St Magnus Way – Evie to Birsay

I am walking the St Magnus Way on Orkney, and this is one of the blog series – 24th May 2018. Below, you can find links to all the others (introduction, transport, accommodation, resources etc). The overall walk is 55 miles over 5 days plus a visit to the island of Egilsay where St Magnus was said to have been murdered and, initially, buried.

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Orkney.

Day 2 – on shame, fear, and foolhardiness

  • Scenery: simply stunning
  • Burns crossed: too many to count
  • Whales seen: Nil. Dolphins? Also nil. (Another northern Scottish trip without a single sighting. Sigh)
  • People encountered between start and finish: 3 (at the end)
  • 20 kms / 12.5 miles
  • Time: 8.5 hours
  • Falls to death: thankfully zero, but it was a close thing once or twice. Sound extreme? It was
  • Moral of the story: follow the signs
  • Theme established by the St Magnus Way group, to be found on their website: Loss

‘All pilgrimages share certain characteristics, features which define them as holy walks. A vow or promise at the journey’s beginning; and at the end a ritual prayer for enlightenment, forgiveness or miracle.’ p. 104, Spanish Steps, by Tim Moore.

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I stayed the night with Meg and Frank and enjoyed their company, conversation and beautiful woodland garden in the evening sunshine (photos above and below).

The next morning I gave a Shiatsu session and then stepped across their threshold for my first full day’s walk. Five geese honked in formation. As I tripped down past their lovely wood, a smell of earth was in my nostrils. A dry stone wall swept around the Sands of Evie in the Eynhallow Sound.
Note that the recommended path begins at the Broch of Gurness.

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Evie, Orkney.

On my right, barbed wire; on my left an expanse of green. Peep peep peep and twitter twitter regaled me. I was off. The haar was clearing. Cock-a-doodle-doo he crowed in celebration.

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My three stones, on the Sands of Evie beach. Orkney.

The St. Magnus Way website suggests using stones for various reasons: focus, something that ‘weighs heavily’, to remind you of something, or as a companion, to keep or to discard. So, I selected three stanes that the beach offered up: one for the fear that I won’t manage the walk – that was lobbed into the sea straight away! One was for worries about the future, and that I laid with all the monumental ones further along the coast. I kept the third until the end of the day.
I had discussed the way with locals before leaving. I knew that sections of this first day had been closed due to unsafe conditions, although I did not know any details. My friend said she would not take a détour, and that matched my own spirit. So, I had already established that I would try to stay near the coast rather than being redirected onto the road.

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Call that a path! Orkney.

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The first marker is attached to a wooden post – a simple, classy image of a black cross standing on a single wave-y line. Here was lush greenery but there was no path. Quite quickly I heard the phrase in my head ‘shame on such a path’. Now that is a phrase straight out of my childhood and the Church of England in the 1960s and 70s – one which I do not expect to have in my vocabulary. There are reasons I have continued to walk long distances, and one is the vital opportunity it offers for me to hear my internal prejudices and judgments. Away from the constant noise of the city and interactions with others, and with the quieter natural environment around me, I was giving myself the chance to choose to change. Well, to try to, at least – to notice. After all, old habits do die hard!

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Orkney.

Shame on you. – it is a turn of phrase, right enough, but it carries a world of significance with it. What I meant was, how could ‘they’ let this pathway become so overgrown with nettles? My legs are very short and what with the heavy rucksack weighing me down, I was knee deep in them. Thank goodness I had the bottoms of my walking trousers still attached!

Anyone will tell you, I am a great supporter of self-reflection. Taking the time to review one’s actions, trying to honestly recognise what I say and do is an important part of self-development, and that is necessary at least for being a Shiatsu Practitioner, but also for learning about myself and how I am in relationship. I do not want to instill shame in others or suggest they should feel it, just because I think they should have done something different. It is, anyway, not a useful way to bring about change, if indeed that is needed.

It is not intended to be a manicured track, but a route of great variety, stunning scenery, historical significance and space to breathe’ From The Orkney Islander magazine.

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The Evie to Birsay coast, Orkney.

This is essentially a Christian pilgrimage I am on, set up by a Church of Scotland minister, the Reverend David McNeish, and a group of people from different churches. McNeish stresses, in the above mentioned article, that the walk is for anyone, an essentially spiritual experience for those who believe in God and also for those who do not.

‘The St Magnus Way is rooted in the Christian faith, as was Magnus, but welcomes all people and faith perspectives‘.

