Camino Francés 2017

Burgos to Astorga – a meseta Camino

From the 4th until the 16th of September 2017, I travelled to Spain to walk along the meseta from Burgos to Astorga. I set aside 10 days of walking with the intention of finishing in Astorga. Walking beyond Astorga would leave it difficult to return as there is no bus service. I met some amazing people again, from all parts of the world, and some special moments. I wrote about each day and the people I met.

September 4th 2017 – Day 0
Dublin to Burgos via Madrid

A beautiful day in which I passed through 2 large cities. My flight was to leave at 6.30am. Yawning, I woke at 4 am with an eagerness I had not seen since last September. My pack was barely 7kg light and I was out the door after a quick breakfast and my last cup of tea for two weeks.

Dublin Airport Terminal 1 was bustling, even for this time of the morning. Many were still wearing GAA jerseys after the All Ireland Hurling final the evening before. I checked my pack in and headed for the gate, eager to get on the plane and reach Spain. My Camino had begun with gusto.

The flight took off and within 2 and a half hours I had arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport – a sprawling metropolis of 4 terminals compared to Dublin’s 2. I collected my baggage and headed for the feeder bus. This little nipper arrives every 5 minutes and carries passengers from Terminal 1 to 4 within 20 minutes. It’s a joy to ride on, compared to walking. I was in T4 in no time waiting for the Alsa bus for Burgos. Luckily enough, the bus station in T4 is just adjacent to a cafe (and a McDonalds). I had a quick snack while waiting for the bus arriving at 11.15 Spanish time. The sun was shining bright and I was glad to be in the shade while waiting.

The bus arrived on time and a gruff Spanish driver ticked my name off a rugged piece of paper.

“Dahveed?”

”Si”…

I replied as he opened the baggage door at the side of the large bus. The bus was full in no time. Burgos was not it’s only stop today, as it would make a long trip to Irun. I sat beside the window hoping that I would sleep but before I knew it, a giant-of-a-man sat beside me. He was also wearing cargo-pants, instantly identifying himself as a pilgrim.

“Are you on the way the Camino?”, I asked.

“Yes indeed, Burgos”, he replied.

“Excellent!, where have you come from?”…I asked, keen to strike up a conversation with anyone headed to the French Way.

He had come from Salt Lake City, via Newark Airport. His accent gave his origin away to be fair but the question was the ideal icebreaker. Robert, was just retired from the military and was keen to experience at least 10 days from Burgos. We talked for the majority of the trip, mainly about trails in Ireland and in the US. He looked super-fit so I didn’t think the Camino would be a problem for him, however, he was going to take it slow and steady from the start. A wise decision. I had hoped to see Robert again, but this was to be the only time I would see him, and on reaching Burgos, I wished him a Buen Camino. I made the point of saying “I won’t say goodbye, but I’ll see you on the way”.

At 1.30 pm, we reached la Estación de Autobuses in Burgos on Calle Miranda, about 5 minutes away from the Catedral de Burgos. I was glad to be here and walked to my hostel that I had booked – Hostal Evolución. At €35, it wasn’t bad for a one-bedroom, including shower. I had plans for the evening so I decided that 2 hours or so sleep would be wise. A friend of mine told me that he has a friend living in Burgos who would be happy to show me around and have some tapas. Now, I’m not going to say no to tapas! So, sleep, refresh and tapas…sounds like a good plan!

Later on, I met Patricia outside the hostal after 6pm, just when the town was waking up from siesta. We walked over the Río Arlanzón and under the Arco del Cid to reveal Burgos Cathedral standing tall. She looked better than I saw her last in 2015. We walked around it, past the Albergue and on to our first tapas bar. One vino de ribeiro and a tapa, por favor! After 7pm, Burgos turns into a rich tapestry of bars and restaurants. The Plaza Mayor was full of families and kids giving their best shot at being Messi or Ronaldo. It was a joy!

After our 3rd vino de ribeiro, Patricia saw her mother and we decided to take a seat at one of the many bars. I tried another tapa – some bread with an anchovy drenched in oil. Beautiful. Her mother had no English and I had little Spanish and it was funny as Patricia was translating our conversation. It took time!

But time flew and 8pm became 9pm. I wanted to make an early start the next morning so I said my goodbyes. It was a great evening and I promised to say hello to everyone the next time I was in Burgos. While walking back to the hostal, I bought a walking pole to keep me company for the 10 or so days. I arrived at the hostal and got ready for the next morning. I hoped to reach Hontanas, but it was promised to be warm.

September 5th 2017 – Day 1
Burgos to Hontanas.

I asked the owner of Hostal Evolucion the evening before if it was possible to leave early in the morning. There was no problem but I needed to ring a little bell at the front desk when I was leaving.

I had an amazing sleep and woke at 5am. Right on cue. My bag was ready, I had a few snacks for breakfast. All I needed was to find the first arrow. I rang the bell as agreed and at 5.30am, I was on the road with pack on bag and pole in hand. I walked toward the bridge over the River Arlanzon, in search of the first arrow, although I had an idea of the right way. My previous two times in Burgos had been brief but I felt I had seen the city in it’s glory, thanks to Patricia. My head was a little dull due to the vino de ribeiro, but a little walk would shake that off.

The walk out of Burgos is along the river and at this time, it was pitch black. I kept an eye out for the Universidad de Burgos so I knew I was on the right track. On seeing the first arrow, white and not yellow, my heart jumped. Onwards I walked until the road turned and the arrows were no more. A passer by shouted at me “¿Estás buscando el camino?”. I said “Si!!” with positivity and he directed me to a turn off 10 metres behind me. This was the way to Villalbilla de Burgos, and I saw arrows again. I was leaving Burgos and heading for the first village, Tardajos. There was no stopping me. My feet were dancing and I was eager to meet fellow pilgrims – but not at this hour, I laughed to myself!

