Walking the Camino

Do you want to walk the Spanish Camino?

Alain's photos 2016-11-22 020
Monte Gozo – the last stop before Santiago de Compostella, Spain
What does camino mean?

Camino means both the act of walking and path in Spanish. There are many caminos and they all end up at Santiago de Compostella in the top left hand corner of Spain.

Spain autumn 2016 phone 2738 (288x512)
Traditional pilgrim statue, Finisterre
Where is the camino?

When you hear someone talking about walking the Camino they usually mean that they are following all or part of the east to west route called the Camino Francés, the most popular.

Spain autumn 2016 phone 4153 (360x640)
Following the yellow arrows is easy – you don’t even need a guidebook for the Camino Francés
In what part of Spain is the camino?

This camino starts in France at Saint Jean Pied de Port (Saint John at the foot of the pass) in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region, crosses the Pyrénées mountains to Roncesvalles, passes through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, ending at….. you have guessed it, Santiago. You can start anywhere along this route.

spain-autumn-2016-phone-2732
The final way marker of the Camino Francés, Finisterre, Spain.
Sorry, what is it called again ?

Also known as The Way of St James (Sant (saint) iago (James) in Spanish), The French Way, or The Camino de Santiago, it is 500 miles long (near enough 800kms), and takes between 25 and 50 days hiking. You can also cycle it which is quicker, but that’s another story.

spain-autumn-2016-phone-3179
Free wine – early on the Camino Frances, Spain.
Pilgrimage

The Way is a pilgrimage and those who walk it are traditionally known as pilgrims – peregrinas (female) or peregrinos (males) in Spanish.

Spain autumn 2016 phone 3962 (288x512)
Carrying everything you need. Pilgrim crossing an ancient stone bridge in Galicia, Spain
Pilgrim Passport / scallop shell

Carrying a pilgrim passport or Credencial del Peregrino which gets stamped every time you stop for the night is a great way to keep a record of your hike. Hanging a scallop shell, symbol of Saint James, on the back of your rucksack is a proud way to indicate your sense of belonging to this famous confraternity.

Camino shell and credential
A record and mementoes of my first camino in 2016
Who can walk the camino?

People of all ages and nationalities make this trek and they do so for many reasons: religious (especially Catholic); social (it is a great way of making friends); fitness (sensible walking is good for your breathing, circulation and musculo skeletal system); and personal (at times of major life changes, or for the benefit of their mental health).

Spain autumn 2016 phone 4003 (360x640)
Jolly Spanish house sign
Do I have to walk ALL of it?

You can walk as much or as little as you like. Some go the length and others do sections several times a year or year-by-year. The most popular part is the final 69 miles (111 kms) from Sarria to Santiago which earns you a Compostella, a certificate in Latin. Aficianados come back time and time again.

Spain autumn 2016 phone 3987 (360x640)
A typical rural chapel on the camino, Spain
How far will I walk every day?

I highly recommend that you take it easy, at least to start with, whether you are young or old, male or female. This means 9 – 12.5 miles (15-20 kms) at the beginning. Even if you are fit and feel fabulous in the glorious Spanish sun, beware! You will almost certainly get blisters and a sprain or strain if you walk too far too soon (unless you honestly walk 9 miles (15 kms) or more every day at home in the same shoes or boots which you intend to wear).

Spain autumn 2016 phone 4150 (640x360)
Autumn colours along the Way, Spain
Where do I sleep?

Most pilgrims stay in hostels or albergues. Their facilities vary, but almost all offer a basic bunk in a dormitory for between 5 and 12 euros (£4.50 – £11) per night. You do not have to book in advance, indeed sometimes you cannot. There are also hundreds of hotels and private hostels, usually at a higher cost with greater luxury.

Spain autumn 2016 phone 3963 (288x512)
Statue of Saint James whose relics are supposed to be buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella
What do I take with me? How much do I have to carry?

Historically everyone would have carried their own clothes and equipment in a backsack. (see What to Put in Your Rucksack). Nowadays there are many companies who offer to transport your stuff from hostel to hostel so that you can walk with a daypack and water only if you choose. You can even hire a donkey!

Spain autumn 2016 phone 3943 (512x288)
walkingwithoutadonkey.com
Food

Many hostels offer a basic breakfast, and shared meals in the evenings can be a highlight. Kitchens, with (or sometimes without) utensils are the norm. There are cafes, bars and restaurants all along the way and at every stop where the food is often delicious and cheap. There are plenty of shops which will sell you most things you need such as suntan lotion or a single egg wrapped cleverly in a paper cone.

Spain autumn 2016 phone 4035 (640x360)
Space for thinking quiet thoughts on the camino in winter
Time of year to walk the camino

All times of the year are good for walking the camino! It is hot in the summer (and crowded); cooler in the Autumn with great natural colours (it can also be really warm but with cold nights); pretty with wild flowers in the Spring (lots of daylight); and peaceful in Winter (though some of the albergues will be shut).

Spain autumn 2016 phone 4160 (360x640)
The wonderful chestnut woods of Galicia
Speaking Spanish. Yo hablo espanol.

It really helps if you speak some Spanish. It’s polite, respectful and fun to be able to communicate with the local people. You are also more likely to be served what you have ordered.

