Camino Francais from St Jean de Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela
We spent a few days in Paris to get our land legs from the 25th August 2014 until the 29th.
A few days in St Jean Pied de Port. After a terrific train ride from Paris and down to Bayonne, We finally stopped in Cambo les Bains to then take a bus to St Jean Pied de Port.
.The walk we intend to take. A profile.
31st August - St Jean to Roncesvalles - 27.1kms (27.1) We greeted the day with great anticipation.This is the start of the walk from St Jean to Roncesvalles by climbing over the Pyrenees. It was a difficult and long day going from 200m to 1455m and then back to 900m. Whilst the weather was cool and very misty, you soon broke out in a sweat as you ascended the pass. The highlights for me were.
It truly was an epic plan
The hills were covered in cloud leaving a sense of complete isolation. Hang on we were alone for a good bit of this day.
Seeing free range pigs along with the other animals
Seeing the Alps.
Getting boiled eggs and fruit from the vendor in the Van near the top.
Spending 2 days in St Jean and just getting ready and seeing the excitement throughout the village
1st September -Ronscevalles rest day The second day was a day of exploring the village of Roncesvalles. This village is wholly owned by the church. We managed to get a 2nd night here which was greatly welcomed. We have since found that they were making a movie there as well. 6 Ways to Santiago.....
2nd September - Roncesvalles to Zubiri - 22kms (49.1) After a good night's rest we headed of to Zubiri. Still a long walk at 22kms with hills. Met and walked with some New Zealanders (Ian and Loma) and some Canadians (Mark and Debbie). Very nice folk who we will catch up with in Pamplona. Got really hot, ran out of water and Linda got some blisters. But luckily we had booked the Hotel Zubiri as the albergues were all full and overflowing. They had to open the sports arena.
3rd September - Zubiri to Zuriain - 8kms (57.1) The next day we set off on a short walk and reached a lovely Albergue in Zuriain. It is around 10kms from Pamplona. This was our first view of the trout fisherman. It was also the start of my love of Spanish beer and food.
4th September - Zuriain to Pamplona - 12kms (69.1) The walk from Zuriain to Pamplona was a pretty walk going through some old towns. Found a bar and had morning tea. We met a couple of Irish guys who did the climb up to the local church along the way. The bells we heard when walking was them. They caught up to us just before the Magdalena Bridge We then walked on until we reached Pamplona. No sign of any bulls though. We met up with Ian and Loma and Mark and Debbie. We said our goodbyes as they were heading off early in the morning but we knew we would meet again. We then did the Camino walk through the old town and to our apartment which was on the south west side of Pamplona and near the track for tomorrow.
The city of Pamplona was terrific but we did not get to see much as Linda was quite sick and in need of a good rest at this point.
5th September - Pamplona to Puente la Reina - 23kms (92.1) Said goodbye to my old Keens. We agreed to see if we could come back to see more of this special place. We then headed off to Puente la Reina Well today we will have reached our first significant milestone. 94kms so far and have reached Puente la Reina on a very hot day. We went over Alto del Perdon (780m) which is the spot where the pilgrims' sins are forgiven. The rest of the walk is for contemplation and penance. Linda is still far from well and can now add a few blisters to her list. But she is a real pilgrim and just keeps going on. From Alto de Perdon you could look back on Pamplona and the endless wheat fields. Ahead was a rugged downhill track and more wheat fields. We got to Puente la Reina in the early afternoon. The Hotel Bidean where we stayed, had a display of antique furniture. We had dinner at 7.30pm which was a very generous and delicious Paella, and crashed for a couple of hours. Just long enough for the town to wake up and start letting off fireworks or was it a small cannon!
6th September - Puente la Reina to Estella - 22.4kms (114.5) Linda woke up not feeling too bad apart from the blisters. Had a nice breakfast and headed out. The countryside was not as green and we knew we were in for another hot walk. We found this new sports arena at Villatuerta near Estella which had a bar, restaurant and a swimming pool. The cold beer was just great. We visited the Ermita de San Miguel Arcangel, 1.8kms out of town - 960 AD and still standing. We have decided to have a rest day in Estella. That night we watched the Basque Sheep Dog Trials on TV in the Hotel Yerri, Estella. Linda is finally starting to feel well, but feet are now an issue for both of us. It is so hot. 31 degrees at 6pm yesterday in Puente la Reine. Have done another 22kms with three 300m+ "hills" along the way. So we have cracked 100kms.
As an aside - In Pamplona we missed the Vuelta a Espana by one day. The stage around Logrono (which is still a couple of days' walk away ) was on yesterday. We are meeting a number of people with different walking speeds, who you don't think you will see again, and yet we do. People with all sorts of walking ideas are a constant source of amusement. An Irish man has his pack on a set of wheels and he just dons the pack when the road is too rough. Others ship their packs ahead using a local courier company.
7th September - Estella Rest Day Decided to take it easy and just have a walk around the town. Unfortunately it was further than we thought and the thongs Linda was wearing hurt just as much. I have cut slices into Linda boots to allow her feet to expand and not rub. She now calls them "The Inquisitors" We did however enjoy walking around the town.
8th September - Estella to Los Arcos - 21.5 kms (136) We got away early around 6.30am and reached the other side of town as the bell chimed 7am. Highlights of the walk were a couple from Melbourne , Frank and Diane who shared some kms and a missed turnoff, the wine fountain Fuente de Irache, which was just about empty. Then there was this van in the middle of nowhere and nestled in a grove of birch trees selling cold drinks. We took our boots off and had a lovely break. We had booked into the Hotel de los Arcos as the Albergues were full. What we did not know is that it was a roadhouse and about 4kms out of town on the freeway. Luckily the Albergue staff were happy to drive us out . Nice room but we have no idea how to get back to the Camino at this stage and it is about 4 kms from town. It was a good walk today about 22kms in 6 hours or so. After dinner we did find out that a bus would take us back to the Camino in the morning. Phew!