It was pretty flat, and I was alone so far. The sun was beginning to rise at my back and I stopped for a few moments to take it in. It wouldn’t be the last sun rise I would witness but each one is special. You can immediately feel the heat at your back as the sun creeps over the horizon. “Beautiful”, I thought to myself. I arrived into Tardajos around 7am and had Cafe con leche y tostada con queso, my normal breakfast on the Camino. I bought some fruit to keep me going until at least Hornillos. Tardajos is a smashing town with a great albergue so there is an option if you want to bypass the hustle and bustle of Burgos. It is a further 10km however.

Rabe de Calzadas is a further 2km away and the entrance to the meseta. Another quiet village with a recommended albergue. After this point, you need to have enough water as you are in no-man’s land. It is another 8km to Hornillos del Camino and today the temps were rising. It is in the mid-20s at this stage and only morning. And I needed sun cream!!

Onwards I walked into the meseta and towards Hornillos. I never had much of a love for this town and have always walked toward Hontanas, a further 10km. I had my heart set on Hontanas again but it depended on how hot it got. I arrived at Alto de Meseta, a 150 metre climb and could see the next few hours ahead of me, most notably Hornillos, a barren town, but growing in size. It was two early so I decided to stop for a while and walk on. The last building at the end of town caught my eye. I walked in and asked for an Aquarius. The woman behind the bar asked me where I am from. I naturally say Dublin and she asks which part. She is also from Dublin and in the last few weeks has taken over the running of a Korean restaurant in Hornillos. It’s name is Neson. I could not believe it. Another Dublin man was there chilling out with a ukelele trying to sing “Fix You” by Coldplay. I give it a go but playing a ukelele is different to playing a guitar. I stay here for a half an hour chilling out and talking about our love of the Camino. She was brought here because of love and has a child now. I say my goodbyes and promise to look them up the next time I pass through. As I leave, I’m warned to carry lots of water as the next few hours will be tough going. They are right as temps were in the 30s until I reached Hontanas.

I feel like I made a mistake moving on to the next town. After Hornillos, there is a gradual climb and there is no shade. I stop three times out of breath and consider turning back. Somehow I gather the energy to move on, while brushing the dozens of flies from my face.

I meet two English pilgrims ahead of me – Adam and Robert. They had been chilling out in Hornillos and I had said hi to them then. I walked with both until we reached Hontanas and I am so glad I did. They gave me the energy to reach my destination and proved that conversation is a great distraction. We walked with purpose past the great San Bol Albergue in the middle of nowhere, and then on to Hontanas. Well…we first needed to find Hontanas. It is built in a valley and the first you see of this pilgrim town is the large steeple of it’s church. We wait for it to pop over the hill and boom! we descend into the village.

I decided to check into Albergue El Puntido, while Adam wants to keep walking to the refugio at San Anton 5 km further on. I was one of the first here and got my washing done. The sun would dry my clothes in no time. A community dinner was not until 7pm so I decided to rest until then.

The dinner was super. I ate with Denis and his wife from Florida who had walked from St Jean Pied de Port and were taking it nice and slow. 20kms a day is their maximum. I also met Tara from Salt Lake City who gave me the ultimate compliment and praised my Irish accent. She also gave me a bottle of sunscreen, proving that the Camino does provide. The only shop in this town had after sun which was of no help to me. I slept well here, even though the church bell would chime on the hour every hour throughout the night.

There was music in the form of a small guitar outside the albergue and we stayed out until close to 9pm. I was tired however and wanted another early start the next day. This day, I walked over 30 km..the following day, I hoped to reach Boadilla del Camino and Eduardo’s En El Camino Albergue. We expected sun and we expected to meet new pilgrims. It was going to be a fun day.

September 6th 2017 – Day 2
Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino

Most pilgrims don’t know where their day (or feet) will take them, but I knew from the off that today would lead me to a small town in the meseta called Boadilla del Camino. The town might not have much to offer but one of its albergues (En El Camino) is enough reason to walk a whole Camino. I’ve stayed there a few times before and Eduardo provides all you seek in a hospitalero. It is a mini-oasis.

But anyway..back to the start of the day. It was promised to be hot today so I woke early and gathered my things. It took a while to find the door in El Puntido but after much searching, I discovered it at the back of the albergue. After some fruit, juice and a breakfast snack, I was on my way. The albergue was starting to rise by the time I left, however, I was the first to leave. This tended to be a common theme throughout this year’s Camino! This morning was cold as the sun was not up and my fleece and buff helped me warm up for a few hours. I said goodbye to Hontanas for another year and made my way off road, along a trail to the right of the road. It leads up a hill and away from the road but all I had was a torch to guide me. This would be my Way for the next hour or so. I didn’t meet a soul but I did see some lights flickering behind me – other pilgrims.

The sky was clear and the moon was almost full. The moon hung in the sky like a pale disc showing me the right direction. GPS is over-rated, right? It wasn’t long before I was back on the road and approaching the ruins of the San Antón hospital. I have passed these ruins a number of times before and each time it was daylight. It was a pity that there was no light to see such beauty. A refugio has been re-opened in the last few years and I kept an eye out for Adam in the event that he stayed there the night previous. There was no movement, so I marched on to Castrojeriz, the next town. I might see him again somewhere down the Camino. Castrojeriz is another town that needs light to fully appreciate it, as it is based on the side of a hill. There were no cafes open as I passed through it, however many pilgrims were leaving their albergues. I took a rest and some water before leaving the town. The sun was peaking over the horizon so I threw my pack over my shoulder as I wanted to be at the top of the upcoming Alto de Mostalares to watch the sun rise over the town of Castrojeriz.

