Ledigos – El Burgo Ranero

A great pizza oven in the albergue in Ledigos

A great pizza oven in the albergue in Ledigos

A pilgrim rests to reflect

A pilgrim rests to reflect

The day was damp after last night’s huge storm. I made some breakfast in the small kitchen at the albergue. There was a fantastic earthen pizza oven there – if there had been more people around last night I would have asked if we could have used it!

As I set off I said good morning to an elderly pilgrim who was studying a book with great intensity. He was in his own world so I continued on. Maybe he didn’t want to chat so I respected that. Some on the Way are walking for peace and quiet and most pilgrims respect that. Not many kilometres later I arrived at Terradillos de Templarios where Jasmin, Eva and Hector were sitting outside an albergue. I had a coffee in the morning sun before proceeding. They were in no rush and were going to stay a bit longer at the albergue.

Cyclists wave in the early morning light

Cyclists wave in the early morning light

Entering the next village of Moratinos there were some peculiar mounds of earth. A chimney and even a television aerial protruded from the top of one mound with an ornate entrance at its base. I later found that they were used to store wine, cheeses and meats in the days before refrigeration. They may well still be in use. In the village itself there was a delightful church with some ornate decoration. It was cool, quiet and had a lot of atmosphere. I signed the visitor’s book and put a stamp in the credential. As well as the daily stamp from the albergues, it was good to collect stamps from special places, and this was one of them.

Strange underground buildings exist of the edge of Moratinos

Strange underground buildings exist of the edge of Moratinos

It was deserted on the next stretch. I amused myself by filming a snail’s progress in time-lapse. It seemed quite relevant that the snail moved so slowly. It was like the steady determination of the pilgrim to reach the goal.

Interior of the church in Moratinos

Interior of the church in Moratinos

In San Nicolas del Real Camino so I was relieved to see some people outside the Albergueria Laganares. I had seen a brochure for this stylish albergue a few days ago and now being here it was indeed a great place. One of the few luxury albergues I had seen, it was tastefully decorated and the owners very friendly. They had a blend of coffee called Mayca Blend – one of the best coffees so far on the Camino!

The long dusty track for one walker

The long dusty track for one walker

It was eight kilometres to Sahagun where I stopped to buy some food. A lady in the bar opposite the supermarket chatted to me and said that she had spent four months in Edinburgh in 1994. She remembered her time there with affection and presented me with a badge featuring a pilgrim that looked like a leek! Apparently, Sahagun is a centre of leek production and specialises in ‘Pilgrim Leeks’, a high quality leek sent to top class restaurants all over the world. It also used to have the most important Benedictine Monastery in Spain, of which there are no remains. There are however some fantastic churches and its an interesting town.

What followed was a long hot and dusty stretch on the Camino running along the edge of a main road. Soon I passed a painted sign that said it was 315km to Santiago. I was surprised and pleased as I thought it was further. It still seemed such a long way however. Soon the way divided with a route to the north following an old Roman road. I stayed on the slightly shorter Southern route. I had to negotiate a bridge construction site. There was a notice advising of a diversion for walkers …

‘Pilgrim Care – Work Zone – Its certainly not out of the way!’

On the outskirts of Bercianos del Real Camino there was an old hermitage where I rested from the sun. Two Argentinian cyclists arrived. They had just started at Sahagun and were full of energy. Having only arrived the day before from Buenos Aires, they had some home made biscuits their Aunt had baked. I gladly accepted the offer to help finish them!

The Way marks the cross

The Way marks the cross

Large storm clouds appeared as the cyclists left. They were keen to avoid a soaking. I watched in wonder as the dramatic clouds, wind and rain approached rapidly. I continued walking through the storm with the poncho keeping me dry. It was an invigorating walk to the village where a funeral was taking place. The combination of storm and wind, and the subdued sombre funeral procession was saddening. I followed the procession out of town to the cemetery. There was a lot of grief amongst the local people and it affected me deeply. I would keep walking that afternoon.

I walked into the evening and into the dark, and laid down my bivi bag and sleeping bag just outside of El Burgo Ranero. Emotionally and physically empty after 35 kilometres of walking, I fell into a deep sleep under the now clear sky and sparkling stars.

The storm and the light - the pot of gold is just on the left

The storm and the light - the pot of gold is just on the left

TIP: In the heat of the Spanish day its often a good idea to take a long break in the middle of the day. Walking later in the afternoon or even into the evening and night can provide a wonderful change from early morning walking. With a bivi bag and sleeping bag, there are no problems with accommodation.

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Carrion de los Condes – Ledigos

Not too difficult to find the Way

Not too difficult to find the Way

When I did the supermarket shop last night, all I could find were bulk buys, large packets and heavy items. Shopping on the Camino often means that a few days can go by without the opportunity to stock up. It is of course possible to pay for a pilgrim meal in most overnight stops, but this can get expensive if you are doing the whole thing from Le Puy en Velay (65 days at least for me!). A big shop can add a couple of kilograms to the rucksack so its important to shop carefully. There was a shop I found that had it’s window full of small items especially for the pilgrim. I wished I had found it the night before.

