Monday 7 May 2012
Leon to Hospital Del Urbigo (32km) This was a day of mostly walking on roads or besides roads. There was a long crawl out through the suburbs of Leon. Then at La Virgen del Camino there was the option of a longer country route. With a few spots of rain we decided to press on along the road. In fact it didn`t really start to rain until the afternoon. Along the way there were many church towers with impressive storks' nests (and storks) balanced on every ledge At Villadangos del Paramo we both put on our earphones and pounded along the last 8 Km with our heads tucked into our rain gear. Traffic whizzed by. At Hospital Del Urbigo we got a room in a Casa Rurales. It was so cold that Gillian went down and asked them to put the heating on.. We had dinner in a pilgrim bar . The only interesting feature of Hospital del Urbigo was the very long picturesque bridge over which we approached it.
Tuesday 8 May 2012
Hospital del Urbigo to Castilles del Polvares When we woke up, we could hear the rain pummelling the roof tiles. So we dressed in our wet gear and left the town going west along muddy tracks laced with large puddles together with a string of other wet pilgrims, But very soon it stopped raining and the weather got suddenly very muggy. So much so, that we were soon down to t-Shirts. (Looking back – this was the day the weather turned from winter to Spring and after this we had no more real rainfall until Santiago.) It was a day of lots of ups and downs before the town of Astorga hove into sight. Even after we saw it clearly there was still an approach walk of 4 Km. We reached the town at 1pm and visited a very unhelpful tourist informat-ion office. We also and had a tapas in a bar. Gillian posted some maps back to Britain and we decided to walk on and diverted from the main route along a sandy track to go to the “beautiful Maragato” village of Castilles Del Polvares. This was very picturesque but completely empty of inhabitants apart from the hotels. We took a walk around the village in bright sunshine and got a room in a place called Cuca La Viana. From our room we could see storks nesting on the church tower. The owner was very friendly but made it clear that after 9pm there would be no staff. “Anna” was introduced to us as the person who would organise our evening meal which was very nice (with a bottle of cava). Later Anna zoomed off on her motor bike leaving us alone in the hotel.
Wednesday 9 May 2012
Castilles del Polvares to Foncebaddon We were up early and left the hotel by 7.30 am. The day was bright and sunny and after 4Km we had breakfast in a bar at the village of Santa Caralina de Samoza. Someone had left their waist pouch on the chairs and we gave it to the bar tender for safekeeping. Sure enough we saw a couple of pilgrims come back looking worried and were reunited with the pouch. We walked on, gradually climbing higher and higher into the mountains of Leon. At Rabanal we considered stopping but, in the end we rang ahead and booked a hotel in Foncebaddon. Now we felt able to relax and enjoy the wide views around us. At the small hamlet of Foncebaddon we took up our room and then we spent some time drinking beer and chatting to other pilgrims. An Italian guy told us how he had had re-found his faith at Leon whilst sharing a dance with other pilgrims outside the cathedral. He showed us a text he had been given. At one point a herd of goats appeared and wandered down the only street – one of them climbing on to a roof. We had a reasonable pilgrim dinner.
Thursday 10 May 2012
Foncebaddon to Moulinaseca Another sunny day. We climbed steadily to the top of the mountains of Leon. At the summit (about 2,000m) we took some photos of fellow pilgrims who we had met at Foncebaddon. Then on across the tops. Later, we started descending quite steeply on some stony tracks which roughly followed the course of the road. At the small village of Acebo we stopped for a drink. Then there was a long detour away from the road which took us through some nice mountain scenery. However, the path underfoot was quite difficult and I was tired by the time we popped out at Moulinaseca, around 2.30 pm. It seemed like a little paradise with pilgrims paddling in the river and a lunch stop at a waterside cafe. As we crossed the bridge we saw the Hostal El Palicio right by the water. Gillian was hesitant at first but agreed once she saw the room with a lovely view of the river. We had a shower and then went out and had some food at the waterside cafe, under the watchful gaze of a local muscovy duck. In the evening we returned to the same place for a light meal before going to bed.
