Camino Francés 2015

Belorado – Molinaseca

From the 4th of May 2015, I managed to take three weeks off work to walk over 350km of the Camino Frances. It is my favourite section, having walked it between 2012 and 2014 previously. I started in Belorado and finished up in possibly my favourite town, Molinaseca. I passed through the large city of Burgos, the flat landscape of the meseta and up and over the Leon hills. The highlight was reaching the Leon hills and the Cruz de Ferro. There is something special about that part of Spain. I wrote about my times and the people I met.

May 5th, 2015 – Day 0
Dublin to Belorado via Bilbao

I woke up this morning thinking everything was going to go wrong. You name it, it was going to happen. But I was wrong happily. My flight wasn’t delayed, my bus from Bilbao to Belorado was on time and I arrived in Belorado with a bed and meal waiting for me. I need to relax more often! The flight was perfect and I arrived in Bilbao early if anything. I probably shouldn’t have checked my bags in but hey! I’ll know that for next time. It saves time. There were plenty of Irish on the flight Camino – bound. It was easy to spot them. Look for the zip-off cargo pants!!

I arrived into Bilbao and caught a feeder bus to Termibus just like I did in 2013. It takes 25 minutes approx so I needed to get this. Once I got to Termibus, I bought a ticket for bus to Haro and another from Haro to Belorado. Complicated or what? Anyway,  I got into Belorado after 7pm and was greeted by a very nice couple at Casa Waslala. I took up the advice of one of my blog followers and I’m glad I did. I loved it. Now to head to bed as I want to be up early for a walk to Ages or Atapuerca. Let’s see where the legs take me! Until tomorrow!

Casa Waslala, Belorado

May 6th, 2015 – Day 1
Belorado via Atapuerca

I woke up before 6 am ready to hit the road. The couple at Casa Waslala had been great but it was time to move on. It was still dark when I left and it wasn’t until 7 am until the sun started to rise. Wow what a sunrise. I stood still waiting for the sun to pop up and gradually the temperatures rose. I stopped at Espinosa del Camino and had a coffee, croissant, and Aquarius. Lovely. Lisa from Germany sat down and we had a chat for a half hour or so. I said goodbye shortly after as my pace picked up. I reached the truckstop town of Villafranca Montes de Oca and took another rest stop. Here the Camino takes a sharp incline and I struggled a bit trying to reach the top. I entered a wooded forest of pine trees at this stage and while it’s all well and good from a natural point of view,  12km of it is mundane. I had music so I was happy. I reached St Juan de Ortega before 11 am. The church is undergoing work, long overdue in my book. Still can’t understand why JBB has Ortega has an end stage? I walked on still feeling fine and under no pain. I think Ages will be fine to stop, I thought to myself. Hmm..not to be. All the albergues were booked up, just like I had predicted. Onwards to the Unesco heritage village of Atapuerca where I was greeted by the same albergue I stayed in 2013.
El Peregrino was not open until 1 pm so I had under an hour to kill. I looked for the other albergue without luck, so I ventured back to El Peregrino. It’s a flimsy,  prefab with very little care for noise control. I think I got 4 hours of sleep. That said I met some great people that I hope to meet again in the coming weeks. Lisa stayed there along with Tom and Caroline from Ireland. There was Franz from Germany and Tina from Denmark. I ate in the aptly named Como Sapiens.
All in all a tough day walk but at least the next day would be shorter.

May 7th, 2015 – Day 2
Atapuerca to Burgos

So day 1 turned into day 2 and the little sleep I had during the night was enough excuse to get up early and start walking. By 6 am my room was awake and I was out on the road by 6.30am. One Italian man in my room could wake up Ireland with his snoring and I found it funny when a Russian lady shushed him around 4 am thereby waking the rest of us in the room.
Leaving Atapuerca was dark and I had a climb ahead of me to get to the Matagrande. I got there before sunrise. What a sight! Onwards I went passing Villafria with no bar open for breakfast. I was keeping an eye open for other peregrinos but it seemed to be just me on the trail this morning.
I stopped in Cardenuela Riopico for breakfast to be joined by Lisa and a German man (sorry I’m bad with names). I moved on after half an hour and met another German girl called Dorothy studying her Rother guide. There are two trails into Burgos once you reach the Burgos airport and now we had arrived here she was curious which was better. One is along the road and is considered ugly and the other is beside the Pico river and is more attractive. I definitely thought so anyway. I advised her which was the best option and moved on. I think she followed me I couldn’t tell by my pace.
I catch up with Suzanne from Sweden who I had shared the room with in Atapuerca. We walked at the same speed so decided to stick together. She has walked the Camino twice before and would have a little more knowledge than me.
The walk into Burgos is something else and would encourage you all to take the alternative route. I arrived in before the Municipal albergue opened and watched the pilgrims come in, a good few I had seen before in Atapuerca. I met Daniella from Germany and Alex from Spain who are laid up with injuries. Shame I won’t get to see them again.

May 8th, 2015 – Day 3
Burgos to Hontanas

Deary me!

One of the longer days on the Camino (31km) and the official start of the meseta; a 200km stretch of grassland with nothing save for the unrelenting heat of the sun. It was easy going on me today however with constant cloud cover which kept the temperatures down. It also kept the winds high so I was blown off my feet during sections of this day.
I left Burgos just after 6.30 which is the earliest you can leave from the Municipal albergue. I said goodbye to Lisa from Germany who was having some breakfast, I hoped I would meet her again in Hontanas. The walkout from Burgos can best be described in one word: unpleasant. Over three hours of industrial work destroyed the views until I reached Tardajos. I stopped here for a coffee. A steady stream of pilgrims joined me as I relaxed. I moved on a reached Rabe de Las Calzades afterward. Another cafe con leche later, I moved on and aimed for Hornillos del Camino. However, before you reach that you need to ascend Alto del Meseta. It took a while to reach it but when I did you could see the meseta laid out in its glory. Hornillos can be seen from the height also and another 4km I reached it. It was just 11 am at this stage and was a little a worried about the albergue situation in Hontanas.
I pushed on knowing I had 11km left and eventually after 1 pm. My feet are beginning to pain me now which means I need to slow down. Let’s see how tomorrow goes. I met Dan in the municipal albergue who hails from Australia and had a fab menu del peregrino in Albergue Puntido.