Two pilgrims plod along the lonely kilometres after Carrion de los Condes

Two pilgrims plod along the lonely kilometres after Carrion de los Condes

Walking out of town on another overcast day, the Way followed a main road and was as straight as a die. It was not so inspiring but the steady ‘crunch-crunch’ of the boots over the gravel surface became strangely hypnotic. Being flat, it was easy and fast walking. I was comforted knowing that the kilometres were being covered quickly. Today would be the famous seventeen kilometre stretch of straight path I had heard about.

The wildlife and wild flowers were absorbing as was the sheer expanse of the plain that the Way was crossing. Nine kilometres from Carrion de los Condes there was a small group of trees with an outdoor cafe. Another enterprising local had set up a refreshment van and virtually everyone stopped for to take a break from the straight pathway. The cafe was pleasant but not cheap! Still we were a captive market for his hot and cold drinks.

To break the sameness of the scenery I filmed some walkers with the time-lapse function on the camera. I didn’t even know the camera had this function before then so it provided me with a lot of amusement for a while!

The cyclist was overexposed

The cyclist was overexposed

Finally Calzadilla de la Cueza appeared. Another small village, it did have a hotel and bar where familiar faces were already stationed. It was great to sit for a while knowing that one of the most isolated stretches of the Camino was behind us. By now much hotter, we all ate then dozed in the sun. There were quite a few walkers asleep under the trees near the bar.

Beetle pilgrim on the Camino

Beetle pilgrim on the Camino

An old dog appeared and sat in the middle of the road in front of a van. The van was not going anywhere and no one took any notice. Suddenly the driver appeared and jumped in. He drove off right over the top of the sleeping dog, luckily not running over it with the tyres. There was a lot of yelping and whining as the dog was finally spat out from under the van. I shouted at the driver who mearly shrugged his shoulders. I checked the dog out all over. It appeared to be fine, was not limping, and there was no blood and no injuries. The dog simply wagged it’s tail and sat down again in the shade of the doorway of the bar. I mentioned what had happened to the bar owner – another shrug of the shoulders was all that he could manage.

Ruth, Jasmin and Alex

Ruth, Jasmin and Alex

Alex looks for the Camino de Santiago

Alex looks for the Camino de Santiago

The storm was brewing near Ledigos

The storm was brewing near Ledigos

It was only six kilometres to Ledigos and I planned to continue another three or so to Terradillos los Templarios. At Ledigos I felt tired however. In the distance were huge black storm clouds. I found the only albergue in town which was also the only bar, and the only shop. It was the hub of this tiny village. Soon Alex, Jasmin, Hector, and others turned up. They were going to continue to the next village. We shared some beers as the storm grew closer. I did not like the look of the dark clouds so checked in to the albergue and said goodbye. They headed off into the brooding darkness.

There were few other guests. There was only one Spanish guy in the dormitory that could sleep twenty or more. He did not speak much except when he was making numerous phone calls on his mobile. I asked at the bar and they opened the shop where I bought some fresh fruit. Then I discovered the swimming pool. It was magical to lie in the pool with the rumble of the approaching storm, the wind building and the heat and dryness of the day receding. So peaceful and so calm yet the storm raged and flashed as it got closer. Soon it was upon the village and what a storm! Magnificent quantities of wind and rain arrived. It was still crashing and flashing as I headed to bed. I felt warm, secure and happy in the albergue listening to the storm outside.

TIP: Personally I don’t think it is a good idea walking while there is a thunder storm in the area. Your mobile phone or walking poles can attract the lightning in the open plains.

Scallop way marker

Scallop way marker

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Boadilla del Camino – Carrion de los Condes

Saint James Scallop

Saint James Scallop

As forecast, the day was cloudy and it looked like rain. Another subdued day but a day none the less for walking. Its easier walking in this type of weather but not so good for photography being less inspiring with the flat light. It was starting to drizzle when I left the village of Boadilla del Camino but at least the Way was flat. It followed the Canal de Castilla for many kilometres. It was a pleasant walk in the cool damp morning air. I walked alone while a few cyclists sped past. For a short time I had a problem with my right foot. It was really painful and came on suddenly and unexpectedly. As soon as it appeared, it disappeared. Probably a trapped nerve.

Scallop shell door knob

Scallop shell door knob

Near Fromista, there was a canal lock system consisting of quite a few lock gates. It seemed disused but was an impressive piece of engineering. At one time it was an important commercial mode of transport, no doubt now overtaken by the motorway system. As I entered the town it seem deserted and as unused as the canal. The cottages along the road into town were made of red brick and reminded me of the buildings of Belgium and Northern France. It was like being immediately transported to those environs and a strangely surreal experience.

Fromista is the end of the sixth stage of the Aymeric Picaud‘s Codex Calixtinus, a five volume 12th century guide to the Camino. I stopped for coffee in a small bar. The coffee was so good I had another while talking two two guys cycling to Santiago. One from Germany, the other Italian, they chatted enthusiastically about their trip and after the obligatory ritual of taking each other’s photograph, they headed off. Cyclists definitely move at a different mental as well as physical pace to us walkers.

