Via de la Plata Camino – Day 3, Spain

Day 3, 18.5.17. Via de la Plata camino walk, Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén. 29.5 kms.

On and off through the night I was shaken from my dreams by snoring, but as I know I ‘give as good as I get’, I could not complain. Later I was woken by my alarm and was the first up. I  did try to be careful, indeed I had prepared everything the night before so I could creep out silently, but I forgot I had emptied my pockets and as I moved my clothes I dropped all the coins. They rolled loudly and far on the tiled floor – what a racket!

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The main street, Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

After breakfast, I set off confidently, but down and back I went looking for the arrows to show me the way, and I lost the time I had gained from rising early.

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Well, I really had to snap this very large statue in the centre of Castilblanco – man with donkey!
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Attractive house fronts with sign reading Venida Virgen de Escardiel. There is a hermitage dedicated to this Virgin 5 kms from Castilblanco, also a bar named after her!

The others were up and out, probably woken by my noise, and so I thankfully followed them. As I walked my head was full of questions.

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Was this some sort of folly, or a drinking trough for animals, or maybe somewhere to wash your clothes? The reflections of the sky in the water and the Virgin at the apex made a striking sight.
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Out of the urban environment, there was a long, straight road and glowering sky – the latter an unusual sight in Southern Spain even in May.
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A dog, black pigs (Spanish ‘jamón’ from this area is world famous) and cockerel, all happily sharing a field.
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I could not resist the wonderful light and the expanding sun’s rays in this sky.

I compared the luminous yellow arrows with the luminous sunny morning. There was no comparison! How does the sun pick out the edges of each leaf, as well as ripples of old bark, which has no shiny surface, and make them gleam?

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The sun is starting to illuminate the foliage.

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I hoped that I had built up enough strength during the previous two days for the 30 kilometers ahead of me, and that I would not therefore have to use super-human, prodigious will power. Ah, there was a thrilling bird voice – was it encouraging and reassuring me?

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It was day three of being on my own. Would I be content to be a hermit or enter one of those retreats like Tenzin Palmo? If I am alone so often anyway, maybe. Then again, like most others I enjoy companionship. It is all about balance.

”..the walk is solitary and rural, a means of being in nature and outside society.’               p. 18 Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust

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I saw the first lake of this journey.
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The Canal blog says, ‘Be prepared for a long road this morning.’ (See below).

I moved between tarmac and softer gravel, along a bed of dry, brown leaves from last year – it is kinder on my soles. I hear French spoken behind me. It is crisper and much less passionate than Spanish. Later I meet the couple and exchange a while. He does most of the talking and was indeed a crisp sort of person.

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I passed beautiful irises – just look at that colour!

Then a tandem passed me – him with his long back in blue and black, she behind in pink, legs circling of course, in exact time with each other. ‘Buen camino!’ A little further on they get off and walk up the hill, and I realise I have been steadily climbing. There is a long, spider-legged peregrino in front of me, an older man without all the gear behind, and the wheeled couple coast down the other side.

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There She is again, guarding and blessing the homestead in her beautiful gold cloak and white dress with halo.

The walls I trekked between were white and had decorated name plates outside, even the ordinary ones. They have plants in the type of pots you might expect a genie to whisp out of, and they adorn the gatehouse, while the road stretches in to the land behind. It was much hotter by this time, even at 9am.  My right hip bothered me a little with the climbing. Crunchy old acorns littered the ground.

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Here it was more the azure water which stopped me in my tracks.

At 10.10am I enter the Parque Natural de Sierra Norte and am off road. The two French people were in front.

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Not much shade. Fellow pilgrims in the distance.

I take my first pee of the morning – oh to be able to stand up and do it like men! Next time I will wear those shorts which you can just pull up and down easily. It is a real struggle to squat with the money belt and rucksack, and then try and do buttons once standing up again. After repetitively walking a long way, bending the knees is hard, although having said that, it is probably good to keep them lithe. A bird sings ‘pee pee pee’!

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On the Via de la Plata the pointers are mainly yellow arrows, but here was the Saint James shell, the Coquille Saint Jaques, too.

I wonder about listening to music as I go along. Alain, who I walked with on the Camino Francés, used to play songs and sing to me, it was a way of getting to know each other. I try, but after a few moments I stop. I like to hear the sounds around me and potter along at my own pace not to the song rhythms. My head is full enough as it is.

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‘Never did I think so much, exist so vividly, and experience so much, never have I been so much myself – if I may use that expression – as in the journeys I have taken alone and on foot.’ Rousseau, Discourses on Inequality.

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Very effective stepping stones.

Lunch was at 10.40 and what a cacophony of toads down in the stream. Such beauty.

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The wild flowers flourish near the river.

There were soft, soft, fine grasses curving over in the mild breeze, black olive trunks contrasted with swathes of yellow flower heads and hopefully, I mused, I was over half way to Almadén.

