Camino de Santiago

I’d just like to note, before you start reading, that this is a really long page about a pretty long trip. I’ve predominantly written this page for people who are themselves thinking of walking the camino, which is why there is so much info here. Hopefully it can be of use and help you with planning your own trip.

Where? The Camino de Santiago are a series of pilgrim routes that run across Europe to the city of Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain. The most famous of these routes, and the one that we walked, is the Camino Frances. The Camino Frances begins at St-Jean-Pied-De-Port in the French Pyrenees, goes up and over the mountains, via the Spanish cities of Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos and Leon and ends in Santiago de Compostela, 800km away.

When? We started our walk on the 24 May 2016 and finished it 41 days later on the 4 July. Most people who walk the Camino Frances take about 35 days, but we know people who did it faster and slower than this. We took our time and dawdled along the way, but we had the luxury of time to spare so we didn’t have to rush to finish. On average you need about six weeks for the full 800km.

Why? Because it’s there; because it’s an easily achievable magnificent feat; because we wanted a cheap, physical adventure; because it allowed us to see more of Spain, to eat amazing food and drink wonderful wine – without guilt; because we both had six weeks spare and this is something we probably won’t get again for a good few years.

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Intro

Camino is Spanish for path or way. It’s also Spanish for walk. The Camino de Santiago is also known as The Way of St James as it refers to the paths which people follow to walk to Santiago de Compostela – which is where the remains of St James are said to lie.

People have been following these pilgrim routes for nearly 1,000 years now. Those who do the walk are known as pelegrinos, or pilgrims – something which I am proud to refer to myself as, even though I am personally an atheist.

The Romans first built a road across northern Spain to Cape Finisterre (end of the land). This route, rather romantically, seems to follow the Milky Way. This road formed the basis of the Camino de Santiago.

St James, son of Zebedee, was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. Legend has it that he preached in Iberia (Spain) and that after he was martyred his remains were placed into a boat which washed up on the Spanish shore (one legend say his disciples brought him here; one says an angel guided the boat). James’ remains were taken to Santiago de Compostela where they were buried. Santiago means Saint James.

Approximately 800 years later, James’ remains were discovered at Santiago by Alphonso 2 of Asturias and a shrine was built to house them. From that time, pilgrims started to make their way across Europe on the Way of St James to visit these relics. The path really grew in popularity from the 12th century.

There’s something wonderful in following the footsteps of the millions of people who have walked this road before you, in a steady stream of thanks and thought, all heading from across Europe to this ancient centre of worship. It’s wonderful to see the trails they have left and the art, churches, buildings they have built to mark their faith and to protect each other.

As much as the camino is just a long walk, it is also an emotional journey: you get tired and grumpy, there’s wonders to marvel at, you meet many different people, there’s points which are scary, places where you can excel and lots and lots of time to think about life, the universe and everything. For me, this was a walk of worship, thanks and penance: worship for the planet, for Spain, for the wonders of nature; thanks for being so blessed to be able to see these places, to be alive, for my family, friends and my new marriage; penance for my self-perceived sins – to forgive myself for my wrongs and to move on into a new phase of my life.

There were times when I wanted to cry with the splendour of where we were and what we were seeing. There was a particular moment when I was walking up the Pyrenees, with snowy mountains stretching off into the distance, vultures floating on the thermals just above our heads, the Chemical Brothers’ ‘Swoon’ playing (“just remember, to fall in love, there’s nothing else”.): it was so sublime to be amongst these magnificent natural wonders, there by my own effort, that I wanted to cry with joy. There were also times when I wanted to cry with pain, when I mentally could not imagine going any further. There were boring bits, when I literally had to count down the lampposts to keep going (Palencia). There were days which made me cry (Brexit) and days which made me laugh (the festival in Pamplona).

On one of my final days, I asked Jeff to remind me of how bad the route was and how much my feet hurt, so that I would never be tempted to do this again – but back home now, I’m itching to be back on the path again, where all I have to do is walk. We met many people who were on their third, fourth, tenth camino – and I can understand why.

As I said above, there are a number of camino routes and you can start them in different places. To receive the compostela from the church, you only have to walk or horse ride 100km, so many people start their camino in the city of Sarria. For this article, I’m going to write about the full Camino Frances, which we did, starting in St Jean Pied de Port, ending in Santiago.

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Getting started

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J and I setting off. Don’t we look young and innocent…

Planning how long your camino will be – in distance and time

So the first thing I would recommend you do when planning a Camino trip is to buy the map book by John Brierley and to download the Camino Pilgrim Frances app, as this will give you a guide to possible routes and show you approximately how far most people walk each day. This will help you to start thinking about how far you might want to walk each day, where you might like to stop and have rest days and how much time and money you are going to have to allocate to your walk. These also both list accommodation options, which can help with your planning.

There are better books and apps for when you are on the route, but we just used these and we found them to be sufficient. There’s a few places where distances didn’t seem quite right on these and I had to screenshot the maps from the app before walking, but combined they met our navigation needs.

Most people take around 35 days to walk the whole camino. We took 42, as we took our time and had a few half-day rest days. The walk to the Atlantic Coast at Finisterre takes about an extra four days.

We initially planned to have a rest day every seven to ten days, but in actual fact we only had days off in Pamplona, Burgos and Leon. We did do a few half days though where we would walk a much shorter distance and then relax in the afternoon. This kept us moving but gave us a little bit of a rest.

Planning where to stay

You can pre-book accommodation online and this is probably a good thing to do for certain sections of the trek, such as the start, the end and major cities, where it can get very busy and there is a bottleneck of walkers. We were glad to have pre-booked our accommodation for Orrisson, Zubiri and Burgos, as all of these places were fully booked when we arrived (there was a medical conference taking place in Burgos and the whole city was full). For the later stages, we tended to book our hotels and hostels one to two days in advance, as it helped psychologically knowing we had somewhere to stay and where we were aiming for and we didn’t have to get involved in the race for beds. You can’t pre-book the cheap, municipal hostels, but most private ones are online and only cost a little more.

Mostly with accommodation we just turned up and hoped for a room. There was only one place (Ribadiso) where we nearly didn’t find anything (we got the last two beds in the municipal hostel). There’s so many places to stay that it would be very rare that you wouldn’t find anything.

We met one or two people who were camping the camino. Mostly they wild camped in parks and fields, though they did say that some of the official camping was quite interesting and they had even been accommodated in a bull-ring. As wild-camping is free, this is a very cheap way of travelling the camino.

Pilgrim passport

When you start your walk you need to pick up a pilgrim passport.This pilgrim passport will allow you to access the cheap auberges (hostels) and is also the official record of your journey so that you can get your compostela. You can buy the passports from the pilgrim offices in St-Jean, at some of the official municipal auberges or from the pilgrim shops. I recently bought one for Jeff from the pilgrim shop in Pamplona.

The pilgrim passport is a small paper booklet which you need to stamp every day. Stamps can usually be found at accommodation, cafes and churches. Collecting stamps is fun! For the last 100km you are supposed to collect two stamps per day.

Training

So, to be really honest with you, we didn’t really train for this. We had plans to climb a few mountains before we left but then we were both sick, we were busy moving house and finishing jobs and the weather was terrible. We did do a couple of walks with the backpacks (most were between seven and fifteen miles and ended in a pub), but we didn’t do any major training before we left. The walk is kind of training within itself – though I should mention, if you start at St-Jean you are going to do the hardest bit first, so it’s worth doing something to build up your fitness and test your kit.

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Kit list

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My poor walking shoes at the end of our trek.

One of the big topics of conversation on the camino is kit: what everyone has bought and how much it weighs. In fact, there was quite a lot of kit snobbery.

Kit and weight is important, but then, like everything on the camino, it’s your trip and your choice to decide how much you want to carry. Lighter means you’ll be able to go faster and further and put less strain on your feet and your joints, but then if you want to have more stuff to wear etc. then that’s fine too. My bag was really heavy. I probably took far too much stuff but I carried it all the way and still got to the end in our set-time.

If you don’t want to carry your bag then there are bag carrying services in most places. Hostels provide an envelope to attach to your bag. In this envelope you leave the payment (usually €5) and write your destination on it. Vans would drive around the hostels in the morning, pick up the bags, then drop them off at the correct destination so they are there waiting for their owners when they arrived. You don’t need to have a reservation at the destination hostel, though it is good practice to phone them to let them know your bag is being delivered there.

One of the great things about the camino is that there is infrastructure and major cities along the way, so if you have forgotten anything or feel you need something, you can pick it up quite easily. Most of the major cities we passed through had a Decathlon, which is great for cheap camping and hiking gear.

So here is a list of what we took, what we used and what we didn’t:

Bedding: Jeff took a snugpack, which is an amazing lightweight, cosy sleeping bag which weighs almost nothing and packs up to the size of a grapefruit. I took a silk sleeping bag liner and a fleece sleeping bag liner. These were lighter and smaller than a traditional sleeping bag, but I did get cold occasionally and I did sometimes get a bit tied up in the night, twisting and turning in the two layers. I wish I’d had a snugpack too. This is now on my Christmas list.

We also took inflatable pillows which we’d bought from the pound shop. We didn’t use these once.

We took bed bug sheets. We personally didn’t see any evidence of bed-bugs, but we have heard they can be a problem on the camino and some people we spoke to said they had encountered them. The bed bug sheets are impregnated with promethien, which kills bed bugs, so you put it over the mattress to give you extra cover. We bought our bed-bug sheets on Amazon and they cost us about £9. They had to be tied on with bungee cords, which we wrapped around the mattress or bed-frame. We bought the bungee cords in the pound shop. I found that the bed bug sheets tended to get rucked up in the night and didn’t cover the mattress completely, so I’m not sure how effective they were. However, we didn’t get bed-bugs and they gave us extra-security so we were glad to have them.

Clothes: Some people take one outfit to wear and one to wash. This is where I over-packed, although I did wear every single thing I took. I mostly wore leggings and light cotton dresses. I didn’t have any ‘specialist’ gear. I also took some warm stuff: one long-sleeve heat-tec top from Uniquo, one fleece and one old pac-mac. It did get cold in the mountains and at night, so I was glad to have the warm stuff. I also took a big scarf, which I wore over my head to protect me from the sun. Later on, I bought a €5 straw hat, which I tied to my head with a purple shoe-lace. I loved that hat.

On the camino people tend to sleep in the clothes they are going to wear the next day, so they can get up and out quietly. They would then shower and change after their day’s walking. Most auberges had washing machines or spaces to hand wash and they tended to charge about €5 per wash, including soap powder. In the major cities, there are auto-servicios, which are laundrettes which have washers and dryers. These tend to be €6 for a wash (the machines are so big we could fit everything in one wash) and this includes powder too. There’s usually free wi-fi in these places too, for whilst you wait.

Shoes wise you need walking shoes/ boots/ sandals and then a second pair of shoes or sandals for at the hostel. I started off with old crocs for my second pair, but they were pretty big so I bought cheap flip flops en-route. Sock wise, my big, big, big recommendation is merino wool socks. Wearing these was like wearing a snuggle on my feet. They were so comfy; they stopped my feet sweating which stopped them from blistering; they didn’t smell – even after a hot day of hiking; and they dried quickly when washed. I bought mine from Sports Direct.

Cosmetics: I bought shampoo and conditioner bars from Lush (they smell amazing and are much lighter and more compact than liquids). I also took a Lush honey soap which I used to wash myself and my clothes. I took the most basic make-up: tinted moisturiser with an SPF of 15, one eye-liner, one lip-stick and blusher. We took two tubes of factor 60 sunscreen and bought another on the way. I also took wet face-wipes, which were great for keeping clean throughout the day and for emergencies.

Extra-stuff: We took one litre water bottles, which I bought in the pound shop. On days when we knew there were going to be big gaps with little options to refill, we bought extra plastic bottles. We took a basic first aid kit and a basic sewing kit. Compede blister plasters came in very useful.

I took my camera and my phone, plus chargers. On my first few days I had a big book I was reading, but it would have been better if I had just used my kindle on my phone, as I could read this in a dark room and it didn’t weight anything. We took head torches, which are good for if you need the bathroom in the night.

We bought our backpacks from Blacks. We went for a 35 litre backpack, which was small enough to be carry-on luggage on the flight but large enough to get everything in. We took calipers and hung a lot of our gear off the sides too, to give us more space. Again, we bought these from the pound shop.

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Top-tips

  • So I have two top-tips for walking, which I learnt on my Himalaya trek. The first is to keep a steady pace where you don’t get out of breath. It doesn’t matter how preposterously slow you go, but it’s better to keep going slowly, rather than rush, get out of breath, stop, wait, then start again. Listen to your body and find your own pace.
  • The other top tip for walking is to weave: if you are walking up a road where the gradient is really steep, if you weave across the road it makes the gradient less. Walking on the roads in the Pyrenese, this technique really helped me to keep going and to keep my speed up.
  • Some people like to use walking poles, but for me they upset my balance so I’m not so keen. The good thing about poles is that they allow you to use your whole body to swing forwards and so your pace can be a lot faster. Some people also like them on descents as they can take pressure off your knees.
  • My secret weapon for climbing and keeping going was music. When I was tired, I would put my tunes on and this would get me the last few kilometers.
  • I had a real problem with sore arches on my feet. It got to the point where I was pretty much running so that I didn’t have to put my full weight on my feet. I looked online and found a great massage which really helped me. If I massaged from the ball of my big toe, down to outer edge of my heel, this really helped loosen up my arches. Also, giving my feet a good scratch would help the circulation and make them feel better. I would like to apologise to my husband for all the times I did this at the dinner table.
  • Jeff did the walk in new hiking-shoes that he’d broken in. I did mine in old-favourites. Both got us to the end but I wish I’d had newer shoes. Towards the end, I could feel every rock in the pavement and it hurt! Most pairs of shoes should last for about 800km, which is the length of the camino.
  • When you walk long-distance your feet grow as calcium fills the joints. Both of us found that our feet grew by about half a shoe-size. So my old favourites that fitted perfectly at the start were too small by the end.
  • We did the walk in hiking shoes. Some people wore full boots, some people did the walk in hiking-sandals. There’s a few rough spots but mostly this is a very well-laid, well-walked path and you shouldn’t need big boots.
  • Stretching at the start and end of each day can really help. It’s good to get going a little and to then stop and stretch.
  • Cold water (swimming pools, rivers, fountains or baths) is great for sore muscles. So is gin.
  • Ignore the suggested walks in the books and on the apps. These are really useful for planning an approximate trip, but often the suggested walks are between major population centres, most pilgrims will be following the same books so these places get crowded and the suggested walks don’t appear to take account of the gradients. We preferred to do large climbs first thing in the morning, so we planned our routes to end at the bases of major climbs. We also liked to stay at the mid-point towns and villages, as the people in these places tended to be less competitive and often the accommodation was less crowded.
  • Try not to drink all of your water and when you get to a fountain make sure it works and that the water is drinkable (potable) before you drink or throw away your old water.
  • Soft drinks in cafés are expensive! This is what I think most of my budget went on.
  • Many places offer a set pilgrim meal for €10. This usually consists of three courses (e.g. soup, chicken and chips, ice-cream) and wine (usually half a bottle per person).
  • A lovely film to watch before you go is The Way, directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his dad Martin Sheen. It’s a lot of fun to try to spot the filming locations whilst on the route. I also read Tim Moor’s Spanish Steps book before I went on the trip, in which he walks the camino accompanied by a donkey. The book is more about donkeys than the path, but it’s thanks to this book that we pre-booked the accommodation in Zubiri – which was great as the whole town was fully booked.

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Getting there

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There’s lots of caminos to Santiago and lots of places that you can start the walk. To get your compostela you only need to walk 100km or cycle 200km to Santiago. We started our walk at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyranese (800km/ 480 miles from Santiago). This section focuses on how we got to St-Jean -Pied-de-Port.

To get to St-Jean, we needed to get a local train from Bayonne.

The closest airports to Bayonne are Bearritz and Bordeaux. Biarritz airport is actually only ten minutes from Bayonne.