Spain autumn 2016 phone 3946 (512x288)
The familiar sign of the Galician albergues, Spain.
Travel from the UK

You can take a boat to Santander (71.5 / 155 kms to Burgos) from the UK; There is an airport in Santiago itself (from there you can take a bus back east to the place where you want to start walking) itself, as well as La Coruna (82 miles / 132 kms from Sarria). Also, Asturias airport for Leon (from Stansted only), Bilbao (from Edinburgh, Manchester and others) for Pamplona, and Biarritz (33.5 / 54 kms from Saint Jean from Birmingham and others); Overland, there are trains taking 5 hours from Paris (4 per day, approx. 35 euros) and the Eurostar from London is smooth and efficient (around £50 and just over 2 hours). You can also take Alsa (long distance) buses or try Bla Bla Car (car pooling).

Alain's photos 2016-11-25 017
You can tack on an extra 3 days of walking after Santiago and to to the sea at Finistere.

There are many books and online guides to help you find your way, pointing towards places to stay and eat. Gerald Kelly and John Brierley’s are the best known in English. Using this guide means that you will inevitably walk the same steps (stages of the walk) as other English speaking folk and will therefore have pals to walk and share meals with before long. The municipal hostels at the end of these stages are the busiest.

Alain's photos 2016-10-23 018.JPG
There is wifi and places to charge your phone at most hostels, Spain
Top tip!

Start slowly, in short stages, do not be too ambitious until the second week, and that way you will avoid going home early and in pain (I have seen this happen many times). It doesn’t matter if other people are going further. You will either catch up with them later or you will find new companions instead, ones who are enjoying the scenery as much as you.

Spain autumn 2016 phone 4032 (640x360)
Misty mornings herald a hot day, Spain

There are also other caminos in Spain: The Via de la Plata which starts in Seville and goes through Salamanca; the Camino Norte along the coast passing through San Sebastian; the Inglés from A Coruña; Mozarabe through Malaga and Cordoba, and many others. Criss crossing this stunning country, the walking is delightful, the people colourful, and the experience one which you will remember for the rest of your life.

Alain's photos 2016-10-30 008
Getting into my stride – the Camino Francés 2016

Have you walked the Camino Francés or any of the other ones in Spain? Leave a comment and share your experience.

Tábara to Santa Marta de Tera, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 22 (Tábara to Santa Marta de Tera). Wednesday 11 April 2018. 22 kms.

wp-153321036912447911633.jpg
The red earthed path of the Via de la Plata, Castille y Léon, Spain.

‘And what’s best is that you are always received without fuss, welcomed, as if they had been expecting you to come. ‘  From Ursula le Guinn’s Left Hand of Darkness

Not in Oliva de Plasencia! I was reading le Guinn on my Kindle while I travelled because it was the Leith Bookworms book and my friends were reading it at the same time. I liked to keep up even if I couldn’t attend the meetings. It can be a good challenge to follow the list because I read books I wouldn’t usually choose for myself, move out of my comfort zone. In this case I had never read sci-fi before but I knew that le Guinn was extremely well thought of (after all she is used as an important part of the plot in the decidedly mainstream Jane Austen Book Club film!)

wp-1533210368299614120143.jpg
José / Almeida

There was a photo session at the front door with José / Almeida (his pen name), the hospitalero who had looked after us so well, and then I set off with my friend Marie Noëlle and her pals Sascha (Luxembourg) and Maria (Switzerland) under a white sky. Sometimes we all three walked alongside each other, but more often I held back and took a quieter way, meeting up at intervals for coffee and wee chats.

wp-1533210368482106270496.jpg
Sascha, Maria and Marie Noëlle.

We left the town of ridged terracotta rooves and telephone poles behind, and headed quickly into open country. There is an alternative way to regain the camino by retracing your steps back the way you came, perhaps for shopping before leaving. For me, it was too early for them to be open and I was keen to get off the tarmac asap.

wp-15332103678472064183528.jpg
Looking back at Tabara.

wp-1533210367676856875563.jpg

As I walked I reflected on the things I wished I had brought with me: my swimming costume which I left on the line in Caldzada, a pair of flipflops to protect my feet from dirty floors and ideal for wet and dry (though uncomfortable with socks), clothes pegs (there are often a few at the hostels but not enough to go round), a plastic tupperware pot to put food in (although I was able to buy one for a few euros), and ointment for bites.

wp-15332103677151208008586.jpg
The beautiful contrasts between the orange houses, silver-dry grass and Spanish sky.

I was keeping a list of topics for the teaching I had been engaged to do later in April. It was for the Shiatsu Society whose biennial congress was being held in Edinburgh. Topic: people watching – most apt given how many new people I am meeting and walking behind every day, and how lovely it is to sit in Spanish cafes with tired feet and gawp at passers by.

wp-1533210368116452490400.jpg
April blooms.
wp-1533210368739371121794.jpg
The Galician hills in the distance.
wp-15332103686641690787697.jpg
A blanket of blossom like snow.
wp-15332103693831694474061.jpg
Just in case it rains.
wp-15332103695461549813966.jpg
Sparkling over the rocks and tempting for hot feet.
wp-1533210367789757248083.jpg
The Rio (river) Tera, Spain reflecting the sumptious sky.

 

wp-1533210367890182939533.jpg
There’s a ssort of charm in the delapidation.
wp-15332103693091256891535.jpg
The others walked by without noticing these houses with their distinctive yellow walls, built into the hill – grass rooves with chimneys poking through.