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Ancient olive trees. Only small pools of shade to relieve the heat.

I remember trying to pick up my pace but my feet were sore and my ankles stiff. I obviously was not yet into the swing of this amount of daily walking. A bird kept saying ‘bo bo boh’, one with a largish orange-brown breast and a black and white tail. At least I thought that was the one which belonged to that particular call. It can be hard to identify them.

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There were long, oblong stone troughs for feeding the animals, white-pink stones rather than crystal quartz, very tall trees reminiscent of the ones next to the albergue roof terrace last night. I had watched the leaves meditatively spinning whilst doing my T’ai Chi.

Banks of lavender fell down hillside, which when squeezed released a potent and wonderful aroma.

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Blue sky and fields of lavender.

As far as the eye could see there was only trees and nature and natural sounds: I climbed over some water, admired the lollipop pines and inhaled their resiny smell. It all prompted me to take deep breaths.

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The rivers Huéznar and Viar wind through the Park.

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And in good time, because there followed a very, very steep, though thankfully relatively short, climb of 550 metres. Half way up was a memorial to a dead pilgrim (Michel Laurent) which seemed appropriate given the gradient.  Many people walk the Caminos at the end of their life or because they are unwell and some do die on the way.

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A ‘mirador’ is a viewing place, somewhere to admire the surrounding countryside.

At the top there were three of us and we gave thanks for the cooling wind. I was excited to see the end in sight as well as tomorrow’s path running east to west on the slope opposite. That was to be rather important information the next morning.

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It was the first town or village I had set eyes on since 6.30am, 6.5 hours ago, and although it was also a very, very steep topple down, and I had to take enormous care because of the boulders and sheer rocks, the reward was at the bottom.

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And at last I arrived.

In Almadén, on the church tower, were 5 of the huge black and white cranes which I had seen in Northern Spain.

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I love the yellow and white architecture of this part of the north province of Seville. And there is a crane coming in to land.
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It was actually quite a long walk through the outskirts to the municipal albergue, and I had an unwanted guide, a man who attached himself to me as soon as I entered the town, and kept talking. I did not get a good feeling, perhaps it was because I was tired, but in the end I had to ask him to go away.
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A welcome bed. The poor French woman leaning over on the left, has blisters, which is hardly surprising given her husband insists they cover 2 days at a time. He is an experienced walker, but this is her first time. I donate my plasters which, thankfully, I do not need.
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And like most Spanish urbanisations, there were beautiful flowers by the side of the road.

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Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust. ISBN 978-1-78378-0-396

Canal blog: http://viadelaplata.canalblog.com/archives/2015/07/01/32298926.html

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 2, Spain

Via de la Plata camino walk, Spain. Guillenna to Castilblanco de los Arroyos. 18 kms. 38 degrees heat on arrival.

Off I set on day 2 of the Via de la Plata. I wonder what today’s adventures will bring?
Magical to watch the sun rise as I walked.

There was a crescent moon high over Guillena as I left, happy in the cool air at 6.15am. There were already birds singing and the cats and kittens were skittering around the deserted village, scouting the bins and very nervous of me. There was that Spanish smell: a mix of plants, food, perhaps even the building materials – very hard to describe. The cock was heralding the dawn of my next stage. As I walked I felt really happy, happier and happier, and the kittens did their tree climbing practice while their mum looked on.

If I had walked past here extending the kilometers covered, as the Germans did yesterday, to the next town or even further, I would have missed this. As it was I was refreshed and ready for the journey. I realised that I was only wearing a T shirt and yet the temperature was very pleasant. The only clouds bordered the horizon.

I traversed the River de Huelva, bats flying around me, and ah! I remembered that I had left my food in the hostel fridge again. Mental note to self for tomorrow. I hoped it would be enjoyed by others.

My camera could not see the sunrise the way my eyes could. I rehearsed the description in my mind so I could try and conjure it up for you later: the colours of course – red and blue at the top, a stippled layer of dark purple underneath pale yellow, under pink – not like anything reproduced in fabric or paint. And all this above a silhouetted horizon of palm trees, like pineapples on sticks. The top edges of ordinary farm or industrial buildings stretched right across my vision, pulling my gaze towards my destination away from the hedgerow. That sillouette got stronger and stronger as I walked the long stretch of road, and as always on the outskirts of towns, there were very few arrows to guide me.

And then it lightened.

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I came to an industrial area by the main road intersection. My mind was mostly quiet except for the mini-panics over finding the way. I passed by a blue, white and yellow warehouse. Behind it there was a lot of rubbish littering the deserted tarmac – similar to yesterday on the outside of Seville – and there was an air of danger. I am not religious, but I felt as if the cross which hung around my neck given to me by Pedro the night before I left was protecting me. Perhaps his wish for me to have a safe journey was imbued into it.

These rather boring pictures are for those who might be following this blog and trying to find their way, like me, without a guide book.