We could have flown Stansted to Biarritz or Birmingham (our local UK airport) to Bordeaux. We decided we’d much rather do the land journey in France and we much prefer flying out of relaxed Birmingham, so we flew to Bordeaux. The flight was with FlyBe and it cost us £35 each.

To get from the airport to Bordeaux St Jean train station we caught bus 1. This departed from outside the arrivals hall at Bordeaux airport, cost €1.50 and it took about an hour to get to the station. If you need to get to the station faster, you can transfer onto a tram at the big commercial centre in Merignac – but we had time and we wanted to keep things simple, so we just stayed on the bus.

We pre-booked our train tickets online at Voyages SNCF. We booked to travel first class as the tickets were only £20 each.

Whilst waiting for our train, we used Google-maps to find a supermarket close to the train station, where we bought ourselves a luxury picnic of French cheese, bread, fresh fruit and buttery, rich red wine.

First class was pretty snazzy. We had an enclosed table with two other people, but it was pretty spacious and very comfy. It was lovely zooming through the French countryside, eating our picnic, drinking our wine. The journey from Bordeaux to Bayonne took just under two hours.

We stayed overnight at the Ibis in Bayonne, so that we could get the early train to St-Jean the next morning.

The train from Bayonne to St-Jean cost us €8 and we pre-booked our tickets online at Voyages SNCF. We collected the tickets from the machine at the station. The train wasn’t busy though, so we could have just bought the tickets on departure.

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The train from Bayonne to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port was a cute, zippy, tram-like train. The driver sat in the same carriage as the passengers. This was a lovely journey, through the foothills of the Pyrenees, along the side of white water rivers and through hidden red and white villages.

From St-Jean station it’s a ten minute walk to the centre of town and the pilgrim office, where we were to buy our shells and passports and to start our walk.

There is also a bus service which runs from Pamplona to Roncevalles and St-Jean-Pied-De-Port, which is run by Conda. It takes just under two hours and costs €22. You can book tickets from the national section of the Conda website. St Jean is listed as Saint Jean Pied de Port.

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Our route and where we stayed

Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port to Orisson Refuge

St-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a lovely walled town with a castle. We followed the other pelegrinos off the train and into town, then up through the medieval streets to the compostela office, where a group of lovely ladies behind desks gave us our official camino passport (€2) and an oyster shell to tie to our packs (donation).

And then we set off on our 480 mile journey! We did little, excited skips of joy as we took our first steps.

We walked down through St-Jean-Pied-De-Port, through the ancient gateway, over the river and then we stopped for breakfast whilst we waited for the supermarket to open at 9.30. When it did we bought our first of many picnics, before heading up and out of town.

Today was only a five mile walk, but it was five miles of up. Being the first day, we struggled a little with our packs and the climbs. I was also tired because I’d just finished my job and moved house, so I struggled. But we did it and that’s what matters.

There was a very steep bit just out of town, followed by rolling hills. Most of the walk was on a quiet tarmacked, country lane.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing and an eagle soared overhead; turning and turning in the widening gyre. We stopped to squee at baby donkeys and to smell the flowers, but kept plodding on.

About half way through the walk we came to Huntero, a lodge/house where we stopped to use their toilet and to refill our water bottles.

Then it got tough, the way turned off the road and onto a path and we climbed pretty steeply; but the pay off for the struggle was stupendous views of the foothills and the higher we got the more mountains and valleys revealed themselves.

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We’d heard that the path was really busy this year, but mostly we were on our own. As we went on though we bumped into more and more pelegrinos and stopped to share rest breaks with them. I had a lot (!) of rest breaks but slowly I got up those hills.

Refuge Auberge Orisson is a restaurant and hostel, up in the mountains, with a platform overlooking rows and rows of Pyrenese peaks. This is where we stayed for our first night. We pre-booked online, directly with the hostel at www.refuge-orisson.com. Dinner, bed and breakfast cost us €35 each and we had to pay a 50% deposit by PayPal. It was a little expensive, but we were glad to have confirmed accommodation for our first night.

Dinner was included in the price. It was communal and substantial. We had soup, roast chicken with a stew and flan, accompanied by copious amounts of buttery, rich, red wine, made in the owners vineyard. We all got really sad when the waiter took away our wine bottle with half a glass left, but cheered when he bought it back full. To be honest, along with some lovely Ozzies, we got a little tiddly celebrating our first successful day of hiking.

The beds were fine, the showers short and luke-warm but okay and breakfast was basic but included huge bowls of coffee. They also sold us sarnies for the next day’s hike.

Day 2: Orisson Refuge to Roncesvalles

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So even though day two was twice the distance and we climbed almost double the height, it wasn’t as tough as day one. Going up and over the Pyrenees was hard but the pay-off was the stupendous views of snow capped mountains. It was magical and magnificent.

The first stretch after Orisson was the toughest for me, but music, weaving up the road and lots of stops got me up and over the first pass. Most of this section was on a tarmacked country road. The higher we got, the more wild the landscape became.

Whilst on this section we made lots of friends (including Maurice, who had been driven up the mountain by the pilgrim office ladies to stop him giving up). We really enjoyed wandering along talking to people. In fact, this was probably the friendliest stage we encountered and we got to know many of the people that we would see again and again over the next few weeks. Talking to people about their lives back home and the walk ahead made the miles go by much-much faster.

Just before we left the road for the cross-border, cross-country climb there was a surprise coffee van selling snacks and drinks. We spent fifteen minutes here taking a rest, admiring the views and catching our breath as vultures floated on the thermals, just over our heads.

Whilst on the path we had this catchphrase of ‘the camino provides’. If there s something you need, no matter how random, somehow you will get this thing – usually by the generosity of other pelegrinos. We experienced this for the first time at the coffee van. Maurice had bought too many provisions and was trying to share them. (Thanks for the chocolate Maurice). He’d bought red peppers and was asking if anyone would want them. A vegan man was so grateful for these, as he was camping and had had real trouble finding anything vegan to eat. The camino provides.

After the coffee van we turned off the road and took the path over the mountains. There was a short, scrabbly bit at the start but mostly this was a wide, gentle path through woods. There were quite a few things to see on this section, such as Roland’s fountain, shrines to lost walkers and the border between France and Spain (though it’s actually just marked as the Navarre border). There was also an emergency shelter, which many people were trying to crowd behind to keep out of the extreme winds.

The final climb up to the pass at Col de Leopander was long, stony and annoying (“Are we there yet?”), but when we did get there, the views over the whole of Spain made the climb worthwhile.

From the top of the Col we could see our accommodation for the night, the monastery of Roncesvalles, huddled in the forested foothills of the mountain. It was a welcome sight, but we still had about an hour and a half of walking to get there.

The path splits at the Col and we could have taken the steep way or the gentle way. If you watch the movie The Way, this is the point that Emilio Estevez accidentally walks off a cliff, so we decided to take the gentle way.

The trek down was gentle and through woods. Sadly, we came across a lady who had badly hurt her knee. We helped her to get down the mountain (mostly by taking the mickey out of her) and so we took the final stretch kind of slow.

Roncesvalles was the site of a famous battle. In 778, Charlamagne (king of pretty much all of Europe) came into Spain to fight the Moors. He took Pamplona and destroyed the fortifications. He then accepted a bribe from Zaragoza to return to France. As they left Navarre, the rearguard and baggage train were ambushed by angry locals at Roncesvalles and Roland, a great general, was killed. There is now a modern church at the bottom of the valley, marking the spot where he died.

Roncesvalles monastery is a huge stone edifice, standing in the foothills of the Pyrenese: a strong building of sanctuary and safety and the resting place of a king. Many people start their camino in Roncesvalles.

Although the monastery is an old stone edifice, the hostel area is modern, clean and warm. The dormitories are huge but they are sub-divided into areas with four beds and four lockers, so they feel quite cosy and private. The beds were comfy, there was lots of space, it wasn’t too noisy and the showers were clean and hot. Apparently, those who arrive later are accommodated in the old dormitory, which is in the stone basement of the hostel and which has cold showers outside. If even this area fills up, the monastery will provide tents on the lawn for people to sleep in.

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Roncesvalles is actually a small village and there were two bars and other accommodation in the village. There was no cash point in Roncevalles, but there was one in Burguete, the next village up the road.

The hostel cost €12 and dinner was €10. This was served at Cafe Sabine.

After dinner we followed many of the other pilgrims to mass in the monastery chapel where the Navarran King, Sancho VII ‘The Strong’, is buried. We just popped in for a photo, though I wish we’d stayed as this looked like a wonderful atmospheric place to be.

Some people choose to start their pilgrimage in Roncesvalles and there is a direct bus connection with Pamplona. This is the Conda bus listed in the Getting There section.

For anyone planning to do the walk, here is a great film which actually shows you our first two stages in three minutes. I found this really useful, though it makes the walk look slightly easier than it is:

Day 3: Roncesvalles to Urdániz

Today started with a rainy stroll through some woods to Burguete, where we visited an operatic supermarket. Burguete is a really pretty, little village with streams running down the streets and interesting, ancient houses. Hemingway used to visit here for the fishing (though probably not in the street side streams).

After Burguete we had a gentle cross-country stroll, past some inquisitive horses, through some wet woods. On this section, Jeff had an altercation with the bitterist pelagrino we met. A young French man, who had this really annoying walking stick with a nail coming out the bottom, that he banged on the tarmac in a really irritating way, was really rude to Jeff because Jeff was carrying a plastic bag with our picnic in it. He insulted Jeff for carrying too much and compared it to his own, smaller luggage. This competitiveness over kit, or lack of it, was something we came across a couple of times – but this was the only person we met who was nasty with it.

In Espinal, the next village, we bumped into our friend Roland and we walked with him for a while, cajoling each other up and over the hills and stepping stones to Viskarret, where we all stopped for lunch and ice cream on a wall.

The afternoon started with a steep climb out of the village of Linzoain, then there was a loooong walk through the forests and down to Zubiri. The woods were nice and quiet and there were occasional places where people had left interesting artwork. It was also a little spooky though, as a few times I thought I might have ventured off the trail and it was on this section that I ran out of water.

Luckily, there was a refreshment truck at Alto de Erro where we could buy drinks and where we got a really funky stamp. The owner of the camper was quite funny and encouraged single people to leave their underwear for luck.

The final stretch down into Zubiri was pretty tough: there were many sections of sheet rock, which I found really hard to navigate in my tired, dehydrated state.

We had read that it is really hard to find accommodation in Zubiri, so we had pre-booked to stay at Alojamientos Acá y Allá, which was in the next village of Urdaniz, another 5km up the valley.

I was too tired to get water in Zubiri (we would have had to go into town whilst the path skirted the village) and so we pushed on. Although this section was pretty and pleasant, I really, really struggled here.

Just after Zubiri we had to circumnavigate a massive magnesite factory, which dominated the valley. Seeing this massive, river-side plant made me very wary of swimming in the river Arno further downstream.

Eventually we found an ancient fountain where I was able to drink my fill, then it was a short run down the hill into the tiny conurbation of Urdániz.

Alojamientos Acá y Allá was a lovely, small hostel which only accommodated eight people. The people who own the house have basically converted their garage into a mini-hostel, with six bunk beds, a sofa bed/lounge area, a kitchen and a nice bathroom. There was space for bikes and washing and, best of all, they had a swimming pool. The cold water in that pool was heaven: it stopped my legs from hurting and allowed me to stretch properly. The hosts were lovely and they cooked us an amazing dinner – followed with shots of Patxarán, a local liquor of sloe berries in aniseed. Dinner, bed and breakfast was £14.

Day 4: Urdániz to Pamplona

The walk from Urdániz to Pamplona was one of my favourite sections of the camino. We set off into a misty morning and then followed the Arno river, down the valley into Pamplona. The way was pretty good and not too steep and there were lots of lovely places to stop for coffees and snacks. My favourite rest spot was La Parada, the riverside cafe at Zuriain.

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Trinidad de Arre, Vilava, Pamplona

We entered Pamplona city at Vilava, where we visited the 12th century, bridge-side chapel of Trinidad de Arre. This tiny, dark, emotive chapel was a beautiful place to stop for a moment of peace.

The path into Pamplona actually splits at Vilava and you can walk into the city along the river or along the official camino path. The camino path is shorter but the river way is much prettier. There’s cafes on both sections if you fancy a rest.

On our first trip we followed the camino proper and took a long stroll through the suburb of Burlada. It was nice to be back in a town, with access to supermarkets, cafes and cash machines.

The camino enters Pamplona city over the ancient Magdalena Bridge. Jeff and I left the camino at this point so that we could make our way over to our hostel. Unfortunately we missed one of the coolest stretches of the walk, along the bastions at the base of the citadel, then up through the Portal de Francia gates into the ancient city.

In Pamplona we stayed at the sunny Xarma Hostel, which was friendly, light and bright and located just past the bull-ring, so pretty central. We booked the private room and it cost us £16 each. www.xarmahostel.com.

We went for the fattest of fat-ass meals ever (chips covered in cheese, with burgers covered in cheese), then headed of for a rest and a siesta. On the night time we went out for drinks and pinchos and had a thoroughly good time in this party city.

Day 5: Rest day Pamplona

We must have really liked Pamplona, as we now live here. I remember when we walked through thinking what a nice city it was, but never did I think we’d be living here a few months later; but it just so happened that the great school we found to work for was in Pamplona… and here we are.

Pamplona is a great Spanish city: it’s full of pincho bars, great shops, shaded streets, there’s festivals galore, interesting history and the city is surrounded by parks. I’m constantly discovering new delights in this city and as soon as I have finished this camino page I plan to write more about Pamplona; so watch this space.

On our rest day here, there was a barrio and rose wine festival. There were huge crowds on the streets, free wine, music, bands, huge papier mache figures (los gigantes) were paraded through the streets, children danced around in strange costumes. It was crazy, energetic and fun – though I’m not sure I was in the best mental place to enjoy it, being tired from the walk and fixated a little bit with the way ahead.

We met our friend Katie here and we did a teeny bit of tourist stuff. We had a look in the cathedral, which is pretty but quite plain; we ate calamari bocadillos and drank wine in the street and we went to see the town hall. Unfortunately for Katie, Jeff and I were exhausted so that’s all that we were really up for whilst here. Sorry Katie.

Day 6: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

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J points the way at Alto de Perdon.

We left Pamplona early (6am) because the weather forecast said a big storm was on its way and we had an exposed mountain to get up and over. It turned out that we weren’t the only ones worried about getting over the hill before the lightning struck, and by the time we got to the village of Cizur Menor we had met up with most of our pelegrino pack who had also left early.

After Cizur Menor we did get a little lost and we took a wrong turning on a farm track, following some other hikers. Luckily, we realised our mistake before too long and so we only walked an extra km or so. One of the things with the camino is that all of the walkers can sometimes look like a trail of ants, so if you do lose your way it’s usually pretty easy to look for the trail and get back on the path.

The trail weaved its way upwards, through corn fields, up to Alto del Perdón, where there are wind-turbines and a beautiful camino monument. The views from the Alto were stunning and we were very proud to have reached this distinctive place.

We were also glad to have gotten there before the storm struck. Some boys we spoke to later told us they were there in the storm and that there was lightning striking around them.

There was a road and a coffee van at the top, so we stopped here for a rest on a rock before setting off again.

The descent from Alto de Perdón was pretty tough – and again I was glad to do this whilst it was dry. The path down was made up of large, ankle-twisting rocks, which hurt to walk on but which were impossible to avoid. I think it was this section of path which really messed up the arches of my feet and made the next few days such a struggle.

The villages of Uterga, Muruzabal and Obanos blend together in my head: a succession of pretty villages that were having a quiet, sunny Sunday afternoon.

Puente la Reina was a welcome sight for my tired body and I was glad we were staying at Albergue Jakue, the first albergue in the village. On paper, Albergue Jakue is great: there are only four beds per room, with an en-suite bathroom and shower products; the pilgrims dinner is a buffet which includes unlimited wine and salad bar; there’s a tree-house and a garden bar. However, there was something a little unfriendly about the Jakue and we almost felt like a burden rather than a guest. However it only cost us £9 per night and we were glad to have somewhere comfy and clean to stay. www.jakue.com/el-albergue.

