Saturday, May 28, 2022

Day 36 - 28 May - O’Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela

As The Proclaimers famously sang:

And I would walk 500 miles                                

But I’m not sure I’d walk 500 more                      

It’s a bloody long way and my boots are knacked 

And the little pinky on my left foot is quite sore

Regular readers of this blog will, by now, be able to anticipate the next sentence. Alarm at six, on the road at half six, stopped for coffee yada yada. Sooooo predictable. Such is life on the road.

From O’Pedrouzo we had an initial four miles of (yada, yada) lovely woodland paths and countryside and a long, long uphill until we reached the perimeter of Santiago airport. Previously the walk past Burgos airport was tediously boring but apart from hearing a couple of planes, we never saw a thing of the airport and skirted around it via, initially, more woodland paths which eventually morphed into leafy villages until we peaked at Monte del Gozo from where we got our first view of the cathedral spires, still three miles away. Even the walk through the city outskirts was pleasant enough as we neared the historic part of the city housing the cathedral. The official Camino route brings you around the side of the cathedral, through an archway where you are bagpiped through and then into the huge square in front of the cathedral main entrance.

We had made it. Half past eleven in the morning. It was already very hot but as easy a twelve miles as we have had over the last five weeks. Our friend Michael from Switzerland was there to meet us and then we bumped into Lars and Inger - the three people with whom we have become closest over the course of our Camino. 

Then it was off to the Pilgrim’s office to collect our Compostelas, something of a two hour fanny about but we spent most of the waiting time sat in the shaded garden. To be honest it was nice to spend time doing nothing in the knowledge that we didn’t have any more miles in front of us, just a modest few hundred yards to our hotel where we have the next two nights booked. And it is lovely.

Next stop Zara. Yes, one of us was in need of some retail therapy. One of us waited in a nearby bar. 

We returned to the hotel via another bar and a tortilla bocadillo and enjoyed a rest before venturing out for the evening. We had an hour to kill before meeting up with Michael and a Michelin starred restaurant so we sat outside a bar close to our hotel where Peggy (USA) joined us for a drink. 

The fayre at our Michelin treat Casa Marcelo was described as “fusion cuisine in a moody setting” which sounds both pretentious and expensive but it proved to be a lovely way to end our Camino. In all likelihood we may never see Michael again but we have enjoyed his friendship immensely.

Tomorrow, we hope to meet up with other Camino friends who should be arriving in Santiago during the day but our Camino is over. We have loved it. Until the next one. Buen Camino!

Day 35 - 27 May - Arzua to O’Pedrouzo

As Andy Williams famously sang:

Almost there, we’re almost there
And soon we'll find
Our paradise, paradise so rare
Have a beer, a Camino beer
And close your eyes, for we're almost there

There was a sense of euphoria in the air today. Santiago tomorrow and a relatively easy walking day ahead of us today. And the sun was promising to be our companion all day long today.

We set off at six thirty five this morning, almost immediately bumping into Lars and Inger (Sweden) with whom we walked, on and off, throughout the morning. We like walking with them and we like walking just the two of us so the on and off worked well for all concerned. 

Our first coffee break at half past seven in the village of Pregontoño, sat in the garden of a bar as the early morning sun made its appearance from over the hill behind us. We walked on in the company of Lorraine (UK) with whom we have been seeing on the road over the last few days. All that chatting made me thirsty so, having linked up with Lars and Inger again, we stopped at a bar between Boavista and Salceda and I treated myself to a little beer. It was nearly ten o’clock after all.

After that it was heads down and beat the heat. The walking conditions underfoot continued to be kind and the anticipated ups and downs were nowhere near as hard as yesterday. And of course the Galician countryside continued to wow as it has done all week. We arrived in O’Pedrouzo at half past twelve and checked in to our very nice room at the weirdly named NOJA Rooms.

We were in no rush. After showering and washing sweaty socks and shirts, it was hunger that encouraged us out of the room. We found a nice looking place with huge gardens and huge tables. I went to the bar. No service at the bar. Garden service only. We sat at the end of an eight person bench where two guys were sat at the other end. Waiter runs over. “No sit there”. Why not? “Only one ticket per table”. Eh? So if one person, on their own, sits on an eight person bench, no one else can sit there. Even if that one person fancies a bit of company. Sounds pretty stupid to me. We moved to an empty eight person bench. We left five minutes later. I want a beer when I want a beer, not when some waiter decides he can be arsed to serve us.

We found a less attractive bar on the Pedrouzo main road. We had two beers in front of us in two minutes and we ordered food with the second round of beers. Delicious. Up yours trendy garden bar.

We then took a stroll and found another main road bar with seats in the shade. All this wanting to sit in the sun and after two minutes it had proven too hot to handle. Lars and Inger joined us. 

At the end of the day, we are of course on a pilgrimage so I especially wanted to see the local church. That’s just the kind of bloke I am. And where you find a church? Correct. You usually find a pub or (in Spain) a bar. And we found a little gem. The albergue Santaia en Casal de Calma had a garden as wonderful as the albergue name suggests. The four of us celebrated with a bottle each of the Estrella Camino de Santiago cerveza. And then we did it again. 

Eventually our Swedish friends decided that they needed to go find some food but we stayed put, preferring to remain on the Camino de Santiago because we’re diligent like that, even if Mrs C did eventually move on to the vino tinto.