Flowers and a bee in the heat of the day

Flowers and a bee in the heat of the day

What followed was another flat straight walk with a succession of small villages. The sun was starting to come out and the heat starting to build. It was not particularly inspiring country and I was surprised to see that €402,000 was being spent on upgrading the road near Revenga de Campos. There was no traffic on it! I continued the steady slog along the track to be woken occasionally by Spanish cyclists shouting ‘Buen Camino’ as they flew past. There were flowers everywhere and the land started to come to life as the sun broke through. There were some wonderful floral displays. The only sound was the occasional blaring of an air horn from the local baker doing his rounds.

A beetle clambers over a flower

A beetle clambers over a flower

I stopped for lunch in Villalcazar de Sirga and as I was heating some mushroom soup, Lorenzo arrived. He was again having problems with his feet and sighed a huge relief as he removed his boots. We ate and chatted to some other pilgrims before looking round the town. It had clouded over again and it seemed a good idea to sample some good Rioja as spirits were low. Jasmin, who I had seen at Espinosa del Camino, turned up on her own without Simone. She joined us for our second glass of Rioja. Wanting to spend some time on her own she would catch up with Simone later.

These feet (not mine) took some punishment on the Camino

These feet (not mine) took some punishment on the Camino

Seven and a half kilometres later we were at Carrion de los Condes where I had planned to spend the night. It was a surprisingly vibrant small town with twelve churches. In the past it had been an important stop on the way to Santiago but today is a small and pleasant market town.

After bumping into Pascal and Bernard, I checked into the Albergue Santa Maria before heading off to the supermarket. Returning to the albergue, I met Alex and a bunch of his fellow walkers. Alex was preparing a huge meal and invited me to add my ingredients to the mix. The rest of the evening was wonderful. We sat in the garden and dined on Alex’s and everyone else’s contributions to the meal. This was ‘slow food‘ and its such a change from the crazy fast food that has become so omnipresent in Western society. Of course Rioja wine was involved and we all had a great time with may laughs.

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Castrojeriz – Boadilla del Camino

Tiziano has some foot problems

Tiziano has some foot problems

The sun was streaming through the window of the dormitory when I awoke. Gregorian chant music and opera was playing in the background. One of the volunteers was singing along and happy with the new day. With the deep sleep I had just had, it was not too difficult to relax for a while before getting ready for the day’s walk. This is what the Camino was about. The two volunteers excelled in their hospitality and a good breakfast of bread, jam and coffee was awaiting upstairs in the main room.

Tiziano had redone his bandages and his ankle was feeling a bit better. We said our goodbyes to the albergue staff and headed off with Mateja and Lorenzo to find the bus for Burgos. Mateja had been planning to leave a few days ago to catch her flight home from Madrid. She was torn. She did not want to stop walking as she was enjoying the Mesetas and the Camino so much. We found the bus stop and waited till the bus arrived. After talking to the driver she decided to continue walking. She could get a bus down the track in Fromista that would get her to Madrid in time for the flight. The lure of the Camino was just too great to stop just yet.

Pilgrims after the climb from Castrojeriz

Pilgrims after the climb from Castrojeriz

A long road ahead for the pilgrims after Castrojeriz

A long road ahead for the pilgrims after Castrojeriz

As we saw the night before, the Way did indeed climb steeply at first. The country was becoming more magnificent and more relaxing. At the top of the climb everyone stopped to look back at where they had come from and where they were going to next. It was a timeless journey. This was the true Meseta. This was the true spirit of what we were doing.

Walkers have a novel sun protection method

Walkers have a novel sun protection method

A short distance later I passed a pilgrim heading in the opposite direction. He was clothed traditionally with a long beard and carrying a long staff. He said hello and smiled as he continued on his way. I was fascinated too in the detail of the flowers, rocks and insects in the bright early morning light. The next summit provided refreshments. An enterprising local had set up a stall in the middle of this vast land to offer the pilgrims, for a donation, either coffee, tea or fruit. There was a shady sitting area opposite the stall. The atmosphere of the Way of Saint James was really present.

Traditional clothing for this pilgrim returning from Santiago

Traditional clothing for this pilgrim returning from Santiago

Scallop way marker on the Meseta

Scallop way marker on the Meseta

A wide river appeared just before the village of Itero de la Vega. There was a ancient pilgrim hospital before the old bridge – the Hospital San Nicolas, now a small refuge run by the Italian Confraternity of Saint James. The village was quiet with only pilgrims passing through. I found a supermarket to stock up on my favourite bread and olive oil soaked sardines. It would be a few kilometres crunching over the dry pebbled track to the next rise and I could see trees ahead on the ridge – a perfect place to have lunch.

The small wood was indeed perfect. Just off the way there were a few small pine trees with the dry wind making a calm rustling sound through their branches. I set up the gas stove as Lorenzo caught up. We chatted for a while about photography once more as we heated some coffee. An Italian couple I had met a few times passed with bright red sun brollies protecting them from the sun. Continuing on there was less shade so the Italians did not look so daft after all!. The track was wide and stoney and the heat was stifling. In the distance we could see building cumulus clouds over the mountains to the North. The forecast predicted rain within two days and in the current heat the thought was a welcome one.