Hontanas

May 9th, 2015 – Day 4
Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino

What a day! 10 out of 10 from start to finish. I adore the meseta and you can really get a feel for it on this stage. The fields were lush green for miles on end and the views went on for miles. If you have a problem with wide open spaces, maybe the meseta isn’t for you. I never experienced anything like it before 2013 anyway.
Anyway, I started out after 6.30am which I considered late. I put in my earplugs the night before to block out the coughing but missed the alarm clock on my phone. I left at around 6.45am but my plan to be on to of the Alto de Mostalares to view the sun rising was gone. I passed San Anton again. An albergue has opened there since I passed it last but there was no movement. The sun rose behind me as I walked on, however not as at the same pace as the previous days. I reached Castrojeriz at 7.30am and have some breakfast. There I meet my Dutch friend Jay who had left at 5.30. He was aiming for Boadilla or Fromista.
After 30 minutes, I move on and reach the base of Alto de Mostalares. It is 350m in height and took a lot out of me last time. Up I went and again it took a lot out of me. Nothing learned!! It’s a beast, but going down it is something I enjoyed. You can see for miles as you look down. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and by the time I reached Itero de Vega I was a ball of sweat.
I met Jose from Toledo who had started in Estella and was aiming for Santiago. His English is perfect and had previously worked and studied in Dublin for 2 years. So I walked with him for a bit until Boadilla. The Irish were out in force too. I met a trio who were taking a break at Itero de Vega. It’s always great to meet fellow Irish here.
I reached the albergue just after 12 and was greeted by Eduardo. He didn’t ask for any money but first brought me to my bunk and told me I could pay when I wanted to. I’ve been here before and loved it and wouldn’t bypass it again. The next person to come in was Michael from Kinsale whom I had been passing by all day. I just assumed he was Dutch or German. Anyway. I also met a fellow blogger Jennifer who pens under the name of postcard traveller. I had the pleasure of meeting someone I follow back in 2013 and for it to happen again is fantastic. We have both been following each others’ blogs so it was great to meet.
Later that evening there was a meal and headed to bed early hoping to be refreshed for the next day.

San Anton Monastery
Castrojeriz
Alto de Mostalares
Looking down at Castrojeriz
Entering Palencia
Colourful artwork near Itero de la Vega
En El Camino albergue in Boadilla
Communal meal with Eduardo, our host

May 10th, 2015 – Day 5
Boadilla del Camino to Villalcazar de Sirga

I had such a good evening and night in Boadilla. I met some new people (Michael, Jennifer, Sheila, and Kim) and met up with people I had lost in the previous days.. Also, it was good to be back in such a fab albergue. I would encourage you all to stay in En El Camino if you pass through Boadilla. Eduardo is a gent and rather than asking for payment first (like other hospitaleros), he prefers that you settle in and shower and then pay. So I was a little sad leaving there.

I also had a feeling that today I would be walking solo. I didn’t feel up to walking as far as Carrion de los Condes with the pain in my knee. A lot of people were talking about staying there but I had been there before in 2013 so I could be forgiven for doing something different. I chose to aim for Villalcazar de Sirga, a little town 5km short of Carrion. It had a number of albergues but very few people stayed there. I left shortly after 6 am as I became used to. It was pitch black outside and I was glad that two German pilgrims shouted at me as I was walking the wrong direction. The Camino follows the Canal de Castilla for about 5km until Fromista where I stopped for the usual breakfast. It was still cold so the cafe con leche was perfect. I moved on after about 20 minutes. There isn’t much to say about the walk from now on as the Camino leads you to a main motorway where I walk on the “senda del peregrino” for the remainder of the day. It’s far from attractive but I have earphones to keep me going.

Further on, once I reached Poblacion de Campos, I had a choice to stay walking along the motorway or veer off the road and into the countryside. The second option is longer and easier on the eye. I noticed that more people chose the second option which left me with a road to myself. Pure quietness. I passed through Revenga de Campos and Villarmentero de Campos barely stopping. Calling them towns would be a stretch. I could see Villalcazar de Sirga in the distance with it’s large gothic church standing tall. The Camino doesn’t actually pass through it so I needed to turn right to find the plaza mayor. I wanted to stay in the private albergue Don Camino but it was not open when I arrived (sometime around 11.30am). I could have easily walked into Carrion but this place is so relaxed I liked it already. I walked into the large church (Santa Maria la Blanca XIII) and collected a stamp for my credencial before seeing Jose at the bar down the road! He bought be a Coke and we talked about the day. I didn’t see him again. I really enjoyed his company!!

After an hour or so, Jose and his Spanish friends moved on to Carrion de los Condes and I checked into Don Camino albergue. It is tiny with 26 beds and on the corner of the town as you leave. I was given first choice of bunks but it wasn’t long before the albergue was full. Again, I didn’t recognise anyone but I had an amazing menu del peregrino with an Australian couple. They had so many questions about Ireland. A visit has been on their bucket list for so long. I think I persuaded them to bring the trip forward!!.

I took an early night that evening to rest my knee. I had taken some paracetamol from Caroline in Boadilla but I couldn’t find an open farmacia. Hopefully, there would be one open in Carrion de los Condes the next morning.

