Last weekend I took a trip westward to meet my good friends C and J. I have written a number of times about them after we met in 2013 outside a wet and windy Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Whenever we can we all meet up to reminisce, have a few cervezas and of course, talk about our respective future Caminos.
I hadn’t told them that I had postponed my April Camino to September so their response to that was along the lines of “Oh, so we will have plenty of time for more walks”
So after a pilgrim meal and a few cervezas on Friday night, we woke up bright and early and headed off to our starting point. I brought a full pack and my Pacerpoles in the attempt to make this walk as realistic as possible. I had a Helly Hansen rain jacket as I am eager to leave my Altus at home. So I was wishing for a little bit of rain to test it out. On arriving at the start point outside the village of Doon in Limerick, the clouds were grey and full so I was optimistic! We set out just before 9am and immediately started to climb. The legs started to pain me before I reached the top. I thought to myself “Hmm, I am nowhere near Camino-fit”. But these types of walks are ideal if I am to conquer the Leon hills and O Cebreiro again.
The majority of the walk was along back roads close to the villages of Hollyford and Lackcomer in Tipperary, and Doon in Limerick. The trail followed the River Multeen for most of the day so it was great to have the sound of running water beside us at all times. In fact, there is a waymarked trail called the Multeen Way, which is part of the Ireland Way, but we decided not to follow it and we went about our own way. We had great craic talking about past Caminos and our plans for the next. C & J are walking from St Jean to Santiago in September just after I return from my 2 weeks. So I will be vicariously walking with them. My Pacerpoles were fantastic. It took me a while to get used to them and how to use them right, but once I did, I had a much quicker stride and there were no pains in the legs. I had no problems with the Osprey pack either. C told me she always gets by with a 28 litre pack, much to my surprise!!
Our day ended with a huge hill to climb; a little like the climb to Alto del Perdon! I powered ahead in the hope of reaching the top quicker. At this stage, we were in the clouds and, in fact, close to a wind-power plant. Alto del Perdon is definitely right!! We finished off with a nice descent back to the car and short drive back to base.
Whenever I am in the Limerick area, I do my best to visit Glenstal Abbey to go to Vespers. I couldn’t pass the chance again. I have been to Vespers twice in Rabanal del Camino and have been in love with their sound and harmonies since that first time in 2012. I arrived back to base close to 10pm when we watched a number of Camino related videos from YouTube.
Addicted isn’t the word!
February 19th sees the start of a new series on Irish TV called Camino na Saile (or Camino by Sea in English). It will be shown on our Irish language TV channel over the course of 3 weeks. It documents the journey of 5 men who sailed from the south of Ireland to A Coruna over the course of 4 years. For 800 years, people have sailed from Ireland to A Coruña in Northern Spain and walked to Santiago de Compostela from there. These men have done their own version of this historical voyage in a Naomhóg (or a currach) they built themselves in this Modern day Celtic Odyssey. Stage 1 of the journey follows the crew on a journey across the Irish Sea and the English Channel to reach Brittany in Northern France.
Now I understand that the majority of my readers live outside of Ireland, and will be unable to watch it, however you can do so online on www.tg4.ie/en/player/home or via the Mobdro smartphone app. If you download the app at www.mobdro.com on your phone and search for TG4, you will have no problems viewing the series.
It starts at 8.30pm GMT on the 19th of February and continues each Sunday after that. Happy watching!
The last few weeks I haven’t really been motivated to post. I have been waiting for a moment to pick me up and put a pen in my hand, so to speak! I think today I had that moment! Last week I found a Camino group on Meetup.com and instantly joined. The first meetup was today – “Have you ALREADY been on the Camino? Let’s have coffee”. So today I ventured into a cold damp Dublin city – quite the opposite of a typical day in September on the Camino. I met some great Camino veterans from around the Dublin region. I get a real buzz talking to others who have walked different “ways”. It was great to learn about the different routes. A half hour turned quickly into two hours. Everyone I met have planned, or are in the various planning stages of a return to Spain this year. We bounced ideas and hints off each other – what’s the best guide book (or is there a need for one?) – where to get the best gear? – what’s the best and worst experience we have had? At present, there are 150 in the group and most haven’t walked the Camino yet. Hopefully it is successful and more and more join in the future. If you are reading this and are looking to meet some folks from around Dublin, click on the link above and hit that join button!
In other news, I am meeting J and C; my Camino friends from 2013, on Friday. Since breaking my wrist, I haven’t walked any great distance and hopefully these few days will get the ball rolling for September. They are returning to Spain in September also to walk the full Camino. This will be a perfect opportunity to try out my Pacerpoles.
So I posted before before Christmas that I had planned to walk from Leon to Santiago. I couldn’t wait to heal up after my broken wrist, so I booked my flights and bought any other gear that I needed. There was much anticipation which is usually the case when I think about returning to Spain. I had decided on April as a good time as it’s not too warm and it’s not that busy at that time of the year.
Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons, I felt it would be better to postpone and cut short my Camino. I have a number of things that I need to give my attention to over the next 3-4 months and unfortunately, a trip to Spain isn’t high on that list. So I am putting it aside until September 4th when I fly to Madrid and catch a bus to Astorga. I have made a booking in Hotel Gaudi which I am looking forward to. The next morning I hope to march on to who knows where! I had to grin and bear the charge for changing flights but that’s a small sacrifice! I look forward to the Leon hills, the Cruz de Ferro, the Bierzo valley and of course, the climb to O Cebreiro!
Day three. Rabanal del Camino.