9th September - Los Arcos to Logrono - 28kms (164) The courtesy van had us back on the track around 7:30am near where a very loud burro was pleading for food. So, hi ho and away we go. 31kms from the start to reaching the hotel. Stats: Walking time 9 hours Climbing 9 hills from 500 to 680m (Map my walk). Last night we had a good thunderstorm which cleared this morning. Highlights: We saw our first burro. Again some magnificent old churches. Unbelievably beautiful countryside. Finally reached Logrono. Absolutely spent after another 30 plus degree day. Linda is going fantastic. Ear still a bit stuffed. On the way we passed through Sansol and Torres del Rio. Made it to Viana where we lunched and saw the burial plate for Cesare Borgia who is now on sanctified ground in the Iglesia de Santa Maria . Whilst it was only a further 10kms to get to Logrono, it was very hot, not a lot of shade and we wished we had stayed in Viana.
10th September - Logrono to Navarette - 12.5kms (176.5) Life is like a box of chocolates. When it comes to Booking.com. we are sitting in this 4 star hotel in Navarette which again is around 2 kms from the churches and centre of town. We did a short day from Logrono to Navarette. 14kms but still really hot. Blisters are still our main issue now. 193 kms so far. We also had breakfast this morning in Logrono at the Drunken Duck. Bacon, egg, baked beans, chips and chorizo. Fresh orange juice and a coffee. We were thinking of the Wednesday breakfast club ladies. So it was a late start at 10am today. First thing we noticed was the change in the Camino markers. Outside of town we caught up with Richard and his sister Margaret and saw our first squirrels in the pines around the lake. The mountains around us are just magnificent and we sampled a few of the grapes. We passed the Toro on the hill. Finally we found our very pink country club hotel. It reminded me of the Shining as we seemed to be the only ones in the hotel. After a shower it was back into town to see the church and plaza and something to eat.
11th September - Navarette to Najera - 16.5kms (193) We got up early to escape some of the day's heat and were pleasantly surprised with an overcast day. It was very nice walking and we found ourselves in Ventosa for an early morning coffee. The monastery of Santa Maria la Real in Najera is one of the major churches in Spain and contains the resting place for 30 or so Kings and Queens of medieval Spain. It is simply magnificent. Today we are getting into Templar country and we saw the Poyo de Roland where he reportedly slew Ferragut the Moorish giant. He thus became one of the greatest of the Templar nights. Here we saw karma in action. We were nearly bowled over by yet another bike rider but just as he swerved to miss us, he dropped his chain. We were near a roadside van who had cold drinks and a friendly vendor. He had been bringing his van out for over 20 years to serve the pilgrims. He helped the bike rider who left with no word of thanks, or small purchase. We passed him later pushing his bike and cursing. We came across a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Najera and enjoyed a meal. Only a short walk later we were at lodgings. After a shower we went into the old city and were blown away by the monastery and museum.
12th September - Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzado - 21kms (214) Left Najera for Santo Domingo de la Calzado real early 6.30 and still dark. It was a lovely walk and the 21kms saw us reaching our destination at 1pm despite another couple of 400m+ hills. We are starting to power up these. Saw grape vines, hops being harvested and fields of potatoes. Linda has got to see some poppies, albeit the last of them. We are going well with blisters as our constant companion. Azofra was a standout with an exclusive hotel with a car park full of posh cars. We then came to Cireuna with the greenest golf course on the outskirts of town. We were going to stop for a drink but decided to move on to the old part. Trouble was, there was no old part! The town had a large number of unfinished and unoccupied tenement houses - a victim of the GFC and Spain's lost superannuation money. It was still quite hot when we reached Santo and our hotel was right across from the Albergue. The gap between them would only have been about 10 feet. There was a long line up of pilgrims waiting to enter. When we walked past them and opened the doors to the hotel, a waft of cold air-conditioned air hit them and made us feel momentarily uncomfortable. This soon passed, when we had our now customary hot shower. Later we visited the old city with its magnificent church, monastery and museum, caught up with Ian and Loma and had dinner with them. Santo is where the pilgrim hospitality started. (Note: I have done dormitory sleeping and am happy to say that as I am now a bit older, I prefer the quiet and the hot shower)
13th September - St Domingo to Belorado - 24kms (238) Early start today which we enjoyed when passing through 5 villages. There are lots of animals out now, sheep dogs, cats, or maybe it is just that as we are now feeling better we are more aware. The small village of Viloria de la Rioja was were St Domingo was born and baptised. The church still stands and has the original font. A very gracious lady showed us in and stamped our passports. Mostly wheat fields today with one special church in this little village. While we missed the bulls in Pamplona, we did catch the running of the sheep It was quite scary for a little while. The shepherd was using a blue cattle dog to herd his flock. We met up again with Ian and loma who shared a lunch of sardines, crackers etc with us, before they caught a bus to Belorado. When we got to Belorado we walked past our hotel and then had to walk back. Sitting in the Albergue and a loud crack of thunder just boomed out. This may be the place featured in The Way. Now it has started to hail. Glad we made it in time!
14th September - Belorado to Villafranca Montes de Oca - 12kms (250) We had an easy morning and left after a light breakfast. Managed to leave our washing stuff in the laundry! Good walking for quite a while on decomposed gravel and quite soft after the storm. No coffee or beer today as it was Sunday and the shops were closed. We did get to see inside one church and we did dip our heads in the Blessed Fountain for perpetual good luck. We are sitting here in this unbelievable private Albergue - hotel wing - San Anton a Abad. The staff are friendly and amazing. It is a stop often walked through as it is not a reported stop in the books. We are in Villafranca de Montes de Oca. Just a short 12 km walk from Belorado. The pilgrim meal was excellent but we also had a hot chocolate in the bar earlier with some tapas. Trouble is, it was a full glass of melted chocolate. Oh well, next time must order a cacao (ka-cow).
15th September - Villafranca to Atapuerca - 18kms (268) Today we started a little late due to a heavy rain storm. Our host was very concerned as the walk out of the hotel was quite steep and would be slippery in the mud. We tossed up sending our backpacks to Burgos or catching the bus. (You guessed it), we donned our packs and headed out into the easing rain. We came to walk the Camino! After a while the rain cleared but not the very clayey and muddy road. We thought we were going to see El Cid's tomb but had got our wires crossed. That tomb is in Burgos. While there were not many villages today we found ourselves in Atapuerca at 1:30pm. Our lodgings were in a very quaint rural hotel - Hotel Rural Papasol. It was here we met a lovely French couple Jean-Pierre and Collette. After dinner we found ourselves out in the garden with a bottle of red and were joined by some other ladies who had got together and formed a travel group.
