Friday, October 27, 2023

Day 5 - 26 October - Cee to Finisterre

As Elkie Brooks famously sang;

Every night I pray
Tomorrow brings a sunny day and happy things
Just like the way it used to be for you and me
I want to see the sunshine after the rain
I want to see bluebirds flying over the mountains again
Sunshine after the rain
Oh where is the silver lining shining at the rainbow's end

We were warm and cosy in our hotel room overnight, in stark contrast to what was happening outside. The rain was battering our hotel room window, seemingly intent on getting in to have another go at us. There was no point rushing to get away early this morning.

We ventured downstairs to the hotel bar at around twenty past nine for coffee, croissant and complementary cake. The rain was still teeming down. The coffee was very strong, too strong to contemplate a second one and so, with the rain still teeming down, we left the sanctuary of the hotel bar at ten o’clock to face the elements.

Mrs C was kinesiology taped up to the eyeballs (well, kneecaps really) and we only had seven and a half miles to our accommodation so we had a relatively straightforward walk ahead of us. Within fifteen minutes we were out of Cee and approaching its next door neighbour town of Concubine (it may actually have been Corcubión but I prefer Concubine). We were up and through Concubine’s narrow passages in no time and a post-coastal cigarette would have been apposite except for the fact that the rain was now teasing us, ranging from very nearly having stopped to let’s get these buggers very wet again.

Around two miles in, we reached Alto San Roque from where you can catch your first sight of the cape of Finisterre and the lighthouse. Despite the rain and the mist, we did indeed catch that first sight. 

All was good. The rain was easing as we passed through Estorde and then on to a beautiful pine forest track towards Sardiñeiro. But then the rain suddenly wasn’t easing and the pine forest track was more bath than path. And then it eased again.

The bath path suddenly delivered us to Miradoiro de Talón, a vantage point from where stunning views are to be had across the bay to the town of Finisterre and the cape beyond. Here we happened upon two peregrinos taking the compulsory phone snaps of this vista. They seemed nice guys and after a brief chat, I felt it only right that I should offer to buy them a beer were we to meet up later in Finisterre.

Our wild death (as opposed to wildlife) tally increased to four species with the sight of a dead seal on the beach at Praia de Longosteira. It might feasibly have been a sand-filled sack but we weren’t inclined to undertake a detailed investigation so we’ll stick with the seal option. Apart from dead seals (or sacks), the beach at Praia de Longosteira is a mile and a bit of loveliness and leads you right into Finisterre itself.

Amazingly, as we entered Finisterre, the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun came out, Russia called it a draw with Ukraine and the EFL (English Football League) apologised for deducting six points from Sheffield Wednesday a couple of seasons back and agreed to give them the points back plus six more for good luck. Okay, two of these three scenarios didn’t happen but the one that did was very welcome and not a little poetic.

We found our accommodation and got ourselves sorted over the next hour. We weren’t finished yet. We had the lighthouse to get to, another two miles away. By now, the weather forecast was for nothing worse than strong winds and we set off once again, this time minus rucksacks and wet weather gear, tempting fate admittedly but who doesn’t enjoy doing so from time to time?  

Climbing out of Finisterre, the marked route tracks the AC-445 road to the lighthouse, a gentle incline alongside huge pine trees on the steep and rocky banks between road and sea. As we were walking up to the lighthouse, so other peregrinos were walking back down, one of whom was one of the guys I had earlier promised to buy a beer. It would have been rude to pretend this hadn’t happened so I reiterated the offer as we passed.

Not long after and we were approaching the lighthouse. I am not an overly emotional sort of chap but I was hit by a great sense of pride and indeed happiness that Mrs C and I had been able to achieve this together. That said, I’m not actually convinced as to why walking a long way should even be thought of as an achievement? Discovering penicillin, landing on the moon, writing the theme music for Crossroads, these are all achievements. But walking a long way? Anyway, who am I to argue with my own sense of pride and happiness. Deep down, I know this really all stems from being able to do this together with the lovely Mrs C. 

We sat on the rocks below the lighthouse, looking out to sea and empathising why the peregrinos of old considered this place to be the end of the known earth. I have read how peregrinos of more recent times have ritualistically burnt their walking clothes at this spot and swum naked in the sea but aside from the lighting of fires understandably being discouraged by the authorities, does anyone seriously think I would subject my Mexican Lucky tee-shirt to such a fate? And the sea looked a bit cold anyway.