 

wp-15332103684212032594090.jpg
Flat expanses of farmland, Spain.
wp-15332103690351834100005.jpg
There are almost never any pavements. Cotton wool balls of clouds.
wp-15332103683581048250404.jpg
From the bridge at Santa Croya de Tera (the last small village before our destination) where the Casa Anita private hostel is situated. Castille y Léon, Spain.
wp-15332103676141174497122.jpg
The Rio Tera, Castille y Léon, Spain.
wp-15332103682331772952867.jpg
The Rio Tera, Castille y Léon, Spain.
wp-1533210367945954231764.jpg
The Romanesque church, Santa Marta de Tera.
wp-1533211659925134658200.jpg
Map showing Zamora (two days back) and northwards.
wp-1533210368882604449689.jpg
The Church of Santa Marta de Tera.
wp-1533210368537855193767.jpg
Will you look at the colour of that sky!
wp-15332103680531472421593.jpg
St James looking distinguished if a little ungrounded.
wp-1533210367263403430260.jpg
Next to San Pedro (rather bleached by the sun).
wp-15332103689731453910920.jpg
Wine and notebooks at the end of each day – cool enough to need a jacket inside!

I stayed in the municipal hostel in Santa Marta de Tera for 5 euros.

 

Montamarta to Tábara, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 21 (Montamarta to Tábara). Tuesday 10 April 2018. 27.5 kms.

I took the Camino Sanabrés rather than passing back through places on the Camino Francés (Astorga etc) which I had visited the year before.

wp-15331148241831619024428.jpg
The best view of the day – unless you count the sight of the albergue in Tábara when I eventually got there.
wp-1533114468937595815078.jpg
Telling you all about Montamarta – not somewhere I ever want to go back to I must say.
wp-153311492119966727358.jpg
Just like yesterday, except duller.
wp-15331151338231439082203.jpg
Yep, under another motorway tunnel.
wp-153311520045086358026.jpg
I took the right, turned back and went straight on, then retraced my steps and went around the motorway flyover.
wp-15331212406971769011254.jpg
Kilometer after kilometer on the tarmac with road works as a view.
wp-15331152823361898915758.jpg
Spring primroses amongst the rubble and stones.

There was a small village strung out along the road, not so far from Tábara, with a cafe.  I sat on the bridge and sunbathed – it was glorious.

Once I got going again it started to rain and I stopped, de-rucksacked and covered up. Then there was a rumble and a thunder and it got dark. The lorries were roaring past and spraying and I was ducking in and out of the ditch at the side of the road to avoid it when there was a fork of lightning at my left shoulder. I have never been so close. I wondered what I should do. Looking around there was nothing and nobody – just trees. I did think perhaps the metal batons weren’t such a good idea, but I couldn’t exactly abandon them and they had rubber handles and tips to earth me. I hoped. (Two days afterwards I met up with the American women and one of them did throw her sticks into the fields because she said she was so scared of being struck.)

Then the hail started and brought about a total landscape transformation.

wp-15331156295641005953581.jpg
In two seconds flat the road was covered in white, the traffic had completely ceased and a hush came over the world. I walked on, telling myself ‘it will be over soon’.

It did stop eventually and on and on I went, every part of every mile seeming an age. I was very wet, too sopping to be able to get the map book out. Then again, there was only the one road to choose from.

There was a service station on the outskirts of Tábara and I stumbled in to get some cover and ask for directions to the albergue. There was pandemonium in there because the electric storm had shut down the till and no-one could pay for their petrol. I waited with heaviness on my back and realised how exhausted and hungry I was. And I waited.

In the end, I did something I have never done before: I took a chocolate bar off the shelf, sunk to the ground, sat with my legs splayed out in front of me like a rag doll, and devoured it without paying for it first. It was wholly necessary.

To my horror it was a further 30 minutes walk to the hostel and I had thought I was at the complete end of my energy. Hey, I simply had to find more.

It was uphill and a very long road, and just as I was despairing that it would not end, there was a shriek and who should I see coming towards me but Marie-Noelle and her smile, someone I had not seen for several days. She gave me a big and welcome hug on her way to the bar.

wp-15331207797861793618330.jpg
The hospitalero made me a cup of tea when I needed it most, and proceeded to cook for us all that evening. He describes himself as a ‘spiritual author’, is resident at the hostel all year round, and something of a Camino VIP.

There were 10 people round the table drinking wine and eating simple fare. Some I had met before, some I had not, each of us from a different country, and of course we made ourselves understood – a true camino experience at the end of a most trying day.

 

 

 

Zamora to Montamarta, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 20 (Zamora to Montamarta). Monday 9 April 2018. 19 kms.

There was a deal of road walking on this leg of the journey.

Here are predominantly photos as the notes app on my phone failed and all were lost despite it promising to back-up. Aim: to find a way to reinstate it!

Walkers, be careful soon after leaving Zamora, because there are arrows off to the left to the Portuguese camino!

wp-15331027085601499975202.jpg
The tracks of the dog who went before me on the path.
wp-1533102786382733689444.jpg
Cars stacked up beside the road. There are many car dealers in this area. The camino is not all beautiful countryside and olive groves.
wp-1533102650121901664953.jpg
In fact, this part has long straight tracks of red earth between arable fields. Cloudy skies herald more rain.
wp-1533103026562576428291.jpg
On the cross is a quote from Pablo Neruda: amar es vivir la existencia desde el corazón del otro which means something like, we live to love and be loved by others, to be in each other’s hearts.