16th September - Atapuerca to Burgos - 21.5kms (289.5) The departure this morning could have gone terribly wrong with the selection of the wrong path. But we found our bearings and the highlight was climbing up and over the Sierra Atapuerca (1075m) From the top you could see Burgos in the distance. Still quite a way to walk though. We arrived in Burgos after a 20km plus walk and near the end we chose the traditional entrance to Burgos which now goes through a dull and uninteresting walk through the industrial area. Other pilgrims went the alternate track and came in via the river - much nicer. The statue of El Cid is epic.
17th and 18th Burgos - rest days We stayed in the lovely Hotel Norte y Londres. And spent our time viewing the magnificent cathedral, the tapas bars and the old town.
More of Burgos on the rest days.
Major tour through the Burgos cathedral.
Visit to the old fort.
Still more on Burgos. We got up early to see Jean Pierre and Collette once more before they headed off across the meseta. We had 4 things to do over today and tomorrow
Find a laundromat - the laundromat proved to be quite an adventure and we stopped a number of locals for advice. Finally we found it and they said we would have our clothes delivered back to the hotel in the morning. (we were hoping to see them again) I decided that if it was not a long walk, I would wear my thongs. Trouble was that it was raining lightly and the tiled footpaths were slippery as. It must have looked hilarious as I snow shooed along the footpaths.
Buy a pair of sandals - We were told to look for a Base store which specializes in backpacking and sports gear. Without too much effort we found it and purchased some walking sandals for Linda and myself. We also bought a small backpack to send off the excess gear such as sleeping bags as we had now decided that private lodgings was our way to go. When we were going through our gear to see what we did not need, we found we left our washing liquid in Belorado and Linda's hair shampoo in Atapuerca. Oh well.
Find a post office to post some cards and to also mail our sleeping bags and other stuff that we were not using - on the way to Base we passed the post office so were able to get back there the next day. Not a problem to post some cards and the back pack was sent to Santiago for 7 EUR (when we posted the first lot of gear back in St Jean through a private courier it cost 70EUR).
Finally to find an internet cafe to copy our photos across to a USB stick. - We soon found that the internet cafe was a dodo with the arrival of the smart phone and wireless. The cafe we found had old PC's using Windows 3.1. It would not even recognise the USB stick and also it would not give it back until I prised it out with a screwdriver.
We also did a fair bit of walking around the old town. One stroke of luck was soon to eventuate. Booking.com did not have any accommodation in our next stop, so we asked the desk clerk if he could help us. He made a few calls and then told us of this guest house just off the Camino. The owners would pick us up and drop us back to the track the next day. It sounded to good to be true.
19th September - Burgos to Hornillos del Camino - 20kms (309) The 20km day started at 6:30am with a quick bite up the road. It was an enjoyable walk out of Burgos, but sometimes it is long and hard to shake off the big cities. This also was our first detour around major road works. We made it to Tardajos for a coffee and a foot stop. Today Linda is wearing her sandals and guess what, a new blister on her heel. We got to Hornillos around lunch and as instructed went to the shop on the left as you enter the village. There we were to give the Hotel Norte y Londres card to the proprietor. As luck would have it, the driver was there shopping and was happy to wait while we got some lunch and then drove us out to the lodgings. It also turned out that this albergue had a strong connection to the film "The Way" which starred Martin Sheen and Emilio Esteves. Our driver was Samuel and his mother, Mila, ran the farm. She also was in the movie. Samuel's sister was married to Emilio Esteves' son, Taylor. He was showing us all these photos on his phone while he was driving us out to the farm. This was the start of some remarkable friendships. In our private wing were 3 other Brisbane folk - Di, Henk and Neil. The main dormitory was occupied with Americans, Canadians, Cubans and French people. Dinner around this long table was amazing. The food and wine was equally so. Bed, dinner and breakfast was 78EUR for the two of us. We all shared some friendly, lively conversation.
20th September - Hornillos to Castrojeriz - 21kms (330.5) Early wake up and breakfast with our new friends. Then the shuttle back into town. It was cool as we headed out. Sanbol came up fast but we kept going as showers were upon us. We did however, catch up with George and Peg and Bill and Lisa at Hontonas for lunch - a cheese sandwich about the size of a house brick. Lyn's feet were hurting by around 16kms. We caught the group again just short of Castrojeriz. Their accommodation was just at the start of town. Ours was a further kilometre or so up the hill and through town - El Meson. We are now at Castrojeriz. @ 330kms.. Feet are still an issue but 20km days are not too arduous. We have the steepest climb tomorrow on the Camino but it is not long. Once we had a shower, we headed out for a sight see, coffee and stores for tomorrow. When we came back we found the Hornillos group in the outdoor area of our hotel. So a drink before dinner produced some animated discussion. One thing led to another. Di the Australian (Brisbane) lady heard my comment that I visited this lovely town in Scotland, Crail where my descendants came from. She said her's did as well and then we almost both said in unison, that we were Elders. We are related at the David Elder and Barbara Ross level. The other scary thing is that I had earlier said to Linda, that she reminded me so much of Fay. In fact she is so like Fay that it was more scary when we both realised the truth. Di also has a twin sister. Dinner was just fabulous. So again, the Camino delivers when you least expect it.
My cousin Di.
21st September - Castrojeriz to Fromista - 25kms (355.5) Another destination reached. Left Castrojeriz this morning. But it took us a while to find someone to pay for our lodgings. Still got going early enough to climb up to the plateau (.a steep climb up to 1040m) At the top a kind soul had set up a van with coffee, tea and drinks, accompanied by a small kitten who took a fancy to a bike riders seat and a scruffy dog. Overall walked 25kms to Fromista. Blisters are still an issue that are hard to shake. Linda now has a huge blister on her right heel and a sprain under here second toe on the same foot. I have been troubled by my knee since the start and now also a return of the shin soreness. It was an interesting walk first to the Ermita de St Nicholas where we collected a stamp. Today we also were introduced to the irrigation system with aqueducts, canals and locks (The Canal de Castille). The final walk into town followed the Canal de Castille for several kilometres. We are staying in the Hostel San Pedro. Very nice too. We had dinner with the cousins and then an early night.
