Castrojerez to Frómista to Carrion into Palencia
Walking into Galicia Pieros to Viega del Valcarce
(the end of the road?)Finnisterre No, this is the end of the
Castrojerez to Frómista to Carrion into Palencia
Walking into Galicia Pieros to Viega del Valcarce
(the end of the road?)Finnisterre No, this is the end of the
Guillena to Castilblanco los Arroyos
Villafranca de los Barros to Torremejia
Salamanca to Calzada de Valdunciel
Santa Marta de Tera to Vilar de Barrio (coming soon!)
And the few days before that: Laxe – Castro Douzon – Cea – Ourense
The last few days, which I walked first going backwards from Santiago de Compostella – Outerio – Bandera – Laxe. In the direction of Seville (north to south)
October 2nd 2019. The final leg of the Portuguese Camino de la Costa or Caminho da Costa from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. 125 kms in total, today was a walk of approximately 15 kms.
Retracing my steps from the night before, I left the albergue at Teo at 7.45am and began the last leg of this Portuguese camino. It was misty, cold and the path went steeply up. Thankfully the weather cleared later. I had to take painkillers for my foot for only the second time on this way. It didn’t hurt when I was sitting down – a clear message.
Overall, this way into Santiago de Compostella is hilly and it was hard going, however it was lovely countryside. I breathed in the fresh air before entering the city.
We hiked forested paths, up and down hills, crossed rivers and railways, passed shopping centres, went down narrow alleys between houses, climbed a steep hill beside a hospital, and then walked on city streets. Spencer Linwood’s blog of this final day
According to tradition, after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, the Magdalene…boldly presented herself to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with an egg in hand to illustrate her message. Holding the egg out to him, she exclaimed for the first time what is now the universal Easter proclamation among Christians, “Christ is risen!” The emperor, mocking her, said that Jesus had no more risen than the egg in her hand was red. Immediately, the egg turned red as a sign from God to illustrate the truth of her message. The Emperor then heeded her complaints about Pilate condemning an innocent man to death, and had Pilate removed from Jerusalem under imperial displeasure. Mary Magdalene continued her mission as an evangelizer, contemplative, and mystic in the heart of the Church.By Grechen Filz (link under photo above)
At one point there was a cacophony of hunting dogs and two men wandering around looking very guilty, a huge 4×4 a little further on. The hounds seemed to be nosing around for something, but it wasn’t clear what and otherwise the area was deserted. Moving away, up a inclinne, I passed a female backpacker going in the opposite direction, so I repeatedly glanced back. I knew she would be passing the men and wanted to keep an eye out for her in case she needed back-up.
Much to my disappointment, I started to feel some back pain as I traipsed up towards the city centre, searching for signs and arrows to no avail.
Tip: Remember that google maps is all but useless in the Poruguese / Spanish countryside, but great in towns and cities, so at this stage when there is a dearth of directions, you can switch on the GPS.
The outskirts seemed to go on and on and so I took an elevenses pitstop in a city cafe enjoying some green tea and sweet Santiago tart which I remembered well from my first visit in 2016, when my life had already started to change.
I arrived in the main square at 12.15. Someone asked whether I was going to lie down. I didn’t know about this, but apparently there is a tradition to prostrate, head towards the towering building and admire it upside down, so I did. Of course.
This was my second time in Santiago despite having walked three caminos. When I walked the Via de la Plata, I initially headed south, towards Seville (1000 kms away). Later I started there, walking northwards until I got back to where I had finished that section the year before. I didn’t do the final stage for a second time, and so didn’t visit Santiago. I didn’t go to the special Mass this October 2019 either, for the same reasons.
I had booked the Roots and Boots hostel in advance and was very happy with it. Very close to the centre, the rooms are small (no extensive dormitories) and mine had a magnificent view of the cathedral. There is a pretty, enclosed garden with tables and chairs by a reasonably priced, hole-in-the-wall, cafe. I sat out there until quite late at night, getting slightly chilly but enjoying the situation, especially given it was October.
I had lunch in a large restaurant, very popular with pilgrims. I was surprisingly tired and the large portions and very quick service suited very well!
Then I left clothes to be washed at a rather nice launderette (as launderettes go) on Rua das Hortas which had a decorated and flowering courtyard. You can also get washing done at Pilgrim House, a veritable Santiago institution.
I had not planned what I would do next until a few days before, when I came across a post on the Camino forum which set me off on a new trail. I contacted the redoubtable Rebekah Scott at her Peaceable Kingdom to ask if I could stay with her at Moratinos on the Camino Frances, in the name of research. She kindly obliged, but later sent me an email saying that she couldn’t host me after all because she looks after a hostel on the Camino Primitivo and had to go up immediately. Unless, she added, I wanted to go too. More on this adventure later…..