So how to celebrate this auspicious moment? We had a beer! At the site of the lighthouse there is a little bar so we had a little beer and after which we headed back down the AC-445 path towards the town. The rain had attempted a couple of half-hearted comebacks but even the forecast windy conditions didn’t materialise any more than one might expect on such an exposed headland which left us only to enjoy plenty of blue sky and sunshine - and a rainbow! -on the two mile walk back to Finisterre town.

It was around half past five when we got back into town and we started looking for a bar in which to make the most of our celebratory mood. This duly arrived in the shape of El Galeón bar where we sat inside, by the window, looking out to the harbour and sea beyond. We were just finishing our first beers here when who should walk in but the guys I had promised to buy a beer. A promise is a promise and beers were duly purchased. 

Alistair (Ali) and Peter are from Bristol and Antwerp respectively, and met on the road just a day or so back. Ali has walked the Camino Frances from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees and Peter has walked the Portuguese route from Lisbon, for both their first experience of walking the Camino de Santiago. When you’ve done it, you get it! It’s like a secret club and difficult to articulate to others why you’ve done it, what you got out of it and how it changed you. Deep man. We had another beer and then said our goodbyes.

Food was calling and we set off to find a restaurant recommended to us by our accommodation host. Restaurante Os Tres Golpes was an unpretentious bar in a small side street, specialising in fish but pretty damn good when it came to meat too. Fabulous meal. What a way to finish our Camino!

Tomorrow we will be tourists, not peregrinos, so that is it for this Camino blog. I hope that you have enjoyed reading The Adventures of Mrs C. She has enjoyed the main character role. I think.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Day 4 - 25 October - Olveiroa to Cee

As The Eurythmics famously sang:

Here comes the rain againSlapping on my head through the hood of my ponchoTrickling down my boots like a strange emotionI want to walk through the rain and windWalking through the hills as it does its worstHoping I’ll get down to the oceanWithout drowning first

I woke up at seven o’clock and checked outside the window to confirm that it wasn’t raining. It was definitely going to rain but the forecast suggested that we had until around ten o’clock before this scenario was likely to unfold. Accordingly we determined a prompt start to be sensible so after coffee and cake in the large and functional but unattractive bar at Casa Loncho, we set off at twenty to nine still in relative darkness. Almost immediately we were in open moorland leading to forested hills where, despite a heavy morning mist, we enjoyed views across valleys from our heightened viewpoint. 

Surprisingly, we haven’t seen a great deal of wildlife on this adventure, more wild death as it happens with the species leading the way in the we-really-can’t-cope-with-the-heavy-rains stakes being the rather attractive but not good at swimming salamander. Other competitors over the last three days have been frogs and a solitary dead rat. Whilst I rather like frogs, I am afraid that the only good rat is a dead one. 

During the first hour of walking today, we passed through two small hamlets so tiny that the word hamlet probably over-exaggerates their existence. I mention this only in that by the time one reaches the point at which the route splits dependent upon whether you are heading for Finisterre or Muxia, a roadside bar at this point makes it very clear that if you are taking the Finisterre option (we were) then that is it for civilisation of any description until you get to Cee, around eight miles away. 

Also at this juncture, right on cue at ten o’clock, the promised rain made its appearance.

By this time we were around one third of the way through our total near twelve mile day. Initially, the rain was inconvenient only in so much as it is usually preferable that it not be raining. Certainly, yesterday’s fearsome, gale-inspired precipitation was not in danger of being imitated at this stage, but as we ventured further into this eight miles of picturesque nothingness, so the guy in charge of the weather control button gradually kept cranking it towards bad weather max. By the time we reached Ermita San Pedro Mártir, from where one can usually see the sea and the town of Cee, one in fact couldn’t see the sea or see Cee. I could hardly see Mrs C. 

This particular Ermita is where St Peter the Martyr cures your aches and pains by your placing the afflicted body part(s) in the waters of the holy spring. However, by now, we decided that we were wet enough already. Worse was to come however.

