Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella

Burgos to Leon   (Jeff by himself)

2 October 2011 to 9 October 2011




Sunday 2 October 2011
Burgos to Hontanas (30Km)  As I tried to find the route out of Burgos at 7a.m. I met a Canadian girl (Shannon) and a Norwegian guy. The three of us stopped and had breakfast at a small bar and then I walked on with the Norwegian.  After a few miles we were mixed in with a large stream of pilgrims many of whom were probably starting in Burgos,  We passed over motorway bridges and finally got beyond the city sprawl.  A couple of American women said hello as they passed. My first meeting with Mia and Karyn.  At the first little village most of the pilgrims stopped at a bar.  I grabbed a quick orange juice and walked on.  Once through the village of Rabe de Calzadas the path became a stony track across the meseta. I pressed on  feeling pretty good and overtook  quite a few other groups. At Hornillas Del Camino I had a can of coke from a shop.  This was the place (19Km) where some would be stopping but I was going further on.  It was now really hot and I felt a lot of the energy go out of my legs.  So I slowed down and walked at the same pace as a young German couple, but a hundred meters behind.  When they stopped in the shade of a solitary tree I pressed on.  I think the next 11 kilometres to Hontanas were the hardest of  the whole walk.  The scenery was bleak and feature-less with the scorched yellow grass of the meseta on both sides. The track was stony with lots of ups and downs and there was absolutely no shade. I plugged in my music and went on auto-pilot.  The kilometres crawled by.  Presently I came to a discouraging sign saying Hontanas was still 5 kilometres away!  Time passed and the other pilgrims ahead and behind faded into the distance. I was alone and getting ever more tired.  When Hontanas was due, there was still absolutely no sign of any habitation.  The meseta stretched away to the horizon in every direction.  Suddenly, there was a descent and there was a tiny town nestling in a fold in the land. And amazingly it was like a little oasis.  There were bars, auberges, a cute little main street and my hotel (Fuente Estrella)  was really nice.  I had a cold beer before retiring for a shower and a snooze. After that it was outside for another beer in the late afternoon sunshine.   As I came down two German women were taking a room and I decided that I would buy them a glass of wine later with a view to joining them for dinner.  And that`s what happened. I had a really nice evening with Britta, Christina and their friend Zirca.  And I was to see them several times later. After dinner I popped across the road to the bar for a brandy and had a chat with Calumn and Sheba two of the Irish pilgrims who had passed me coming in to Najera.

Monday 3 Oct 2011
Hontanas to Castrojeriz (rest day) 9Km 
I worked out that I was now in a position to take an easy day.  Breakfast was simply left out for us in our hotel.  Along with the German ladies I warmed my  coffee and croissants in a microwave. I started walking just before sunrise and I was at the edge of Castrojeriz a couple of hours later. It was dominated by a ruined castle on a hill a couple of hundred meters above the town.  I came across Calumn and Sheba again in a bar having coffee.  I visited a big church and then walked leisurely into the town which was long and straggly. At first I couldn’t find the town centre. The camino simply went straight through.  But I walked back at a lower level and located a bar and hotel. I had a nice room. After a break I went back to the bar and had a drink and a ham bocadillo. Then I took a walk up to the ruined castle.  From this viewpoint the meseta stretched away in every direction, brown and dusty. I could see little dots on the approach road which were pilgrims arriving from Hontanas.  Back in town I did some shopping for breakfast and picnic food. Then, as evening approached  I sat in the bar and did my diary.  I bumped into Mia & Karyn again and asked if I could have dinner with them.  Their party included Patrick and Florence. All Americans although Florence came originally from France and Patrick from Leeds. Mia was their daughter in law.  It was a very cheerful evening with lots of laughter and red wine.


Tuesday 4 Oct 2011
Castrojeriz to Fromista (23Km)
I had orange juice and cake in my room at about 6.45 a.m. By 7.15 I was walking out of town in the dark with stars twinkling overhead.  I used my torch a few times but the white track tended to show up clearly.  I could see other torches shining ahead and  I also heard the voices of pilgrims behind me.  After one kilometre there was a steep hill to climb.  Dawn was breaking as I got to the top.   I crossed the summit in company with other pilgrims and started to descend.  As I looked ahead I could see that this was the classic view printed on several camino books which I had seen in London. A path that seemed to go on literally for ever across the meseta until it shrank to infinity in the distance.  It is one of my favourite images and it always reminds me of the verse from The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien.