May 11th, 2015 – Day 6
Villalcazar de Sirga to Ledigos

I actually had a good sleep in Villalcazar and woke naturally at 6 am. I had some fruit and ventured out close to 6.30. However, as soon as I put pressure on my leg, I knew the day was going to be long. I didn’t have long to walk to Carrion de los Condes so maybe a farmacia would be open when I got there. I had 6km to be exact, just over an hour. It was dark when I left the albergue but I watched the sunrise before I entered the town. Carrion was still quiet and the last of its own peregrinos who stayed there were leaving. I stopped for some breakfast before catching Tom, Caroline, Franz, and Tina! I was delighted to see them. They had stayed in Villalcazar also but in the Municipal albergue..hmm..how did I miss them? While in Carrion I look for an ATM as my funds were becoming low but my debit card would not work in each machine I located. I put this down to problems with the machines rather than my card and I would ring my bank later on, although I was beginning to get worried.

On leaving Carrion, you join the old Roman road, the Via Aquitana, which stretches all the way to Astorga. The next town I would pass would be Calzadilla de la Cueza, which is 17km from here. I was stocked up with snacks but I heard that there were a few people selling drinks and food further on. It was getting hot as the morning went on, and to be honest, it’s not the most attractive walk. The road is as straight as an arrow with green fields on both sides of you. I couldn’t wait for the next town to appear. It was a slow walk with my leg nagging me however catching up with Tom and the gang did brighten my spirits. Franz has a fantastic sense of humour and I really enjoy walking with Tina. Tom was born for walking and you could tell he was enjoying the day. He would turn around and walk it again if he could.

We arrive at Calzadilla de la Cueza after 4 or so hours. It is close to 12pm now and I stop here for a bite to eat. I meet a guy from Germany who is walking his 8th Camino!! Fair play to him. He must be at least 70 and he wanted to push on further….to Sahagun maybe, another 30km! I hope I am like him when I am his age. Here I am in my late 30s complaining about a sore leg and heat and I can’t walk half of what he is doing!! After saying goodbye and wishing him luck (is that the word?) I move on. Having already stayed in Terradillos previously, I thought I would stop short in Ledigos, which is about 3km beforehand. The walk to Ledigos is along the side of a road and around 6km. I have some music to keep me company although pilgrims are plentiful. I reach Ledigos after 1 pm and check into the El Palomar albergue. The town is made up of a few houses, a small shop, the albergue and not much else. It is so close to Terradillos that you can see Terradillos before reaching it.

I have the choice of a bunk again and recognise quite a few faces. I am so tired that I sleep for an hour before going to shower or wash my clothes. That seems to be a habit of late!! After a while, I see Tom, Caroline, Franz, and Tina so I chill out with them for a while in the large back garden. I have the menu del peregrino again this evening, this time with a couple from Finland. They have great English! I have a fab meal before having an early night. There isn’t much to see or do in Ledigos unfortunately, but I go to sleep with the next day’s walk on my mind.

May 12th, 2015 – Day 7
Ledigos to Sahagun

I’m up earlier than normal this morning as I heard that today was going to be especially hot. The Spanish news is forecasting temperatures in the region of 35c so the night before I get my gear ready for an early start. There isn’t much I would say about this albergue, I was asleep during most my time here but it was good to see my friends again.

I leave after a quick snack of fruits around 5.30am. The sun is well under the horizon so everything is in darkness. I struggle to find the first arrow but I use my headlamp to figure out where things are. On leaving Ledigos, you are given two options to get to Terradillos de los Templarios, which is the next town. One is slightly longer so naturally people choose the shorter option, which I also choose. Again, remember that I am in pitch black with no other pilgrims. I walk on for twenty minutes or so, expecting to see lights or even an arrow. Nothing. Have I taken a wrong turn? I think I have, but I check GPS, just in case. I was walking away from the Camino in the direction of a town called “Poblacion de los Arroyos”! I’m glad I decided to check at that stage rather than walk blindly for a further 20 minutes.

After a while, I was back on the Camino (yes it was the right one!)..the sun was beginning to rise and pilgrims were leaving Templarios. I remember my time there in 2013. It’s a tiny village with a shop, a church and two albergues. It is a typical Meseta town. The albergue I stayed in is fine and at that time alot of my friends stayed there that evening. It was a late night!! Back to now however, I walked to Moratinos where I had the most amazing breakfast. The cafe is owned by Bruno who also runs the albergue and trust me..get some breakfast there. It set me up for the rest of the day.

Most of the day was along the road, using the Senda del Peregrinos (the soulless senda, in my books!). It was unspectacular and flat, but you have to take the bad with the good. I walked alone until I met up with Franz and Tina just outside of San Nicolas. Tom and Caroline had started earlier and were far ahead. They had decided on staying in Sahagun and while I wanted to re-visit Bercianos de Real Camino, my leg was causing me enough concern to have a short day. I also decided to check into a pension as I was in need of a few more hours sleep. Maybe the 5,30am start this morning was a bad thing?

Before arriving in Sahagun, we stopped at the “Ermita de la Virgin del Puente” which marks the halfway point of the full Camino. This meant alot to pilgrims who had started in St Jean and to Franz and Tina who couldn’t believe they had walked so far in such a short space of time. Me? I had only started. The temperature was reaching it’s highest at this point so we decided to move on to Sahagun. Eventually we see Tom and Caroline across from the main refugio sipping on a cerveza. They had already booked into a pension. Are albergues in Sahagun that bad?

I checked into Hostal la Bastide which is directly opposite the main refugio, breaking into the last €50 note I had on me. I needed to call my bank to see what the problem was with my ATM card. After a long conversation, I was told to visit a bank as the problem was not with my bank. I walked (with trouble) down to the local BBVA and asked if anyone spoke English. One girl with a little amount told me that the problem was with the card and not their ATM machine. After another conversation with my own bank, I was told that the problem was with the card and there was nothing they could do. Hmm..I’m left with little over €20 with another week to go..time to think! Luckily I was with good people who said they would provide me with what I need. The Camino does provide, you know?