 

I was prepared for difficulties because there was no translation of the website directions last night so I had nothing to go by, but after an hour I came to farm land, across a dry river bed, and there were the wonders of nature laid out before me.

Wild flowers I am familiar with from Scotland.
Side by side with tropical plants.
Whole fields of beauty.
My phone camera did manage to capture these gorgeous sights.

Obviously there has been no rain here for a quite a while.

My Shiatsu and its theory is always with me and I muse: I guess all of us who love to walk, feet on the ground, have to be balancing our Earth element, so then it follows that worry can be a normal thing for us, and the walking helps with that worry. There’s a rabbit! And bees collecting. My thoughts are interrupted by what surrounds me.


Soft grasses stroked my arm. The warming sun released the smells which changed from a damper, cool, morning green smell, to an earthier, warmer, sweet brown smell, and then to the searing fiery red emanating from the soil which has absorbed so much sun over so long. The track stretched straight into the distance and now I could see that there was one pilgrim ahead of me and 3 Italians behind. I had spoken to one the night before as we both had some French. There was a Spaniard with a stout stick and an Alsatian dog coming in the opposite direction. I needed to choose my footing carefully, picking my way across the very stony, pinky-brown earth with olive groves on one side, and crops on the other. Each had a narrow strip of flowers and grasses where the pesticide had not killed them.

Kind peregrinos had gone before me, making the way clear.

I kept asking myself why I walk. Maybe to prove myself to myself, to learn to be with myself without judgment, so I can do that with others? The quieter I am, the more accurately I hear, and then I know things before they happen. I mean, when I am attentive, things come into my mind before they take place outside of me, and so I am not surprised by them when they happen. I am pleased with this. It releases some of the anxiety, but it is still new to me, and unfamiliar. I believe that this sixth sense is one of the things babies have but then lose, getting replaced with fear. I am trying to unlearn the fear.

A walk was her answer to everything. It was her way of saying she did not want to talk.’                                                                                                                                                                       p. 190 The Words In My Hand, Guinevere Glasfurd

I heard amazing bird song and it is so hard to put into words. Some songs are simple, one or two notes, others start with one, but complete with a different rhythm altogether, however they did repeat, as if they were giving me lots of chances to understand what they were ‘saying’.

Ahead was a wonderful sight – a tiny castle in the distance amongst a huge field of sunflowers.

Getting closer and closer!
I measure – the sunflowers are exactly 4 foot 11 and a half inches, my height. Am I really that short?!

Another thing which happens as I walk is that memories surface, triggered, I suppose, by things I see or other thoughts. Today I was thinking a lot about my mum and I, when we were in Menorca many years ago. Maybe she was thinking about that too.

I had entered the natural park which signaled the start of the Sierra Norte and the Cortijo del Chaparral with its terracotta earth pathways. It was still flat, though, and I was heading in the direction of Castilblanco de los Arroyos.

There are the mountains of the Sierra Norte far away.
Again, the camera does not pick up the colour well, but those who have walked this way will know that the paths are the hue of old earthenware pots.

Glimpses of last night’s dreams floated frustratingly in and out of consciousness. I reflected that part of this happiness was knowing that I had set off at good hour so that if anything went wrong there was time to put it right.

Sierra nearer distance.

There were more thoughts and observations, and then I returned to the walking, my breath, the feeling of my feet and core. There was the odd ‘hola’ to hard working farmers as I walked. I must have been losing fluids because I was regularly tightening my rucksack straps. (It must fit me snugly to avoid back and shoulder ache.)

A group of men who were working hard in the fields, miles from each other but still managing to converse, did not notice me passing until I was gone. Then they unfolded, absent-mindedly curious. Someone was hand-pruning a peach orchard. Here were pregnant long-horned cows and rabbits in among the olives, and I heard a new bird call: a hoot coming in 2s and 3s that was being responded to in kind from who knows where.

As close as I got to the pregnant cows – so as not to cause alarm.
Not sure if you can see the rabbits white puff of a tail.
Hardy grasses fanning out from their exposed roots growing healthily in the arid ground.

One bird screeched, its long tail beating up and down. It was collecting from the ground and doing a sort of bouncy hopping from 2 feet to 2 feet, right alongside the rabbits, taking scraps to the excited babies in its nest. One bird daringly swooped in festoons from tree to tree, brushing past my head. There was lavender, rosemary and sharp cistus bushes, with sage too, and later a pungent like-sweet peas type of fragrance.

It was rocky with lots of yellow arrows. My advice if you are walking this way? if you have not seen one in the last 5 minutes, retrace your steps. I was tempted by the sounds of fellow travellers and immediately took a wrong turn, but one turned out to be the first Brit I had come across, a cyclist with good advice. He ‘buen camino-ed’ me from a distance later, unsure for some reason whether I spoke in English, and that little exchange changed my energy. I saw him again, once, and he was looking for a post office to send back his guitar. He said it seemed to be a good idea at the time, but actually it was a nuisance on the bike and unused.

