Week 20: Portomarin to Santiago de Compostella

Reader, I made it.  I’m here! I am in Santiago de Compostella…

It’s good but it’s odd.  I mean, who walks from England to Spain?  Weirdo.  Haven’t they heard of planes or trains or cars?!  And then I realise that weirdo is me.  I am the one who has walked from her home in Essex, UK to Santiago de Compostella, Spain.  3,000km in 4.5 months.  2016-09-01 10.46.22.jpg

It feels like it was just yesterday that I left and yet also a lifetime ago.  I can still feel that awful damp, chilled bone marrow, pruny fingers feeling like it was moments ago when I think of Chateau Renault and yet it is also so faded, so soft around the edges in my memory that it could have happened to someone else and I can only imagine it inaccurately.  A sepia tone discolours everything.  The Sun’s heat in Spain has seared out most of those soggy recollections of France and faded even the brightest of blue skies I’ve experienced in Spain.  I know I am the one to have walked this walk and lived these moments, these memories, but it is already starting to feel like a surreal dream.

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I’m not walking another step!

I’m surround by my family and Guthrie, reveling in all their noisiness and celebrations and loving it.  I am so ready to go home.

Day 1: Portomarin to Ponte Campana

I was ready to leave Portomarin.  It’s a lovely town but there isn’t much to do there to say the least. 2016-08-29 07.34.35.jpg

I walked on my own which suited me just perfectly.  I needed to work out where my head was at.  Having said that I was ready to go home, that I had accepted that this adventure was drawing to a close, I suddenly wasn’t so certain.  Sure, I’m desperate for my own bed, for some privacy, for my family and friends and boyfriend.  However, am I ready to go back to work?  To accept the responsibilities that come with normal life?  The commitments and compromises, that for the last few months I’ve been able to leave at one side, are going to be clamouring for attention the second I get off the plane.  I know I said I missed them, but do I really?  The only person that has mattered for the last four and a half months has been me.  The only thing I’ve been responsible for is getting myself from A to B.  The only person I’ve had to answer to, has been me.  Me, me, me, me, me, me. 2016-08-29 08.11.35.jpg

All this has been churning around in my head, non-stop.  It was rather a relief to meet other people on the Camino and chatter with them as we walked.  I ended up walking 30km, I was both tired and full of energy, wanting to walk those kilometres and get to Santiago.  2016-08-29 13.04.17.jpg

Palas de Rei is a charming town where I had originally decided to stop for the day.  I entered the church in the town where a lovely man was running the stamping of pilgrim passports and talking to those interested about the history of the church and of the Camino.  The Friends of the Camino really are an incredible bunch.  Their endless friendliness, generosity with their time and their knowledge is incredible.  They must have heard nearly all our stories of triumph and woe before and yet they never fail to be interested, excited and sympathetic. Their boundless enthusiasm and positivity for this journey is catching and I left the church, revved up and determined to walk a way further – but not too far, I know my comfortable limits!2016-08-29 13.38.09.jpg

It was only c.5km further to Ponte Campana and I am so glad that I decided to stay there.  I was wandering along a lovely little country road when I saw an enormous scallop shell on the side of a building.  ‘Do you think that’s the albergue?’, I asked myself.  ‘Why, yes, I do’, I replied to myself.2016-08-29 13.49.13.jpg

There was a fabulous gang there – Leah (28, South African), Katie (27, German), Petra (26, Austraian), Martin (27, German) and Jueve (60? Belgian).  They had been walking together for a week or so, having started from all different places.  Leah had started in SJPDP and Jueve had started near Belgium- c.2,500km! The others had started along the Camino Frances, although this was Petra’s 3rd camino.  She takes a different route each year.  They welcomed me with open arms and were interested to hear my tales as well as share their own.  I spent a wonderful afternoon with them lazing in the sunshine and chatting this and that.

There was also a Japenese family at the hostel.  The father was a journalist and is writing a piece on the Camino Frances.  He had started in SJPDP.  His wife and 6yo daughter had joined him in Leon.  He walked separately from them but they all met up in the hostel at the end of the day.  On average they walked 30km a day.  A tiny 6 year old girl walked 30km a day.  In fact ran some parts of it, and then ran back to her mother, so she probably walked about 35km a day and was still a bundle of energy at the end of the day.  I look on in awe and felt rather ancient and decrepit.  ‘Ah, the energy of youth’, I thought to myself.

Day 2: Ponte Campana to Ribadiso

Again, my head was in an odd place.  Or maybe not so odd.  We’d all love to not have to work or worry about money and yet still do all the fun things we want to do and see our friends and family and live in nice places and eat delicious food…  So really, I should stop being such a drama queen and just get on with it.  2016-08-30 10.02.45.jpg

Besides, I love my job.  I love Tymperleys, I love the team of staff that we have there, and I love our customers!  I love that I never have two identical days, that there are always new faces and challenges.  There always seem to be this idea that we shouldn’t love our jobs though.  It starts to rub off.  You’re constantly being told that you should ‘live for  the weekends’ and that Sunday evenings before going back to work on Monday mornings are depressing times.  Well, stuff and nonsense.  I refuse.  I’m one of the fortunate and it’s just not true for me.  I’ve missed Tymperleys.  I think of it as my baby and I can’t wait to see it again!2016-08-30 11.11.15.jpg

While I was mulling over this oddity – we spend more time at work than not, we should enjoy it, shoudn’t we?  It seems odder and odder the more I think about it that we accept anything less – that I met Roland and Rocinante.  Roland is Hungarian and has walked from Budapest to Finisterra, back to Burgos and then back to Finisterra again and is now slowly making his way back to Budapest, all with his 21yo donkey, Rocinante.  He hands out stamps for pilgrim passports, playing the recorder and generally spreads goodwill and cheer in a bid to collect enough money to pay for his and Rocinante’s journey home.  2016-08-30 11.11.02.jpg

I stayed in a charming little hostel in Robadiso at the top of a monster hill – why do I always seem to bump into the big hills at the end of a day’s walking?  Why can’t I meet them at the start when I have more energy?!

Also staying there were a group of ladies who I’d seen the previous day and said a ‘hallo’ to as I passed them by.  Apparently I’d also commented on ‘what a lovely morning it is’.  They instantly hated me, convinced I was one of those dreadful chirpy walkers who have flooded the Camino since Sarria.  They weren’t best pleased to see me.2016-08-30 11.46.58.jpg

I spent another afternoon basking in the sunshine and reading my book.   It wasn’t until I overheard them speaking English and decided to butt into their conversation and make some friends.  Enya (Denmark, SJPDP), Louisa (Brazil, Burgos), Kim (American, Leon) and her daughter, Madelaine (American, Leon) were polite enough to give me a second chance.  We chatted this and that until of course, the inevitable question of ‘where did you start?’ arrived.

‘England’, I replied.

‘We beg your pardon, where?’, they asked again.

‘England.  From my home in Essex’, I repeated.

‘Oh.’

They were gobsmacked.  Apparently I had featured in every one of their diary entries the night before as the perfect example of how irritating and full of energy the people who have just started from Sarria are.  With their tiny backpacks – hello, Ken?! – spotless boots – errrr?! – and fresh faced energy – thank you! – those who are on Camino day trips are fairly obvious.  How I was mistaken for one, I have no idea.  I do suppose I walk quite fast so maybe they didn’t have time to go through the full check list.  2016-08-30 12.46.02.jpg

They were terribly funny about it and convinced that I had inadvertently taught them some great Camino lesson about never judging people by appearance or on snap assumptions.  It has to be said, remembering that all journeys are of equal importance and weight is a little challenging when you see people walking along in a full face of make-up, with a real handbag and no backpack at all…  My handbag for the last three months has been an Oslo Airport Duty Free plastic bag… Still, we all do what we can do.  No one is any more or less important.  If I repeat this often enough, hopefully I’ll start to think it instinctively.  I should, I know, it’s just hard to be an understanding person all the time.  Especially when they have a real handbag.  I mean, seriously, a handbag!

Day 3: Ribadiso to O Predrouzo

I was just so excited to arrive by Wednesday. I was counting down every kilometre, every hour, every second in my head.  I kept on welling up, almost crying, I’ve no idea why.  Walking through the eucalyptus forests was lovely.  The smell was just so evocative.  It reminded me of my prep school, Hanford, and Lucker, the matron, who used to hand out eucalyptus sucky-sweets when you had a sore throat.  2016-08-31 08.10.41.jpg

Galicia feels like it could be the West Country with Fresian cows dotting the hillsides and milking barns everywhere.  This stretch of the Camino is often called the Milky Way both because of this and also because the Way leads of Compostella – the field of the stars.  The Milky Way in the sky stretches from East to West and legend has it that Teodomiro, Bishop of Idris, found the body of St James in the 820s, guided by a very bright star.  This was the beginning of Santiago as a place of pilgrimmage.  It continued until the 1500s, when the schisms in the Catholic church and the threat of ‘the pirate Francis Drake’ (all depends on your perspective!) led to the remains of St James being hidden so well that no one could find them.  It was not until 1879 when they found the relics behind the high altar that the pilgrimmage was even remembered, let alone walked. 2016-08-31 09.05.59.jpg

People often say that the Camino Frances is an allegory for life.  SJPDP to Burgos is where physically the Camino will try to break you, pushing you to your physical limits, before your body starts to strengthen and harden; Burgos to the Cruz de Ferro, through the Meseta, is the mental challenge – at the Iron Cross you rest your stone where you have placed your worries and negativity; from here on is your rebirth – physical, mental and spiritual – leading to Santiago.

I had heard about this allegory before but no one had put such specific points to it.  I guess they are right.  It was different for me I suppose, having come from slightly further but even so, it rings true enough to me. 2016-08-31 12.36.33.jpg

The hostel I wanted to stay in was fully booked but they did have private rooms for only €20.  I wasn’t going to question that!  Not only would it mean that I wouldn’t get bedbuggered, but that I would have a private bathroom to potter about it and try to civilise myself.  I won’t lie, although not normally in the least bit inclined to wander about stark naked, the fact that I could because I had a private room meant that I did.  I had to.  It would have been a crime not to take advantage of this.  Ah, the luxury!

The lovely gang I’d met in Ponte Campana turned out to the staying the same place as well and I had a fun evening with them.

Day 4: O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostella

I just wanted to arrive.  I was so damn excited I could barely think straight.  Everything kept making me almost cry though.

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So excited!!!!!

I left at 6am with the Ponte Campana gang. It was pitch black.  I was jolly glad for their company – those eucalyptus forests would have been rather scary on my own.  They were scary enough in company.  2016-09-01 07.39.59.jpg

We stopped for breakfast and then for second breakfast.  When they stopped for third breakfast (respect) I left them to it.  I was too impatient.  I wanted to arrive already!2016-09-01 08.33.26.jpg

Of course, as soon as I entered the historic centre, I got lost.  330m from the cathedral and I lost the Camino and all sense of direction and was well and truly lost.  I mean, honestly.  I suppose, at least, I have been consistent in my inconsistency at following the Camino.  I ended up having to call my family who were waiting for me in the square and having Grace explain to me how to find the main square.  I entered in from an entirely different direction to anyone else.  But who cares?  I did it.  I did it my way! (theme tune for my walk!)

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First sighting of the cathedral

3,000km in 20 weeks through rain, snow, hail, grey, blue, hot, cold, wet, dry, miserable, glorious, incredible, surreal and painfully real.  I’ve bloody done it.

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The welcome committee!!!

I had no idea what I was doing when I started.  It’s just walking after all!  I walk everyday!  It can’t be that difficult – hah.  I didn’t even really comprehend what I was starting!  If I had done, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to do it.  But I’m so glad I did.  So many people told me I was batty.  I was batty.  2016-09-01 10.48.58.jpg

Apparently you’re meant to discover deep and meaningful things about yourself.  I’m not so sure I’ve done that.  I’m a fairly simple person, there’s not much to know about me that isn’t immediately obvious.  I’ve always thought that I know myself quite well: I’m stubborn, I love a good project that I can stick my teeth into and I can almost always find the positive in a situation and when I can’t, I can survive it until life moves on, which really brings us back full circle to stubborn.  This walk has confirmed that more than anything else.

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My distancia – proof for when I’m old and grey

There was never any question that I wouldn’t finish this walk, at least not for me.  It was more of a question of whether I was going to endure it or enjoy it.  And by gorrah, I’ve enjoyed it – it’s amazing how a thousand kilometres or so can rose-tint all that rain!

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Time to celebrate!