Leaving Castrojeriz, you can see the upcoming climb and it is not easy. Slow and steady is the advice given. I’ve made this climb twice before and you would think that I know this stretch inside-out. I do. However, the urge is there to push forward. I meet Jo-Jo from the US. She is taking her time after her stay in Castrojeriz. Surprised after hearing I started in Hontanas, she asks what I had for breakfast!!! Just some fruit and energy, I tell her jokingly. I stay with her until we reach the top. Every minute or so, we turn back to watch the sun rise behind us and above Castrojeriz. What a sight! Ahead of me are pilgrims from Korea, France, Spain and Holland, all starting their day from Castrojeriz. The Alto de Mostelares was conquered..eventually and I stop for a few minutes to gather my thoughts and chomp down a donativo banana lying on a table with other fruit and drinks.

I say “see you on the trail” to Jo-Jo and walk on, with renewed energy. Now is the gradual descent from the Alto. Not as tough as the incline but me and descents don’t see eye-to-eye! I’m back to walking solo for an hour or so as we come close to the province of Palencia. The sun has risen and the temperatures are climbing at this stage. Either side of me are fields of sun flowers, with the odd haystack. All I do is put the head down and walk on with a smile on my face.

I meet Susan from Oregon. She was walking super-slow and I saw this as a chance to bring the pace down. I hadn’t had a good conversation since meeting Adam the day previous. She had plenty of time ahead and was in no rush. It was still morning and we passed Itero de la Vega talking about our respective lives. She was fun and had a dry wit about her. She loved the Spanish people but it was good to speak to someone with good English. It wasn’t long before the old chestnut question was asked. “What has you out on the Camino?”. I usually give a short and simple answer to that question, but for some unknown reason, I told her what I was hoping to gain from this Camino. I mentioned that I had a disappointing year and I had a few questions that needed answering. I went on to talk to her about my epilepsy and the option of surgery had been put on the table. This filled me with a lot of fear naturally. I wanted to be pointed in the right direction. The great thing about the Camino is you will get a straightforward answer from any person you meet – without judgement. She gave her opinion and what I should do, which I truly appreciate and lifted a lot of weight from my shoulders. I talked to Susan for one hour and never saw her again. But I will remember her for her honesty and humour. Buen Camino Susan. It was now time to pick up the pace.

It was close to 10.30 at this point and a long straight path was ahead of me before reaching the next town – Boadilla del Camino. There was nothing out of the ordinary to see – the meseta is pretty monotonous but I had time on my hands and I kept walking westward. The path was difficult to walk on however, with many stones and it was far from level. I felt pain toward the side of my heel. Whatever it was, it could hold out until I reached Boadilla. This was probably a bad decision in retrospect. I arrived at my end point – Albergue En El Camino at 11.30. I was delighted to be here after 29km and see the hospitalero, Eduardo, again. From the outside, it doesn’t look welcoming, but inside, the pool, bar and great food are enough reasons to stay.

After settling in and getting my clothes washed, I checked my heel. As feared, there was a large blister after forming. Out with the needle and thread, germoline and plaster. I should know better hmmph! I had no other problems to contend with I was happy to say.

I met quite a few fellow peregrinos today – 2 Irish guys from Co. Carlow. Both were travelling separately but were remaining in contact through Whatsapp. I also met a couple from Perth in Australia, a German brother and sister, 2 Swedish girls and one Australian girl who cracked me up many a time. Laughter is the best medicine eh? I saw Jo-Jo again after our chat on the Alto de Mostelares. It was really the first day I got to know many peregrinos. A community dinner was served at 7pm and I headed to the sleeping bag shortly after.

I can’t say enough good things about our host, Eduardo. He is never still and always has a smile, no matter how busy or stressed he is. I managed to get a selfie with him toward the end of the night. I hope to see him again soon but I hope to see some of my new friends sooner. Tomorrow was approaching and I was left with 2 choices – Villalcazar de Sirga or Carrion de los Condes. I will let the feet decide when I wake tomorrow.

Morning time
Castrojeriz
Alto de Mostolares
Farmers in action at Boadilla
En El Camino
With Eduardo, the owner of the albergue

September 7th 2017 – Day 3
Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de los Condes

An amazing sleep was disturbed at 5 am by the zipping of sleeping bags. Another day on the Camino had started. I gathered up my things and headed for the bathroom. Breakfast was at 7 am but I chose not to wait. I had some fruit and yoghurt from Day 1 left over. I looked out the door – darkness. I was not first on the trail this morning, however. An Italian couple were up and ready and out by 5.30. I took it a little easier and started at 6 am. It was still dark but I was used to it by this stage.

Leaving Boadilla, I walked along the Canal de Castilla until Frómista, another 6km westward. It was an easy stroll, however my foot was still paining me after the previous day’s discovery of blister no. 1. My headlamp had failed me so I was using my phone to guide me while I waited for the sun to rise. All was quiet. I could hear small animals move in the reeds along the canal. My attention was then turned to the sky. It was clear. Not a cloud could be seen and the moon illuminated the sky. Ah..if only we could see the sky like this back in Dublin.

Frómista was within sight after an hour and I felt peckish. I stopped by Bar El Manchego and ordered a café con leche and a tostada con queso – my customary desayuno these days. It got cold as I was eating and I was eager to get moving again. Frómista is a large town but it is not one I have stayed in before. Boadilla has won my heart. When I had finished, I wished the bar owner a healthy Buenos Dias and gathered my hat and pole. Adelante!

