Monday, May 22, 2023

Day 15 - 21 May - Aldea Picaraña to Santiago de Compostela

As Elton John famously sang:

Hey chaps, hold it tight together
We’re on the verge of something
And it’s gonna last forever
We'll kill the fatted calf tonight of the caliphate
Replace it with the way of St James and it’ll be reyt

Drink a bene, bene, bene ‘n hot
Bene, bene, bene, bene, bene, bene, bene ‘n hot

A chilly start with a beautiful, slightly misty blue sky was beckoning as I was unpegging and folding up the team laundry that had been drying overnight. I am always first up in the mornings. Andrea says that my shuffling about is like a gradual wake-up call whereas Mick reckons that I’m a coughing, spluttering, noisy old git.

A rare treat; the ability to make oneself a cup of tea when staying in accommodation in Spain.

Our last day on Camino was starting well and we weren’t even out of the door yet. That particular moment arrived at just after eight o’clock and we were off. A mere ten miles of walking ahead of us.

We were soon on woodland paths, pleasant options to keep us hidden from the converging transport arteries one would expect when nearing any large city. The initial chill of the day enabled us to make good progress, despite all being mainly uphill, and we didn’t stop for coffee until reaching dormitory town Milladoiro around two hours later. That was it, journey pretty much broken by ten o’clock. We set off once more. Across the road. Short downhill path. Short uphill path and…………there it was, the city of Santiago de Compostela with the spires of its cathedral prominent amongst the city sprawl before us. Only around two miles away for a crow but four miles for us passing under and over, through and around. With two of these last four miles under our belt, we then caught up with Tim and Laurence and with whom we then walked into the city itself. 

Santiago, like many Spanish cities, can be a bit of a maze at the centre. Throw in a big cycling event which leads to entrance roads being closed and that adds to the fun. Despite having entered the city from the south, we arrived at Praza do Obradoiro, to gaze up at the cathedral, via the same entrance, same beggar woman and same bagpiper as last year. It is a delight to witness the excitement of the new arrivals as they reach the square and soak it all in.

This time round, it hadn’t been our intention to queue for our Compostela (official certificate of completion) so, after taking the usual pictures we made arrangements to meet up later with Tim and Laurence and the four of us set forth to find a nice location for drinks which we did, via several hundred steps (sorry about that team), in the garden of the Hotel Costa Vella. Mick and I treated ourselves to bottles of 1906 and the girls vino tinto and blanco. It was nice and comfortable there so we didn’t bother moving and, hey presto, another two rounds of drinks later it was time to go find our accommodation. When booking said accommodation, I knew that it was going to be close to the cathedral but I hadn’t realised quite how close. As it transpired, we were staying almost opposite the Michelin restaurant Casa Marcelo where Mrs C and I had dined with Michael from Switzerland, upon completing our Camino, last year. It also happens to be our Mick’s favourite street in Santiago (something to do with the Hortas Lavanderia laundry - he’s strange) so everyone was happy. 

St James, as he would look today

Later on, at around six o’clock, we ventured out. Mick and I had a beer sat outside Agarimo bar whilst the girls did a bit of window shopping and then we all set up at Sala Riquela, where Tim and Laurence joined us, sitting outside in the sunshine. My first beer of choice was the 1906 Red but at 8% it’s definitely not one for a session so, in another throwback to last year, I then partook of a bottle of Estrella Galicia’s sin gluten beer which I last enjoyed when at Casa Marcelo. From there we moved on to find food which we did in a delightfully tatty little place (definitely not Casa Marcelo) which was very busy and very much in the spirit of the Camino with groups of friends breaking bread together, some perhaps for the last time. It was vino tinto time and we spent a last hour in the company of Tim and Laurence before bidding our fond farewells.

The four of us - the four musketeers - had to finish the night properly. Restaurant and cafe bar Casa Paredes is a bar that most pilgrims will recognise, it being situated down the steps from the cathedral and Parador hotel and where you turn right to head to the Pilgrims’ Office. It also happens to be at the top of our street, about seventy yards up from our apartment. We entered. It wasn’t overly busy but we didn’t want food so we weren’t priority punters. I had a word. Immediately, some poor schmuck on his own was relocated mid-drink to make room for us. The ceremony began. Four cafe con leches. Two tarta santiagos. And two Benedictines.

Many of you reading this will not be aware of the history between Burnley (our home town) and Benedictine, a herbal liquor made in France. Just google Benedictine with Burnley Miners to find out more. In Burnley it is typically taken with hot water, a combination known locally as Bene 'n' hotHowever, few if any are aware of the history of this drink as it relates to our St James. If you have read my book (who hasn’t?), you will know that following the verification of his remains some eight hundred years after his death, our hero appeared on a milk white charger to lead the outnumbered christian forces to victory against the muslim caliphate in the Battle of Clavijo. Initially confused and terrified by the appearance of the apparition, St James ordered that every man be served with a “Bene 'n' hot” to steady their nerves, with the promise of more of the same once they had driven their foe “down the road”. This gave rise to the original version of the immortal Musketeer cry, and still heard in Burnley to this day, of “all for one and one for t’road”.

A wonderful way to finish our Camino. Tomorrow we say goodbye to Mick and Andrea. We have loved their company and grateful, on this occasion, not to have walked just the two of us. That’s it folks. Buen Camino!