I am so glad that I did it.  So often I am asked why:  It’s always been my dream since I was a little girl. I guess, I’ve just walked my dream.  I could, so I did.  Why don’t you?2016-09-04 12.14.36.jpg

 

Week 20: Portomarin to Santiago de Compostella

Week 19: Ponferrada to Portomarin

It’s amazing what sunshine can do for the soul. I woke up this morning feeling pretty sorry for myself. The mosquitoes in Galicia seem to bloody love me. My eye is swollen almost shut again. This time due to a bite on my cheek. But a coffee in the sunshine had cheered me up in no time. It had better be an Indian summer in England or I’ll have an even harder time acclimatising back to normal life! Easy, sleep, walk, repeat. Life is good. Life is simple.

Less than 100km to go!!!!!

My body seems to be completely over-reacting to the bites – they swell and blister something rotten. I’ve got a theory though… 

Everyday when I walk, it’s always the last half hour that is the toughest. It’s like my body knows that our destination is close and decides that all those little aches and naggles that it has managed to keep under wrap suddenly come to the fore. It doesn’t matter if I’ve walked 40km or 8km, the last half hour is always difficult. I guess this period now is the equivalent of that last half hour. Fair dues to my body, it’s done me very, very proud. Some of the injuries I’ve seen on other people, the state of their feet, their legs, their backs… I count my lucky stars I’ve held up so well. Sure, I had God-awful blisters at the beginning and those golf ball lumps on my shins that made every step feel like my legs were going to snap, but these things all passed and now I’m in jolly good shape. If my body wants to ever react to mosquito bites, I suppose I should let it. It deserves it. 

Tadaaaaaaaaa

But seriously, on my face??? Vanity, thy name is Alice. I want to meet my family and Guthrie on Thursday in Santiago de Compstella looking tan, fit and healthy. Not like I’ve lost a fight. I haven’t seen my boyfriend in 2 months. I neeeeed to look attractive, not like I’ve got the measles. Ah well, hey ho. Que sera, sera. 

Oh hey there, good looking 😉


Day 1: Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

I had a wonderful weekend in Ponferrada and came to peace with the fact that my walk is nearly at an end. I’m ready for it. The end is now in sight but I’m not going to hurry. I’m not going to wish it away. I’m going to savour these last few days of walking.

Onward, ever onwards

It was a melting hot day – It hit 40℃ in the afternoon. It was beautiful walking though past vineyards dripping grapes, vegetable patches full of huge, strange, bulbous… things… I couldn’t work out if they were watermelons, pumpkins or giant… somethings…

What on earth are they?!

I met an extraordinary man with a giant teddy on his shoulders. He’d walked from St Jean to Finisterre and was now walking his way back to St Jean. Between Santiago and Finisterre he found this enormous bear and decided to carry it all the way back, just to put smiles on people’s faces. If that’s not the loveliest of things, I don’t know what is. Everyone in the albergue that night was talking about him. All of us had smiles on our faces thinking about him. Mission accomplished. 

Thank you, teddy bear man

I met two Italians – Gertrude and Roberto. Gertrude had been bedbuggered. In fact a lot of people seemed to have been just recently but the thing we noticed is that they all seem to be women. No men. Is it out pheromones that attract them? Our creams? Although none of us really bother with creams and nice smelling things any longer. We’re all in the stink together! It’s odd though.

I met Jana, from Berlin, at the hostel. We spent the afternoon together in Villafranca. She’s starting a new job when she returns and is cleaning her mind out by walking to Santiago. She too had experienced the dreaded bedbugs. We wandered the town together, melting in the heat, until we discovered the Fluvial Playa – the river beach. Of course, there was no mention of this in the guidebook. We were not to be deterred by our unprepared-ness and lack of bikinis or towels. We went in fully clothed, much to the amusement of the rest of the town’s people. 

Well, wouldn’t you?

Oh God, it was brilliant! The water was so cool and refreshing. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening frolicking there.

Dinner was a communal affair at the Albergue where they mixed up all of us pilgrims and fed us a delicious vegetarian meal. I met a fantastic lady at the meal, AiNo (34, Spanish from Bilboa, or as she would say, from the Basque country). She had got the bedbugs the night before and was in misery. The heat making everything itch ten times worse. Her bag had been taken by the hostel to be fumigated so she didn’t have her anti-itch or antihistamines. I gave her mine. I could see her agony in her eyes.

Day 2: Villafranca del Bierzo to O’Cebreiro

I left early for me, at 7am. It was due to be another scorcher of a day. 

I think it was the hardest day yet in Spain, physically. I had planned to take the mountain route and stop in Herrerias but the hospitalero, Jose, told me in no uncertain terms not to take it. It was not the proper route apparently and there had been a fire the week before. People are terribly fixed in their minds about what route should or shouldn’t be taken. It’s rather frustrating. I keep being told that I MUST go to Finisterre, the end of the world. I keep telling people that when I started walking, I didn’t know about Finisterre. Besides, this walk will have been c.3,000km by the time I get to Santiago. A line has to be drawn somewhere!

As I was umming and erring about whether to mountain or not to mountain, I saw AiNo. Last night, she had thought that she wouldn’t walk today but take the bus instead. This morning though she wanted to walk. Her bag would be courriered ahead to O’Cebreiro. Her back was covered in bites and a rucksack would only aggravate them. I decided to walk with her. 

We made great time on the 22km to Herrerias, chatting the whole way with her teaching me some Spanish phrases and I helping her with her English. It was brilliant and she is wonderful company.

The last 8km from Herrerias to O’Cebreiro Damn near killed me. It took us about 3 hours. It was so steep and so hot. It got up to 40℃ again and were didn’t arrived until c.3pm. 

I think I must have got mild heatstroke. I was seeing black spots by the time I dragged my exhausted body to the municipal alberge. Drink water, shower, food and more water, then nap. I could do nothing more. I kept getting headrush.

I want to say this was the hardest day of walking I’ve done. Certainly in Spain. I’m not sure if it’s comparable to France though. That was a difficult kind of hard. I don’t really ever compare the two, they’ve been such incredibly different experiences. France and all that rain and camping feels like a lifetime ago.

I pulled myself together in time for Mass at 7pm. I wasn’t entirely sure, but I thought that it was here that Brother John (whom I met with Hugh in Moratinos) had said he would be for the second half of his for weeks volunteering on the Camino. It was for this reason that I had forced myself to continue up the mountain, despite the terribly tempting hostels I had passed along the way. Their siren call really had been nie on impossible to ignore, but I had been determined to get to O’Cebreiro. Thank God, it turned out that he was there. I didn’t find out for certain though until the service started. 

I had accidentally volunteered myself to do a reading. I say accidentally because someone had said something in Spanish that ended in ‘Ingles?’ before looking around expectantly. I raised my hand nodding, expecting to be given an English service sheet. Instead, a Bible was thrust into my hands and a passage pointed out. Fortunately it was in English. The first reading. Uh oh. The service was in Spanish and suddenly there was a silence. I sat in my pew clueless as to why unless my neighbour elbowed me and pointed to the bible next to me and then to the front of the church. Oh. Right. First reading here we go then! 

After the service Brother John and I went for Sangria and chatted the night away. He found O’Cebreiro a bit more touristy. It’s certainly true that the little mountain top town was bustling with all things pilgrim. Apparently it was from here that the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compstella was revived in the 1970s. The local priest, Don Elias Valina Sampedro, with a bunch of his friends, went out one day with some yellow paint and started drawing the arrows to guide us pilgrims along the way. It is largely due to his efforts that the pilgrim route had been brought back to life again. In 1987 the whole route from St Jean Pied de Port became the first European Cultural Itinerary. Exactly what this means I don’t entirely understand but it’s centred around the historical and present cultural exchanges that occur on The Way and their importance. I think it gives funding towards the maintenance of the Camino and those who live, work and walk along it. It is clearly once again a very well trod path with a busy industry grown up around it. Those yellow arrows, along with the scallop shell symbol, are still what we are constantly searching for as we walk, guiding us slowly but surely to our destination.

I watched the sun go down from the mountaintop in the most amazing hues. I was pooped but so glad I had conquered this mountain.

Day 3: O’Cebreiro to Triacastelo 

Oh, this was a glorious day. It dawned with a beautiful although a little misty. Rain was forecast. Apparently it’s almost always forecast. That’s Galicia for you, I’m told.

AiNo and I walked together again. We were both a little tired, but after our first coffee pause we woke up nicely. I now have four phrases in Spanish (please forgive the spelling, I haven’t learned that bit yet): me llamo Alice (my name is Alice); tengo vente seis annos (I am 26); tengo una piedra en mi bota (I have a stone in my boot); tengo insectos en mi coopa di vino blanco (I have insects in my glass of white wine). I’m not claiming to be fluent, but it’s a distinct improvement!

I spend a lot of time scratching my head

The rain started at midday. Lucky by this point we only had an hour left to go. But this was not just any rain. This was an epic thunderstorm with rumbling thunder echoing off the hill tops, sheet lightening that could have induce epileptic good and torrential rain that would have soaked my boots through even when they were brand new. As they stand now, each day ends with a superglue session – I’m determined that they will last me to Santiago. I got drenched. Soaked. A drowned rat had nothing on me by the time I reached the bottom of the mountain and Triacastelo. 

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring

It was glorious. I haven’t felt that alive in ages. I raced down the hill, passing others cowering under trees as I went. I belted out songs at the top of my lungs and life, my friends, was spectacularly good. You know that feeling when life is too big to contain in your chest? When you can feeling it bursting out of you? I was sodden, I was singing and I was so so so alive.

I would join other groups as I went and we’d sing together, ‘it’s raining men’ or ‘I will survive’ or ‘holding out for a hero’ but quickly I’d overtake them, following the mountain goat’s downhill advice – ‘go as quickly as you safely can’. The track was in good condition and not slippery despite the rain and I whizzed down. 

I waited for AiNo under the most magnificent of sweet chestnut trees, vibrating with life.

We made for a hostel – we’ve both sworn off municipal ones, we reckon your more likely to get bedbugs there – and I promptly had to nap. Being alive is exhausting work.

After, I went to explore the town. The church here is dedicated to Santiago and I got a good looking stamp for my pilgrim passport there. I also popped into the shops to buy a waterproof kagool thingy to replace my darling departed neon yellow jacket. It’s one of those enormous shapeless ones. I got one for AiNo too as a thank you for the Spanish lessons. I bet this means it doesn’t rain again while I’m walking…

Quite the most fetching of outfits. You shall go to the ball, Cinderella!

Day 4: Triacastelo to San Mamede 

AiNo and I went our separate ways, hoping to see each other in Portomarin on Friday evening. It’s because I wanted to detour to see Samos. It was 6km longer. I know I swore I’d never detour again after the disastrous day that was Chateau sur le Loir, but Samos is one of the largest and oldest monasteries in Europe and the day looked set to be a beautiful one. I was determined not to miss it.

I am so glad I made that decision. The route was spectacularly beautiful. It felt like you could be in the West country in England or in Ireland or Scotland. 

It was a beautiful route along old tracks and footpaths that meandered through tiny little villages that time and people have forgot. They are mostly falling down and abandoned except for some very old women in wellies carrying buckets and chickens scratching. 

The path followed the river Oribio, sometimes rising above it, sometimes right alongside. You could always hear it gurgling away though and catch glimpses of it and it’s meadows through the trees. Sleeping Beauty sprang to mind, the forest grown up around her hidden castle, undisturbed, waiting for the handsome prince. 

I also found my dream cottage. Ok, it’s falling down and needs a lot of repair, but it’s in a beautiful location, above the footpath and the river shaded by ancient over hanging trees. Little Red Riding Hood would feel right at home. 

I reached Samos with a spring in my step and decided to stop for coffee before heading to the monastery. I met a lovely lady called Lindsay (28, Netherlands, started in Leon) and she and I decided to explore the monastery together. 

The monastery is well worth a visit. Monks still reside there and there is a calm beauty and tranquillity to it is. The architecture is amazing, the murals are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. 

There is clearly an incredible story to the place. In 1951, if I understood correctly, there was a devastating fire, but you’d never know it to see the place today.

Unfortunately the tour was in Spanish – which neither Lindsay or I understood – but that didn’t stop us enjoying the visit. Seriously though, Spanish evening classes when I get home. It’s so frustrating not being able to understand or communicate.

There was a coach group of golden oldies on the same tour as us which double the length of time it was meant to be. It was also terribly funny as they all kept shushing each other and then shouting, ‘what was that she said?’,(or something like that in Spanish) to each other. Lindsay and I kept getting the giggles. It was almost like being in school again.