Excellent Stingy Nomads guide to the Poruguese Caminos – all the variations and pretty much anything else you want to know.
Footnote: If you have some cash at the end of your camino, you could try the Parador, one of the famous Spanish hotels which offers pilgrims a free lunch, so I am told.
I left the Casa A Grade air bnb (see my previous day’s walk for details) in the almost-dawn, and continued along the Rio Tomaza into Pontevedra, a 40 minute walk.
The Top Ten Things to Do and See in Pontevedra website (not mine)
Leaving the city, I once again rejoined the Via Romana / Portuguese Camino
Being a Sunday, the cyclists were out. When you are walking quietly, focusing on the way your feet meet the ground, allowing thoughts to meander in and out, and then a cyclist shoots past your left elbow with a whoosh and, very occassionally, a Buen Camino, it is a shock. When it happens over and over again, it’s more akin to a small trauma and there is no possibility of resting in your rhythm and pace, you must stay alert.
Shortly afterwards, it poured and it was not possible to take photos. Arriving at the hostel of San Marmede de Portela in the middle of the countryside, there was no-one to greet me, just a couple already drying off. Thank goodness the door was open! I was soaking, wet through. It was a large dormitory and I chose a corner away from the door, not knowing that there was no heating and that by the end of the day the room would be completely full to overflowing (there were pilgrims sleeping in the eating room etc). It was also very dark and although some of us tried to open windows, they were always immediately closed by others.
Wet walking clothes are stinky, especially when there is no drying room or anywhere to hang clothes / store boots except narrow corridors. If you sleep on the bottom bunk and they are like drapes all around you, there is no getting away from the smell. People were using one hair drier between 20 or more, but it takes a long time to dry sodden socks with one. There is a big garden and other buildings outside, but the weather was too terrible to contemplate unless you arrived very late in which case I did see folk sloshing across, seemingly with no other opton, but I didn’t know where they were going.
Run by volunteers, this is a donativo hostel and the men who came along later knew what they were doing and were well prepared. Being well away from shops or restaurants, a great meal was produced and tables and chairs arranged and rearranged to fit everyone in. Sitting alongside all nationalities, it was a jolly occassion (there was nowhere to get away from it if you had wanted privacy). There was wine and hot soup, vegetarian tortillas with salad and, if I remember rightly, a desert too. Clearing up was a communal event and the partying went on, as ever, late into the evening.
The next day it was still raining, but luckily it cleared. Ugh, putting on wet boots and clothes is one of the worst things after a broken night!
I walked through Santa Maria de Alba, A Cancela and Albergue de Briallos.
There was a most unusual cafe where many of us stopped for a hot drink that morning (some were taking shots of orujo (a sort of grappa) with their coffee, perhaps a way of warming up from the inside). There was only one, older and innovative man serving us all. It looked as if he had used his garage for this purpose and, after serving us, I noticed that he disappeared through a side door. On further investigation, I spied huge vats of grapes steeping.
I am always coming across dead animals on the camino, but today’s fox was still alive. I crouched down and whispered to it, knowing that it would not live long, wishing it well on its journey.
My In Praise of the Donkey blog
I stayed in the private Albergue Peregrinos Posada Doña Urraca and I do not recommend it, despite the fantastic location. It was dirty and crowded, the rooms are almost at the front door so anyone can walk in and out. The photos on the website do not show it as it is – do not be deceived. It is not a municipal one – I have never seen a government-run hostel be filthy like this.
There was some lively conversation around the table, however, from the US as well as Germany, and a crowd of Polish pilgrims (I have not met people from Poland much at all on the Camino) at the hostel.
It’s a busy and normal town despite all of us traipsing through, with friendly local people and lots of facilities – a big supermarket, cafes and loads of banks. I tried the three cashpoints in one street – one was charging 3.50 euros, one 1.50 and the third nil, so watch out for this when getting cash out. It wasn’t my bank which charged me, nothing to do with getting money from a British finance organisation, it was the cashpoint machine company and I found this all over Portugal and in some parts of Spain. (I use a Post Office Travel Money Card via an app on my phone which charges for the exchange, but doesn’t have an additional service charge like the Bank of Scotland does if I use my everyday debit card when I am abroad).
Have you walked the Portuguese Camino? Maybe you are planning to? Leave me a comment to let me know 🙂
Do you want to walk the Spanish Camino?
Camino means both the act of walking and path in Spanish. There are many caminos and they all end up at Santiago de Compostella in the top left hand corner of Spain.
When you hear someone talking about walking the Camino they usually mean that they are following all or part of the east to west route called the Camino Francés, the most popular.
This camino starts in France at Saint Jean Pied de Port (Saint John at the foot of the pass) in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region, crosses the Pyrénées mountains to Roncesvalles, passes through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, ending at….. you have guessed it, Santiago. You can start anywhere along this route.