It wasn’t long until I reached the main highway and crossroads. I became a little lost at this point, mainly due to the lack of light however once I saw the cut out statue on the overpass, I was sure of the right way. The sun was peaking over the horizon and it became brighter. I reached Poblacion del Camino and it was sleeping while I walked through. It was then that I met my old foe – the P-980 and the Senda del Peregrino. For the next 18kms, I would be walking along the side of a busy road. Hardly ideal, but you take the good with the bad. On the whole, the road was quiet but every so often, a large truck or lorry would speed by disturbing my train of thought. Peaceful, it wasn’t. I had the option of taking a diversion through Villovieco to Villalcazar de Sirga but this made the day longer. The road would be my companion for the day. I had not met any other pilgrims. no matter how slow I walked. My Buen Caminos were given to cyclists as they sped past. I had not decided where I was to stop this evening – Villalcazar de Sirga with it’s large church or the pilgrim town of Carrion de los Condes. Stopping at Villalcazar meant I had walked 19km while ending in Carrion made it a 26km day. My feet felt good and it was only 10.30. So I decided to leave the decision to Villalcazar and a cold glass of Coke, con hielo of course.

Arriving in Villalcazar brought back some good memories. I had stayed here in 2015 with some good people. I was really tempted to stop here so I had a drink and a think but ultimately decided it was too early.  I stopped by the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca but it was closed. Onwards to Carrión de los Condes so.

I had 6kms more along the road before I reached the largest town on the Camino since Burgos. Carrion de los Condes has 3 large albergues – all run by religious orders. There are many pensions and hotels here as well. The Church of Santa Maria in Carrion could be seen from 3km outside the town. The albergue I was aiming for is conjoined to it and is normally run by nuns. However, the Albergue de Santa Maria’s nuns were on leave for the first 2 weeks of September and were replaced by volunteers. It was not open until midday and I arrived to a queue of backpacks at 11.30. I tried to sit down but it was futile. I wasn’t in pain, I just needed to stretch first. A group of Brazilians headed the queue, speaking Portuguese much to my dismay. Next in line was a Galician, who had worked for a number of Irish firms in Cork. He just didn’t know English. And after him was a pale sore Irishman – me. I was joined then by June from San Diego who offered me an apple that she bought in the local market. I would get to become friends with her over the next few days.

I knew others who arrived later – the German sister and brother, 2 friends from the US and a large Korean contingent. When checking in, the hospitalero told us that at 7pm we were invited to sing, at 8pm, we were invited to mass next door and finally at 9pm, there would be a community meal. We were asked to go to the supermarket and buy what we wished. The volunteers would then make a meal with what was provided. It was strange, but I was looking forward to it. I loved it here from the off.

While looking for an ATM machine, I met Jo-Jo again and asked how she was getting on. I saw one of the Swedish girls also who was staying in another albergue. She told me that her friend had caught a bus to Leon and was going home. It would be the last time I saw them. I remember fondly the fun we had in Boadilla. I went to the local Dia supermercado and bought a few odds and ends – anything nutritious for dinner. I then bought some lunch as I was in no mood to wait until 9pm for dinner! Back in the albergue, I managed to catch some rest and tend to my feet. I also saw Adam from my first day who arrived to a full albergue. He was granted a mattress on a floor. A lucky man, as the next town is 17km away.

7pm arrived and about 20 pilgrims gathered tentatively in the courtyard. One of the volunteers had a guitar while others had bongos and shakers. Handouts were given to each pilgrim with spanish and english lyrics of well known songs. The first song was sung and we were urged to clap to the chorus (below). We were then asked one by one to introduce ourselves and say why we are walking the Camino. Now..bear in mind that those of us sitting here spoke English, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, German. You can imagine how long it took to translate!  It was a fun get together however and we got to know each other a little more. I got talking to Patricia from the US afterward. She had met an Irish man who wrote a Camino song to the tune of Molly Malone. At the time of talking to her, he had sung it in Orisson and Roncesvalles. I await for Patricia to complete her Camino when she will send me video of him singing it.

We attended mass shortly after, spoken in Spanish. My second mass of this Camino. At the end of the mass, the priest called all pilgrims to the altar, which is standard. He proceeded to ask if anyone was from Spain? from Italy? from USA? and so on. When I heard, “¿Hay alguien de Irlanda?”, my arm raised up slowly and I looked around to see if there were others. Unfortunately not. Adam, from the UK, was the nearest to my home. We all got a blessing and were given a small paper star given to symbolise our time in this albergue. I will cherish it. It was a pretty special few moments and I’ll make sure to visit this albergue next time. After mass, we attended dinner in the courtyard. I was taken aback by how much food was bought by those staying in the albergue. Pasta, meats, fish, tuna, fruits, wine, ice cream – it all made a filling meal.

It was 10pm and late for us pilgrims, I gathered my things and thought about the next day. June had asked me earlier if we could walk together. I said sure! She had no one place in mind but I was hoping to reach either Ledigos or Terradillos de los Templarios, which has very little evidence of the Templars left. A 24km or 27km day so. Today was a special day, I wonder if tomorrow would be the same.

September 8th 2017 – Day 4
Carrion de los Condes to Terradillos de los Templarios

5am…my silent alarm wakes me. Automatically, I wake June who is sleeping in the bunk beside me. We gather our things and quietly make our way to the kitchen for some breakfast. Officially, the albergue was not due to open until 7 am but we noticed there was a back door open so we were in luck. June and I were joined by the Brazilian contingent who were feasting on a healthy breakfast. I finished off my last yogurt and started to pack what food I had in the top of my pack.