 

wp-1533102852918249368585.jpg
These statues of fairy tale characters were in someone’s front garden in Roales del Pan as I walked through.
wp-15331029741661890380748.jpg
St James watches over the children’s playpark.
wp-15331024852981901000811.jpg
Big puddles on the chemin, and a row of diddy little trees.
wp-15331030844271747213172.jpg
Gobble, gobble, gobble, gob.

The owners of the private hostel Tio Bartolo also have a bar and work at the Covitan supermarket where you get the keys. It looks good in the photos and was recommended by the hospitaliere in Zamora, but I picked up some sort of infection walking barefoot on their floors. There were two American women and myself in the large dormitory under the roof, and we huddled in our beds and in our sleeping bags (there were blankets available). The weak, free-standing heaters which the landlady found us because all our clothes were wet, shorted the electric circuit and anyway, when the husband discovered she had given them to us (because he had to come and switch things back on) he shouted and swore and took them away. There were people in the small rooms downstairs who paid much more than we did (15 euros including breakfast which was left in the cupboards by the long-suffering wife and was not up to much at all).

img_20180409_192148-700x12471921353825.jpg
The hostel was on this street and I would absolutely not recommend it. Run by a kind woman and her angry husband, the rain came in downstairs and it was extremely cold.

Hostels and facilities

There are many facilities in Montamarta including a municipal albergue which had been shut for a while and opened the night I was there, but I had been told it was closed so didn’t try to find it. It is now rennovated and had good reports from the people I spoke to the day afterwards. There were two others mentioned in my book – El Bruñedo and El Asturiano – neither of which were open.

I had decided to go to Montamarta because otherwise it was a very long day (33 kms I think) and the pains I had been having in my feet dissuaded me from such a trek. I found a bar that wasn’t owned by the proprietor, on the main road, and charged my phone. The waitress was very kind, but it wasn’t somewhere I could stay long.

That was a really low few hours, and I used Facebook to send out a message to my friends, ‘Should I just go home?’ Some said yes, some no! I kept on going. And you know what? It got a whole lot worse the next day – in a different sort of way!!

 

‘But my business is unlearning, not learning, and I’ll change with the world but I won’t change it.’ from Ursula le Guinn’s Left Hand of Darkness.

 

Villaneuva de Campéan to Zamora, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 18 (Villaneuva de Campéan to Zamora). Sunday 8 April 2018. 18 kms.

I have lost all my notes for this week and there are a lot of photos for 8th April so there are few words.

IMG_20180408_080923 (640x359)
It was early morning when I set off.
IMG_20180408_074936 (640x359)
I was not the first to leave along the Roman road.

The sun rose on my right. It lit up the lush fields on my left as if it was a different time of day there.

IMG_20180408_080524 (640x359)

IMG_20180408_075710 (640x359)

 

IMG_20180408_081127 (640x359)
This gorgeous light speaks for itself.
IMG_20180408_081737 (640x359)
Right in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere else to do a pee.
IMG_20180408_081748 (640x359)
Just look at the detail!
IMG_20180408_091149 (359x640)
Mini ant mountains all over the path.
IMG_20180408_095330 (640x359)
A traditional skyline on the Via de la Plata camino, Spain.

Calendula (marigolds) and roses in full flower in San Marcial. Red and white cycle path signs reminiscent of the Grande Randonnee in France.

 

IMG_20180408_104032 (359x640)
Bird foot prints in the clay. There are also dog (or wolf?) ones on all the paths although I only saw one hound running for miles unattended.

Coming into the city of Zamora (‘The pearl of the 12th century’) along the River Duero, close to the border with Portugal in north-west Spain.

IMG_20180408_114620 (640x359)

IMG_20180408_120408 (640x359)
Fragrant Mimosa.

IMG_20180408_122627 (640x359)

IMG_20180408_122728 (640x359)
The rainbow colours of the local rock, yesterday seen as pebbles on the path, today making up these walls.
IMG_20180408_122952 (640x359)
Puente de Piedra (Bridge of Stone).

Zamora architecture.

IMG_20180408_123605 (640x359)
The charming Plaza de San Cipriano, Zamora, Spain.

IMG_20180408_134112

IMG_20180408_134758 (640x359) (640x359)
Zamora Castle, 11th century, Spain.
IMG_20180408_184251 (640x359)
Courtyard at the Cathedral, Zamora, Spain.
IMG_20180408_191511 (640x300)
Zamora Cathedral, Spain.
IMG_20180408_191551 (421x640) (421x640)
Iglesia de los Remedios, viewed between the columns surrounding the Cathedral, Zamora, Spain.

The albergue.

IMG_20180408_123916 (640x359)
When I arrived it was fine, sunny weather, and there was a notice on the door explaining that it would not open for 3 hours.
IMG_20180408_123847 (359x640)
The Albergue de Peregrinos is beside San Cipriano Catholic Church where we left our stuff with the nervous woman while we went off to explore.

Later there was a queue of us waiting at the allotted time and, unexpectedly, it hailed hard. There was only a tiny ledge for everyone to huddle under and not enough space for the luggage, so in five minutes the rucksacks, boots, everything was soaked.

The hospitalera was most hospitable (sorry!). She was a fountain of knowledge having worked there for a long time and she was clearly in her dream job – loving chatting and finding out where we were all from. She had great English and knew what we needed. There is a fantastic kitchen and Marie Noelle had been before us, messaging me to say that she had cooked meals for the Seuil men – one vegan for E and the other with meat for the growing lad. I was very lucky that they shared it with me – a veritable feast.