And that’s how we spent our last night proper on the Camino. Tomorrow, with temperatures forecast to hit thirty two degrees by mid afternoon in Santiago, we will go with the early morning start again which should see us arrive at the Cathedral at or shortly after noon. For now, it’s bedtime. And we’re nearly there.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Day 34 - 26 May - Os Valos to Arzua

As Blood, Sweat and Tears famously sang:

What goes up must come down
Unless you’re in Galicia it’s the other way around
Your feet are having troubles
It's a cryin' sin
Ride a painted pony                                                     

Let the spinning wheel spin

Our early starts are becoming second nature to us by now. Six o’clock alarm. Up. Wash. Pack. Out. We hit the path at six forty five. It was misty and cold. I wasn’t expecting that. Anyway, by seven thirty we were enjoying a coffee and tostada in the town of Palas de Rei. Through the bar window, we saw Fran (UK) and Rosa (Canada) pass by on their way out of town and we were soon on our way too as we had a total near twenty mile day ahead of us.

As has been the case through Galicia, the pathways and roads made for comfortable walking conditions, aided by an initial freshness in the air once the sun broke through the mist. But, the whole eighteen miles between Palas de Rei and Arzua was all up and down. I think they must have re-written the rules of gravity here to read what comes down must go up again. 

The villages we pass through seem to get more quaint, more beautifully restored with less dereliction the nearer we get to Santiago. This has been quite marked since Sarria and you suspect that this busiest part of the Camino has allowed the local economies to flourish.

We passed through the villages of Carballal, San Xulian and Casanova before stopping at Bar Campanilla for another coffee and some cake, the ambience slightly tainted by the waft of the muck-spreading taking place a quarter of a mile down the road. Then on through Cornixa, Lobreiro and Desicabo before we passed through the town of Melide, By now it was beginning to get hot and the ups and downs were making me thirsty. We decided to stop at the first bar out of Melide which was a good decision in that Taberna de Parabispo was lovely. But it was another two miles of thirstyness. I could barely muster a smile by the time we found Harriet in the same bar.

From there we had another four and a half miles to go. Ninety minutes in theory but what with continued ups (far more ups than downs), water stops, navigation stops and fatigue, it took us nearly sixty minutes longer. La Puerta de Arzua, our accommodation for the night, was indeed a welcome sight.

Accommodation has been somewhat hit and miss over these last four and a bit weeks and we weren’t expecting a great deal from tonight’s choice but, as it transpired, it is all fairly new and our room was comfortable and spotlessly clean. However, with no food offering, we thought we should venture into the town of Arzua and explore. The kindly owner insisted on driving us into town and, as the miles passed, we were wondering how we could (eventually) walk back without picking up any blisters, now that we were sporting flip flops and crocs between us. All we really wanted to do was sit in the sunshine but he took us into a bar, introduced us to the bar staff, then left. All well and good but they had no outside seating. Anyway we consoled ourselves with a bottle each of Estrella’s Camino del Santiago beer which is the tastiest beer we have had these last few weeks. Thereafter we determined that we should undertake a slow bar crawl home - to protect our feet obviously.

Bar no. 1 we saw Fran and Angela and sat with them discussing how tough today’s ups and downs had been. Bar no. 2 - we were back at base! The three mile drive into town hadn’t even been a mile. That’s what four and a bit weeks walking does for you. We were clueless.

Base actually meant the bar next door to our accommodation. We ate, drank beer and wine whilst sat in the sun. Okay, it was pretty much roadside and the nice views were behind us but we sat in the sun. At nine o’clock we called it a night and retired to our nice, comfortable, clean room. 

In my mind, tomorrow is our last proper day walking before Santiago and, having checked the guide, we have another day of ups and downs then more ups. Ahh sod it, let that spinning wheel spin.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Day 33 - 25 May - Portomarin to Os Valos

As John Denver famously sang:

You fill up my senses
Like a walk in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
But leave out the rain
Just a little more sun please
On a walk in Galicia
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again

Galicia is very green. Very green doesn’t actually do it justice. It is green like England’s green and pleasant land. Like the green, green grass of home. Like little green apples. Like green onions. Greensleeves. Shakey’s green door. You get the picture.

We were up and at ‘em early today. With our accommodation being a mile and a half off route, we opted to set off at six thirty to get back on track, at Portomarin, by seven. Having done so we had a quick coffee before setting off on the route proper. Not having checked the guide book in any detail, the steep ascent out of town caught us a bit by surprise. The rate of ascent lessened but basically the first nine miles was uphill, climbing nearly four hundred metres. 

We stopped for coffee at an albergue in Gonzar, about half way up, then a refreshing beer at the wonderfully named Casa Molar at Ventos de Naron near the top. 

For the third day running, we are on easy paths with amazing views. The one welcome difference today though being that the sun was shining for much of the way through our fifteen miles but with a cooling breeze. Just perfect.

The Way is noticeably busier now, with lots more Spanish having joined from Sarria, particularly young people which is great to see and has brought about a welcome increase in the number of perfectly shaped bottoms in front of me. The greater numbers have added to a general air of excitement as we get closer to Santiago. In fact I was so excited that I had another beer in the garden at Casa Mariluz in Lagonde.

Further on it was lovely to catch up with Harriet (UK) who we haven’t seen in the last three weeks.

After last night’s disappointing choice of accommodation, we were keeping fingers crossed that we had chosen more wisely today, particularly with the prospect of some afternoon sunshine. This time we were not disappointed. Praise the lord. Let’s have a beer.