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Day 14 - 20 May - Vilanova de Arousa to Aldea Picaraña

As Promiscua, the provocative pepper from Panama, probably sang:

Don't cha wish your pepper was hot like me?Don't cha wish your pepper was a freak like me?Don't cha?

No alarm necessary. No early start. Check-out by twelve noon if required. And why? Because we were taking the boat to Padrón on a one o’clock, in the afternoon, departure time.

The open sea that is the Atlantic has become the Bay of Arousa by the time it reaches Vilanova de Arousa and this later becomes the Rio Ulla which passes through Padrón. This is the route by which the remains (not sure if his head was included) of our hero St James found their way to Galicia after his execution and martyrdom. I think I am right in saying that Padrón was the last place on the Iberian peninsula where he preached before that fateful decision to return home. Anyway, whether this last bit is true (or indeed any of it), St James has a lot of history with Padrón and we were looking forward to getting there. 

The boat trip was like most boat trips that I have ever been on in that it sounds like a good idea but it can go on a bit, get very cold and you’re glad to get off. This boat trip was a good idea because it saved us a long, twenty two mile trudge but one hour and forty minutes was quite long enough thank you and I was glad I had put my longs on and a warm jacket. 

Once disembarked, we walked the one mile into Padrón for a little explore. I find Spanish towns and cities generally fascinating with grand central squares, historic buildings and atmosphere but Padrón was rather lacking. Maybe that’s why St James packed in his Iberian tour way back when if this was the last place where he tried to convert a few souls? If only they had shown a bit more interest.

So, whilst a little disappointed with this particular aspect of Padrón, we had another reason to be here……..Padrón peppers.

Some are hot, and some are not

Padrón peppers can be eaten raw but are generally fried in olive oil, until wilted, and served with a generous sprinkling of sea salt. They are generally mild in taste but can produce the occasional extremely hot out-rider. This apparent quality has led to the popular Galician aphorism Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non which rather jauntily translates to Padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not.

We had a plateful between us. Between this and prior experience with Padrón peppers which, I must say, I do enjoy, I think a more accurate strap line would read Padrón peppers, not hot.

We enjoyed our peppers nonetheless, washed down with a couple of bottles of Estrella Galicia at bodega/ taperia O Secrets do Vino where they looked after us very well and were particularly pleased that we gave the peppers the thumbs up. But now we actually had some walking to do and it was already four o’clock. Still, we didn’t have too far to go, just over six miles which would likely take between two and three hours depending on road conditions. 

Road conditions were boring to start with and very warm but boring turned to actually quite pleasant by the time we were nearing our destination. However, I shaved my head this morning and rather like Samson of bible fame, I found my strength had deserted me. Now, coincidence or what but it was on this day last year that Mrs C and I walked into Villafranca del Bierzo on the Camino Frances and that was my lowest, weakest, most pathetic day of the whole Camino.

Maybe 20 May next year will be a good day to stay in bed?

We have come up trumps with our accommodation tonight, it being a two bed, small house in the middle of nowhere which is fast becoming a theme. Our lovely hostess brought us fresh eggs with which omelette was later conjured up by the girls. Not one of us fancied moving away from the place in favour of a nearby bar. In fact, I reckon had we had a bar at the bottom of the garden we may still have struggled to summon up the effort to move from where we were.

So, our final night on Camino. We reach Santiago tomorrow although how I’m going to cope with ten miles is anybody’s guess. On the plus side I’m sure that Andrea would give me a piggy back if I asked her. She is too nice.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Day 13 - 19 May - Silvan to Vilanova de Arousa

As nice people everywhere are prone to sing:

Kumbaya my Lord, kumbayaKumbaya my Lord, kumbayaKumbaya my Lord, kumbayaWhy’s your mate still sat outside?

Be gone, foul beast! Whatever it was that had been ailing me, it was on the move. Gravity is a powerful force. Whilst I was never more than vaguely off colour, I had my demon on the run and today proved a rarity in that I finished the fifteen miles in better fettle than I started it.

We were promised hills, streams and waterfalls on the Variante Espiritual route and our first few miles today ain’t called the Ruta de la Piedra y del Agua (route of the stone and the water) for nothing. Through woodland paths alongside rushing streams, the route is littered with long since abandoned stone buildings and infrastructure of the old mills used to grind cereals. It certainly made for a beautiful first two hours to the day, made all the better as it was all downhill.

We stopped for coffee at a nice, ramshackle little set-up before Barrantes, Chiringo de Concha, with large garden space where the nice lady threw in a bit of toast, cake and tortilla for good measure. We were making good progress and continued along a pleasant riverside path, past cultivated fields and vineyards. 

Another hour or so further on, we stopped at the immaculate Hostal O Legado de Ramira in Pontearnelas where they made us a proper, hot coffee, not one of those luke warm efforts which have been rather too prevalent on this Camino. It was here too where my upward trend began to kick-in in earnest. I was feeling a bit light-headed, a sure sign of dehydration. Considering that I get most of my water intake from beer, this all began to make absolute sense because I hadn’t had any beer yesterday. So, with a short term diet of sugary cakes (purloined from breakfast this morning) and emergency water (i.e. real water), I reckoned this could be the key to recovery. 

Pontearnelas was the half-way point in our day, distance wise, and we continued from there along mainly quiet roads and paths with just the one main incline to contend with and from there it was literally downhill all the way for us and figuratively uphill all the way for me. 