I had an amazing meal later that evening in the plaza mayor. Siesta had just finished and with all towns in Spain, the town woke up with families pouring out into the square. Kids playing football, running around, with men and women talking about whatever. Sure beats sitting in front of a TV.

May 13th, 2015 – Day 8
Sahagun to Reliegos

The least attractive part of the Camino, I feel. But still, it holds a beauty that you can’t contain. I remember on my trip in 2013 walking alone for miles along this barren stretch and the only source of amusement was counting the trees on my left-hand side. I think I reached 500 and stopped. It has become a private joke between my Camino friends here in Ireland.

This morning was an early one, like the morning before. But unlike Ledigos, there was plenty of light. I was in a large town! I left at 6am taking some paracetamol for my leg and hoping the pain would go away soon. The sleep did nothing to quell it but I did catch up on a few hours rest which was what I wanted. Sahagun is a nice town and I would like to see more of it the time I pass through. It was a crime I didn’t buy a Guinness in the Irish bar although Franz did and said it tasted “second hand”! You can’t beat the real thing! Leaving Sahagun is confusing to say the least and the fact that it was dark and I was alone made it worse. I walked over the bridge and along the main road but once you come to the roundabout, the directions led me astray. I waited for 10, maybe 15 minutes until some French pilgrims asked me which route I wanted to walk. “Oh to Bercianos please!!” was my response and they pointed me in the right direction. In 2013, I was luckily not alone so I didn’t have this problem.

Onward I walk. Other pilgrims have the option of walking the Roman Road to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos via Calzada de Coto, but it is a long stretch. There are more towns to stop at on the Camino Real. I was on safe terrain now and thanked the French couple. It wasn’t long before the sun had risen and pilgrims had left their places of rest. Bercianos de Real Camino was my first stop. I was eager to find the cafe run by a Spanish / English couple at the entrance of the town but in typical David fashion, I couldn’t find it. Had it closed? Were they not open this morning? Hmm! Once again, memories of my time spent in town in 2013 flood back. I also noticed a few more albergues and restaurants had opened up since I had passed through. I decided to leave breakfast until the next town El Burgo Ranero, some 15km from Sahagun!!

El Burgo Ranero is much bigger than Bercianos with more albergues. More people tend to stay here instead of Sahagun and it is listed as an end stage in Brierley’s guide book. Ah Brierley! I promised I wouldn’t mention him..ok..enough! The walk into El Burgo Ranero is pretty mundane. I listen to music on my phone and apart from the odd old building, there is nothing worth photographing. I’m walking alone also so it’s a great time to think things over. Reaching El Burgo Ranero is great. I stop at the first restaurant and order some breakfast. The cafe is crowded, mostly by pilgrims who have stayed in Bercianos the night before. I meet two women from Ireland who are walking the Camino in stages..this time from Fromista to Ponferrada. I overhear them speaking Irish, which is very unusual when abroad. I didn’t want to disturb them so I waited until I had ordered and sat down to said hello. It was great to talk to them. They had their day packs and were clearly taking a more relaxed attitude to other people. I ordered them another cafe con leche! I also met Mary from Florida, who was in her 70s. I would meet her many times down the line but one thing I noticed about her was her determination. She just kept on going. I moved on eventually, hoping to reach Reliegos before this leg gave out.

The next 11 or 12kms is uninspiring..pretty much! However, I enjoyed the alone time! I played games to ensure I kept the same pace..”what’s over the hill?..Most of the time, it is usually nothing, but I just didn’t want to go back to counting trees. The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cold either, and we had cloud cover. I also heard a lot about Elvis in Reliegos..He owns a bar “The Blue Bar” as it is known. It’s an albergue as well, but I’m not sure many people stay there. I wondered if I would see the guys again as we made no plans on where to stay tonight. I just assumed they would aim for Reliegos but wouldn’t it be funny if they turned up in the same albergue as me??

I arrived in Reliegos after 3 more hours. As you enter the “town”, there is a bar so I bought a cool cerveza and an aquarius. Maybe the guys would turn up while I waited outside. After half an hour, I went in search of the albergue “Las Paradas” which is at the back of the town. It’s nothing special but it was clean, a big plus in my books! The owner acted like he had a chip on his shoulder, I don’t think I saw him smile when I was there. I washed my gear, had a shower and put my feet up in the patio area. Next, Tom, Caroline, Franz and Tina walk in. I have no idea! I was delighted. They were joined by another German guy called Andreas whom we had dinner with that evening. Another great night. I didn’t get to see Elvis’ bar in the end. Maybe another time.

Tomorrow I walk into Leon. It’ll be like meeting an old friend again having being here twice before. We will be back walking as a group also. After dinner I got some great news also as someone was prepared to wire me Western Union funds to keep me going until I return home. I just needed to visit the Correos in Leon and I could collect it. Good times!

May 14th, 2015 – Day 9
Reliegos to Leon

I didn’t get a great sleep the previous night. Three Italians who were in my room went out to watch the Champions League semi-final between Juventus and Real Madrid and came in just after midnight. Now, I don’t usually mind this…I would probably do the same at their age. I was just tired and my leg was starting to worry me. Was there something more to it than just muscle pain? The rest of the guys were dressed and having breakfast when I stumbled out of the room to make for the bathroom. They wanted to wait for me, they said. I was happy to hear this. I enjoyed their company while walking. That was the last I saw of the Italians!