22nd September - Fromista to Carrion de los Condes - 20kms (375.5) It was a good day today and broken up with 4 villages along the way. Took in the churches mentioned in Trish Clarks' book. The walk today had a few highlights. An Albergue with a menagerie of animals including 2 burros. One would turn the tap on to have a drink and when he smelled the apple in Lyn's pack became very friendly. When he could not get that he tried to carry off one of Lyn's walking poles. We saw two churches including the gothic Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca. Another 20 kms of the meseta behind us and we are at Carrion de los Condes in once again a very lovely hostel - Hostel Santiago. And for Nick a couple of photos of our room here - the Hostel Santiago. Now whilst there a few if any food shots, we are eating and drinking very well although Lyn would love a few cooked vegetables other than potato. So for now it is Adios mi Amigos.
dead 23rd September - Carrion de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza - 17.5kms (393) Did a 18km walk today on the meseta which was a straight flat road. It crossed a few clear running streams, fields which were fallow or being ploughed or corn needing to be picked. Not much on the road today until we finally saw our destination. We also saw a lady with a setter with his own saddle bags and then a Frenchman who was riding his bike and towing a dog box containing 4 Italian greyhounds. We also caught up with the cousin a few times and again at lunch in our Hostal - Hostal Camino Real. They still had another 10kms before they called it a day. We on the other hand are here for the night. The lodgings were top notch and the washing was done and dry. We are batting 100 as the kind restaurant owner in Fromista booked this place for us. Tomorrow we pass 400kms........past half way.
24th September Calzadilla to Moratinos - 12 kms (405) We are doing a couple of short days to settle the feet. So a short 12km walk which did not start until 9am this morning. We slept in until 7.30 then had a great English breakfast. The highlight of the walk apart from the hostal we are now staying in, was the town of Terradillos de los Templarios which is the official half way point of the Camino and the town where the Templar Knights were able to build their first pilgrim hospice in the 13th century. We are this afternoon in the Hostal Moratinos, another piece of heaven in this wonderful place. It is run by a lovely family whose son Daniel has walked the Camino. They had set up the hostal with everything a pilgrim might need. There was a Dutch/German/Spanish feel to it. Across the road was a number of bodegas built into the side of the hill.
25th September Moratinos to Sahagun - 10.5kms (415.5) Woke late to a very cold morning. Had a breakfast of bacon and eggs from our lovely hosts. Even last night for dinner we had a beef stew and for the first time it came with vegetables. Off to Sahagun. Had a coffee at St Nicholas another Templar hospice. The path was pretty chilly with a strong breeze at our backs. Finally found our room after asking about 4 locals. Another of those rooms that do not have a full time reception - Los Balcones del Camino. The churches were also closed but we had a walk around and had lunch, found the Farmica, and Supermercado. Viewed some of the 13th century churches. It will be a longer day tomorrow and we need to be in our lodgings by 3pm. An early night for us.
26th September - Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero - 17.5kms (433) We departed from Sahagun after finding the breakfast bar, closing the door and leaving the keys in the letterbox and walked 17.5kms to El Burgo Ranero. We set a good pace and by 10am (2 hours and 10 kms) we were in Bercianos where we had a toastie and coffee and loo stop. This meant that the 7.5 left to El Burgo was a lot more pleasant. Caught up with a young couple Matt from NZ and Arianne from Germany. Matt and I were talking rugby and Lyn was talking to Arianne. The kilometers flew past and soon we were in El Burgo. We found our hostel - Piedras Blancas after a shortish walk. Lovely room again. On our arrival we were both greeted with a cold beer that went down like a gift from heaven. Showered and came down for a lunch which was amazing and filling, and filled with communication with our fellow diners. I had BBQ Ribs after garlic soup. Lyn had paella and pork with salad plus another bottle of red ( you ask for a glass and they give you a bottle, and who am I to refuse ). There is a big flood in the south west of Spain which was reported on, in the news. It is coming from a fierce typhoon in the Atlantic ocean. Luckily we are not feeling it up here on the Camino. We had a sunbake out in the garden and then went for a walk out to the bird sanctuary. The old St Peter the Apostle (12th century) had 4 great stork nests on the steeples. We are getting across the meseta and it is wonderful. Not at all like the boring and soul destroying stories we had heard. We are now another day closer to Leon.
27th September - El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas - 19kms (452) We started out after breakfast around 7:40am to walk the 12 kms to Religios whose claim to fame was a meteorite that dropped into their town in 1939. No one was injured though. The sunrises are amazing. We had lunch with some nice German ladies and Matt and Arriane were at another table and helped with translations. When we arrived in Mansilla we had a lot of trouble finding our accommodation - Hotel El Puente. That done we cleaned up and went downstairs for a beer. We then find out there is no WIFI. We went back and I had a bit of a kip while Lyn watched an old Ralph Fiennes version of Wuthering Heights . We got up later and had a walk around. The old walls of the town are amazing and the River Esla was a beautiful sight.. Walking back through Mansilla we saw a familiar face. An old friend from my Works Dept days - Russ Nelson, his wife Jan and another friend John Hood. Had dinner with them and saw them again the next morning on the road to Leon. The end of the Meseta :-(
28th September - Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon - 19kms (471) Up and out of our quirky digs in Mansilla and on our way to Leon. We have been looking forward to our visit and rest day. We did good time having left in the dark and a coffee shop was found around 10kms out. On nearing it we found Russ and the others just finishing their coffee. They headed off but we soon caught up with John who was not travelling at all well. He was going to bus it from Leon having pushed his body way past its capacity. We walked with him for a while but eventually he told us to go ahead as he was painfully slow. We saw that he was in no danger and that with time he would make Leon. We are now surprising ourselves having done the 19kms in under 4 hours arriving in Leon at 11am. Once in the old part of Leon we were again aided by a friendly local who walked us to our accommodation. We were too early for our check in so we just chilled on the terrace. The Hotel Reina was eclectic to say the least with the most helpful jack of all trades reception guy. Later we went for a walk through the town which was having a parade for their Festival of Folk Music - Festival de las Canteras . We then met up with Di and Henk and Neil for dinner. The mood of the crowd was happy and infectious. The pubs were all full and the crowds were amazing. Also saw the cathedral from the outside and a wire haired dachshund and a shop selling Sylvanians. It was all happening. Later on we bid our farewell to the trio who were leaving the next day. We are now Facebook buddies so Di has a good idea of how we are travelling. We hope to catch up again in Santiago. We then retired to bed having had this terrific day.