Varied mental antics: The ants hurried along in opposite directions.  There was a buzz of pylons as I passed underneath that sent my brain fizzing. I was so glad that I did not add this to yesterday’s walk in what was a 38 degrees heat at the end of a 35 km walk. I am so often hungry, I wondered if perhaps I was starving in another life. The solo peregrino who I thought was behind me, passed as I sat quietly on a rock and ate my pear. I was using Bill Palmer’s concept of buoyant / full organs to keep my solar plexus open, in contrast to the curled-forwards posture of the everyday backpacker. There were butterflies galore, some almost black. I thought, remember! our words live on inside others, so take care with them, take responsibility.

I make the least imprint on the earth I think, walking like this, compared with bikes, cars, trains and planes, and I hope I give lots back in return for the joy I am getting.

In case you get lost after leaving the park, you turn left into the road, cross over and there is a path through the undergrowth on the other side. It has to be eyes down for the arrows.

The final part of the day’s pathway is by the road, but you can pretend you are in the open country.

 

Entrance to the town.
Two doorways, one inside the other. This camino is full of portals to new parts of me.

Once I got back into my stride, I thought, walking the Caminos suits those with a strong sense of behaving correctly, because when you walk alone you please yourself.


If it is early when you arrive in Castilblanco (11.30am), do as others do and and sit outside the first bar you come to, because the albergue opens at 1pm.

All hosteliers are volunteers.
Lovely gardens in front. You get the albergue / hostel key at the petrol station if it is shut.
A long, wide, main street.

So I went for some food. And after all, why should they serve what their English version menu offers? Especially if they have gone through it with you beforehand, explaining what they do and do not have, and showing you that the reason they do not have the fried anchovies is because it is not on the Spanish side, see? And you explain, ‘sin carne / no meat’ (ah, yes, I remembered the way this went!), and the first thing they brought (when I ordered chickpea salad) was meat stew, and then I reminded him that I did not eat meat, and he said, ‘what, not chorizo?’ and so he offered spinach salad. And after a long time a delicious spinach and chickpea curry arrived with fried bread. And I definitely did not say, ‘but you said there was no spinach’. And it all went beautifully with the red wine.

This was 2.45 by the way, after 5 hours walk.

The ‘pilgrim’s menu’, much later in the evening honest, was 8€. The calamares (squid) came the way I expected it to. That was one reason why I asked for it. I thought it would be simpler. Why do I insist on speaking in Spanish when he has some English and my Spanish is so limited?

Never had one of these before – it is ice cream.

The hospitalier was charming. The albergue / hostel doubles up as a day centre for people with disabilities and there is space out the front to sit and watch the world go by. The dorms are upstairs and follow the usual format – everything is provided for washing self and clothes, for sleeping, and preparing food, and it was spic and span.

In 3 hrs my washing was dry, even the thick stuff, and by then the roof terrace tiles were too hot to walk on. It was decorated and full of others, congenially chatting in multiple languages.

That was mine, bottom left. So I could make a quick get away the next morning.

Guess which ones are mine.
‘Walker, you walk, stop, and watch, as life goes by.’

 

‘Castilblanco de los Arroyos, Via de la Plata’.

The light went out at 9pm and the snoring began.

 

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 1, Spain

Beginning the Via de la Plata from the start this time. Seville to Guillenna, 25 kms. 16.5.17

Jésus kindly dropped me off at a very early hour, still dark, to begin the Via de la Plata in the city of Seville, in deep southern Spain.

Negotiating my way out of town I see a beautiful doorway, the flash of my camera lighting it up. What lies through the metaphorical portal for me at the start of this camino?

All the Spanish caminos have Santiago de Compostella as their final destination. I had completed the Camino Francés in late November 2016 and fancied continuing to walk, so started the VDLP (as it is known in ‘the club’!) from the end, in the direction of Seville where everyone else starts it. In fact it was very tricky to negotiate the signs and arrows going backwards, so I only did 10 days or so and promised myself I would recommence from the beginning. And here I was, 5 months later!

It was actually pitch dark at 6.15am except for the parts with streetlights.

‘He gathered these details as he walked, and he could not have gathered them had he not opened himself to the kinds of encounter and perception that travel on foot makes possible. Walking, Lee notes, refines awareness: it compels you to ‘tread’ a landscape ‘slowly’ to ‘smell its different soils.’ The car-passenger by contrast, ‘races at gutter height, seeing less than a dog in a ditch’. Lee, like Leigh Fermor, believed in walking not only as a means of motion but also as a means of knowing..’. taken from Robert Macfarlane’s introduction to ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ by Laurie Lee.

Camino de Santiago is carved down the right hand side of this stone marker at the edge of the bypass.