A little frustratingly though, the sunshine kept losing out to the clouds for most of the afternoon and early evening but we persevered, practicing for the next three days when the forecast is for wall-to-wall sunshine and decent temperatures. And by the end of Day three, good fortune permitting, that should be it; walk over. But in the meantime, we have another forty five miles to go in the wonderful green land that is Galicia. I can’t wait.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Day 32 - 24 May - Sarria to Portomarin

As John Denver famously sang:

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, home of Marsha
Take me home, country roads

The six o’clock alarm awoke me from my slumbers. The four-bedroom, nine-bed apartment in Sarria had proven very comfortable and my first challenge was to ascertain in which of the beds Mrs C had elected to go for. I am of course joking. She was on the sofa. 

We departed our accommodation a fraction before seven and tracked back into town to pick up the official Camino route out of town. It appears I may owe Sarria an apology. The old town of Sarria, with its bars, cafes and albergues looked both quaint and atmospheric but had we stumbled upon it last night, my imaginary duet with Marsha Osmond would never have happened so I’m not unhappy.

The walk out of Sarria was lovely. It was like being at home and, for those of you who don’t know Burnley, no I’m not joking. This was the English countryside at its best, with English temperatures and cloudy skies but thankfully no rain. In Spain.

A short, steep bit gave way to a more gentle incline as we passed through the tiny villages of Vilei, Barbadelo and Rente before we reached Baxan where we stopped for a coffee and napolitana. And there was soon-to-be junior doctor Fran with her friend Beth and Beth’s mum Angela. Neither we nor Fran have seen our German friend Gerhard for a few days. We hope his bad foot hasn’t dropped off yet.

The walking conditions were perfect. Comfortable underfoot path and road surfaces, beautiful scenery and cool temperatures. And friends to walk with! We caught up with Lars and Inger from Sweden and ended up walking with them all the way in to Portomarin. Together, we passed through the villages of A Pena, Cortiñas, Baxan (another one) and Ferreiros before we stopped for a beer at a great little albergue at Mercadoiro. 

I let Lars and Inger in on our find from yesterday, namely dancing down steep bits. The theory is proven! Lars couldn’t even dance before today but he sure can dance downhill. I have no idea how to post the video proof on here but I can put it on Twatter if anyone wants to see it. If you do want to see it then leave a message to this effect at the bottom of this post.

To be fair, that may be easier said than done because I still have no idea how to post a message on my own blog but Nellie from West Virginia, USA knows how to do it. Hey Nellie. Thanks for your message. And by the way, the Camino is full of your fellow countrymen and women and every one of them that we have met is lovely, especially Marsha.

By now we only had a couple of miles to Portomarin but in the village of Vilacha, we met Xulian (think Julian with an X) who was putting up beer mats on his recently purchased donativo. Previously known as Casa Susana, the site was featured on the BBC’s Pilgrimage programme where “celebrities” ponced about pretending that they were walking the full five hundred miles. Anyway, as much as I dislike the concept of “celebrity”, Xulian isn’t a celebrity and I did like him because he’s a member of CAMRA and he likes his real ales so I hope he can make a success (or whatever it is he wants to make) out of Casa Xulian.

Thereafter, we walked to the entrance of Portomarin from where we phoned our hotel, Hostal Meson do Loyo who being two miles out of town had promised to pick us up. It wasn’t a limo but nonetheless we were on our way to the hotel within ten minutes of the call. Today’s fourteen miles had been the easiest day’s walking thus far and we were at our hotel before two o’clock which meant we had the whole afternoon to sit in the sun and relax. Except there was no sun. And it was a bit chilly. We spent the whole afternoon in the bar.

The hostal accommodation was no more than adequate, there was a bit of a smell of drains from time to time and it nearly had a great view but not quite. The staff were nice and friendly though and the entrecot steak I had was the size of a brick and cooked to perfection.

Also, we had time to sort out our journey-home logistics and all hotel requirements in-between. And of course we had a few beers. We also made some new friends, Louis and  Corine from Holland who are cycling to Santiago.

We are due to arrive in Santiago on Saturday. We will have a couple of nights there and then it’s a train and bus to Porto in Portugal from where we will fly home on the 1st of June. Suddenly this five hundred mile adventure is nearing its end and whilst I have loved every minute of it so far, I am missing my girlies so I’m looking forward to getting home. In the meantime though, we still have around sixty miles left to get to Santiago. Country roads, take me home.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Day 31 - 23 May - Biduedo to Sarria

As Barry White famously sang:

Let the music play
I just wanna dance Camino paths away
Here, right here, in Sarria is where I'm gonna stay
All night long

Another six o’clock alarm day. Casa Quiroga proved a comfortable and warm home for the night, so much so that yesterday’s wet stuff was now all dry. But for how long?

We ventured outside at quarter to seven, all poncho’d up. The weather forecast was for rain, rain and more rain. But it wasn’t raining. Instead, it was overcast and misty as we set off on a steady path down, passing through the villages/hamlets of Filloval, Villoval, Pasantes and Ramil, all of which being tiny little farming communities with the occasional albergue thrown in for good measure. In such cases, the albergue is a bit like a mini all-inclusive accommodation as they represent the only place to eat, drink, relax and sleep in their immediate location. On a warm, sunny afternoon after several hours of walking, I can think of nothing better than taking advantage of their facilities. A lot less cow splats all over the paths/ roads might lend a sweeter ambience though.

After four miles we were in the town of Triacastela where we stopped for coffee and a cake, the latter which resembled a yorkshire pud with custard. Sounds horrible. Tasted delicious. 