Interestingly the St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, the pilgrimge’s final destination, ‘is unique in Europe in that it belongs to no particular denomination… since it has been owned by the people of Orkney since 1486’ (taken from The Society of the Friends of St Magnus Cathedral leaflet). It turned out that this walk, for me, was already becoming a golden opportunity to face up to some of my outdated beliefs around religion.

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Orkney.

As I made my way eastwards, I clambered over chunks of beach where the course was hard to follow on the headlands but perfect for the sheer and simple joy of being so close to the sea. I waded thigh-high through more nettles, and these were interspersed with periods of striding forth when the way was clear. Then I could stare out, and out there was the glittering ocean while underneath me were the brooding, cracked rocks.

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Orkney.

Mostly the going was oh-so-slow, and I had to remind myself not to try and make up for that by moving more quickly when I could. ‘Just don’t be in a hurry’, I told myself. Planting one foot in front of the other, and focusing on each step is a meditation in itself. Engage with it mindfully and it will automatically slow down the pace of your life. These types of long treks, like the contrast between going away for a fortnight’s holiday rather than for only a few days, allow for the gradual slowing of the system, a calming of the autonomic nervous system in fact. Almost all of us need that: mentally, emotionally and physically.
So there I was, walking, when…oh, oh, a ghostly sound and I looked in the direction the sound came from, and the land out there on the point seemed to be writhing. On closer inspection, it was a shoal of seals flopping in and out of the sea. I know you do not talk about a shoal, but they really were like glistening fish newly caught in a net, with the water all sparkling around them.

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Towards the Broch of Birsay and its lighthouse. The water all made of diamonds. Orkney.

They were jumping off their bellies, backs arched tautly. What cooing and barking noises they made. Even the occasional snort (or old-man-eating sound, one I had not heard before) made its way across to me high up on the cliff. Black and dappled grey, with sleek snouts bobbing up and down in the waves along the coast, they made eerie, windy noises. Slug-like they were, until their ends (tails and heads) curved up making them look like kids’ wobbly toys.

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You can see the glorious colours, but probably not the seals at the very end of those rocks. The zoomed shot I took was too blurry to reproduce here. Orkney.

Suddenly my foot slipped on a loose stone. Then they all spotted me, and before I realised it, more of them than I knew were there, so well camouflaged were they, leapt off their rock. What a delightful treat!
Being a rebel, and because I was not going to miss the possibility of seeing a cetacean, I soldiered on when the signs signalled to turn left. Here were great slabs of the past, immense layers of time immemorial. Glorious it was.

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Orkney.

Words like strata and striated popped into my mind from O’ Level geography as I picked my way between the blocks of rock on the lower parts of the beach to avoid the dodgy path above. I crept up on more seals unawares as they were sunbathing. A second later, they were gone, highly sensitive to extraneous sound. There was not a sight of a human unless you count the aluminium yacht which caught my eye because it was glinting in the rays. A slight movement and again on the water like ever so many periscopes, there were the tops of seal heads checking to see if I had gone.

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Orkney.

I was looking at my feet to find safe footing, when, meanwhile, I realised there was another set of wary eyes fixing me: Fresian ones! Cows were to be my almost constant companions throughout the days of this pilgrimage: clattering away down the fields as I approached even when I tiptoed, and then drawn almost immediately back to the fence between us. They were playing grandmother’s footsteps when my back was turned. One minute they were way away, and the next I heard a moo. There they were, right behind me with their penetrating stares!

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Most of the path was terrifyingly narrow, a foot’s width perhaps, so that I had to cling to the barbed wire fences as I inched my way around.
A lesson (re)learned

If it feels hard, and especially if you are honest and it feels too, too hard, there will always be an easier way. Stop, look up, breathe and reassess.

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Not so much a path as a sheer drop! Orkney.

I reflect that I need to learn this over and over again. It must be a deeply ingrained habit, even a belief system, that makes me keep on going through hardship. Here was another theme that was to re-appear repeatedly.

It is not in my nature to admit defeat.

Alexandra David-Neel, ‘My Journey to Llasa’ p. xiii

I admired the deep cravasses full of rock pools. The weed, seen from above, gleamed wet and slimy, shiny green like new buds. If you were lucky enough to have roamed on the beach when you were younger, like I was at Kingsdown on the south coast of England, you will recognise these types of rock pools. You will be able to guess what might be in their shady corners even though you are too high up to see.