Day 7: Puente la Reina to Lorca

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The famous puente of Puente la Reina.

Today hurt. The arches of my feet were so painful that I could barely stand on them: I was almost running on the spot so I didn’t have to put my feet down fully and I had to stop every 3km or so to rest and massage my feet.

We started today walking through the pretty medieval town of Puenta La Reina, with it’s pretty churches and delicious pastry shops, and then out of town over the six arched Puente (bridge) that the town is named after. On the way out of town we met Janet and Manolo for the first time; lovely, kind-hearted people who we were to meet again and again – right up to Santiago.

We followed the Arga River valley, took a hard climb up to the motorway pass, before passing through the ancient villages of Mañeru and Cirauqui. Cirauqui was a wonderful hill top village, where the way passed through ancient archways and even through medieval buildings. I stopped here for blister plasters. There was a queue in the farmacia for blister plasters.

After Cirauqui, we descended back down to walk alongside the A12 motorway again and this is where I started to struggle. There were quite a few uneven, steep downs, which upset my balance and then we followed what I think was a Roman pathway – which was cool, but it was made of very pointed rocks which really hurt my feet.

Just before we reached the village of Lorca, we took a diversion under the motorway and over a pretty medieval bridge, but by this point I was in so much pain I was cursing the diversion, rather than appreciating this wonderful piece of history.

Luckily, my very kind husband could see how much pain I was in and when we got to Lorca he persuaded me that we should stop early for the day rather than pushing on to our original target-destination of Estrella. As he’d gone on ahead, he’d already scouted out a cafe which offered private rooms for €20 and which served pizza – so we both could be happy. It meant we stopped really early, but it was nice to do a shorter day.

An unexpected benefit of stopping early was that we were now off the standard, guidebook trail that most people follow; and up until Logrono, the next major city, we stayed in mid-route, smaller, less crowded places. It meant we were behind the people we’d started off walking with, but it also took the pressure off us to keep up – which made for more relaxed walking.

Albergue la Bodega de Camino was a nice cafe with rooms. We had a private double room. It was a little strange as the room had a door to the dorm next door and a door to the shared bathroom and a few times people accidentally entered our bedroom, going through the wrong door. It was clean and comfy though and a nice place to stay. www.labodegadelcamino.com.

Day 8: Lorca to Villamayor de Monjardin

Today started with a gentle walk from Lorca to Villatuerta, a small residential town where we stopped for first breakfast; then another gentle stroll, past baby donkeys, to the beautiful ancient town of Estrella, where we stopped for second breakfast. Estrella was gorgeous, with many interesting churches, gateways and riverside cafes – and I was sad that we had not made it here the night before, as I would have liked to have explored it further (we’ll have to go back).

dscf9497Just on the far side of Estrella was one of my favourite places on the trip: the free wine fountain! The wine fountain is on a wall at the side of Irache Bodega and at this fountain you can get water or wine.

Unexpectedly, the wine wasn’t at all bad – and we filled up a spare water bottle so that we could enjoy this later, at the end of the day. Here I was glad we hadn’t stayed in Estrella the night before, because if we had we would have been at the wine fountain early in the morning. We hit it around 11 and so we didn’t feel too naughty sampling the wares a little.

Whilst we were at the wine fountain we got talking to a group who were doing a camino tour by coach. We felt like celebrities, being real pelegrinos. It was interesting to compare the speed of their journey to ours: they were going to spend the night in Logrono, which was three days away for us.

Irache Bodega is next to the 8th century Monastery of Irache; the oldest pilgrim’s refuge.

After Irache Monastery we crossed the main road and walked through Irache village which seemed to be made up of closed hotels and camp sites; then it was a gentle walk through the woods to Azqueta, where we stopped for lunch. From Azqueta we could see the spire of Iglesia de San Miguel, just poking its head over the next hillside: a welcome sight, as this marked the village Villamayor de Monjardin, where we planned to stay the night.

Villamayor de Monjardin is a really cute little village, with a castle perched on a hill, overlooking the town. Monjardin is a famous winery, so the town was surrounded by vineyards.

Here we stayed at Hogar Albergue, right in the centre of town. This albergue is located on the main square, in a wonderful old building with lots of staircases and hidey holes. We stayed in a private room with exposed beams, wine barrels for side tables and a view over the village.

The Hogar was run by a group of volunteers, connected to a Dutch church association, and they were very kind people. This is the only place we stayed which was particularly religious: they offered meditation sessions, everyone said grace and they offered us religious literature after dinner.

The only bad thing about the Hogar is that they didn’t have wifi, but the cafe next door did.

It cost us €25 for the private room and dinner was €10 each. oasistrails.org.

Day 9: Villamayor de Monjardin to Torres del Rio

This was a long, sloggy day – with lots of long stretches in between towns and villages. It was 12.2km from Monjardin to the next town of Los Arcos and though the way was pretty, with distant monasteries and mountains, it was still kind of boring. The path weaved its way around vineyards, up and over gentle hills. On this stretch we walked separately. I put my music on and my head down and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

We reached Los Arcos by eleven and stopped for an early lunch in the square outside the cathedral. Los Arcos is an old, mid-sized town, which is usually a stage-end for pilgrims. It has a beautiful church with amazing carvings (although sadly this was closed at the time of our visit) and some impressive gates. Again, I wish we could have spent some more time here – but sadly we were only half way through our walk for the day.

The afternoon was a hot, painful 7km slog through empty, arable countryside. By the time we reached the village of Sansol I was tired and in pain and I could barely bring myself to move to get out of the way of a passing tractor. Luckily it was only 1km to our end point of Torres del Rio, hidden away in a valley behind Sansol.

Torres del Rio was a strange place: it was very pretty and they had a great Knights Templar chapel, but we really didn’t like it for some reason. There wasn’t a nice atmosphere about the place when we were there and we felt like the locals just wanted our money.

We went for dinner at la Pata and Oca Albergue, which had a strange medieval restaurant. We didn’t want the pilgrims menu and so just ordered a mixed salad and some croquettes, plus two glasses of wine. They served us a tiny side-salad of lettuce, onion and tomato plus four croquettes, and then the lady serving us obviously just made up the prices and tried to get as much out of us as she could (€15). We questioned this and she dropped it to €10, which was still a rip-off. Overall, they left a bad taste in our mouth. These guys also advertised a pool, but it was just a foot bath in the garden.

We stayed in San Andres, which I had seen online before we got to town. They charged us €39 for a private room, but this only included towels and cosmetics for one person. I have heard that if you ask for resources for two people then they try to charge you an extra €10. They advertised a pool, but this was all mucky and not open for service, and a jacuzzi, though you had to pay extra for this.

However, the room at San Andres Hotel was lovely, so we did really enjoy our night here. We had a fan and we were able to watch Game of Thrones on the telly; the shower was immensely powerful – wonderful for our aching muscles; and we had a beautiful sunset view. sanandreshostal.com.

We also liked Casa Mariela: a shop, cafe, bar and albergue which had friendly staff and reasonable prices. This was on a small square in the centre of town. We had a nice time drinking big beers and making friends here; we also visited their shop a number of times for provisions.

Day 10: Torres del Rio to Logrono

Today was a fun, interesting walk. It started off with a short hop to the chapel and cafe at N.S. Del Poyo, where I spent a happy half hour playing with kittens; then it was a stroll up, down and through dry valleys to Viana. About half way along there were some random guitarists, sat in a wood, serenading the passing pilgrims.

At lunch time we hit Viana – one of my favourite places on the walk. Viana is a pretty, historical, small city with two amazing churches.

There are three buildings that I have visited that have made me speechless with wonder: St Peter’s in Rome, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and Iglesia de Santa Maria in Viana (see above). The Iglesia de Santa Maria has an amazingly beautiful carved portico and inside it is covered in stunning frescoes, statues and artwork. The alter-piece is immense. The art on the walls here is world-class and awe-inspiring. When we visited they were playing beautiful atmospheric music, which only enhanced the visit. It was such a stunning place of peace and wonder.

The Iglesia de Santa Maria is the unexpected resting place of a very famous Italian: Cesare Borgia’s grave is just outside the Iglesia de Santa Maria in Viana. Cesare was captured and imprisoned by Ferdinand 2 of Arragon, but he managed to escape to Pamplona where he was welcomed by King John 3 of Navarre, who needed an experienced general for his invasion of Castille.

Cesare led the reinvasion of Viana and set siege to the castle. Whilst there though he was deserted by his men and killed. He was initially buried in the Iglesia de Santa Maria, but then later dug up and buried under the street by his enemies, then from there dug up twice by historians, then interred in the town hall and then finally (hopefully) laid to rest under a monument outside Iglesia de Santa Maria.

The other cool church in Viana is the Church of San Pedro, which is half-ruined but still beautiful. The church actually collapsed in 1844, but the walls and the outlines of the rose windows remain, as do some of the former frescoes. This was also a very pretty, peaceful place and we sat here for a while and ate an ice-cream before the last stretch of the walk to Logrono.

The walk to Logrono followed the busy N111. Much of the walk was gentle and pretty. We walked along a river and passed through pine woods which smelt delicious.

Just before we got to Logrono we passed into the next province of Rioja, which we got very excited about.

The final stretch into Logrono was industrial and not nice. We walked past box stores and factories, along the main road and under many overpasses. On the final entry into town there were a lot of aggressive looking dogs, we nearly got run over twice and we walked past the town’s crematorium. There was cotton blowing everywhere on the breeze, which sounds romantic but which was actually kind of strange.

We stopped at the first albergue in town, Santiago Apostle, which was a big industrial style hostel but which had good facilities and was very central. This cost us €10 each.

Logrono is a really pretty, nice city but we were put off it by our initial impressions and so we weren’t keen to linger here. We had initially planned to have a rest day in Logrono, but the accommodation was expensive and we just didn’t want to stay.

However, I think we’ll go back as Logrono is one of the best places in Spain for tapas. We went on a tapas crawl and ate some mouth-wateringly delicious food, including the best patatas bravas, mushrooms and shrimps, goats cheese and gazpacho soup. I’d go back to Logrono just to eat.

Day 11: Logrono to Navarette

We’d originally planned to have a rest day in Logrono, but as we weren’t that keen on the city and we couldn’t find anywhere good value to stay, we decided to push on but just do a short day.

I’m not sure why we didn’t like Logrono, because it was a perfectly nice city and we loved the walk out of the city (and not just because we were leaving). The camino ran through a number of local parks and then through a national park with a lovely lake and lots of nature. We met a cool red squirrel who followed us around for a while (we named him Plumey) and we saw lots of cycnets and baby ducks etc. There was a really nice lake-side cafe in the park and lots of playgrounds.

After the park there was a long, hot dry climb over a hill, alongside the motorway, into the next valley. The day was starting to get really hot and though we had water, I was struggling. Luckily, it was mostly downhill to the next town of Navarette – and when we got there we decided to call it a day. We were so early that the albergues hadn’t started check-in yet, so we went off for a lovely lunch before checking in at the municipal albergue. We spent the afternoon asleep, then went out for a pilgrims menu, then went back to sleep again.

This was the first municipal albergue we had stayed in. These are hostels run by the town. We were a little nervous about what it would be like. The guy who ran this albergue was a bit of a cheeky show-man, but when I spoke to him alone he was quite kind. We were accommodated in rooms of twelve beds, with a bathroom – and it was a fine place to stay. We had some pretty strange hostal mates here (the brother and sister who had screaming rows in the night) and there was a massive thunder storm, but all in all, I slept pretty well. The municipal albergue cost us €7 each.

Day 12: Navarette to Azofra

Much of the walk this morning was alongside the A12 motorway. I quite liked walking by the motorway as I liked seeing the distance road signs and the cars zooming by.

The camino signs seemed to suggest that the official way went uphill via the village of Ventosa (where we’d originally intended to stop), but our map said the camino went via the motorway – so we took the short route. We think perhaps that Ventosa was trying to divert business into their village.

The next major stop for us was the town of Najera. For may pilgrims Najera is an end-point but this was only a half way point for us. This large town is an interesting place. Najera actually means ‘town between the rocks’ and there are many interconnected caves here. Neolithic people lived here and apparently there are neolithic relics in the archaeological museum in town. I’d like to go back as a tourist as Najera was a really interesting looking place. Also, Najera sits on a  beautiful river, the sort that looks perfect for playing and splashing about in. We stopped for lunch here in a riverside cafe.

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Najera

In Najera there were many interesting churches and a huge, impressive monastery, Monasterio de Santa Maria la Real, where Spanish kings are buried. More than 30 members of the royal family are buried in the pantheon, including Sancho 2 of Pamplona. Sadly, it was closed to visitors when we were walking through so we weren’t able to go inside.

In the afternoon we had a hot cross-country trudge across to the village of Azofra. We met a lovely French man and we walked away the land learning French songs.

Azofra is a one street town with a few cafes and two shops. We wanted to stay here as the entry for the municipal hostel in our guide book indicated that all of the accommodation was in rooms for two – and this was indeed the case. We had a private room for €7 each. The hostel felt a little bit like a converted school. There were two floors with ply-wood bedrooms, a big communal kitchen/ dining/ reception area and a courtyard for drying cothes. The bathrooms were basic, like school bathrooms, and a bit mucky too (they were unisex). All in all though, this was a great place to stay.

The village was friendly, the food in the cafes was good and the wine was cheap – so we had a good stop here.

Day 13: Azofra to Granón

Today started with an 8km, cross-country walk to the strange village of Ciruena. Ciruena is a new village which people don’t seem to have moved into yet. There appeared to be lots of identikit empty-houses. There was a golf course on the edge of town though, which was being used, and they had a nice cafe where we stopped for breakfast.

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The main town we were to pass through this day was Santo Domingo de la Calzeda. This wonderful town is a key stop on the camino and we were very tempted to stay here – especially as the town appeared to be having a festival.

Santo Domingo de la Calzeda has a famous legend attached to it. In 1019, Santo Domingo dedicated his life to pilgrims. He built a hospice and a bridge in the woods near to the Rio Ojo, where he lived, and he also improved the path. Later on, a boy and his family were travelling through the town on the way to Santiago. The boy was wrongly accused of theft and hanged. The parents carried on their way to Santiago, but on their way back through the town they saw that their son, though hanging, was still alive. They went to the local lord to ask him to cut their son down and the local lord said ‘that boy is as alive as these roast chickens on my plate’. At which point the chickens came back to life. The miracle is attributed to Santo Domingo and this is why there are live chickens in the cathedral.

The cathedral in Santo Domingo was wonderful. We didn’t do many touristy things whilst walking the camino, but we did pay €6 to go inside here. The cathedral is full of stunning artwork and beautiful altar pieces and there was an interesting museum attached. The best thing about it though was that as we were looking around there would be the occasional sqwark from the chickens, which rather ruined the holy, celestial atmosphere. The chicken coup is above a door, next to Santo Domingo’s tomb. The chickens are donated by local farmers and are changed monthly.

It was hard for us to leave Santo Domingo – the accommodation looked good, there was a festival going on, the locals were friendly and the food was good value – but we’d only done half a days walk by this point, so we pressed on.

On the edge of town we went over the Rio Ojo, after which the region and the wine is named. It was a bit dry and smelly, to be honest. We then walked along the side of the N120 to the village of Grañón.

Grañón was another one street town but it had some beautiful churches and a friendly bar. We could have stayed in the church here but instead we decided to try the donativo hostel (Casa de las Sonrisas). A donativo hostal is a hostel where you just pay a donation – you decide how much you can afford to pay. It was a little bit of a strange place to stay (I think it was effectively someone’s house), but it was clean and dinner was included. We paid €10 each for our bed and dinner.

Day 14: Granón to Villambistia

When we set off this morning it was really foggy and as we passed over the Rioja-Castilla y Leon border we could barely see the vineyards around us. Luckily, the clouds burnt off quickly and by the time we got to our first breakfast stop at the village of Redecilla del Camino, the sun was shining again.