Today’s walk was a major talking point among pilgrims for days. It was no secret that this stage is one of the toughest. There are no steep climbs or large descents. There are no off-putting cities that we need to pass through. Quite the opposite actually, as the next town is 17kms away – Calzadilla de la Cueza. Now, we walk the flat Vía Aquitania without stop. Both myself and June were eager to get going however and we left the albergue just after 5.30am. We were expecting the same heat as the last few days so we prepared. I had plenty of water and some fruit to tide me over until the first town.

It was dark and, save for a few street lights in Carrion, there was no light. We struggled to find the way but once we saw the San Zoilo Hotel and the Rio Carrion, we knew were going the right way. I was delighted to be joined by June. Any company makes the journey easier, but it was different with June. She was talkative and really interested in what was ahead of her. As I had walked to Santiago, I was glad to answer any questions she had. She had a great pace also which matched mine, despite the pains in my feet. The morning was quiet, we saw a few other pilgrims as we left the town. We wished them a Buen Camino as we passed them by. There was an eerie fog that had fallen over Carrion and we knew that it would be that way until the sun rose. That was to be the case. We literally saw nothing. It was dark and insanely foggy. It was the perfect time to be walking with someone else. The mist was dripping from the trees from each side of the trail. I considered putting on my jacket at one stage. It wasn’t cold either.

The Vía Aquitania is one long stretch and it was impossible to stray from it. We constantly joked with each other saying that the next visible object was a building in Calzadilla, only to be a haystack. I enjoyed the morning and by the time we reached the first time, I had felt that I knew June. It was 9.30 as we saw the municipal albergue and we cheered like it was Santiago itself. The last few pilgrims leaving this albergue questioned if we had got a taxi from Carrion! It was some achievement but it had consequences. My 5th toe on my left foot had been hurting for some time and I thought it was time to slow down. I had been taking ibuprofen for a few days also. I enjoyed walking with new people but needed to constantly remind myself that they had been walking for 2 weeks prior to meeting myself. They had their own limits – some greater than mine. I had met folks who frequently walked 40km days, while there were others walking 15km per day. There are no rules and we can walk according to our strengths. However, when you meet people whose company you enjoy, you try and stay with them no matter how you feel.

I enjoyed my cafe con leche and tostado and did some stretches before throwing my pack back on. We were ready but I had a feeling that I would be saying “see you on the trail” to June soon. As predicted, the sun had washed away the fog to reveal the way in it’s glory. We left Calzadilla de la Cueza close to 10am and walked alongside the N-120 – a quieter version of the road I had walked beside the day before. Sometimes, we walked on the road, while other times we preferred the senda to it’s side. Either way, June wasn’t far ahead of me. We kept passing large arrows made of individual stones and wondered how long it took to make these. There was one impressive one of an arrow leading to a heart, closer to Ledigos.

I had decided on staying in either Ledigos or Terradillos, the evening before. The next town beyond Terradillos was Moratinos, which would have made it a 30km day. I began thinking that I really needed to slow down as I didn’t want to walk further than Astorga. I had plenty of days left, but the more big days I had, the more I would have to consider having rest days!! Ledigos is next to nothing, size wise. June commented that it smelled like a farm…which is probably correct. Good luck in Galicia, I said to her! I decided to move on as neither albergue was open and Terradillos held good memories for me. Leaving Ledigos, you can actually see Terradillos. It is that close. It is pretty confusing leaving this small town also, as there are two ways to get to Terradillos. We chose the road as I didn’t want to get lost (again!) by walking on the trail through the fields.

After 2km, I saw Albergue los Templarios and decided to stay here. It was 12am and the sun was at it’s highest. June had more energy left and wanted to walk on. The time had come to say goodbye…although I never say goodbye on the Camino. “I’ll see you on the trail”, I said while giving her a hug. She walked to San Nicolás de Real Camino that afternoon. We exchanged email addresses and promised to keep in touch.

Not surprisingly, I was the first to grab a bunk here, although most of the beds had been reserved in advance. The Camino is changing. I had stayed here in 2013 and remember the fun times I had with a great Camino family I met then. The place hadn’t changed, everything has remained in it’s place. The couple from Perth arrived in shortly later on bikes. They were travelling the meseta on bikes and then taking up walking at Leon. I sat outside on the terrace and watched people check in. Most I didn’t know, while some I knew stopped to say they were walking on to the next town. Within 2 hours, this albergue was completo – and the other albergue in the town of Terradillos was full shortly after.

I got some rest and woke for dinner at 7 pm. I had dinner with a large group who had arranged their Camino through a travel agency. They were walking the Camino their way, they said. Sleep came early tonight as I promised to get up early and aim for El Burgo Ranero – a town I have not stayed in before. I wonder could I do it. If I could, the remaining 5 days would be short. I suppose that’s something to look forward to. It was to be another hot day the following day – I would be prepared.

September 9th 2017 – Day 5
Terradillos de los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero

Another early start. I was used to it at this stage and gathered my pack and left through the back door. The albergue was still sleeping as I left. I was hoping that I would meet my friend June again but she was 2 towns ahead, so the hope was small. It was dark but the sky was lit by the large moon still hanging in the sky. I enjoyed my stay in Terradillos and met some new pilgrims, some of which I would meet again.