Like Laurie Lee, I had travelled across Spain,  unlike him I had spent one day in fast cars (Zaragoza – Madrid – Seville), and so I resonated with the above quote. I was so very glad to have my feet back on the ground and be moving at what felt like my natural pace again.

And of course I got lost as usual, attempting to find my way away from the urbanisation. Seville is a beautiful place, but my heart lies in the rural landscape and I was keen to move on there. The birds, my constant companions, were wide awake. I trundled through wasteland searching for the yellow arrows – scouring the edges of benches, trunks of trees, discovering one wrapped around a lamp post, and another on a motorway bridge underpass.

These photos are in order along the path.

My advice to fellow travellers: everyone knows the way, ask, and/or wait patiently for a sign.

Do not go too fast, look back so you get sights of the sprawl you are leaving behind.

And if, like me, you have left before dawn, you will have the added bonus of seeing the sky lighten gradually at your back.

Like many parts of all the caminos, the outskirts of cities and large towns are less than salubrious, but because I was so excited, and have been practicing appreciation of all that is around me, there is beauty if you look in the right way.

I was not really going that fast, but there were 3 Germans walking out at the same time as me, and they went ‘like the clappers’. I needed to keep up with them, so I thought, because they were so confident, but it was not my natural speed and there was not enough time to take focused photos. I have kept it in as a record of the route.

I was hastening to keep up and did not take the time to stop long enough to focus.
Crossing the River Guadalquivir further up.

There were trees laden with oranges (no photos) lining the streets, and I kept on going straight.

Racing Germans speeding ahead.
And horses tethered by the roadside. I was to see many of them as I made my way north. Good, free grazing.
Another dreadfully blurred photo, not for show, but for those following the route as well.
It is an exercise in appreciation of the industrial.
Sun all but up now.
We all 4 lost our bearings here. We asked someone who, most unusually, sent us the wrong way.
Hints now of things to come. See the yellow and white decorations on the church with a flat bell tower?

I dashed into a cafe for a take-away croissant (no breakfast – very stupid – I never learn), and promptly lost the others. I panicked thinking I would never find the way on my own, so I ran to catch up. Ran! It is no fun with a backpack I can tell you.

Gave the casino a miss though.
More motorway.
Dull weather.
But at least I was starting to see a view of the countryside and not just railings and dual carriageways.
Before I left, Pedro dealt me a card for the journey. It was ‘Amistad’ meaning friendship. When I came across this around 8am, it seemed like an auspicious sign.

The unmistakeable sound of a peacock heralded my arrival in Santiponce, 7km from Seville, after two hours. One of the richest artistic and cultural heritages in Andalusia, it is sited on the banks of the River Gualdaquivir, which suffered several floods. One caused its surviving inhabitants to take refuge in the monastery (see below), which then granted the highest land for the safe re-building of the town as it is now.

I searched for the squawk. It was on the roof, silhouetted against the morning sky.
I do not know what tree these seed pods come from, but I liked the shape and colour against the cracked earth.
Early morning sweeping in her pinny. Seemed like a classic Spanish sight somehow.

There were more orange trees and the sun was trying its hardest. I have to say that after yesterday’s scorcher, I was rather glad that it was not as hot, given it was my first day back on the road with the rucksack and all.

Beautiful though isn’t it? The ex-Monastery of San Isidoro del Campo, founded in 1301, on the edge of the town.

A very attractive place, Santiponce.

I took a detour to see the Roman Theatre but it was shut. Only open in the summer (I guess May is not the summer) for performances. The nearby Tourist Information was very helpful though and it had lovely clean toilets.

The Roman Theatre.
Attractive detail on the main street.
I just love pink houses.
And the famous Seville oranges. People were picking them up off the street and eating them.

The Anfiteatro de Italica opens at 9am and one of my favourite blog writers recommended seeing it (see end of page), so I sat and ate an orange, listened to the birds, and rested my back until I could get in.

Wish my dad had been with me to see this.

So very old.
The amphitheatre itself – I could almost hear the bellowing of the crowd.
And feel the fear of the gladiators.

There were gardeners planting and tending red roses, just like characters from Alice in Wonderland. But it was hard to rest and enjoy when I knew there were miles to go. So I rejoined the Way and the flora and fauna.

An hour from Santiponce and it was starting to get hot. The smell of a jam factory meant I was headed back into an industrial area, and a massive motorway junction followed.

Not great.
At least I knew I was well on my way now. No need for anyone to guide me.

And after a little while I was rewarded with beautiful wild flowers – azure cornflower, cow parsley like big white iced buns with a beetle instead of a cherry on top, silver grey thistles, reeds, irregularly shaped fields of wheat – green and pale yellow, as well as pylons and traffic sounds competing with the birds.

Avenues of plane trees.

I was on my way again – this was what I waited for.

Thought it was a beetle in the middle, then I realised they all had them and that it was a seed.

The path was stony and my feet were getting sore.

The plants were undulating in the welcome breeze.