It must have been 6.30 when we hit the road. The sun was beginning to rise over the horizon. There was cloud in the sky but even at this early stage, it was set up for a warm day. There were reports in the Spanish news of temperatures reaching 35c in Leon this day and the next while Barcelona was due to hit 42c! Amazing, considering this pale Irish boy is used to temps not going over 25c! I had the Factor 50 ready anyway. I walked with Tina for the first hour or so and we pick up the pace, leaving the others behind. Franz was busy listening to his music while Tom and Caroline talk busily. Franz and Tina have walked numerous Caminos before and were already making plans to come back in 2016. They both have a great interest in the outdoors. Like myself, I guess. They had walked the Camino Aragones from Somport the previous year which piqued my interest. Tina and I spent a while thinking of ideas on how to stop the infernal bed race, and how to stop pre-booking albergues! Many of our answers were left on the long road we had walked on! I’ll let you find them.

We eventually reach Mansilla de las Mulas and stop off at Albergue El Jardín del Camino for breakfast. We struggle to get inside as it is packed with pilgrims and locals starting off their day. Once we order, we took it outside to the table area. It was warm enough to take off the leggings on my bottoms. We all ate our breakfast quickly and moved on. The owners of that albergue must surely be busy for the summer. Before we left, Tina took a photo of me beside the monument of the three weary pilgrims. They sum up how all pilgrims feel after a long day’s walking. Mansilla is generally an end stage and has two large albergues. I stayed in the municipal further down the road in 2013 but not on this occasion. Next stop…Leon!

The walk from Mansilla to Leon is, well..how can I say this in a positive fashion?….well..uninteresting?! There is no great surprise that a lot of pilgrims bus into the the city centre, so they can avoid the industrial heartland that the Camino weaves through. The main concern I had was the amount of concrete I would be walking on. Previously, I had been walking on senda, rock, gravel, which didn’t seem to bother my feet. We stopped off at Villarente for another cafe con leche where I met Andreas enjoying a second breakfast. This cafe is owned by a chap who only played classical music and behind the counter, he was joined by an Austrian pilgrim who stayed in the albergue adjoined to the cafe. Apparently, you can pay for your stay by serving breakfast! While relaxing, I wave to Mary as she storms past me walking at quite a pace. Determination personified!

After Villarente, we walked along the main road and pass through suburbs and industrial areas. Arcahueja and Valdelafuente have albergues if you wish to stop short of Leon. But really, you would be crazy to do that. Leon is beautiful. You can see the first sight of it’s cathedral as you cross a bridge over the main road into the city. We weren’t far now. We also spot a large advertisement for Burger King. City life awaits us!

The cathedral is majestic, standing tall as we enter the main square. We stop for a cafe con leche in place called “La Mas Bonita” which is right beside the tourist office. We just wanted to gather our thoughts and find a place to stay. The Benedictines albergue was a definite no, we all agreed. It was coming close to 1pm at this stage and I was getting eager to find the Correos and receive my euros which were wired to me. All I had was a code in a text and with my limited Spanish, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work. Or if was going to work at all.

The owner of the cafe pointed us in the direction of a great little hostal called “Hostal San Martin” which is behind the main plaza. It cost me €30 for the night and at this point I was borrowing money from the guys. Ok, the Western Union transfer better work, I thought. I dropped my bag into the room and walked in the direction of the Correos. After a 20 minute walk, I found it and with a little translation help, I received some more funds to tie me over until I arrived home. I was happy now. I walked back in the direction of the hostal and met the guys for a drink. Franz suggested we go for a Burger King. I said I would love it (he had me at Burger!)..the other guys wanted to visit the Cathedral. I don’t usually eat McDonalds or Burger King in Dublin but I lapped it up, it just felt right. The food I had been eatting has been great, don’t get wrong, but I had been left hungry.

We walked back to the hostel to chill out. On the way back I meet Michael from Cork whom I had met in Boadilla del Camino. He was also finishing up in Ponferrada or thereabouts. He has a much quicker pace to mine so I thought I had lost him. He was with a girl from Switzerland whom I had met in Ledigos, and another guy from New Zealand. Clearly I am bad with names! Back in my room, I flip off my shoes and socks to discover an almighty blister on my little toe. I didn’t have it this morning so it must have formed with all the walking on concrete. I needed to work on this so proceeded to drain the fluid and cover my toe. I’m becoming a little more skilled in blister treatment over the years


May 15th, 2015 – Day 10
Leon to Villavante

I’ve learned over the years to make as little plans as possible while on the Camino, so I can be as flexible as possible. Before I left Dublin, I was mulling over skipping Leon and staying in La Virgen as I have been in Leon before. That didn’t happen. I also wanted to stay in Bercianos again due to the albergue’s hospitality in 2013 but things didn’t quite work out. There was one thing I wanted to do this year that I couldn’t do before and it would involve me leaving the traditional Camino.

I woke earlier than usual, spending time putting on my shoes. Blasted blister..I thought to myself. I was quite lucky though. Many people get a lot more and in more awkward places. I took some more paracetamol just in case my leg acts up. Funnily enough, it hadn’t caused me any grief the evening before. Things could be looking up. I made sure I left the hostal with everything, including my euros. I had no intention in leaving them behind. I left the keys in the main hall and signed my name before leaving. The guys talked briefly the evening before about stopping off in Villavante, a one-horse town 5km short of Hospital de Orbigo on the alternative route. I had my heart set on Hospital de Orbigo itself as I had never stayed there and heard lots about it. Do I stay there? The feet felt good but we are talking about 35km here. I may as well see how I feel as the day goes on.

I left Leon in the dark, passing the Cathedral, San Marcos and over the Rio Bernesga. I got lost a few times as there are few arrows to guide you. Keep your eyes peeled for gold shells in the ground instead! Leon was still alive with people going home from bars and clubs. I learned later on that there are no closing times in Spain. Once you cross the Rio, you enter Trabajo del Camino, an industrial area. It is quite the opposite of the meseta, but you take the good with the bad. I walked past workers as they made they way to work. I didn’t spot other pilgrims however, I must have been pretty early. On passing Trabajo del Camino, you arrive at a collection of hobbit-like houses, which are in fact bodegas. I stopped here for ten minutes or so looking down on Leon. From here, I walked on to the main road before stopping for some breakfast at a cafe along the road.