We hit the high plain. No forestry to the side of the path to lend at least a modicum of protection from the wind and rain. Obviously this is something that the local authorities are working on because as we battled against the elements, so did a team of hi-viz clad workers busily planting saplings in the moorland to our left hand side as the heavy rain fell, the heavy winds blew and a heavy mist enveloped the lot of us. The path was now more quagmire than footpath, not helped by the four-wheel drive vehicles which had ferried the hi-viz clad workers there in the first place. It would be fair to say that this was a particular low point for Mrs C whose left knee was causing her some not inconsiderable grief.

By contrast, the subsequent not quite so bad conditions came as some relief on the long, three hundred metre descent down into Cee, it being accompanied by more forestry and therefore offering greater shelter from the wind and rain. The unstable cinder path however did just about do for Mrs C’s good spirits and the final half mile to our hotel was taken slowly and with not a few choice words along the way.

Hotel La Marina. What a life saver. Within forty minutes of arrival we were in the hotel bar enjoying a beer and a plate each of their albondigas (meat balls) and chips. Delicious. Thereafter we briefly ventured out to find a lavanderia in which to dry out our wet stuff and then returned to the hotel to plan for our evening sortie.

Cee is a small city, located along the shores of the Ría de Corcubión on the Costa da Morte (coast of death). I’m guessing that most people die of pneumonia. It may not be an attractive small city, whether aesthetically or for reasons of health, but those that do survive it here appear to have a good selection of bars to choose from.

Generally speaking, of an evening, Mrs C and I like to find a bar in which to seek inspiration for the planning of the following day’s route and booking of suitable accommodation. Thereafter, it’s usually a couple more beers and then something to eat. Having already eaten at three o’clock though, we weren’t particularly ravenous when we set off out again three hours later and were happy to find a beer and pizza place just around the corner from the hotel. The rain started hammering down again and we moved inside. Ooh, Barcelona v Shakhtar Donetsk on the TV. Ooh, a free little slice of pizza - don’t mind if I do. Another one of those nice Estrella Galicia 1906 beers please. Ooh, another free little slice of pizza. Another 1906 please. Ooh, a free little seafood wrap. You get the gist. 

Barcelona were two-one up by the time we left, midway through the second half. Tomorrow’s route and accommodation were now all sorted and with the rain having ceased, we returned to our hotel bar for one last beer and - ooh a free little piece of lasagna - whilst seeing out the last few minutes of the Barcelona game before retiring to bed. 

Tomorrow, knees and weather permitting, we should arrive at Finisterre, the traditional final destination for peregrinos on the Camino de Santiago. Finisterre, on the coast of death at the end of the world with more bad weather incoming. What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Day 3 - 24 October - Santa Mariña to Olveiroa

Psalm 23:4

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy poncho and thy various wet weather paraphernalia they comfort me.

We awoke to the sound of a howling wind almost drowning out the crowing of a cockerel. It was raining very heavily too. In fact, the cockerel may well have been drowning for real, such was the extent of water falling from the skies. Weather wise, my Mexican Lucky appeared to be running out of steam. 

Confession time. I wore my Mexican Lucky tee-shirt throughout the day on Sunday. And Monday. And I thought “what the heck” when I put it on again this morning. Maybe it would bring positive influence to bear on today’s pretty dire weather forecast? It didn’t.

We prepared for the day appropriately, including the application of kinesiology tape to the back of Mrs C’s right knee. After coffee in the Casa Pepa bar, we hit the road at nine o’clock in theoretical daylight, wet weather geared-up to the eyeballs. Our revised itinerary meant that we only had eight miles to conquer today and we set off in high spirits despite the conditions. 

The rain was relentless, made all the more penetrative by near gale-like winds whipping it across the sodden and partly flooded fields. We were mainly walking along tarmac’d country roads today with an initial steady climb up to Monte Aro before a long gentle descent into Olveiroa. Wet weather gear can only ever be, at best, adequate. When faced with an attack from all directions, it will only keep some of the wet out and within the first half an hour or so we were squelching along in our supposedly waterproof footwear. 

The kinesiology tape appeared to be doing the trick for Mrs C and, whilst we weren’t motoring, we maintained a steady pace except for one particular off-road uphill where the rain and soft scree surface demanded nothing more than second gear progress.

The landscape has changed from a couple of days back with forests replaced by rolling countryside, agriculture and livestock, predominantly cows. Farms of various sizes, with accompanying aromas, are everywhere. It may not be as attractive as that which came before but it remains a joy to be part of it, even if it was a very wet joy today.