29th September - Leon Rest day. Well amazing is one word. Leon Cathedral is two. Absolutely blown away. The size and majesty. Originally built in the 13th century by a town of 5,000 people in just 50 years, Gothic style and over a Roman church several centuries its senior. We did as much as was physically possible -
Had breakfast in front of the Cathedral
Toured the Cathedral and Museum
Bought some postcards
Saw more sights and bought our desk clerk a gift for his assistance
Saw San Isodoro Church, museum and Pantheon of Kings (Leon's Sistine Chapel)
Attended our first mass and received the pilgrim blessing
Caught a small train for a scenic ride around the old town. That ride is a story in itself.
Had a lovely late dinner in one of the wonderful restaurants. Then back to the hotel for our last night.
30th September - Leon to Villandangos del Paramo 22kms (493) Today's report will be brief. The highlights were as we were leaving the hotel this morning we passed the Monastery San Marcos which was the headquarters of the Knights of Santiago. It is now a Parador Hotel. We walked over the Rio Bèrnasga on the Puenta de San Marcos .After that it was a long walk to leave the suburbs of Leon. Not much to see here. Even 13kms out was the Leon golf club. Then it started to heat up and the feet were starting to heat up as well, when we hit the last town. Now settled in the hostal and planning tomorrow. So a 22km day still leaves us just short of 500kms. It was a rather uninspiring day. Leon hung on like its name sake. Anyway we found our accommodation without a hitch. People are very nice. Shower, sleep, walk around, cup of tea and then dinner (very nice) I had the biggest bowl of food. I had a brandy, watched a bit of soccer and watched our host swat flies with an electric swat that looked like a small tennis racquet.
1st October - Villandangos to Astorga - 28.5 kms (521.5) This was a long walk at around 29kms and whilst we did not start until 8am we arrived at 4.45pm. We had 3 villages to go through and Hospital de Orbigo was the standout. We visited a small church before crossing the famous medieval bridge over the Rio Orbigo. A little old lady was cleaning the church and we managed to convey our admiration for the church. We believe she shed a happy tear when we put a few euros in the bowl. Crossing the bridge we enjoyed a cold glass of agua con gas and some chips. It was a very hot day. The walk was challenging with hills, rocks, long stretches, roads and not much relief. We found the music on my phone was very useful to lighten our mood and take our mind of the very tough walk. We crossed over a small hill/mountain and the overall path in the last 8kms was very rocky. Even getting into Astorga was a climb in itself. The relief when we finally walked into the main plaza was to see our hotel just there. Linda was so hot she walked the last few kilometers in her thongs. I changed out of my boots in Hospital de Orbiga to my tevas. After a shower, Lyn had a short sleep while I went out to get some cash, to see if we could find Helen who we said we would share dinner with, and also to go to a well reputed choclateria. I bought back a few samples which was enough to cheer Lyn up. After a rest, we had a walk around town. There was quite a bit to see with roman ruins, cathedrals, town hall clock and the Gaudi-designed Bishop's Palace . We did eventually find Helen who was sitting across from us on the other side of the square with an American named Mark. We had a fun night.
When you hear those bells ringing in Astorga.
2nd October - Astorga to Rabanal del Camino - 21.5 kms (543) Yesterday we had a few surprises and met a few old faces on the way. Met Helen from Melbourne and Mark from America and had a great dinner. Tomorrow we go over the highest point on the Camino at 1515m - La Cruz de Ferro. But today was going to be tough as we did not have a great sleep but the feet were ready for another day. The 22km walk today was not an issue but after yesterday was still a test. Nice little towns to walk through and today we made really good time as we were later on the road than we planned - 8:30am start. It was another warm day and we stopped for a break to take our shoes off, eat an apple and some nuts. Walking in and out of the shade and bright sun, Linda started to feel the slight migraine from the day before. Slow and steady and she came good. We then stopped at a pretty sad place called The Cowboy for lunch. The flies were the least of their problems .Caught up with Matt and Ariaine at the 3km mark to Rabanal. This was the longest 3 kms I have walked but eventually we came upon this man with a falcon and Linda had photos taken with it on her arm. We found our accommodation pretty easily and this was the first with a shared bathroom. We showered and went for a walk around town. We had lunch at the Albergue and met Mark again. Also we met a great little dog called Santiago - Santi for short. Early night. Also met for the first time a group of French people who were assisting invalid people over the Camino via special 4x4 wheel chairs. There were about 100 of them and 5 to each chair and they would rotate with the support cars. It was truly inspirational as they have come all the way across the Pyrenees .
3rd October - Rabanal to El Acebo - 21.5kms (560.5) Good long sleep last night, effectively 6pm to 6am. We were still feeling the walk to Astorga. It is hard to believe that today we reach the Cruz de Ferro where we will place our rock and say a prayer. Great weather for walking today. and we made good time to each village. First one had this huge dog who just lay in the sun. The French contingent caught us here having a coffee. The French people were working in several groups and about 5 would walk with each individual. They have been going since the start of August. I said Viva la France to a few when they stopped for a coffee at Foncebardon for their amazing effort. It was warmly received. But it was soon off and up to 1515m. We came upon the cross much faster than we thought. It was very moving. We laid our rocks and had a snack from our backpacks. The French soon arrived and to our joy formed a guard of honor and sang a hymn as they ushered the chairs through. This proved without doubt that good people exist throughout the world. There was not a dry eye in the place. It was then, back to the task in hand, the walk down to El Acebo. We passed through a little outpost called Manjarin and a world cross road at the most eclectic albergue we had ever seen. We donated some coins for a banana in an unattended roadside stall. Whilst it was not a long walk we had climbed over 1500m and then descended to the town. The descent was bad on the knees and feet. When we got to town we found our Albergue was on the other side of town. Meanwhile all our friends were drinking at the first bar. We again saw Helen who was going on to Molinaseca. She walked us through town to find our abode. When we saw it, we again were in heaven. It is just wonderful. We did our washing, met some lovely dogs that kept us company while our clothes were washed and dried .I had two beers in this time. The room is again wonderful as my photos will attest. Once again we are in the mountains after coming across the plains (meseta). Dinner was great. We stayed in the Gaudi suite for the night. PS we are now in the Cantabrian mountains.
