takeaway plastic bottles the generosity can get a bit abused. But it is a foolhardy peregrino who throws away his water to exchange for wine on this hot and dusty road. Indeed there were plenty such types about. I decided to have my picnic here and enjoy the comings and goings and drinkings. After awhile a couple of Spanish guys arrived, the hairy one i couldn´t understand and his very hospitable friend. They had a drink and a chat then continued on. However 5 minutes later they returned and decided this was as good a place as any to hang out for a while in the shade. Soon some more spanish guys arrived whom they may or may not have known but in any case they all decided to phone home and get wives and family to log onto the internet webcam that was just above us. Something of a wine fiesta followed, all of which was captured live by families across Spain and the jovial spanish guy decided he was going to ditch his pals and continue on with me. I, however decided to hit the Camino again before the chance of getting to the next village was completely lost forever in a Rioja haze. One last hill through the vineyards and i came upon the church in the small village of Montjardin. This was a very welcoming place run by donations and a couple of wacky sisters, with a circle of matresses on a raised plinth and washing lines hung between the church belltower and the nave. Later the spanish guy arrived accompanying an also slightly drunk guy from mexico, sadly they continued on as they were a little too raucous for the sisters to cope with but they have since become fondly known to me as ´Él Boracho and the Mexican´ and will always bring a smile to my day. The night was spent with a light hearted young guy from Austria and Veronica, from Poland with her parents who spoke no Spanish or English but were lovely to converse with in improvised sign language. One of the sisters gave us all a blessing in the church where i completely fluffed the Lords Prayer when she put me on the spot - i haven´t said it since school! Still, it could have been worse, at first she wanted me to recite it in Spanish! We spent the evening chatting in various languages and sharing food and polish tea by candlelight......very authentic pilgrim stuff indeed.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Stroopenwafel stop

Day2 Spain Arre - Puente La Reina 32km

Had long lie in and slow leisurely breakfast and restful getting together of kit in the garden, by the time i finally left it was almost 8.30!!!!! Lovely morning walking through cool deserted streets into and through the historic centre of Pamplona without any stampeding bulls to dodge, turns out this only happens once a year.
Picked up a couple of loaves at the Panaderia and tied them to my backpack, then got my credencial stamp at the university by reaching up to hand it to a man leaning out of a window who disapeared for a few minutes then dropped it back down to me, this is how it is done. Discovered ´stroopenwafel´ , something i never would have anticipated happening today, at a rest stop set up by a dutch couple in a van at the top of a hill, their drinks and snacks were plentiful for a small donation. Big hill today called Alto del Perdon at the top of which is a windswept looking sculpture of pilgrims on the camino. Fortunately the sun was shining and this was not harsh windswept spot for today at least so i plonked myself down under a giant wind turbine and had my lunch loaves. Very steep going on way down this afternoon and the thermometer was pushing was not supposed to be this hot!! Passed a japanese woman who was slightly jogging to keep up with her headstrong daughter who marched on ahead. I thought it was going to be a little harsh on the mother to get all the way to santiago in this manner but the daughter was also carrying a full size 780page Spanish guidebook and i had to admire her for´s got to be well over a kilo!
The alburgue this evening was in a lovely peaceful spot above the bridge at Puente La Reina....had i known it would be 500 metres up a steep hill at the end of the day and none of those metres were on the official camino i might have slept on the bridge.....but the strength in their power showers rendered them forgiven for the location.

Crossing Over

Day1 Spain...Roncesvalles to Arre de Trinidad 40km

So, after such exertions yesterday climbing the Pyrenees and all, word on the camino was to take it easy today and not overdo things so early on. This i translated into thinking a 40km day was quite a reasonable undertaking. Still no monks when the lights went on at 6......kindly they had them on a dimmer switch system so you had about 10minutes before the full 150watt solar blast hit you.Even being the last to leave at 7.30am it was still dark and i was not so enthralled with this keeness to leave while the stars were still out. Apart from anything else it was nigh on impossible to find the bloody way and semi asleep pilgrims were walking round in circles in all directions. Saw small french lady, Francoise, this morning in a small town called Burguete. Given my random sightings of her in places she should not be i was beginning to think she kept hopping on the bus, which of course is highly frowned upon in pilgrim circles. Pushing on i passed two german girls who were making about 4 miles a day with plentiful ice cream stops, they were very sweet but i doubted i would see them again. Arriving in Arre, a few miles from Pamplona i was welcomed into another monastery building with chapel inside and beds upstairs. Brother Jacob signed me in, stamped my credencial and showed me around with unfaltering enthusiasm for pilgrims and the camino. I was so pleased to have gone the distance today as this was such a gem of a place to spend the night. Drank tea endlessly for the remainder of the day.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

BreakyourBack Mountain

Day 3 France
SJPP to Roncesvalles.....AKA The Big One

kilometrage : 27.4 stan balls : big 0, sorry stan, nothing in these hills but sheeps to chase.