IMG_20180408_132621 (640x359)
Rams head fountain, Plaza de Viriato, Zamora, Spain.
IMG_20180408_132920
Interlocking trees, Plaza de Viriato, Zamora, Spain.
IMG_20180408_133352
Great graf.
IMG_20180408_134946 (640x359)
Museo Etnografico, Zamora, Spain.
IMG_20180408_184353 (640x359)
Detail from the larger than life-size wall painting Saint Christopher and the Infant Christ, which caught my eye in the Cathedral, Zamora, Spain.
IMG_20180408_184610
Solid silver altar de plata in the Cathedral, Zamora, Spain.
IMG_20180408_190747 (359x640)
Museo Etnografico, Zamora, Spain.

Baltasar Lobo (artist 1910-1993 buried in the Cimetiere du Montparnasse, Paris, France)

His work is in a dedicated gallery (free entry) beside the Castle and also scattered around the grounds nearby.

IMG_20180408_185531
He was particularly interested in the pregnant form and relationship between mother and child.
IMG_20180408_185955 (640x359)
San Pedro de la Nave with the Cathedral in the background. Zamora, Spain.

I highly recommend Zamora as a tourist destination.

El Cubo to Villanueva de Campéan, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 17 (Mérida to Ourense). Saturday 7 April 2018. 13 kms.

IMG_20180407_104016 (640x359)

The 7th April was a day of varied landscapes – some of the previous day’s wide open fields but also smaller agricultural plots, some houses, the ‘iron road’ etc. I was going at a faster pace, partly because it was cold but also as I knew it was a much shorter day. Going to Zamora in one leg was too long, so I was dividing it into two.

After last night’s heavy rain, it was dull but, hooray, dry! I passed out of the village, took a left over the bridge and straight into the country with no road – another big plus. Cocks were crowing and I spotted them at the front door.

IMG_20180407_085926 (359x640)
A bit blurry because of the zoom. The good thing about hens is that they go up at both ends like two upside down commas joined together

Weirdly there was a digital town clock striking 9am, just as loud as normal bells but with an electronic tone, reminding me of the early days of mobile phones when TV programmes made jokes about huge handsets with ringtones sounding out across the country.

It was right at the fork despite no yellow arrow and I was walking by the railway. The next right was signed. I wondered, why one and not the other?

IMG_20180407_091812 (640x359)
Walking beside the railway today. Sodden ground made the going slow.

I reflected on last night’s round-the-table conversations: how some people do the whole camino all at one go, others walk one weekend at a time; some start here, some there; and I have been meeting so many folk with injuries.

Plant of the day: once again I do not know the name. It has round burgundy / black pods or fruits that I have not seen before. They were hanging on dead trees and when I trod on one which had fallen on the path, it was full of diarrhoea-coloured mush which looked like wet plaster board.

IMG_20180407_091505 (359x640)

 

Who would have thought Spain could be quite so cloyingly muddy with wet sand! There was that cuckoo again – Marie Noelle used to tell me it means she will be rich.

IMG_20180407_093221 (640x359)
The water in the massive puddles is neon orange – so much brighter than in the photo. In the background are the chemical spraying machines like grounded corpses of fighter planes.

My nose runs and pilgrims behind me sneeze. I notice that cows do stand very, very still sometimes!

I muse: people I know walked here yesterday; or the day before; even 3 years ago. I can follow in their footsteps until it rains, wiping out all trace.

IMG_20180407_085603 (359x640)
This guy in front was walking with Chaplin knees and his feet turned right out to the sides, indicating that his hips were tight.

The yellow arrows used by the Friends of the Camino to show us the way are not really the best colour given that there are a surprisingly large number of the same hue: yellow lichen beside the arrows on the gate posts, yellow triangles on pylons, and motorway relfectors found at ground level at the edges of the roads where we have to walk. They are all found in the very places we look for the indicators.

IMG_20180407_110628 (640x359)
Vines at their dead-looking stage, black and twisted, organised in rows. The man I spoke to said they were ‘centenarios‘. Really old, then.

There is a great racket and then I see a flock of sheep being let out of the pen beside a farm, trotting into the field in single file with their new earrings, complaining bitterly.

Looking up I see it is going to become hilly again. The rabbits are too quick for my camera and there are definitely more flowers now, thank goodness. Beautiful purple / pink rocks are embedded in the white / yellow path amongst all the other colours of the irregularly shaped stones.

IMG_20180407_094400 (359x640)
Cyclops!

I arrived at 11.45am and was second into the hostel. I stopped at the bar for the key and had a quick coffee (every now and then I enjoy a tiny decaff with sugar – something I never have at home).

IMG_20180407_114000 (359x640)
There was a long road getting into the town, with a ruined monastery on the right which I meant to go back and take photos of in better weather but forgot.
IMG_20180407_114018 (359x640)
The sign is also in Arabic – a reminder that the folk who started at Almeria or Malaga on the Camino Mozarabe joined the Via de la Plata at Mérida rather than starting at Seville. They are now beside us on the way to Compostella.

There are a number of albergues in Villanueva de Campéan, all apparently as low grade as the others, private ones costing the same as the municipal where I slept. I entered the sleeping area through the kitchen which had a microwave but no fridge and was dirty. Not only does the outside door open directly onto the kitchen, but there is a great gap above the wall between that and the dormitory so the cold and noise travels easily between the two and the street, as does the cigarette smoke. Luckily there were loads of us so we were cosy.