This morning we followed the N120, past small villages, up to the major town of Belorado. Belorado had an interesting castle overlooking the town, lots of pretty churches and tiny streets and there was a festival being set up in the main square. Belorado is a stage end-point for many travellers, but we wanted to walk a little bit further. So we stopped for a nice early lunch then pressed on.

Tosantos was 5km up the road from Belorado and we hoped that we could get a bed at Los Arancones hostel here. There are only 16 beds in this hostel, so we walked there quickly in the hope that we could take two of these. Tostades when we got there was a strange place: it was like a ghost town. We didn’t see a single person in the village and nothing was open. Including our hostel, sadly. When we arrived we found they didn’t open on Mondays – so we had to push on. It’s a shame that we couldn’t stay in Toast town as apparently there is a really cool cave-church here. We could just about see this from the path.

It was about another 7km to Villafranca Montes de Oca, which is where I thought we would have to get to. By this point I was tired and a bit fed up – but I was determined to just keep plodding on. J went ahead and about half way to Villambista I saw him running back towards me. He’d found a new albergue, not yet in the books, in Villambista, where we could have a private room for €35 and a pilgrims dinner for €9. Casa de los Deseos was a lovely place to stay: the rooms were really nicely decorated and it was quiet.

The pilgrims meal was effectively two meals (pasta then roast chicken), the wine was included and the room was modern and clean – so we were happy. The village was a little bit nowhere-ville, but we had a good rest here.

Day 15: Villambistia to Agés

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Today was a tough day but also the day that I really felt I got into my stride and felt competent and confident in our walking. Many things went wrong today but I trusted the camino to provide – and it did in wonderful ways.

The first stretch of today was from the tiny village of Villambistia to the town of Villafranca Montes de Oca, where we’d originally planned to stay overnight. Villafranca Montes de Oca is a pretty, long town which stretches along the N120, around the base of the Montes de Oca.

We stopped here for breakfast and for cash, as we had completely run out of money. Google and our hotelier the night before had both told us there was a cash point in Villafranca Montes de Oca, but when we asked in the supermarket where the ATM was, the lady told us with much glee that there was no ATM and the nearest was in Burgos – two days walk and 56km away! She told us this with such glee that we didn’t quite believe her, so we went to the wonderful ancient Parador to ask them if they knew where we could get money, hoping that they would be able to offer a cash back service – but the lady there was very abrupt with us too. They weren’t very kind these Villafranca Montes de Ocaians. Maybe we were crazy but we decided to push on and hope that a solution would present itself – even though we had no money. We had water and we had a bag of nuts – and that would keep us going for a little while.

The walk out of Villafranca Montes de Oca was up a steep hill which I floated up. I felt so powerful and fit, the views were wonderful and I was really enjoying myself.

Jeff had gone ahead and about half way up I came across him lying in the path. A wasp had attacked him and the only way he could get it to stop attacking him was to roll around on the floor; so the poor thing was left stung and dusty.

We carried on up to the fountain marked on our map. Confident that water was ahead I had drunk freely of my water (it was a hot day), but when we got to the fountain we found that the water wasn’t drinkable, which meant I had to walk 8.6km to the next drinking fountain, with very little water. After getting so over-dehydrated on my second day, I was nervous but decided to risk it.

The map indicated that the walk was through woods so I was hopeful that there would be lots of shade. However, the path was on wide, rutted, dried mud and stony tracks – more designed for large forestry equipment than for little feet. The path went up a steep hill to 1120 meters, down a steep hill, up another steep hill, then on and on and on. At one point I thought I might be on the wrong track, but luckily the camino provided and soon I was passing artwork and messages laid out in the stones by kind pilgrims.

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J and I walked together for some of this stretch and whilst chilling under a tree we got talking to a tour guide who asked if he could borrow some of our sun-tan lotion and we of course said yes.

Then it was another, dusty, tiring stumble on to the abbey and albergue at San Juan de Ortega, somewhere we hoped could possibly be an end point for us.

San Juan de Ortega was full but luckily it did have a fountain with drinkable water and we downed bottles and bottles of this lovely stuff. There was a nice cafe at the Abbey and many people sat in the sunshine drinking huge beers. We ate the last of our nuts, drank our water and enjoyed our sit down.

Just as we were thinking about moving on, the guide who we had met earlier came over to offer us the leftovers from his group’s picnic – which included a basked of berries and fruit, rich cheeses and many types of bread. Suddenly we had gone from having nothing to having a luxury picnic and there was enough still for it to be shared with others too. The camino provides.

Once we were full we carried on our way through army training grounds and over gentle hills to the town of Ages. I hoped that we would be able to stay here, just for the puns.

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Albergue in a gym in Ages. Surprisingly comfortable.

We found the Municipal Hostel and bar in the town centre and luckily they had two beds left and we could pay with our cards for the accommodation, food and drinks. So we checked in, grabbed some big beers and went and sat in the sunshine with a brilliant bunch of people. Here we met Manolo, Janet and Diane again and we got to know them a little better.

The accommodation at the municipal was a little strange as we were essentially accommodated on fold up beds in a gymnasium – with basketball hoops above our heads. The beds were comfy though and the food was great and we were just glad that we hadn’t had to walk all the way to Burgos for an ATM.

The Municipal cost €8 for the bed and €10 for the pilgrims menu with wine.

Day 16: Agés to Burgos

As usual, Jeff and I were the last to leave the hostal this morning. J was the last one to get out of bed and I think he was secretly having a competition with another man to see who could get up the latest. Jeff won. We were still on the road by eight thirty though – ready for our trek into the big city of Burgos.

I loved our walk this morning. The world was fresh and bright, J and I walked together and giggled our way along and I was excited at the thought of getting into a big city where we could have access to amenities.

Our first stop was at the stone circle on the edge of Atapuerca.  I was a little sad that I was the only person to go up to have a look at this cool monument – all the other pilgrims just walked on by. The camino can make you very insular and all that matters is the way; so often side sights, even if they are only just off the path, are often too far away. The walk and the destination become the priority rather than the amazing sights you can see along the way. Jeff and I were guilty of this too and many times we would miss going to visit something because it wasn’t on the path, or we would decide which restaurant/ cafe to visit by how far off the camino it was and how many steps to get there.

Perhaps more people would have stopped if they had known that this stone circle was the site of an important battle between two Spanish kings; brothers fighting over Navarre and Castille. In the battle of Atapuerca, King García Sánchez 3 of Navarre and his brother King Ferdinand 1 of Castille, had a fight ostensibly over some Castillian land. Ferdinand won and Garcia was killed. He was buried in Ages, where we had stayed the night before. His tomb was recently rediscovered in the church. You can find out more on Wiki.

In 2008, archaeologists discovered the oldest human remains in Europe, in Atapuerca. The bones found in Atapuerca range from 1.3 million to 800,000 years old and scientists have been able to extract DNA from these bones: the oldest human DNA found. The older bones come from a new species of homo antecessor and the younger bones (from 600,00 years ago) are from Homo Heidelbergensis. This is one of the most important sites in the world in the study of human ancestry and as a result it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos was built to explain these discoveries and they offer day trips out to Altapuerca. Sadly, we didn’t have the time or the inclination to visit the site on this visit, but we definitely hope to go back.

After Atapuerca there was a steep, rocky climb up to the Cruz de Matagrande at 1070m. Again, I quite enjoyed this climb: the hills no longer scared me and they left me feeling powerful rather than defeated. There were huge flocks of sheep on the hills, their bells ringing in the air; the sun wasn’t too strong and there were lots of friendly teenage students, who wanted to chat and know where we were from. The views from the top were magnificent and we could see our way down to the end point of Burgos – 13km on.

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Feeling confident in our navigation abilities, J and I decided not to walk the main path but to take a short-cut ‘option’ marked on our map. We wandered down the hill and along the ridge line, along empty tracks, to the village of Orbaneja – avoiding the random ups and downs of the main camino. The route was really pretty, with wild flowers and poppies, bobbing in the breeze.

We stopped for a rest in Orbaneja with some other pilgrims and sadly one of them left her walking-poles. We took them and carried them for her for four days in the hope that we would catch her up and we could return them – but eventually they just got annoying so we left them at a hostel for someone else to use. I’m not a pole fan as they upset my balance and they get in my way – but I can understand why people use them. When you use the poles, you seem to throw your whole weight into the walk, and this makes you much more powerful and faster. I certainly picked up speed on the route into Burgos.

I was very glad to have the poles when we got lost in a cornfield on the edge of Burgos airfield. Just before the airfield the camino splits into two and you can either walk into Burgos along a big, busy main road or along the river. We saw a sign on the road saying river, but didn’t realise that this was the turn off for the river path. In fact, we didn’t realise we had gone the wrong way until we got to the airport and realised we had gone too far. Luckily (or unluckily), we bumped into a Spanish pilgrim who thought the way might be through a cornfield – and off he went, through the field. We followed him for about ten minutes, before we lost sight of him – and by this point we knew we weren’t in the right place but we couldn’t decide whether to go on or turn back. Turning back meant extra miles, so we carried on – worried that airport security or an angry farmer would soon stop us to demand to know what we were doing tromping through this cornfield.

If you’re ever lost, head for higher ground and this will help you see your way. We found a small hillock and walked up this – and from here Jeff spotted the familiar trail of pilgrims, only a few hundred yards ahead. We cut through the waste-ground and finally we were back on the path – that properly then weaved its way around the airport perimeter. This bit was hot and so, so boring! I was looking ahead to find distinctive plants and marks in the road, just to give myself some sense of movement and getting on.

The camino re-joined the N120 at Castañares and from here the path split again so that you could walk into town along the busy N120 or along the river. We desperately needed an ATM, so we walked into Burgos alongside the busy trunk road. It wasn’t nice.

Once in town we found an ATM (yay) and a cafe and then J and I headed for the commercial centre where there was Burger King and a C&A. A few locals stopped us to tell us we were going the wrong way, but we knew where we were heading. Burger King’s unlimited drinks was heaven – and we had a nice air-conditioned hour here before we headed into town for Hostal Lar.

There was a medical conference taking place in Burgos and so accommodation was extremely expensive and limited. Luckily, we had booked Hostal Lar a few days before and so we didn’t have to go to the out of town camp ground like many of the other pilgrims we spoke to. Our private twin room in Hostal Lar cost £30 per night. It was very central and just off the camino. www.hostallar.es

Day 17: Rest day Burgos

Burgos was an important point for me on the camino as I’d actually been there before whilst filming a World Class Trains documentary.  I really liked Burgos when we visited the first time and so I was excited to come back to this city. It’s also one of the largest cities on the camino, the capital of Castilla y Leon, and so a really important way-point.

On our day off we did laundry, ate tapas and Mexican food, shopped, visited the cathedral and rested. Burgos Cathedral is stupendous: it has the most wonderful chapels and lace-like ceiling. Much of the decorations are quite Arabic, which is ironic as this is where the infamous Moor-slayer El Cid is buried. I spent a good hour in the cathedral and the basement, looking at all of the wonderful art and architecture.

One thing we missed in Burgos was the Museum of Human Evolution. This museum had been built since my previous visit to house the relics found at Atapuerca. The museum also runs tours out to the archaeological park at Atapuerca. Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit the museum on this visit so we will have to go back.

There’s a cute little castle in Burgos. This was blown up by the French, but has recently been renovated. We went here whilst filming the documentary and there were great views of the surrounding landscape.

Day 18: Burgos to Hornillos

Today was a good walking day and I felt like we got a huge amount of miles under our belts, powered on by our rest day. Our day started with a walk through Burgos, round the back of the cathedral and under the ancient Arco San Martin. We walked down through suburban streets, weaving around buildings which seemed to have been dropped onto the path, to the lovely Parque el Parral. Just off Parque el Paral is Monasterio de las Huelgas, which is where Edward 1 of England got married. There are tombs and treasures here.

On the far side of the park was the pretty Ermita de Santo Amaro and then the camino seemed to run past the university. We stopped for cheap, sugary breakfast pastries at a bakery here. The route then cut across country, past the suburbs of Villabilla (which we loved for its name), under the railway line and over the motorway, to the friendly town of Tardajos, where we stopped for second breakfast. It was then a back roads stroll to the old village of Rabe de las Calzedas, before we cut across the start of the meseta, across to Hornillos del Camino, where we stayed for the night.

Meseta means table-land – and this was an interesting landscape of flat plateaus at the top of steep hills. In some ways, this was quite a boring walk, as you couldn’t see much of the surrounding countryside from the top of the meseta and it was quite exposed to the elements – but it was also a refreshing day and we enjoyed walking in the sunshine. J and I stopped for lunch at a picnic spot which had it’s own pump-well. It was pretty but the trash made us sad: it had obviously been used as a campsite and though there were bins, people hadn’t used them. It was also obvious by the amount of toilet paper that a lot of people had used the back of the well as a toilet. I was glad that we couldn’t get the pump to work.

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Hornillos was just a few houses in a dip between mesetas, but it was a nice place to stay. We stayed in the Meeting Point hostel which was €9 for bed and €9 for dinner.The shared meal was delicious, they had a lovely garden, the dorms were fresh, clean and bright and we met some interesting people here.

Day 19: Hornillos to Castrojeriz

Today was one of my favourite days on the camino. It started with another meseta, a big stretch of empty, flat cornfields, but luckily we bumped into Janet and Diane so we were able to talk away the miles and we really enjoyed getting to know them as we wandered along.

The cute village of Hontanas was tucked away on the side of a meseta, hidden in the dips and valleys of this land. There was an interesting hermitage on the edge of the village, lots of lovely cafes and a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool. It was hard not to stop to dive into that lovely, cool, blue water.

The stretch between Hontanos and San Anton was just beautiful. The path followed the side of a river valley, it was quite a gentle walk, there were flowers and butterflies everywhere, the sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot and there were interesting ruins by the path side.

San Anton is a unique monastery and one of the coolest places on the camino. These great ruins sit astride the road and cars drive through the buttresses. Although the majority of the building is in ruins there are still sections which are occupied, and inside someone has set up benches, flower-pots and jugs of fresh water. We had a lovely sunny rest in the ruins of the monastery, where we could see the remains of the statues and frescoes.

The last stretch from San Anton to Castrojeriz was along the roadside but it was flat and we were able to make good speed here. Castrojeriz is an amazing place in a unique landscape. The castle of CastroJeriz sits on top of a strange, dome mountain, surrounded by mesetas. As it is such a key geographical point, this hill has been occupied for a long time; Castrojeriz was a Celtic settlement. The village today curves around this dome like hill, climbing up the slopes. There are three huge churches in town; San Juan is the most famous.

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We had a nice stroll through the village and then we checked in at the municipal hostel, which consisted of one large room with twenty or so bunk beds. Considering we were sharing a room with so many people we managed to sleep okay here. Municipal estaban cost us €5 each.

Castrojeriz was quite a sizable town, with cash points etc – but J and I couldn’t really find anywhere that we wanted to eat. The one supermarket sold limited products and we didn’t really fancy or couldn’t afford the menu del dias in the cafes. I think we were tired and were faffing. We did have some snacks, but not enough – and I think this affected me a lot the next day.

Day 20: Castrojeriz to Fromista

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Today was my worst day on the camino. It hurt and by the end I was so tired and sore I was pretty much in tears. I think my energy levels had really been affected by not eating the night before and this made the walk that much harder.

On paper, today shouldn’t have been a hard day. Apart from a big climb at the start, much of the day was to be pretty flat.

We started off with a lung-busting climb out of Castrojerez to the top of a meseta. With fresh feet and loud music, Jeff and I both stormed to the top of this, stopping only to take photos of the wonderful Castro-Jeriz castle-topped mountain below us (see above).

At the summit there was a shelter and a man with lovely dogs, selling drinks and snacks (the man, not the dogs). Then it was a long open walk down to the Pisuerga River.

One of the problems with the camino is that sometimes there are very few toilets and very few landscape features which you can go hide behind. This was a problem here as I was desperate for the bathroom, but there were no trees or bushes for me to utilise and from the descending path you could see all the surrounding countryside. It was all very beautiful, but not very convenient.