On leaving the albergue, the Camino takes you along the main road until you reach the town of Terradillos. The town was quiet and as it was also dark, I struggled to find any arrow or sign to lead me in the right direction. I use the Wise Pilgrim app and I am on my way soon after. The 2nd albergue in Terradillos, St Jacque de Molay, which is based in the town itself, is quiet. I have another 2 or so kms until I arrive at Moratinos, a small town, however it holds 2 large albergues. I’m walking along back roads now, my phone’s torch guiding me. I reach Moratinos and see some familiar pilgrims who had stayed the night in the main albergue here. They were lost and were looking for a way out of the town. My phone app came to the rescue and before long we were walking out of the town, their walking poles breaking the silence. One pilgrim was Irish and I laughed on hearing his words of greeting…”oh not this Dublin lad again!”. People from rural Ireland have a thing with us from Dublin!. It was all a private joke however, and we marched on together, Santiago-bound.

I felt good this morning. My feet were in good stead and I was eager to meet new pilgrims. If I met June, it would be a bonus! I had no particular town in mind to set up base however I had good memories of Bercianos del Real Camino. It was home to a donativo Parochial albergue and my time there in 2013 was special. However, I wouldn’t rule out walking an extra 5kms to the next town, El Burgo Ranero. I decided to say goodbye to my fellow Irish pilgrim and his friends, preferring to walk unafraid into the dark.

I have another 8 km before Sahagun, a large town along the Camino. The evening before, there was much discussion between fellow pilgrims that Sahagun marked the halfway point to Santiago. There is a monument erected at the Ermita de Virgen del Puente just before Sahagun that states this. But many pilgrims have pointed out that they had passed the halfway point before arriving at Terradillos. However over dinner the evening before, I noted out that the monument marks the halfway point from the French border and not from St. Jean Pied de Port. I was glad to clear this argument up!

I hadn’t listened to music in quite a while since I arrived. I felt no need to. I had company, or I needed to concentrate on my footing without getting lost. This morning felt like a good time to turn on some music. One song that I kept playing was “Scare away the dark” by Passenger. The lyrics below seem to hit home and made me replay the song once finished. I felt unbreakable on hearing those words. There are times when, sitting in front of a screen in an office, you just want to pick up your coat and walk out. There is so much more to achieve in life and I have so much more to give. I kept asking myself the question “what’s holding me back??”. Fear, possibly.

We should run through the forests
We should swim in the streams
We should laugh, we should cry
We should love, we should dream
We should stare at the stars and not just the screens
You should hear what I’m saying and know what it means

To sing, sing at the top of your voice
Love without fear in your heart
Feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

The sun rose as I entered Sahagun and I met an American lady called Denise. She was leaving a cafe and was lost. I had also taken a wrong turn and was temporarily lost, but on seeing a yellow arrow, we both found our way. Onwards! I turned another corner only to see June. I was delighted and marched on westward out of Sahagun. We had another 10km to Bercianos del Real Camino, I felt good and the day was young. It was close to 8am at this point and I had walked 12km already. I topped up my water bottle before moving on. June had stayed in San Nicolás del Real Camino the evening before. She mentioned that the 2 large albergues in Moratinos were completo when she passed them however Albergue Laganares was less than half full. This morning, she had walked around 8km. I had a feeling she would walk further than me so I was preparing for her departure at some stage.

The walk from Sahagun to Bercianos del Real Camino is on a senda along a main road. You have, of course, the option to walk the Roman road via Calzadilla de los Hermanillos and join the Camino Frances in Mansilla de las Mulas. I had decided to avoid this however I was still confused by the sign posting advising pilgrims of which was the right way to Bercianos. After much thinking and reminiscing, I chose the correct road and we were back on track. We met an English pilgrim at various stages and said Buen Camino to him more than once. We would see him further on again. We also saw two German girls who had wanted to walk the Roman road but had missed the turn-off. Slightly disappointed, they made do with the 2nd option and kept walking.

I asked June had she seen some pilgrims that I had met previously. A number had stayed in the 2nd albergue in Terradillos. A few others had stayed in Moratinos and others had ventured as far as Sahagun. The chain was getting longer and longer but somehow we were keeping in touch. I was keeping in touch with Patti after meeting her first in Carrion de los Condes and I was meeting my fellow Irish pilgrim and his friends the odd time. I had seen Carol and her friend from Australia a number of times and Aga from Poland. We all had our own ways of walking but we managed to see each other or receive news of how we all are from other pilgrims. June was planning ahead and had a date in mind when she would reach Santiago. I thought “wow!”. I reminded her to enjoy each moment and not walk too fast because she will pick up an injury or whatever!

The 10kms seem to go by in no time. During the few hours, we started talking about American healthcare and politics, something I try to avoid while on Camino. Anything but politics!! I changed the subject quickly and talked about the hills of León and O Cebreiro. Most of the pilgrims I had talked to were getting bored of the monotony of the meseta and were crying out for an ascent….something more varied I guess. They wouldn’t have long to wait as León approached within 2-3 days.

Bercianos was approaching. Not too long beforehand, we passed the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Perales, a church no longer in use. Bercianos greeted us with a new cafe “Bercianos 1900”. We decided to stop here for a drink and a rest. My feet were starting to play up on me again and I took some Ibuprofen to ease the pain. I met our old English pilgrim friend again. I asked him how he was getting on today and where he intends to stay when he is finished walking. He was thinking about staying in Hostal Rivero, another relatively new albergue in Bercianos, however he may walk the extra 7km to El Burgo Ranero. He mentioned..”when you walk from Paris, where you end each day is a trivial matter!”…From Paris?!…I asked him how far does he typically walk each day. “10-15km each day”. Wow…so why so little?? “Well when I finish I need to start painting the house when I return home to London. Well he does have a point!