Friday 11 May 2012
Moulinaseca to Villafranca del Bierzo Another nice day but not so sunny. Gillian was very keen to get started early because she had heard that Villiafranca was a really nice place to stay (and we were booked into a Parador). So we investigated buses and taxis for Ponferrada but in the end we simply walked the 8Km along the road. Once in Ponferrada we caught a bus across the city to the north western suburb of Fuentes Nuevas and started walking again. We passed over a motorway on a minor road and went through many wine fields before reaching the small town of Cacabelos. We stopped for a picnic on some green grass beside a weir. The river was so full of water that it was flowing over the weir with real force. We walked on uphill, again along a road. Finally we were off on side tracks which went up and down before leading us to Villiafranca del Bierzo, which turned out to be a very strange town with a puzzling layout which we never quite mastered. We took a wrong/long route to the our hotel but nevertheless we were booked in and freshening up before 3pm. Going back into town we found the river, then the church and popped out in what appeared to be the main street. Finally we got a street map in the tourist information office. It was hot and sunny now, so I insisted on having a drink, in a bar, of orange juice + fizzy water. Then we visited the supermarket and went back to have dinner at the Parador. We had the set menu which meant we had far too much food and difficulty sleeping.
Saturday 12 May 2012
Villafranca del Bierzo to La Faba Another sunny day. There was an option to take a longer mountain deviation immediately upon leaving VFB but we decided to take the easier road route which wound in an out between the motorway with which it shared the narrow valley. At Trabadelo we had our first coffee of the day and then walked on beside the road in company with many other pilgrims. At Las Herrerias we finally left the road and took a break for a picnic lunch on a bench between the road and a rushing stream. It was now about 1pm, the hottest part of the day, and the road started to climb steeply up into the mountains. We toiled on and met a hospitallero from La Faba who had walked down to get supplies. A track led off to the left down in to a green valley but at the end, predictably, there was a very steep climb to regain the road at la Faba. I really suffered at this point, feeling hot, hot, hot. Finally we reached La Faba and decided to book in to the private German-run hostel. A large Italian party was booking in ahead of us and it took about 30 minutes before we had our bunks allocated. The hostel wasnicely laid out and included a small church I had to wait about 20 minutes to get a shower. Gillian and I walked in to the very small village. There was no catering at the hostel. So I had a meal of egg & chips in the bar. Gillian decided to eat the remains of our picnic food and bought a bottle of wine. Back at the hostel there was a church service, led by a priest who was a member of the Italian group. I had a restless night going to the loo by torchlight several times and plugged in my earphones to try to get to sleep..
Sunday 13 May 2012
La Faba to Triacastella Pilgrims were up and about from 5 a.m. with the sound of many zips being closed and carrier bags being rustled. We made ourselves some breakfast and left at about 7.30 to undertake the sharp climb to O Cebreiro. On the path just before the summit there was a stone waymark indicating that we were entering our final Spanish province of Galicia. At 1,300 meters, O Cebreiro was an attractive village of many quaint stone houses situated on a high ridge. After visiting the small church we walked on, along the ridge, with good views to the north until we regained the road. I had imagined that it would be all downhill from here but not a bit of it. We were on a plateau and the road rose ahead of us to a distant crest which turned out to be the viewpoint of Alto de San Roque with a statue of St James looking out across the hills and valleys. We walked on and descended briefly but then there was another long climb. This time we were directed off on to a side track which was pleasant enough until the 1 in 2 climb at the end to regain the road. At Alto do Poio there were a couple of bars. The Italian group were occupying the tables of the nearest one. So we crossed the road to the other. Then there was a period of walking parallel to the road. At Biduedo Gillian stopped to treat her painful feet. Her blisters had resulted in a lot of dead skin which was now coming off. As we sat there a herd of cows came past and then another returning the opposite way driven by some local farmers. The local fields were a dazzling blaze of yellow dandelions. We walked on by some pleasant paths and descended steadily. At one point on a narrow sunken track we were passed by some, fortunately placid, unaccompanied cows coming in the opposite direction. In Triacastela we got a room in a hotel and freshened up. (And did some washing) Then we went out to do a bit of breakfast/picnic shopping in a small supermarket. Triacastela was full of visitors enjoying the sunshine and having meals at outside cafes. So we joined in and were served in record time by the most brisk /rude waiter in the world. (including a 9 Euro bottle of white wine) It was nice to be out among the buzz of the town and at least we didn`t feel obliged to leave a tip. We went back to the hotel and played cards until bedtime.