Further spiritual uplift was on offer at the small chapel we came to in Mouzo where a very nice English guy invited us in to get a stamp in our credencials. I have previously fessed up to my discomfort when in church buildings generally so, despite my sense that this chap was genuinely a good’un, I declined the opportunity although Mrs C, Mick and Andrea all accepted. The next thing on offer was then a “song to guide you all on your way”. Hmm. Good decision Cookie boy. 

We decided that our next refreshment stop should wait until we reached the beach route into Vilanova de Arousa, our destination for the night, which meant a good two hours’ work to make the necessary progress. At last, we reached the sea, turning right to head up the coastal path, passing under the road bridge that takes traffic to the Isla de Arousa, and then onward looking for somewhere suitable. Our reward was Bar As Carballas at Praia Terron where the guy serving us was wearing a Celta Vigo shirt. That immediately facilitated mention of Carlos Carvalhal and Sheffield Wednesday whereupon he brought up, on his phone, a Spanish sports report on last night’s football miracle. Sheffield Wednesday. Massive eh?

We then progressed the final mile up the beautiful coastline before crossing the pedestrian bridge into Vilanova de Arousa which means village of the aroused. To be honest, I was expecting to see all the blokes doing impressions of tripods but that didn’t seem to be the case. Maybe it doesn’t means village of the aroused after all?

We checked into our hotel at four o’clock and didn’t emerge for play-time until seven. Had sugary cakes and emergency water done the trick? Yes!

Three Estrella Galicias and a bottle of Alhambra later, the foul beast had been banished. Just as well. Tomorrow we have a one hour forty minute, fast boat, trip to look forward to. In the meantime, sleep. A good sleep.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Day 12 - 18 May - Pontevedra to Silvan

As thirty thousand Sheffield Wednesday fans are singing, right now:

Qué será, seráWhatever will be, will beWe’re going to Wem-ber-ley

All for one and one for all. Is how I ended yesterday’s blog. Obviously, I failed to bargain for our spirited, impressionable and swashbuckling musketeer D’Artagnan.

Today we were planning to pick up the optional Variante Espiritual route which promises hills, streams and waterfalls. We departed Pontevedra on the Ponte do Burgo bridge, over the Rio Lérez, heading in a generally north easterly direction towards the town of Combarro which, if you look at it on a map, is in a generally north westerly direction. So, the long way round which took us over the VG-4.8 road, through villages, along a woodland path, back alongside the VG-4.8 road heading into Combarro, then along the coastline for another mile or so until we reached the town itself. The old fishing town is stunning in appearance, albeit obviously geared up for tourists with its bars, restaurants and gift shops. Every property on the seafront has its own Hórreo, sometimes more than one, being the traditional Galician wheat stores. One suspects that many, if not most, of the stone Hórreo’s on display nowadays were built more for ornamental than practical purposes. Nonetheless they make for very attractive tourist bait.

So, five miles in to a total fourteen mile day, this was where our contingency plan demanded a decision. Were we to relax in this beautiful town of Combarro for a couple of hours before taking a taxi to the Monasterio de Santa María de Armentera, only one mile shy of our accommodation in the middle-of-nowhere Silvan? Or do we walk the six miles to the Monasterio, all uphill including major steep bits? I really wasn’t feeling it. I told Andrea that I was going to vote the taxi option, partly because I knew she would have gone along with the rest of us had we all wanted to walk, but also because I needed an ally too. 

All for one and one for all! Mick opted to stay with his missus even though I think he would otherwise have chosen to walk. D’Artagnan? Oh the youth and feistiness of our young companion.

I’m bloody walking!

We swapped phones (mine has GPS). D’Artagnan was on her way. And so nearly was her phone as I left it in a bar. Half an hour later when that realisation dawned on me, my cognitive capabilities were put to the test and they came up trumps with phone safely retrieved.

Lightened of the load of her rucksack, D’Artagnan completed this feat in an impressive two hours. In the meantime, the rest of us took opportunity to relax in the sunshine. Whilst Mick did indeed do the decent thing and enjoyed three bottles of 1906 cerveza during this period, I pathetically stuck to Aquarius Lemon all day. I have read that Aquarius Lemon is infused with zinc which contributes to normal cognitive function, so I probably have Aquarius to thank for the speedy recovery of the abandoned phone, if not for my losing it in the first place.

At the time we began to contemplate calling for a taxi, D’Artagnan messaged to say that she had already arrived at the Monasterio so we made arrangements post haste to join her there. Outside the Monasterio is a bar where we took some lunch, Mick had another 1906 and I didn’t. Thereafter it was only a twenty minute walk to our luxurious accommodation in Silvan which I think must be Spanish for nowhere. We have young bamboo growing on our terrace so D'Artagnan is at least temporarily usurped by Dick Van Dyke.

Apparently we didn’t miss out on streams and waterfalls so maybe we still have that to come tomorrow. We have fifteen miles ahead of us and none of us want to miss out on that. Especially D’Artagnan.

We have been incredibly lucky with the weather so far on our Camino. I suspect that at least part of my current malaise is having had too much sun. Despite a generous dollop of Factor 50 on my shiny bonce every morning and a propensity for spending much of my time in Spain at other times of the year, I seem to have taken on a lot of sun and acquired an all-over body tan, even through my tee-shirts. When one has a troubled night’s sleep, all sorts of weird stuff can go through your head. Last night, the words that kept repeating in my sub-conscious were spontaneous combustion, spontaneous combustion. I guess I must have been pretty hot.

