Camino Francés – Pieros to Vega de Valcarce to Linares, Spain

14.11.16 – 15.11.16 Pieros to Vega de Valcarce 21.6km; Vega de Valcarce to Liñares 14.7km

The next day I rose even earlier than usual, and performed my T’ai Chi routine through twice. I relished the exercise in the freezing morning air, teetering on the bumpy slope as the sun appeared.

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Coming in from the cold, the dining room was cosy, and I was impressed by the healthy and satisfying breakfast. Afterwards, however, I was summarily kissed goodbye, not once, but twice, on the lips, by the ‘friendly’ hospitalier (see blog 20). I think that behaviour was a sort of unwelcome show for the other walkers preparing to leave. It was uninvited, and something which prompted uncomfortable comments for days to come. Walking in the sunshine undoubtedly frees the spirit, and I witnessed all sorts of happy meetings along the way. Despite that, the men I met were chivalrous, except this one who took advantage.

‘..everything recommences, everything sets off once more, and the dawn banishes the past along with the night.’  p. 98.

If possible.

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The snow far off.

Walking out of the Léon region, I admired the multi-coloured vines lined up neatly in the fertile valley below.

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Different grape variation, different hue.

By 10am, rucksack on my back and getting into my stride, I passed through Villafranca del Bierzo, with its round tower.

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Villafranca is another town heavily dependent on the Camino de Santiago, and it gets a mention as far back as the Middle Ages (791), for its wine producing monastery. Now it boasts at least 4 churches, 2 palaces and a castle!

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In Vega del Valcarce, I was happy to take my night’s rest in a private room, available presumably because there were considerably less pilgrims now the year was drawing to a close. The lady of the house was welcoming and generous, offering us eggs and veg from her garden, and I laughed out loud watching the kittens play and sending photos of them to my daughters.

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3pm

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Huerto = vegetable garden. Huevos = eggs.

In my diary for 15th November, I wrote, simply, ‘A beautiful day in every way’. It was a frozen morning. The sun was rising very late now, and I needed a jacket, gloves and hat to keep me warm.

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To wake up with nothing better to do than don the backpack, feed oneself and walk out into this. Wow! Fresh air in the nostrils, cheeks reddening, and the best of companions by my side.

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The harvest pumpkins were like great, gleaming gems in the frozen patch.

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As the day mellowed, the warm sun conjured the grass smell up out of the undergrowth, and produced….da-dah!…..blue sky.

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‘breathe and surrender to a well-being  slow as a forest path.’  Rousseau p.72

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‘Serenity is the immense sweetness of no longer expecting anything, just walking, just moving on.‘  p.46

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‘And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves

Trail with daisies and barley

Down the rivers of the windfall light.

Fern Hill, Dylan Thomas

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Heading into nature’s portals.

Oh the beautiful views, vistas of violet blue hills and lime green fields, framing the orange slopes and meadows of Galicia!

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Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James
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This is one of those panoramic shots!
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Resting after a gruelling climb.

The guide book said the next place was O Cebreiro, and knowing what was ahead encouraged me to keep going. Stumbling and crawling now, straining thighs, panting up tumbles of rocks, rounding a corner and thinking we were there, no! Passing a woman getting her breath back. And finally, the summit, with noble cross, 9th century church, thatched pallozas (huts), ground-hugging stone and slate buildings, all a mere 150km from the city of Santiago.

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Instead of staying in this pretty windswept place, we travelled a little further to Liñares, a very modern hostel of metal and glass with a picture window over the valley at dusk, and another private room. Bliss.

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All quotes taken from A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros.

Other Camino blog http://www.elcaminoasantiago.com/caminos/frances/etapa26.htm

 

Camino Francés – Foncebadon to Molinaseca to Pieros, Spain

12.11.16 – 13.11.16 Foncebadon to Molinaseca 19.5km; Molinaseca to Pieros 21.1km

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It was a cloudy start from Foncebadon this happy Saturday.

‘Daytime never starts with an act of will: it arises in unworried certainty. To walk in the early morning is to understand the strength of natural beginnings.’ (p.98).

I relished in the green lushness after the rain, which highlighted the autumn reds and orange.