Lorenzo wanted to walk on and as he was walking faster than me we agreed to meet up later. ‘Each one their own Camino’ as the saying goes. I had heard about a good albergue with a swimming pool in Boadilla del Camino. The temptation to stay there and have a swim was just too much to resist. I reached the village quite late in the evening as the sun was loosing its heat. It was a fabulous place with a huge lawn and, as promised, a (small) swimming pool. The garden was full of modern art and the plant life decorative and artistic.

Pilgrims must do the daily wash come what may

Pilgrims must do the daily wash come what may

A pilgrim's staff

A pilgrim's staff

The day’s washing completed I set about putting it out to dry. I was disappointed that there was a large group of loud tourists, not pilgrims, jumping and screaming around the pool. They were having fun but most felt that they were credit card pilgrims not in tune with the Way. I never did get my swim but a cold shower was equally welcome. I met up with Patricia from Hungary who took great pains in educating me about Saint Francis of Assisi. She was knowledgeable about the history and legend to say the least.

TIP: Its worth carrying a good guide that details the history and architecture of the Way of Saint James. I only had the Miam Miam Dodo and sometimes felt I was missing out on some of the richness of the journey.

Local ladies enjoy a chat in the evening warmth

Local ladies enjoy a chat in the evening warmth

After dinner I wandered around town as the light provided the ‘magic hour’ for photography. Three local ladies sat in the street talking and embroidering. After saying a few words in my broken Spanish, I headed back to listen to the swallows nightly dance round the church spire. I was transfixed by the peace and sat for over an hour in solitude as the last light of the day receded.

Vines on the wall of the albergue

Vines on the wall of the albergue

I thought of many things then emptied my mind replacing the space with calm that only this journey can provide.

Inside the Church of Santa Maria in Boadilla del Camino

Inside the Church of Santa Maria in Boadilla del Camino

Pilgrim boots left out to air at the albergue

Pilgrim boots left out to air at the albergue

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Hornillos del Camino – Castrojeriz

Lorenzo and Mateja on the plateau

Lorenzo and Mateja on the plateau

Rocks and plants

Rocks and plants

Lorenzo had problems with his boots

Lorenzo had problems with his boots

Entering the village of Hontanas

Entering the village of Hontanas

Notice for the albergue at the Convent of Saint Anton

Notice for the albergue at the Convent of Saint Anton

The Camino from Hornillos del Camino was truly wonderful. A good quality path led out of the village onto a high flat plateau. It was covered in mounds of stones and had magnificent displays of wild flowers. It was like a huge rock garden. There was an albergue at Sambol which I later found out had no electricity or water and was probably the most basic albergue on the way to Santiago de Compostela. I walked with Lorenzo and Mateja for a while. Lorenzo kept repeating ‘Where is Luigi’, his friend from home. Lorenzo was struggling with his boots. They were pinching his heel and he was starting to limp. He had to stop from time to time to remove the boots and relieve the pain.

We came across Daniel and Ricardo, two Spanish guys we had met before. They were sitting by a pile of stones totally absorbing the atmosphere of the Camino. They said nothing. They sat there in the sun with smiles on their faces in the peace and silence of the surrounding country.

Hontanas was the next village and for some reason we were getting so close and could not yet see it. The plateau stretched into the distance and every pile of rocks appeared to be the village ahead. Finally a notice by the track said half a kilometre to Hontanas – still we could see no sign of Hontanas.

Suddenly the Way dropped into a small valley and there it was. It was a special place set in a special land. It was calm and relaxing with a few cafes and albergues. Lorenzo, ever looking for the next coffee, ordered some at one of the cafes. Anna (suffering from mild heatstroke) and Lina from Sweden were there and the conversation continued about our experiences on the Camino. Coffee led to an early lunch of a spicy sausage and cheese bocadillo (sandwich).

We continued after one cafe owner had advised us to take the small road to Castrojeriz as it was shaded by trees. The Camino ran parallel and the distance was the same anyway. It was a good choice as by now the midday sun was beating down. The cafe owner had also told us that there was a party that night in Castrojeriz. They were preparing for the Festival of Saint Jean. We headed off in anticipation.

Three and a half kilometres before Castrojeriz was the Convent of Saint Anton. This was a former hospital for pilgrims set up by the Antonins, a French order that was believed to be able to cure Saint Anthony’s Fire, a form of gangrene common in the 10th century. Pilgrims were send on their way after receiving the blessing of the Tao Cross. There was a small albergue there and we duly had our Credentials stamped.