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Crazy paving beach, Orkney.

I was enjoying the round Neolithic corner of Eynhallow when a raven started up. A warning sound, it cra cra-ed over and over again, and I heard it. The going was precarious all along that stretch, and the bird looped me, taking off from one fence post, flying out and around my shoulders and then back. Back and round and back it went, for all the world as if it was weaving lines of protection around me, holding me in close to the land and discouraging falling. Perhaps I have read too many North American Indian stories about the traditions of totem animals, but I was duly warned and took extreme care.

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Eynhallow island in the distance with its distinctive cliff corner. Orkney.
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The raven – can you see it? Orkney.

There were other birds around: ones with bottoms the exact colour of the black and red stationery invoice books – you know those? Anywhere gannets build their nests is too dangerous for humans, I realised. I should not have been there.

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That’s what the white dots are: gannets. See how precipitous it is. Orkney.

It was all made much worse by the continuous barbed wire fences: on and off came my rucksack. I felt real fear. Clearly other fools had gone before me because there were places where the wire was stretched. My advice: Absolutely do not do it. I have got myself into some scrapes before, but this was properly dangerous. It was entirely my own decision and every time I looked down into the next sheer gully, I expected to spot a skeleton. By this time I knew I wanted to go an easier way, but it was equally difficult to go back.

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It was here I sustained the injury.: a gash from the barbed wire as I fell, deep, very bloody, but luckily not life threatening. Orkney.

After the next de-rucksacking amidst spears of irises with cabbage whites darting in and out, I headed finally inland for the road. I was close to the church ruin and I spotted Orkney vole holes in the dry grass. But, would you believe it, I was on the road for less than five minutes when the official signs directed me back to the coast. I will confess that I was feeling a trifle wabbit (exhausted) by this time.

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Barbed wire fences, a stile that is almost impossible to get to – they have tried to stop us walking here that’s for sure. The Hesta Geo beyond. Orkney.

An uncharacteristic stumble necessitated yet another stop. I have to be very careful not to let this happen with the backpack on because I can topple very easily if its weight tips over. This time I snacked to give me some energy: chocolate, cheese and lettuce.

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Showing a geo, a long, narrow, steep-sided cleft formed by erosion in coastal cliffs. Orkney.

I had confidently said I would manage 20 kilometres by early afternoon, but it was 1pm and I was nowhere near the end.
Below my feet was a carpet of primroses, bluebells and king cups with teeny violets. There was often a sewage scent assailing my nostrils (ugh!) though with the odd whiff of warm grass. Now the nettles were up to my armpits so stings were sustained and still there were many fences to cross. I was becoming covered in scratches too. The tussocks were soft and uneven making the going even slower, my feet sinking unexpectedly deeper however carefully I placed them.

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Costa Hill in the distance. Doesn’t look tricky but it was – augur of what was to come later in the trail. Orkney.

I startled a pheasant and it startled me. What was he up to at the edge of the West Mainland? He must have been admiring the view, he must have been. I also saw a rabbit – first I had ever seen on a beach. And a cat, easily managing the foot’s width of path that was available between fence and fall.

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Orkney.

I was impersonating St Magnus now, wearing my beanie hat with feathers stuck in either side instead of horns and my baton instead of a staff which he would surely have used on his own pilgrimage.

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Wooden bridge over the Swannay Burn. Orkney.

I was once again very happily traipsing; fair bowling along I was after those revitalising calories. I even noticed my thoughts turning to old friends from my daughters’ primary school days. They used to go to Orkney with their children at every possible chance and now I understood why. Orkney, I was told by the woman from Elgin who I got to know on the return train, has the best quality of life of any rural area in the UK (1).

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Loch of Swannay inland. Orkney.

Day one was certainly a ‘baptism by fire’, I thought. And there was another biblical phrase – how easily such words trip off my tongue! In the modern understanding of the phrase, I was being initiated to the pilgrimage with hardship and difficulty. Interestingly, that phrase is more likely to have been meant as ‘the conferring of the Holy Spirit’, which of course would relate well to a Christian pilgrimage. I understood that some of the adults around me when I was growing up still subscribed to the Victorian idea that hardship was a good thing for children. I suspect that many of my ideas come from novels which made an impression on me at an impressionable age – church-run orphanages which housed Oliver or Jane Eyre.