We were not on the road for much more than three hours in total but the wind saved its most challenging gusts for the final third of the journey. The wind buffeted us about to the extent that we were at times staggering as opposed to walking. Mrs C’s flapping poncho slapped me in the face twice and my poncho kept blowing up from behind and over my head thus leaving my rearguard exposed (rather like Mrs C yesterday). The now irreplaceable and trusty walking staff also whacked me on the ankle a couple of times, entirely accidentally Mrs C assured me. 

We arrived at our accommodation Casa Loncho in Olveiroa not long after midday, wet and bedraggled but nonetheless still in good spirits. Our private room is way and above the best of the trip so far and afforded us sufficient space to remove all wet stuff, hang it up to dry, put on our dry stuff and then head to the bar for a coffee and bite to eat. The bar itself is large and functional but unattractive, certainly in terms of a prospective venue in which to spend a few hours later on. We retired to our room and had a kip whilst the weather outside perversely took a modest turn for the better. 

By five o’clock we were ready to explore Olveiroa which, as it turns out, warrants about ten minutes of exploration if you do it once and then do it a second time in the hope that you might have missed something the first time round. As with so many of the villages in this part of Galicia, Olveiroa is not much more than a collection of stone buildings, some magnificently restored whilst others dilapidated, which add up to not much more than a church, farm buildings, large horreos and accommodation/ bars to meet the needs of the Camino peregrinosGoogle maps had alerted me to Cafe Bar O Peregrino which I was hanging my hat on, not really wanting to contemplate spending the evening at our large and functional but unattractive bar at Casa Loncho. Sadly, Cafe Bar O Peregrino was able only to match the latter of these three features which saw us moving swiftly on after just the one beer. Was I really all out of Mexican Lucky? 


My (by now) washed and dried Mexican Lucky tee-shirt was back in the game and working its magic. Bar As Pias was just down the road. Someone has spent a lot of money converting this traditional stone building into a fabulous little bar with accommodation. We plonked ourselves down by the window and within minutes were chatting to Alex and Laura, two young ladies from Australia and Switzerland respectively, who have been walking the Camino Frances route and now looking to arrive in Finisterre by close of business tomorrow. By the time they got up to leave and return to a certain large and functional but unattractive bar elsewhere in the village, Mrs C and I had determined that we should stay put and try out the food at As Pias. We were not disappointed. My Galician Stew had potential to bring on more meat sweats, such was the generosity of the serving. By the time we got up to leave, all was good with the world even if it had started raining again.

Tomorrow we head for the town of Cee on the Galician coast,  in theory another relatively easy day’s walking even though more rain is forecast but we will of course have Mexican Lucky on our side. Thank goodness Mrs C didn’t go for the Sheffield Wednesday shirt option. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Day 2 - 23 October - Negreira to Santa Mariña

As Mud famously sang;

Alright, feels tight, feels tight, feels tight,Feels tight, my knees really hurt in the nightStay calm, stay calm, stay calm, stay calm,And apply that tiger balm, yes apply that tiger balm

Today has been all about knees, wees and itineraries.

Twelve hours in bed was a good antidote to yesterday’s early start, even if Mrs C was experiencing restless legs during the night. It was raining when we woke up, not unexpected, so we didn’t bother rushing. We departed our accommodation at half past nine and found a supermarket in which to buy a couple of soft rolls, then on to a bar for coffee, croissant and complementary cake and churros. We set off proper at ten o’clock by which time the rain had ceased even though a wet mist prevailed.

Is Mrs C morphing into St James?

Negreira wasn’t a particularly attractive town although we exited via an impressive stone archway. We took the green optional route away from Negreira, initially following the cascading Rio Barcala before commencing a five mile, three hundred metre ascent towards Alto da Pena where I treated myself to a beer at the albergue bar of same name. The walking environment had been stunning, primarily through forest where the eucalyptus was joined by its pine, oak and silver birch contemporaries. The pathways were strewn with leaves, shredded eucalyptus bark, conkers and pine cones which combined, at times, to provide slippery conditions underfoot, particularly on the narrow uphill paths. The natural pathways have been augmented, sometimes by concrete but mainly a dry mix and scree which makes for easier walking conditions generally but is prone to wash away with heavy and prolonged rains. It is also prone to getting in my boots. If I stopped once today then I must have stopped twenty times to take off my boots and empty them of small stones and the like. 