After a couple of hours, Lindsay and I were back on the road again, but not for long! Picnic-time! In the shade by the river. I love walking alongside rivers. 

It was 3.30pm by the time we’d reached San Mamede. I’d already reserved myself a bed as I’d been nervous in case there were no beds left there by the time I’d finished exploring Samos. It turned out I needn’t have worried but the Camino is getting busier and busier. I’d rather err on the side of caution personally. It was hot, hot, hot by the time we arrived and I was very glad to stop. So was Lindsay and luckily there was a bed for her too. 

We lazed, reading, in hammocks for the rest of the afternoon before sharing a communal dinner with the family who run the hostel. Delicious, vegetarian and I want to steal their quiche recipe. I cannot praise its flavours enough. Scrumdidillyumptious. 

Searching for unicorns

There was a piano there too which I played – my one and only tune, of course! Although I did then teach the children of the house how to play chopsticks. Their parents will probably never forgive me. I was quite impressed though. Who needs Spanish to teach piano?! 

The evening finished with a nailbitingly tense game of chess. Me versus Allesandro, a 7 year old boy who was starting his first day’s walking the next day with parents and older sister. Although at one point I genuinely thought I was going to lose, I managed to pull my game together and could have won. I’m not so good at playing board games with children. I play to win. Always. Only this time, because the Camino is clearly rubbing off on me, instead of making the winning move, I made a daft move and effectively let him win. This did not come easily to me. I would just like it hereby acknowledged that while I could have won, I let him win because I’m a good little pilgrim. But essentially, that still means I win. Right?!

Day 5: San Mamede to Portomarin

I had a terrible night’s sleep, utterly paranoid about bedbugs. I lay awake, convinced I was crawling with them until about 2am when I switched to another bed. Lucky there was one free. It wasn’t bedbugs, it was just mosquitos. I woke up with one eye mostly swollen shut. It looked like I’d been on the losing end of a bar fight. My bottom is covered in bites too which made walking and sitting somewhat irritating.

Giant slugs provided excellent distractions from itching

Lindsay and I walked together again and her wonderful company kept me distracted.

We past Sarria which is 111km from Santiago. You only need to walk the last 100km to get your ‘Compostela’ and this town is where those with limited time start the Camino from – it’s about five days walking. If I thought SJPDP was a shock to the system with all the people, Sarria is something else entirely. You really can’t walk alone any longer. The Camino is heaving with individuals, groups and families. Buses ferry bags onwards and deliver food and refreshments to the merry pilgrims. You can spot those who’ve just started from the state of their boots and their little backpacks. I won’t lie, I take a little pride in my big, heavy bag and my battered old boots. 

What are these? They seem to be everywhere. Always raised up, sometimes new looking, sometimes old…

The question most frequently asked is no longer ‘Where are you from?’ but rather, ‘Where did you start?’. I get a little satisfaction from being able to reply, ‘England.’ At which point they shake their heads and say, ‘No, where did you start walking from?’ ‘England’, I say again, ‘I started walking in England!’ The look of horror and amazement is gratifying to say the least! Maybe I shouldn’t be so smug, but, well, I can’t help it. 

Some of us are more unique than others… Did you know that Galicia’s regional instrument is the bagpipes? No, neither did I…

Every Camino is unique to the individual walking it and equally as valid as any other, regardless of how long ago you started, how long your journey is or your reasons for walking. How you walk it, when you walk it: you’ve no one to satisfy but yourself, no one to answer to and no one to judge you. Whenever I fear I am getting too cocky, I just remember Marian from Poland. There is always someone who will have walked further and quicker, who will have done more, harder, faster. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t judge others. We all do what we can. I read the phrase recently ‘you only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough’. It has stuck with me. I think that must be one of the most important lessons of the Camino.

I’m in Portomarin for the weekend. As is ever the case, everyone I’ve met this week has now gone on ahead and I probably won’t see them again.

I did manage to meet up with AiNo for supper on Friday night. The poor thing got bedbuggered again in Sarria on Thursday night. Life is just plain unfair sometimes.

Portomarin is a lovely little town situated above a reservoir with a fortress-like church in its centre. It has to be said, there’s not much to do here but I’m quite content reading my book on the sunshine in the town square. 

I’m an ready to finish this grand adventure I have been in but I am also in no hurry to do so. I am content to simply let the hours pass as they will.

I officially have 92.8km to go to Santiago. Double figures!!!!! Quadruple figures are under my belt! I reckon I’ve walked c.2,908km – finding those blasted campsites added about 500km more than I’d been expecting. Still, I’ve survived this far, fingers crossed I can pull off four days more!

As ever, a quick reminder that I’m raising money for the Youth Enquiry Service. If you haven’t donated, please do consider doing so – you can donate on my Just Giving page or send a cheque directly to Y.E.S. They are a small but vitally important charity that make a huge difference. They won’t ever attract the big headlines because, if all has gone according to plan, the disasters have been averted in the lives of the young people they help. With this 3,000km walk I hope to raise £10,000 for them and raise awareness.

We’re having a party for both them and me on Wednesday 21st September. It will be by invite only, but if you’d like an invitation, all you need to do is call 01206 330784. It should be a fun affair with talks from both Y.E.S. and myself – do be prepared for some chugging though! I still have £2,800 to raise…

Thank you

Week 19: Ponferrada to Portomarin

Week 18: Leon to Ponferrada

I started this week in a funk. I suppose it didn’t help that I had, maybe, had a bit too much fun in Leon last weekend! I can hear my mother in my head saying that I had ‘burnt the candles at both ends’… She might be on to something – in true obnoxious Brit-Abroad style I ended Sunday night at 2am being piggybacked to the hostel by Peter the Policeman while I sang Jerusalem at the top of my lungs. It was a lot of fun. Maybe a bit too much fun…

The weary pilgrim

It’s also been an odd realisation that I’m nearly finished. I’ve only got c.200km to go. It’s sounds ridiculous but it’s like I’ve only just realised that I’m walking to Santiago de Compstella. Before now, the distances have been so big, the task I had set myself so utterly enormous in proportions, that I simply didn’t think about it. I took one week at a time, one day at a time, sometimes even one step at a time. Breaking it all down into smaller chunks so my poor body and brain could handle it. I’m now so close it almost makes me feel ill to think about it. It’s a terrifying prospect. Adjustment back to normal life is going to be almost as big a challenge as this walk has been. For four months all its been is ‘eat, sleep, walk, repeat’. A glorious, simple routine with no one but myself to worry about. 

Me, me, me, me, me….

But I am also so ready to complete this mission. To return home to my family and friends. To sleep in my own bed, in my own room. Not to be constantly moving from one place to the next. Always on the go, always with new people, in new places, experiencing new things. It’s been brilliant but also exhausting. I’ve loved every moment of it, even the miserable wet ones, but I’m tired. I’m ready to come home.

Day 1: Leon to Mazarife

I didn’t have the sore head I probably deserved on Monday morning but I was tired. Exhausted even. I still hadn’t slept through the night since being bedbuggered. I’m still completely paranoid about bed bugs… I check pillows, mattresses for any signs of them (thank you, Christopher, for the tips!) I haven’t been ‘got’ again but that horrid, skin crawling sensation has yet to leave me. 

I walked on my own, stuck in a rather grey place in my head. As ever, at the start of a new week, I was once again friendless. Everyone I had got to know the previous week was now miles ahead of me. I don’t mind. I’m used to it. But being friendly and chatty and charming seems so difficult and far away when you’re tired.

Despite this, I met and ended up walking with a lovely English couple, Lucy and Christian. They were just the tonic. Lucy has walked from Leon to Santiago twice before, but this is her first time walking from SJPDP. She’s a trainee nurse and one of eleven children!!! Her mother had had triplets, followed by twins, followed by six more of the blighters… All I can do is shake my head in awe! Impressive only begins to describe it. Christian, her boyfriend, had joined her in Leon and was walking with her the rest of the way to Santiago. She had apparently invited him to join her on the Camino on their first date. Bold. But I guess when you know, you know! They laughed at it, both unsure why he hadn’t run for the hills at this first sign of crazy. 

They were a wonderful duo. We stayed at the same hostel in Mazarife and spent the afternoon in the sunshine playing cards and chatting this and that. It turns out he went to school and university with my cousin. Talk about small world moments!

Day 2: Mazarife to Santibanez

As ever, I was the last to leave the hostel so I was once again walking on my tod. I don’t mind walking on my own. In fact, I invariably end up on my own even if I start out with others – I walk too quickly! It’s much harder work though if you don’t walk at your own natural pace, even if you try to walk slower. You have to go at your own speed.

In the early morning light, after yet another bad nights sleep, life had a dreamy quality. I had passed a sign in Mazarife saying there were only 296km to Santiago. Less than 300km. It sent me into a complete tizz. I mean seriously, who walks from England to Spain? Who does that?! Me, apparently. It’s a weird thought. 

I caught up with Lucy and Christian in Hospital del Orbigo in time for second breakfast. 

The famous bridge in Hospit del Orbigo those stands you can see are where they hold jousting tournaments…

We walked on the Santibanez, where I was stopping. Poor old Christian was rather stiff, with blisters just beginning to form. It was only his second day of walking. Poor sausage. I still remember the agonies of my first weeks walking… They were going to push on to Astorga. We lunched and they headed on.

This parrot could genuinely say ‘hola’!! It was amazing!!!!!

There were only 6 pilgrims staying in the village! Another lady in the lovely hostel I was in and another 4 in the parish hostel. 

I was still rather stuck in my head and I spent most of the afternoon reading my book on my own. 

I joined Manuela (31, Austrian), Maria (42, Italian) and Jolie (34, Malaysian/American) for supper. They were chatting babies. None of us had children. Did we want them? General consensus was yes. The question was ‘when?’ Manuela had no boyfriend but she planned to have one in the next year. Maria had a boyfriend of the years, she wanted children but was worried that she was too old, had left it too late. Jolie was married and she wanted them but the time never seemed to be right. I want children, a feral pack of 7 preferably (so I can have my own quidditch team, obviously), but I’ve still got too much to do, I’m too young to be that grown up! 

Who knows what lies on their horizon?

Is there ever a right time though? Do you ever feel ‘grown up’ enough? I have an alarming number of friends, older and younger, with children, nearly all of whom would tell you they are not ‘grown up’! I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere. A deep and meaningful something. But I’m stumped as to what it is!

Day 3: Santibanez to El Ganso

This hump, grump, miserable greyness that I was feeling was getting old. Fast. I didn’t sleep well again. I would jerk awake convinced I could feel things crawling over me. It was only paranoia.

Someone didn’t get the memo that long distance walkers don’t take a single step further than absolutely necessary…

I was fed up. I wanted my own bed desperately. Funnily enough, I’ve come to the conclusion that camping is much easier. Mentally, at least. I know this probably sounds completely mad but here’s my reasoning:

Your tent is your own private space. Your own private room. Regardless of where you pitch up, once you’re inside, it’s home. It’s always the same and no one else can come in – mainly because they wouldn’t fit in Delilah or Herbert. But if they did, it’s because you’ve invited them, on your terms. In the dormitory hostels, there’s no privacy. Anywhere. It’s all communal. Which is lovely. Wonderful. Fun. When you’re in the mood. But just sometimes, you need your own space, your own private down-time, to refresh, recharge, so you’re ready to face the world out there. That’s what I miss. I really regret having given Herbert back to my parents in Burgos in take home. But hey ho. C’est la vie, non? 

Ever, ever onwards

So there I was, trudging along being miserable. It’s so boring being miserable. Especially when it’s miserable you keeping yourself company. (Yes, I’ve spent too much time on my own and now have multiple ‘selfs’. Deal with it. I do.) And then, in the ‘way of the Camino’ a very faint glimmer of a rainbow appeared just as Astorga came into view. 

It wasn’t a full rainbow, just the top right part of the arch. It wasn’t big or bold but it was there all the same and it felt like it was just for me. It’s the eternal symbol of hope. Now, fear not, I hadn’t gone all Dante, ‘abandon all hope, ye who enter here’. But sometimes, you can’t pull your own socks up. You need a helping hand. It in this case, a faint rainbow. 

Followed by a busker playing guitar and throwing it on the air, mid tune, only to catch it and continue playing without missing a beat.

And a totally hippie break place run by a Spaniard who has lived there for seven years and his Australian girlfriend who had been walking the Camino last year, fell in love with the place and with him and has never left. Never even completed her Camino. Instead she helps him run the donativo place, with no electricity or running water, and plants roses. We shared pruning tips.