We said goodbye to John, the UK pilgrim and moved on. We had 7km of straight road ahead of us, with blue skies and a gentle wind. It was 10.30am and we had plenty of time. For most of the remainder of the morning, there were no other pilgrims in sight. Cyclists passed us by shouting Buen Camino and we returned the compliment. There were periods of silence also when myself and June just walked. June, by far the faster, led the way and I followed. It wasn’t long before we reached El Burgo Ranero, a small hamlet with a number of albergues and pensions. It is chosen as an end stage in Brierley’s book, however, it has a well respected donativo, “Domenico Laffi”. It opens at midday and already there were people lined up outside. I walked through the town to see if there were other albergues opened, however, all 3 others had a midday opening. I saw a group of Irish walkers with tiny bags leave a cafe after a pitstop. It seemed that they were from the west of Ireland. I asked them how they were getting on? One said “All good, we are walking the Camino a different way”. He went to great lengths to note the differences in how I and their group walk their Camino. Not to worry. We are all pilgrims. I venture back to the albergue, noting where the shop was. The hospitalero had opened up for us before midday.

I showered, washed my clothes before June and myself decided to go to the shop to buy some food for lunch. In a gesture of real kindness, June told me to come back in 45 minutes and she will have lunch ready. So I went off for a snooze and left her to her own devices. From what we had bought, I was expecting a meal fit for royalty. We had wine too. It was something special also and I was full for the day. All I could do afterwards was wash up! Later on, I met the UK pilgrim – he was staying in another albergue in the same village. I also met Adam from the UK, my fellow Irish friend with his friends who were in the same albergue. Today I had walked 30km. I had 88 km left to walk in 5 days. The next 5 days were going to be slow and short. June wanted to walk to Leon the next day (38km) and asked if I would join her. I said I would start the day with her but I wouldn’t walk to Leon. This evening was a special one. We finished the bottle of wine with other pilgrims.

Tonight would be the start of the goodbyes.

September 10th 2017 – Day 6
El Burgo Ranero to Arcahueja

Another day on the meseta, although we were nearing the end. Many of our fellow pilgrims were talking of walking a big walk today to reach Leon. Many whom I had met had walked longer days previously. From then on in, the terrain gets a little more varied. For me, however, I was coming to the end of my Camino for this year and wanted to make the most of my time until I reached Astorga, my endpoint.

It was an early morning and before leaving the albergue in El Burgo Ranero, June had made some lunch to keep us going for the day ahead. You genuinely meet good people on the Camino. June was one of them. To start the day, we had a 12 km walk to the next town, Reliegos, but we were in good spirits and we talked about what we would do on reaching Leon. That said, I didn’t think I would make it that far but chose to keep that to myself. 39km is a little too much for one day and I was in no rush. June on the other hand was eager to reach Santiago in 10 days. We were different in some ways. The walk out of El Burgo is long and straight and there is no much to inspire you. We chose to walk on the road rather than on the uneven senda, however, the odd car would pass at speed. We were careful however deciding to use our torches on our phones to make the drivers aware of our existence. Within 2 and a half hours we had reached Reliegos, a small town close to Leon. I had stayed here in 2015 but there is not much to write home about, however, Bar Elvis is still here. It was closed as we passed, choosing to stop for a few moments to take a photo. I told June about his quirkiness and his liking of Elvis music. A quirky man for a quirky town. A lot of pilgrims tend to walk on by here and aim for the much larger Mansilla de las Mulas. And we did too.

It was getting brighter and I felt good. The sun had made its daily appearance and I felt it on my head, having lost my cap a few days ago. I also lost my buff the previous day. I still had my wooden pole however, but I had lost the metal tip at the base of the pole. I grew to like its company over the days, no matter how battered it was. It is the small things that give you joy on the Camino. Another 6 km to Mansilla de las Mulas and you could sense that you were leaving the meseta…a motorway, more junctions, cars, industrial estates, it was busier. We stopped off at the first albergue in Mansilla for some breakfast..”El Jardin”. June wanted to buy me cafe. We had our sandwiches that she had made and just took in the morning. Mansilla was quiet. The albergue were opening up and we were met by many cyclists taking a pitstop.

The statue of the weary pilgrims is across the street before you enter the town of Mansilla. It is well known to those who have walked the Camino and depicts three tired pilgrims having clearly walked more than they can manage. We rested for a while and took a few photos. Walking through a lane brings you into the town. It is large and there were many locals wearing t shirts with the town’s name across it. There were also streamers hanging from buildings as if there was a fiesta due. I later learned that that evening there was a fiesta that continued to the early hours of the next day! Leaving the town, you can see signs of Mansilla’s Roman history. It was a walled town and the majority of the wall is still there. Keep an eye out for it as you pass through.

I told June that I wouldn’t be able to walk to Leon and would stay in either of the next two towns – Villarente or Arcahueja. Both are tiny, blink-and-you-will-miss-them, towns. June was determined to reach Leon and I knew she would make it, she is such a strong walker. My memory didn’t serve me well as I knew little about these two towns, but from my 2015 Camino, I passed an albergue in Arcahueja, a tiny town 8 kms from Leon. I decided to aim for here. I had no idea now good / bad / indifferent it was – I didn’t care. But we had another 5 kms to go before arriving there. Villarente was busy. I told June of the unfortunate death on the main road and the decision to re-route the Camino around the town as a result. The Camino enters a wood for a km or so before you are brought back on the main road. We stopped at Albergue Delfin for a cold drink and a rest before veering off the main road and aiming for Arcahueja. I arrived at Albergue La Torre at 1pm. I had walked 30km and I needed to rest. The sun had made it a harder day than usual.