Onwards. We were making good time and with a total near sixteen miles on the cards we were keen to continue the momentum. We passed through two more small villages in the early part of the three hundred metre climb to Alto Riocabo. The reward was stunning views to the south, enhanced by the sunshine now making an appearance. We were de-poncho’d, un-jacketed and de-leggings’d by now. 

We began to descend again and discovered that coming down steep(ish) bits hurts less and is much quicker if you boogie on down. I’m not sure about Mrs C but I came down to Keep it Comin’ Love by KC and the Sunshine Band. Hey girlfriend, I owned that floor. 

The path eventually plateaued as the landscape turned English with rolling hills and fields. Unfortunately the weather also turned English as a mizzy rain began to fall, necessitating all the wet gear back on again. 

Some of you may recall that Mrs C recently picked a fight with a tree. Her penchant for mixing it with trees is complemented by a similar disdain for brambles, bushes and any kind of hanging creeper. As a consequence, Mrs C’s poncho was shredded very early on in our Camino and the pristine poncho that she now sports is, in fact, mine. The things you do for love.

The coolish weather meant that we continued our momentum so, after a quick re-fuelling stop in Pintin, we pushed on. As we approached the town of Sarria, our destination for the night, the rain stopped and the sun even tried to come out. By ten to two, we were in our apartment.

Sarria is the starting point of the Camino for many peregrinos, it being the minimum distance from Santiago from which you can walk and obtain your Compostela certificate for completing the pilgrimage. As a consequence, the Camino usually gets much busier from this point which isn’t to everyone’s liking. Indeed, we received a message from a friend one day ahead of us saying “half of Spain is on the Camino - this is the week of Ascension - huge crowds- hordes of young people with boom boxes”.

Anyway, Sarria isn’t attractive. Not one bit. However we got a recommendation for a good restaurant which turned out to be spot on and there were a few familiar faces there as well. These included Marsha from the US who has now been joined on the Camino by her husband and two children. She is so nice and attractive that I think she must be related to the Osmonds. She says “y’all” a lot and I just want to break out into a duet of Paper Roses with her.

I think my boogying down, earlier today, has brought out the artist in me. Boom boxes? Bring ‘em on. Another bottle of Estrella Galicia please.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Day 30 - 22 May - Herrerias to Biduedo

As Travis famously sang:

Why does it always rain on me?
Is it because I don’t believe bad weather forecasts
Why does it always rain on me?
When the sun ain’t shining I choose to ignore thunder and lightning

We started the day with a cup of tea, courtesy of Gill and Tony’s camper van stove, in the car park of our hotel. Hardcore walkers that they are, they then accompanied us on the five mile, six hundred metre ascent to the very nice little village of O’Cebreiro where we had a little beer together before they turned round and did a five mile, six hundred metre descent back to Herrerias. 

The views were stunning from the off, the greenery giving way to longer distance greenery the higher we climbed. We had a coffee and croissant at the village of La Faba, then walked on to and through Laguna de Castilla where we resisted the temptation for another coffee. We were conscious that we needed to make good time today with a forecast for thunder storms later in the day. We were very much in small farm country, plenty of cows and cow smells and a horse toiling with a plough in a small steep field. It was not far off ten o’clock by the time we reached O’Cebreiro and said our farewells to Gill and Tony.

By now we had reached the autonomous community of Galicia, the North West corner of Spain. O’Cebreiro was lovely, the scenery was stunning and the forecast of late morning thunderstorms seemed unduly pessimistic. We cracked on. The walk out of O’Cebreiro was as nice walking conditions as you might hope for - woodland path, firm but soft underfoot, gradual descent, hazy sunshine making for a warm day but with a cooling breeze. 

What goes up must come down. We descended, as per above description, passing through the village of Liñares but then……….what?………more uphill? We were a bit peeved but the admittedly modest uphill took us to the Alto San Roque where the Monumento do Peregrino stands impressively, battling against the wind.

And, as it happened, the wind was picking up a bit. Anyway, we were back to heading downhill and passed through the village of Hospital de la Condesa where there was nothing to do other than pass through it. But then it all started going up again. Bloody hell. And up some more. Bloody, bloody hell. My feet were unimpressed. The village of Santa Maria do Poio (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either) happened to be situated on the Alto do Poio, one hundred and thirty metres higher than O’Cebreiro. The path to Santa Maria do Poio was really steep. And where has all this cloud come from?

At the top of this steep path was Santa Maria do Poio itself and a bar. Beer (and oxygen) required. We sat outside the bar and Mrs C put her jacket on. Others were putting ponchos on. A tad pessimistic I felt. We had another three miles to go so we set off with cautionary jackets on. At last, we were heading down on a nice, easy path. Our luck was in. Just because it’s cloudy - possibly even misty now - and the temperature has dropped doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve got a thunderstorm coming. By the time we reached the village of Fonfria (just one and a half miles to Biduedo) visibility was down to about fifty metres. Spitty rain but nothing serious. The crack of thunder that followed was however concerning. We hurried our pace. Half a mile out from our hotel and the heavens opened. We got very, very wet.

Our accommodation at Casa Quiroga, Biduedo was lovely. With the temperatures having dropped dramatically as part of the overall deterioration in the weather, the radiators were on. We have a sporting chance of setting off dry in the morning, albeit the weather forecast suggests that we will be very wet again, very soon. As for Biduedo itself? I have no idea. Maybe we will see it in the morning when we leave.

Casa Quiroga came complete with its very own, very lovely bar. With a distinct lack of peregrinos and continuing rain and heavy mist outside, Mrs C and I represented the full extent of their custom. We were looked after splendidly. 

