1 April, April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday 2018. Day 11. Via de la Plata Camino, Spain.

There was a good breakfast provided at the communal table, but I had enough of my own and wanted to eat it so it did not need to be carried. Most of the others seemed to be enjoying a good spread. T’ai Chi that morning in the lee of the mountains, with the full moon still strong in the sky, was inspiring.

After a false start when I had to go back for my baton, I made my way through the very ancient village and out into the countryside along what might have been an old railway between pollarded trees – the first I had seen here.

There were cows everywhere: black ones on the left – mum grazing and her newborn calf souking; beige / white on the other. The white snowy mountains were ever present when I looked back, walking happily alone. What a wonderful morning! We walked into the region of Castilla y León.

I watched for a while as the young bovine, on their long spindly legs, geared themselves up to jump across the stream; I admired the bright white ones still with the tufty cord sticking out under their bellys, and all fluffy. I realise now that lots of the females have impressive horns, but in this bullfighting country how was I to know when put on the spot a few days ago?!

I mused on my topic of the last few months: the balance between a solitary and a social life. I set out from Mérida eleven days ago expecting the same quiet experience I had had when walking from Seville the previous May. Instead I found a great camino ‘family’ (as people like to call it) forever changing its members but, warm and supportive. With them around, one rarely loses one’s way or dines all alone. On the other hand, there is hardly the chance to meditate in peace; one has to politely refuse company when setting out in the morning if silence is required; and all-in-all it’s profoundly communal and not at all the solitary wandering of the historical pilgrim which I have enjoyed over the past year.

Today’s plant: catkins, at the early spiky stage.

They use natural stone for fence pillars here compared to further down in the valley.

As the morning wears on, the sun shines more brightly and the colours strengthen – water, fields and rocks in stark contrast.

I remind myself that I must stay alert and look for the details of the journey, the arrows. I come across a bridge very similar to one in Kent. Later there is a really helpful, home-made railing to help the hikers across the flooding, but for me the stones are too far apart!

It took me two hours instead of one to get to Valverde de Valdelacasa – I walked slowly, paying attention to touching the the tip of my stick on the ground very gently, taking photos and notes etc. But, then, no, it turned out that I had misunderstood the book. I was not behind-time after all.

My feet were throbbing; the birds were trilling; and Alsatians were being walked as I made the long, uphill trek into the village.

Benito was already there, tapping on the window as I went by (I had meant to walk on), and the bar was just opening after what must have been a riotous night.

Oddly there was this colourful bird, curious, in the bar that morning.

If you walk this camino, make sure you go straight on at the roundabout along the road. I was able to change into my shorts as the sun warmed up.

Dead oaks and copious lichen for miles in this landscape – further behind, Spring-wise, than the south.

Here were big black pigs in a very plain enclosure; there, quarries and multiple farm buildings. The land was all beautifully ploughed and ready for sowing.

Initially they ran away. I stood still and they returned, curious, with up to 5 rings per nose.

The paved road was hard on my feet so I lay down on the prickly ground, my back against a rock, and was sung to by cattle and birds and tickled by insects and it smelled sweetly of disturbed earth and nearby flowers. Even a large yellow butterfly flew by me, like an angel.

There was not one car or person on the next stretch although much later a tractor and finally a yellow arrow heralding the near end of my walk.

The entrance to the albergue at Fuenterroble de Salvatierra.

What an amazing albergue. It is a religious community, looking after the flock when the priest is away tending to his seven other parishes. They take great care, the people who live there, some long-term, some shorter; and the food and accommodation is excellent. Particularly as it is a donativo hostel it you pay for what you think it is worth / you can afford.

A little grotto or shrine at the back of the hostel, Fuenterroble de Salvatierra.

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