Also known as The Way of St James (Sant (saint) iago (James) in Spanish), The French Way, or The Camino de Santiago, it is 500 miles long (near enough 800kms), and takes between 25 and 50 days hiking. You can also cycle it which is quicker, but that’s another story.
The Way is a pilgrimage and those who walk it are traditionally known as pilgrims – peregrinas (female) or peregrinos (males) in Spanish.
Carrying a pilgrim passport or Credencial del Peregrino which gets stamped every time you stop for the night is a great way to keep a record of your hike. Hanging a scallop shell, symbol of Saint James, on the back of your rucksack is a proud way to indicate your sense of belonging to this famous confraternity.
People of all ages and nationalities make this trek and they do so for many reasons: religious (especially Catholic); social (it is a great way of making friends); fitness (sensible walking is good for your breathing, circulation and musculo skeletal system); and personal (at times of major life changes, or for the benefit of their mental health).
You can walk as much or as little as you like. Some go the length and others do sections several times a year or year-by-year. The most popular part is the final 69 miles (111 kms) from Sarria to Santiago which earns you a Compostella, a certificate in Latin. Aficianados come back time and time again.
I highly recommend that you take it easy, at least to start with, whether you are young or old, male or female. This means 9 – 12.5 miles (15-20 kms) at the beginning. Even if you are fit and feel fabulous in the glorious Spanish sun, beware! You will almost certainly get blisters and a sprain or strain if you walk too far too soon (unless you honestly walk 9 miles (15 kms) or more every day at home in the same shoes or boots which you intend to wear).
Most pilgrims stay in hostels or albergues. Their facilities vary, but almost all offer a basic bunk in a dormitory for between 5 and 12 euros (£4.50 – £11) per night. You do not have to book in advance, indeed sometimes you cannot. There are also hundreds of hotels and private hostels, usually at a higher cost with greater luxury.
Historically everyone would have carried their own clothes and equipment in a backsack. (see What to Put in Your Rucksack). Nowadays there are many companies who offer to transport your stuff from hostel to hostel so that you can walk with a daypack and water only if you choose. You can even hire a donkey!
Many hostels offer a basic breakfast, and shared meals in the evenings can be a highlight. Kitchens, with (or sometimes without) utensils are the norm. There are cafes, bars and restaurants all along the way and at every stop where the food is often delicious and cheap. There are plenty of shops which will sell you most things you need such as suntan lotion or a single egg wrapped cleverly in a paper cone.
All times of the year are good for walking the camino! It is hot in the summer (and crowded); cooler in the Autumn with great natural colours (it can also be really warm but with cold nights); pretty with wild flowers in the Spring (lots of daylight); and peaceful in Winter (though some of the albergues will be shut).
It really helps if you speak some Spanish. It’s polite, respectful and fun to be able to communicate with the local people. You are also more likely to be served what you have ordered.
You can take a boat to Santander (71.5 / 155 kms to Burgos) from the UK; There is an airport in Santiago itself (from there you can take a bus back east to the place where you want to start walking) itself, as well as La Coruna (82 miles / 132 kms from Sarria). Also, Asturias airport for Leon (from Stansted only), Bilbao (from Edinburgh, Manchester and others) for Pamplona, and Biarritz (33.5 / 54 kms from Saint Jean from Birmingham and others); Overland, there are trains taking 5 hours from Paris (4 per day, approx. 35 euros) and the Eurostar from London is smooth and efficient (around £50 and just over 2 hours). You can also take Alsa (long distance) buses or try Bla Bla Car (car pooling).
There are many books and online guides to help you find your way, pointing towards places to stay and eat. Gerald Kelly and John Brierley’s are the best known in English. Using this guide means that you will inevitably walk the same steps (stages of the walk) as other English speaking folk and will therefore have pals to walk and share meals with before long. The municipal hostels at the end of these stages are the busiest.
Start slowly, in short stages, do not be too ambitious until the second week, and that way you will avoid going home early and in pain (I have seen this happen many times). It doesn’t matter if other people are going further. You will either catch up with them later or you will find new companions instead, ones who are enjoying the scenery as much as you.
There are also other caminos in Spain: The Via de la Plata which starts in Seville and goes through Salamanca; the Camino Norte along the coast passing through San Sebastian; the Inglés from A Coruña; Mozarabe through Malaga and Cordoba, and many others. Criss crossing this stunning country, the walking is delightful, the people colourful, and the experience one which you will remember for the rest of your life.
Have you walked the Camino Francés or any of the other ones in Spain? Leave a comment and share your experience.
23.11.16 Monte do Gozo to Santiago 4.7 – yes, readers, I got there!
On leaving Monto do Gozo, the roads lead by a sculptor’s garden and workshop: some whole and in tact, others eroded by the seasons and attractively aged.