We have fifteen miles ahead of us tomorrow. A bit of rain? Bring it on.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Day 29 - 21 May - Villafranca del Bierzo to Herrerias

As Bette Midler famously sang:

And I am all alone
There is no one here beside me
And my problems have all gone
There is no one to deride me
… But yah got to have friends

Courtesy of a very comfortable private hostal double room, we woke to the six o’clock alarm feeling suitably refreshed after yesterday’s hard day’s walking. We had coffee and toast in the bar next door and were back on the road at quarter past seven. We had a relatively easy twelve miles ahead of us but were keen to avoid the high temperatures forecast for the afternoon. Beyond our destination of Herrerias awaits a five mile, six hundred metre ascent to the town of O’Cebreiro - we thought we would rather tackle that in the cool of the morning rather than the heat of the afternoon.

This is going to sound like we had a really boring walk but it was quite the opposite. Most of the time we were walking alongside, sometimes on, local roads, tracking the Rio Valcarce all the way to Herrerias. We were also tracking the A-6 motorway but this was a motorway in the sky which we could see, but rarely hear from our vantage point way below.

Down at ground level, we were walking through a sea of greenery, interspersed by the lovely little villages of Pereje, Trabadelo, La Portela de Valcarce, Ambasmestas, Vega de Valcarce, Ruitelan and, finally, Herrerias. We stopped for beers at two of the villages but I have no idea which ones - they seemed to come at us thick and fast today. 

At the entrance to the village of Herrerias, we checked in to our accommodation for the night being Hostal Paraiso del Bierzo. Wow. Sensational. Undoubtedly the best accommodation we have experienced over the last four weeks. Having arrived there just before one o’clock, we had time to relax before heading in to the village where we spent a very pleasant three hours, drinking beer in the company of Lars and Inger (rapidly becoming my best buddies), Sarah (USA), Julie (Denmark), Petra (Holland), Carolin (Germany), Rosa (Canada) and………….my sister Gill and husband Tony!

Gill and Tony have been on their own adventure over the last three weeks, travelling in their camper van through France and Spain and heading shortly to the Picos de Europa in northern Spain before moving on to Italy. 

It was great to see them, particularly in an environment where we are all in adventure mode. Gill said something to me a year or so back which really stuck with me, now that we are (fortunate enough to be) done with work. “This is our time” she said, meaning our time to bloody well make the most of our opportunities whilst we are young enough and fit enough to do so. She didn’t necessarily mean to go for a five hundred mile walk but I’m sure you get the gist.

And all this is great. But without others to share it with? That’s why this afternoon was so nice. After four weeks a “Camino family” is forming. It’s not in the slightest cliquey and new family members appear each day but the essence is a shared journey which is bringing all sorts of weird and wonderful people together. Yah got to have friends!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Day 28 - 20 May - Molinaseca to Villafranca del Bierzo

As the Delta Rhythm Boys famously sang:

Well, your toe bone connected to your foot bone
Your foot bone connected to your heel bone
Your heel bone connected to your ankle bone               

Not necessarily all of the time though                     

I hear the word of the Lord!

Following yesterday’s hard sixteen miles, what on earth were we thinking doing nineteen miles today? But that’s what we had planned so we hit the road out of Molinaseca shortly after seven o’clock. Our first target was the city of Ponferrada, four and a half miles away. The walk in to Ponferrada was uninspiring whilst the walk out was pleasant but the bit in the middle was wonderful. The city centre is spectacular Spain, aided and abetted by Los Templarios castle with its moat and drawbridge.

Ponferrada, Molinaseca and the villages we passed through yesterday are definitely on our must-come-back-and-visit-properly list. But with over fourteen miles still to go, we settled for coffee and a chocolate croissant and we were on our way again.

We passed through the village of Columbrianos and on to Fuentes Nueves where I had a beer. It was still early but we had already done eight miles and it was getting hot. We had been walking along the road for much of this time, with a flat landscape between the mountains on either side and passing fields of crops and smallholdings and lots of poppies. The scenery was beautiful. But it was getting hotter. 

Another four miles on and we were entering the town of Cacabelos (another little gem) in the company of Tony and Pat (UK) who we hadn’t seen for four or five days. Since we last saw them, Tony has treated himself to a new pair of walking shoes which appear to have been fitted with a warp-speed drive which now makes him the fastest thing on two legs. They were stopping in Cacabelos so we had a quick beer with them and were off again. 

The temperature was now around thirty degrees and with more to come so it needed a concerted head-down to get to Villafranca del Bierzo, our destination for the night, as quickly as we could. This was easier said than done with constant breaks required for water and a sit down, one such break in the shade of a tree which turned out to be a cherry tree with a few ripe and ready-for-picking cherries which had our names on them. 

Less than a mile from Villafranca, in the middle of nowhere, a young lady had set up a couple of chairs and a table - with amazing views - and was selling cold drinks. I admire genuine entrepreneurialism and was more than happy to shell out two euros for a small can of Amstel whilst Mrs C had a softee at similar toppish price. It was the most welcome rest break of the whole Camino thus far.

Into Villafranca - another beautiful little town - where we located our accommodation which was lovely. We were jiggered. We made it as far as the bar next door and then a hostal restaurant just down the street. When later exiting the restaurant, I noticed a thirty-something peregrino with cuts to his face and his arm in a sling - he had obviously taken a very recent fall. Back in Castrojeriz, we saw a woman with similar facial lacerations and it turned out that she had broken her collarbone in a fall. Thankfully, as reported yesterday, Gerhard’s foot was still attached when we last saw him but the number of people we have met with foot problems grows by the day. And of course there was yesterday’s unsavoury incident where an unsuspecting tree was attacked by a mad woman.