At the bottom of the valley we passed over the Pisuerga River, which is the border to the region of Palencia. Some camino friends of ours stayed in an albergue next to this bridge, where they had eaten dinner by candlelight and the monks washed their feet.

As soon as we crossed into Palencia the landscape seemed to change and not in a good way: it was flat, dry, dusty and empty. We headed along a dusty track to the town of Itero de la Vega. It seemed to take forever to get there, something which we found happened a lot in Palencia, where distances in reality seemed to be so much longer than on the map. Itero de la Vega, when we finally got there, had one or two okay cafes, but it otherwise seemed to be pretty empty, like a wild-west ghost town.

After Itero de la Vega it was a long slog past large arable fields with huge fertiliser/watering machines. This section was on a dirt track, which the occasional lorry drove down. It wasn’t too bad a path for the most part, but by the end it became pretty rocky and my feet got really sore.

The village of Boadilla del Camino was a welcome relief, though this too was a strange dusty, nowhere town with dirt streets and locals who seemed completely uninterested in the people passing through. It was a festival day, so there were rides for the kids and people in the bars, but the town didn’t feel very welcoming to me. I’d lost my husband, so we had a bit of a wait here whist we relocated each other, and even though by this time it was getting quite late, we decided we didn’t want to stay here and we’d much rather push on the final six kilometers to Fromista.

It hurt. Even though this was a completely flat path I was so tired I just didn’t want to walk anymore. I was worn out and emotional and running on empty – and the walk just went on and on and on and on, with no infrastructure to break up our route. Most of this section was along the Canal de Castilla, which is very pretty around Fromista, but which otherwise is just a long, flat, boring stretch of water.

Fromista was another strange, nowhere town where all the supermarkets were shut and the bars overly expensive. We tried knocking on the doors of two hotels, but no one answered, so we ended up in Estrella Hostel. I can’t say I really liked this place: the owner wasn’t very friendly and everything seemed a little expensive; they chucked us out really early the next morning and the dorms were in one long, connecting room. We had the last two beds, which were upper bunks and when I tried to climb up the bed nearly fell over. I had no strength to pull myself up and the rungs really hurt my sore feet – and at this point I’m sad to say, I was so tired I just started to cry.

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I earned this…

Luckily, we found somewhere which served G&T and sweets – and this helped with the pain and my energy levels. Also, we discovered that Manolo and Janet had the bottom of our bunk beds and their kindness and happy faces made everything much easier to bear. Estrella cost €9 each.

www.albergueestrelladelcamino.com

Fromista was a strange place. In some ways it reminded me of my home town Atherstone. It has a canal and a mainline train connection to the capital – but it also seemed to be quite an insular place. We went out for pizza for our tea and there was a broken down coach by our restaurant. Lots of local lads came to sit and watch what was happening with the broken down coach, like it was some great entertainment. Possibly because nothing else ever happens in this strange town.

Fromista does have one tourist attraction: the 11th century Iglesia de San Martin. This is a very pretty church in the centre of town which has some beautiful carvings. We were sadly too tired to go in here.

Day 21: Fromista to Carrion de los Condes

There’s some things you just don’t do when you’re staying in a dorm with lots of other people: turning on the lights at six a.m. is one of these. There is a special place in hell reserved for the selfish German girl who did this in our hostel this morning. I hope she could feel the waves of hatred coming off me for being so rudely awakened, still really tired from the hard day before. The kindness of Janet calmed me down though and made me feel quite silly for being so angry.

Today was to be a straightforward day, where we would just walk along the roadside from Fromista to Carrion de los Condes. Considering this was such a boring part of the path, I quite enjoyed this walk. I put my music on and my head down, strode my way up and down the gentle hills. It was windy, but that meant that when there was no one around I could sing my little heart out at top volume and the wind blew my song away, so I wasn’t disturbing anyone. Also, as we got closer to Carrion, geography appeared again – which was really exciting. We could see the end of the flat lands.

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Not my best look; it was a bit windy.

The nice thing about today was that the walk was only 20km and there were villages with cafes about every 5km, which helped to pace the walk. J and I stopped for second breakfast and toilets at Hotel Amanecer in Poblacion de Campos, and the hotel owner was lovely and even gave us free cake.

Carrion was a cool town which we really liked. We got in here around lunch time and we stopped on the edge of town at a lovely bar for refreshing Radler (lemon beer) and tortilla. In the afternoon we found a nice bar where we ate lovely local food and watched the football, and we had a thoroughly good rest – which I think we needed.

J and I booked a private room in Hostal Santiago, which cost us €40. www.hostalsantiago.es.

The Iglesia de Santiago in town has a impressively ornate 12th Century facade.

Day 22: Carrion to Ledigos

Today was the day we had the biggest gap on the camino. From Carrion to Calzadilla was 16km of nothing. The only way points were two road junctions, one rest spot and one cafe truck (which wasn’t where it was indicated on the map). Luckily, we had good company and good conversation to keep us going; then good music. It was still pretty boring though, with only flat, arable land all around.

Calzadilla was a strange place. We stopped at a cafe on the edge of town and there were some really weird people here. There were camino arrows painted all across town, to try to entice walkers to different businesses. It reminded me of the poor American pilgrim who had walked into a killers trap a few years ago, following the rogue arrows he painted to his isolated farm.

The final stretch of the walk today was either on a stony, uncomfortable path or on the road side. I opted for the road side, though walking on tarmac for long sections could be just as uncomfortable as the sharp rocks.

I’d spotted Albergue El Moreno a few days before on the internet and as it looked like a lovely place to stay, we headed here. El Moreno is in the hamlet of Ledigos, which is actually the half way point for the camino. The accommodation at El Moreno was clean and comfy and cost €8 each. The only downsides to this place were the extremely loud, squeeky bathroom door, that they didn’t include wine with the pilgrim meal but still charged €10 and that it was a little bit cold. However, the bar was lovely, they had good facilities and the dorm room was clean and comfy. www.alberguelamorena.com.

Day 23: Ledigos to Sahagun

The weather turned today. For the first time on our walk it rained and became quite cold. Luckily, by the time the heavens really opened we were ensconced in a hotel in Sahagun.

The walk into Sahagun was alongside our old friend the N120. The walk passed through some cute villages, where we stopped for snacks and first, second and third breakfast. In one village I saw a really cool dog who had wheels for his back legs. There were quite a few strange locals about too.

Just outside Sahagun we finally left the boring, terrible province of Palencia and went into lovely Leon.

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This is how I felt about Palencia.

The camino takes a slight detour on the edge of Sahagun to travel over an ancient bridge, past the beautiful Virgin del Puente chapel and past what looked like the Roman gateway to the city. There were statues on either side of the path, marking our way.

The final part of the walk into town is a bit of a blur for me as I was bursting for the bathroom. Thank you to Hotel Puerta de Sahagun who let me use their facilities for free. I had wanted to stay here because they have a nice pool, but sadly they were just a little bit out of our budget.

Sahagun is the official half way point of the camino and is an important town en-route. There is a huge ceremonial gateway in town and an important monastery.

The town used to be four times larger and it seems to be rather diminished today. To us, Sahagun felt like an insignificant agricultural town. Everything seemed to be closed, the town looked depressed and there was graffiti everywhere. To be fair, we did arrive the day after their bull-running festival, so maybe the town was just partied out. Also, it was raining quite heavily. It was all a bit depressing. To cheer ourselves up, we went for lunch at Luis, a nice looking cafe on the Plaza Mayor square, where we bumped into an Ozzie friend. However, the service was terrible and unfriendly and the food was overpriced. Whilst we were there it started raining again and the whole town just appeared drab and depressing; so we went and hid in our hotel for the rest of the day and watched TV.

We were supposed to be having a rest day in Sahagun, but we were glad that we had decided to move on the next day.

The Hostal Escarcha where we stayed was slightly dated but we had a comfortable room, there was good wifi, it was very central and the host was friendly. It cost us €30 for a double private room. hostalescarcha.com.

Day 24: Sahagun – El Burgos Ranero

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Today was another wet, roadside, boring, boring, boring day. I experimented with spoken books today as a way to pass the time, but found myself unable to concentrate on the stories. The only thing to do was to keep walking. Part of the route was along the high-speed train line. I was so jealous of these people who could whip through this boring landscape in hours, rather than the days it was taking us to cross it.

We ended the day in the strange, two-street village of El Burgos Ranero. We were going to stay at the municipal but we would have had the last two beds and there was a man there who looked as if he needed the cheap accommodation more than we did; so we let him go in front of us and then we ended up staying at the strange El Nogal Albergue, run by a Dutch pilgrim who was resting here for a week or two whilst walking his own camino. Nogal was essentially just someone’s house. We got told off for using the light before it was dark and it had a strange atmosphere; but it was clean and only cost us €10 each for a private room.

El Burgo Ranero was a very strange place in the heart of a flat emptiness. I took an evening stroll to the edge of town and it really did feel as if we were in the middle of a flat nowhere; somewhere trapped in time, away from the rest of the world.

However, EBR did have a few really good cafes and we had one of our best pilgrim menus here in Hotel Rural Piedras Blancas Restaurante, which felt like the heart of the town.

Day 25: El Burgos Ranero to Mansilla de la Mulares

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Today was another flat, boring, road side day, though this time we did pass through the interesting, hippyish village of Reliegos – where Elvis bar is located. Elvis bar is a bright blue bar covered in graffiti, run by a lovely hippy who serves cheap beer and fried food. The bar is featured in the film The Way. We had a good rest here. We ate fried food, drank a beer in the sunshine and watched high-voltage electricity cables being installed to the town (we know how to get our kicks).

Mansilla de la Mulares was a pretty, mid-size town with some nice cafes, some supermarkets and some walls. I liked Mancilla  – probably because it was so close to Leon, our last major city on the camino.

We stayed in the municipal hostel in Mancilla, which had a really nice courtyard and pretty good facilities. This was the first place we cooked for ourselves. Making our own meal saved us a lot of money and I think we should have done this more often. The municipal hostel cost us €5 each.

Day 26: Mansilla to Leon

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Our first sight of Leon, the cathedral and the way ahead.

Today we walked to the outskirts of Leon, our last major city before the end of our walk; so today felt an important day and it was good to be away from the barren, boring flatness that we had been trudging through the last few days.

The walk started with a roadside trudge on a rocky track alongside the busy N601. Although many people complain about the roadside stretches, I never minded these as it usually meant there was infrastructure to mark the journey and cars and lorries to look at.

We followed the N601 right the way into Leon, occasionally crossing sides, going through roadside villages, veering off parallel country lanes.

We really liked the ancient road bridge and modern footbridge in Puente Villarente. We stopped for coffee in a bridge side cafe on one side of the village, then went to the supermarket in town, then stopped for a picnic and a zip-wire in a park on the other side of the village.

We wandered through the villages of Arcahueja (lots of storks nests on the church tower) and Valdelafuente (which had a very nice fuente). We then walked past lots of warehouses and car show rooms, over a bridge on the main road, over the motorway – and then there was Leon – all laid out below us, with the huge cathedral tower and dramatic, dark looking mountains in the background (which we were going to go up and over in the next few days).

The last stretch to our hostel was down a suburban street, with city buses – which got us very excited. We then passed over an ancient bridge, past some discount shopping stores before we reached our hostel on the outskirts of the city.

Check In was a clean, modern, funky hostel with a nice, big, bright dorm and a good kitchen. It was located opposite the Carrefour hypermarket and close to KFC and Burger King. We arrived quite early on so we used the afternoon for practical purposes. The hostel cost us €10 each, per bed, per night.

www.checkinleon.com

Day 27: Leon rest day

Leon was founded in AD68 as a Roman fortress. The 7th legion of imperial Rome was stationed here. It was Christianised in the 3rd century (that’s well early) and as a result has the oldest bishopric in western Europe. For a while it was the Christian capital of Spain.

Leon is a large city full of interesting shops and sights. We really liked Leon. It had a friendly atmosphere and we really enjoyed our time here. We even discussed whether this could be somewhere we could potentially move to.

Walking wise, this was our shortest day, as I think we just walked 3km from Check In to our hotel in the very centre of town. We had booked Hotel Spa Paris because it had a spa and it was central. Even though it only cost us €50 for our double room (spa included), we could only afford to stay here for one night on our budget. www.hotelparisleon.com.

On the way into town we passed the wonderful, old municipal albergue – which already had a queue of backpacks lined up outside, even though it was only ten in the morning. We then got lost in the tight, tiny streets, before we found the main shopping street of Calle Ancha – which our hotel was on. We couldn’t have stayed anywhere more central.

Just up the street from us was Leon Cathedral and after dropping off our bags we went for a look see at this beautiful building, that we had spied from afar the day before. Leon Cathedral was built in the 13th century over the old Roman baths. This ‘House of Light’ is magnificent and unique because the walls are mostly made up of stained glass windows. These give the cathedral an immense feeling of lightness and space. Apparently there is so much glass that the building is slightly unstable.

Every night the windows are illuminated from inside from 00.00 – 02.00. You can also visit the glass in close up every night at 23.30, though this was too late for us.

Entry to the cathedral was pretty expensive at €6 and there was no discount for pilgrims, but if this money can go to preserve this wonderful building then the price is worth it. www.catedraldeleon.org.

After we had visited the cathedral, J and I went for a long soak in the hotel spa – which was heaven. We then went out to explore the tapas bars of Húmedo, where we ate lots of delicious food and had a thoroughly nice evening.

One major sight we missed was the Basilica de San Isidora, which has the beautiful Panteon Real in the crypt. This is the resting place of eleven Kings of Leon. I shall have to go back to see them.

Day 28: Leon to San Martin del Camino

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Convento de San Marco, the parador in Leon

The walk out of Leon was gentle and interesting. We walked past the imperial parador (Convento de San Marco), where we stopped to admire the facade and to take lots of photos. The parador is in a gorgeous old convent, next to the River Bernegsa. We looked at staying here as the rooms aren’t too expensive for somewhere so special (e.g. €80 per night, per double), though they were slightly over our camino budget. www.parador.es/parador-de-leon.

After this we walked through a park and over the river. Leon looked pretty and bright in the morning sunshine and I was sad that we hadn’t been able to spend longer here.

We enjoyed the walk through the suburbs, past supermarkets and over railway tracks. Towards the edge of town we climbed up and up and soon we could look back over this wonderful city and back to the impressive cathedral. I was sad to say goodbye but happy to be on the last stretch.

We walked through the town of La Virgen del Camino, where there were nice cafes and the most wonderful, modernist church – with what looked like ring wraith statues on the outside. (Ring Wraiths are from the Lord of the Rings).

Once we left Virgen, the day seemed to just be a hot, dusty walk along the side of a major road. It was boring as hell, with only warehouses to look at and the occasional cafe. I remember at one point being so bored that I was counting the street lamps we walked past, just to give my plodding a sense of movement and to know that I was getting somewhere.

At Valverde we stopped for a rest at a bus stop; at San Miguel we stopped for lunch in a cafe and at Villadrangos del Paramo we stopped for a drink and an ice cream in a very strange, run down bar with ‘interesting’ patrons. We did think about stopping in Villadrangos del Paramo but decided to push on to the village of San Martin.

San Martin, like all of the places we travelled through this day was just some houses on the highway, but it did have a few albergues. The one on the edge of town offered free wifi and a pool, but for some reason I wanted to go to the Santa Ana (I think I’d seen a picture of it and it looked pretty nice). The albergue was okay: it cost €10 each for a private room and it was clean, though the facilities weren’t the best. Santa Ana can be booked through booking.com.

We didn’t have enough cash on us to eat the pilgrims menu, so we ate a dinner of biscuits and a beer and then turned in early. It was midsummer nights eve.

One of the strange things about when we did the camino is that we didn’t see night time for the whole of our walk. As we started walking around seven each morning and were in bed by nine, we missed night time. Being so far west in Spain, darkness doesn’t fall until very late – and we really noticed this on our walk.

Day 29: San Martin del Camino to Astorga

Today started with a 7km highway-side trek into the town of Hospital de Orbigo, one of my favourite places on the camino. Hospital is a gorgeous little village, dominated by it’s wonderful arched bridge. The current bridge was built in medieval times, though it has recently been refurbished. It seemed to me that it’s about 1km long. It’s very impressive.