How could any of that not being a smile to my face?! It was all brilliant and surreal and the only explanation can be that it is ‘the way of the Camino’.

The cathedral in Astorga where I got my 3rd pilgrim passport

I was buoyed into El Ganso where I stayed at a lovely hostel chock block full of Italians. There are a lot of Italians on the Camino at the moment and they are all lovely. But they run as a pack and when you don’t speak Italian it can be a little challenging. I decided to go out for supper on my own. The local bar did a pilgrim menu and I sat down to eat, beginning to feel a bit sorry for myself again. Have I mentioned how boring this is? 

A man and a woman had just come in and seemed to be having trouble with their documents to be allowed to stay there. Eventually it all seemed to have been sorted but everyone seemed to have rather frazzled expressions on their faces. I’d been given a while bottle of red wine to drink with my menu, that I’d never finish on my own so I invited the pair to come help me finish it. Tea may cure everything, but wine comes in a good second best. They were both Hungarian, Esther and Richard, and had met on the Camino around Pamplona and had walked together ever since. We ended up talking non-stop. They were such a pleasure to meet and cracking company. We set the world to rights, cracked jokes and giggled our way through the evening, into the night, sharing stories of our experiences, the people we had met and the stories we had heard. They were also interested, or at least terribly polite, in listening to my mullings over coming to the end of my walk. It helped enormously to share them out loud, it made them quieter in my head. 

Just as I fear I was beginning to bring down the atmosphere, so they told this rather extraordinary tale: They had met a foursome who had arrived on the Camino at SJPDP as two couples – A+B and C+D. By the second week, both couples had broken up. By the fourth week, A+C were a couple and were B+D…! Ah, the way of the Camino!

Day 4: El Ganso to Manjarin

I decided to stay on top of a mountain. I was passing the highest point of the whole Camino and after yet another bad night’s sleep, it seemed like a cunning plan to lift my body as high as I could and hope my spirits would follow.

It was a cunning plan. I’m back in the hills now, surrounded by green once more and I love it. Life is good. 

I met so many people as we hiked our way up the mountain – a Danish/Iranian doctor feed up with aid corruption, 

a Frenchman, Cyril, who had a good case of God, a Lithuanian with a real army hat he was very excited to tell me all about, a Brazilian, a Polish gentleman with the best Camino inspired tattoo I’ve seen so far (a lot of people have them),

 a German and, of course, some Italians. It was a very chatty hike up to the Cruz de Ferro.

The Iron Cross is a place of a lot of meaning on the Camino. It is where many people leave a rock that they have brought from their home, or a place of significance, in memory of someone or as a prayer. I guess, often as both. 

I have been carrying a very small pebble with me from home. I left it there in memory of Ben, a childhood friend of mine who died a few years ago. I get chest-constrictingly angry and stomach-achingly sad when I think of Ben. It is what it is. I’ve thought a lot of him on this walk. His voice has been one of the many in my head, telling me not to be a muppet and get on with it when the going got tough, one foot in front of the other. He’s been promising me an unlimited supply of hobnobs at the end. I tell him I’d rather a pair of Louboutin and I can hear him snort in despair at me with a shake of his head. 

Whatever the weather, there is now a small pebble imbued with my memories of Ben at the highest point in the Camino. That thought makes me smile. I think he’d like it up there.

Only a couple of kilometres further is Manjarin. Manjarin is an abandoned village, where most of the houses have been reclaimed by the mountain, trees knocking down the walls and weeds camouflageing what few signs of human civilisation are left. 

The Knights Templar ran a hostel here for pilgrims from the 12th Century although there’s nothing left of it today. However, 23 years ago, Tomas, a modern day Knight Templar, decided to reassert the tradition. The only inhabitant in the deserted village, he’s reclaimed a half tumbled down cottage and barn and turned it into a colourful, charming, madcap hostel. He had a helper with him, Hefe, who seemed to have even looser screws than Tomas. 

It’s quite the… experience. No electricity, no hot water, no running water at all for that matter. This meant no shower and a loo that you had to pour a bucket of old washing up water down to ‘flush’. The dormitory was in a barn with holes in the roof – mattresses on the floor. I was certain that if bedbuggery was to occur again, this would be the place. It didn’t help my paranoia that the only table in the barn was full of bottles of Frontline. I don’t know what it does in Spain, but in England that’s anti-flea stuff, isn’t it?

I had plenty of time to walk on further should I wish, but no. I was determined to stick it out. I couldn’t let my paranoia prevent me from doing what I wanted. And I wanted to stay on top of the mountain. So. On top of the mountain I would stay.

I was the first to decide to stay there. Others stopped by and considered it but then they saw the barn dormitory and invariably decided to move on. A Knights Templar sword fight display from Tomas and Hefe seemed to help speed their decision along. Righto, here goes nothing, I thought, determined to stick to my guns. I am nothing if not pig stubborn. Just as I was resigning myself to a night of bedbugs, with only the company of Tomas and Hefe – neither of whom spoke a word of English or French – thankfully a group of four Portuguese boys (all 20, Leonardo, Rafael, Pete and Ricardo) turned up. Oh it was a relief, let me tell you. Not only could they all speak beautiful English but they spoke Spanish too. Finally I could understand what Tomas and Hefe were trying to explain. Although even translated, it made little sense. As is so often the case in the Camino, you just roll with it.

Leonardo and I volunteered to help Hefe fetch the water from the spring halfway down the mountain. It’s hard to explain it, but here’s how it unfolded:

First, Hefe with much hand waving and running backwards and forwards loaded us up with rucksack filled with empty 5l bottles of water. I was only allowed to carry two because I was a girl. Leonardo and Hefe took four each. 

We headed down the hill via a narrow back path. Hefe was explaining how this house here, which was in much better nick than anything what we had seen was lived in by a friend if Tomas’ but he’d never seen him and didn’t think he existed; meanwhile that house down that terrifyingly steep rubble path was once an Albergue, but the wife had gone mad and it had had to close down. Hefe didn’t think it was truly abandoned though. He thought someone was living there. When we got to the spring, it turned out to be a hosepipe next to a half underground building that looked to be, comparatively, in fairly good shape, until you looked inside and saw the stairs has all been knocked down and it was flooded. Old bunk beds filled it with sodden mattresses lying on the floor. The fence around the building had been knocked down and there were cowpats everywhere. One of Tomas’ enemies had done this, Hefe told us. Leonardo was translating for me, looking as confused as I was. 

We filled up the water bottles and were ready to start back up the mountain when we saw that the path was blocked by a herd of cows with very large horns. ‘Excuse me, excuse me. Wait here’, said Hefe, pushing us into a bush. Suddenly he was clutching a ski and charging at the cows shouting ‘Vamos’. Where the ski had appeared from I have no clue. Credit where it’s due, the cows scarpered quickly. Leonardo and I gingerly emerged from the thicket. He was once again waving the ski, only this time at us, ‘Come! Come!’. Okey dokey. Just as we reached him, he thrust the ski at me and waved me ahead. Apparently I was tasked with scaring off any other cows that might appear in our path. Gulp. I may be a farmgirl, born and bred, but seriously…? Those were big horns! Thankfully there were no more cows. As we appeared back at the albergue, you should have seen the faces of the other boys! Where had the ski come from? We honestly couldn’t answer.

For all its air of unkempt grunge and grime though, not only did I not get bed bugs, but I finally slept the whole night through! It just goes to show! Books and covers, eh?!

Day 5: Manjarin to Ponferrada

You may find this hard to believe, but I was actually the first person to leave the hostel at 8.15am. I’ve finally found pilgrims who start later than I! We had watched the sunrise together. A beautiful red sky. I thought of the rhyme – red sky in the morning, shepherds warning… 

I’d left my precious neon yellow waterproof jacket behind in Santibanez which I was rather upset about. Still, it hasn’t rained on me in Spain yet, so hey ho.

Of course, it rained today. Skin is waterproof though and it wasn’t too cold. I would survive.

If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely – Roald Dahl

Gosh, the mountains are beautiful. It was downhill all the way, winding steeply in very rocky narrow paths. I remembered the lesson of the mountain goat and whizzed down then as safely as possible, overtaking people regularly. 

I stopped in Acebo, a very sweet little village halfway down for second breakfast. The whole village revolves around the Camino. It’s lovely. It’s also where it started to rain with enthusiasm. 

I headed on down to Molinaseca where despite the wet, pilgrims were thoroughly enjoying swimming in the river by the medieval bridge. They’ve dammed it to make a proper swimming pool! I’m afraid to say I was too wimpy to swim myself but had the sun been shining it would have been a different story! 

Molinaseca is beautiful. Picture perfect narrow cobbled streets with balconies brimming with flowers. The Camino goes straight through the middle and everywhere you can hear the clatter of walking sticks.

Ponferrada is lovely. It’s crumbling slightly, you can tell that it was once a more prosperous town, but for all that, it’s brimming with life and people, delicious restaurants and a fabulous castle. It’s a hilltop fortress with the outer curtain walls, turrets, a keep and even a secret tunnel that leads down to the river it stands above. 

A can’t think of a nicer place to spend the weekend! Sunshine has reappeared and I’ve been fabulously lazy! On Friday night I slept for a whole 13 hours. I needed it. I now feel much more the thing!

Thank you, Ponferrada.

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who sent me such support and good tips last week after the bed bug affair. For those of you who showed your support by donating to Y.E.S. for whom I am hoping to raise £10,000, another huge thank you. I’ve still got a way to go though, so if you haven’t donated yet, please do consider doing so!! 

We’re going to be holding a party on Wednesday 21st September at Layer Marney Tower to celebrate this epic adventure and hopefully raise the last few pounds to reach my target. It will be invite only, but all you need to do to get an invite is call LMT on 01206 330784 and they’ll send the invite to you. There will be a talk from the Youth Enquiry Service about why their work is so important and also a c.30min talk from me about my walk. Hopefully I’ll have some benefit of hindsight by then! Fingers crossed it’ll be a fun evening – do prepare to be chugged though!!


Week 18: Leon to Ponferrada

Week 17: Boadilla to Leon

This week had been one of the best until Thursday night when I got eaten alive by bed bugs. Oh unhappy Alice. I’m now one itchy, crotchety, swollen mess. They got my hands, arms, shoulders, feet, neck and the left side of my face. They’ve all blistered and I’m feeling very sorry for myself. I’ll try not to let it cloud this week’s blog, but they’ve bitten the palms of my hands which are now swollen, hot and very uncomfortable. The pity party I’ve got going on is verging on out of control.

Back when life was good. This is actually the halfway mark of the Camino Frances, just outside of Sahagun

Day 1: Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de los Condes

Hugh and I waved goodbye to Eduardo and set off Monday morning in fabulously hot weather. 26km with plenty of coffee and orange juice breaks in lovely little cafes. I’m addicted to the Orange juice here, it’s freshly squeezed straight from the fruit and scrumptious. One cafe had ABBA playing which I sing and danced to with a German lady, much to the bemusement of all present.

Hugh and Rollo, a important pillar in Boadilla, although we weren’t quite sure why he was so important…

The paths were all quiet and for once it didn’t feel like the world and his wife were on our heels. The only people we bumped into were a couple of Koreans who were looking for another Korean man. We hadn’t seen him. We hadn’t seen anyone for a while.

Early morning – I’m not wearing flares, my calves are just that big now…

The Koreans are a funny lot. They are covered from head to foot. They even wear gloves! I’ve no idea how they survive the heat. I guess they must be used to it.

Each one of those little bobble things on the church had a unique face/animal carved into it. Amazing! Fromista

I’d been sent a message by a friend who is a few days ahead saying that she’d had her ‘experience of the Camino’ in Carrion. She’d been staying in the Convent Santa Maria. It turns out there’s a Monasterio Santa Clara and an Albergue Santa Maria. We guessed she meant the monastery so booked ourselves in there.

The recur of the walls is achieved by the point-work between the bricks. A little triangle of cement or whatever it is has been removed. I thought it was rather lovely

It’s beautiful. There’s a quiet and peaceful courtyard just inside the entrance where we read our books for a while and another tiny little courtyard next to the dormitory that filed up with drying laundry as the afternoon progressed. By the evening you had to duck under all the clothing to reach the bathrooms. It was simply enchanting!

We wandered around the town which is a decent size and decided to go check out the other albergue just to check that we’d got the right one. We got there in time to see ukulele playing nuns. Ukulele playing nuns, people.