This going for a long walk malarkey clearly attracts some people who don’t know when they’ve had enough. Thankfully, Mrs C and I do know when we’ve had enough but fortunately we’re not quite there yet.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Day 27 - 19 May - Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca

As Gerry and the Pacemakers famously sang:

You’ll never walk alone

Our dissatisfaction at the abysmal quality of our accommodation - and the price we had paid for it - did not lessen during the night. We were ready to leave by six thirty the next morning, only to find the door locked and no obvious key with which to unlock it. We ended up climbing out through the window.

But for the next six hours, everything was on the up. We had a hard sixteen miles ahead of us. For the last two weeks we have been operating at around eight to nine hundred metres above sea level. Yesterday’s climb to Rabanal had taken us to nearly twelve hundred metres and today we would climb to over fifteen hundred metres, then all the way down to our destination for the night, Molinaseca, at six hundred metres.

From the off today, the scenery was never less than spectacular. The uphill was rarely challenging, more a steady ascent which allowed us to marvel at our surroundings. Our first stop, just before eight o’clock, was at the village of Foncebadon where we had coffee and toast. To our relief, Gerhard was there having set off half an hour before us and his foot hasn’t fallen off yet.

I also had time to fire off a complaint to last night’s accommodation, asking for a refund.

And then it was off to see one of the Camino’s most iconic landmarks, the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross). Give or take ten metres, the Cruz de Ferro is the highest point of the Camino, marked by a wooden pole with iron cross around which a mound has developed as peregrinos leave (typically) a stone or other object as a means of leaving behind a burden or to remember a loved one.

There followed five miles of ups and downs and stunning scenery to Alto Altar which actually pips Cruz de Ferro by ten metres in the altitude stakes but thereafter we started to descend, quite sharply. Arrival at the quaint village of Acebo provided opportunity for the first beer of the day. Beyond Acebo, another five miles of down into Molinaseca, the scenery still stunning but the path narrow and awkward and the knees beginning to feel it. Mrs C decided to headbutt a tree which didn’t help and slowed us down some more so that we didn’t reach Molinaseca until half past three. We understand that the tree is in intensive care.

Molinaseca itself is delightful, the nicest town/ village we have encountered during our Camino and our accommodation was similarly impressive. Having freshened up, we explored the place for all of two minutes before parking up at a riverside bar in the sunshine. There, we found Amy (USA) and later Carolin (Germany) who we hadn’t seen for a few days. We then bumped into Lars and Inger (Sweden) and went for dinner with them. 

Unfortunately they failed the who-is-the-greatest-living-swede test which everyone knows is Roland Nilsson who played for Sheffield Wednesday between 1989 and 1994. However, we like them so they are forgiven although I will be insisting that they learn the words to the Roland Nilsson song so they don’t ever get this question wrong again in the future.

Earlier today, at the Cruz de Ferro, I left a small cross in memory of my friend Paul Hodgson - known affectionately as “H” - who died suddenly and unexpectedly a couple of months back. The irony would not be lost on him that I have chosen to do this at the site of a Catholic pilgrimage but, amongst his many sins, H was a Liverpool fan. They’re all catholics up in Scouse land so there’s bound to be a few Liverpool fans passing by, from time to time, to keep him company.

Farewell my friend. Until all the boys meet up again at Simpsons for roast beef (on you of course) and we march, once again, to the sound of clinking glasses.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Day 26 - 18 May - Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

As Take That famously sang:

All I do each night is pray                                       

Hoping that I’ll get an answer to my prayers some day

I just want some pizza please                                

With a bit of ham and mushroom and four types of cheese, oh yeah

What with four-star accommodation and a mere thirteen miles ahead of us today, we didn’t set the alarm for six o’clock. In fact we didn’t set it at all but we were still both awake for seven. We left the hotel at eight thirty but we bumped into our American friends Mo and Story before we had even crossed the road and then into another American friend, Amy, before we made it into the bar opposite the hotel for breakfast. Not forgetting Carlos from Canada of course who we also chatted with before a cafe con leche had passed our lips. So it was half past nine by the time we exited Astorga’s town limits. We hadn’t gone three miles before we saw Amy again sat outside a bar, having breakfast, in the village of Murias de Rechivaldo. Obviously we had already had our breakfast so, not wanting to be rude, we sat down with her and had a beer instead.

The roadside path between Astorga and Murias hadn’t been anything special but beyond Murias we were gradually climbing and the scenery was becoming pre-mountainous with long distance views over fields of crops and woodland and a great view back down to Astorga. Another two and a half miles and, this time, Amy found us at a bar in the village of Santa Catalina de Somoza so she joined us for a beer. 

One thing that we have noticed on this Camino, in relation to all the various bars and cafes we have stopped at, particularly those in the more rural areas, is the excellent standard and cleanliness of the “facilities”. In fact we had commented on this only earlier this morning at the last bar. Jinx! Another near three miles along the road we stopped at one of the marked rest stops in the Camino guide being the Cowboy Bar in El Ganso.

I have seen much, much worse in the “facilities” stakes in my time but the Cowboy bar was noticeable simply for not being of the very high standards encountered thus far. The beer was okay though.