Ok, todays the day. On Camino de Santiago proper i have to get over these Pyrenees hills things. The climb of 4000feet uphill looks quite severe on the makeshift map i picked up in SJPP, i´ve never seen a 85degree incline or 9 in 10 hill or 88% gradient on any map.....surely this is a printing error, it just cannot be this steep. To add to the trepidation it is dark, wet, foggy and cold this morning but feeling in fine fettle (as they say) i schlep off.......right after my 2euro pilgrim breakfast!! Turns out the map was erring on the slightly melodramatic side and it really was not that steep at all or then again it is impossible to tell when you can only see 20metres ahead. The way was very clear and well marked though and i worried not about my lack of navigation equipment. i.e. a decent map. I could only imagine how incredibly breathtaking the views from here must be, i literally could only imagine, as i said the ´vis´was down to 25metres or so. My fears of losing my way in this weather were unfounded and i was glad i chose the ´high pass´route despite the lack of available scenery. The advice had been that in very bad weather or in bad weather not to take this route but march along the main road thru the valley with the hertz car rental crowd. I suspected it could not be really classed as ´very bad weather´ as there was no snow or biting winds but it may have fallen under ´bad weather´. The only other life around aside from 2 irish ladies on a weeks walking holiday consisted mostly of cow bell clad sheep and a couple of horses which i thought looked rather cold. One very strange creature did run past which i believe was a dog but it seemed pretty inbred as it had a pigs snout for a nose.....didn´t try to bite me though so i´m not one to judge.

At the top of the pass a very hardy man was living in a van for 3 months in order to dispense hot tea to weary walkers. What a welcome sight - he shone through the mists like an angel of refuge and i enjoyed a few wonderful minutes sheltering with him under his tarpaulin and sipping hot fragrant tea until it really started to throw it down and the pigdog came back so the magic was broken.

I arrived in Roncesvalles quite early, basically down to the fact i had no desire at any point to stop walking and do anything else since it was so wet, i even skipped lunch so my squashed and wet demi baguette and emergency kit kat will do nicely for a delicious supper before i bed down in the monastery refugio with a bunch of smelly boots and snoring pilgrims. Disappointed i haven´t seen any suitably robed monks yet, though they hold a mass at 8pm so might get into their work uniform for that i guess.

Friday, 17 September 2010


day something or 2 in france

So, the hills are starting to get bigger now as i get to the foothills of the Pyrenees, around each new corner i am greeted by a mixture of 'wow' along with slightly ominous foreboding of what lay ahead. These mountains are all well and good whilst skirting around them but soon, very soon, i am going to have to go over !!! Reached St Jean Pied de Port, (SJPP) such a gorgeous little place and it is a good thing i cannot carry another gram as this gorgeous little place is filled with gorgeous little shops brimming with gorgeous little things to buy and i fear a shopping frenzy might have otherwise occurred. I have now seen clues of other pilgrim types around......the squeak of new walking boots coming around a corner and shiny fresh 'jack wolfskin' cargo trousers abound here in SJPP. This influx of ´pilgrims´ however has given rise to the ´menu peligrin´ , a special 3 course bargain evening chow down for pilgrims only, just show your blistered feet as proof and out comes all the flan you can eat.happy days..

Thursday, 16 September 2010


La France

I decided that what was going to happen on this venture was that my body was going to completely break down and fall apart and then decide 'Ok then, this is what we are doing' and put itself back together to emerge stronger and fitter on the other side.....well, the first part was true.

To be fair after a day and a half rest i feel almost back to normal and everything that stung and blistered and scratched and fell off is beginning to heal up nicely. I am not naive enough to believe that it won't happen again yet, but it will be a joy to walk on happy healthy feet again for as long as it lasts.

As my feet hit France it was a glorious day and just a little on the hot side for anything much more strenuous than sitting in a park, on the beach or in a cafe. But walk i must and following the (long) length of a very pretty small river i, along with the river, meandered south and upwards towards Saint Jean Pied de Port.This was fantastic countryside. My dodgy grasp of french is getting me by, the locals being exceptionally patient and helpful and generally 'unfrench' by stereotype. Just one more day before the Pyrenees!!!