And finally, unlike last year whilst on Camino, my football team apparently showed a bit of all for one and one for all themselves tonight in turning around a four goal, first leg deficit from the League 1 play-off semi-final to qualify for the Wembley final. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to Sheffield Wednesday and I probably need to get more Aquarius Lemon inside me as I am seriously doubting my cognitive function here. Was it all simply more confused nocturnal ramblings or are we really in Ted Lasso territory? If this does indeed turn out to be true then the phrase greatest comeback since Lazarus will be replaced by doing a Sheffield Wednesday and I will need to pick up my Camino pace if I want to sort out a trip to Wembley.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Day 11 - 17 May - Redondela to Pontevedra

As Squeeze famously sang:

Now Andrea’s doneAnd I'm out on my feetA wee bit of sunstrokeMeans nothing to meAshley has goneBut a sore toe persistsWith limbs full of stiffnessAnd coffee in bed

Not yet nine o’clock and I am sat in bed drinking coffee and eating cake. The life of the idle rich eh!

Truth be told I haven’t been in tip top form for the last three days although that fact has only really dawned on me earlier today. With hindsight, all this walking in a generally northerly direction has meant that I have had a bit too much sun to the back of my neck and left me just a fraction off peak Cookie physical condition. To rectify I have today been wearing my peak cap back to front which makes me look like a complete dick or, even worse, Jurgen Klopp. But it seems to have done the trick and I am hoping for a first really good night’s sleep in four to get me back on the straight and narrow.

Andrea has struggled today. Not my man-flu-esque, I’m-feeling-a-bit-off-colour type of thing, but a dodgy tummy from the off which I have put down to that bar yesterday which didn’t sell wine. I have a suspicion that the bottle of water she drank instead of a vino blanco has somehow compromised the delicate balance of minerals which she has thus far maintained and hitherto ensured non-dodgy tummy. We endurance athletes have to be careful.

The guidebook suggested that we had a twelve mile day ahead of us today but we were intending to take some alternative routes to keep us off busy roads which, at the very least, would slow us down, if not add to the distance. Accordingly we hit the road at eight o’clock and headed north out of Redondela taking the optional coastal route from nearby Cesantes. All the way up to the town of Arcade, two to three miles away, the spectacular coast line looks out to the Ria de Vigo which has the appearance of a small sea. The views are sensational. We even did a bit of beach walking and, for the first time on this Camino, got some good shadow images.

All this while, Andrea was struggling but not prepared to stop walking. We will look after her carefully over the next couple of days.

For those of you with long(ish) memories, Ashley appears to have jumped ship, we think probably somewhere in Portugal. At least one of us is walking with a renewed spring in their step.

Mick’s poorly little toe from way back is still Mick’s poorly little toe a week or so later. I have offered to perform an amputation if it helps.

Mrs C remains as fit as the proverbial flea. I think it must be all the wild bamboo everywhere which sees her morph into Dick Van Dyke on regular occasions throughout the day.

We stopped at a coffee shop in Arcade where, in addition to our coffees, we were treated to a plate full of complementary cakes (which I am finishing off now).

From Arcade, we crossed the stone bridge over the Rio Verdudo into Ponte Nova where we then began a short, steep ascent up to Alto de Canicouva, peaking at around one hundred and forty metres above sea level. With the sun beating down, the shade afforded by the eucalyptus forests was welcome, allowing me to dispense with the Jurgen Klopp impression for much of the time. We took regular rest stops, ostensibly for Andrea but we all needed them. Three miles out of  Pontevedra, we found bar Casa Fermin where I ordered, I am embarrassed to say, an Aquarius soft drink. One more hour and we were on the outskirts of Pontevedra but it transpired that we still had another mile to our accommodation in the old town, which in the event turned out to be a rather quirky apartment. We were all gasping when bar/restaurant Novo Sozo came into view. This time I did man-up and ordered an Estrella Galicia. Most unexpectedly, we were treated to four bowls of a chickpea stew which was just perfect. They are so generous these Galician bar owners. 

We checked into our quirky digs at around four o’clock. We all had a kip but Andrea has stayed kipping all night so it was just Mrs C, Mick and myself who set out to explore the town a couple of hours later. We had a couple of beers at Dulce de Leche Alameda and another one at the imaginatively named Disc Burgers. But that was me then done. My brave boy pants were just about worn out.

Mick was in need of food and chance would have it that we happened upon Tim and Laurence on the way back to the apartment. They were sat outside a restaurant, having only just ordered food and were kind enough to take Mick off our hands as Mrs C and I continued home.

The nature of this Camino changes from tomorrow and I will bore you with the reasons why in later blogs. We have booked the next two days ahead but with contingency built in if one of us , or more, is not up to it. Like the musketeers, we are all for one and one for all!

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Day 10 - 16 May - Porriño to Redondela

As The Beatles famously sang:

We had a good reasonFor taking the easy way outWe soon had regrets tho’For taking the easy way out, now

They were all day trippersOne-paced, no bag yeahIt took us so long to find outAnd we found out

Sometimes, you start the day efficiently, hit the road early and get to where you’re going almost before you know it. At other times….you don’t.