La Virgen del Camino is the first town I passed through. It’s a small suburb of Leon with amazing church, Santuario Virgen del Camino and it’s albergue which is on the opposite side of the road. I had hoped to stay here rather than Leon before I arrived on the Camino but as I said earlier, plans always change! The Camino divides into two at this stage until Orbigo so it depends what scenery you like. You can walk along the main road via Villadangos del Paramo and San Martin or take a left and walk away from the road. I saw the first arrow and lept for the diversion. I was glad to get away from the main road which I walked along since Mansilla de las Mulas. As soon as I took the diversion, I heard someone shouting at me, telling me that I was going the wrong way. I didn’t think so..and I carried on.

This alternative is pretty barren, but that’s just what I was looking for. It was getting warm also, so I stopped for a bit and put on some sun cream. It was at this stage I met two women whom I hadn’t met before. One was having extreme difficulty walking and the other was helping her along. I walked with them for a while before the woman who was in difficulty said that she was fine. I walked on with my new walking buddy through Oncina de la Valdoncina. Judith was from Belgium and had stayed in La Virgen the night before. The other lady was Scottish and had multiple blisters. She didn’t have walking poles either. I felt her pain! I really enjoyed talking with Judith who was walking to Santiago and meeting her husband there before spending time in Porto. She had a good pace too.

But we didn’t want to rush through the day. We both stopped for second breakfast at Chozas de Arriba. The towns we passed through had a handful of houses but it is better than hugging the road, I reckon. There were far less pilgrims on this option also, I met less than 20. One thing that struck me also was that someone had defaced the Camino sign at Fresno del Camino, the first village on this alternative route. Someone clearly doesn’t want people to walk this way.

We moved on. I haven’t heard from my friends at this stage and it was looking like I wouldn’t see them this evening. Not to worry, there is always Astorga. The next town was Villar de Mazarife which is reached another hour after Chozas. The roads are dusty and to be honest, I wouldn’t call them roads. My shoes were brown on reaching Mazarife. We again stopped for a cafe con leche here in Albergue Tio Pepe. Judith had walked the camino before and had stayed here. It’s a fine place but I just wasn’t ready to stop. Villavante was another 9km away…the feet were fine..the blister wasn’t acting up…I had water..I decided to go! She had made her mind on aiming for Hospital de Orbigo and Albergue Verde, a further 5km, but I knew I was happy to reach Villavante. Albergue Verde is an albergue renowned for serving vegetarian food and encourages you to stay for more than one night. One for the note book I reckon!

We reach Villavante in just under 2 hours and one of the first buildings we see is Albergue Santa Lucia. It’s pretty big. Before I check in I order some lunch and eat outside with the sun blazing down on us. I say goodbye to Judith afterwards..well, it was more “see you later”..as I hoped to see her in the morning. I checked in to the albergue and learned that I had taken one of the last bunks available. Most were booked in advance…part and parcel of the Camino nowadays I guess. I met a few new people here..Daniel from Denmark, he was part of a huge Camino family that were younger than me. He had blister problems however and lost track of them. And Samuel from Germany via Italy. The three of us ate a pilgrims meal which was included in the price of the bunk.

The albergue has a parrot also but don’t try take a photo with flash as you may be asked to leave  I had an early enough night after a few drinks with new friends. I had plans to aim for Astorga the next day..some 22km away..but I would be back on familiar territory.

Looking back on Leon

May 16th, 2015 – Day 11
Villavante to Astorga

I had enjoyed my stay in Villavante and had no problems sleeping, however I was back on the top bunk again! Mustn’t grumble though! Today was due to be a shorter walk compared to the last few days but it was forecast to be pretty warm. I aimed to get up early and planned accordingly. The next morning, I didn’t need an alarm clock as there were others leaving with me. Hmm…I’m usually the first out! I said goodbye to the parrot and walked on.

It was pitch black again but I could see the sun peak over the horizon. Leaving Villavante, there is a 6km straight walk ahead to Hospital de Orbigo. The sun was fully up before I reached the town’s large water tower. The other route from Leon meets at this points so I saw a number of other pilgrims coming from that direction. Still, I was quite happy with the route I took. Two American girls who kept to themselves walked ahead of me. They mustn’t want to talk, or maybe it’s too early? Otherwise, I have music in my ears while taking in the scenes. I’m coming to the end of the “meseta”..once I reach Astorga, I will start on a climb to the Leon mountains. But I will leave that until I get there. I’ve enjoyed the walk through the meseta thoroughly and it is still by far my favourite part of the Camino.

I arrive at Hospital de Orbigo, with it’s long bridge. I passed here in 2012 when it was being repaired. The town can be deceiving as it looks small from a map, but it is big when you pass through it. Most of the cafes were not open when I passed through, in fact, the town was asleep. I had a look around for Albergue Verde to see if I could spot Judith from the previous day. Unfortunately, that was the last I saw of her. I hope she had an enjoyable Camino! I took my time passing through Orbigo. I had wanted to stay there but it wasn’t to be..so I moved on once I drank a morning coffee.

On leaving the town, you have two options. Going straight brings you on to the main road and can be a little mundane, while taking a sharp right leads you to country rounds and dirt tracks. It is 2-3km longer and there are a number of small towns to pass through before you reach Astorga. I chose the 2nd option. What is it with me and making my Caminos longer??

But I made the right choice. It was a fab walk this day. I passed through Villares de Orbigo a few kms later and stopped for a second breakfast. The town may as well not be there it is so small. It was definitely busier on the Camino now and most people I met were new to me. However, I was still greeted with a smile. I reckon most had started in Leon and were on their way to Santiago. The crowd I had been walking with from Burgos were well ahead of me now…but I had hope of meeting Tom, Caroline, and the gang again. Maybe in Astorga.