Light at the End of the first tunnel

Looe to Plymouth

mileage : 16 grammage : -22 (more maps gone) balls4stan : 0 sore bits : bloody feet (not quite literally)

A clear sky and sunshine streaming through my breakfast window spelt a hot sweaty day on the path. My landlady this morning was considerably chipper and quite sober which was a nice surprise as i had quite suspected her to be nowhere to be found this morning so her alert presence meant that i would both be getting breakfast and not having to climb out of a window to get out of the building, a very welcome start. After a quick compeed stop at Boots i was climbing out of Looe and back onto the coastal path. Having told my brain that today was a steady 16 miles and therefore an easy breeze into Plymouth this information was of course relayed to my body which then did not take too kindly to the constant up and down vigours of the coast path. If a challenge was set to create a route that could continously climb from sea level to the highest point in the vicinity and then straight back down again whilst also making sure you walked three sides of a square to get from any one place to another then the coast path had it down. But, of course, it is a beautiful walk and the scenery just stunning. My weary legs perked up considerably when the first glimpses of Plymouth came into view and as this leg of my foot journey came to an end as i passed through Mount Edgecombe Park and hopped onto the Cremyl ferry i still couldn`t quite believe i had walked the length of Cornwall. As i had looked back at the furthest speck of headland in the distance, which may or may not have been lizard point it seemed impossible to have walked so far. My feet on the other hand found it quite easy to believe.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

the Matt Damon strut

Day 4 St Austell to Looe (East looe, West looe then back again)

mileage : 20 ish grammage : - 65 (discarded maps and eaten banana chips) stan the dog balls : 1 sore bits : still the heel!!

I noticed today my strange walking gait. I seem to start the day in a manner not unlike Kevin Spacey at the end of the film Usual Suspects where he walks out dragging his leg then moving into a limping mode before walking normally to jump in a car. For me the transgression from dragging my blistered foot not being able to put my heel down to walking in a similar fashion to a normal human being takes a bit longer...roughly about an hour and there is no car to hop into at the end. Later in the day i seem to adopt more of a Matt Damon style of walking, a slightly hunched stacatto strut....looks odd but makes for good progress. A day of ups and downs, my second water crossing at Fowey and pretty little settlements nestled between steep hills and inlets. Fowey and Polperro and , it would transpire, Looe all very busy with september tourists. Tonight i had no bed arranged and as i walked into Looe i began to ring the numbers on the numerous B&B boards swinging along the roadside. No room at the Inn it would seem.....or if there was room it was of course a double with a hefty single supplement. Beginning to think i might be trying out my sleeping bag in the bus shelter or taking up the kind offer of a holidaymaker to bed down in their caravan awning i saw one last place that was flying the Vacancies part of their Vacancies/No vacancies sign. With no phone number and about 450 steps to climb up to the place i nearly opted for the caravan awning but instead went for it and a slighty drunken landlady possibly running a house of dubious repute did offer me a cut price room with breakfast included for no more than the price of a fish and chip supper for two and if you slammed the bedroom door really hard the broken lock did finally close.

I had some chips and a kindly loaned from the fish shop mug of tea down by the water as the fairy lights of Looe illuminated the darkening river and thought 'life is good'

Megavissey 4 : St Austell 7

Day 3 Truro/Devoran - St Austell

mileage: 22 grammage : +52 (new socks) balls for stan the dog : 0 - sorry stan, i did find a big blue football is that's any use to you. sore bits : left heel, right hip.

Found new socks this morning on the fringes of Truro, '1000 mile socks, guaranteed no blisters'...hmmmmm, a pretty tall claim i'm thinking. First water crossing today, the scenery had totally changed again, from the windswept heather moorland of lands end to the high ground and rolling hills of day 2 to some very green and lush tree covered landscapes and misty mossy glens much reminiscent of scotland. At Malpas i was informed a kind man would row me across the river for a meagre fare and if he wasn't there i should ring the bell so he would hear me from his quiet fishing spot on the other side and promptly row over a pick me up...this was very close to the truth and although the gentleman in question had upgraded to a small outboard on his small rowing boat this was still possibly the smallest passenger ferry in the world, at a push he could have probably only really managed 3 passengers and even less if they had luggage. Still he happily took me over the river for indeed a meagre fare and warned me i had a big hill to climb as i waved him off from the mossy river bank. It was a big hill with slightly less than wizkid sheeps occupying it. In their efforts to get out of my way sheep from a good distance away would actually run closer to me since it was apparent to them and them alone that they must all run in the same direction regardless of whether in fact that brought them closer to potential danger or not, It was ludicrous, they were behaving like sheep but i guess that was in their nature, being sheep an' all!
During the afternoon i became increasing despondent by the fact that despite walking in the direction of St austell for continuing minutes and hours it never actually got any closer. I passed a sign proclaiming Megavissey to be 4 miles away and St Austell 7 miles, yet despite walking on for easily 2 miles the next sign read the same, then after more long minutes and at least yet another mile the next sign still read the same.....i think i swore at it. Was i walking in circles? constantly on a perpendicular? or in some weird cornish bermuda triangle.
Incredibly stayed dry again all day....i have been blessed....despite heavy grey skies all day and monstrous black clouds building all around me as i approached St Austell in the late afternoon not a drop least not where i was walking!