Because of it’s strategic point as a crossing place on the river, a few important historical events have taken place in Hospital. In 456 a battle took place here between Theuderic I and Rechiar (which is still commemorated annually in a medieval festival on the banks of the river); the army’s from the reconquest of Spain passed through town; and then more recently the town’s people destroyed their iconic bridge to slow down Napoleon’s invasion of Spain.

The town is named after the Knights Templar hospital which was built here to protect pilgrims crossing the river on their way to Santiago.

Hospital had a some great cafes (one with parrots), a supermarket and a lovely sunny square. We spent far too long here relaxing in the sunshine.

After Hospital we cut across country to the village of Villares de Orbigo, where we stopped for a quick water break, then it was up and over a hill to the village of Santibanez de Valdeiglesia. They were building a new highway on this section and part of the camino followed the muddy tracks carved out for this new road. It was surprisingly hard to walk on. Santibanez de Valdeiglesia was a pretty village with two nice albergues and we stopped here for a drink and an ice cream – as we had a big empty stretch coming up.

The 7km walk from Santibanez de Valdeiglesia to San Justo de la Vega followed a farm track, past some baby cows, through some arable land and then went off through some forested wasteland. This was such a quiet area that there were a few times that I thought I might have missed a turn and gone the wrong way. It was quite a desolate, dry area and I couldn’t help thinking about the poor girl who had been murdered a few years before. Walking alone, I felt quite isolated and unsure.

I’d arranged to meet Jeff at the love cantina, a cafe marked on our maps about three quarters of the way to San Justo, but then at the bottom of a wooded dip he was waiting for me at a surprise cafe. We found that quite often enterprising locals would set up these hidden rest stops, where they provided chairs and umbrellas and sold chilled drinks and light snacks. Although the drinks were a little expensive, it was a nice surprise stop as it was a really hot day.

We came to the love cantina later on and it was a little bit of a strange place. It seems as if some hippies have set up a nice donation cafe, with donativo healthy drinks and snacks. There were hammocks and cushions to laze upon. It wasn’t really our cup of tea, so we just had a quick chat to the lovely people running it and then we moved on.

The last stretch was through flat, sparse woods, then we emerged onto the hillside where we could see Astorga, our destination for the night, and the mountains up ahead.

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Just before San Justo we stopped for a rest by a wonderful fountain. The fountain depicted a pelegrino drinking from a flask and when you pressed the water button, water gushed out for our bottles, but it also dripped into the statue pilgrim’s mouth. It was really cool.

The last stretch of this day was on pavements and roadside and by this point my feet were aching. We hobbled into town on the main road, past old factories, over roundabouts and a railway and up the final steep hill to the municipal hostal.

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Municipal albergue, Astorga

The municipal hostal was great. It was an old pilgrims hostal, with some big dorms and many small rooms, each of which was named after a town on the camino. We were staying in Torres del Rio, with a lovely Italian couple. The room was tiny; so small that we had to leave the room every time one of us wanted to unpack or move etc. It meant we did most of our maneuvering in the corridor. However, it was clean and comfy and our room mates were lovely.  Even though they left very early the next morning, they were really considerate and tried their best not to disturb us – which we were so grateful for. The hostal also had good kitchen and washing facilities, friendly staff and cool music. It cost us €5 each to stay here.

The other great thing about the hostal was that we bumped into our friends Diane and Francisco here. We went for dinner and to watch the football with them at a great cafe (Eluno urban food) in Plaza Mayor.

Plaza Mayor is dominated by the gorgeous town hall, which has one of those bingety bongy, little people moving clocks. The people on the town hall clock in Astorga are Marageto people, who are local to the area.

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Astorga Town Hall

Astorga was a lovely town and we’d love to go back to explore it further. They have Roman remains, spas, a beautiful cathedral, formal gardens and a chocolate museum, as well as lots of lovely hotels, bars and restaurants. Hopefully we’ll be back.

Day 30: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

Today was one of those days that I was expecting to be quite a struggle, but which was actually okay. The maps showed that we were going to climb a lot today but the actual slope was pretty gentle and hardly noticeable at all.

The walk out of Astorga was interesting and pretty. We went back to Eluno for breakfast, had a look at the market square and stopped to look at the cathedral and at the Gaudi designed Palacio Episcopal. We liked Astorga so much that we were seriously considering staying an extra day here; although we would have had to book into a private albergue, as the municipal hostels only let you stay for one night, unless injured.

The walk out of town was flat and pretty and on pavements. We stopped to get water at Ecce Homo Ermita, a pretty, little, roadside chapel, then it was a gentle roadside climb up to Murias de Rechivaldo, where we sat in the sun and enjoyed some snacks.

The climb out of town was on a gentle, good path, which I think may have been an old railway track – it had that straightness and gradient about it. This was a pretty but boring section where we climbed gently up the side of a valley, through long grass fields.

Santa Catalina was a pretty, one road village with some nice cafes. We stopped for coffee here; then it was another gentle, slightly boring climb up to El Ganso, which I was excited to get to as this was the location of the Cowboy Bar.

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Cowboy Bar in El Ganso

We didn’t go to the cowboy bar in El Ganso, although it did look like a lot of fun, with fake stocks etc. Next door to the cowboy bar was another cafe with a lovely courtyard garden and a good set menu, so we went here instead – as did most of the walkers. Senior cowboy (vasa-niño?) looked quite bored and desolate, standing in his empty saloon.

The last stretch of the walk up to Rabanal del Camino was pretty. It followed the local road, up and down hills and through some woods. Apparently, there are bears in this area and I was really hoping to see some wildlife here as it was so quiet; but no luck.

The local road was being resurfaced, so we had to occasionally dodge the construction vehicles and the cars. Also, I accidentally walked through some fresh wet tar, so my footprints have now been left on the camino. I think this tar might have resealed my boots and helped them to survive to the end of the trek. The camino provides.

The final stretch was tough. I think being on hard surfaces all day had made my feet really sore. Getting to the village of Rabanal seemed to take forever. It was one of those walks where the distances just didn’t seem to match the map and I struggled, even though we’d only walked 20km.

Luckily, the first albergue we came to in the village (La Senda El Tesin) had spaces and big cold beers, and for €7 each we got a good bed in a lovely, clean hostel. The hostess was a sweetheart grandmother, who was really helpful, friendly and fun.

Rabanal was a pretty and interesting village. The main road seemed to be the camino path. It had some very expensive restaurants and some nice bars too. El Tesin seemed to be a central meeting point in town and we had a lovely evening here, sat outside, drinking cheap red wine and making new friends.

Day 31: Rabanal del Camino to Acebo

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Today was a big day for our walk as this was the day we were going to pass the highest point of the whole camino. I always presumed that the highest point would be in the Pyrenese, but actually the Cruz del Ferro is about 50 meters higher than the Col de Leopander. Luckily, we had been climbing slowly for the last few days and we were much fitter than at the start of our journey, so the climb didn’t hurt half so much.

Our walk this day started with a rocky climb, up through wild countryside, between Rabanal and Foncebadon. There were some pretty springs and stunning views back down the valleys to Astorga. However, there were also millions of flies. Big, black flies that got everywhere and were really annoying. (You can even kind of spot them in the photo above). For a long time, I was quite embarrassed: I thought it was just me they were attracted to and that I might smell – but then every walker we passed seemed to also be surrounded by them, so I think it’s a hazard of this stretch of path This is the only place on the whole camino that we had this problem. Jeff spoke to an old hermit later on and he explained that it is because of the cattle they keep on the hillsides. Either way, it wasn’t fun and we couldn’t find any way to stop them, though they did disappear once we got to Foncebadon village.

Apart from the flies, this stretch of path was beautiful – and I spent a lot of time taking photos. It was pretty steep and rocky, but we had no problems striding up the hills (trying to outrun the flies).

Foncebadon was a strange place: it’s a really high up, exposed, steep, hilly-hippy village. It didn’t come across as that friendly a place and I was glad that we had stayed at Rabanal the night before instead of here. It felt like one of those villages just there to take advantage of the passing pilgrims – which is not necessarily a bad thing, it just wasn’t as welcoming as other places.

However, there was a really cool cafe/supermarket in the village and we sat here for a while, drinking coffee and admiring their cats.

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The next stop was the highest point of the camino: Cruz de Ferro. This beautiful cross sits in the middle of a gorgeous pine-forest, on top of the mountain. Whenever I had seen photos of the cross it looked as if it was in the middle of nowhere, but it’s actually by a road and there is a car park, a small hermitage (sadly covered in graffiti) and a picnic spot there too.

The Cruz de Ferro is important for pilgrims as you are supposed to collect rocks from the start of your journey and to deposit them here, at the base of the cross. The rocks symbolise your burdens or sins – and when you get to this point you can lay them down. For some people, this is an incredibly emotional experience and I saw one lady in tears here. I heard a story of one man who had been in Vietnam and he was the only survivor from an attack on his troop. For years he had carried the guilt of being the only survivor, so he took a rock for each person in his unit and carried them here, where he laid down his guilt and moved on. Amongst the rocks at the base of the cross were photos, flowers, tokens etc. It was very moving.

We spent about half an hour by the cross. We took photos, looked at the ace sundial monument next to it, left our own burdens behind – and then it was time to move on and finish this walk.

The weather forecast said there were going to be storms and as we were on a high mountain we wanted to get off the hill as quickly as possible. Most of the afternoon walk was through the woods, but there were some exposed, rocky sections towards the end of this day’s hike. The landscape started to change on this side of the hills and the paths became much more dangerous, with smooth scree and ankle-twisting rocks. It meant I had to focus much more on my feet and I didn’t enjoy this section quite so much.

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We stopped twice more on this last section; first at a hermit lodge, a famous wooden hut covered in signs to the rest of the world which sells drinks and snacks and souvenirs. Jeff sat and talked to the hermit who lived here for a while; then we stopped at a caravan in a lay-by for a quick drink. Whilst there, a man in a complete Austrian hikers outfit stopped by too. He wore leiderhosen, traditional shoes and had a basket on his back. It was quite funny watching the Chinese tourists trying to surreptitiously take photos of him when he wasn’t looking.

The last bit of the walk down to our stage-end, the village of Acebo, was tough. It was rocky, it was steep and it was a little bit scary. Luckily, I knew there was a gorgeous swimming pool waiting for us at the end of this day.

The nice thing about having camino friends who walk faster then you is that they can scout out cool places. Our friend Kaitlyn, who we had met at the start of the walk, posted photos of this really cool hostel which had a swimming pool with stunning views. I had been dreaming of this pool for days and couldn’t wait to get there. The pool was located at Albergue La Casa del Peregrino in Acebo. Alberue La Casa del Peregrino is almost like a pilgrim’s resort. They know what they are doing and what pilgrims want. They charge €10 per bed and €10 per pilgrims menu; they have a pool overlooking the Ponferrada Valley, a sunbathing area, a supermarket and a bar which serves food. The bedrooms are spacious, clean and comfortable, with six beds per room; each bed has it’s own shelf, plug, light and locker; and there is a long balcony for guests to sit on, where they can put their feet up and admire the view. The whole hotel is built like a large chalet and the owners also had a really cute husky puppy.

The pool was heaven. It was freezing!, but so refreshing. There was quite a breeze by the poolside, but I was still able to sunbathe for a while (such a luxury).

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When the wind got too cold we wandered into the tiny village for a cold drink; then headed back to the hotel for over-priced sandwiches.

Then it was time for bed – or not…

Day 32: Acebo to Ponferrada

It breaks my heart that the UK has left Europe. I am so pro-Europe. I have personally experienced the benefits of free movement, my future life plans depend upon free-movement and I believe in collaboration rather than barriers. That the vote to leave happened whilst we were on the camino (where Europe comes together) makes it all seem so much more poignant.

I didn’t slept the night of the referendum. The EU votes were being counted and the results were so important to me and my life that I just couldn’t sleep. I wanted to watch the results coming in, but didn’t want to disturb my room mates, so I spent much of the night huddled in the ladies loos, constantly updating my news feeds. When I finally went to bed at three a.m., remain was ahead. When I woke up at seven, leave had won. I cried. This was my future they were taking away.

So today was tough: I was tired and emotional. I hated my country for what we had done; there was a loss of national identity, grief and anger. From what I understand, many people felt like this the morning after the referendum – and for those in the UK, experiencing the anger between friends and the gloating press directly, it was worse. I was glad to be on the path – away from it all. Though that first morning was tough.

It didn’t help that the path was still really tough too: there were large sections of dangerous scree or smooth slate on this part of the path and huge drops to the side. I had to go really carefully and take my time, but we met a few rude hikers who just barged past on the dangerous bits. (What’s the rush guys?). When a low hanging tree whacked me on the head whilst I was trying to navigate a particularly tricky bit, I’d just had enough and I sat down and cried.

But with the camino – you just have to go on. So when I’d dried my tears it was up and at it again – and slowly, slowly we got down that hill.

This was a really dramatic section of the way: the path followed a small ledge, high up above the hairpin bend road. We did wonder about walking on the road but that didn’t look any safer – so we just took it slow.

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Molinaseca is a dream of a town, tucked away in the foothills of the mountain, with a beautiful six arched bridge, a river perfect for splashing about in (it even had swimming pool like infrastructure), gorgeous cafes, tight, tiny, Alpine like streets, a supermarket and pretty churches. It felt good to be off the mountain at last and we had a lovely riverside picnic here in the sunshine. I wish we’d stayed here rather than Acebo – though I don’t think I could have done that nasty path at the end of a long day.

The last stretch of the walk was along the main road into Ponferrada (which means Iron Bridge in Latin). I think the actual camino might go off along the valley by the river, but we wanted easy – so we stayed by the road. The path then enters the city through some pretty suburbs.

Because Jeff is Canadian and I am British, even though we are married it’s really hard for us to be together, visa-wise. Our plans for the future involved us moving to and settling in Europe, so the UK leaving Europe was to have a huge impact on us. At that time, when everything seemed so acute, it looked as if the plans we had for our future were no longer going to work. We’d sort of agreed not to talk about it that day: that it was too soon and we would let the dust settle before making any decisions. But on a bench outside Ponferrada (el bencho) we sat for a rest and somehow we ended up deciding what we were going to do and what our next steps would be.

So after sorting out our futures, we wandered into Ponferrada, which has the most brilliant, crenelated Knights Templar castle. Unfortunately, we just weren’t in the mood to be tourists so we admired the castle from outside and then went to MacDonalds, Decathalon and the supermarket. We shall have to go back.

Ponferrada, located on the River Sil, seemed like a really nice city with a stunning mountain backdrop (we’d walked that), good shops and a nice old centre. It had a railway museum and a Chinese buffet (we couldn’t justify it after MacDonalds, even though we were walking the camino). There are a number of Roman gold mines in the region (Las Médulas), which have been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

Our hostel for the night was another perfect pilgrims hostel. The Guiana had perfect dorm rooms: each room had seven beds, there was a huge locker for each person and a shower, toilet and sink area for each room. The locker area could be separated from the bed area by a sliding door, so people could get ready in the morning without disturbing their dorm-mates. The beds were some of the comfiest we had on the journey. Also in the hostel was a nice lounge, a breakfast area, a laundry and a games room. The Guiana cost €12 per night. More than the municipal, but oh so worth it.

www.albergueguiana.com

Day 33: Ponferrada to Cacabelos

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I think this was my favourite day of walking on the camino. After the Brexit low of the day before we both were determined to make the most of our time on this path and to really enjoy our trip. For the first time in a long time, we didn’t rush, we stopped whenever we wanted to, we took our time, danced along and giggled; visited a vin-yard (co-op de vinos) and had a picnic under the pine trees. The walking was mostly gentle, on pavements and roads, through quiet residential areas, with lots of cafe options.

We ended the day early in the wonderful town of Cacabelos, which is famous for bodegas (vineyards) and fiery octopus. We had a wonderful meal here of pulpo, patas bravas and cold white wine. As we walked over the river in town, locals were splashing about in the cool water and it just looked so inviting that we decided to stop early and stay here.