I passed through Santaibanez de Valdeiglesias and had a rest stop. Most of the terrain was on the flat but there were sections that proved challenging. A highlight for me was meeting David again at Casa de los Dios. David is from Barcelona who, after walking the Camino, decided to help pilgrims. He lives in an abandoned warehouse and offers drinks and fruit for a donation to passing walkers. I said hello and mentioned that his home looked much better since I passed in 2012. I received a hug and he wished me a Buen Camino. Nice guy! I would love to do what he has done.

It wasn’t long before I was back on concrete by the cross at Santo Toribo. I was greeted by a Spanish singer with an acoustic guitar. Although he sang the same song over and over, he knew how to entertain! Check him out here.

After a long walk through the suburb of San Justo de la Vega, I arrived at Astorga just before the Association albergue was opening at 11.30am. I was 5th or so in line behind some German men who I had not met before. I don’t bother with pleasantries with Germans. I’m sure they are nice people, but I’m not sure they have a sense of humour. A few moments later, Samuel arrives in and grabs a top bunk. It was great to see him despite to language barrier. We understood enough to talk in simple English. I grabbed a shower, looked after my washing and went for some food with Samuel.

Astorga is a fine city. I have stayed here before but in another albergue further down the Camino. It is a good walk from the albergue to the main plaza, to the museum, the Cathedral and the Gaudi Palace but it is worthwhile checking these out if you are staying there. I was happy to eat out as a result, so I had dinner in the plaza mayor with Des and Josephine from Australia. They had stayed in Villavante. On completing the Camino, they were to visit Ireland so I told them where to go and where to avoid, but they had an idea already.

I wasn’t sure where I wanted to walk to the next day..Rabanal del Camino or Foncebadon. All I knew was the next day would be the start of a progressive climb. My leg had started to bother me again so I promised myself I would go easy. I was thinking Rabanal but I would decide in the morning.

May 17th, 2015 – Day 12
Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

This would be my penultimate day and I was unsure where I would finish up. I’d let the feet decide again. Two days from now I was due to catch a bus from Ponferrada to Santiago and fly home to Dublin afterwards. There was much internal debating whether I should travel to Santiago this year but as long as I avoided the main town I would be happy enough. Today, however, I was aiming for either Rabanal del Camino or Foncebadon. I had walked this route in 2012 and was familiar with it. On leaving Astorga, the trail starts to rise gently and there is a nice climb into Rabanal however, there is nothing to get overly concerned about.

I left Astorga in the dark once again..not a cloud in the sky. It was a great advertisement for walking early as the stars were still visible. It doesn’t take too long to leave Astorga, maybe half an hour, and I was eager to stop for my first breakfast of the day. Santa Catalina wasn’t too far away. I walked alone from Astorga but I did notice a lot of groups leaving the town. It had been over 6 weeks since Denise Thiem, a pilgrim from the US, went missing. This had always been in the back of my mind and especially today I thought of her family and friends. It seemed as though pilgrims were taking extra care by doubling up just to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I decided to hang back from one group until I reached Santa Catalina. There was also a visible police presence which I had not seen before on my 5 times on the Camino. My one wish is that people don’t decide that the Camino is not for them based on this one event.

I arrived into Santa Catalina looking forward to breakfast and ordered my usual. My leg was paining me again so I took some more paracetemol. I spent quite a bit of time here, watching the news,  trying to understand it with my limited Spanish. This albergue “El Caminante” is fab..and I hope to stay here in the future. In fact, there are plenty of options in Santa Catalina. I move on and after an hour of gradual ascent, I reach the curious town of El Ganso. There are many towns and “celebrities” of the French Way, and the Cowboy boy here is one of them. I stop off here and soak in the randomness. I love it. There is an albergue here also. I stopped for a cerveza to cool off. I meet Des and Josephine who weren’t far behind me. That would be the last I would see of them unfortunately.

The next 2 hours I walked along the side of a road, with the sun getting hotter. I was quite happy with my own company but I did stop and talk to some people that I had met in Villavante a few days earlier. I love this part of the Camino. The higher you climb, the more colours you see..plenty of greens, purples, yellows, reds. It was perfect. The final ascent into Rabanal del Camino is much greater and is pretty demanding. Hundreds of coloured crosses littered the side of the trail as I climbed up to the little town. A half an hour later I arrived in Rabanal sweating and racing for a cool cerveza! With great joy I see Andreas from Germany, whom I hadn’t seen since outside Mansilla. I was also met by Roy from Canada who was hoping to stay here. After that climb and that heat, I decided to stay put and chill out in the sun until I worked out which albergue to stay in! In 2012, I stayed in the fab “Albergue NS de Pilar” which is brilliant but I wanted to try somewhere else. Albergue Guacelmo was getting good feedback so I headed in that direction. It opened just as I placed my bag down. Happy days! Albergue Guacelmo is run by the CSJ in London and every two week or so, new volunteers come over to look after pilgrims. It is donotivo as well. It is well recommended to stay there however, there is a condition that you carry your backpack to be given a bunk. If not, you will need to look elsewhere.

Later on that evening, I had a meal in the hotel across the road after Vespers in the local church. I would encourage you all to go to vespers there. What an experience. I went in 2012 and loved it. I had an early night afterward and started to wonder how my final day would go. Would I see my buddies again? Or even still, would this be the last time on the Camino? I had no idea.