Monday 14 May 2012
Triacastela to Barbadelo (24Km) We were up before 7a.m. and had some breakfast in the room. We were on the road by 7.30. Only 6 more days and less than 140Km to go before we reached Santiago! It seemed strange to be so close after the hundreds of miles we had walked since Vezelay. I was used to Santiago being a distant target: not something within touching distance. Every time I thought about it I got a lump in my throat. I wondered how emotional I would be when we actually arrived. The first part of today's route took us through small wooded valleys and past a silent village Then there was a sharp climb up a muddy track and finally we were contouring along on a country road (through San Xil) with mist lying in the valleys below us. We got to our highest point and then there was a sharp descent through woods. We passed the Italian group who seemed to be waiting for somebody to catch up. And then there were some people working in the woods with a whole pack of dogs who barked and growled at us. As we got lower we entered the mist and everything became opaque and indistinct. Around Furela we reached a cafe and had our first coffee of the day. Pigrims were coming and going and people were using the toilets. We walked on always within sight of the road. Presently we reached a major road and followed that for 5Km into the town of Sarria. Gillian went into the pilgrim’s information office and got some information on accommodation and the location of a walking goods shop which “had everything the pilgrim needed” She had been having problems with a leaking platypus and wanted to replace it but no luck with the shop. We rang ahead and booked a room in an auberge at a village 5Km further on. Now we felt able to take a break at a cafe in the warm sunshine which had suddenly arrived. I had spare ribs and chips and a beer (which was unusual for me at lunchtime). We walked out of Sarria around 1.30pm and passed through some pleasant woodlands on the way to Barbadelo. The auberge was very nice and we had a four bedded room to ourselves. We did some washing and put it on the outside line: then tried to play cards but the breeze was too strong and blew the cards over. So we went for a walk to the church. Later we had the pilgrim menu including a dish of lentils.
Tuesday 15 May 2012
Barbadelo to Gonzar (26Km) The auberge opened for breakfast at 7.30a.m. but actually nobody turned up until 7.45. So we started walking just after 8 a.m. by which time a familiar group of pilgrims were streaming past, having spent the night in Sarria. It was another sunny day and the 18Km to Portomarin were the most beautiful we had experienced in Spain. Galicia really looked at its best: green and fertile with lovely trees and meadows and hedgerows full of wild flowers. Also lots of rushing streams. It was a really lovely walk through a number of small hamlets. At one point we stopped for a drink at a bar which promised “free wi-fi” and updated our iPhones. The day was getting warmer. As we approached Portomarin we caught up with some familiar pilgrims including the Koreans. And we walked over the bridge to Portoamarin with quite a crowd. We stopped briefly but could find no information. So we walked on. The next 8Km was not so pleasant along the side of a major highway, but we persevered, and finally we arrived at the small village of Gonzar where we got two beds in the privately run auberge. We had a bottle of white wine before dinner. I talked to a scotsman called Hamish, and Gillian met up again with a young pilgrim called Anna from Siegen who she had met between Pamplona and Leon. Another Scottish couple called Scott and Ann turned up and we ended up having dinner with the three scots. Scott was a leather goods manufacturer and Gillian persuaded him to tell us his life story. I used my headphone music to get to sleep again. Having drunk quote a lot I had to go the loo four times and the toilet door was unavoidably noisy.
Wednesday 16 May 2012
Gonzar to O Coto (25km) We were up and on the road before breakfast but found a bar just a couple of Km further on where I had toast and coffee. As we sat there a middle-aged French couple arrived who we had seen several times en route. “Merde” they said “What a terrible night in the hostel. We couldn`t sleep. Somebody kept banging the toilet door.” I said nothing. We walked on and presently left the main road to walk through wooded countryside on a quiet B road. When we stopped at a bar, the familiar pilgrims started to overtake us. At the town of Palas de Rei we had a break while Gilly rang ahead to a place called “The Two Germans” at O Coto and got us a double room. The next 8Km were parallel to the road but mostly away from it in amongst shady trees. O Coto was a strange place with a “Headwater" (the UK tour company)hotel (closed for fumigation) a couple of bars and our hotel across the other side of the main road. We booked in. The room was OK but extremely basic with only one flickering light bulb. There was also a man outside the window on scaffolding, plastering the wall. We had a shower, then walked across to the Headwater bar (luckily open) where we had a couple of beers and played cards. We were the only people eating in our hotel. The choice was very limited but I thought the food was OK. Gillian got chatting to the lady about why the place was called The Two Germans and we all ended up on cheerful terms.
Thursday 17 May 2012
O Coto to Arzua (22.5Km) A day of ups and downs but no major hills. After 7 Km we reached the town of Melide, famous for octopus, but it was just about breakfast time so we opted instead for a coffee and pain au chocolate in a local bar. Everything was very quiet and we realised that it was a national holiday. We had a bit of trouble finding our way out of town but in the end we exited together with three Spanish men who, from their light loads were probably just doing the last 100K to Santiago. We crossed the main road at Boente and yet another group of lightly loaded spaniards set off in our wake chatting and laughing. We paused to let them pass. Somewhere along the way we found a bar where served octopus. So we had a plate between us for linch. Gillian ound its texture a bit unpleasant but I thought it was OK. As the day progressed we ended up in a long train of pilgrims. Arzua was a long ribbon of a town and when we got to the centre we couldn`t find a good looking hotel. So Gillian went off to look at a private auberge and came back that she had booked all three beds in a three-bed room. We had an excellent meal at our accommodation.