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There were times when there was no point in complaining that something was hard because it was accepted as right and normal – in fact a cause for celebration. It was all in the hope that I would be strengthened by it, and not expect a life of Riley, a bed of roses. Well here I was, not on the sofa but spending my time on a challenging hike. Many of us do this sort of thing these days – conquering unconquerable mountains, running 43 marathons in 51 days (2) – mostly thought of as laudable and great achievements, particularly when done for charity. Hardship is popular. “Suffering is optional” (3).

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After encountering danger on and off all day, I discovered this poster at the campsite in the evening!

‘Suffering is something you have to learn to figure out in your life; it’s nothing to be afraid of,’ Jennifer Fox, documentary writer in the Guardian Newspaper 23.5.18

Rebecca Nicholson interviewed Sheila Hancock in the Guardian newspaper about a new film role in Edie where she had to climb a mountain:

“‘I was so frightened,’ she gasps, but still she did it, ‘Honest to God, I don’t know how.’… ‘I would love to enjoy leisure, but I find it very difficult to sit down and do nothing,’ ..” (25.5.18)

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You can see it is starting to get misty. Orkney.

So, in the 21st century we have an issue with personal choice and with hardship versus that life of Riley. And a pilgrimage, like mountain climbing or other dangerous pursuits (as opposed to a sedentary lifestyle with few thrills) will hep you understand your own approach to life and raise the very things you struggle with on a daily basis.
As 3.30pm approached I could see the haar (misty fog) rolling in again and I could not see from whence I came. Up hill and down dale I went, still happy. I admit I kept thinking about beer. I mean all pilgrims drink ale don’t they?
At 4.10pm I took the series of photos below. This is inspiration. This is one of the main reasons I do these walks. When I am back home giving Shiatsu, I call up these sorts of images in the hope that the energy of these places comes through my touch.

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Orkney.
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Orkney.
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Orkney.
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Orkney.
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Orkney.

I thought: ‘You having a laugh?’ as I went along a line of flattened grass that didn’t resemble a path. The problem with being tired is that you focus on the end and when you then come over the next knoll it can be disappointing to see the way still stretching far ahead. I reminded myself of a lesson learned on my first Camino: one-step at a time – poco a poco as they say in Spain.

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Birsay village in the distance with the Earl’s Palace. Orkney.

There are, in fact, midges on Orkney, contrary to what I read on the internet when I was wondering whether to take ointment or not!
I didn’t see the Whalebone.

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The nousts (scalloped earth for storing small fishing boats) at Skibbigeo, Orkney.

Luckily I got some help towards the very end when I was lost. First a woman in her garden came across and advised me over the garden fence to go between the two towers. But before I could do that, a most kind couple suggested I take the small road and they gave me a banana and a flapjack together with my filled water bottle. They even offered me a lift but see above – I was determined!

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The Earl’s Palace in contrast to the local houses behind. Birsay, Orkney.

Seagulls were tucked into nooks and crannies, perhaps bedding down for the night when I arrived at 6pm at the Brough (say bruff) of Birsay car park. I went into the village where the Earls Palace looked amazing in the late sun. I deposited my last stone hurriedly at the Kirk (the end of the day’s route) – dedicated to the beautiful world. And then I took a bus. ‘Just take a seat’ said the driver when I asked him how much, and he let me off a few minutes later at the end of the campsite road.


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Eventually I arrived in Birsay, Orkney.

The official wasn’t there yet, but a group of Italians were. I showed them how to book on-line and we took our places and pitched camp. Like the one at Stromness, the site was well equipped, clean and had a good energy about it. When she did come along at the allotted time, the woman in charge was wonderful and I took her suggestion and walked (yes, more walking but this time in sandals which made all the difference) to the Barony Hotel and enjoyed that ale and some well won victuals.

On my final car journey, when Christopher was giving me a lift to Stromness for the ferry, we discussed this Evie to Birsay day, and he told me a guide had stepped back from his group on another part of the island and fallen to his death. I would not have missed my walk ‘for the world’, but it was stupid of me to ignore the signs and I would not recommend anyone else did the same.
Thank you everyone who helped me along the way today. Thank you.

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Information poster, The Brough of Birsay, Orkney.

I would have liked to take a look at the Yellow Bird Gallery Chocolate Cottage, Birsay, Orkney KW17 2LT
1 http://www.orkney.com/whats-new/quality-of-life
2 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/exhausted-izzard-completes-43-marathon-challenge-1787491.html
3 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

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The Brough of Birsay at sunset. Orkney.