Anna

Anna

Lina

Lina

Arriving in Castrojeriz, the town was deserted. It didn’t appear like there was any festival in the offing. There was a strangely deserted and run-down looking church at the entrance to the town. This was the Collegiate of Nuestre Senora del Manzano, built between the 13th and 17th century. It had an eerie atmosphere about it. It was a few more kilometres to the Castrojeriz that lay below the spectacular hilltop castle that gave it it’s name. We found the Refugio of Saint Juan and checked in. The dormitory was small and the building very old. There was a warm welcome from the two volunteers. Tiziano was having some problems with an ankle. He thought it was tendonitis. He spent some time in the dormitory wrapping bandages round his foot.

Villagers prepare for the celebrations

Villagers prepare for the celebrations

I went for an exploration to see if there was any signs of a festival. There wasn’t apart from some locals dressed in white shirts with crimson scarfs. Some music could be heard in the distance. Apparently at midnight the town’s population would come to the square to select the ‘belle’ of the festival. Midnight would be too late for us after all the walking in the heat. Instead we dined on the pilgrim menu in one of the hotels, and headed back fairly early to the albergue. On arrival, the volunteers in the albergue had made some Queimada, a warm Galician alcoholic punch that contained coffee beans amongst other interesting things. It was certainly a good recipe. We all went to the balcony to enjoy the last light of the evening. Looking West you could see the Camino rising up onto yet another plateau. Our ‘work’ for first think in the morning. The Queimada threw me into the desire to head straight to bed. One of the best nights sleep followed.

Mateja

Mateja

Tiziano

Tiziano

TIP: Drink plenty of water little and often in the heat of Spain. Cover your head with a good hat to avoid sunstroke.

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Burgos – Hornillos del Camino

Pilgrims stride out of Burgos in the early morning

Pilgrims stride out of Burgos in the early morning

Lady begging by the Cathedral in Burgos

Lady begging by the Cathedral in Burgos

In a street in Burgos

In a street in Burgos

So, apart from losing a pair of socks in Logrono, I could not find a blue tee-shirt I had left out overnight to dry. Oh well, to be expected I suppose. After leaving the albergue I searched for a photo shop to buy another memory card. They didn’t open till 10am so I had breakfast with Boogey, Lorenzo, Mateja and others. The coffee was great and it was another fine morning. Again it was difficult to leave the fine coffee and croissants! We said our goodbyes at the cathedral as I went to buy memory card. I would catch up with everyone later.

The Way continued out of Burgos through the stately university grounds and past a high security prison where megaphones were blaring out to the inmates. The Camino passed through a flat wide valley. Some time later a lady rode up behind me on her bike and started chatting. Her name was Mercedes and she was recommending an albergue in the village of Rabe de Calzadas. It wasn’t many kilometres away so I doubted I would stop there that night. She made it sound very welcoming and a good place to stay. I had the feeling however that she was employed by the albergue to drive pilgrims to the accommodation!

It wasn’t long till I reached Rabe de las Calzadas. I walked on straight past the albergue recommended by Mercedes. The Camino climbed slowly and the heat was intense, though still not as hot as the Pays du Quercy in France. Patricia from Hungary was heading in the opposite direction – she was too tired. Part of the way up was a perfect wild camping spot – a group of trees surrounding a grassy area with pique-nique tables. I sat for a while as the breeze drifted peacefully through the trees.

The familiar yellow arrow and shell sign

The familiar yellow arrow and shell sign

The country was becoming very dry and almost desert like. The hills were not that high and apparently used to be the bed of an ancient sea. Was this the start of the Mesetas? I wasn’t sure. It was a strangely beautiful ‘moonscape’. Climbing steadily, I finally reached the top and was happy to see the village of Hornillos del Camino far ahead.

Lorenzo

Lorenzo

I had run out of water and was starting to feel very tired due to the extreme heat. It was so peaceful that a bizarre idea came into my head. Why not invent a small cube, solar powered, that contained a small speaker and produced calming sounds of the Meseta. Maybe the heat was getting to me!! On the Camino it is amazing the thoughts that enter the mind – perhaps as a result of the simple life, the exercise, the fresh air and the heat. It is almost a higher state of mind.

Thought this was Spain not France

Thought this was Spain not France

Just before the village I said hello to an elderly couple who were heading up the hill. Surely they were not heading the almost nine kilometres back to the previous village in this heat? They were both probably over eighty years old and there were no other buildings in that direction.

On a small bridge by a small river was a large group of elderly locals laughing and joking and enjoying the simple life. After now more that six weeks of walking every day, I started to understand that a life of simplicity is possibly what it takes to be truly happy. All the daily problems of the modern world start to seem quite insignificant in relation to what is really important. Perhaps these ‘elders’ had found the true passage to happiness and the simple life.

Albergue municipal in Hornillos del Camino

Albergue municipal in Hornillos del Camino

Hornillos del Camino was a delightful village, simple, with a single winding main street. What was refreshing was that there were no cars and no traffic at all. Everyone moved about on foot. The albergue was just off a small square next to the church, and it was fully booked. Luckily the lady there said there was an emergency dormitory in the Mayor’s office building. A large group of Spanish cyclists arrived as I paid and went to the dormitory to leave my belongings.