What were those yellow flowers in the distance?
Looks pretty but this flooding on the path was somewhat challenging to manoeuvre.

Piles of ants descend on scraps. Their diagonal queues dissect the path and I try to avoid them. Birds play together in the breeze.

Ah, that’s what they are! Turning their heads as they follow the sun around, like submarine periscopes. Beautiful vertical rays of brightness.
The backs of the sunflowers like bonnets, their faces all to the sun, hiding the fact that each one is swarming with bees.

More flowers: Bindweed and borage. I was totally alone. There were no words except the occasional ‘buen camino’ to and from cyclists flying past, shoulders up to their ears. Now I was able to breathe in time with my walking steps. To notice the new butterfly, pale green with a splash of yellow and just a few black dots like Kandinsky, beautifully blended with the flower colours. I saw a dragon fly. I felt happy.

‘Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart’. Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit p.5.

It was a lesson in endurance though. When you are tired, you look into the distance and never believe you will ever get there, but you do. And it is joyous, my arrival into Guilenna.

‘Bienvenido’ = welcome.

Except there were was quite a way before I really arrived. White houses with terracotta roofs greeted me at the end of the very dusty road. It turns out I should have gone over the bridge, not round the river. I should have known when I found myself climbing over fences! The yellow arrows were once again hard to see.
Here was the prettiest church ever seen.

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Granada.

The first hostel was shut and I had to ask many women before I finally arrived at Hostel La Luz at 12.15 and it was 25 degrees by that time. The lady at reception was lovely, friendly, and informative. I was the first to arrive and had a dorm to myself next to the small courtyard, on the ground floor. The facilities were basic but fine for me, I had everything I needed.

I had decided to send things back to the UK (no use for my swimming things, or so I thought) to lighten my load and, well, maybe it was a bad day, and of course I was very fatigued, but the post office was so, so slow. I sat and waited, watched and listened to the excitable Spanish conversations, and eventually it was my turn and of course it was a simple thing to do, not very expensive, and I sent some post cards as well. I rested and then needed to go out again for food – what a very long main road it was in the 28 degree heat at 5pm, or in fact 35 degrees depending where you looked (phone or electronic sign in the town).

I went to mass in the evening, well the start of it. Inside it was highly elaborate as you would expect of a Spanish catholic church, although there was a simple wooden roof: one part with stars, and other pale yellow vaulted stone. There was a very life-like, full-sized Virgin wearing a real black velvet dress embossed in gold with a fantastic silver tiara and beautiful lace scarf and collar. The women were all in attendance, one (like on the bus in Scotland) with the sound turned up on her mobile, tap tapping in response to the message,which sounded very loud reverberating around the nave.

Such a pretty place.

The little girl who entered in her gold shoes, bracelets, and carrier bag with a pink ball in it, put her finger to her lips for a loud shush to grandma and great grandma. Extended families were present in their everyday clothes. The deeply tanned young men in their white t-shirts ranged around looking at the iconography. I was in the back with the lemon which fell off the tree in front of me as I left the hostel. I attracted attention presumably because I was not local. It was very much of a social gathering before the service.

I left after it started and enjoyed my own brand of spirituality, t’ai chi on the roof terrace in the evening sun with the village roofs on two sides, the countryside I had just walked through on a third, and the place I will walk into on the fourth. I gave thanks for the whole situation.

Another blog about the VDLP http://viadelaplata.canalblog.com/

Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1019332.As_I_Walked_Out_One_Midsummer_Morning

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust                                                          https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/06/03/wanderlust-rebecca-solnit-walking/

Travels in Spain

I have just discovered that deleting photos from my media library at WordPress, the people who host these travel blogs, has meant that those deleted photos do not now appear in past blogs. The recent ones are fine.
I had no idea of this and am hoping that WordPress will contact me shortly to offer a solution. In the meantime, you will find blogs (eg about the Camino Frances in 2016) with text but no photos and I apologise for this.
Tamsin 24.7.17

This is a general introduction to my Spanish walking.

‘I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” R . L. Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes

Time spent in Spain: 4.10.16 – 17.12.16; 12.5.17 – 24.5.17.

Some of these blogs were written ‘on the spot’, some soon after the event, and others when I returned to Scotland. What a joy to compile them!

At the 2016 Edinburgh International Book Festival, I heard Jean-Christophe Rufin explain (and these are my own words from the memory of that event), that all the walkers he saw seemed to be scribbling or typing a blog at every stop of the way, but that he decided not to do that and to rely instead on his own memory afterwards. But I am a 53 year old woman who has had 2 kids and has a head which is already very full of experiences, so I didn’t want to rely on mine!

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I began to walk the Camino Frances in Pamplona, Spain.

Writing has been a good way to assimilate and integrate my experiences, to make sense of where I have travelled, what I was thinking, and the conversations I had with people. It enabled me to tell my family, friends and colleagues what I was up to (similar to one of those news letters you sometimes receive in Xmas cards!), and, I now realise, to keep the spirit of my wonderful adventures alive.