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Cafeteria Alto da Pena, Mrs C was struggling a bit with hurty knees and her discomfort continued throughout the rest of the day. I did attempt some psychological therapy of the “pull yourself together” variety but, alas, to no avail. Fortunately, the walking conditions underfoot took on somewhat easier form for the second half of the walk although Mrs C’s gritted teeth told their own story. We were now in more open, rolling countryside passing fields of recently harvested corn as we made quicker progress on roadside paths, not that there were too many cars to worry about, but still mainly wide cross country paths.

We parked up to enjoy last night’s leftover serrano ham, chorizo and cheese in the soft rolls acquired this morning, sitting either side of the 55.795 km way marker on the roadside. Thus far there has been little chance of our getting lost courtesy of these ubiquitous official directional guides. The stony ground either side of the 55.795 km marker didn’t make for the comfiest of bases on which to sit and consume our lunch but aesthetically it was an improvement on yesterday’s bus shelter.

When walking long distances in the middle of nowhere, wild wees are a fact of life and I’m not just talking us chaps you know. Throughout our walk today, the weather had changed from wet misty to dry misty, to cloudy, sunny cloudy and then a bit spitty rainy, the latter necessitating ponchos once again even if we could just about have gotten by without them. Anyway, Mrs C felt the wild wee urge whilst sporting her rather dandy poncho. One of the consequences of hurty knees is an inability to crouch comfortably but when one is “in poncho”, the ability to crouch for purposes of modesty and efficiency isn’t necessarily quite so important. Suitably emboldened and with no peregrinos in sight within two hundred yards in either direction, our middle of nowhere location enticed Mrs C to the prospect of wild weeing at the side of this surprisingly wide and tarmac’d country path, rather than perhaps seeking a rather more discrete, off-path location. Anyway, wild wee barely completed when - whoooosh - a transit van flew past as Mrs C was still zipping up etc. So, our surprisingly wide and tarmac’d country path was actually a road. You live and learn. 

Thus far over our two Caminos Mrs C and I have eschewed the use of walking poles or similar but when hurty knees come-a-calling, one may need to reconsider such stance. Mrs C did just so when speculating that some sort of walking staff might prove helpful and thus I set about spying the landscape for something suitable and it wasn’t too long before a long, sturdy stick was located. What with the poncho, walking staff and hat ensemble it struck me that Mrs C now bore more than a passing resemblance to the many depictions of St James himself. This reminded me, scarily, of the film The Santa Claus, where actor Tim Allen plays a regular guy who gradually morphs into Santa himself. Could similar be happening to Mrs C? Having thought about it, I might possibly be able to accommodate such a scenario although I would definitely draw the line at her growing a beard and anything else come to think of it.

We arrived at our accommodation Albergue Casa Pepa, in the tiny hamlet of Santa Mariña at around half past four. Mrs C’s knee issues are cause for concern and we have decided not to proceed with our original plans to walk to Finisterre via Muxia and instead to take the more direct route straight on to Finisterre. This will allow us to take a short day of walking tomorrow and two relatively modest days thereafter, with a spare day thrown into the mix just in case.

Decision made, we sat in the late afternoon sun at the albergue bar and celebrated appropriately, later taking advantage of their pilgrim meal offering of lentil soup and pork filet and chips at the princely sum of twelve euros per person. Having anaesthetized Mrs C with a couple of Estrella Galicia beers, I shall now proceed to applying the tiger balm. Every cloud has a silver lining!

Day 1 - 22 October - Santiago de Compostela to Negreira

 As Daft Punk famously sang: 

… She's up all night 'til the sunI'm up all night to get someShe's up all night for good funI'm up all Mexican lucky

It’s been a long day. I’ve been rained on quite a lot. Mrs C and I have shared a romantic sandwich lunch whilst sat in a bus shelter and our top floor apartment is more spenthouse than penthouse. I am a very lucky guy. In fact, I am Mexican lucky. It has been a great first day back on Camino.