Chimneys and Chilli

Day 2 Cambourne - Truro/Devoran

mileage : a cool 15. grammage : -22 (discarded maps) stan the dog balls : 1
sorest bits : heel and toe heel and toe

Glorious glorious day. Set out in fine spirits and still able to walk when i got up this morning which was quite a bonus. Despite the monstrously large blisters enveloping my feet for now they were dry and the sun was once again shining as i bid my host and his wonderful dogs goodbye. Quickly gained some high ground at Carn Brea where an impressive stone monument stands and affords views of the entire width of Cornwall, i could see the sea on both sides (just abouts) Picked up the 'great flat lode' trail through rolling countryside of old mine buildings and chimneys which i could happily have followed the whole way to Spain, so well maintained it was. Later picked up another part of the same trail following the Truro river on down to Devoran. Devoran was such a beautiful place by the water and i was starting to get an idea of how lovely cornwall is. My second hosts Naomi and Mark also went above and beyond to look after me and i enjoyed a wonderful evening with more soaking in the bath, fantastic chilli, great conversation and yet more wine and i wish every night could be like the last 2 and every walking day like this 1.

Day 0 and 1 Spring bogs and Public nonpaths

day 0. lands end to sennen.

mileage 1.5 (i know i know, but i did walk from st just too) weight : 10.5 kilos no sore bits yet.

easy first evening as i strolled down to lands end backpackless with the late afternoon sun shining and the offshore breeze in my hair. Bloody camera broken already but manage to get random stranger to take my photo to prove i was there, still waiting for the pic.Not expecting any facilities in sennen i had had a dinner of hedgerow blackberries and my emergency double decker in waiting...lo and behold they had a costcutter store......bring on the fine dining pot noodle range!

day 1 proper sennen to cambourne

mileage 27 (whoa..too much) weight : + 75grams (trail mix purchase) sore bits : left shin, right hip. stan the dog tennis balls found : 1 and a half

big big day, great weather, set out fair bouncing along the lane to the shiny 'public footpath' marker post and off the beaten track i marched.....within 10 minutes i was shoulder deep in bracken, waist deep in brambles, knee deep in nettles and ankle deep in spring bog. Fighting my way around and around this small but imprenetrable corner becoming increasingly scratched and stung i pondered the fact that during my ongoing packing/unpacking/repacking process of non essential or 'unlivewithoutable' items never once did perhaps the need of a machete occur to me, and yet here i was and of all the tools on my back it would have been the only useful thing in that moment. Finally i conquered the field throwing myself across a small but deep ditch at the mercy of the moss soaked stone wall the other side and fell into the grassy meadow beyond. This did not bode well for the future of my time on Cornish footpaths. Striving on i found my way around a couple of farms who begrudgingly were observing the public right of ways to another farm where they were clearly trying to obliterate it from the face of ordnance survey.Continuing forward regardless i considered the more straightforward approach of utilising B-road Britain, the main draw of not walking on roads would be to enjoy the natural beauty of the unfolding countryside. Since my focus however was continuously on cowpat watch i was not really fully enjoying this aspect. The next field with it's acres upon acres on neatly laid out seedlings finally did for me with no way around or across or indeed through the river that lay on the other side if i even made it that far. As i stood revising my options i noticed the abundance of spent gun cartridges at my feet at almost the exact moment that sharp retorts rang out from a far too less than comfortable distance across the field. Needless to say getting shot at such an early stage in the walk would be a serious setback so i was fast scurrying to the nearest C road. Back on safe ground and now enjoying the wildlife (fox, buzzards, farm cats) i upgraded my plans to following bridleways since no one could surely build a 5 foot wall across a bridleway and still reasonably argue that it was a perfectly accessible public passage. This started quite idyllically till eventually of course the way was flooded....second foot soaking of the day for which i would later pay a high price.
After spending a grand total of £1.44 on quite a sumptious lunch from the Penzance Lidl (with plenty left over for the next day) i headed on to Hayle, footpaths widened, routes were clearer and dogs more friendly...all was well in the walking world. Walked the first bit of official Camino route (allbeit in a backwards direction)and saw my first scallop shell symbol, which was a very exciting moment (yes, this is what it has come to)It is true that such activities are 95% mental and 5% physical as passing Hayle i foolishly convinced my mind i was almost there which then of course sneaked this information to my body which quickly began to shut down as the last 4 miles stretched on, so with aching joints and the first clues of blisters i was so sure i wouldn't get began to strike i was hugely delighted to finally reach my first welcoming host for the night who then proceeded to spend the evening making me cups of tea, running me a hot bath, cooking dinner, giving me his daughters very comfortable room for the night and providing great conversation over a bit too much wine and some rather delicious cheese......ah, this walking lark is great after all!!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