I’m really glad we did as we ended up in one of the coolest albergues of the trip. At the Alberge Las Angustias, they have built a sort of semi-circular, lean-to structure using the outer church wall. This was divided into ‘rooms’ with two beds and two cupboards. All the rooms actually linked together at the top – which meant that everybody got woken up by the loud Germans at 6a.m. – but otherwise this was a unique and great place to stay. There was wifi by the office, hot showers in the toilet block, drinks machines, basic washing facilities, everyone was really friendly here and there was a man who kept a kitten in his shirt pocket. All this for €5 per person.

Day 34: Cacabalos to Vega de Valcarces

Today started with a short, roadside hike out of Cacabelos, followed by a roadside short-cut to the town of Villafranca del Bierzo. J and I decided we couldn’t be bothered with all the hills on the normal route, so we walked along the big main road instead and then followed a farmers track into the back of Villafranca. We saw loads of rabbits on this section of the path.

One thing we found quite a bit with the camino is that sometimes it is really hard to see the way ahead and to work out where the walk will go. Here, we couldn’t even see Villafranca, as it was hidden away on the far side of a mountain, tucked away in a secret valley. We thought we might be going to hike up and over some mountains, but in fact we were going to walk up a hidden valley – which we couldn’t see from the path into town.

Villafranca was where we had originally planned to stay, and I’m slightly disappointed that we didn’t as it looked like a lovely town. There are lots of impressive churches, an impressive looking parador with a very inviting pool and lots of nice restaurants. We stopped here for breakfast and tried to find a supermarket that was open (it was Sunday morning and election day). We enjoyed a lovely breakfast in the sunshine in this lovely town.

Villafranca is on the Rio Burbia, The camino crosses over a beautiful old bridge, up above some rapids, and then it goes up a small side valley, alongside the rio Pereie. We were to follow this river for the rest of the day and we would cross over it again and again and again.

Just as we left Villafranca we passed the 200km to Santiago sign, which felt like such an achievement! We were nearly there. For cyclists to receive their compostela they have to cycle 200km, so many start in Villafranca.

After a mile or so we came to the N-VI road, which I think is the old road between Villafranca and Galicia. The new motorway (A6) sits on stilts, high-up ahead, zooming through the air and straight through mountains. We followed both roads for the rest of the day and the path was mostly by the N-VI roadside, with occasional diversions into villages.

I really suffered on this part of the trek. Maybe I was too hot, dehydrated or just tired, but I found this day tough. The map and distances didn’t seem to reflect reality: everything seemed to be much further away than indicated. There wasn’t a huge amount of infrastructure or different geography to break up the walk and we were on tarmac, which was hard on our feet – so I didn’t really enjoy this section. But, we kept plodding on and plodding on, at one point walking through a motorway service-station, and we eventually got to Vega de Valcarce.

Vega de Valcarce is situated on the white-water rio Pereie, down in a deep valley, with the A6 motorway zooming high, high, high overhead. A ruined Saracin castle sits on a high-peak overlooking the town. Vega de Valcarce was a nice little community with a few supermarkets, a few banks and some nice restaurants.

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We found the wonderful Meson Albergue Sarracin on the edge of town. They had nice private rooms with private bathroom for €35, had a friendly cafe/bar and they had a wonderful river-side garden, with a sunny lawn to laze upon. It was such a treat to dip my feet into the cold river, whilst lying on the grass, with a huge, cold beer by my side.

The set-dinner was pretty basic and the service was slap-dash (we had to go grab our own cutlery from the restaurant), but the wine was good and we got tiramisu for desert, so I was happy.

I haven’t been able to find a web page for the albergue, but you can view and book it on Booking.com.

Day 35: Vega de Valcarce to Hospital

Day 35 started with a gentle road walk from Vega de Valcarce to Herrerias; Jeff and I carb loading as we strolled along, knowing what we had to do that day.

Today we had the biggest climb of the camino. Between Herreias and O’Cebreiro we were to climb 600m over 5km. Luckily, this was one of the most stunning beautiful parts of the trek, most of the way was shaded by trees, the climb wasn’t that bad and the views made the hard work oh so worth it.

The climb up to O’Cebreiro is pretty famous and many trips offer treks up just this short section. You can do this piece of the camino on a horse (though stay away from the poop as it is buzzing with flies) or you can hire bikes to ride up the road. I got tangled up with a tour group: I would overtake them when they were resting, then they would all overtake me again (they didn’t have huge bags to carry!), then I would overtake them again at their next rest stop, and so on. They were all very kind, but I couldn’t help feeling that we were definitely walking different paths: that their short-hike couldn’t compare to our day-after-day trek, carrying everything ourselves.

There were two villages to stop and rest at on the climb, both of which had shops or a cafe, which helped to break up the journey. Just before we reached the top at O’Cebreiro we passed into our final province: Galicia.

Words cannot express how beautiful this section of the walk was: we overlooked green, rich, deep valleys; layers upon layers of mountains; huge blue skies. It was stupendous and magnificent and awe-inspiring. And yet this was just one side of the mountain: the views over Galicia, on the far side of O’Cobreiro, were even more magnificent! From here we looked over lush-green Galicia. We were on top of the world, the clouds below us, with little mountain islands poking through.

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O’Cobreiro is a cute town, located on a ridge, high up above the surrounding land. It is famous for its night-skies and is apparently one of the best places in Spain for star-gazing. We were there at mid-day and we were seriously tempted to join our co-walkers who were getting into a good afternoon drinking session and making plans to watch the football later on (Spain vs Italy in Euro 2016).

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However, we felt that we should get a few more miles under our belts and so we carried on; although it was hot and we were tired, so we struggled.

The first section out of town was through some woods, then we stopped at the cafe/supermarket at Linares. We had hoped that we could stay in this lodge, but they were fully booked. Some lovely Americans we had met the night before in Vega had gotten a room were and we had a funny, long conversation with them as they hung out of the window.

Having a beer a lunch time was always a bad idea on the camino, as it left me tired and dehydrated. With the heat, the altitude and the gradient I was suffering. We passed the wonderful Monument do Peregrino statue at Alto de San Roque, but I was in a bad mood, tired and grumpy, so I didn’t really appreciate it.

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Alto de San Roque

Luckily for us we managed to find beds at the lovely municipal hostel in the next town, called Hospital (I had great fun texting people telling them I was in Hospital). Also, just as we arrived we bumped into our friends Manolo and Janet – so we were really happy to stay here.

Albergue Xunta was a cute, modern, chalet-like hostel that was clean, modern and comfy. It accommodated 20 people in the one dorm, so there was a quiet, friendly atmosphere here. The only downside was that many of the beds were pushed together, so I ended up sleeping right next to Manolo, which was a little embarrassing for us both; otherwise this was a wonderful place to stay. The albergue cost €5.

Hospital de la Condesa is a tiny, sleepy, rural hamlet (pictures below). The chickens wandered freely (they tried to invade our hostel) and a couple of times we had to get out of the way of the cows being walked to the fields. There was a friendly bar in the village, which served a good pilgrims meal, where we watched the football. Sadly for Manolo, Spain lost.

Day 36: Hospital to Triacastela

Because we had stopped in a mid-stage village, we only had 15km to walk to get to our finishing-point of Triacastela. Being slightly ahead of the O’Cobreiro crowd was a good thing, as we had heard that Triacastela was a bottleneck on the camino and that people often struggled to find accommodation here. Because there are virtually no accommodation options between Triacastela and Sarria, pretty much everyone tries to stay here.

Our walk started with a gentle roadside walk along the ridge, then a lung-busting, short climb up to Alto de Poio, at 1,335 meters. This was possibly the steepest section of the whole camino, though it only lasted a few hundred meters. What was quite funny about this climb was that they were re-surfacing the road and for much of my climb there was a steam-roller trundling along ahead of me. If its brakes had failed I think a few of us walkers would have ended up as pancakes.

There were no pancakes at the busy cafe at the top of the climb, but there was pizza – which combined with a diet coke made for a lovely salty/sweet breakfast treat.

The rest of that day’s hike was pretty gentle and stunningly beautiful. We were in a natural bowl in the mountains and the clouds spilled over the sides, first below and then above us. There were cows and butterflies and it was all very tranquil and pleasant, until we ended up getting caught up with a noisy, mobile-music playing, teenage school-group. We spent the rest of the day trying to out-hike them. (We’re teachers: we have an excuse for wanting to avoid teenagers).

The rest of the walk was spent going gently downhill. In Villoval we passed a beautiful, ancient, knotted tree which if you hug it is supposed to make your feet feel better. It didn’t stop my feet from hurting but I always love a good hug.

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There’s loads of accommodation in Triacastela but most of it was fully-booked. We spent about half an hour walking around the town until we found a basic private room above a bar. We stayed at Pensión Restaurante Fernández and we paid €30 for a private twin room with a shared bathroom. It wasn’t a great place to stay, the building was covered in scaffolding, the room was extremely basic and there was one small, dark bathroom, but we were just glad to have found somewhere. A good tip if you’re looking for accommodation in Triacastela is to have a look at the hostels on the main road, as these were away from the camino and they seemed to be the last ones to fill up.

Triacastela is a pretty town, hidden away in a forested valley. It seems to be there just to service the camino. It was a town of hostels, bars and restaurants – and not much else.

Day 37: Triacastela to Sarria

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The camino splits after Triacastela and walkers can make their way to Sarria either on the main path via Furela or on an alternative route through the town of Samos. We took the official camino which was steeper but shorter.

Today’s walk started off wet, rainy and drippy; through lush, stream fed countryside. We walked through wet woods to the village of A Balsa (where we met a great cat), then we walked up a steep hill to the village of San Xil. From San Xil the route followed the road, then cut cross country through woods to the hamlet at Fontearcuda, where there was a nice, hippy, donativo cafe with some friendly cats. Although we were going over a mountain the climbs weren’t that hard and although we were cutting across country, we passed through quite a few small hamlets so this section of the walk actually passed quite quickly.

Furela and Pintin were just points on the map for us, places by the roadside to mark the journey. Aguiada, San Mamed, San Pedro and Carballal just seemed like nice outskirts of Sarria and we passed through them quickly, en-route to our last big town.

At the edge of Sarria we passed an auto-launderette and as we were in need of a good clothes wash we decided to just stop and do it en-route. These launderettes were great as they have huge machines which could take all of our clothes and bedding, cleaning products are included in the wash, they had big driers and they had wifi for while you wait. We used these a few times and we could usually wash and dry everything we had within two hours.

Whilst J sat with the washing, I went and checked into our accommodation which was by the bus station. The outside of the building didn’t look that nice, but Pensión La Estación was a nice, small apartment with six rooms and a nice shared bathroom. The owner came to check me in and he was really friendly. The room was gorgeous: really nicely decorated and comfy and only cost us €24 (€12 each). www.pensionlaestacion-sarria.com

Sarria seems like a nice, friendly city. The new city is run down in parts, especially around the bus station, but it had lots of supermarkets, a nice river and the old town was gorgeous.

Later on, I went for a walk around the old town, which follows the camino. Here there was a lot of good camino infrastructure, some great restaurants, beautiful churches, a ruined castle, an enormous monastery and amazing views over the new city. I bumped into Manolo outside the municipal and we had a nice chat. I loved that we kept seeing the same people again and again.

We couldn’t find anywhere that we wanted to eat in the new town but we had a large Mercadona supermarket next to our hotel, so we bought a bed-nik and had an early night – ready for the final stretch.

Day 38: Sarria to Portomarin

Sarria is a huge point on the camino as it is the last major town before Santiago. Walkers and horse riders have to walk/ride 100km of the camino to get their compostelas and as this is the closest major town to the 100km point, many people start their camino in Sarria.

We left Sarria bright and early. J and I walked over to the edge of town and we were just crossing the medieval bridge when we heard singing and chanting. There was a huge school group behind us. Having been caught up with school groups over the last few days, we tried to outrun them – we quickly darted through fields, over railway tracks and under the motorway – but it was no good and they caught up. This group was huge and they had a really annoying official photographer, who kept getting in our way – so we decided to just sit down and let them all pass, and to eat breakfast whilst they went by. There must have been over 200 students in that group and though they all seemed really friendly and nice, we were glad not to be caught up in such a large group of people.

Th camino changed after Sarria. There were many more people (Spanish school holidays had just started), there was more of a party atmosphere and the route became more touristy – with more market stalls and souvenir shops. The paths got better and we were really trying to make the most of our journey, knowing that our adventure was soon going to end.

dsc_0150There was a great cafe at Vilei and then J and I stopped for lunch at Morgade. We’d caught up with the big group and we wanted to let them get ahead again.

Just past the cafe at Morgade was the 100km marker – and I realised how much I had destroyed my knees when I crouched down to take a photo with this sign, but couldn’t get back up again. Still, I was really happy to get the photo and to be so close to the end of our walk. 100km was nothing!

Most of this day, like yesterday, was through small hamlets, so the way was broken up. The distance markers also really helped to mark the journey. I wish they were there for the whole path.

J and I split up to walk in the afternoon and for some reason I got really irrationally annoyed with him.  I was fed up of having to try to keep up and not take breaks because he didn’t want to. I wanted to walk at my pace and stop when I wanted to and I was starting to really resent him (sorry honey). I think he was feeling the same and he wanted to not have to wait for me all the time or stop so much – and it was for this reason we decided to walk completely separately the next day and just meet at the end point. (Why didn’t we do this earlier?)

The final stretch into Portomarin was down a really steep, uneven path. Luckily, they warned us about the danger and suggested an alternative, albeit longer route. Because I was so tired we took the longer route (thanks J), which ended up going alongside the reservoir.

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Portomarin sits on the River Miño. It used to be located on the banks of the river but the whole town (including the medieval church and the roman bridge) was moved further uphill when the river was dammed to make a new reservoir.

To get to the town we walked over the long bridge over the lake, up over the Roman bridge (which now sits in the middle of a roundabout), then up a steep hill into the town. Luckily, the hostel we had pre-booked was on the edge of town so we didn’t have far to walk.

Albergue Ferramenteiro was a great, modern hostel with a terrace overlooking the lake. It had one massive dorm room, divided up into 20 bed sections, a big kitchen/ canteen area and big bathrooms. We were allocated a bunk bed in the corner of the big dorm, next to the floor-to-ceiling window, so we had a lot of private space and great views. Even though this was a huge room (it felt a little like a hospital ward) it wasn’t noisy and we slept well here – even though the school group we had been avoiding for the last few days was also staying here (nooooo). We thought they might be really noisy but actually, they were great kids, really friendly and no trouble at all.

Portomarin was a pretty town with arcades, cafes and interesting shops. To save some money, because we were tired and because the kitchen facilities in our hostel were so great, we decided to cook for ourselves here. This meant that apart from a visit to the bank and the supermarket we didn’t explore the town as much as we would have liked to. We’ll have to go back.

Day 39: Portomarin to Palas de Rei

J and I decided to walk completely separately today. He did the walk in 4 hours, I took 7, which shows you how different our paces were and how much we had been changing our pace to accommodate each other. Whilst I wanted to take my time, stop to see stuff and take lots of breaks, J wanted to get to the end as fast as possible – which was really fast!

There was quite a bit of climbing today and it was one of those days when the maps didn’t seem to match the signposted route. The day started with an uphill climb through woods to the village of Fabrica, then it was along the road, on one side then the next, for 7km up to the village of Gonzar. There was a great cafe in Gonzar, were I stopped for tortilla and coffee, but as it was the first cafe of the day it was pretty busy.

From Gonzar the path followed quieter roads to the village of Castromaior, where I was greeted by some friendly puppies, who wanted to know what I was carrying in my plastic bag and what food I had.  (Today was to be a day of puppies). They followed me to the edge of the village, to the start of the big uphill climb. Castromeior has a castle because this is a strategic spot which overlooks the Portomarin valley. It’s also strategic as it’s at the top of a really steep hill!

Ventas de Naron is a pretty village with an old chapel where I stopped for a drink, then there was a walk along a ridge, over the highest point, to the village of Ligonde, where I stopped in a little park to eat lunch and where I was accosted by another puppy wanting in on my lunch.