We had our alarms set for three o’clock this morning to facilitate a three thirty leave and drive to Alicante airport, around seventy five minutes away. Having disposed of two (very worn) lightweight, easy dry tee-shirts at the end of our Portuguese Camino, I found myself with only two remaining such items but in need of a third so I gave Mrs C a choice to make at three fifteen this morning. “Right then, what’s it to be - do I travel today in my Sheffield Wednesday shirt or my Mexican Lucky tee-shirt?”. For context, Mrs C is less than keen on my being seen in public with either of these shirt options but not equally so as it transpires. “Mexican Lucky” was her immediate response and so today I have been driving, flying, bussing and walking whilst sporting my Mexican Lucky tee-shirt, a birthday gift from two dear friends as a nod to my propensity for often getting the lyrics of popular songs hopelessly wrong. 

The shirt itself is just a light blue, round-neck tee-shirt with a sombrero on it above which are the words Mexican Lucky. What’s not to like?

Our travel arrangements went smoothly and having alighted the bus from the airport to central Santiago at nine twenty, we found ourselves at Praza do Obradoiro, in front of the cathedral, just ten minutes later. Despite the relatively early hour, the square was already peppered with peregrinos excited at having just completed their Caminos. By contrast I felt a bit fraudulent being there with them, having just stepped off a bus ten minutes earlier. So we didn’t hang around for long - we had our own Camino to get started but this time heading away from, not to, Santiago. 

The weather forecast was not promising but we set off out of the city in decent enough conditions, even if the temperature was barely into double figures. Within a mile we were walking along eucalyptus woodland paths which were to feature for much of today’s thirteen miles. No chance of emerging from these woodlands with blocked nasal passages, such is the distinctive and pleasant scent of the eucalyptus.

We had been walking for about an hour when, on a steep(ish) downhill path, we happened upon an elderly French couple and their daughter, on bicycles, coming towards us. Or not. Mum was exhausted, it was as much as she could do to hold the bike stationery and upright. Daughter had parked her bike and was walking back down the hill towards Dad, also stationery. Bugger. I’m going to have to help aren’t I (shades of Day 15 on our Camino Frances last year). I didn’t know they were French at the time and so, in my best Spanish, I asked Mum if she needed some help. She did. Bloody hell the bike was heavy. I pushed it up the hill for twenty metres or so, conscious that there was still a long way to go to reach more level ground. Suddenly, Dad went flying past me like Evel Knievel on steroids. What trickery was this? Elec-bloody-trickery, that’s what. They all had electric bikes! Apparently, both Mum and Dad had over-tentatively approached temporarily unstable path conditions and lost traction and therefore momentum as a result. However, daughter had managed to get Dad going again and my twenty metre effort got Mum on to more stable ground and she was off too. 

Electric bikes - surely that’s cheating?

Time for a drink. The small hamlet of Quintáns was just a few minutes walk ahead and bar Os Arcos had a suitably cold and refreshing Estrella Galicia beer with my name on it. It was only eleven o’clock but I had been up for eight hours after all.

We continued along woodland paths and quiet country lanes through the Galician countryside, passing affluent private residences with paddocks for the horses and nice cars for their owners. But all this greenery doesn’t grow itself. It needs rain and Galicia gets plenty of it. Our decent weather start turned slightly less decent necessitating the donning of wet weather gear, ponchos and all, and a short stint sitting in a bus shelter to see out the worst of it where we also took opportunity to consume our ham sandwiches. Yesterday’s fresh baguette is today’s dry sandwich but just as well we took those carbs on board as we then had a steep mile and a half climb to the top of Alto Mar do Ovelias which was hard work, particularly whilst wearing wet weather gear which tends to keep you dry on the outside but not so the inside when effort is involved. From there however pretty much downhill all the way, over the impressive stone bridge at Ponte Maceira and then on to Negreira where we have a private room on the top (fifth) floor at Albergue San José which sounds quite quaint but actually resembles the building in Slough which houses fictitious paper company Wernham Hogg in the TV series The Office. Our room, with large balcony, was adequate enough but as tired and spent as one might imagine to be the case with Wernham Hogg’s Slough offices.

Whilst it might not be immediately evident from all the above, we have had a wonderful day. The walking has been a joy, feet appear to have withstood today’s challenges without incident and the rain has never been more than a minor inconvenience. And tonight? What a treat. We found the nearest bar to the albergue, drank beer and wine, watched Girona FC beat Almeria 5-2 on the tele and ate comfort food. Mrs C left half of her chicken and fried eggs but made herself a chip buttie. You can take the girl out of Burnley and all that!