Church tower at dusk in Hornillos del Camino

Church tower at dusk in Hornillos del Camino

I chatted with some other Spanish people while preparing dinner and they were enthusiastically drawing maps of Spain on napkins to indicate the different states and regions of this fascinating country. I learnt a lot from them. After dinner the evening light was so special that I spent a long time near the church trying to capture the moment. A whisky bought by Lorenzo in my honour was a perfect way to end what had been a magical day of walking on the road to Santiago.

Hornillos del Camino at dusk

Hornillos del Camino at dusk

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Atapuerca – Burgos

Pascal approaches the large cross above Atapuerca

Pascal approaches the large cross above Atapuerca

Pilgrims pass the coffee van

Pilgrims pass the coffee van

This would be an easy day with only 15 kilometres to Burgos. It would be strange arriving in a big city again after so much calm and peace in the country of the Montes de Oca. Atapuerca had been a great stop for the night. The village was friendly and alive with visitors, people laughing, and children playing in the streets. As the sun rose that morning, the chill disappeared from the air.

A short climb out of town there was a large cross at the top of the hill. You could just make out the sprawl of Burgos gleeming white in the distance. Near the top I caught up with Bernard and Pascal who I had not seen for a few days. They had stayed in another albergue the night before. We walked together for a while as the rocky path led us slowly down onto the vast plain below. Near a quarry was a van selling pilgrims a hot coffee and breakfast. It appeared out of nowhere and seemed out of place.

The Camino joined a small quiet road and led through the villages of Cardanuela-Riopico and Orbaneja-Riopico before passing over the motorway that led to Burgos. I had thoughts of stopping when I saw another happy walker tucking into an early lunch.

Pascal had gone ahead and with Bernard we found the track that led to the south of the small airport. Bernard frantically tried to contact Pascal on his mobile but he had taken the other route. Our route was supposed to be more picturesque avoiding a large industrial park before Burgos. The wind was still cool as it blew across the open grassland. It was a calming wind.

A pilgrim stops for lunch in Cardanuels-Riopico

A pilgrim stops for lunch in Cardanuels-Riopico

A pilgrim on the way to Burgos

A pilgrim on the way to Burgos

The Camino arrived at the noisy traffic filled outskirts of the city but thankfully soon led to the River Arlanzon where it was a quieter walk to the centre. The outskirts were sprawling and covered in blocks of apartments gleaming in the sun. I became sad again reflecting that perhaps I was always unhappy in cities. The path too was littered with empty plastic water bottles, a scourge of society (don’t buy bottled water!).

There was also the return of a dropped tissue every so often. Throughout the Way of Saint James in France each day I had seen two or three tissues lying discarded along the Way. Others had noticed this and were angry that anyone would leave rubbish on this wonderful walk. Maybe I was catching up with the same fantom tissue-dropper! Sadness in a city and anger at pollution were thoughts that streamed through my head.

Gleaming modern apartments on the outskirts of Burgos

Gleaming modern apartments on the outskirts of Burgos

Soon I approached the old centre of Burgos. The buildings became more pleasant and after passing through the old town wall, it was a more interesting walk. I had been told that the albergue was near the main cathedral so it was easy to look ahead for the tallest spire.

Old apartment block

Old apartment block

The Casa del Cubo albergue was across the road from this important cathedral and was modern and comfortable. The place was enormous and had all the washing and internet facilities for the pilgrim could desire. It was clean and comfortable too. However the usual early to bed and early to rise rules still existed. One lady was complaining that her bed was too near the toilets. The volunteer in the albergue reminded her that it was not a five star hotel.

The day’s washing done, I explored a little of this fascinating centre. It took me a lot of exploring to find a supermarket that was open but eventually I did find one. The sadness returned after dinner as I spend the evening coping with the contrast of nature and the ugly suburbs and the beauty of the cathedral. The mixed emotions of the Camino, like life, had it’s ups and downs.

The Cathedral in Burgos

The Cathedral in Burgos

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Tosantos – Atapuerca

Simone and Jasmin have a laugh over coffee

Simone and Jasmin have a laugh over coffee

Again, not a good night’s sleep. There were some comments about my snoring and I felt a bit paranoid about it over breakfast. You can only console yourself by knowing that everyone has their night or nights of snoring on the Camino. I had heard it all!

At least the weather was better and becoming more stable. Each day the sun would come out early and the weather would become dryer. The memories of Logrono and the drenching rain were now a distant memory.

At the small village of Espinosa del Camino I came across many familiar faces. Simone and Jasmin, Lorenzo, Gigi and others. Everyone was tired and after two coffees no one wanted to continue. We extended breakfast for some time. I was introduced to Bayas de Gogi, a small red fruit from the Himalayas. It was supposed to give lots of stamina and eaten often by the locals of those mountains. It is full of lots of good things for the walker!

Bird taps in the albergue in Atapuerca

Bird taps in the albergue in Atapuerca

Eventually we all moved on as the day warmed up and we realised that we were overdosing on caffeine. At Villafranca Montes de Oca, I came across Mara and her white horse again. The horse had a problem with the right hoof and Mara was awaiting the arrival of the vet. Rose had given her a phone number of an equine vet that she had picked up the day before. Rose later told me that she didn’t know why she had picked up the leaflet advertising the veterinary practice but when she came across Mara’s injured horse then that must have been a reason. Rose was quite spiritual.