setting off!!

Thanks guys for all your support, what a great 80's/90's disco night we had, huge well done to Penny for organising everything! We raised £288 for the Walk Charities. I set off today......ooh errr......not without some intrepidation, all I have to do now is just keep putting one foot in front of the other.........several million times and i'll be there! Please follow this blog which will be updated every chance i get with raucous tales of getting chased across fields by wildly gesticulating french farmers i'm sure.

Thanks again to everyone who has sponsored me, anyone who hasn't please help, just a £1 will soon add up. Check out the website to sponsor me.

So today's the day and so far have no idea where i will be sleeping bag seems much heavier all of a sudden.

A special thank you to Chris and Lou Simmonds for their kind and generous support. You will keep me inspired during the 'lost in the fog, torrential rain, up to my knees in mud times' xx

i can't access the webpage now to update so will post the thermometer here, it is getting very close to the target now!!!! thank you all

setting off!!

Thanks guys for all your support, what a great 80's/90's disco night we had, huge well done to Penny for organising everything! We raised £288 for the Walk Charities. I set off today......ooh errr......not without some intrepidation, all I have to do now is just keep putting one foot in front of the other.........several million times and i'll be there! Please follow this blog which will be updated every chance i get with raucous tales of getting chased across fields by wildly gesticulating french farmers i'm sure.

Thanks again to everyone who has sponsored me, anyone who hasn't please help, just a £1 will soon add up. Check out the website to sponsor me.

So today's the day and so far have no idea where i will be sleeping bag seems much heavier all of a sudden.

A special thank you to Chris and Lou Simmonds for their kind and generous support. You will keep me inspired during the 'lost in the fog, torrential rain, up to my knees in mud times' xx

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Training and Cupcakes

Well, training is underway...currently making early morning circuits of St Agnes as a bit of a warm up....clockwise and anti- clockwise on alternate days just to mix it up a bit! Did a once around St Marys, which, following the coastal path including the garrison and several laps around the Co-op i'm hoping might add up to nearly 10 miles........only half a day's walk on the Camino but it felt good and didn't take long so next time going for twice round before the 4.30 boat! Bit of a push.

Big thanks to everyone for their support on the eating of the cupcakes and shortbread fundraising front- you are doing me proud, I know it's a tough job but i hope you can all keep ploughing through the flapjack for another few weeks!

Also, a huge personal thank you to Ann whose very kind sponsorship is undoubtedly going to keep me inspired through the wet, windy, pursued by mad dogs days on the trail.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Big thank you to anonymous know who you are, x

fundraising update

Well, i'm over a tenth of the way to the fundraising target !!! Big thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far. I must extend some thanks to Julia and Nicki who suggested some kind of preparatory training might be in order.......on reflection, i think this might be a good call. A thermos flask arrived for me today which i thought would be pretty lush on the windswept, fog bound mountain scree of the Pyrenees but at 1050grams it's surely going to be a luxury too far and sadly might not make the final packing it possible to helium line backpacks????

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Hi there, thanks for checking this out. So finally the cat is out of the bag and i have committed to this walkabout! Not much to report yet obviously but the 'minimal' planning is going very well though the more i read about this camino the more tales i find of bandits, wolves, bears, treacherous weather in the pyrenees and no room at the inn/church/park bench. Still, hopefully things have moved on a little since medieval times and my worst foes should be no more than postman savaging dogs (something of a concern), whether my knees will get me to my feet every morning and the likely shortage of cappuccinos along the trail.

Meanwhile if anyone has a super warm, super spacious sleeping back that weighs only 3 grams going spare let me know.

Buen Camino x