IMG_20180401_141727-623x350 (623x350)
Villanueva de Campéan, Spain.

One by one we all settled in the bar for the rest of the day, and what a great band of cosmopolitan trekkers we were. I managed to write three blogs, trying to catch up, and then decided to continue when I got home. It was simply too loud and hilarious (the locals were playing cards and everyone was watching the football). Lots of red wine and menu del dia‘s were consumed and the atmosphere was most convivial.

IMG_20180407_203132 (640x359)
The two guys from Seuil, the shoulders of the younger looking better after his Shiatsu (which he requested two days before) I thought! There is Carlos behind, with the beard – someone I was to come into contact with every day for the rest of my time in Spain.

In The Pilgrimage to Santiago, Edwin Mullins writes about the history of sending ‘sinners’ on the camino as far back as the 13th century: ‘…there is the case of the parish priest near Chichester [England] who would regularly fornicate, repent, then fornicate again, until in 1283 the Archbishop of Canterbury felt obliged to send him to Santiago as a penitent the first year, to Rome the second and to Cologne the third. What is not on record is whether the cure was successful or whether he thereafter weighted his repentance with the names of three foreign cities in which he had also fornicated.’

Calzada de Valdunciel to El Cubo, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 16 (Mérida to Ourense). Friday 6 April 2018. 20 kms.

IMG_20180406_104823 (640x359)

I am walking in Castilla y Léon and this part is very flat with a deal of road. The albergue in Calzada de Valdunciel is on the opposite side of the town, making it very simple and quick to find the way out in the dark.

‘Lodging facilities were generally provided outside the city walls to enable travellers to come and go after the gates of the town were shut at night’. The Pilgrimage to Santiago, Edwin Mullins.

IMG_20180406_095121 (640x359)

The long straight path  was not overly attractive but as the sun rose, everything changed colour, even the barbed wire fence took on a precious shine.

I came across a small forest of teasal, all turned towards the sun. They stood tall and prickly in the light, old and brown but glowing at the same time. I have never seen so many of them at once. Perhaps because I knew I would be walking past a prison later in the day, they reminded me of inmates pressed against the boundary fence (there was not enough light to take a photo).

IMG_20180406_121648 (640x359)
Plant of the day: the red catkin one – after searching the internet it could be Black Cottonwood

Opposite the sun, in the same cobalt sky, was less than half a lint moon, a wafer-thin gauze of a slither. Where the warmth had not reached it, the grass was still stiff with the haw frost.

I followed the footprints of the people who had gone before me until a significant detour due to flooding. I was under a motorway bridge and the warning signs were easy to see except they were back-to-front, so first I took the left fork, met with the un-passable path and retraced my steps. Then it was not easy- arrows everywhere – and it was counter-intuitive winding back and over where I had already been. It seems that this diversion has been there a long time.

IMG_20180406_111723 (359x640)
I ask myself, what is the person like who leaves these prints?

Soon it was lovely and warm. Straight, straight on, cars rushing past and I somehow missed Huelmos, the only pueblo between setting off and my destination. Shame about the sore feet. This type of stage often seems much further than it actually is, but I revelled in the wild flowers: the same selection from last week. I had hardly seen any since then and I wondered if the wheat spraying was responsible for the lack of them.

IMG_20180406_103455 (640x359)
A typical, simple, Spanish local church.

This time the accomodation, a private hostel, was just off the first road I came to on entering El Cubo, sort of round the back and next to what looked like a derelict area. It had a spacious garden surrounding it and those strips of plastic hanging in front of the front door.

IMG_20180406_174912 (640x359)
Albergue Torre de Sabre, Calle Traversís de la Ermita, El Cubo, Spain.

As there was no answer I phoned and the owner appeared very quickly, offering me a welcome beer. The books say people are welcome to pop in for a drink and a seat – a nice idea that I had not come across before. As I sun-bathed, I remembered that I had forgotten to leave a donation at the Salamanca donativo hostel and resolved to ‘pass it forward’, as the cyclist from Malta who came briefly by for a coke and to fix his bike, suggested.

Later I went into the village to buy my tea and next day’s breakfast. Two women sitting on a bench outside their house pointed me in the right direction. I am now familiar with shops which are in apparently residential dwellings. In Edinburgh it is the opposite – many of the old shops have been made into homes. White doves flew up from the church.

IMG_20180407_085307 (640x359)
See the St James scallop shells decorating the base of the cross – eternal symbol of the camino.

Being private, there was no pilgrim’s kitchen but the retired owners allowed us to sit at the table alongside the others who were eating the supper provided. There were six of us including a young couple who are walking the camino, weekend by weekend, travelling by car from home on Friday nights, to the start of each stage, walking for two days, and then returning to their vehicle on the Sunday night for work the next day. It was a really enjoyable meal and the wine flowed freely – a delicious local white for the starter, red for the main – which I was (happily) encouraged to sample.

I was still meeting up with the duo from Seuil regularly. They always cater for themselves, being on a strict (almost impossible) budget, and the youngest is an avid footballer (he played for Rennes when he was younger) so despite walking every day, he goes out for football practice every evening – E, his ‘accompanying adult’, is consequently improving his moves!

IMG_20180407_085016 (359x640)
A plain, modern house with attractive decorative tiles.

They also washed our clothes for two euros, and there was plenty of hanging space in the garden. Unfortunately, having bought almost all of my stuff in before the storm except my double-layer socks which dry very slowly, I left them out all night. I padded out in bare feet through the puddles in the early hours when I remembered, but it was too late for them to dry for wearing that day.