The Way climbed steeply for some time to the Alto de al Pedraja at 1163 metres. The views over the surrounding valley were fantastic, and the path was a pleasant 13 kilometre wooded walk to San Juan de Ortega. I walked with Rose and with Philippe whom I had met before in Estella. As we walked we talked of the problems of the world. There there was a significant church in San Juan de Ortega – the church of Saint Nicolas de Bari containing the tomb of San Juan de Ortega (Saint John of the Nettles). After he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands he returned to build the wonderful Romanesque church to provide safety for the pilgrims on this formerly dangerous stretch of the Camino.

The sun sets on the Atapuerca church

The sun sets on the Atapuerca church

After some lunch (more sardines in olive oil!) I continued the last six kilometres with Rose and Philippe to Atapuerca. We found the ‘Centro de Turismo rural Papasol et la Hutte’. This was a great place with a good restaurant and a comfortable inexpensive albergue. The taps in the albergue amused me with their design! After showering I found a bakery to buy some supplies. I was so surprised to find they sold walking socks that I bought a pair. The first time I had ever bought socks from a baker! A brief visit was made to the archaeological centre where ‘Atapuerca Man’, Europe’s oldest human remains, had been discovered.

Later, after dinner, I waited in the calm and peace of the late light to photograph the fortress-like church at the top of the hill. I took photographs until it became too cold to continue and retired for the day.

Sunset detail of church wall in Atapuerca

Sunset detail of church wall in Atapuerca

TIP: The Centro de Turismo rural Papasol et la Hutte is highly recommended!

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Grañon – Tosantos

Leaving Granon the light of early morning was bright

Leaving Granon the light of early morning was bright

I wasn’t sure if I had slept well or not. The thin mattresses were not the most comfortable, and as usual there was a snorer or two, probably I was snoring as well. Maybe I should have gone to the mediation session held the previous night.

The albergue provided a good breakfast and great coffee so I soon felt better. Some days are happy and rewarding and some are not so. I already felt that today would be sad for some reason. The thought of facing another slog along the Camino was sometimes a difficult one, especially if the weather was bad. As I set off the mood changed. The light was bright and fresh, and the country beautiful and covered with wheat fields. It was amazing how the mood could change after just a few kilometres of walking.

Poppies amongst the wheat

Poppies amongst the wheat

Entering Castilla y Leon

Entering Castilla y Leon

Pilgrims leaving Granon

Pilgrims leaving Granon

Right on the edge of Granon was the border with Castilla y Leon. I was leaving La Rioja state and the land had changed much since arriving in Spain. The way ahead would be flatter and by all accounts much hotter and dryer. Not far after the sign was the village of Redecilla del Camino with its smart regional tourist office at the entrance to the town. I spent a few minutes browsing through the brochures and books about the Camino. There was a small booklet for pilgrims that had some interesting historical information. Apart from that the town was deserted and consisted on only one main street. It felt lonely.

I was happy at the village of Villamayor del Rio where I found a collection of tables and chairs in the square near the fountain. There were two vending machines containing cold drinks. Also a sign for a shop that I could not find. Eventually I knocked on a door and was lead into what looked like a spare room in a house. There were many basic food items, and supplies for pilgrims. The two nectarines I bought were the best I had ever tasted!

The next town of Belorado was larger and being 2pm it was deserted. The heat was intense and I was feeling drained and a bit empty. Maybe I did not sleep well last night after all. Yesterday had been my 40th day of walking since Le Puy en Velay. One pilgrim, an English girl called Rose, commented that maybe it had been my 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. The comment gave me a lot to think about.

A large stone signifying a large thought placed on a way marker

A large stone signifying a large thought placed on a way marker

The mood improved again a short time later as I walked with two Norwegian guys. They were always laughing and joking and it raised the spirits. They continued on at Tosantos. My day’s walk had consisted of just over 20 kilometres – I felt that I had walked 40! It took a while to find the Albergue San Francisco de Asis. It was another ‘donativo’ with thin mattresses on the upper floor. The building itself was very old and a fascinating place. The atmosphere was cold however, and the evening was also becoming chilled.

We all got together to cook the evening meal and to prepare the table. The meal, cooked by a Hector, a young Spaniard, was basic but good. I didn’t stay up late, the sadness returned as the prospect of a good night’s sleep on the thin mattresses was not certain. Other pilgrims had taken mats at the other end of the dormitory. Maybe it was me who snored. Maybe tomorrow would be a better day.

The Way meets signs of the modern world

The Way meets signs of the modern world

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Najera – Grañon

Storks and clouds

Storks and clouds

It was a long hard climb out of Najera but the country was good. It seemed like it was changing, getting dryer. Leaving behind the greenery of the last few days. the heat was building and there was a definite change in climate. I walked some way up the hill and caught up with Pascal, Bernard and Deirdre. At the top the land opened up into a grand plain. As the Sun warmed the land I almost forgot about the cold showers in the albergue the night before.