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

The descent from the ridge was very steep and I took it slowly. A couple of Koreans decided it was easier to walk down backwards.  But I felt fit after my rest day and, back on the flat, I set out at a good pace.  After about an hour I could see some dots in the distance.  Coming nearer, I made a local husband and wife team with a van who were selling pilgrim drinks.  I stopped to buy a  coffee and then walked on following a couple of other lone men.  After two more kilometers the scenery suddenly changed. Trees appeared and we came to a lovely bridge over a wide river. Really surprising. After a little while I walked into the village of Itero De La Vega and straight out again as there was very little there.  The path now reverted to meseta. I passed a limping Irish lady and offered her some orange juice because she looked so shattered. (refused) Up hill and down dale and then just before Boadillo del Camino   I greeted an American lady who I was going to see again. Walking on, I came to the Canal de Castilla which I followed virtually all the way to Fromista. (The canal dates from the late 18th C and is 200km in length. It is no longer navigable and the photo shows some decommissioned locks.)  I got a room at the Hotel San Martin and after freshening up I bought a beer and relaxed in the sun outside.  I was joined by the American lady who was Elaine from Philadelphia.  I helped her send some emails from her new iPod touch and she bought me another beer. As dinner time approached I was hailed by Elaine who had met up with the Americans I had met the previous night. She had met them before but had been perplexed when I had said  they came from Ohio instead of Iowa – (an easy phonetic mistake, I thought).  We all had a very pleasant dinner together including more red wine.

Wednesday 5 Oct 2011
Fromista to Carrion de los Condes (19km)
This was a complete day of road walking. While others walked on the stony track adjacent to the tarmac I chose to walk on in the cycle track on the smooth road surface itself. There was very little traffic.  Carrion de los Condes proved to be one of the nicest towns on route. It had proper shops and there were lots of places to eat and drink. However, the hotel I was planning to use was firmly shut with signs saying “Opening again in April 2012”.  So I found a  room in Hostal Santiago just down the road.  As I entered the town I had seen Calumn and Sheba having a drink.  As soon as I had secured my room, I popped back and joined them.  Then I went shopping for picnic food. Mid afternoon it was still extremely hot probably around 35 degrees C and this was October !  At 7pm  I met up with the Americans and we started by trying a bottle of local white wine for a change.  Elaine had arrive late because she got lost en route from Fromista with a Brazilian pilgrim called Pablo.  They had gone off looking for a “river route”, and had finally been returned to the camino by some local farmers on a tractor.  As we got up to go for dinner, Pablo appeared and got swept up with the group.  We all had the “menu perrigrino” at a nearby cafe.  Pablo gave a fascinating account of what it had been like to live with Brazilian hyper-inflation in the 1980s  Having your salary increased by 20% or more every month and rushing to the shops to convert it into goods  before its value became worthless..

Thursday 6 October 2011
Carrion de los Condes to Sahagun (40Km) 
I knew that there was an Auberge at a little place called Terradillos de Los Templarios after 26Km but it was in the back of my mind that I might walk on to the next town.  I started off at 7am with breakfast at the bar and by 7.15 am I was navigating my way out of the town in the dark.  At the edge of the houses, I got a bit lost and I was please to see another pilgrim come along who had a much better guide book than me.  I followed him out of town across a traffic roundabout and into a long straight lane which luckily was smooth and metalled because it was still quite dark.  The lane went on for several kilometres and slowly dawn arrived.  Then we got out on to a 15Km stretch of featureless meseta. I passed Elaine, who had clearly started even earlier than me,  Then I just put on my headphones and went on auto-pilot,  I was going quite quickly and overtook many people and arrived by myself – finally – at a village called Calzadilla de la Cueza.  I stopped and ate some picnic food. Other pilgrims drifted in and most stopped at a bar for a drink. I walked on and I was soon back on the N120 road where, again, I found it easier to walk on the tarmac.  I had slowed down as the morning got hotter but I covered the 6Km to Legidos in less than 90 minutes. I stopped for two(!) coffees in a small bar. Thus fortified with caffeine I resolved to walk on to Sahagun. 3Km took me to Terradillos but I now faced another 13Km of road walking.  The N120 stretched ahead of me to the horizon.  I slowed down and decided to aim to complete the distance in three hours and that`s roughly what I did.  The kilometres posts ticked by and with 3km still to go I could finally see the town of Sahagun in the distance. Fortunately a brisk wind sprang up which kept me reasonably cool. My music came in handy again and I ended up listening to  Neil Diamond as I walked the last bit of pathway. By now, I could see a large hotel sign on top of a building on the access road into Sahagun and when I got there I simply turned in to what looked like a 4 star establishment and booked in at "pilgrim discount". It was 3.30pm and I had walked 25 miles! I had a wonderful cold beer at the bar before going to my room.  it had a bath big enough for three people and I spent more than an hour in it. I went downstairs and tried to use the hotel wi-fi but it just didn`t work for my iphone.  I hoped that in such a nice hotel, the evening meal would be top notch and I imagined myself eating a decent steak but not a bit of it!  When I entered the dining room I was presented with a menu (by the lone waiter) which offered 3 starters, 3 mains and 3 desserts exactly like the peregrino menus and the food wasn`t much better than peregrino standard! 