I had a rather luxurious night: although I was in a shared room and had arrived first, picking the less expensive bunk, the whole establishment was full by 8pm and I was moved to a double bed – presumably because I was the matriach!!

Salamanca to Calzada de Valdunciel, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino, day 15 from Salamanca to Calzada de Valdunciel (on the Mérida to Ourense section). Thursday 5 April 2018. 15 kms?

wp-1522944822131..jpg
Cathedral, Salamanca, Spain.
wp-1522944859310..jpg
Plaza Major, Salamanca, Spain.
wp-1522944859421..jpg
San Marcos, Salamanca, Spain.

I woke really early and crept out of the female dorm where I slept with 2 others. I had been warned that walking out of Salamanca would be frustrating, and it was. The start was straightforward: to Plaza Major, then onwards, the roads getting wider and more industrial as I went. But then there is a left; straight on at a supermarket (Carrefour); a hotel which would not let me use their toilets; a stadium which I crouched behind as a result; and motorway roundabouts. No paths nor pavements: terrible. I even saw a man spitting which although it is very common in Britain, I had never seen before here in Spain.

wp-1522944859548..jpg

However, I could not help but be elated with the lovely buildings and the sunlight, even if it was mixed with frustration at getting the rucksack comfy, trudging along thinking about past relationships and sorting things out in my mind.

IMG_20180405_082816 (640x359)

Finally there was a clay camino by the motorway and despite the ice on the ground it was starting to warm up.

wp-1522944859693..jpg
It looks more orange in real life!

I was getting a very different feeling from people in this part of the country: in the bars they were polite but gave us half a glass compared to the Spanish, and charged more; on the street, on the other hand, people were kindness itself, helping with directions despite my beginners Spanish.

wp-1522944859603..jpg

For a while I walked amidst the green and earth – the plough had created gracious curves around the hills. Then more by road – I thought, ‘You must be joking’, but the challenge was to stay quiet inside and enjoy what was there. It worked! Very soon I was back off-road, and from then on it was a smooth, flat and ochre-coloured path.

Yesterday I walked in one long stretch of countryside with nothing to break it up, offering a chance to do a walking meditation. Today it was warmer and there were little hops from village to village and there was the spire of a church ahead in Aldeaseca de la Almuña. It was a square bell tower with a shallow triangular roof and a little blob of stork on its nest on top.

I passed one of the women I had seen the previous night. She was sitting outside a village supermarket having a quiet smoke. I chose a lovely wee shop round the corner, full of delights such as an unexpectedly wide range of perfume as well as the sweet things I was ready for even though only it was only 11am.

wp-1522944821936..jpg

There was a tiny arrow between the church and the medical centre but I only saw it when I went back in and the shop-keeper pointed it out. There was a sign that the library bus visits on Mondays. I exited past the sunshine yellow play-park.

I admitted to myself (after my experience near Lake Tajo) that I am somewhat nervous of meeting single men on the outskirts of towns, and at the next village sure enough there was a car which went slowly. He hooted and later approached me, but it was fine – I walked on, did not look at or answer him, and he got the message.

There were new tulips out, a hoopoe saying bou bou bou, and wood pigeons coo cooing. Luckily my book said to walk on the right side of the road, and there was a path between the trees although I did not see the arrows. Later I discovered that others had continued along the road, and I was happy that for once I had found the gentler way.

wp-1522944821896..jpg
I love these wide open spaces. They are one reason why I walk.

Although in this flat land there are not a lot of places to snuck down for a pee!

wp-1522845349861..jpg
More than once I thought I saw a castle in the distance and then realised it was irregularly stacked hay bales.
wp-1522944859333..jpg
This footbridge is what we caminantes appreciate.

Oh the sweet peeping of the small brown bird with a white belly! I had never seen the vino tinto-coloured catkins before: they were all over the ground.

Then, another first, I had to take my boots off and wade through the water which was blocking the way.

I crossed the very busy main road once more, using the motorists’ signs to help me: there are far fewer arrows in this region, though there are the more modern Castilla y León pillars encompassing a variety of directions.  Here there were the same miniscule scarlet succulents growing in the gravel which were all over Extremadura. I was walking beside what you might call a posh housing estate, along a smaller road parallel to the A-one, into Castellanos de Villiquera. (The Valencia one I went to has security guards on call 24 hrs a day)

There were glimpses of turquoise swimming pools through hedges and I wondered for the 100th time, why I walk. We have forgotten the way people used to walk from town to village if they did not have a horse/cart. My favourite parts of the film Captain Corelli’s Mondolin are when the people wend their way out of the village down that zig-zag road, taking their time and following tradition. Now I hear that in America you are advised not to go on foot at all in some cities. I am fascinated by the quietness of this mode of transport, not for the sake of a romantic revisiting of a lost era but because it feels better. I see and hear more. If I am not in a hurry (as I was for the first 50 years of my life it seemed), then there is somehow more time for my soul to catch up with my body.

wp-1522944859737..jpg
At the water tower in Castellanos de Villiquera the yellow arrow tell me to go straight on.
IMG_20180405_104731 (640x359)
The road forks at the Parish Church of Castellanos (Spain) and there is almost no wind so I can go on in a T-shirt.