All this time though, as we were generally gaining altitude, the scenery was getting more interesting, even beginning to fringe on the spectacular. From El Ganso we had a final four and a half miles to our destination of Rabanal del Camino. Whilst never too far from the quiet country road, the final two miles into Rabanal was through a woodland path, alongside which the fence is strewn with makeshift crosses made, by peregrinos, from the ubiquitous dead and broken twigs and branches found along this stretch of path.

Rabanal is a very nice village but didn’t feel like a real village in that it appeared to exist solely to service peregrinos which made it feel, to me, a bit mercenary. Certainly, the price of our accommodation was a rip-off although I felt a bit better when they under-charged me for beer at the bar. Couldn’t keep up with me eh?

Being the religious sort that I am, I accompanied Mrs C to Vespers at the Monasterio de San Salvador del Monte Irago where we stood up and sat down five times, all part of the strangeness of proceedings during the half hour service. I may not speak Latin but I know when something doesn’t rhyme so this half-singing malarkey didn’t really impress. However, unlike the opulence of the other church buildings encountered on this Camino, this place looked like it could collapse at any moment so I was relieved to see only three religious sorts chanting away, lest the resonance brought the place down around our ears. I guess you have to admire the belief of these guys chanting the Visperas del Domingo every night at seven o’clock but I can’t help thinking there must be easier ways to order a pizza.

Anyway, we moved on in search of Amy who we had promised to try find as we knew she was on her own tonight. As it transpired, she was staying in the private albergue right next to our hovel/ hotel (please delete as appropriate). As we entered the albergue bar, there were four or five people surrounding one peregrino stricken with foot problems. The peregrino in question was Gerhard, the non-English-speaking German guy for whom I had stuck a Compeed plaster on his foot just three days ago. It obviously didn’t work!

The nice lady from the albergue applied a bucket full of antiseptic ointment to Gerhard’s poorly foot and bandaged accordingly. I did what any decent bloke would do in such circumstances - I bought him a beer. After his treatment concluded we invited him to join us and communicated (I use that word lightly) via a combination of hand signal, google translate and pigeon German. Unfortunately my own knowledge of the German language, gleaned only a week or so back (Look, there’s a doppelganger of a poltergeist with a rucksack in the kindergarten. Scheiße) proved less than useful.

Courtesy of Fran, a very soon-to-be junior doctor in the UK, we got him fed and by the time we retired at nine o’clock, I think we left him with a sporting chance of making it through the night. Gerhard is a big bloke with a big blister but an even bigger smile. I like him. Both junior doctor Fran and (as it transpires) nurse Amy are a bit worried about the state of his foot but he is determined to carry on and is planning to set off at six in the morning. We have a hard day ahead tomorrow - we won’t be too far behind.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Day 25 - 17 May - Vilar de Mazarife to Astorga

As the Pet Shop Boys famously sang:

Go West, on the pilgrim way                                  

Go West, walking miles each day                           

Go West, eating food, no pay                                

Go West, whilst drinking IPA

With twenty miles ahead of us we had the alarm set for six o’clock and were on the road out of Vilar de Mazarife twenty five minutes later. It was just about daylight although the sun didn’t rise for another half an hour. The fields of crops either side of the long, straight road out of town were all the more majestic for the early morning light.

It was six miles of straight road followed by straight path through agricultural land before we reached the first village of Villavante but there were no facilities available when we passed through, save for some benches on which to rest and consume our own provisions. However, two miles further on we reached the town of Hospital de Orbigo where we had coffee and croissants in the garden of a bar where cute and extremely decorative chickens mixed with the customers.

Hospital de Orbigo has a history and legend around jousting which all looked very nice and interesting but we still had eleven miles to go. Bye.

Beyond Hospital the landscape was changing and for the better. The high, flat plains were now rolling hills with a bit of forestry thrown into the mix. The villages of Villares de Orbigo and Santibanez de Valdeiglesia were, like Hospital, smarter versions of the renovation and dilapidation mix previously encountered although sadly without facilities for the walker, certainly pre-noon. Which meant another long distance between facilities - eight or nine miles - where our own provisions had to sustain us  Three cheers for Babybel cheese I say! The scenic value however continued on its upward trend with some pine forest thrown into the mix.

There was a really cute stop along the way where, what I can best describe as, a neat and tidy hippy type facility offered food and drink provisions, all available for a donation. 

It was lovely. But what sort of hippy facility doesn’t include beer? Must try harder.

Eventually we arrived at San Justo de la Vega where we had the first beer of the day before completing the final two miles or so into Astorga where the four-star Hotel SPA Via de la Plata awaited us. We deserved it.

Astorga is a nice town with lots of facilities, a big cathedral and a big house designed by Antoni Gaudi who was a big cheese architect in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They especially love him in Barcelona but I suspect his genius was less to do with artistic inspiration and more to do with alcohol, judging by some of the stuff I’ve seen.

Anyway -Astorga - we did of course try out a few of the towns bars where, unforgivably, some appeared not to be in on this tapas lark. We gave those bars a wide berth although initial observations suggested this might be the norm in Astorga. I was going off the place pretty quickly and, off all things, we ended up in an Irish bar where they were playing the Bachelors singing The Unicorn Song. Could it get any worse? We drank up before they had chance to start on The Fields of Athenry. Fortunately, we then happened upon a very smart and traditional Spanish bar which sold Mahou IPA (I love Mahou IPA). Unfortunately, the kitchen didn’t open for food until half past eight and it was only seven forty. “But you can have these tapas”. Bingo! 