Friday 18 May 2012
Arzua to Predrouzo (20km) The weather forecast had been for rain but it turned out dull but dry. An easy day’s walking through forests of oak and eucalyptus. We had booked ahead. So when we reached Pedrouzo it was just a matter of finding our accomm-odation. Pedrouzo was another long thin town along a main road but it had a fair selection of shops and bars. I discovered that I had left my red hat at Arzua. So I bought a new khaki one in a pilgrim shop. Gillian booked herself into a local hairdessers and had her hair cut at 6.30pm while I waited in the local pizzeria where we had our evening meal.
Saturday 19 May
Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostella (20km) Our last day of walking on our journey that started in Vezelay in April 2008. Approximately 900 km to the French border and then another 780Km across Spain. And, strangely, it was all about to finish. We started off at about 8 a.m. Rain was forecast but we had a dry morning. Amazingly, when we reached the route we were by ourselves for the first 20 minutes. Then other pilgrims started to appear. We stopped at the first cafe and Gillian had an disagreement with a waiter about cleaning the outside chairs which were wet after a shower. After a coffee we felt equipped to tackle the hill which led up and around Santiago Airport. At the top we took a couple of photos under a camino sign. Then it rained and we put on our wet gear. We negotiated the path around the very end of the runway and walked on along minor roads. At Lavacolla Gillian stopped and washed her boots in the stream in remembrance of how ancient pilgrims used to wash their clothes before they reached Santiago. At San Marcos we went in a modern bar and shared a cheese bocaddillo. Then it was on to Monte Gozo and the huge memorial on the hill in honour, as we discovered, of Pope Paul II. From the hill we could see Santiago at last. We descended and crossed a major bridge into the city. I insisted on having my photo taken at the “Santiago” road sign. Now we were here I was not as emotional as I expected to be. There was a long walk through the outskirts of the city. As we got near the old town it started to rain heavily. The heaviest rain since Hospital Del Urbigo – more than 200 miles away. We sheltered outside a bar and then went in to have a coffee. After about 15 minutes the rain stopped and we walked on into the old town. It was about 1.30pm. When we reached the cathedral we got a bit of a shock. Roads were cordoned off for a noisy mountain bike race and young men in crash helmets and cycle-suits were everywhere. There was a sound stage and all kinds of ramps and jumps. Not exactly what we expected. It took us a while to circle around and reach an accessible door. We entered the quiet of the cathedral and I sat down facing the altar. I think I said a prayer but suddenly I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and just sat there mutely staring at the golden angels and the other decorations. Gillian came back to say, I could visit the tomb of St James. So leaving my sack I descended the few steps beneath the altar to where I could see the silver casket holding his remains. I knelt down at the wooden bar and found myself crying. I can`t remember how long I was there or what I thought, but I took a photo and stumbled up the steps back into the nave. We shouldered our sacks for almost the last time on the pilgrimage and made our way out of the cathedral to the Parador Hotel (Reys Catolica) just across the square. We got our room, (The first thing Gillian had booked back in the winter of 2011 when planning the trip.) By now my mind had turned to more secular things – namely the Champions League Final being played at Munich between Bayern and Chelsea. The TV in our room had “no signal” but finally we got it to work. After each having a bath we went out to explore Santiago. First we walked up to the local funfair and bought some Churros to eat. The fair was in a park and we walked on to look at the countryside stretching beyond the city towards Cape Finisterre where St James is supposed to have landed in a stone boat. We circled around to the shopping streets and Gillian bought some small jewellery items for our neighbours Ruby, Laila and Daniella as a thank you for looking after our cat Thunder. Then back out to a nice tapas bar we had seen. I had squid, cheese and anchovies. Gillian had a selection of small tapas. We were back in our hotel room in good time for the start of the football. Chelsea triumphed with Drogba scoring with the final kick of the match.
Sunday 20 May 2012
We took a walk around the town until it was time to take our seats for the 12 oclock pilgrim mass in the cathedral. This was a wonderful experience even though I couldn`t understand a word. It finished with the inspiring sight of the huge incense burner being swung across the nave. As the service finished Scott and Ann from Gonzar came over to say Hello and Gillian went over to embrace a young Argentinian pilgrim who had kept pace with her ever since her early days of leaving Pamplona.