With only another ten mile day in front of us, I think a bit of complacency had set in. We reluctantly departed our ten-out-of-ten apartment around half past eight, had a leisurely breakfast in a cafe and then sauntered on to Lidl to buy in a few provisions for the day. Lidl - big mistake. They may be quick at chucking your purchases through the scanner when you eventually get to the till but just the one till open? Hmm. Not sure our banana purchase was worth it.

And as we came out of the store, a big coach was depositing around fifty day-walkers on to the route we would be taking. Complacency went by the wayside. You do NOT want to walk behind these guys as they clog up all the refreshment stops en route. Almost at a jog, we hurried to the front of the day walkers and followed the yellow arrows which seemed to be taking us in a direction other than the one we needed. Half a mile. Half a bloody mile detour to avoid crossing a busy roundabout via the pedestrian tunnel. If only we’d had Modesto with us. Anyway, we arrived via the long route to the other side of the roundabout and hit the trail. A coach went past and stopped around two hundred yards ahead of us, then proceeded to deposit another fifty or so day-walkers on to our route. This time, we took a detour off the main route to walk at a pace which would hopefully land us ahead of them once we picked up the official route. What a palaver.

Today we were mainly walking along quiet country roads with the Galician landscape for company. The weather was perfect. Hazy sunshine making for a pleasant temperature. Around four miles in, we stopped for coffee in the attractive and modern village of Mos. From there we began a generally steep incline climbing one hundred and fifty meters over around a mile and a half. Another mile and a half from this high point we stopped at bar/restaurant Churrasqueria Choles for a first beer of the day and here we met another Michael and Andrea combination. I’m sure there must be plenty of married couples around the world named Michael and Andrea but two, in the same bar in a little village in Spain. At the same time. Of all the gin joints eh?

Me ole bamboo, me ole bamboo

There then began a steep decline towards Redondela, one of those that can be hard on the knees unless you walk like a drunk and zig zag down. Once back at sea level, the final mile into Redondela was a bit of a drag with the temperature having ramped up and the heat reflecting from hot roads and pathways.

Tonight we have private rooms in a hostel situated smack bang in the centre of the old town. Once rested and sorted we set out to explore. It is a lively place, not unattractive and best known for its two railway viaducts which, whilst prominent, don’t overly dominate the scene.

Our first port of call was O Café da Vila, where we had a beer….and then another one….and then another one. This was entirely the fault of Mona, from Denmark, who we met properly tonight having seen her a few times over the last few days. Everyone knows that there have been many great Danes over the years, so much so that they even named a dog breed in their honour. I asked Mona to name the most famous great Dane and she came up with Niels Henrik David Bohr, a great Dane of a physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics a hundred years ago for his work on atomic structures and quantum theory. Not once did she even mention Peter Schmeichel.

We then moved on to bar Los Leones which, it seemed, was trying hard not to be a bar at all as it didn’t sell any draught beer, didn’t sell wine and didn’t sell coffee. However it did sell bottles of Estrella Galicia and 1906 so we were just about okay. Here we met properly with Tim and Laurence from (near) Bristol who Mrs C had been chatting up yesterday when I was deep in thoughtful Spanglish with Modesto. Laurence is having to nurse a foot issue which may see them having to abandon the upcoming, optional Espiritual route for the more straightforward Central route to Padron. Nice guys. It will be good to spend more time with them if we meet up in Pontevedra tomorrow.

By this time I was not only tired and emotional but also feeling the effects of too much sun over the last couple of days so we found a restaurant and before I knew it I was fed, back home and safely tucked up in my single bed in our €30 private room (shared bathroom). Zzzzzzzzz


Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Day 9 - 15 May - Tui to Porriño

As thousands of football fans sing to the referee and his linesmen at every football match:

You don’t know what you’re doing…

Despite the comfortable beds and relative absence of any serious snoring among the ten souls who shared the five bunk beds in the dorm last night, sleep was hard to come by. The ghosts of monks past haunted the room with a night-long cacophony of strange, creaking noises. Either that or it was the metal frame beds which detected and amplified every toss, turn and other movement. I prefer the ghost hypothesis.

Perversely, I didn’t emerge from my top bunk phantom-land until shortly after half past seven, my preferring to let the other occupants get on with their ablutions, packing and rustling. Once up, the convent breakfast at €2.50 was worth every cent of €1.50 so we set off for the day only lightly fuelled although we did have just a modest ten miles ahead of us today.

Ah Galicia! It’s good to be back and much as I have loved the walking in Portugal, this feels more like the Camino. In fact, last night’s convent experience was an important factor in all this with the chance to meet and talk with other pilgrims so I wouldn’t seek to dissuade others from staying here. Just bring some ear plugs and WD40.

We set off at nine o’clock, leaving Tui for the lanes and quiet roads of the countryside, walking through a land of greenery. Around an hour or so in, a huge eucalyptus tree was felled not thirty yards from where we passed. There was no “timberrrrrrrrrr” or indeed any other sort of warning from the workmen doing the felling. They obviously had it all under control but it was a little disconcerting all the same. One minute you’re walking along the road admiring the eucalyptus trees on the high bank to your right. Next minute one of the buggers goes crashing to the ground, falling at one hundred and eighty degrees to where you’re strolling. Had the workmen not got it all under control and it had fallen the other way, I would probably have been alright although Andrea’s already short stature may well have been compromised still further. 