Another early morning. I grabbed my things and headed out in the direction of the Leon hills. The sun was yet to rise but the forecast said that the day had great potential. I happened to leave at the same time as Sabine, a German girl, who was alone. We tagged along for a bit as we were walking at the same pace. Our first challenge was the ascent to Foncebadon. We managed that in just over an hour. My love for ascents hasn’t changed through the years. On arriving at Foncebadon, I was surprised at how derelict the town was. It was crumbling, apart from a few hostels. There couldn’t be people living here. We stopped off at the nearest refugio for breakfast.After a half hour, we moved on. Next stop was the Cruz de Ferro. I wasn’t sure what to expect on reaching this landmark. There was so much written about it that maybe I was letting the occasion get to me. I had my stone and I was going to spend a little time here. The sky was blue. It was a perfect day. We arrived at the Cruz but I was surprised at how many people were there. Many were taking pictures and reading messages left by the Cruz. I dropped my stone and moved on. Sabine stuck around for a little bit longer. Her basic English was enough for us to communicate, as I had zero German. She could had walked ahead if she wanted to, so it meant something to me for her to stay.
That phrase “What goes up, must come down!” couldn’t be more true for this day. Walking from the Cruz, the highest point on the Camino Frances, down to our stay for the night, Molinaseca, was tough. The views were stunning but it took me great patience to determine where to put each foot as I was walking. The ground was made of loose rock and shale and I was lucky that it wasn’t raining. But..no…I wasn’t complaining! There was a lot of stopping, a few cerverzas were had and on reaching Molinaseca at the base of the mountain, I took off my shoes and rested. The albergue had an amazing communal meal. We talked about the next day and where we would walk to, but I was quite happy being where I was.
More from the throwback series can be found here.
Day two. Astorga.
I remember being woken suddenly by super-eager peregrinos in the albergue in Astorga. It was as if a fire had started and they needed to leave. Gah! The sun hadn’t even risen yet. I suppose it’s par of the course in albergue life however..sigh! After gathering my things together, I made my way out of the albergue and walked westwards. It was just after 7am. After a number of hours, I met Louisa from Spain. We got talking until we hit Santa Catalina de la Somoza. I stopped here for a second breakfast. The sun was out now and it was getting warm. After 2o minutes or so, I walked on. I reached El Ganso and it’s one-bar-town. The Cowboy Bar really intrigued me.
The walking wasn’t difficult and the scenery wasn’t anything to write home about. However, it wasn’t flat like it was the previous day. I enjoyed walking solo, just me and my music. Another few hours passed and I reached the climb to Rabanal del Camino. It was tough going, I suppose I could have done with a pole. The decorations on the fence walking up made it all more worthwhile. Rabanal del Camino was in the distance. I had walked 21 kms in 5 hours. Just a little too fast I suppose. Time for a rest. The heat had got to me and I was out of water. I checked in at Albergue NS Pilar and had a choice of bunks. I showered and rested in the sun with a cerveza. Rabanal was a fantastic little town.
The following day was the Cruz de Ferro and the Leon Hills. I was a little apprehensive and unsure if I was going to manage it. Maybe it was just my mind. I went to vespers in the Benadictine church which was an amazing experience. I’m not particularly religious but this music and harmony blew me away. Afterwards, I met a guy from Denmark and we had dinner in El Refugio. Nice place. I had an early night and got ready for a steep climb the next morning.
More from the throwback series can be found here.
Today I will finish talking about towns beginning with R. There are a few left and you will meet the first town after nearly 550 kms from St Jean.
Rabanal del Camino (map)
21 kms from Astorga, you will arrive at Rabanal del Camino, the last stop before the up and over of the Leon hills. Many choose to stay here for the night as a result (thanks Brierley!) In the Middle Ages, the knights templar built several hospitals and churches here for passing pilgrims before the journey over the hills. For such a small town, it has a real relaxed vibe about it and I have stayed here myself a number of times. Albergue Gaucelmo is run by the CSJ and the Albergue NS de Pilar is a popular. Today, all economic activity of the village revolves around services for pilgrims, with up to four good albergues and hotels. It would be wrong of me not to mention the Benedictine Monastery, “San Salvador del Monte Irago“, set up in 2001, which is popular among pilgrims. Sleep well, as the next day can be tough on the legs as you climb to the Cruz de Ferro and descend to Molinaseca.
Riego de Ambrós (map)
Less than 4 kms after El Acebo, you will arrive at another small village – Riego de Ambrós. I have passed this town on 2 occasions and because my mind was so fixed on where my feet were, I didn’t take in where I was. Here the village lies on a curvy and steep descent, between El Acebo and Molinaseca. You have two albergues to choose from also, but if you are interested in breaking up the descent into 2 days, my advice is to stay in El Acebo beforehand as there are more facilities and more albergues. You may also prefer to finish the descent entirely and walk to Molinaseca (my favourite) or Ponferrada (where all the history is!)
Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village, Ruitelán is situated in the El Bierzo valley between Villafranca del Bierzo and O Cebreiro. Many choose to walk from Villafranca to O Cebreiro over a day which is close to 30 kms. That’s pretty tough going. However, some like to stop just before the ascent kicks in (Ruitelán, Las Herrarias or La Faba) and leave it until the next day to move on. Could be a wise choice! Ruitelán has a recommended albergue that offers a communal meal – Albergue Pequeño Potala. I might try it out!
You have climbed O Cebreiro, you have entered Galicia, passed Sarria and are on the home stretch. On your 3rd or 4th last day before Santiago, you will pass Ribadiso (or Rivadiso to the Galicians). It is not so much a town but rather a hamlet, and is home to the Rio Iso, a medieval bridge built over it and 2 albergues. All invite pilgrims to take a break. The old Xunta albergue, just past the bridge, used to be an old hospital restored from the fifteenth century. Ribadiso is 3 kms from Arzua and many a pilgrim has been tempted by the river to stay at these albergues rhan move on into the larger town.