I lit a candle to St James in Carrion for patience with my guide book

Slightly despondent, we wandered around some more and discovered the river. All the locals were there, swimming, picnicking and having fun. It was glorious and as we paddled along them we realised that the guidebook for the Camino I have is rubbish. If we’d known about the river, we would have spent all afternoon there.

The guidebook is rubbish for a few reasons:

1) John Brierley , the author, is on my opinion a pretentious douche. I’m sure he’s lovely in real life but his book just rubs me up the wrong way

2) It doesn’t tell you were the swimming holes are

3) it doesn’t tell you about the quirks of the hostels available – ukulele playing nuns, people!!!!!

4) the maps are rubbish – both is not at the top of the page and it doesn’t even mark the surrounding villages that you see in the near distance, even if you don’t walk through them

5) its cardinal sin in my eyes though is the little topographical chart. It’s meant to tell you when and where you can expect to meet the hills/mountains on each days walk. I realised when I was walking with the boys a couple of weeks ago that it’s nonsense. I have the 2013 edition, Australian Chris had the 2015 edition and English Will had the 2016. At the start of one days walking I mentioned that we had 3 step hills coming our way, Will was adamant we didn’t, it was just one hill with a large plateau on top, his book told him so. Chris’s book said there were 2 hills. At the end of the days walking, we could confirm there were 3 steep hills. The path had not changed route any time recently. We asked. Why it would make up such nonsense and get it more wrong with each edition is beyond me, why did they even need to change it??!

Bloody useless book. We could write a much better one. Rant over.

World, please meet two future Camino guidebook authors

Hugh and I went out for a proper meal, not just a pilgrim meal, courtesy of his lovely parents to get over it self-righteous indignation. I had melt in your mouth steak. I haven’t had steak that good in years. I’m staying to salivate, just remembering it.

Day 2: Carrion de los Condes to Moratinos

We had decided to do a night walk to see the stars. From Carrion there is a long, straight stretch of 17km to the next village. It’s practically impossible to get lost, even in the pitch black. We were up and out by 5am and quickly headed out into the countryside, overtaking some other walkers.

The other walkers had had torches on which were rather annoying. Their light lit up the road swaying as they walked. It made me feel rather sea sick. We walked swiftly on to try to get away from them.

Unfortunately it was a little cloudy and the moon was still rather new. There wasn’t much to see.

The sunrise however made it utterly, utterly worth it. It was beautiful.

We had planned to stop at Ledigos but we arrived at the village before it at 8.30am and even if we killed an hour at the first cafe, we would arrive by 10am. We decided to press on to Moratinos. With concerted break-taking we got there for 12.30pm.

We stayed in hostel San Bruno which had a lovely garden we spent the afternoon lacing in and I glued the front right toe of my boot back together. I’m determined that they will last me to Santiago.

These are not hobbit houses. They are underground houses and storage places that just look a lot like hobbit houses. They are unique to this particular area of Spain

Bruno, the owner, and Sylvie , a volunteer working there, were the most charming of hosts. They had a guest over, Brother John, a monk from Canada and we had a good chat with him. He was in normal clothes and fascinating to chat to. He’s over here volunteering for four weeks, opening up churches and giving services for pilgrims in churches that are normally not in use, let alone open. He invited us to come to Mass at 5.30pm in the village we’d walked through earlier. It was 3km away and after a 30km day, I’m afraid there was no chance we’d be attending.

We wandered around the village before setting up camp in local cafe and settling in with sangria and cards. Just as Hugh was teaching me a game called Yanev, so Brother John appeared in full monk dress robes. We invited him to join us which he did with enthusiasm. One of my most surreal moments so far: sangria and cards with a full blown monk.

 

Brother John from Toronto

Simply marvellous!

Day 3: Moratinos to Calzadillo de los Hermanillos

Good Lord, the Meseta is big. Huge, flat and yellow. I’ve heard some people describe it as a desert. I wouldn’t use that word, it implies a barreness or infertility that couldn’t be further from the truth. With raised canals slicing up the landscape bringing much needed water, life is abundant here. It is the ultimate bread basket and has been for millennia. Often you’re waking on old Roman roads from when this part of Spain feed much of the Roman empire. Gladiator style what fields, eat your heart out.

It’s beautiful, but my God, it’s big. Two days walking through this would have been plenty for me. Eight, and I find myself longing for green with something verging on a physical yearning.

We stayed in the donativo municipal albergue in Calzadillo. There were only 12 of us and Hugh and I decided we should all have a communal meal. The others were game and we had the most wonderful evening. Hugh and I made spaghetti, Jonathan (Canadian, 30), his sister (Ruth), his wife (Cecile, French) and his sister in law (Justine) made tortellini, Daniel (French, 65) and Jonah (Swiss, 28) made fruit salad, Silas (Faro Islands,19)and mother, Joan made what I would call custard – I didn’t realise how much I’d miss custard- while the three German boys, Florian, Simon and  Vito (21) bought bread and wine. It was so much fun.

Virgen del Puente: the half way marker to Santiago from St Jean

It turned out that Jonathan and his family had walked from Strasbourg. They’ve been camping most of the way. On their way they had spent a week in the Taize Community and they sung us some of the songs they had learnt there. Justine and Cecile just had the most beautiful of voices. I love communal meals like this. You never know what stories you’ll hear.

Day 4: Calzadillo de los Hermanillos to Mansilla de las Mulas

Hugh and I left the hostel at 8am and headed to the cafe for breakfast. We parted ways at 9am. I was very sad to see him leave. He’s been such a pleasure to walk with. We just got together as walking and traveling companions so easily. He’s also a fantastic tour guide in the churches and towns, able to tell me all about the architecture and some of the history. I look at the churches and go, ‘Mmm, yes, very nice’ with no idea what I’m actually looking at. With Hugh, I could suddenly appreciate it so much more. Turns out he was very lucky to leave when he did….

Roman roads, long and straight

I caught up with Jonathan and his ladies. I’ve taken to calling them the Stylish Campers. They are carrying all the equipment. When I found them they were having a late breakfast in some shade in a wheat field. They’d just cooked porridge, were spread out on colourful blankets and looked like some healthy living advert. Seeing that Hugh had left, they very sweetly invited me to join them. I did with pleasure.

Jonathan had come to Strasbourg for his year abroad in university ten years ago and meet Cecile, they’d fallen in love and that was that. He moved permanently to France. He’s now doing his PHD on The use of rhetoric in the New Testament in the original Greek. Cecile and her sister have just qualified as doctors and are about to start practising. They’ve all been walking and camping from Strasbourg. Ruth had joined then from Canada in Burgos. A more charming group of people I’ve never met.

I walked with them for a while along the Via Romana on the old Roman roads. They wanted to stop for lunch at 12.30pm but I wanted to press on and arrive in Mansilla. They were hoping to camp somewhere in Mansilla that night and I thought I’d leave them to it. My camping days over, thank you very much – wouldn’t I come to regret giving my tent to my parents in Burgos shortly.

I went to the municipal albergue. It was perfectly ok to look it. In fact, only the evening before Hugh and I had been commenting at how immaculately clean and well kept all of the albergues we’ve been in were. The sheets in this one were a little wise for wear but with the quantities of bodies that must have slept on the beds, that’s hardly a great surprise. I showered and wandered around the town, before returning to the hostel to play cards with the German boys and Silas. Cecile and Ruth popped their heads into the courtyard where we all were and invited us to come down to the river where they had set up camp for some drinks at 6pm. We accepted with pleasure.

I got chatting with an extraordinary man. Terribly good-looking, he was in his late twenties and lived in Geneva. He had had a good job, great friends and was close with his family. However, discretely he was doing a lot of drugs – cocaine and heroin. He said he didn’t feel like he was an addict, caged in a drugs prison, and he was managing his life as well as anyone else. Until he had an accidental overdose from heroin. He was in a coma for two days. He doctors said it was a miracle he was still alive. His family and friends were there to support him but he was stuck in his head, terrified at how close he had come to losing everything.

Against his doctors wishes, two days later he started walking to Santiago. His mother walked with him for the first week as he was going through withdrawal. Shaking and sweating and physically so weak and mentally in a complete mess. But he’s stuck with it. To meet him now, you’d never imagine his story. You would guess for a moment. I think he’s left his job, I’m not sure what he was doing. I don’t know what his plans are for the future, but he was talking about Australia or South Africa. Whatever it is, wherever it is, I wish him the very, very best. He deserves it. We all make mistakes, some are larger than others, but we shouldn’t ever met them define us.

Stylish Campers

The German boys, Jonah and I went and found the girls and Jonathan on their inflatable chairs that also flattened it were their sleeping mattress. We spent a wonderful couple of hours with them, drinking wine, telling stories and enjoying a wonderful summer’s evening. Jonathan was starting to cook their supper. I think spaghetti Bolognese was on the menu. It came his chopping board and knives, various pots and pans and cooking equipment. I looked on in awe. This is how camping should be done. I asked how heavy their rucksack were. They were all carrying c.15kg… Gulp. All the same, I was jealous. Stylish Campers.

The boys and I found supper in a nearby restaurant and we then headed to our respective beds. I couldn’t sleep. I was very hot and I could swear I felt things crawling on me. Having not heard even mutter about bedbugs, I was sure it was all in my imagination.after an hour or so though of this prickling paranoia I decided to slip out of bed and go to the bathroom. In the light I could see on my shoulder huge white bite marks that had already swollen. Oh God, I thought, what the heck am I going to do? It was about 11.30pm everyone was asleep, it was very dark. All the other beds were full. I stood by my bed for what felt like half an hour. What the heck was I going to do? There was no way I was getting back in that bed. Then I remembered my sleeping map. I lay out out on the floor, got my sleeping bag – there was no way I was getting in the cotton liner that was on the bed, it was probably infested too by now. I had to leave Purple Eyes too. Oh unhappy Alice.

I had the worst nights sleep ever, convinced I could feel things crawling on me.

Day 5: Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon

Oh God, it was awful. My arms, hands, neck, shoulders, feet, left side of my face… Huge great red blotches that were blistering, so insanely itchy I could barely think straight. I tried to convey what had happened to the hospitalero who ran the place but he had neither English or French and my Spanish still doesn’t really extend beyond ‘vino Blanco’. I think I managed to get my point across. He certainly couldn’t miss my bite marks… I popped a couple of antihistamines, lathered on the anti-itch and hauled my miserable body onto the Camino.

I didn’t take any pictures while walking on Friday, I was too miserable. Here are some pictures of Leon. an amazing city. I can’t recommend it enough

I walked miserably along. I missed Hugh. It was odd to be walking alone again. I met two English ladies, proper Londoners, Maria and Claire who I think might have saved my life. They too had been bed-buggered. But unlike I, they had realised what had been happening and had spent the whole night in the bed. It had been a few days ago now but they still had the marks. It looked like they’d had chicken pox on their arms and legs. Luckily their faces hadn’t been got. They had lavender oil and swore by it. They very kindly shared it with me, helping me to cover all the bites. Compared to what they’d been through, I should be counting my lucky stars I got off so lightly.

Casa Botines, designed by Gaudi

I walked with them into Leon. Really interesting people who had met some years ago while traveling and have kept in contact ever since, going off on adventures when they can. The perfect traveling companions. They’d been to extraordinary places – Sudan, Syria, Egypt, all over the world and only rarely following the usual paths. They were excellent company and heading their adventures distracted me from my misery.

Beautiful narrow little streets, bustling with life, coming off the big plazas. superb people watching

They were staying in a hotel so we split when we got to Leon. I made my way to a university half of residence tucked behind the cathedral which turns into Camino accommodation in the summer holidays. I’ve booked a private room for the weekend – €20 a night, so I’m not breaking the bank, even if it is rather more expensive than normal. I suddenly realised how long it’s been since I’ve had my own space. Not since I was camping. Feeling as dirty and still crawling as I did, the expense was easily justified. I stuck everything I own in the wash at 90℃ and then in the rumble dryer to try to kill any bugs that thought they might follow me. I’ve scrubbed myself raw in a big to get rid of the skin prickling sensation.

The cathedral. It’s stained glass is astounding. There’s so much the building is not necessarily the most sturdy – the rig has fallen in twice over the centuries!

I went to Vespers at the convent with Maria and Claire which was interesting. There were about twelve nuns there, all at least 80 excepting two who were very young and very keen. I wonder how places like this will survive. I used to want to be a nun but then I discovered boys and wine, and, well, that was that…

We then joined some other pilgrims and went out for the most delicious meal. Craig (Australian) and his brother Peter (London) are had been walking together. Both are originally from Scotland and this is meant to be brother bonding time. Unfortunately though, poor Peter’s feet are a mess. It almost looks as if his heel is falling off. Big open wound. So he’s been resting in Leon for most of the week and this weekend.