4th October - El Acebo to Ponferrada - 17kms (577.5) PS. I have blown as big hole in my anti blister socks. We have now been walking over 1 month and only have 2 weeks to go to Santiago. It is too hard to fathom. If your body could talk..... Getting dressed this morning, my little toe said to me "can we stop now? I have lost my nail and several layers of skin." I firmly said "no" and put my sock on. We left our lovely Albergue to wind our way down and around the mountains to Ponferrada some 17kms away. The walk was really one of the nicest ones we have done. The mountain path was pretty good but a sheer drop awaited you if you veered too far. We went through a hamlet - Riego de Ambros hidden in its own little valley. There we met up with Amanda, a lovely girl who had spent the night camped under the chestnut trees. She walked with us to Molinaseca. The Camino is just getting better and better. What a picturesque town. The river was stunning as usual and as we crossed the bridge I wished out loud for bacon and eggs. Once over the bridge, a bar was advertising fried eggs, bacon and chips. I was in there in a flash and ordering second breakfasts with orange juice and coffee. It was terrific. We continued on to Ponferrada - and the Templar castle. This time and with the aid of my binoculars was able to quickly locate our hotel - the Hotel Madrid de Bierzo. After settling in we headed out to see the Templar fort. It was pretty amazing to actually be there. Whilst the Spanish drove the Templars and the masons out of Spain their influence is easy to see. We had lunch, listened to some musicians, visited the church and then the castle 12th to 16th century. We rewarded ourselves with a huge ice cream and retired back to the hotel. Linda was asleep around 7:30pm and did not wake until 6am. The routine of walking, eating and sleeping is starting to show its benefits. We are sleeping long hours without any trouble and walking is now not an issue. The belt is a couple of holes in. Tomorrow we head off on what is our last 2 weeks of walking. We are happy pilgrims.
5th October - Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo - 22.5kms(600)
The walk today was through about 6 small towns. The Bierzo region is very different in its style. Saw one of the thatched, raised, circular stone huts in people's yards. It was great but the last few kilometres was a long and the walk down to to town was pretty steep on the old paved roads. Again, the hotel was in the centre of town and near the main square - Posada Plaza Mayor where we had dinner and later caught up with Mark and Bill. We had also picked up a Brierley book of the Camino earlier in the day at a coffee stop, and later after dinner we found the owner, an Irishman (John). "Molinaseca" Amanda (who is from Tasmania) had mentioned that she knew who lost it. When I got back they had all gone back to their Albergue, apart from John and Amanda. Great night. A few reds was most appropriate. Linda (back now in the room) was worried that I had got lost. It was my latest night yet. Still drinking at 10pm.
6th October - Villafranca to Vega de Valcarce - 17.5kms (617.5) We left Villafranca a bit late (9am) after breakfast. The town was another that we could have stayed longer in. Some amazing old churches, an old castle and great shops and bars. We left with heavy hearts knowing we would never be back. The walk today was fairly easy with about 15kms with a slight incline but we followed the Rio Valcarce pretty much all the way. We walked through a spreading chestnut forest and light rain started which was quite pleasant. Arrived at our Casa Rural El Recanto around 1pm. Another jewel. It was nestled under the freeway with its towering pylons. They were so high you could not hear the traffic.
I just love Spain. The red wine is fantastic, the beer is great and served cold but a double shot of cognac for 1 euro in a quiet bar in Vega - outstanding.
7th October - Vega de Valcarce to O'Cebreiro - 12kms (629.5) As we left Vega we just strolled through the first few kilometres, taking in the scenery and the small hamlets. It is good to be back in cow country with the bells ringing. On leaving Vega there was an early Saracen castle high atop a nearby mountain. The leaves are now starting to turn and fall and litter the path making them a lot softer underfoot. Nearing O'Cebreiro, we came across a very muddy section of the path/road and coming our way was another herd of cows being moved from pasture to pasture. Once past the path was now a quagmire. Lyn's shoes with their cuts in the sides were now looking like a very bad idea. We were soon through it and had an icecream at a shop nearby. So, here we are in O' Cebreiro and staying at the Casa Carolo. One of the highest villages on the Camino. It was an all uphill walk today from Vega. But it was quite enjoyable. We are certainly in the mountains. Guess what, I was in the running of the cows at last and I have video footage to prove it. It was heart in mouth stuff. We also have been chatting with some Adelaide ladies who chose to ride horses up the mountain. I have a video of that as well. Anyway we have now walked 630kms and only have 150 to go. We still have a few hills left. We also visited the church which holds the Galician Grail. We start our descent tomorrow and the weather is starting to close in.
8th October - O'Cebreiro to Triacastela - 22kms (651.5) Well it had to happen, we have been so lucky, but today we leave our lodgings and it is cold, windy and raining. Off we went. We started off with high winds and misty rain which was quite pleasant. Unfortunately our luck ran out later with about three heavy storms. As we crossed over the Alto de San Roque (1270m) we admired the imposing statue facing whatever conditions came its way. It was about 20 feet high. On the way down and in the village of Bidueda, in drizzling rain, an old lady, who has been doing this for many years, came out with hot pancakes. We later stopped to get out of the weather at a nice albergue for some coffee and toast. But the storms were evenly placed so that over the 22kms you would dry out just in time for the next scud. The last one hit as we entered the outskirts of the village of Triacastela.. We arrived at the albergue - Meson Villasante wet as shags but were greeted warmly by our hosts. They promptly turned on the oil heaters and helped us with our wet gear. We had to go up the road for dinner and they lent us some huge umbrellas. Anyway a hot shower and oil heaters were just what we needed. Soon we were fed, cleaned and dry. So my last comment for today - mud, mud, poop, poop, water, water, wind,wind and the most wonderful people.
9th October - Triacastela to Sarria - 19kms (670.5) The walk from Triacastela was great after the previous day. It was cold and overcast but not really threatening to rain. The track was through some amazing country. Once again we did some climbing and descending. We have a similar day again tomorrow. The walk went through open fields, forests (including several old forests) and several villages. I also have a picture of our boots for the record. Linda put her socks on and then wrapped a plastic bag over them and then put her shoes on. This made them a little more water proof after I had cut holes in them to give her feet more room. They will not be coming home with us. We had a nice lunch stop at an albergue - a huge bacon sandwich . Linda had a coffee and I had a beer. We followed the river for a while but it was mostly forest and small villages. The farm dogs were always a welcome interlude. Also it was a process of rain jackets on and off all day. We arrived at Sarria which is around 100kms from Santiago and reputed to be the place where some start off to get their Compostela with minimum walking. This was due to King Alfonso XI dying in Sarria whilst making his pilgrimage to Santiago. It was quite cold when we arrived and were lucky to find the tourist office and then our hostel some 100m up the Camino way - DP Crystal. Early meal and early night. 105kms to go.