Now, as I lay in my four-star bed at twenty past nine, suitably fed and watered, pondering these notes of the day's events, it dawns on me that Spain must be the birthplace of civilisation or, at the very least, civilised behaviour. With Mrs C here alongside me, I am a very lucky geezer. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Day 24 - 16 May - Leon to Vilar de Mazarife

As Lena Zavaroni famously sang:

Ya, ya, he’s making eyes at me                              

Ya, ya, he’s waving a plaster at me                        

Ya, ya, he’s got his foot in my lap                         

Donner und blitzen, that’s a blister needin’ fixing

Parting is such sweet sorrow. Our apartment in Leon has been easily our best accommodation of the Camino but part we must. This five hundred mile Camino won’t walk itself.

We set off around eight o’clock and found a nice bar serving coffee and churros just a few minutes later. Suitably caffeined, we started walking out of the city. The grandeur of the city centre soon gave way to the suburbs which in turn gave way to a pathway through and past industrial estates and then the dormitory town of La Virgen Del Camino. Pretty it wasn’t but Leon’s hospitality of the previous afternoon had already allowed me to forgive its drab outskirts.

The main Camino route beyond La Virgen Del Camino pretty much tracks the busy N-120 road which we didn’t really fancy so we had elected to take the scenic option to Vilar de Mazarife, our destination for the night. It wasn’t spectacular but infinitely better than tracking the road and we walked past fields of crops, the occasional subterranean building (where the half rabbit, half human things live) and lots of brilliant red poppies. We enjoyed a coffee break at Oncina de la Valdoncina and another one at Chozas de Abajo before arriving at Vilar de Mazarife, a small village, where we have a twin room in a private albergue. And it is quaint and delightful. Well chuffed.

The weather today has been sunny and pleasantly warm but with a cooling breeze which made for ideal walking conditions. Could we have done more miles? Almost certainly. Do we wish we had done more miles? Yes. And no. Yes because accommodation needs going forward have left us with a twenty mile walk tomorrow. Bloody hell. But no because we have shared a truly international afternoon and evening. Last Saturday night’s Spanish TV was plastered wall to wall Eurovision Song Contest. The Ukranian entry came out on top. Quelle surprise. And now that the Brits have so foolishly departed the EU, the UK entry got the sympathy second place vote. Quelle even more surprise. That was internationalism at its sycophantic, virtue signalling worst. But here in Villar de Mazarife, we had a genuine united nations going on with no pretend enthusiasm and no crap songs . We had Lars and Inger (Sweden). Lars is a dead ringer for American actor John Lithgow who delivered my favourite ever movie line with “Walker, you resilient bastard”, when playing the baddie Eric Qualen in the film Cliffhanger.

Kira (Denmark) is the nice American lady who I slept next to in Ledigos a few nights back. Turns out she’s not a nice American lady, she’s a nice Danish lady. Also we had Igor and Clementina (Italy), Gerhard (Germany), Stanley and Nev (Burma/Myanmar) and Debra, Brenda and Simone (Canada), all breaking bread together and all talking cobblers. The world needs more of this.

Gerhard didn’t speak a word of English but he still got me to stick a Compeed plaster on his foot.

A great day, all washed down with a few beers and a bottle of vino tinto. An early morning start demands an early lights out tonight. Tally ho!

Monday, May 16, 2022

Day 23 -15 May - Puente Villarente to Leon

As Fred Astaire famously sang:

Heaven……I’m in heaven                                      

And my heart beats so that I can hardly think        

How could I ever be more in the pink                     

Than getting free delicious food with every drink

With only seven miles ahead of us today, there was no need to rush this morning. We took our time and strolled down to breakfast to find…… the hotel bar was closed. No suave, sophisticated David Hunter to bid us farewell. No Meg Richardson sorting out emergency breakfasts in lieu of last night’s thunder storm. No Benny to divert us from the wobbly scenery and even wobblier script. No nothing. Nada. Zilch.

We had a coffee and Napolitana in town and then that was that until Leon itself. The approach into the city was genuinely meh. Extremely unimpressive. This was not trying to win me over at all but at least we had completed six sevenths of the walk. The final seventh beckoned, we passed the old city walls and wow. Then a bit more wow. Suddenly, we were in iconic Spain. Narrow streets. Grand, four storey buildings with iron balustrades. The ground floor spaces a mix of retail, bars and restaurants. This was looking promising. We located our apartment, literally fifty metres from the cathedral. Stunning. View from our bedroom window below.

Having arrived at twelve noon, we had to resist the temptation to hit the town straight away. We lasted an hour. The city centre bars were just a dream. A free, delicious tapa with every drink. What more could a bloke ask for? I didn’t really want to leave bar no.1 but Mrs C made me. I didn’t really want to leave bar no.2 but Mrs C insisted. I was gutted to leave bar no.3 but, yet again, Mrs C was proven right by the ambience and tapa quality of bar no.4. It was like living in a dream. In bar no.5 we met up with Peter and Paul (USA) - I know they sound like a sixties pop group but I later googled them and sadly Mary is no more and it wasn’t them anyway - and in bar no.6 we saw Charles and Trudi (Austria) who we haven’t seen since Logroño a week back. Well, by now I was so in love with the world that I bought a bottle of red wine to celebrate Anglo-Austrian friendship. If Leon isn’t the world centre of peace and love then it bloody well ought to be. Mrs C allowed me to indulge in bar no.7 before dragging me back to the apartment at around eight o’clock where I fell asleep watching Real Betis versus Granada on the tele.

From an unpromising start, the city of Leon has forced itself to the top of my best-place-to-go-drinking-on-the-Camino listings. It has been a little bit of heaven. I will sleep well tonight.