Me? I settled for a huge plate of serrano ham, chorizo and cheese, half of which will be filling our sandwiches tomorrow. I am a lucky guy. Mexican lucky perhaps?

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Catch That Buzz - Football is the Drug


Outside of family and friends, the three great joys in my life are football, walking and beer - not necessarily in that order - and I endeavour to participate in plentiful enjoyment of each within the bounds of appropriate moderation (obviously). Thus, my recent discovery of Padiham FC (see Bury Alive - And Kicking) on my doorstep afforded opportunity to indulge in all three this last August bank holiday Monday. With no plans for the day, no Premier League or EFL fixtures and no TV football, I scanned the non-league fixtures to discover that The Storks had a 3.00 p.m. home fixture against Longridge Town FC in the North West Counties Football League (NWCFL) Premier Division. Mrs C didn't fancy it but oldest daughter did so off we set on the picturesque four and a half miles via Ightenhill Lane, across the River Calder and along Grove Lane, past Burnley FC's Gawthorpe training ground on the other side of the river, and into Padiham.

In an age of excessive government overreach, football clubs and their like are fantastic examples of what society is capable of doing without undue political interference. Of course government has to provide the societal framework within which individual and community enterprise is fostered but, beyond that, society produces clubs like Padiham FC. Football clubs are important. They play a vital role in the health and general well-being of the community.

Over the years, by virtue of where I happen to be living at the time, I have enjoyed flirtations variously with Colchester United, Ipswich Town, Southend United, Great Yarmouth Town FC, FC Cartagena (Spain) and Accrington Stanley but always secondary to my one true footballing love that is Sheffield Wednesday. Maybe Padiham FC could become another such relationship? It's Mrs C's town of birth after all. They play in blue. They sell Reedley Hallows' New Zealand Pale Ale in the club house and my ripe old age qualifies me for concession admission pricing. What's not to like?

I find football club histories intriguing, particularly when looking at non-league clubs many of whom I am now discovering for the first time. Padiham FC was established in 1878, only eleven years after Sheffield Wednesday were formed, albeit with a thirty three year sabbatical between 1916 and 1949. Opponents Longridge Town have only twenty seven years of history behind them although with an honours board not that far short of Padiham's. 

We arrived at the ground thirty five minutes before kick-off, in good time for a pre-match pint at the club bar. Plenty of Burnley FC badges and shirts on display. Production of a season ticket for any Premier League or EFL club qualifies the holder for half-price admission - recognition that clubs such as Padiham often have to survive in the shadow of much bigger football club neighbours. Also a decent turnout of Longridge fans contributing to an attendance of two hundred and thirty eight. 

Both clubs have endured poor starts to the league season with Padiham's one win to date being one more than Longridge have achieved. So, what to expect in terms of football quality? Plenty as it turned out. Neither team looked particularly short on capability, endeavour or confidence as the match started although I felt that Longridge looked the brighter of the two in the opening ten minutes. Padiham began to assert themselves, prompted by the excellent Joel Melia whose hard work down the left wing was causing the visitors' defence plenty of problems. He then switched to the right hand side to take a free kick which the goalkeeper did well to reach, partially clear and then block the follow-up shot. Almost immediately however, the visitors' Morgan Homson-Smith found himself one on one with Harry Moss in the Padiham goal but the goalkeeper saved the effort with his left foot and the clearest chance of the first half was squandered. All in all, a fairly even first half which had been highly competitive but never dirty. 

There is a noticeable intimacy to football at this level in that the absence of several thousand fans making lots of noise leaves you in no doubt as to what is being said on the pitch. This works both ways in that the anonymity usually enjoyed by the loud mouth fan in a big crowd is absent. In the three games I have watched over the last month (see also Darwen FC and The Theory of Evolution), I have been pleasantly surprised at the standard of officiating. I'm quite sure that this won't always be the case although it is of course much easier to offer a balanced view of the refereeing team when it's not your club that's playing. Today's referee was ably assisted by two experienced (looking) assistant referees running the line, often akin to running the gauntlet although today's "bantz" was never worse than juvenile coming, as it did, from a juvenile. Sadly, a recent match at Darwen FC (one league below the NWCFL Premier) was abandoned following verbal abuse of the young, female assistant referee. There are always idiots.

