Walking without a donkey 15: Camino Francés (Burgos to Castrojerez).

30.10.16 – 31.10.16 Burgos to Hornillos to Castrojerez


This photo looks as if it was taken in the countryside, but is part of Burgos. I visited a number of places where the local councils have provided beautiful pathways in and/or out of their cities, and after 28kms walking from San Juan de Ortega, it eased the weary end-of-day-feeling. 

The next morning, it didn’t take so long to get out of the urban environment I had spent the night in, and thankfully I was back into the countryside before too long, even if there were a few wrong turns to start with! It’s lucky that a friendly walker always seems to be there just as I am standing around looking bewildered, viewing first one, then a second possible turning, and somehow missing the yellow arrow.

Not long afterwards I started traversing km after km beside fields of dead sunflowers. They were a bit creepy, and sad. Maybe, I ponder, the seeds will be harvested later rather than all going to waste? But I discover through research on the web when I get home, that there are situations where this is not the case. Due to EU subsidies the farmers do not actually  need the crop. What a dreadful waste.


We walk through villages where the Camino is their main livelihood, and so some decorate their houses in blue and yellow with the familiar logo,  making sure we walkers feel welcome, and presumably encouraging us to spend money in the bars.

A blurred picture, but you can see the flags and colours of the Way of St James.

We pass delightful churches. Many are very simple with a single tower and entrance, charming in their structural naivety, and so attractive against the blue sky. They are not usually open, and when there is a long way to walk, we don’t often stop and view the interiors. They contribute to the overall spiritual atmosphere, reminding us that we tread in the footsteps of pilgrims through the ages. Their presence encourages silence.


A largeish town, Hornillos del Camino (see that the name reflects its dependence on the Path), is in the region of Burgos, Castille y León. It is a well-kept and sturdy town, with wide streets of grey/yellow local stone, a Catholic church tower, and wooden balconies, and will be full of travellers in the summer months.

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The atmosphere was convivial that evening at the albergue: I shared a ‘pilgrim menu’ (3 courses with wine for 10 euros) with the others, and a good time was had by all!


Hornillos has a backdrop of hills, which does not prepare you for the meseta, the flat and open countryside which follows for several days. Not having to watch for boulders or strive uphill does mean that one km merges into another, and that releases the Mind.

‘Think while walking, walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces.’                                                                                                                                                              p.20 A Philosophy of walking, Frédéric Gros


I only just get used to being able to see my destination an hour ahead, when something very unexpected happens: The sign to the ruins of the Convento de San Antón is unasssuming, suggesting to me that it will be another small religious building. But there is the sound of heavenly music, and it gets louder and louder, until I round a corner to be faced with astonishing flying buttresses right across the pathway.


It is an architectural spectacle! I have to stop and gaze at the most detailed and highly carved archway, replete with stone figures many of whose heads are missing due to the ravages of time, and there, there’s a donkey (or is it a camel?).



In addition, on the right is a courtyard from which I discover the music emanates, together with familiar faces enjoying drinks and a toilet break. It turns out to be one of those amusing tourist interludes where the barman produces a ‘bag’ with a long, thin spout, full of wine, that you hold up high and pour into your mouth (or all over your face if you aren’t careful!).


After these antics, we once again split into various groupings, and make off on the trail to Castrojerez with its idiosyncratic signage, and large shared dormitory for another night of snoring!

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Thanks to Randall St. Germain  for sharing the Castrojerez website

A camino blog I recommend



Walking without a donkey 13: Camino Francés

Days 5 and 6. 28-29 October 2016. Nájera (Camino Francés) – Burgos – Cortiguera – Madrid – Aranjuez – San Juan de Ortega (back on the Camino)

Pantano Reservoir, Logroño on the way to Najera 28 October 2016

I made a promise to visit Gill (who had already put me in touch with so many lovely Shiatsu people to stay with) in Aranjuez, which is 50km south of Madrid, before the end of October. So I left the Camino at Nájera, after only 5 days of walking (blog posts 9, 10, 11), and went there via Burgos (90km, 1.5 hours by bus), Cortiguera (blog post 12, 70km north of Burgos), and Madrid (250km, 2.5 hours back down south) – a very long way round!


River Arlanzon, Burgos

I only spent a little time in Burgos this time, but the sun shone and the bus station is central, so I was able to walk across the river, into Cathedral Square where I sat and ate my sandwiches, walked around the adjoining streets, visited a cafe for a green tea and wifi, and photographed the famous pilgrim statue.




Afterwards I returned to get my link to Cortiguera to see Dirk and Charo.

This was where I saw a group of vultures circling at eye level in front of majestic rocks above the slit of river far below.

On the way to Cortiguera

I wrote in my diary on the bus: ‘This time the ‘bird’ I see as I approach the city is a silver plane rising in the blue sky. After the outdoorsy life I’ve been living in the country and small villages, I’m nervous about entering the capital city for the first time.’

I was right, it was a serious contrast, and I found travelling across Madrid a terrible strain. After calmly walking through the regions of La Rioja and Cantabria, with their expansive silence and disinterested wildlife, the thoughtful travellers at a regular pace, the noise, the numbers of people, the difficulty in negotiating the ticket machines at the underground stations – it was all an onslaught to my system – and I couldn’t take any photos.

On arrival at Aranjuez, I partook of a glass of wine and settled myself. Later I was treated to a pizza (urban food!), and taken to Gill’s amazing kitchen garden. Here she grows fruit and vegetables, and bakes delicious bread in an open oven which she shares with her neighbour. Alongside giving and teaching Shiatsu, hosting visiting tutors, leading chi gung classes, and generally keeping a large sector of the Spanish Shiatsu community connected, she delivers this fresh produce to people in the local area.

I had not bargained for the power of the Camino, and the next morning I overturned my plans to stay south for 5 days, and returned to the north, via Madrid and the bus station I was getting to know and love, back to Burgos and the Way. Thank you Gill and Jorge for being so understanding.

Hostel at San Juan de Ortega

It turns out that getting to San Juan de Ortega in the evening is tricky. It was hard to get information and a taxi would have been extortionate, so I waited 4 hours (witnessing drunken fisticuffs in the street), before joining a local bus service which several people had told me would go there and for which I had a ticket. Needless to say I was the only foreigner. The large family group which made up the majority of the other passengers, were friendly and interested in me and why I was there. They chattered loudly, not seeming bothered by my pigeon Spanish, offering to share their snacks with me, and laughing hilariously at my escapades up and down the country.

When I was the only one left, and we were driving through the pitch dark (by now three quarters of an hour late), the driver asked me where I was going and ‘Si, si’, he pointed into the distance. He told me all about his wife and kids, and where he was going on holiday, and eventually deposited me in front of the former monastery, where I was met by a kind, but rather worried, fellow walker. He had been told that the bus usually drops folk off at the previous village and was ready to come out and escort me in case I met wolves walking through the night forest. Apparently the bus had made a detour especially for me. Being so late meant there were no beds left, but this same kind man had negotiated an alternative – in the library – as well as having supper waiting for me. I always knew I would get there safely, but those around me were not so sure until I actually arrived!

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San Juan church

The next day we walked to Burgos!

Last 2 photos courtesy of A. Bec