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Cruz de Ferro (Hierro) is an important cross marking the highest point of the Camino Frances at 1517m, with its little chapel and enormous pile of meaningful stones, placed by pilgrims over the years. There are no public toilets along the path, and long gaps between bars (where you must buy something in order to use the facilities), so, sadly, there is always white paper behind these charming buildings.

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Cruz de Ferro
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The highest point of the Camino Frances. The altar could be glimpsed through the bars of the entrance.

It was to be a smaller number of kilometers that day, but a steep ascent to Manjarin, with quite a surprising welcome when we arrived. In fact, quite one of the most unusual situations I have ever been in.

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An (almost) abandoned village, Manjarin has one inhabitant, and his abode is decorated with insignia from all over the world, prayer flags, and messages in many languages. He welcomes walkers in to his warm ‘cave’. Leaving the light and moving into the dark, it’s initially impossible to see and there’s a musty scent. Then the passage opens out into a wide room, like something out of Robin Hood, with a rustic, bright fire and circular, wooden table, around which sit two men dressed as Knights with the red Templar cross on their tunics.

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We are offered, and I drink, for the first time in perhaps 25 years, a (caffeinated) coffee. There are snacks and as our eyes get accustomed to the dimness, there is plenty to see around the walls. We listen to their chatter as they incongruously show each other photos on their mobile phones.

On the way out, we are invited to join a ceremony at the altar containing a statue of the Virgin and lots of Camino shells, and I am given a flag to hold, while one man reads a moving prayer (in Spanish) for peace and harmony amongst all peoples.

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We descend almost 500m that afternoon, mist swirling around, with breath-taking views, through the mountain village of El Acebo de San Miguel (means, Saint Michael’s holly) in upper El Bierzo, and down to Molinaseca. I can smell the damp, decaying landscape, and feel the droplets on my face as I tramp. There’s the dry shush of copper leaves as I keep to the softer edges to avoid the tarmac. My feet have become so sensitised that I fancy I can feel each stone through my soles, but at least after all this time my feet have hardened and are blister-free. Most of the trees have lost their leaves at this altitude, although withered blackberries remain on the brambles.

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There were trees with silver lichen and scarlet, rotund seed heads; and dry, beige grasses reminiscent of the Scottish hills. Village streets wound round stone dwellings with sturdy wooden balconies, seemingly deserted except for, here and there, washing hanging out to dry in the grey day. Even without the sun, the wooded slopes of the valleys were spectacular as the clouds hung among them.

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Molinaseca has a comparatively large population of  800, surprising after the day’s rural walk, with it’s handsome church and bridge, and where we stayed at the municipal dormitory as usual, with its bunks, wooden floor and steel beams.

The sky cleared as we slept, revealing a blue morning.

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And an hour later we entered Ponferada, on the river Sil, with its imposing monastery, castellated and turreted. It’s the official end of the Camino Frances and the start of the Camino Santiago, but you would not know that as you walked through.

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The road continued through yellow glades, over ancient stone bridges, and past single storey, white stone, one-room buildings with dark grey slate rooves. There were more cranes nests on top of council-erected poles, and ‘authentic’ murals showing monks and pilgrims striding out. The path widened and flattened, and the mountains were once again in the distance. We passed through Cacabelos without stopping, the end of the day’s trek now nearby, and up another very steep incline, to Pieros.

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This tiny hostel Casa Sol y Luna was an alternative to the norm, with it’s meditation room upstairs and cosy dining room down. The hospitalier was most attentive, drying my knickers in front of the stove, and accompanying me to see the massive harvest moon I had seen heralded on Facebook  (but impossible to photograph with a mere phone camera)!

The walls of the small dorm were like outdoors indoors, where you can see the grouting between the stones. We spent time gossiping over which enthusiastic youths lived here, who was sleeping with whom (was she creeping off in the middle of the night to avoid the snoring, or for a tryst with the lascivious gentleman?), and I translated the gushing messages in the visitor’s book for the owner (all about stars and angels – it was that kind of place). We had a delicious vegan meal with wine in situ as it was a Sunday (no shops open), and there was much warmth, song and laughter at the table that night.

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Hostal Casa Sol y Luna, Pieros. View from the garden.

All quotes taken from A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros.

Thanks to Alain for taking beautiful photos.

A fellow walker’s blog