Friday 7 Oct 2011
Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero  (19Km)
Having walked such a big distance to get to Sahagun I now had three final days about 19Km each.  I had breakfast at the hotel and walked through Sahagun at about 8am.  Coming round a corner, I met Calumn and Sheba coming out of the municipal auberge.  They were going to have breakfast in a bar. I took their photo.  I found my way out of town and the rest of the day consisted of road walking.  Or rather walking next to the road. After 4Km there was the opportunity to take a more northerly route across the meseta but I felt I had seen enough meseta to last a lifetime. So I pressed on to El Burgo Ranero.  Gillian had done some research for me and, if I was unable to get any accommodation in the small village of El Burgo,  there was a hotel at a nearby motorway service station which I spotted as I approached.  It  was early (about noon).  Pilgrims were waiting for the auberge to open and the single hotel was “complet”.  Without much hope I popped in to the bar next door and asked about accommodation. I was pleased to find that, yes, they had a room available at 35 Euros. As always, I sent a text to Gillian saying that I had arrived.   After dumping my sack I went downstairs for beer and tapas.  As I sat there,  up came Calumn and Sheba and we had another beer together.  They were going to walk on to Reliegos,  I gave them my email address and that was the last time I ever saw them. I also saw Britta who I had met in Hontanas.  I had a sleep in the afternoon. Then I was delighted to find they had wi-fi in the bar of the hotel next door. I was able to update Facebook and send an email to Gillian. That evening I had dinner with two Norwegian pilgrims, Eric and Dagnee. Although I characterised El Burgo as a “one horse town” the food was as good as anything I had in the rest of Spain. And it also had a small grocery shop where I bought picnic food..

Saturday 8 Oct 2011
El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas (19km) 
I was in no real hurry to get started.  So I had a coffee in the bar at 7.30 a.m. and then set out at about 8 a.m. just as the sun was rising.  It was another day of walking along the pilgrim track beside the road,  I overtook Britta and had a short chat.  Later, sitting on a stone bench beside a dried up stream, I made a picnic of the cheese and apple I had bought in El Burgo. When, shortly I reached Reliegos, I didn`t stop at the bar (although it looked very welcoming) and I was in Mansilla at about 12,30 p.m.  As I entered the town there was a poster advertising pilgrim rooms and I got one of these for 25 Euros. Small but perfectly adequate. I showered, changed and went into the centre of town for a beer. There I met Britta again and I bought her a beer.  She wasn`t sure if she was stopping or walking on. Zirca also appeared.  As I sat there relaxing in the sun my American friend Elaine turned up with an Irish pilgrim called Ann. They had just walked in. They were tired and full of blisters. So they resolved to take a taxi into Leon the next day.  They had a drink and then I took them back to my accommodation where they also acquired rooms.  I didn`t feel like sleeping. So I returned to the village square and did a Sudoku.  Patrick and Florence turned up looking for the pharmacy. They were staying at a hotel just down the road.  In the evening, we all met up again and had pre-drinks and dinner together at their hotel  plus an Australian guy called John. I have no recollection of the food but the wine was very nice.

Sunday 9 Oct 2011
Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon (19Km) I was expecting a lot of road walking but, in fact, half the distance was on tracks away from the road.  I had a noonday snack at a picnic site for pilgrims and shared my cheese with a friendly dog. Two Americans came up, one of whom was wearing a substantial knee brace.  We compared air flight costs and they said how lucky I was to pop over to do sections of the camino for £70 a time whereas their return flights cost more than £1,000.  The approach to Leon was much nicer than Pamplona, Legrono or Burgos.  The local authorities had built a number of special bridges over busy roads which brought the pilgrim smoothly and safely into the streets of the city. By 12.30 I was having a coffee in one of the squares and asking for directions to my hotel, Hotel Paris which Gillian had pre-booked for me with Booking.com. 

Coming out after dropping my rucksack, I  immediately bumped into Florence, Patrick and Mia who were just arriving. Leon was the most attractive of the major cities en route.  It had some wonderful public buildings,  including the cathedral, and lots of pedestrianised streets with cafes and bars.  Being Sunday almost all the shops were closed. The first thing I did was walk towards the station to make sure I could find it in the morning.  I had a train booked to Madrid and then a flight to London.  As always, the afternoon sun was really hot.  After visiting the railway station I walked along the river and back into the town centre where I found a very promising “restaurant street”, Suddenly I felt really tired. So I went back to the hotel for a bath and a sleep.   Coming out in the evening, I met up, as arranged with the Americans outside the cathedral and we shared a couple of bottles of white wine at a bar in one of the maze of side streets. At about 9pm Elaine had to go because of a “curfew” at her nun-run accommod-ation.  Patrick also had to go and meet his son at the bus station.  So I ended up having a paella with Florence and Mia. They were all going to have a rest day the next day before walking on to Santiago.  I felt a tiny regret that I was going to go home.  But  not much.  My right shoulder was still hurting and I was ready to return to normal life in London.