I am used to watching football on a slope as the pitch at Hillsborough - Sheffield Wednesday's home - slopes nearly two metres beween opposite corners. I suspect that Padiham's pitch can beat that. Given their winless run to date, Longridge should have taken plenty of confidence into the second half but they obviously couldn't cope with the slope because it all went horribly wrong very quickly. Joel Melia continued where he left off, sending a warning shot across the bows (well, over the bar really) with just three minutes on the second half clock. And three minutes later Jamie Ramwell fired the Storks in front having been given the freedom of the slope by the Longridge defence. Four minutes later and Joel Melia scored from a free kick, from around twenty five yards out, with an absolute rip-snorter which would have done for any goalkeeper, anywhere. The game was effectively over in the sixty ninth minute when Jamie Ramwell scored his second and Padiham's third when consciously deflecting Jack Gooden's powerful shot into the net. 

Having failed to contain the home side during this twenty five minute, second-half period the Longridge players belatedly upped their tempo and effort. Morgan Homson-Smith played well throughout - easily Longridge’s best player on the day - and it was he that scored a consolation goal with eighty minutes on the clock, tucking the ball past an advancing Harry Moss. Until then I had been thinking I might actually be Padiham’s lucky charm with my not having seen them concede a goal in nearly two matches although, thinking about it, that was only because I was in the clubhouse bar when Bury scored their two goals either side of half-time.

Late on, Padiham substitute Charlie Disney-Ridge fluffed his lines when clean through against Kier Barry in the Longridge goal, thus coming second in the battle of the rather splendid double-barrel surnames with the Longridge goal scorer. The match finished with the final score of 3-1 to the home team for a well deserved victory and three points.

Football. I bloody love it. Whether it’s twenty thousand plus fans at Hillsborough or two hundred and thirty eight fans at Padiham I love the passion, the partisanship and the buzz of just being there at a live match. I watch plenty of TV footie too but it doesn’t come close to the real thing. I’m off to Spain soon so I might not be back at the Arbories for a few weeks but I will be back. Football is my drug. Well, one of ‘em.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Tough At The Bottom


Most footie fans do not like the International Break weekends of which this weekend (today is Saturday 14 October) is one. I have a suspicion that most footballers don’t like them either, Scott  McTominay, for one, after his spectacular free kick goal was outrageously ruled out when the VAR officials and a prancing fusspot of a referee determined that Scotland taking the lead in Seville against Spain was not in the script. Jordan Henderson may be the exception here as at least he managed to get away from Al-Ettifaq FC in the plastic Saudi Pro League where he’s not enjoying life at all except for his £700k a week salary. Football managers definitely don’t like International Break weekends as they divide their time worrying about whether their star striker will return crocked or whether the club chairman will take the opportunity to sack them. It’s tough at the top. But it’s tougher at the bottom.

Sheffield Wednesday, bottom of the Football League Championship. Manager Xisco Muñoz sacked ten days ago after ten matches. New manager Danny Röhl appointed yesterday.

FC Cartagena, bottom of La Liga 2. Manager Víctor Sánchez sacked after seven games. New manager Julián Calero appointed two weeks ago.

Stanley Strollers FC, bottom of the Watney Cup League. Manager Graeme Cook retains the full confidence of, er, Graeme Cook. 

Stanley Strollers FC are my Premier League Fantasy team and along with my fellow managers in the Premier League, I will be worrying about whether my star striker returns crocked from international duty even if I am spared the prospect of the club chairman (i.e. me) taking the International Weekend break as opportunity to sack the manager (i.e. me).

Diligent as ever, I shall be taking in this evening’s game at FC Cartagena where they take on Real Racing Club of Santander in La Liga 2 which, unlike the EFL Championship, has a full fixture list this weekend. Admission fees have increased this season at the Estadio Cartaganova by an outrageous third which means forking out a whole twenty euros for an upper tier seat behind the goal. Thinking about it, I could probably fly to a Cartagena home game from Manchester for similar cost to attending a Category A match at Hillsborough. Danny Röhl has certainly got some work to do to make the Hillsborough option more attractive.

Next week, my efforts will be focused on moving Stanley Strollers FC away from the bottom of the table although an optimist would say that we are already a top seven team and they wouldn’t be wrong. 

In the meantime, vamos a Cartagena to discuss tactics. That cerveza isn’t going to drink itself.