Albergue Guacelmo in Rabanel del Camino

May 18th 2015 – Day 13
Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca

I had already walked 260km over 12 days but this day was my last day. I dislike last days on any trip. I had already thought about going back to work and that brings stresses in itself. However, starting out, I had a choice. Take it handy and walk 25km to Molinaseca, or walk to Ponferrada, which is approximately 30 km walk. It all depended on how I felt on reaching Molinaseca. .. I was going to soak up the atmosphere and meet some more people. I may even meet Tom and the guys before I finish up.

It was just after 6am when I departed Rabanal del Camino and it was still dark. The albergue was serving breakfast at 7am but I didn’t avail of it choosing to wait until my arrival at the next town, Foncebadon. I remember my time here in 2012, I left with a German, Sabine however I walked out alone this time. It didn’t bother me, however. The climb up to Foncebadon is tough and starts as soon as you leave the hamlet. You venture off road and you walk up, up, and further up until you reach the main road. I meet the two Irish women whom I last saw in El Burgo Ranero and chat to them for a while while I catch my breath. From there, there is another steep climb before you see the cross at the entrance of Foncebadon.

The popularity of the Camino seems to have given life to this little part of Spain since I last visited in 2012. Instantly, I could see two new albergues and one other hostal. I stopped at one of the new places “Albergue Roger de Lauria” which serves breakfast. It was bustling even at this time..7am. I suppose a lot of people choose this village as their stop point. John Brierley doesn’t recommend it as an end stage, but a lot of people chose to stay here so they can witness daybreak from the highest point. I ordered my usual breakfast and sat down. The climb took a bit out of me but I had quite a bit more to go yet.

I started to think about the Cruz de Ferro, which was another 2 kms or so from here. On reaching the Cruz, most pilgrims bring along a stone as a symbol of a weight that is on their shoulders. They place the stone by the cross so the weight is no longer with them. Instead of a stone, I brought a small metal shell that was given to me by my friend Anna who I met on my last Camino. I spent twenty minutes or so here and took in the atmosphere. The sun was out and it was beginning to warm up. The arrival of a tourist bus was good reason for me to move on also. From Rabanal, I had climbed 400 metres to the highest point on the Camino so it was all downhill from now. The trail is along a road but the traffic is so quiet that I find myself walking on the road itself.

Another 2 kms or so further on I reach Manjarin, with a population of just one..Tomas. I didn’t stop this time around but took a photo of the many destination signs at the front of his house. I wondered if many stayed in his albergue the previous night. I must try it sometime. From now until the next town, El Acebo which is roughly 7 kms, it is all descent. At first. the Camino stays on the main road but it takes you off road for a while before reaching El Acebo. It is quite tough at times, especially as I don’t like descents. I stop at every opportunity I can. There was one guy selling freshly squeezed orange juice and I jumped at the chance to take a rest. I reach El Acebo at about 11am. The climb down took alot from me and I was ready for a cafe con leche and something to eat with it. Just as I entered the first cafe in the village, I see Tom and the gang. I was delighted to see them. It now meant I had someone to walk with on my final day. I took it easy for a while we gathered our things and set off. I learnt that they had stayed in Orbigo and in the albergue further on in Astorga. They chose to stay in Foncebadon also, which explained how I had missed them for so long.

Once we left, we discussed where we would stay for the night. I told them that I had been to Molinaseca in 2012 and it is beside a river. I think they had been thinking of staying in Ponferrada but the mentioning of a river sort of changed their minds. It is a beautiful town and wins over Ponferrada on all counts. Plus the albergue in Ponferrada is too large. The albergue in Molinaseca is run by Alfredo who is another legend of the Camino. We checked in and decided that rather than have dinner there, we would take a visit to the tienda, buy some food and wine and take a trip down to the river. We had a great time and it was a perfect final day..even though my leg took a battering. I was back hobbling again but I did my best to shake it off. I saw Michael from Cork again who would be flying home the next day, but from Madrid.

Saying goodbyes are hard but saying goodbyes on the Camino are harder. I should be used to it at this stage.

I woke up the next day after 7am and the last of the stragglers were moving out. I, on the other hand, didn’t need to go. I packed up and wandered down to the taxi rank in Molinaseca town. After a badly improvised phone call in Spanish to a taxi company, I was picked up and brought to Ponferrada bus station. The next four hours were spent looking out the window at passing cars and pilgrims as they make their way to Santiago. In typical Galician style, the heavens opened on arriving in Santiago. After another taxi ride to the aeropuerto, I waited for my flight home. While waiting, I met a friend who was also walking another portion of the Camino and was coming home.

So that’s my 2015 Camino over..I suffered, to the extent of damaging some ligaments in my leg. But was it worth it? Oh yes! Here’s to 2016.

The Places I stayed

Well, it took me a while to finish off my day-to-day diary. Life kind of gets in the way when I am not in Spain. I am hoping to get away for a few days but in Ireland, at the start of August. More on that later.

I just want to give you some information on where I stayed on this camino. Some of the albergues I have stayed in on previous Caminos while some are new.

Day 0: Belorado – Casa Waslala – google maps / link
Day 1: Atapuerca – Albergue El Peregrino – google maps / link
Day 2: Burgos – Casa de Cubos Albergue – google maps / link
Day 3: Hontanas – Albergue de peregrinos Antiguo Hospital de San Juan – google maps / link
Day 4: Boadilla del Camino – En El Camino – google maps / link
Day 5: Villalcazar de Sirga – Albergue Don Camino – google maps / link
Day 6: Ledigos – El Palomar – google maps / link
Day 7: Sahagun – La Bastide du Chemin – google maps / link
Day 8: Reliegos – Albergue la Parada – google maps / link
Day 9: Leon – Hostal San Martin – google maps / link
Day 10: Villavante – Albergue Santa Lucia – google maps / link
Day 11: Astorga – Association de Amigos de Camino de Santiago – google maps / link
Day 12: Rabanal de Camino – Refugio Guacelmo – google maps / link
Day 13: Molinaseca – Albergue Santamarina – google maps / link