I spent much of the afternoon walking alongside a lovely Irish family; granny, mum and dad and six year old girl all walking their way to Santiago (aunty and the three boys were up ahead). The little girl was brilliant and I was so impressed with her patience on this long walk.

The rest of the day followed the same road, past small hamlets and lots of cafes. I took my time, sat on walls, stopped a few times for drinks and just pottered along. On the edge of Palas de Rei the way passed a huge holiday camp, where most of the school children seemed to be staying.

Palas de Rei is named after the palas of a Visigoth King. It is a pretty, small town with a lovely church nice squares, a good supermarket and loads of great restaurants.

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J and I stayed in the great Albergue Restaurant Castro, which we had pre-booked. This lovely hostel has great dorms, which have curtained pod-beds with shelves with lights and plugs etc. We had pre-booked as we thought Palas de Rei might be a bottleneck stop, but actually we were the only people in our dorm.

We went for an amazing pilgrims menu at Mesón A Forxa, a lovely courtyard restaurant next door to our hotel, then we retired early. I think by this point, although we were enjoying ourselves, we just wanted to get to the end.

Day 40: Palas de Rei to Ribadiso de Baixo

Looking back, every time we had a beer at lunchtime, I suffered in the afternoon. By the end of this day I was nearly in tears my feet hurt so much and I wonder if it was connected to the lunch-time pint we had in Melide.

Palas de Rei to Melide was a pretty easy walk, that I can’t remember much about. There was a section where we walked past industrial parks and then we walked over a nice ancient bridge to get to Melide.

Melide is a big town. It was a Saturday when we were there and there was a bike festival going on in the main square. For the next few days we would often hear the roar of bike engines, echoing round the valleys as riders gunned the throttle on the fast main roads. We didn’t see them, but we certainly heard them.

We hit Melide at Saturday lunchtime and we decided we were going to eat a good Saturday lunch. Sadly, thinking that there would be lots of options in the town centre, we walked past the best cafes, including a great pulperia, and we ended up in a bar just off the cathedral square, where we ate fried food and drank beer. It was good, but not quite what we had been looking for.

Melide seemed like a nice place; a small, friendly community – but we weren’t tempted to stay. We were only half way through our walk.

It was hot and most of the afternoon’s walk was on rough rocks or tarmac. J went ahead and I caught up with him at El Aleman (the German Cafe) in Boente. He was sat in the sunshine drinking cider, so I had to join him. We spent a lovely half hour here and it felt like we were on holiday – except that we still had to walk another 5km to get to our bed for the night.

Castaneda was there. Then it was an uphill and a downhill to get to Ribadiso de Baixo. By this time, my feet hurt so badly that I wanted to cry. I was trying all the psychological tricks I could to keep myself going and giving myself pep-talks, but I was worn out and done in.

At the bottom of a steep slope there was a medieval bridge over the river and an idyllic scene of pilgrims sat on the river bank, with their feet in the cold river, drinking cold beers. It looked like a dream. This was the municipal hostel of Ribadiso and it was a welcome sight, as this is where we hoped to stay for the night. Luckily, we managed to get the last two beds. I would have cried if I had had to walk up the hill to Arzua, the next town.

Ribadiso de Baixo is a tiny hamlet of a place, with only three places to stay. Arzua, which is 3km further on, is a much larger town – but for some reason our guidebook recommended that we end the stage at Ribadiso.

The municipal hostal was great. It is an ancient hostel located in old farm buildings, with a bathroom/washing area annex. It has huge grounds and the riverside resting area. Our beds were upstairs in an old barn. I think it has recently been refurbishing. It was a lovely place to stay.

We went for dinner at Meson Ribediso next door where the waitress mis-delivered three of the five things we’d ordered (we knew she wasn’t listening to us). We sat back, watched the cows walk by and relaxed, glad to be at the end of a 27km day. We bought ice creams from the cafe and went to eat them, sitting on the riverside. The icy cold water of the River Iso was heaven for my sore feet.

Day 41: Ribadiso de Baixo to O Pedrouzo

Our penultimate day started with a steep uphill climb to the lovely town of Arzua, where we ate second breakfast and went to the bank. Then we took a long cross-country walk to Pedrouzo or O Pedrouzo if you are surprised.

Today was a strange day that seemed to go on and on and on. Much of the walk was on quiet country back roads, with occasional diversions to the N547. There wasn’t a huge amount of infrastructure on this section and not many places to sit down, so I got quite tired and my feet got quite sore. Again, most of the walk was on tough tarmac and big, sole poking stones; and it was hot so I got really tired. J and I walked separately. I put my tunes on and just plodded on.

We met up at Case Calzada, a lovely, friendly cafe full of horse riders, where we made friends with a lovely Korean girl called Boa, who we would regularly catch up with along the final stretch.

After the cafe, J went on ahead and I put my music back on. After a few kilometers someone seemed to be walking quite close behind me and they were really annoying me – until I turned round and found out it was my husband who was trying to get my attention. He’d gotten lost and had misled a group of hikers off on a 2km diversion, which is why he was now behind me.

We stopped for burgers and pop at a highway-side taverna in Salceda, then it was a long afternoon of walking on one side and then the other of the N547.

At first this walk was pretty boring. The land was dry and there wasn’t much to see. Later on though, towards Pedrouza, the land became more wooded and this was really pretty. The roadside hamlets we passed through were all pretty quiet but there was the occasional cafe or sight to see. I actually really enjoyed this part of the walk, apart from the nasty stones underfoot. At A Rua I found a fountain spring and I took my boots off and put my feet under the icy flow. It was heaven. The cold water really, really helped ease the pain and I was able to make the final stretch into our penultimate stop of Pedrouzo (or O Pedrouzo).

Jeff was waiting for me at Pension Pedrouzo, our accommodation for the night. This cheap pension (€20 per room) had a lovely friendly owner and it was a really comfy place to stay. It was basic but clean and we seemed to have the whole place to ourselves. Pension Pedrouzo is located on the N547 on the far side of town. www.pensionpedrouzo.com.

Pedrouza is a nice satellite town of Santiago. Most of the town is located on the N547. They had some good places to eat, including a few great pizza restaurants.

Day 42: O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela

Our final day started with a walk through some nice woods, before we stopped for first breakfast in a busy, buzzy cafe next to a main road at Amenal, on the edge of Santiago.

We then walked through some more woods and though we felt like we were in the countryside we could hear the sounds of traffic, the city and the airport up ahead. We could feel that the big city was near by and that the end of our walk was near.

We bumped into the teenage school group again at the city limits marker on the edge of Santiago. They very kindly moved aside so we could take photos. We ended up bumping into them again and again throughout the day (and the next day).

dscf0092Then we had an exciting walk along the end of Santiago airport’s runway, past the huge lights. A plane took off just over our heads as we were walking by. It was exciting to be back in the city and we felt like we were nearing the end – though we actually still had a long way to go to get to the city proper.

Just behind the airport was a cute church where we stopped for a sello (stamp), then we walked through a nice suburb, down the residential streets of Lavacolla, to the steps of another pretty church, where we ended up having a rest next to the teenagers.

After this we had a steep climb, through a pretty park, to the top of San Marco. We had an unpleasant moment when a Spanish group of locals started taking the micky out of us and being unkind – but we just ignored them and moved on. The road we were on weaved past some woods, through a tiny village with a cafe (Villamaior), and then past some TV stations. At the summit of the hill we could see the city off in the distance, though not the cathedral at the end of our walk.

We met some lovely Irish ladies on this section of the walk and we enjoyed hearing about all the great work they were doing back home and why they were doing this trek. We walked with them down the hill, through some more suburbs (we got very exited to see a city bus here) and then up to Monte Gozo. Monte Gozo is a very famous place as this is where you are supposed to be able to see the cathedral for the first time. We couldn’t see the cathedral but we did go to admire the huge new monument showing Pope John Paul 2 hugging St James. There was also a pretty chapel and a nice drinks stand and we enjoyed sitting on the wall here, relaxing before our final push into town.

There was a pretty steep descent down Monte Gozo, then we crossed the motorway on a strange, rickety wooden bridge. By this point, we were coming into the real suburbs of Santiago: there were roundabouts, shops, banks etc. along the way and from here on we would just be on pavements.

We followed the signs into the city, past the last yellow spray-painted arrow, past supermarkets and busy cafes, until we finally caught a glimpse of the cathedral and the end of our walk. We were really happy to see the cathedral up ahead, but it wasn’t a huge spiritual moment for us or a big emotional thing. We were just happy to be coming to the end of our great walk.

Our hotel, Hotel a Tafona do Peregrino, was just off the camino by the Porta do Camino, where the camino enters the old city (UNESCO) – so we decided to check in and drop our bags off first before making our way to the cathedral. We had heard you cannot take rucksacks into the cathedral or the compostela offices, so we decided it would be easier to get rid of the bags and then to make our way to the end. After all, we were there and the cathedral wasn’t going anywhere – so there was no rush now.

Once refreshed, we walked through the old city to the square in front of the cathedral where we took photos of us in front of the famous facade, sadly covered in scaffolding whilst we were there. (Luckily, I had already seen a life-size plaster cast of the famous Portico da Gloria in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London).

We then made our way to the camino office to get our compostelas. To get to the office, if you have the cathedral behind you, go to the far right corner of the square and down the ramp (next to the parador). Then take the first right at the bottom of the ramp. The compostela office is on the left hand side.

We had heard that sometimes you have to queue for hours to get your compostela. We went mid-afternoon and we had to wait about thirty minutes in total. The building looks like a nice bank and there are seats to sit on whilst waiting.

The compostela is the certificate that you get for walking the camino. It used to be that walking the camino and getting the compostela absolved you of all sin. If you walk the camino in a holy year (when St James’ Day falls on a Sunday) and enter the cathedral by a special door, you can jump purgatory and go straight to heaven. Although St James’ Day did not fall on a Sunday in 2016, the Pope had declared this a holy year so we could have been eligible for jumping purgatory.

After we had been to get our compostelas we went for a very large gin and tonic and then for a well-earned rest. We had two nights in Santiago so we were saving all of our sight seeing for the next day.

Hotel a Tafona do Peregrino is a lovely, cheapish, boutique hostel. It is pretty central in Santiago, just off the camino, opposite the market. The rooms have stone walls, nice bathrooms and comfy beds and ours had a balcony overlooking the old monastery. We had a few small problems with our room (the bathroom was tiny and a few lights didn’t work). Otherwise, it was a really nice place to stay and a great treat at the end of our walk.

Santiago

Santiago is a lovely city. It’s very livable and friendly; there’s lots of nice shops and restaurants, it has good transports links and nice countryside nearby. It’s also a nice size: not too big and not too small.

The first thing we did on our sightseeing day was to go back to the cathedral. We had missed the camino end marker the day before, so we first went back to this so that we had officially ended our walk on the final spot – which is in the middle of the cathedral plaza. It was strange seeing pilgrims arrive, knowing that was us the day before. Clean and washed, with no big bags, we felt like pseudo-pilgrims. I wanted to stop people and say ‘we just did this too’, but we didn’t think they’d believe us. Our walk was over and we were back to being tourists now, not pelegrinos.

However, we did still have some things to do before we had finished our journey. We needed to go see St James, who had drawn us here and whose way we had been following; so we entered the wonderful cathedral and we went to see his reliquary and then to give his statue a hug.

It used to be a tradition that pilgrims ending their journey would touch the left foot of St James on the Portico de Gloria. So many people have done this that his foot has slowly been worn away and so the cathedral has stopped people doing this. Another tradition of the cathedral is to hug the huge, gilded statue of St James which is in the alter piece. The queue for a hug with St James was about five times as long as the queue to see St James’ actual bones (though almost certainly they’re not his), but both things were worth the wait. The statue is surprisingly snuggly and though I am not religious, I did whisper a quick prayer of thanks for a successful journey.

Just as we were about the depart, a nun arrived to signal that the pilgrims mass was going to start in fifteen minutes, so J and I decided to stay for this. It was our mass after all. During the noon mass the priests announce which countries the previous day’s pilgrims are from and where they started their journeys. This included us.

I’m not religious but I’m so glad I stayed for mass as it was a wonderful way to celebrate the end of our trip and though I didn’t understand the service, I enjoyed using the time to think, reflect and remember. Our Korean friend was in the pew behind us and we saw many people that we had walked alongside the last few days. It was the perfect end to our adventure.

Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral is famous for having the huge incense burner (Botafumeiro). They use this every Friday at 19.30 and on special occasions or you can pay for this to be swung. You can see the Botafumeiro schedule on the cathedral website.

After we visited the cathedral we wanted to go to the commercial centre to shop and eat. We thought about getting the bus to the commercial centre, but after walking across the whole of Spain we just couldn’t justify it. And it was a good thing we decided to walk as we bumped into Manolo, walking into the city at the end of his own camino. Manolo had been such a huge part of our walk (we had been bumping into him periodically since Puenta la Reina) so we were really glad to be able to see him again to celebrate the end of the walk, share hugs and take photos.

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Then we went shopping where we bumped into the ‘terrible’ teenagers one last time.

We had a few days at the end of our camino walk before we had to fly home. Many people carry on walking to Cape Finisterre, and we did consider going here, but in the end we decided to catch the train to the sea-side city of Vigo, where we caught a train to Portugal and where we went to a Cíes Island (which has the best beach in the world according to the Guardian).

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We then flew home from Santiago to Gatwick with Vueling. The flights cost us £26 each.

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Useful links

Getting started

www.caminodesantiago.gal

www.caminoadventures.com

www.spain.info/camino-santiago

www.santiagoturismo.com/camino-de-santiago

Before we left we downloaded  the stage and elevation map from Au Coeur du Chemin (the French camino people in St Jean), which gave us a good idea of the stages we should be/ could be walking.

Camino Ways has a good, downloadable beginners guide which contains lots of background info and some useful language.

ElCaminoSantiago.com has some great stage maps. The maps are a little simple, but they’d give you a good idea of your route for the day and the villages you would be passing through. If you can speak a little Spanish, then I’d recommend looking at the website from Spanish Supermarket Giant Eroski, who randomly have some great stage guides to the camino, with some lovely maps and good gradient guides.

Historical and background info

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago

whc.unesco.org/en/list/669

Accommodation

When you get your pilgrim passport at St Jean they will give you a list of albergues on the route. You can download this albergue list as a pdf from Camino Teca. John Brierley’s guide and the Camino Pilgrim Frances app also contain lists of accommodation.

When booking ahead, we found booking.com to be the most useful website for accommodation in small town Spain – as they had significantly more listings than some of the other websites.

City links

Pamplona

wikitravel.org/en/Pamplona

www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/aragon-basque-country-and-navarra/pamplona

www.spain.info/en/que-quieres/ciudades-pueblos/otros-destinos/pamplonairuna.html

Logrono

wikitravel.org/en/Logrono

www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/la-rioja/logrono

www.spain.info/en_GB/que-quieres/ciudades-pueblos/otros-destinos/logrono.html

www.theguardian.com/travel/2009/aug/01/logrono-tapas-bars-spain-food

Burgos

www.spain.info/en/que-quieres/ciudades-pueblos/otros-destinos/burgos.html

www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/castilla-y-leon/burgos

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burgos

Leon

www.leon.es/leon_spain

www.spain.info/en/que-quieres/ciudades-pueblos/provincias/leon.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/León,_Spain

wikitravel.org/Leon

www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/castilla-y-leon/leon

www.telegraph.co.uk/Leon-Spain-a-cultural-city-guide

Astorga

www.spain.info/en/que-quieres/ciudades-pueblos/otros-destinos/astorga.html

Santiago

www.santiagoturismo.com

www.spain.info/en/que-quieres/ciudades-pueblos/grandes-ciudades/santiago_de_compostela

www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/cantabria-asturias-and-galicia/santiago-de-compostela

wikitravel.org/en/Santiago_de_Compostela

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santiago_de_Compostela

DISCLAIMER

Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is my own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.

If you think I’ve missed something important or have got something wrong, please let me know in the comments section below.

All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.

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