I spent most of Saturday with him. Wonderful company and very easy to talk to. We’ve set the world to rights, debated every topic under the sun, and visited the San Isidoro basilica where the Holy Grail is to be found. Apparently. It was a fascinating visit.

Peter, the policeman

The swelling and itching is finally starting to go down and I had my first good night’s sleep last night so am feeling much more the thing.
I’m so nervous now about staying in an Albergue dormitory again… Once one place gets then, every one further down the line is at risk. I’ll need to get over this fear. I’m kicking myself for having returned Herbert to my parents… Hey ho. You live and learn and I’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime I’m stocking up on lavender oil which km told audio acts as a deterrent to the buggers too.

Here’s to hoping!

Please do consider donating to the Youth Enquiry Service if you haven’t done so already. I reckon I’ve earned at least a couple of pounds in sympathy of my bed bug bites!! You can either send a cheque directly the to the charity, or can donate on my Just Giving page. If you Google my name (Alice Charrington) and ‘A Jolly Long Walk’ it should come up on top of the search results.

Thank you!

Week 17: Boadilla to Leon

Week 16: Burgos to Boadilla

This has been a short weeks walking after a fantastic three days in Burgos with my parents and grandmother. I can’t believe it’d never even heard of Burgos before! It’s a brilliant city with delicious food, beautiful streets and buildings and a cathedral that is out of this world. We also visited the book museum and Miraflores Covent that will amaze even the least interested in ‘dead rock’ – what my family call old sculpture/architecture/churches etc. I would thoroughly recommend visiting for a weekend getaway. 


One of my favourite friends in all the world, Hugh, is walking with me this week. We’ve chattered and sung our way through the Meseta. I was a little nervous because I’ve not walked with someone before – sure I’ve walked with others and we’ve formed groups but Hugh is here just for me. I can’t leave him eating my dust as I whizz on like I do with so many. Fortunately he’s a pro. His family are all hard-core walkers and he can easily keep pace with me. We’re also comfortable enough friends that neither of us feels the last pressure to formerly entertain the other, we simply go with the flow and what we’re feeling at the time. He’s a natural Camino fit – we strike up conversations with anyone and everyone and both invite people to join us playing cards without thinking twice. It’s wonderful and feels like he’s been doing this with me for weeks, not just a couple of days. 

This week’s discovery has been the ‘Camino Bubble’. I’ve known from the beginning of Spain that I’m in it but each day it becomes more and more apparent. Perhaps in seeing both my family – breaking from the bubble for a short period – and in having Hugh with me -my life outside the bubble briefly joining – has highlighted it. I’ve met some spectacularly colourful and extraordinary characters and stayed in some unique places this week. This may not be ‘real’ life, but many would argue that you’ll find more life concentrated on the Camino than anywhere else. There are certainly wonderful, wicked and confusing tales abounding everywhere if you just stop for a moment and listen.

The weeks walking was kicked off with the most romantic of proposals. My parents and I had returned to the apartment we were staying in after a scrumptious meal. The place had a balcony overlooking the back of the cathedral and the stairs that lead to the upper terrace and streets. We heard music so we opened the balcony and saw a cellist and violinist playing on the street with a couple just about to start dancing. At first we thought it was busking and street performance but instead of dancing like pros the couple were kissing and swaying. I was less than impressed. We suddenly noticed that she kept holding up her hand and looking at it and then we clocked the candles on the lower terrace. Most of them had gone out by this time but they would have spelt out ‘will you marry me’. All of a sudden we heard what sounded like rain. People were pouring water from a watering can out of a window. The man gently moved then under it until they were dancing, drenched, under it. He swung her round and they laughed and laughed and their happiness was contagious. Friends who had been sneakily filming the whole from darkened doorways began to emerge to celebrate with them. It was lovely. I smile every time I think about it. 

You are my sunshine
Day 1 (Thursday): Burgos to Hornillos del Camino

It was 20km in beautiful weather through wheat fields and sunflowers. Flat as a pancake pretty much. 

In Tardajos I stopped for coffee and orange juice and met a fascinating Swiss gentleman called Peter. He had been a vet all his life but retired a few years ago. Roughly around the time they discovered the Higgs bosun particle thingy at CERN. He read an article about it and didn’t understand at all. So he decided to enrol in a 5years physics university degree. He’s just completed his first year and is now on his summer holiday. Half his lectures are in English so he was very keen to practise speaking with me, since before his course, he only had limited English. An extraordinary man.

We wandered along together until we heard a man who looked like a Blonde Jesus – great big bushy beard, long shaggy hair and sandals. His face was puce red and he was furiously swearing loudly in every language known to man and then some. He was stamping his way in the opposite direction from everyone else. I wanted to stop him and offer water or food or bandages if it was his feet that were the problem but he looked so wild and angry I was afraid to. I have learned nothing else about him and heard no one else talking about The Angry Man but his utter ferocious vitriol has lingered in my mind. I keep wondering how I might have helped but I time and again conclude that maybe he just needed to stomp and curse his way for a while to get it out his system… I hope so. I wonder where he is now.

Hugh arrived at 7pm in Hornillos and oh, it was good! We chatted together for a while before meeting a German/Canadian lady called Ellie. The day before, she had walked 70km… The reason she had done this, she said, was because she realised she only had €5 left and had been told the nearest cash point was Burgos, 56km further. Nearly all shops and hostels run on a cash only basis. But I know for a fact that most days of 25km you’ll pass through a town with an ATM. Most hostels are €5 or only a couple of euros more, many are Donativo so you simply leave what you can afford to. Alternatively, you could ask any of your fellow pilgrims to cover you for the night and all present would race to help you. She seemed a lovely lady and really laid back, the sort of person who, on the surface, you would expect to find alternatives to walking 70km. I  guess she had her demons that prevented her from asking for help. I never did find out the true reason and didn’t ask. Maybe she needed the physical and mental challenge and this gave her the excuse.

Hugh and I ate at a lovely little restaurant. It had the traditional 3 course pilgrim menu for €10 but with a Korean twist. It had been set up 3 years ago by an Irish lady and a Spanish man who had met in the Camino and fallen in love. They never wished to leave the bubble so, with a Korean chef they had also met on the Camino, they started up this delightful place!

Day 2: Hornillos to San Anton

I thought I’d ease Hugh in gently with a 16km day and take his measure – what a patronising tit I am. The man knows his walking that’s for sure! He can walk up those hills faster than I. It was rather crushing and a lot of fun! 

The main reason though was because I’d heard about a donativo hostel with only 12 beds (to match the 12 apostles) in the ruins of an old convent – San Anton.

I could not have even begun to imagine just how magical it would be.

I would not have been the least surprised to discover fairies or gremlins lurking in the fallen masonry or to have heard nuns voices echoing off the old walls, or figures wandering between the carved pillars that led up to roofs no longer present. Watching the sun set on the empty window arches, lighting up carved faces and animals was an experienced I’ll never forget.

The hostel was very basic – no hot water or electricity. A communal evening meal and breakfast. Very simple and utterly wonderful.

Our fellow guests were three 19 year old German girls, Lena, Hanna and Raechel whom we played cards with in the afternoon, Jack (28, Irish), Rachel (50(?), Canadian) and Linda (26(?), Dutch). There was also a Frenchman in a bike, another German girl and an Austrian couple. We made a merry party.

It was dreadful watching exhausted, sunburned walkers limping their way in and knowing they would be turned away. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for the volunteers who run the hostel. There is a town with two hostels in it only 3km down the road but my God, I know how long and impossible 3km can seem sometimes.

Day 3: St Anton to Boadilla del Camino

We set off after the others did, as is ever the case with me but we caught up with most of them on the way to Boadilla. 

Wheat fields and sunflowers once again. The combine harvesters are out in full force at the moment. 

The monotony of the landscape and walk was broken up with a couple of hills that allows you to feel on top of the world. The horizon stretches for miles with the distant ridge of mountains standing ever guard to the north.

We overtook most people as is now normal for me. We then bumped into Jack. He was alarmed to see us creeping up on him. We were told in no uncertain terms that he was the over-taker and not to be overtaken! A funny old bean. He was rather musical to walk along with though due to a cow bell hanging around his neck. He’s vegetarian and anti-animal cruelty but had run with the bulls in Puente La Reina. I guess it looked like too much fun or maybe he got caught up in the heat of the moment. As penance however, he is walking to Santiago with this bell. It had a rather lovely, low tone.

We are staying two nights in Boadilla. The hostel here has a small kidney-shaped swimming pool, beautiful garden and terrace and serves a fine meal and is run by an absolutely charming family under the benevolent eye of Eduardo, a charming eye with his dreadlocks tucked into a woollen hat. 

We met a fantastic Englishman called Justin last night and discovered that this is his 3rd time of walking the Camino Frances. Rachel tops him though: this is her 5th time. Both say that each walk is different, like the second or third reading of a book – you pick up on different nuances, and find things that you’d never noticed before. The general atmosphere, the Camino spirit, is what keeps then coming back though. It’s addictive. 

You may have reached a place in your head and your body that you are comfortable with by the time you reach Santiago, may have found the things you were looking for but within a week of returning back to your normal life, those things have gone. Life in the Camino Bubble is unique. None of us have any responsibilities, we’ve left then all behind. For the time we are here it’s simply Eat, Sleep, Walk, Repeat. 

It is wonderful but the return to ‘real’ life is going to be a short sharp shock, I fear! No wonder people keep coming back for more.

I’m raising money for the Youth Enquiry Service,a wonderful charity who help those aged 11-25 through life and all its complications. You can donate via my Just Giving page (Google: A Jolly Long Walk) or by sending a cheque directly to the charity. I’m hoping to raise £10,000 for them. I’ve just reached £7,000 (thank you, Justin!) If you can spare a couple of pounds, I can promise you it’s going towards a brilliant charity who in a quiet, unassuming way make a very big difference.

Thank you.

Week 16: Burgos to Boadilla

Week 15: Estella to Burgos

This week’s theme has turned out to be singing. As loudly, proudly and, in my case, clueless to both words and tune. I joined a brilliant gang of individuals who had all met on the Camino and who welcomed me as enthusiastically and noisily as they do everything else. I happily concede my title of Radio Camino to them. 

The Camino Platoon

You can hear them coming a mile off. I suppose that might be quite annoying for some people, but their infectious good cheer is such that by the time you meet them you can’t help but smile.

There are, I’ve discovered, some people who are not enjoying the Camino. They come with preconceived ideas of what they wanted out of it, what the landscape should be like, what their fellow pilgrims should be like, what the albergues should be like. Although this is a pilgrimage, since being on the Camino, I have not met a single person who has stated outright that they are doing this walk for religious reasons. Spiritual (almost everyone in some shape or form), sport (Dutch), adventure (German gap year), to improve their CV (South Korean), in search of miracles (American), heartbreak (Spanish/Italian) – there is rarely one simple reason; rather a medley mixed together with a lot of things untold but sensed. 

Messages of encouragement are everywhere

A question you hear often is ‘why are you doing the Camino?’. I hate that question. Not only because it is an incredibly personal, private question but because it’s a stupid one too. You learn things about yourself, the world, others on the Camino in a situation unlike any other. The response to that question can change hourly on the road, again in the afternoons and evenings and will, I imagine, morph into something else completely when we all return to our normal lives with all their conflicting forces of work, friends, family and have the benefit of hindsight. For the moment though we have all, for whatever reasons, chosen to leave our everyday lives to walk across Spain to Santiago de Compstella. It unites us and gives us all an honesty and openness that I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before in life. We don’t know each other well and probably won’t meet again after this journey, but for the moment we’ve got the same goal and nothing else matters.

What a wonderful world

Enough of the deep stuff though! I’ve walked seven days in a row for the first time and while physically I’m as fit as I’ve ever been it’s been and in body I’m strong, I’m exhausted. New is still new and tiring in a different way. All these people who have started in St Jean leave me in awe! They walk twelve days straight, their bodies and mind slowly and often painfully acclimatising as they go. I’ve been at this for months and still find it tough! I watch them leave as I take my much needed rest days and can only doff my hat to them in admiration.

Day 1: Estella to Los Arcos

The 25th July was St James’s Day and we were woken at 6am by a choir of the Amigos de Santiago singing outside the hostel. A true dawn chorus that had me smiling.

The walking was lovely. I passed the wine fountain just outside Estella. It pours out 1,000 litres of red wine from the local vineyard, 8am to 8pm. I was there too early to be able to sample it sadly, but hey ho! Perhaps it was for the best – 7.30am is a little too early for wine for me!