To avoid walking through uninspiring industrial areas as we walked towards Porriño, we took the scenic option through woodland paths and small villages. The downside of this is an absence of any refreshment facilities along the way which at least provides incentive to keep walking once that sun is over the yardarm. 

Two of the Portuguese routes merge in Tui so there are more pilgrims on the road. I got talking to Fabian, a very nice bloke from Hamburg, Germany where he solves crime when he’s not walking in Galicia. He is on his third Portuguese Camino. He is now officially our new friend number six on this Camino.

Fabian and I continued chatting all the way to the outskirts of Porriño when a friendly local told us to take a riverside path into town. In the event, Modesto - for that was he - walked with us for almost a mile along the riverside path and eventually led us right to our accommodation.

Modesto Vázquez Riveiro is a retired, top level, assistant football referee. He officiated at an England v Sweden international in 1999 and showed me a picture of him, as one of the officiating team, ahead of a Real Madrid v Barcelona match with team captains Michel Salgado and Pep Guardiola. 

Modesto delivered us to our apartment accommodation at just after one o’clock which allowed us a nice bit of settling-in time and an hour’s kip before we hit the town at four o’clock.

Porriño isn’t a pretty town but it is authentically Spanish with lots of bars and I like it. Leisurely beers were taken, respectively at La Cueva, bar A Francachela, Galibar Centro and Bar Celtiña before we happened upon possibly my favourite bar of this Camino. The Classic was aptly named. Classily decked out. Classical music on the sound system. Classy beers. It is hard not to be inspired when Ride of the Valkyries is followed by Nessan Dorma and then Handel’s Messiah. Our erstwhile unsuccessful endeavours at securing accommodation for the following night were transformed into efficiency hitherto unseen and we now have the next two night’s booked. The beer on offer at this establishment was insanely tasty and insanely strong. Mrs C and I had two small glasses of Salvora IPA (9.5%) and Mick went for the Imperial Stout (11%). Andrea stayed with white wine, she still being traumatised by her near death experience with the eucalyptus tree. 

We retired back to the apartment for nine o’clock and attempted to play a game of Asian Dice but I’m not sure that any of us could properly count the dots on the dice any more. But I bet that Modesto could have. None of this “should have gone to Specsavers” for this assistant referee. He did know what he was doing.What a lovely guy. He did us proud today.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Day 8 - 14 May - Vila Nova de Cerveira to Tui

As Paul McCartney and Wings famously sang:

Jet, I can almost remember their funny facesThat time you told them you were going to be marrying soonAnd Jet, I thought the only lonely place was on the moon
Jet, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

We were downstairs, ready for breakfast, at eight o’clock. The german couple were already sat outside, tucking into their brekky. Two blokes. One of whom bore at least a passing resemblance to Baron Bomburst. Honestly. The other guy was definitely wearing more than a tee-shirt.

Maria Antonia - for she was mama - was almost killing us with kindness. Breads, ham, cheese, chorizo, jams, coffee………and chocolate cake. All of which was available to take as a packed lunch should we desire. The most hospitable and generous of hosts imaginable.

João Paulo - for he was the son - then walked us down to the river route to see us off. He studied as a football coach and knows Carlos Carvalhal who managed Sheffield Wednesday between 2015 and 2017.

We had opted to take the river route all the way to Valença, around ten miles in distance, because we knew it would be easy walking underfoot and we liked the idea of being able to look across the river to Spain. We stopped for coffee around six miles in and then continued on to the small but perfectly formed city where the old town is just stunning. We had covered the distance in pretty efficient time and needed refreshment so we parked up at Cafe Caravela for a couple of bottles of Estrella Galicia’s 1906 beer. We then strolled through the old town and out onto the bridge over the Minho river……and into Spain.

Our destination for the night was the Spanish city of Tui and the Albergue Convento Del Camino, a 1,000 year old, converted convent building, where we have four beds in a five bunk-bed dorm. It’s all very quirky and the beds are comfortable. Fingers crossed that Mrs C can keep a lid on the snoring.

That’s our accommodation!

We ventured out into the town centre and had a couple of beers at Cafe Central Official, near the cathedral, before hitting a little pizza place. Truth be told we were all pretty tired and were back at the albergue for not much after nine o’clock which was really only eight o’clock in real money so we must have been tired.

And finally, we have made two more friends which takes us up to a total of five now! Ted and Jet live in Canada although originally hail from Holland and The Philippines respectively. Jet is the owner of the coolest name on the Camino and the four of us have decided to sing doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo every time we hear her name. They are on their first Camino and started out yesterday in……….Valença. Yep, they made it all the way across the bridge but, to be fair, they were weighed down with a suitcase in addition to their rucksacks. They will arrange for the suitcase to be transported onwards from tomorrow which should see them get started proper. I hope we see them again, not just so we can keep saying Jet doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo every time we see them, but also because Jet doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo is as mad as a box of frogs and we like a bit of mad. The Dutch guy, as she refers to her hubby of thirty odd years, plays the perfect straight man in this double act.

We bumped into two of our other three friends tonight, Reece and Sabrina. At last, this Camino friendship thing is beginning to take off!

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Day 7 - 13 May - Vila Praia de Ancora to Vila Nova de Cerveira

As Baron Bomburst and Baroness Bomburst famously sang in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

You're my little chu-chi face
My coo-chi, coo-chi, woo-chi little chu-chi face
Every time I look at you I sigh
And you're my little teddy bear
My lovey lovey dovey little teddy bear
You're the apfel strudel of mine eye

It is usually advisable to start a tale at the beginning, particularly a bit of a fairy tale. But hey, I’ve had a couple and Mrs C was amused so I will start today’s blog at the end.