Links:

Introduction

Transport – how I got there

Accommodation – where I stayed

Day 2 – Evie to Birsay

Day 3 – Birsay to Dounby

Day 4 – Dounby to Finstown

Day 5 – Finstown to Orphir

Day 6 – Orphir to Kirkwall

Resources – what I took with me

The Last Day

Resources – shops, cafes, pubs etc

Finding your way

Reflection

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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Cathedral, Salamanca, Spain.
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Plaza Major, Salamanca, Spain.
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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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More than once I thought I saw a castle in the distance and then realised it was irregularly stacked hay bales.
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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.

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At the water tower in Castellanos de Villiquera the yellow arrow tell me to go straight on.
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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!).

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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.

Fuenterroble de Salvatierra to Pedrosilla de las Aires, Via de la Plata

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 12 (Mérida to Ourense). Monday 2 April 2018. 18 kms.

Attractive frontage with classical Camino signs and images.

I slept in the upper room of the lovely hostel in Fuenterroble and two others joined us three from the crowded dormitory downstairs during the night to avoid the snoring.

Fuenterroble de Salvatierra, Castilla y León.

Breakfast was amazing – an Easter Monday special maybe.

Quince jelly, some sort of delicious home-made fruit jam, bread, coffee etc.

It was a flat walk today through holm oak woods. I started with Marie Noelle but we soon parted company to walk alone.

Long straight paths.

A plane left its noise behind it; there were more pigs. I had decided not to walk a very long way (over 30kms) so I took a right at the Dueño de Abajo when the others went left.

It was a lovely way ending as it began with a cattle grid and land-owner’s sign.

The young cows were orangey-red and they played Grandmothers Footsteps with me: first running away when I walked and then freezing, all in a crowd (about 30 of them), when I turned round.

It was wide open countryside and I spent a great deal of time reviewing my dream of the night before – very powerful.

There was rain coming, judging by the wind and the feel in the air. One becomes attuned to the changes when outside all the time.

The snowy mountains were behind us now but still stunning.

The sound of an engine seemed to be connected to the blunt, cut-off tree stumps – also revealing strong orange at the wounds.

Chaffinches with softer apricot-coloured bellys were swooping, and there were some grey cows wandering, activating their sonorous bells.

Leafy glades in the sunlight.
The amazing orange soil banked up to create a pool, apparently to equalise the water table for when it is hot with no rain.
Pedrosilla, Spain on approach – a hill to climb before arriving!

It was getting cold and wet by the time I arrived at Pedrosilla and I went to the bar, as directed, to indicate the keys to the albergue municipal, the council hostel. It was devoid of any heating, dirty and musty-smelling, so when Benito came along he joined me in the bar where there was wi-fi and warmth.

The excellent (and warm) Bar Laureano.

The family-run bar was excellent. The youngest daughter (of 9!) was there with her mother and various relatives; her sister ran the joint when she was away in Paris working as a TV producer. She cooked a wonderful tortilla for us and chatted away, ‘twenty to the dozen’  as they say, telling us about her life and that of the others. There is no shop in Pedrosilla although there is a mobile one which happened by at the right moment and charged me 6 plus euros for a tub of lettuce, one mandarin and a banana!)

Donkeys in a field nearby – my blog’s namesake.
The municipal hostel (albergue) in Pedrosilla de las Aires, Castilla y León.

Nuria made a long afternoon/evening, in a village which had no any other entertainment, and where the weather was almost entirely terrible, most enjoyable.

Village dwelling, Pedrosilla de las Aires, Castilla y León.
Pink sky at night, shepherd’s delight!
Nuria with her mother: like a hen, spreading out her black cardi in her place at a table of the family business.

Note: Something has gone wrong with my WordPress making it impossible to load photos using the usual method, so some of these are elongated for some reason, and all smaller than usual. For which I apologise.

 

Galisteo to (Oliva de Plasencia) to Aldeanueva del Camino

30th March 2018.

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The walls of Galisteo and the snowy mountains in the distance.

Leaving Galisteo was a long process. I attempted to follow my book and ended up taking a yellow arrow which was a red herring!

It was a beautiful morning but after a steep descent and re-climbing, an hour later I was back where I started. So if you stay at the Pension El Parador, remember you are already on the Camino and only need to take a left out of the front door, walk across the Roman Bridge, then straight across at the first roundabout, right at the second and you are off.

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Road walking with the important yellow arrows.
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Looking back at Galisteo as I was crossing the bridge.

What a very hard day! 11 hours on the road, including two mistaken detours.