The Camino

The Camino

Six and a half kilometres later was the village of Azofra. I met Lorenzo again and we continued our chat on all things photographic. The Pain au Chocolat and coffee were tremendous!

Open wheatlands approaching Castille y Leon

Open wheatlands approaching Castille y Leon

The Camino was getting to me. The section in France was so different, and I had not contemplated the mental side of the walk. In France it was day after day of physical exertion. In Spain, the mental side came into play. Being fitter, the body was coping. The thoughts of the brain were more difficult to deal with. Thoughts of my life and past kept emerging. I continued to pick up stones and place the good thoughts at the top of each climb. The bad thoughts were left in the valleys. Perhaps in Santiago de Compostela the body and brain would be in harmony with the past forgotten.

Almost as soon as I was enjoying the beauty of nature around me, the Way passed by a golf club development. No doubt the golf course was nice for golfers, however surrounding it was a monstrosity of buildings and accommodation. It was clear that this was a failed development. Few of the buildings were occupied, and there was not a soul on the streets. The heat and harsh sun just made it more stark. Weeds grew between the cracks in the wide paved roads. Another example of Spain’s financial crisis that was also starting to hit much of Europe?

Ciruena was the village just past the golf development. A strangely deserted place too, it appeared that the development had robbed the old village of it’s life. I stopped at the only cafe in town. A cold beer accompanied the lunch of bread, cheese and sardines. Lorenzo arrived and we talked more on the subject of photography. We got into deeper things and discovered that we had both had bad relationships in the past. Much loss and trying to rebuild life is a difficult thing. Lorenzo’s friend, Gigi, appeared but we did not speak to him. He spent over an hour on the phone to his new girl friend in Italy.

Shepherd and his flock near Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Shepherd and his flock near Santo Domingo de la Calzada

As Lorenzo waited form Gigi to finish his call I continued on. Over the hills I passed a shepherd and his flock. I watched as his dogs strode on after him with the sheep obediently following behind their master to new grazing grounds. Six kilometres later was Santo Domingo de la Calzada. A beautiful town with a fine cathedral. It was about 4pm when I arrived and it was still hot.

The cathedral in Santo Domingo de la Calzada

The cathedral in Santo Domingo de la Calzada

As is usual in Spain at this time of the day, the locals are indoors. Some children played in the town square. Other than that it was empty. I continued along the old streets to the 11th century bridge crossing the large Oja River. To the south were enormous mountains, their summits still covered in snow even though it was mid June. The river was carrying the snow melt and it ran deep and fast.

Emmanuel

Emmanuel

Outside of the town I came across Emmanuel, a young Frenchman. He was asking where to buy food and I pointed him in the direction of the town. He had just come from there he informed me. He was very merry and apparently had spent the afternoon tasting French brandies with some locals. He pointed out where he was staying – on the other side of a pile of logs was a tent where he would spend the night. He wanted to continue but said he was having an early night, no doubt tired after his party. I left his exuberance behind and continued the last seven kilometres to Granon.

A pilgrim rests at Granon

A pilgrim rests at Granon

Boots in Granon

Boots in Granon

Surprising to see Scottish bagpipes in the albergue in Granon

Surprising to see Scottish bagpipes in the albergue in Granon

Granon was magical. Again quiet with the sun now setting. The land had changed so much in the last day and featured mainly wheat fields and a few trees. It was calm. I had been told about Granon and its albergue. Pilgrims slept in a dormitory in the church tower. At the Albergue San Juan Bautiste it was ‘donativo’ or donations only, and everyone was supplied with a thin mattress and slept on the floor. The building was magnificent and the welcome fantastic. I was surprised to see a box with a note offering pilgrims to put in what they wanted or to take what they needed.

In the garden everyone was relaxed after the day’s walk. We assembled later for dinner and everyone took part in preparing the evening meal. There was a large crowd of some forty pilgrims that night. Shoes were strictly left at the door, and the albergue had a very spiritual feel to it. On the extensive book shelf there was a even a hand written manuscript dating from 1617.

Suddenly there was a familiar sound for me. One of the Dutch volunteers of the albergue appeared with a set of bagpipes and played some Scottish music as he piped everyone to the tables for dinner. It was a fantastic meal with plenty of good Rioja wine. With the merriment it was not difficult for everyone to pitch in later to help with the washing up.

I remembered I had not yet obtained the important daily stamp in the Credencial. Apparently the priest had gone to Burgos for a few days, so I was directed to the bar near the albergue. There a smiling lady placed the all important daily stamp into my credencial. The locals were fascinated to learn more about the walk. I showed them some photographs on the camera and they were amazed not understanding how they were kept in the camera. Even now there are some parts of Europe where technology is not universal. The light was fading now and the swallows were circulating noisily and rapidly round the church tower. I felt an immense feeling of contentedness and peace as I turned for bed.

Window and door in Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Window and door in Santo Domingo de la Calzada

TIP: Take your own sleeping mat. Where mats are supplied they are usually thin and its good to have that extra layer of comfort.

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