Water or wine?

I walked first with Scott (American) and Henrik (Danish) chatting this and that – hopes, dreams and ambitions. I left then after an hour or so, one of the frustrations of walking quicker than most. I then caught up with a couple of Irish girls and we made our merry way into Los Arcos. 

Is this the beginning of a wasp nest? We were very confused…

Because it was Santiago’s day, the town was putting on a Pilgrims Paella supper after Mass. The church in the town was enormous, gilt everywhere with amazing statuary. It was completely out of proportion with the size of the town! 

I hasten to add that this picture was not taken during Mass, but before while they were doing a microphone check!

Most of the village joined for the supper, mixing with us itinerant lot. The generosity they showed us was astounding. I’ve never seen such an enormous paella dish – it managed to feed all of us with plenty left over for seconds! There must have been at least 150 people there. 

Wine and soft drinks. Music and dancing. It was an evening out of a book or a film. Just magical! 

I met the boys I would spend the next six days walking with. They kindly invited me to meet then at 6am the next morning.

We were gently herded into the albergue for 10am well fed and watered and wishing the party didn’t have to finish. All the albergues are strict though and we are normally locked with lights out by 10.30pm at the latest. We are pilgrims after all and must be out by 8am the next morning.

I wasn’t staying in the municipal hostel but with the lovely Irish ladies in a private albergue on the other side of the church. They had left the party earlier and were having a proper singsong in the town square. I was sent to fetch them by the lady who ran our hostel. I couple of German guys never made it back in in time and were locked out for the night. They really are strict! It’s both frustrating and a brilliant excuse. 10pm is definitely my bedtime!

Day 2: Los Arcos to Logrono

28.5km so longer than I’ve become accustomed to in Spain! I’m getting lazy! I met the boys – Will (English), Chris (Australian), Mattia (Italian), and Christiano (Italian) – outside their hostel at 6am and we made our merry way. 

Vamos

They are a cracking bunch, or rather Platoon as they like to think of themselves! Nicknames flying about the place, constantly changing. I had already earned the name Corporal Lady Grey. I had met them in Estella when I was in full blown ‘make-new-friends’ mode. 

I’ve discovered that the further I get from England, the more of an English stereotype I become. Teatime is a must. I’ve been carrying Lady Grey teabag with me the whole way much to many people amusement. So at 5pm on Sunday I had come downstairs determined to meet people with biscuits and tea. These chaps were sitting round the table and had been my unsuspecting victims. 

We walked together, singing any and every song that came into our heads at the top of our lungs when we came across a man in an olive grove playing the guitar. It was a perfect excuse to stop and we sat around for half an hour listening, for once silent.

It didn’t last for long though! As soon as we were back on the Camino, we were chattering nine to the dozen and, just outside Logrono on top of a hill, we belted out a rousing rendition of ‘I did it my way’. Life is good.

I had met a lovely trio in Los Arcos – Laura (English), Sorren (Danish) and Ricardo (Brazilian). It was Ricardo’s birthday. The night before we had decided to bake him a cake. We hadn’t walked together however, and had no idea which hostel they were staying in. 

Waiting in the courtyard for the hostel to open…

This wasn’t going to stop me though. There was no oven so Banoffee Pie with a buttery biscuit base was the order of the day. 


Crammed in like fish in a can

Once made, we braced ourselves for marching all over the town until we found them. Luckily he was in the first albergue we tried! Candles and more singing ensued. 

The dormitory: pray for no snorers

Day 3: Logrono to Ventosa

I had decided that I wanted to stay in smaller hostels, to see what they were like, rather than the enormous municipal ones. I was walking a smaller stage than the book that most of us have suggested. The boys decided to fall in with my plan. And goodness, it was worth it. 

The walking had started out cloudy but sunshine soon made itself known. I will never tire of sunshine. The countryside is wheat field after wheat field with sunflowers thrown in every now and then. It’s lovely although does become a little monotonous. Wayside flowers keep me smiling though.

The hostel in Ventosa was just beautiful. The nicest one I’ve stayed in so far, hands down. There was a kitchen we could use there, and a beautiful garden that I spent the afternoon reading in. 

The French family that I had seen in Roncesvalles was there and I learned a little more of their story. They are extraordinary. They started six years ago from Tours and each summer spend three weeks walking, steadily making their way to Santiago. When they started, they had two children under three years old. They now have five children all under eight years old. The youngest is still breast feeding. The Camino is hard enough, just taking care of yourself! I can only begin to imagine the challenge of walking it with that many young children! My admiration for their sense of adventure and dedication to The Way is endless.

Fernando (Christiano) made the most delicious bruschetta. He’s a true Italian when it comes to his food – every ingredient is smelled, felt and found wanting compared to what he could find at home. He’s a flamboyant character, every emotion he feels is shared with the world. Mattia by contrast is the silent, mysterious type. Despite having spent the week with him, I can tell you very little about him. He listens and watches everything though. Still waters. 

I made pasta. Very amusingly, the woman in the little shop where we bought everything had seen the number of little tins of chopped tomato I was buying and given me larger tins that I hadn’t noticed. Brilliant, I thought. It wasn’t until I was emptying them into the vegetables for the sauce that I realised it was tomato soup ‘a la Heinz’… The challenges of not knowing a word of Spanish. It was still pretty tasty though if I do say so myself. Another Italian guy, Roberto, in the hostel joined us for supper and swiftly became a member of the Platoon. 

The Platoon and John from Texas

I’ve learned more Italian than Spanish this week. I’ve also discovered that what an Italian is saying is mostly communicated through hand gestures. Of course, most of the ones I’ve learned are the rude ones. They can be saying one things with their words, but it’s their hands that convey the true emotion and meaning.

Day 4: Ventosa to Ciruena

The nice thing about walking with this gang is that everyone goes their own pace. 

Will and I march ahead, setting the world to rights, while the Italians walk in the middle singing for all they’re worth. Roberto has a harmonica which is great fun. Chris trudges along at the back. He reminded us of the wonderful quote from A Knight’s Tale: ‘to trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on’. Chris really is a trooper. The man had god-awful blisters that got infected. Of course, this just got us singing ‘Super-Trooper’ which probably didn’t help him but at least we were all singing and laughing. It’s the little things.

Onward every onward

I feel bad sometimes about how easy and enjoyable I’m finding it all now. It’s finally feeling like a proper holiday to me! Sunshine, fun company, no blisters and healthy in both body and soul. Life is good!

We spent the afternoon playing cards in the albergue. The man who ran the hostel had not a word of English but we still managed to communicate. 

He taught Thai chi and has walked the Camino multiple times. One year he walked it three times! He now runs his little hostel with two dogs. He made a delicious supper of lentils which we ate to a chorus of ‘Ciao Bella’. If ‘life is good’ had become our motto, ‘Ciao Bella’ is our anthem. Apparently the song had been the song of the communist terrorists that caused so much trouble in Italy, but we’ve reclaimed it and made it our own on the Camino.

Day 5: Ciruena to Villamayor del Rio

It was another beautiful day, walking through wheat fields with the boys. 

There’s a ridge of mountains on the horizon that seem to encompass everything. The clouds gather on top of them and fall off like waterfalls. 

It’s beautiful, especially as the sun rises. I love the early mornings. The stillness. The quiet. Although not quite so quiet. I’ve constantly got ‘Ciao Bella’ in my head.

I’ve felt my inner-centre (yes, I did just go there) shifting this week. The songs in my head are different, the thoughts that I have. I don’t take half as many photos or notice the scenery I’m walking through as much. I’m too busy chatting and singing with my companions. It’s hardly surprising I suppose. I’m surrounded by people now and loving it. I always knew it would be different but I do miss when it was just me sometimes. I think even if it was just me again though, the experiences of the last couple of weeks have changed the balance inside me. There’s never any going back, just going forwards, one step at a time. If I tried to fight it or dwell on the changes I would stop enjoying this walk. I see those fighting the Camino instead of rolling with it, being open to the experiences you collect and the people you meet. It’s a tough enough physical challenge without complicating it further with preconceived ideas and expectations.

I forgot to eat enough between breakfast and a late lunch. It’s amazing how quickly and obnoxiously my mood plummets if I don’t have enough food. I didn’t even realise that was the problem. I got munched on by mosquitos the day before and they had all blistered and swollen something rotten on my left arm and hands. I had taken antihistamine to try to reduce the swelling and itching and thought they were just making me rather out of it. I know my body and my moods pretty well now but was still taken by surprise by how swiftly the world improved after some grub. That’ll teach me!

We played Uno in the hostel garden and were tucked up by 10pm, just as it started to rain.

Day 6: Villamayor del Rio to Ages

Poor old Chris (now known as Corporal Cripple) decided to take the bus to Burgos. His poor feet could take no more and he need to let them rest for a couple of days.

It was a misty morning and we left when it was still dark. It was due to get very hot and we wanted to miss the worst of it. We had at least 30km to St Juan de Ortega where we had originally planned to stop. 

A friend who is a day ahead of us messaged me saying she thought she’d got food poisoning there though so we decided to push on to Atapuerca. This would have been 36km, the longest I’ve done in a long time! 

We managed to make it 33km to Ages, the village just before Atapuerca, before Will and I decided we’d done enough walking for the day. It was just too hot.

St Juan de Ortega

Ages is a beautiful little village where time seems to have stopped. We ate a delicious supper in the restaurant on the street corner and watched an old man going back and forth to the village water trough, filling up his watering cans to water the flowers. Who needs a hosepipe anyway?!

Day 7: Ages to Burgos

Gosh, I was tired. We had a positively lazy start, congregating to leave the hostel at 7.30am before deciding to have breakfast there upon seeing the rain outside. We didn’t leave before 8.30am. My kind of morning!

It was lovely walking up a couple of hills before descending down towards Burgos.

22km and nothing too hard-core although very irritatingly we got a bit confused and ending up taking the nasty industrial route into the town instead of the path along the river. It’s so difficult entering cities after the beauty of the countryside. Fernando pointed out that there’s beauty in industry too and while he has a point, all I wanted to do was biff him. Maybe I should have eaten more at breakfast…

The pilgrim industry is alive and going strong!

We met up one again with Chris and many other faces that have become familiar over the last week on the municipal albergue. We had a Pilgrim menu in a nearby restaurant and drinks during which I bid farewell to them all. They all continue walking today while I await the arrival of my parents and Grandmother. We’re here together until Wednesday which will be loads of fun!

My friend Hugh is coming to join me for a few days walking at the end of this week which will be brilliant.

Life, my friends, is good.

(Sometimes…) Fare thee well, my friends

A wee reminder that I am raising money for the Youth Enquiry Service. Please do consider donating to this wonderful charity who do so much important work. You can do so on my Just Giving page or send a cheque to them directly. Thank you!

Week 15: Estella to Burgos

Week 14: Saint Jean Pied de Port to Estella

Well heavens to Betsy with bells and bobble hats, it’s certainly all change and all go around here! I barely know where to begin. The countryside has changed, the people are constantly changing, I’ve got new soles on my boots and I’ve made more friends in six days than I have in the previous three months… It’s all a little overwhelming at times and occasionally I think I long for the peace and quiet of when it was a more solitary walk. But I don’t, not really. I’m having a ball!

I’m on top of the world

I’m just settling into the new routines and rhythms of both Spain and the Camino Frances. I’m getting accustomed slowly. It is a very different walk now but different in a good way. I have a feeling that as I find my feet and get more confident with The Way it’ll simply get better and better and better…

Mountains, mountains everywhere…

One of the most frustrating things so far has been my absolute lack of Spanish. I can not begin to describe how stunted I feel not being able to communicate properly. I’d just got good at French! I was so proud of this achievement and now I can’t even ask for a glass of Orange juice, let alone the bill. I had one year of Spanish at school that I never paid any attention in because I didn’t like my teacher. I have no foundation to build on like I did with French. Everyone keeps saying that Spanish is so much easier. Well, I call codswallop on that. The words are not similar to either English or French and the pronunciation and intonation leaves my head swirling. I can’t hear it: the words, the sentiment, the mood… It is a giant, constant frustration.