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Donkey in a temporary street stall, Feria, a Basque county fair.

Origin of the blog name: There is a book by Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson “Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes”, and there is a French Camino  named after him which has a personal, family connection for me. Just as it is possible for campers to stay in a site where a tent is provided, ready-erected with a camp-bed in it; so there are many who take treks and have a mule or a person to carry their bags.  I walked around Spain with a rucksack on my back (containing what I needed for a 3-month stay, summer – winter), rather than having a donkey carry it for me.

“Whenever I was asked: ‘Why did you go to Santiago?’ I had a hard time answering. How could I explain to those who had not done it that the way has the effect – if not the virtue – to make you forget all reasons that led you to become involved in it in the first place.” Jean-Christophe Rufin, The Santiago Pilgrimage

So I won’t explain here why I decided to do this, although there is some explanation in later blogs.

But I will say that there were two distinct parts to my journey: one where I visited fellow Shiatsu (acupressure massage) and complementary therapy practitioners, giving sessions in return for bed and board. The other where I walked the Camino Frances and part of the Via de la Plata (‘o contrario’, backwards), staying in different hostels and hotels every night.

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Burgos, a major town along the Camino Frances, Spain.

The former came out of finding a way to stay in Spain without spending too much money. The latter was inspired by friends Phyllis and Liz, by books, programmes I heard on the radio, and the film, ‘The Way’. It turns out that walking the Camino suits someone like me, a normally busy person, active, and perhaps tending towards being workaholic or at least feeling full of responsibilities. I trained myself years ago to sit and meditate, but it could be that walking is more appropriate to my character.

“that fine intoxication that comes from much motion in the open air, that begins in a sort of dazzle and sluggishness in the brain, and ends in a peace that passes comprehension.” R.L. Stevenson, taken from various blogs (see below in English & French).

Camino: A walk, or track, often trodden for religious and spiritual reasons since the Middle Ages, by ‘peregrinos’ (Spanish for pilgrim). The best known is The Way of St James of Compostelle, or Camino Frances. All paths are signposted by the coquille Saint Jaques shell which walkers also carry to symbolise their journey. ‘The Camino de Santiago comprises a lattice of European pilgrimage itineraries which converge at Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.’ (Michael Murray, for ref. see below). They can begin in Jerusalem, Rome, and Paris, famously at Sean-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France; and are travelled across Spain, Portugal, France, England and elsewhere in Europe.

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The final way marker of the Camino Frances, Finnisterre, Spain.

The shell sign alongside the number of km still to travel. This one indicates I have arrived in Santiago de Compostella, November 23rd 2016 after walking from Pamplona.

This is where I went, in the order I visited: October – Downton (New Forest, Hampshire, England), Santander (by boat from Portsmouth), Salinas, Aviles, Oviedo, Bilbao, Egileor, Vitoria Gastiez, Feria, San Sebastian, Pamplona. Camino Frances 1 (Urtega (by bus from Pamplona) to Najera). Cortiguera, Aranjuez (via Madrid). Camino Frances 2 (San Juan de Ortega to Carrion). November – Madrid. Camino Frances 3 (Leon to Santiago de Compostella), Finnisterre, Santiago.

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Map showing Santiago de Compostella in north western Spain, the home of the Tomb of St James, final destination of pilgrims from all over the world.

December – Camino Via de la Plata (Santiago to Vilar de Bario). Xinzon, Ourense, Las Matas (via Madrid), Valencia (via Madrid), Olocau and Sierra Calderona, Barcelona, Edinburgh (by aeroplane).

I keep being asked whether I suffered from the walking, and I understand the question because I, too, was very worried about this, and allowed it to put me off starting. I did have a week or so of blisters at the start, but I had researched what to take with me before going, and had plasters, cream and a sewing kit with me (yes, we sew a thread through the part with the fluid and let it drain out over time to stop it getting infected!). The other pilgrims were really helpful and showed me how to look after my feet, so I didn’t have to stop, and my skin hardened up soon enough.

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Early on the Camino Frances, Spain.

My main concern had been my back and the load. I carried approximately 18kg (which was more than the recommended 5th of your body weight) and although it felt very heavy after 32km, there was no pain. All that yoga before I left, and my daily ‘Salutations to the Sun’ helped. I did have to pay to get it home on the aeroplane at the end, which was a nuisance and might have been avoided. Next time I will take a new-style, light-weight sleeping bag and towel to lighten my pack.

I trained as a professional dancer in my teens and early twenties, and am therefore used to daily class, working through the pain and stiffness of the night and previous day’s exertions. This probably helped me to deal with the numerous small physical difficulties which arose when I walked, especially at the start of the day. I used my Shiatsu and other training to identify the source, relax into the areas I was holding tension, and, lo! they disappeared as quickly as they came.