Tonight, we are staying at the most delightful guest house with even more delightful hosts. The four of us (that’s me, Mrs C, Mick and Andrea - not the hosts) have been out for several hours and as the beer, wine and port has flowed, the speculation about the German couple in the room between the four of us - not having arrived by the time we went out - had gotten a bit out of hand and politically incorrect. 

Simple things and all that but, on returning from our night out and as we fell up the stairs to our first floor rooms, one half of the German couple appeared - obviously now having arrived - on the landing en route to the shared bathroom wearing a tee-shirt and I’m not sure what, if anything, else. Childish I know but cue hysterical reaction. It probably won’t sound funny in the morning, or indeed seem particularly funny to anyone reading this, but it was a splendid end to a splendid day which had started fifteen hours earlier.

We departed our hotel Albergaria Quim Barreiros, chosen primarily because it had the word Quim in its name, at eight o’clock. We walked out of Ancona, and its magnificent beach, along the coastline for two miles before the route took us into the small town of Moleda where we stopped for breakfast. After yesterday’s hard, hard day on the feet, the absence of cobbles was indeed very welcome. We continued on and through the beautiful town of Caminha, situated at the mouth of the River Minho and on the other side of which lies Spain. Many pilgrims take a ferry boat into Spain from here and continue on to Santiago from the other side. We however had decided to follow the river towards Valenca where we will cross into Spain tomorrow. 

We passed through the village of Seixas (cue the first of today’s childish sniggering) and then on to Lanhelas where we stopped for lunch at Bar Casulo where the nice lady looked after us admirably, including the supply of 1906 bottled beer (6.5%), a very tasty little number by brewer Estella Galicia.

The route had brought us away from the coast and brought with it a few cobbles which we didn’t like so we came off-route by dropping down to the river and following a cycle & walking path for the final five miles (of twelve in total) into Cerveira. The town itself was very lively with a large riverside park, lovely town centre square and huge market going on. This all augured very well. Our accommodation for the night, Casa do Artesanato, is lovely and the welcome we were afforded by the mother and son combination who run it could not have been warmer or friendlier. Mama doesn’t speak a word of English (why would she?) but appears to want to make up for that by doing our washing, making us breakfast in the morning and sending us off with a packed lunch. So kind.

We ventured off into town, enjoying a couple of beers in one of the town square bars before moving on to a small corner-site bar on a side road which had the advantage of being in the evening sunshine. They were obviously getting ready to close so we moved on after a couple of beers there and started looking for food. An urgent toilet call saw us make a quick decision in this respect which was later reversed, following said toilet call and a beer because the girls didn’t fancy the menu. Mrs C pulled the lock off the toilet door to emphasise her rejection of this particular venue. 

We found another restaurant venue, just off the main square, which did indeed get the girls’ approval and splendid it was too. We had seen and chatted to (who turned out to be) the main man earlier in the evening when passing a Benfica supporters bar where the occupants were all glued to the TV watching their team in a live match. Benfica won the match 5-1 so he was in a good mood when we recognised each other in the restaurant later. To help us wash down the beer and wine which accompanied the meal, he brought a decanter of port to the table. By the time we were ready to leave, all four of us were on the wibbly wobbly side of life.

And so back to Casa do Artesanato where on arriving, our tee-shirt clad German friend strolled past us on his way to the loo. We retired to our room and hit the sack but strange noises seemed to be emanating from the room next door just a couple of minutes later. Was that someone wailing and moaning? A bit of Hands Knees and Boomps a Daisy occurring? Hand cuffs chinking perhaps? Was it my imagination when I thought I heard the words apfel strudel?

Who knows. Maybe we will be wiser in the morning. Maybe we won’t. Maybe we won’t want to be? Either way, another wonderful day on the Camino. 

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Day 6 - 12 May - Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Âncora

As The Beatles famously sang:

It’s been a hard day’s night….

As it turns out, we were the youth in the youth hostel last night, as confirmed by our fellow punters at a very poor effort breakfast buffet which started at eight o’clock. Personally I can’t abide queuing at buffets of any sort so I grabbed anything I could that didn’t involve the “q” word and sat down at the table to devour two bread rolls, smug in the knowledge that I’d just saved five minutes of my life.

Mrs C and I were taking a detour from the official Camino route this morning as we wanted to visit the Santuário de Santa Luzia, a mausoleum-esque church situated at the top of Monte de Santa Luzia which looks down on Viana and provides panoramic views up and down the coast.

The views were indeed spectacular, well worth the 622 steps and near-cardiac to get there. 

We had previously heard that you can have your photograph taken, at the church, by an old boy (probably one of the youth hostel regulars?) using an old box camera. Note use of the word “old” in that sentence. I’m not sure what was older, the chap himself or his camera. He was sat up, asleep, when we first got there so we waited for him to awake from his early morning slumbers before doing the deed. He could barely walk bless him, more of a shuffle than a walk, and he looked like he might be a bit blind but he got on with the business and charged us ten euros for two exquisite little images that look like they come from the year he was born.

I was left pondering how he gets to work every day. Hopefully not via the 622 steps.