It’s been a long way

English is conveniently the language of the Camino however, and as long as I’m walking, communicating is generally not a problem. Everyone seems to have a modicum of English for which I am eternally grateful for. There really are people here from all over the world: all ages, all races, all levels of fitness, all states of health and a hundred and ten thousand stories jumbling about the route waiting to be heard, to be told. You can hear them bouncing about the Chemin, ricocheting off the path, the trees, animals and people. It’s a very noisy place, even when it’s quiet. Feet have trod this route for over a thousand years. If each of us leaves a tiny little tremor behind us as we go that echoes down the generations, then this Camino has a rumble that rolls its way to Santiago. For all that, you can still find silence and a stillness at times, in the early hours, interrupted only by cow bells and my singing.

oh, what a wonderful world…

Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port to Roncevalles

I set out early at 5.45am before the sun had risen. It got to 37℃ by mid afternoon and I wanted to avoid the worst of the heat. 

Not even the boulangerie was open…

I almost left Bill and Ben, my walking sticks, behind but luckily had only gone a few steps before I realised my error. Off to a cracking start, I thought! 

The route was easy to follow and the gong not to difficult at first. This will be a doddle, I thought naively. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me or behind me and as the sun began to rose, I was in love with the world. 

The road quickly gained in altitude and I was red faced and breathless before long. You could feel the heat in the sun as soon as it began to rise, creeping over the mountain tops. 

Before long as could see people in front of me and just make out the clatter of walking sticks behind me. 

At 8am I stopped for much needed orange juice and coffee at Orisson, where there is a single building housing an alberge, restaurant and bar. There were people there already and as I began to catch my breath I watched others go past and was joined by still more similarly in need of a break. Two charming South Korean ladies (Sanna and Eshana, very limited English) who I had passed earlier, a German boy (Kiv, 19, gap year) who I had also passed, and a Frenchman (Nikil, 31, philosophy teacher). I don’t think there’s a nationality not represented here. 

Sanna and I

I continued on up hill with all the voices in my head effing and binding that we’d ever thought this was a good idea. It was a hard climb but on good pathways and 100% worth the effort. The views were incredible and watching the sunrise is something I’ll never forget. 

Horsey, horsey, don’t you stop

There were animals out to pasture everywhere – cows, sheep, horses – all with bells around their necks making it a musical experience. Genuine shepherds with crooks watching and herding their flocks could be spotted everywhere. I almost felt sorry for them as us awkward pilgrims walked through, disrupting their and their dogs hard work.

As I climbed higher so a very welcome, if rather strong, wind struck up. It almost blew me of my feet at times. I marched my way past most of the people I’d seen go by earlier. I’m definitely fitter than most and I think my natural pace is speedier too. I was rather grateful for my 13 weeks walking experience. If I was finding it tough going, I could only imagine how difficult it was for those I stride by. Still, we all slogged on and a camaraderie exists between us all. We are all instant friends, connected by the path we are embarking on. The call of ‘Buen Camino’ can be heard at the end of every interaction. 

There are graves along the way of those who didn’t reach their destination, or maybe they did… The names, nationalities and ages vary and they are a constant reminder of just how tough this path can be. I should count my blessings, I suppose.

The crossing into Spain is marked by the Fountain of Roland and a cattlegrid. 

The worst of the climb is done and you then meander along the mountain tops before heading downhill into Roncevalles through a beautiful beech forest. It’s very steep going. 

Nikil and I stopped for lunch in the shade, near the top. He’s an experienced walker and has an inner stillness and wisdom about him that makes him rather enigmatic. A lovely man though and a lot of fun. Kiv joined us and another German called Alex. Kiv walked the last 150km a couple of years ago and is a quiet one. You can tell he’s always listening though. His feet were suffering somewhat and I tried as best I could to help him out. Alex has not walked before, and is an interesting character. His shoes were, in my opinion, completely inadequate but he assured us they were brilliant. I guess that’s all that matters. He also appetite suppressant pills as he wants to lose weight on the walk. I told him flat out that he was an idiot at that point. We use up so much energy everyday, particularly on the mountains, and you need every calorie you can get especially when you’re just starting out and your body is adjusting. There no right or wrong way of walking the Camino and as long as he’s happy… 

I think I’ve got a lot of time for him despite my rudeness, you can tell that he is, under all the bluff, a good person. I don’t think anyone who sets out to walk the Camino can be a bad, closed person. He will be fascinating to meet again at the end I think. How he will have changed I do not know but I have a feeling in will be a change that is more obvious than most.

You can spot those who’ve been walking a long time or those who are more experienced. It’s not their kit or their speed or their blisters but rather their approach to both the path, other people, the world around them and the circumstances they find themselves in. A confidence in who they are and what they are doing.

Nikil has a camping stove so it was tea all round. Yay!!! 

Roncevalles is less of a village than an old monastery. There is a population of 25 and 183 pilgrims staying there every night and yet more passing through. We walkers are quite an industry for all the towns and villages along the route. The buildings may be old but the modern cubicles and showers speak of efficiency and high turn over. 

I went on a tour of the monastery and attached museum which was fascinating. I won’t go on about it here but thoroughly recommend looking it up.

I was in a bar when I heard a voice call my name. I looked around in shock and who should be there but my sister’s best friends mother and little sister. It’s a small world! Time and again I hear the phrase ‘it’s the way of the Camino’. I am coming to swiftly learn that this can mean many things and is often the only expression that makes sense of it all.

Day 2: Roncevalles to Larrasoana

Hot, hot, hot today. It reached 39℃. Once again I left at stupid o’clock in the morning. Kiv had left first and then Nikil and I wandered on our way, separate but together. Alex could not be woken. I was chattering on the phone to Guthrie and Nikil dropped quite a long way back. I lost sight of him entirely when I tried to find a bread shop in a village – it wasn’t open until 9.30am, what is this???! I’m finding the lack of boulangeries difficult to acclimatise to. I’ve been told by a few people this week that I only to have two natural states: walking and eating. It’s probably true!

Morning has broken like the first morning…

Kiv, Nikil and I all met up again in a cafe round about 8.30am. Nothing seems to open before then which is slightly frustrating when you’ve been walking since 6am but hey ho, I’ll learn the Spanish rhythm soon enough. We continued on, once again separate yet together and met a great guy called Rasmas (Danish solider)when we stopped for lunch. He joined our little group.

There was a kitchen at the hostel we were staying in in Larrasoana so we decided to go find the local shop. I am so glad we did. 

Angel runs the shop and as soon as we went in, it was chilled red wine all round, very welcome on an incredibly hot day. We picked up spaghetti, vegetables and some tomato sauce and put it on the counter to pay. Angel inspected our ingredients and then proceeded to get out a plastic cup, pour in some olive oil, mix in some salt and seasonings and give us very clear instructions on how to cook the meal. He was truly a character, a lot of fun, could speak in all 4 of our languages and I’m guessing is pissed pretty much all of the time. He must have at least a hundred pilgrims coming into his shop each day and from what I can gather he does the same for everyone. A true Angel of the Camino!

Day 3: Larrasoana to Pamplona

It was another beautiful days walking. Not to hard going and punctuated with lots of breaks. I left slightly after the guys. I can understand leaving at 6am if it’s going to be very, very hot but otherwise I prefer a slightly later start. The hostels never open before midday and rarely before 2pm. It’s pointless to arrive at your destination and not be able to dump your bag and have a shower immediately in my opinion. Exploring a city with Ken on my back is not my idea of fun. 

I caught up with the guys and a whole gang of others about 8am. I came around a corner in a village and there they all were about to have a group photo taken, organised by the two South Korean ladies I’d met on the first day. Their English had not improved but they’d managed to make their wishes clear and so here we all were doing the ‘Korean heart’. None of us really understood what was going on, but this is just ‘the way of the Camino’ and you roll with it.

I’d been a little worried on the ladies’ behalf that they would have difficulties with communicating but I learned swiftly that I didn’t need to worry in the slightest. ‘Korean heart’ was clearly going to get them everywhere they needed to go. Nikil made them some tea and having finished it they wanted to clean the mug before returning it. Not wishing to use their own water, they made the sign and said ‘Korean heart, water’ to Kiv before taking his water and cleaning the cup. The water was returned with another ‘Korean Heart’. We all looked on in confused awe. There was obviously no need to worry about them at all. 

The guys headed off and I was just gathering up my things when one of the ladies very sweetly gave me some flowers that she’d picked from a nearby planter. I said thank you and went to put it in my hair. Next thing I know, both of them are filling my hair with flowers. I nodded, smiled, said ‘Korean Heart’ for lack of a better thing to say and headed off with all the voices in my head agreeing that, while we had no idea what has just happened to us, perhaps we should just accept that this is ‘the way of the Camino’.

Korean heart!!!!

Nikil, Kiv, Rasmus and I found ourselves together again as we walked into Pamplona. We were staying in the Refuge Jesus y Maria which didn’t open until midday. We wandered around for an hour or so before it opened and found some delicious food – pinxos – similar to tapas but bigger. Shower and nap time followed – when in Spain…! – before going for an explore of the cathedral and town.

I knew I would probably not see them again. I was staying an extra day in Pamplona to get my boots repaired. The boys weren’t sure this would be possible and thought I would have to get a new pair of boots. I was praying with every ounce of my being that this would not be the case. I well remember the agony of breaking in my boots. There is little I wouldn’t do to avoid that. Fortunately I didn’t have to. I found the zapateria – cobbler – and he took one look at my boots, nodded emphatically and took them. I was told to return Friday at 9.30am before he disappeared. My Spanish now covers vino blanco and zapateria. It’s a slow, uphill struggle but at least I’ve got the important words.

The boys and Emel, another English girl who we found to replace me

I was very sad to see the boys go. This is going to be the pattern though I think. Taking days off means the people I’ve met forge on ahead and I have to start all over again. I don’t mind too much and when I think how quickly I met this wonderful lot, I am confident I’ll meet others easily enough.

Day 4 (Friday): Pamplona to Puente la Reina

My boots were as good as new but even better because they are still my boots. The soles I had worn through had been replaced and the stitching that had been coming apart had been repaired. 

These boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do…!

I set off at 10am with wings on my feet and an enormous smile on my face. The route was not too arduous. A constant steady uphill that got my heart beating led to the top of Mount Perdition. I passed by quite a few people, all new faces. 

At the top I paused for lunch. The views were magical. You could see for miles and miles and miles. On one side Navarre and the foothills of the Pyrenees and on the other Rioja and all that was still to come.

There was a brilliant sculpture of silhouettes of pilgrims making their way. It was called ‘Where the route of the wind crosses that if the stars’. 

I met lots of people up there and chatted then as they arrived at the top, sharing my snacks and chatting this and that.

The route down was very steep with loose rocks just waiting to twist your ankle. I remembered the lesson of the mountain goat old man I’d meet on the falaises south of Calais and went as quickly as I could. I whizzed past lots of the people I’d seen at the top, singing as I went. 

I stayed in a hostel on the edge of town and got settled in before heading out to see what I could find. I had drinks and did a supermarket shop with a Spaniard (Rubin) and an Italian (Francesco) before meeting a lovely group of Irish ladies (Fiona, Claire and Emer) who had all been at university together a decade or so before. They very kindly invited me to join them for dinner. We chatted the evening fantastic and Gemma (Australian) who I had met in the hostel in Pamplona joined us after.

Day 5: Puente la Reina to Estella

I met up with Gemma for breakfast at 8am and we didn’t start walking until 9am. 

We kept seeing people we’d met before and they’d come sit with us for a while. It was a wonderfully lazy start to the day! 

I saw Liza (American) again which I was very pleased about. Get story is an inspiring one. She was in a motorcycle accident in 2004 and severely damaged herself. She was told shed never walk again and the doctors wanted to amputate her leg. She refused to let them, determined that she would walk. For over a year she had no feeling in her leg at all but slowly and surely, I think by our force of will, she began to get sensation back. This is her second Camino. Her ankle is fused, a third of her calf and half her heel is missing but she won’t let that stop her.

It was glorious walking conditions. Rioja is straw fields galore with little villages on hill tops that look like hands have swept then up there into neat little piles. 

I walked with Gemma who has the same pace is me and we chatted almost non-stop.

When we arrived in Estella we discovered there is a medieval festival going on! 

I just can’t handle it… It’s all too much

Once set up in the hostel we wandered around soaking up the atmosphere and listening to the music. It’s a really buzzing, pretty town and a lovely place to rest for Sunday. 

Lace making

My parents are meeting me in Burgos the 1-3 August so I’ll walk there over the next week. Consequently there will be no new blog until next Monday probably… 

Life is good. Very different from before but very good. I feel like I’m as much of a beginner as all the people who have just started from SJPDP. Sure, my feet are harder and my body fitter but in every other respect… I feel like a novice with a lot to learn. I’m looking forward to it all!

Week 14: Saint Jean Pied de Port to Estella