And a little further on it was a relief to see that the corn had finally been collected in. I had walked through so many fields of maize during the past weeks, and seen it looking daily more bedraggled and sorry for itself. I wondered if it was all going to waste, one of those cash crops which farmers sow for the subsidies. So I was glad to glimpse the shining yellow kernels hanging up for winter storeage.
Then we arrived! On the roundabout at the edge of town is this sign, inexplicably decorated at that time with the French flag, but appropriate seeing as I had walked beside a Frenchman and spoken that tongue for well over a month.
It was not far now to the centre of Santiago de Compostella, but somehow we got lost on the outskirts and so it took a while to find the Cathedral. Having both been there before, perhaps we did not really want to arrive and face the end. We trudged up steep streets and found the bus station (which was unnecessary!), and wound our way back down through the busy metropolis with very uncharacteristic bad temper.
Although I had never planned to get here, and the process was infinitely more satisfying than the end, there was some inevitable elation at standing in the atmospheric, grand square with a few fellow walkers, at this glorified place so many had striven to reach since the Middle Ages.
With my raggedy piece of paper, stamped at every hostal I had visited along the way, I went to the credentials office and got the final seal and certificate.
Then found the delightful lodgings (pre-booked).
And attended the Pilgrim’s Mass.
Before taking our seats, we queued to kiss the statue currently situated behind the altar. I was very hungry (a noon service), and it was cold in the cavernous interior. Like the outside, it was in the process of rennovation, and for some reason the enormous incense ball was not swung, so it was all less impressive than it might have been.
After a warming and celebratory meal, followed by a nap, there were streets to walk, shops to visit, familiar and first-met backpackers to greet. A lengthy but spacious re-visit of the Cathedral with its golden altar, and many side chapels, where worshippers chanted and prayed, seemed apt.
What did I get out of walking the Camino Frances? Untold amounts of glorious things.
Physically, I was feeling so much stronger and leaner. I used to say that I only liked flat walks alongside rivers or canals, but now I could manage the climbs and rejoice in the views that my friends used to tell me about!
I reflected (so much wonderful time for reflection!), that the on-going walking forwards gave me an unexpected sense of achievement. It has always been hard for me to believe I have achieved much, hard to stop towards the end of a project, look back and be pleased with what has taken place. But here on the Camino, walking, the simple effort affords pleasure in achievement, of reaching the evening’s destination, of covering the kilometres, of managing the carrying and the impact.
‘When you set off for the day, and know that it will take so many hours to reach the next stage, there’s nothing left to do but walk, and follow the road.’
‘Serenity…a steady balance in the soul. Walking leads to it, quietly, gradually, through the very alternation of rest and movement. …Serenity comes from simply following the path’.
Pages 145, 146 ‘A Philosophy of Walking’, Frederic Gros
Day 1 – 21 October 2016
The famous shell, symbol of the Camino, the Way, which runs from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostella in north western Spain, with an optional extra wander to Finnistere.
I could have started at the beginning and walked straight through to the end. After all I had the time, but it took a while for the fear that I wouldn’t manage the miles, and the weight of my rucksack, to be assailed. So I did some practices, left a lot of stuff with the delightful Carmen (Shiatsu practitioner) in Pamplona, travelled close to Uterga by bus, and began to walk from there.
I begin! 2pm Legarda.
I walked to Muruzabal, all the way worrying, and then reassuring myself, that I would be ok, even though I didn’t know what was ahead. I was grateful that I had been practicing that for a while. The inevitable wrong turns reminded me of my habit of going back into the house a few times before leaving proper.
As I cross the first main road and cars zoom by, I am realise that I started my Spanish adventures on a boat, which is so much slower than going by air, and now I am taking an hour to get somewhere I could get to by car in a few minutes. I like it – that’s what I came here for!
Santa Maria de Eunate is perfectly blended into the landscape. It’s scorching hot and I was mighty glad to take my backpack off.
I walk through olive groves, past almond trees, alongside acres of gleaming red peppers, and by slopes of maize. There are villages with their church spires on little hills in the distance, white wind turbines along the high edges between sky and forest, and fennel growing everywhere. The first taste of its seeds is of sweet aniseed, then green juiciness in my mouth, and finally the strong essential oil perforates my sinuses.
The end of summer leaves the routes bleached, with muted colours of brown, yellow and dusty green against the strong blue sky.
I have of course internalised the donkey, and am starting to get used to the best way of tightening the straps of my rucksack and relieving back strain. Several little bubbles of happiness move from my centre (Hara in Shiatsu) upwards, a signal that I’m doing the right thing.
I arrive in Puente de la Reina, the monastery hostel for peregrinos (the name for people who walk the Camino) at 5pm, and pay 5€ for a dormitory bed. I shop and cook alongside the others, and before I know it I am giving foot Shiatsu to the lovely girl who offered to share her chickpeas with me. Guess what? Early to bed and only slightly footsore!