10th October - Sarria to Portomarin - 22.5kms (693) Off again after a nice breakfast and when the light was good we left as we wanted to see a few highlights - the churches and the old city. There were quite a few stairs to climb at first and then a climb out of Sarria. There is a lot of up and down today and we are seeing a lot of new faces which we suspect are the 100 club. The walk today was 22kms and pretty slow as Linda was pretty low after a few restless nights and also we have not had a break since Leon. Her left big toe made its presence felt. But it was still a great walk through some amazingly beautiful country and villages and farms. Early in the day we were able to enter a 12th century Romanesque church were a dear old fellow gave our passports a stamp. We walked on and soon the view of the destination was there. We had to descend a really steep road and then cross the Rio Mino by a very, very high bridge (not Linda's idea of fun). Once over the bridge you are confronted by another set of steep steps - about 60 to enter through the city gates. We are now in Portomarin. This town is like Jindabyne. A town that was moved and reconstructed after the dam waters flooded the old town. We stayed in the Hotel Villajardin which was very nice and had a great dinner of lamb chops , vino and ice cream. This was followed by a great sleep. We have now walked 690kms and only have 90kms to go.
11th October - Portomarin to Palas de Rei - 15kms (708) A nice easy start to the day. BTW we have added an extra day to the scheduled arrival in Santiago. The walk today was pretty quiet although we now find ourselves with plenty of other walkers. After yesterday, when Linda was feeling down, a great dinner (mixed salad, lamb cutlets, icecream and a glass of red), a good long sleep, she wakes up and I say, take some Camino Candy (panadol), put on your gel toe-caps and let's go for breakfast. Breakfast over, we donned our backpacks and walked outside to a chilly, foggy morning. Then Linda was off like a scalded cat and went up a 350m hill and did not stop until a cafe loomed at 7.5kms. I would say she felt a lot better. Today we saw a lot more walkers, bikers and even horses. We visited one old Ermita where we had our passports stamped by an old gentleman whose eyesight was failing. We saw a German Shepherd working the cattle. We also saw yet another example of goodness. A group of people taking handicapped children on the Camino. We bumped into a couple of walkers who we have noticed over the past few weeks. They were brother and sister David and Rachel Land who come from Springwood and also know a couple of Lyn's workmates- Marcus and Elia from the cinema . Such a small world. I took a photo of my walking stick which shows the initials of all our overnight stops. We found our accommodation again fairly easily and also just lovely. So overall a good day. We arrived in town around 3pm at the Pension Palas.
12th October - Palas de Rei to Melide - 15kms (723) Yay, only 15 kms to go today. Showery and just enough to be a nuisance. Enjoyable doddle through farmland, hamlets etc. Being Sunday not a lot was happening. The walk was in cloudy, misty, light rain and pretty quiet, despite plenty of other walkers. Yesterday we nearly got run down by "Two-Ton-Ted from Teddington" who drove the bakers van! We stopped for lunch at this lovely cafe - the River Cafe. We had a nice chat with a delightful Frenchman and some other folk. I had a plate of prawns and a couple of beers. We arrived in Melide and soon found our accommodation - the Hotel Xaneiro. We also found that our shower leaked. No biggie, we let the hosts know. We went walking around Melide. A big storm came and the church was closed so back to the hotel. Had a cognac, not as cheap as Vega de Valcarce, but still just as nice. Early night. BTW I must mention that the TV in Spain has very little English shows. Lyn was able to follow this show titled "Isabella" (Linda was able to recount the story to me the next day despite not knowing what they were saying. It was most engrossing). We also followed the Basque sheep dog trials which showed dogs with not three but a whole flock of sheep. We also watched these old B-grade westerns dubbed in Spanish.
13th October - Melide to Arzua - 12.5kms (735.5) Today we woke to rain and later after breakfast we left in heavy rain for a shortish walk to Arzua. The rain eventually lightened and we walked on. We had 3 up and down hills to negotiate. Saw plenty of eucalypt forests including some massive examples. We are both excited and sad that our walk is nearly finished. We were lucky to view a church from the 11th century with 14th century frescoes - the Iglesia Santa Maria. We stopped at a nice cafe for morning tea around 10:30am and then on to our stop for the night, the Hotel Suiza. We are now in Arzua. About 40kms to go and only two nights left on the Camino.
14th October - Arzua to A Rua - 18.5kms (754) Woke to a blue cloudless sky. Cold and refreshing. Started walking and immediately missed our turn off point from the road to the path. Again, the Camino delivered, and a child and his Grandmother gave us the directions to head down this road (pointing) until it meets up with the well know markers and path. Sure enough just like in the book. We met up with a few old friends along the way. The walk was only 18kms and was over before we knew it even though we were dragging our heels and stopped for coffee, then early lunch, then a coke and OJ for a loo stop and asked for final directions. Arrived at Hotel O Pino all too soon. Our lodgings were just great, a mini suite. Off to Santiago in the morning! Had a nagging question answered today; yes - pigs do love to eat chestnuts. We saw a rooster that was similar to the one that terrorized me when I was young. Disappointed to have some churches that you hope are open, but are not. We had a lovely dinner with some old and new friends.
15th October - A Rua to Santiago - 21.5kms (775.5) We had a great dinner at Hotel O'Pino and a wonderful room. It was tough leaving. Outside it was raining and it just got heavier as the day went on. We had a slight reprieve when Santiago was in sight and then in town it started again with a vengeance. So, we are here and full marks to Linda for doing it. We are a great team. Our boots were soaking and so were we. The walk today wasn't too bad, it was just the incessant wind and rain. We finally found the Cathedral and then our hotel. We dropped our backpacks there and went back out to get our Compostela. The crowds were something else, and we waited in this small courtyard for our turn to get our compostela. We had an early dinner. We will meet up with cousin Di and Henk and Neil tomorrow night. Although they expect the weather to be even worse tomorrow. We are here for three days and on the weekend we have booked the Rustica Spar Hotel at Cape Finisterre just near the lighthouse. Back to Santiago on Monday. Hopefully the weather improves over that time. What an adventure we have had. Two best buddies.