A woman beats a mat outside her house; in contrast the small tweety birds flutter their wings like hovver flies. A racing 3-year-old spaniel, wet from leaping through young wheat, and her owner (approximately 80 years old) stop to say, aren’t you cold? I said no, not after 15 kms, and we had a nice chat. He wished me a Buen Camino when we parted ways. It seems to be a very popular pastime for the retired, walking on the outskirts.

No-one overtook me today. I suspect the two men who left earlier are going for 30 kms or so. Planning each day involves looking at the distance between hostels and taking any main towns into account. It is certainly tempting to go further, and this is a topic of very regular debate both in my head and with others, but today’s tricky 60 kms to Zamora can be comfortably divided into 16, 23 and 21 which is much more relaxed.

I traipse through Calzada de Valdunciel, right to the other side, past a wall where there is an oficina virtual de turismo ie, not real people, but a digital tourist information. And arrive at a 12-bed, cute little albergue which shares a wall with a noisy metal-cutting factory (blessedly, they take a long lunch break!).

wp-1522944859725..jpg
It was deliciously sunny and I spent all of the rest of the day outside in the paved space in front.

I am there first and although deserted, the door is open. One-by-one the others arrive: the 2 men from Seuil who I have been getting to know for a few days, came first, followed by others who looked and decided to move on, and, finally, the woman I saw that morning and she had to be turned away because by then we were full. There is a little kitchen with a stove and a string of (what turns out to be plastic) garlic. And a little bedside table.

Later I took a turn around the streets and met the same woman for the fourth time. I discovered that she was waiting for an ambulance outside that supermarket because she had come over all giddy. I had noticed her having coca cola and coffee for breakfast in Salamanca before her cigarette, so when she said she did not know why she had felt so ill we had a chat about it. Much later I got to know her well and heard her story. There is always a story.

Morille to Salamanca, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 14 (Mérida to Ourense). Tuesday 3 April 2018. 20 kms.

The camino is otherwise known as The Way, as is the Tao, and I turned over the similarities between the two as I walked the road from Morille to Salamanca.

There was a straight yellow line ahead of me, almost flat, through green fields of recently sown grass. There were three of us at intervals, visible to each other.

The wind was strong, all on my left and it was overall too cold. I walked with my woolly hat on and hood up most of the way. In fact, today I would have recommended avoiding the month of March on this camino, but perhaps it was unseasonal. The accommodation, in general, is not geared up to it.

The Cruz de Peregrinos, close to the Teso de Aldatejada (a battle ground between the English and French).

Here there were plains and plains to cross and so for hours I could see Salamanca, but even once I reached the outskirts there were two underpasses to duck under and parks with unfriendly city folk to cross.

On the way into Salamanca. Most of the landscape here is messy and of no particular interest, but these rushes caught my eye.

Then I received a lovely welcome at the municipal albergue (donativo ie you pay what you think it is worth) and a host of friends had already arrived in that warm place.

The signs are on the street as you walk into Salamanca to find the albergue.

Oh, it is a very elegant and sturdy city, Salamanca, with its deep ochre buildings and grandeur!

Looking through onto the Plaza Major (18th century).

In Bar Cuzco the man was also exceptionally friendly, and though expensive, I waited out the pouring rain with wifi and red wine to warm my insides, stepping out onto the gleaming streets 2. 5 hours later.

In the evening I wandered around and here are some of the great sights.

Part of the Rostros del olvido, Female faces fallen into oblivion’ exhibition. María de Maeztu.
The same exhibition. Petra Román Arroyo.
University courtyard, Salamanca, Spain.

The starry sky of the University, Salamanca, Spain.
Ditto.

Iglesia de San Pedro, Salamanca, Spain.

 

Cathedral Vieja de Santa María, Salamanca, Spain.
View from the gardens next to the albergue, Salamanca, Spain.

Pedrosilla de las Aires to Morille, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino, day 13 (Mérida to Ourense). Tuesday 3 April 2018.

A dark start to the day.

Last night we had sorted out the boiler,  which fused the lights at top setting but gave out wonderfully hot water after several hours at a lower one. The rain and wind continued all night, the shutter irregularly banging to wake us at intervals, and it was a dreary start. The albergue was freezing as we two dressed, and the cafe was shut so no breakfast (there being no kitchen at the hostel).

Morille, Castilla y León.

It was a very straightforward journey though, through Monterubbio de la Sierra to Morille.

There were more pigs along the way, and men working in the street. Up and down roads we went in conversation for 5 kms, and then walked apart in blessed silence for the further 7.

The weather brightened eventually and the raindrops dried on my specs. It was sheep farming again after days of dairy country.

The Morille hostel: nice and bright in the upper room but open-plan so the one small heater was insufficient. Between us we moved the bunks across the opening to the further chamber and draped the coloured duvets over to keep out the draughts. There was hot water 🙂 and although there were also places to sit, it was so cold that they were impossible to use. Ditto, the fridge was unnecessary at this time, but a stove would have been amazing to make tea on. The cost: 6 euros. The smaller hostel was shut – only this larger one was open. When we arrived all the bars were shut until 12 noon. I had my credential stamped at the bar and paid later. The village has no phone lines: I think I understood from her Spanish that a bull damaged the line but…!

The middle of the village of Morille.

Everyone was at work in Salamanca, 20 kms away. There was a seemingly deserted village school and the townsfolk had made a great effort to rebuild and smarten up the place. As in the previous pueblo, in this village there is a travelling shop but today I missed it (Pedrosilla blog). A most helpful woman in her housecoat helped us find the place.

The Bar where you can pay for the albergue and get a stamp on your credential.