From the church, we took a path down the hill/ mountain to join up, once again, with the official Camino route and we caught up with Mick and Andrea in the village of Carreço where we enjoyed coffee and a pastry. This was only around five miles in to today’s planned twelve miles and, once on the official route, it had been hard going underfoot. Cobbles. It’s true I tell you.

The route kept us off the main road and out of any towns or villages, instead taking us along country roads and paths, all of which laid in cobbles. It makes for an attractive visual effect but it is hard, so hard on the feet. No quaint little rundown villages in this attractive part of the world but rather lots of expensive second homes.

From Carreço, nothing in the way of facilities until we were almost at our destination. Unless you like cobbles of course. Great views. Great weather. And cobbles.

As we entered Vila Praia de Âncora, a small grubby bar came into sight and we sat in the sunshine with a beer before heading to our hotel, around one further mile away. Hotel room - lovely. Bath - potential life saver.

We were at least partly recovered by the time we set out looking for a beer in the sunshine some ninety minutes later. That quest was successfully accomplished, albeit bottles of Super Bock was all that the town appeared to offer. Thereafter, it was off to find somewhere to eat and then back to the hotel to follow Sheffield Wednesday’s progress, via Twitter, in the League 1 play-off semi-final first leg away at Peterborough. As it transpires, “progress” is the opposite of what happened as a four-nil defeat leaves us buggered. Cobbles. It’s been a hard day’s night.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Day 5 - 11 May - Esposende to Viana do Castelo

As The Rembrandts famously sang:

So no one told you walking fifteen miles each dayCalls for some discipline whilst you are on the wayYou can’t be always stuck in second gearHead down and best foot forward, timefor only one beer

Day 5 on our Portuguese Camino and it has been the best day so far. The Coastal Route, which we have been following, has moved inland a little. Not by much. Maybe no more than a mile or so but rather than closely tracking the coastline, the route now sees us at a modestly higher altitude passing through villages, taking country paths and hill routes through forests, all of which with the Atlantic ocean still relatively close and visible to our left. Whilst I have loved walking the spectacular coastline over the previous three days, today felt more like the Camino we fell in love with last year. There remains, however, one big difference.

The song above is of course best known for being the theme song for American sitcom Friends. Mrs C and I are lucky enough to be walking this Camino with our good friends Mick and Andrea but, as a generalisation, it is noticeable that this Camino hasn’t thus far felt the same as last year in terms of camaraderie. That’s not to say that people aren’t friendly, because they are, and there are plenty of Bom Caminho’s flying about but it’s still noticeably different. 

We hit the road at eight o’clock this morning and stopped at the supermarket in the next town of Marinhas for coffee and a croissant. We took opportunity also to buy in some provisions for later in the day as our planned fifteen miles included a long stretch without the prospect of any refreshment stops. We stopped, around eleven o’clock, to consume said provisions whilst sat outside the picturesque church of Santiago de Castelo do Neiva IX at the highest point of the day, around 140m above sea level. It doesn’t sound much but the climb reminded me why I used to prefer driving everywhere. 

Our team walking discipline was good today. Can you believe that it was another two hours before the first beer of the day passed my lips? I’m not sure if this means I’m hardening up or going soft. Nonetheless, the Leffe Blond I enjoyed at Café/Pastelaria S.Sebastião in Chafé was not only welcome but very tasty and provided the filip needed for the final five miles. A final five miles, I might add, which included a long uphill slog before we peaked and enjoyed the views down to the Rio Lima and across which lay the city of Viana do Castelo, our destination for the night.

We descended from this high point and crossed the river over the Ponte Eiffel, a six hundred metre long bridge designed by some guy who also had a hand in a big tower in Paris.

Tonight we are staying in - don’t laugh - a youth hostel. To be honest we weren’t sure if they would let us in but they did and our private apartment ensures that we should remain well out of sight of the younger clientele.

Viana is a beautiful city and as the boys were ready before the girls, Mick and I formed the advance guard and duly set out on our important reconnaissance mission. We first of all reconnoitred bar La Familiar, just up from the cathedral, and then carried on with this important work at bar Boa Vista where the girls then joined us. Then it was on to Ribeiro's Brewers where they had a great selection of craft and bottled beers but at silly prices so we only had the one there. We were getting hungry now so we found a little restaurant which turned out to be a great little find and where, to wash down the meal, I treated myself to two bottles of Sagres Bohemia Original, a 6.2% ruby beer.

Whilst at bar La Familiar and later at Ribeiro's Brewers, we got talking to Reece and Sabrina from California. Or I thought it was Reece until he told me he was Dennis Beech from California. I was a bit confused but I had got a few beers inside me by now. They have been on the road for days if not weeks, having started their Portuguese Camino in Lisbon. To be honest, I haven’t heard good things about the Lisbon to Porto route and Dennis (or Reece?) confirmed “it sucks”. For them, the scenery and route is much more enjoyable from Porto onwards but they are also missing the camaraderie and fellowship previously enjoyed on the main Camino Frances route. Fortunately, we have Mick and Andrea to keep us amused/ occupied/ sane/ insane (delete as appropriate). At least they now have four friends on Camino (i.e. us) which is one more than we have managed as we have only made friends with them and Bruce. Anyway, it transpired that it was definitely Reece and Sabrina we were talking to. 

They live in Venice Beach, California.  

Hopefully our planned twelve miles tomorrow should mean slightly less discipline required than today.