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Farm country with plastic tunnels, familiar from Perthshire, Scotland.

I walked along a road with no pavement for ages until I got to Carcaboso where I happily stopped at a bar and sat in the sun with my cortado.

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The bar in Aldehuala del Jerte (not Carcaboso!).

Then I took the recommended right fork. I could see inviting-looking countryside to my right and left but I was on the road. Still. With very poor signposting. I did enjoy the toads jumping into a brook and today’s flower – what I think is the field lupin.

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Then an old man stopped his car for a chat and told me that, no Carcaboso was ahead! I had actually just passed through Aldehuala del Jerte (Jerte is the name of the river).

When I did get into Carcaboso it was obvious!

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I followed the Way past the Iglesia de Santiago and a tiny sign on the wall showing left. It seemed to be a dead-end but, if you are going to do this after me (while the road works are there), do keep going, following the odd indication and then you will be out of the town in no time.

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Beautiful, traditional Spanish tiles decorating a family courtyard.
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A very smart house.

I stopped at the Three Crosses and rested, people-watching. I read the poem on the sign beside the bench, for ‘every Friday’ and reflected that it was especially apt for today as it was Good Friday. My feet were aching so I took my boots off, renewed the plasters, trooped over the little bridge knowing I had 4 or 5 more hours to go and that the rain clouds looked ominous. IMG_20180330_121755.jpg

At the bus shelter style tourist information, I took a left and found the ‘Bombay’ sign as indicated in my book. (Vía de la Plata and the Camino Sanabrés by Gerald Kelly. He is a renowned author and walker but Do Not get an out of date copy as things change really quickly.)

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New-born lambs everywhere.

The noisy geese cheered me on; the raptors glided and wheeled overhead; fences made of barbed wire and a variety of sticks including Ash with black buds were on either side; bulrushes at the cotton-wool stage; derelict buildings; lots of gates and trolling uphill.

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Storks nest on a handy monument.

I saw what they mean by ‘cow’s lick’ as the fur at the front of the cows’ faces is in a pretty whorl; there were donkeys (I heard them though the night too) and I was happily traipsing in the middle nowhere.

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I was reflecting that there was no point in thinking of going quickly or getting there faster as it is impossible, one must just live through it, even if it does start raining or your feet hurt.wp-1522593871460..jpg

New here is a good idea: start a pole exchange at airports now that it can be impossible to bring them through security.

Up and down I went, wondering if I had made another mistake. Yes, I had! It was a very long way to retrace my steps: at least an hour. A really bad mistake given it was already well into the afternoon.

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Basic advice: only go when you see the signs; if there are none, keep going straight; and where there are two blocks of light grey polished stone, one with a yellow square in plastic on it and one with a blue/green one, ignore the latter.

It was so beautiful, like a Garden of Eden, but I was really, really tired and I did not know how far it would go on. Far, it turned out. Through Holm Oak trees; along stony paths; with large insects (for the first time) flying around my head); and amidst cows with scary looking horns I went until I eventually got to the road and tuned right for Oliva de Plasencia.

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Then it was a long walk on tarmac – one and a half hours – until I reached the village. The wind howled and the rain rained.

The albergue was full and the woman shouted that I should have reserved my bed in advance. I had in fact phoned approximately 17 times that day, and showed her the record on my phone, but she had not picked up. The other hostel was also full (it is also run by her). And so was the one miles away which she angrily gave me the number for. People walking around the village tutted and tried to help a little. It was nearly dark.

So I went to the church – after all it was Good Friday and I had read that Spanish people are very fond of pilgrims and very generous in their hospitality.

After a long time during which I sat, exhausted, while it started to rain, someone phoned the priest who said I could not stay in the church but in the porch (I knew it was due to snow that night and was already two degrees so that was impossible). No-one was prepared to offer me a floor or sofa, though I said I could pay. A kind woman phoned and discovered there was one bed left at a hostel in Aldeanueva and another couple then took me there in the car. What a mess.

I guess I should not have gone there if I did not know there was a space, but it is a very unusual situation and the men and women who helped me said that he woman who ran the places was not following Tourist Association rules. The day before, I learned later, a fellow walker did the same thing because he, like me, did not want to walk more than 25 kms that day and this village seemed to offer an alternative.

It was pouring by the time they very kindly deposited me at the city albergue and I was greeted by backpackers I knew. It was warm and had all that I needed. I am very grateful to the people who helped me.