There were many other people who suffered and some who had to give up. I helped with Shiatsu where I could: feet, hands, ankles, backs etc, in the evenings at the hostels. It was good to meet travellers I had massaged later along the way, and particularly in Santiago on the final day to know they had been able to complete.

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Leaving Portsmouth, by sea, October 2016.

Kilometres walked: 700+ (Caminos), not including Sierra Calderona, Egileor, Aviles-Salinas, walking friends’ dogs, walking to school near Valencia, all the cities…

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Home by aeroplane, December 2016.

Walking without a donkey – Travels in Spain. Starting with blog 1 in England

The Stevenson Camino blogs I have enjoyed:

http://stevenson.canalblog.com/

http://walkinginfrance.info/short-walks/r-l-stevenson-trail/

Travel stories by Teri White Carns https://roadtripteri.com/2012/10/16/first-day-of-walking-pamplona-to-urtega/

M. Murray’s research into Caminos: https://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/TheInstituteofSpatialandEnvironmentalPlanning/Impact/WorkingPapers/FileStore/Filetoupload,432512,en.pdf

https://www.caminodesantiago.me/

Fantastic book: A Philosophy of Walking, Frederic Gros

Via de la Plata Camino – Day 8, Spain

Xunqueira de Ambia to Vilar de Barrio  5.12.16  13.4km

Rousseau wrote ‘I have never thought so much, existed so much, lived so much, been so much myself,…as in the journeys which I have made alone and on foot…intoxicated with delicious sensations.’ p. 70, A Philosophy of walking, Frederick Gros.

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Today’s aim: not to assume I know what will happen in the future.

As I have walked, I have thought a lot about the future, and at the moment I have decided that it’s a mistake to assume we know what will happen in 10 years time. Imagine if we were wrong and we don’t live that long, and we had said no to something because we thought we knew. I am still interested in using the present as a way of planning for the future.

My second important thought for the day concerns the chains of people’s kindnesses: if Merce hadn’t encouraged me I wouldn’t have left Pamplona and started the Camino; if I hadn’t walked with Alain I wouldn’t know the way of the pilgrim; if I hadn’t followed Clémence I would not have known how to work my way backwards through the Via de la Plata; and if the lovely man from Seville hadn’t let me copy the chemin from his GPS I wouldn’t be here now…

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This morning I am able to go more softly, and the morning is simply wonderful. I climb up and over rocky hills amongst Autumn colours (oak and bracken), and the landscape is stunning, the views breath-taking, and all the small happenings seem to have such value.

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A woman as small as me, in her pinny, and with a faint odour of cooking about her, but with perhaps an added 20 years, wanted to tell me, as I traipsed through her village, that I wasn’t going to Santiago (no, that’s right!). She wanted to know where I came from, to tell me which was the next village and how to get there, and to check, did I have something to eat? Bless.

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The second half is all very flat and rather monotonous. I somehow manage to get lost, despite being able to see where I am going miles ahead, and stopping lots of farm and heavy goods vehicles to ask the way. I clamber up and down river banks getting scratched by brambles whilst trying to find a way across. I retrace my steps quite a lot, and generally get a little downhearted.

Annoyances: Clouds of midges. How do they get right inside Google my clothes like that?

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It’s a series of long, long straight paths crossed by equally dead-straight roads for several hours, and the chocolate and bread I ate as I went along sat heavily in my stomach (the Spanish diet contains so much wheat!). I found that it was much harder to walk in this type of landscape, than on the gorgeous hillsides of the morning.

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I arrived in Vilar de Barrio at 3.15pm after walking 6 hours from where I started, and rather stupidly with no break. No wonder I felt exhausted, and had tired feet and middle back. For the first time it felt a bit of a strain, yet another new place after 8 straight days of hiking. However an ultra high-speed hot shower hit the right spot, and it wasn’t long before I was sitting with a cold beer and this fountain view.

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I had had hot sun all day and it was 16 degrees in the shade outside the bar, which given I was sitting in a t-shirt and flip-flops on 5th December wasn’t at all bad.

By 4.30pm the clouds were looming over the hill and I needed to eat. The supermarket was about to open but once again the hostel had no utensils and I still didn’t have a pan, so I decided to treat myself to cafe food, the first time on my own.

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Unfortunately the woman who cooked at the cafe went into hospital unexpectedly, so I had to wait until 8pm for the restaurant to open. Run by a much older couple, and with a verbal menu, I told her (in Spanish of course) about my vegetarian and fish diet and was offered verduras soup and tortilla. Ideal! In fact the former had chunks of mutton in it (though I didn’t have the heart to send it back so it was probably the first meat I’ve knowingly eaten in 30 years). The latter was the best I’ve ever tasted AND she wrapped the leftovers up for my lunch for the next day. Another much appreciated kindness.

There followed another night alone in the hostel, this time with underfloor heating, which was lovely for doing barefoot T’ai chi on in the light of the following morning’s sunrise.

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