Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella

St Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona :

20 September to 23 September 2011


Tuesday 20 September 2011

We flew from Stansted to Biarritz and got a bus to Bayonne. We caught a train and were in St Jean Pied De Port at about 19.30. we walked up the road from the station with a couple of young women who had been on our flight from Stansted.  April and September are the peak months for walkers leaving to undertake the 780km of the Camino Frances to Santiago, so we expected St Jean to be busy. We booked in to our hotel and then went out for a meal and sat outside in a courtyard with several others who were clearly pilgrims. The evening was balmy with a promise of good weather. We drank a bottle of white wine and talked about the long walk to come.


Wednesday 21 September 2011
St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles (25Km and 900m+ of climbing) There was a thick mist in St Jean when we woke up.  So we decided to take the safer lower route to Roncesvalles.  We had a map of the various paths and this came in handy leaving SJPP because the road route was very badly marked at its beginning.   But we were soon on our way on peaceful back-roads. At one point we passed a fig tree full of fruit overhanging the road and Gilly managed to get some down with her stick. At Arneguy we found a “duty free” shopping complex where we had morning coffee around 10.30 a.m.  On to Valcarlos and then a stretch of road walking before we dipped down to the settlement of Ganecoleta where we had our picnic lunch.  Thus far we had not gained more than a couple of hundred meters.  The final 700m climb was concentrated into the last few kilometres with some really steep gradients. We met a couple of young Italian girl pilgrims and we all reached the top of the pass at roughly the same time. There were good views all round. There was a short descent to Roncesvalles which we reached about 4 pm.  The auberge looked quite big but we were booked into the hotel and this was really beautiful with wi-fi in the public areas. We had a nice room.  After settling in we went across to the nearby restaurant for a drink. Later, we found that the best way to get a meal at a reasonable time was to eat the pilgrim menu. So we booked for 7pm and had fish and chips with red wine included. All for 9 Euros.  We sat with a Canadian couple, Kathy and Chris who were on holiday with a car.


Thursday 22 September 2011
Day 2 – Roncesvalles to Akaretta (28Km) Gilly started the day by discovering she had lost her favourite sun hat. (Khaki with a neck protector).  So we checked the bench in front of the auberge (no luck) before starting. The walking was mostly easy through woods.  We caught up with lots of other pilgrims having a break at a bar in the village of Biskareta.   We also saw our first pilgrims from South Korea. Moving on, there was more walking through woods and then a long stony descent to Zubiri where we briefly considered stopping before deciding to press on to Larasoana.  At one point there was a box at the wayside for "unwanted items of clothing".  It was full, mostly with ladies bras. From the map I thought the next section would be a valley walk but not a bit of it and we were soon trudging up hill and down dale in the increasing heat of early afternoon.  At one point we had a break in a small hamlet (probably Illaratz) and I spotted a poster for Hotel Akaretta “a converted Gascon farmhouse”.  It was about half a kilometre beyond Larasoana.  (Years later we recognised Akaretta as a location used in the film of the Camino - "The Way" with Martin Sheen.) When we reached Larasoana we rang ahead and booked a room. This  gave us time for a cold beer in a small bar.  When we reached Hotel Akaretta in a hamlet called “Aqueretta” it was really nice. We were  delighted with our room with its lovely views over the valley.   Before dinner we met a catholic priest from Australia called Peter.  We decided it would be nice to have dinner with him but when we got to the dining room there was another pilgrim there and, so we made up a party of four. The other guy was Mike from South Carolina. He was a paediatrician and a reserve army officer. But most of all he was a rabid Republican and couldn`t stop talking. He told us how he was suffering physically and then went on to lambast Barak Obama.  Poor old Peter the priest couldn`t get a word in edgeways. I found Mike quite amusing  but when we got back to the room Gillian insisted that I should throw away the email address he had given us.  He intended to take an extra day at Pamplona to buy new walking gear. So we were pretty sure we would never see him again.


Friday 23 September2011
Akaretta to Pamplona (20Km) We left at about 8 a.m and to begin with, it  was a pleasant walk along the valley beside a river.  But then came a section beside a road and later we crossed the road to climb steeply up a dusty track. We contoured along and passed behind a wooded hill to reach the suburb of Villava where I had a coffee. (Gilly expressed a sudden desire for an omelette. But this was never to be found anywhere.) From then on, it was a trudge through streets to reach the walls of Pamplona.  We were disappointed that the cathedral was closed for a special concert to commemorate its newly cleaned facade but this was offset when we realised that we could attend the free concert. There was a festival in progress and we took photos of whirling puppet figures before making our way across town to find the hotel which we had booked. Gillian was able to pick up her emails from work.  Walking back into town we stopped at a bar which had tapas.  Gillian decided to order a bocadillo unfortunately, the worst bocadillo in the world.  Back in the centre of Pamplona we wandered around and tired ourselves out.  The city was a bit uninteresting in the “closed” afternoon.  We bought a couple of camino maps and then I insisted that we sat down for a drink. At around 6 pm we got back to the cathedral and joined some local people waiting outside the locked gates. Time passed, the crowd got bigger and still the gates were not opened. Finally at 6.45 everybody was allowed in.  There was a dangerous moment as everybody pressed forward and an old lady slipped over but everything was OK. We got good seats near the front. The concert was a strange mixture of church service, band music, choral music and live bell ringing transmitted from the belfries of the cathedral on two large TV screens. After it finished we decided to take a city bus back to our hotel.  This proved a bit stressful, At first we couldn`t find the stop and, then, when we got on the bus we didn`t know exactly where we were going.  Fortunately we knew the name of our street and with the help of a young lady we got off at the right place.  We decided we needed a meal and found an "Irish Pub" which did blonde beer.  That night we both had problems sleeping in the hot hotel room. I wondered what it would be like tomorrow starting on the road to Leon by myself.