16th October - Santiago rest day. Slept in until 8:30am . We had breakfast and then retrieved our bags at Correos de la Salle. Ran into Di and arranged for dinner that night Main activity was the pilgrims' mass in the Cathedral. Here we caught up with Mark. We again walked past the pilgrims' office, the queue today was out the door and up the road for about 100 feet. That night we had dinner at this seafood restaurant that Henk had found and recommended. It was a fun night.
17th October - Santiago Rest Day. This was a busy day.
Saw Neil straight up.
Attended mass at the Iglesia de San Francisco in English and got a special compostela marking the 800th year of the order - Sancti Francisci Conventus Compostelae.
Bought some souvenirs.
Bought a suitcase.
Met Amanda and UK Lady.
Repacked ready for Finisterre.
Sorted out rail tickets as far as possible.
Ready for bus tomorrow morning.
Pilgrims along the Way Just a recap of the people Linda and I have met, talked and walked with so far -
Brenda Underwood 70 years old - last seen in St Jean.
Ian and Loma - a NZ couple who are walking around our pace but need to finish before our due date so will be busing some middle stages.
Two Irishman who we left in Pamplona.
Mark and Debbie - walked with them to Zubiri and last seen in Puente la Reina.
Alfred - a German walking around our pace, met in Estella and who we see from time to time.
Doug from Las Vegas who is doing the Camino after having to go home earlier for a family matter.
Richard and his sister Margaret near Navarette.
Paul and Alex - 2 Perth policeman.
Jo from Belgium.
Frank and Diane from Melbourne last seen in Los Arcos.
Fiona and David from south Sydney. Villafranca Montes de Oca - they had heard of us and were glad to catch up.
Jean Pierre and Collete a lovely French couple who we stayed with in Atapuerca.
Leandra and two other ladies from Adelaide. Met a few times and again climbing to O'Cebrero while they were riding on horseback.
Marista and Louise from South Africa.
Di, Henk and Neil from Brisbane and who (Di) turned out to be my 3rd cousin.
Lisa and Bill from Quebec at Hornillos
George and Peg from North Carolina at Hornillos.
Arianne from Germany and Matt from NZ walked with them to Astorga.
Alan and Lyn from Jervis Bay.
David and Rachel Land from Springwood - met on the road to Palas de Rei
Will from Newcastle.
Amanda (the gyspy) from Tasmania at Molinaseca and Santiago.
Maureen and John from Wagga Wagga in Astorga.
Mark from Washington State who we met a few times along the way and again at Finisterre and Santiago.
It was amazing to share our time with these people.
18th , 19th and 20th October - Trip to Finnisterre Day 1 - Well we feel a little guilty catching the bus to Finisterre but we had a long walk up the hill from the bus station to our hotel. I nearly broke into a sweat. The bus ride up the coast was pretty and dramatic with a lot of weather around and a boiling sea from the aftermath of the typhoon making its way north and now level with Ireland. A lot of protected harbours and bays. Once again the hotel is great and right on the top of the hill on the way to the lighthouse. The weather looks better for tomorrow so will get out and look around. One thing though we missed dinner the first night as we had not booked it correctly! Day 2 - A day in Finisterre. Woke to a better day and after breakfast took off for the day. First stop was a walk to the surf beach where I dipped my feet in the Atlantic. It was a pretty calm surface with 6 to 10 foot waves. It was not unlike Bells with a steep beach and and rocky points on both sides. After that we walked the old pilgrims' path on the western side and eventually met up with the road that goes from the village to the lighthouse. Spent some time there and again met our Camino friend Mark. We all walked back to the village for lunch. After goodbyes we have come back to the hotel for a kip before dinner - Steak and Razor clams. Overall about 10kms today. Day 3 - Heading east. Yesterday marked the end of our westward journey. Today we turned east to commence our homeward trip. The bus trip was great with sunny skies and passing through about 8 coastal villages. It is like a big horseshoe and once over the other side you could look back to Finnisterre and the headland/lighthouse. This is our last night in Santiago. We had one last walk through the town and past the pilgrims' office - not a pilgrim to be seen. The change was amazing given we had only been gone for a few days. Tomorrow we train to Astorga for 2 nights, then to San Sebastian for 3 nights. After that Pamplona and Barcelona and then home.
Some final comments The Camino was everything we hoped and thought it would be. Having the 46 days to do it was important. It allowed us to constantly regroup and refresh. We chose to walk by ourselves and not go with an established tour. Doing this it was much cheaper and more flexible, and for us more rewarding.The extra days we spent in Roncesvalles, Estella, Burgos, and Leon enabled us to plan the next stages, do washing and body repairs, but more importantly get out and see and talk to the people around you.Later in the walk, notably the last 3rd, we were fitter and this allowed us to do much more.
We would not have been able to do it by ourselves without a great guidebook. Such a book was written by Trish Clark - Guide to the Camino - St Jean to Santiago de Compostela - guidetothecamino.com. It was all we needed on the Camino. And whilst the desk clerks in the hotels and albergues were terrific, and would gladly book ahead for us (and did on several occasions) we found Booking.com to be terrific.
And lastly my good friend The Reverend Elaine Farmer in her 2011 sermon on Saint James the Greater at St James - King Street Sydney on St James’ Day 24 July wrote about us pilgrims..... "We are not perfect. James wasn’t, if his temper was as bad as legend has it. But Jesus called and he followed. And followed. And followed. And served till he died. There is a story about an old priest who has spent his life serving pilgrims at a hostel for pilgrims on the Camino, the long walk from France through Spain to James’s shrine in what is now called Santiago de Compostela. In 2002 a British TV crew, a self-proclaimed faithless and irreverent lot, went to record his story and that of the others who worked as servants for the pilgrims. They understood the idea of pilgrimage but not what those who served them were about. ‘What have you all been doing?’ they asked. ‘Oh,’ said the old priest, ‘just changing the world, that’s all.. Jesus called and James followed. And served till he died. “I wish you peace” he said before he lost his head. We could do worse than follow his example and mean it when, in humility, and in the never-ending search for ‘true authority’, we wish each other peace.’