It would be the last day that I walked with June. I chose not to say goodbye to her as she would be taking a rest day in Leon. We promised to meet up the following day and I wished her well for her remaining 8 km. Albergue La Torre didn’t look eye-catching and usually I would walk by a town like this. Arriving outside, the owners were busy serving lunch and said the rooms are being cleaned. I had no problem waiting. I had another drink and at 2pm, I was invited in. It’s a smashing little albergue and I was pleasantly surprised and how I was treated. Dinner was at 7pm so I had some lunch and before long I was greeted by Aga from Poland and the 2 Australian women. I had company. I also met Robert from Germany and Rosa from Mexico. Robert was suffering in a bad way with tendonitis and wasn’t walking a great deal each day. Slow and steady wins the race however. We all had a few drinks outside in the terrace sharing stories under the sun and waited for dinner.

It was a great night and we looked forward to the 8km walk into Leon the following morning.

September 11th 2017 – Day 7
Arcahueja to Leon

The shortest day I have walked on any Camino. Barely 8 km was walked before we reached the walls of Leon. But I wasn’t alone. Aga and the Australian women strolled along with me, and boy! did we take our time?

We left Albergue La Torre just before 7am. The sun was rising behind us as we sauntered into the city. We started to climb for a kilometre or two before it was all descent into Leon. We reached a large bridge and on crossing, you can see the cathedral in the city. We kind of knew that it wasn’t long before we reached the town.

The main albergue wasn’t due to open until 10.30am however I had arranged to stay in La Madriguera hostel about 5 minutes from the Cathedral. We had plenty of time on our hands so we decided on having some breakfast before parting ways. The Australian women were so much fun. I had met them initially in Boadilla del Camino but had bumped into them on and off until the previous night. I got to know them a little bit better over the evening beforehand. Aga, I had met in Boadilla also and it wouldn’t be the last I would see of her.

On reaching Leon, it was 10 am, and the church bells were ringing from the Cathedral. We took in the atmosphere and aimed for Cafe Valor. I ordered Churros and Chocolate and it was delicious. Along came June also, who received my message that we had arrived. She was staying in the municipal albergue and was allowed to stay for one more night. We also met Robert and Rosa from the previous night in Arcahueja and a number of others who had met along the way. It was a great morning and plenty of hugs were exchanged.

11am came and some decided to make way to the Albergue. It is a popular albergue and fills up quick. I had received an email that my bed would not be ready until midday so I stuck around with Robert and Rosa who had decided to walk to La Virgen del Camino, the next town. June stayed also. I wanted to buy a few bits and pieces for lunch back in the hostel and went to shop across from Cafe Valor.

12am came and I decided to walk across to the hostal. I realised that I wouldn’t see many again, but I didn’t say goodbye. I simply said “See you on the trail”. I would email June later in the day to see if she would like to walk the following day.

La Madriguera is a fine hostel and I was greeted by Alba who has previously walked the Camino Frances to Finistere. Proof is hanging on the wall upstairs. She has the interests of pilgrims at heart so I would recommend this hostel if you would like a private room.

The rest of the day was spent sleeping and debating where I would stop the following day. I didn’t have a lot of kms to walk before Astorga however I had a good few days.

September 12th 2017 – Day 8
Leon to Villavante

I had a good sleep in Hostal Madriguera. It’s somewhere I recommend if you want a good rest, and I did. The owner, Alba, who has walked the Camino, is very helpful and the hostel is situated pretty close to the main square. Give it a look-up. However, that said, I should have stopped by the albergue. The previous day would be the last time I would see the majority of those I had met. I would walk alone the next day. But that’s not a bad thing sometimes. I know most of whom I had met were aiming for Hospital de Orbigo, a 30+km day. If I could manage it, well and good – I would see my pilgrim buddies again. If not, so be it. There were plenty of pilgrims on the trail…even in mid-September.

In 2015, I stayed in Albergue Santa Lucia in Villavante and fell in love with it. The hospitality, the owner going out of her way for you, but I need to mention Coco the parrot! She would put a smile on your face if she squawked while you washed your dirty clothes. I remember not being allowed to take photos so that was a little disappointing. So..I would aim for Orbigo but if all else fails, Villavante was there to welcome me. This means taking the less travelled alternative route on leaving León. You have two options: walk along the road passing through small towns en route to Orbigo, or walk on a meseta-type trail through two towns. This was my meseta-Camino, so I’d do what I could to draw it out. Not many walk the alternative route, but I encourage it. It’s quiet, there is a town to stop after 21km – Vilar de Mazarife with it’s 3 albergues and if you feel up to it, there is Villavante after 30km. I felt up to it today. Being alone, I wanted to record some video, and I did (below)

I left León after 5.30am. The darkness engulfed the city, just the way I like it. I stood in front of the cathedral saying my goodbyes knowing that it would be some time before I saw it again. I walked on..alone. It was cold this morning and predictions of rain abounded, but it was dry for the time being. I felt good but thoughts of an ending Camino weren’t too far away. It would be 2 further days before I arrived in Astorga, only hop-skip and jump down the road. I was going to stretch these two final days out – records will be broken. But first, one last long day.

There is nothing interesting to see as you leave León however you climb for a bit and reach a number of bodegas at Trobajo del Camino. Make sure you turn back here and watch the sun rise over the city behind you. I said my goodbyes and moved on into the new morning. The locals were waking up and going to work, I wished each a Buenos Días as I passed. There was no music today, just me and my thoughts. Thinking – it can be bad, but it can be good. Too much of it is a bad thing – I’d argue against that if you are on the Camino. Promises can be made and there were a few promises I made to myself since I left Burgos. I won’t go into them now. I reached Virgen del Camino and stopped for a breakfast coffee and tostada – a regular occurrence at this stage. The cafe was just opening and I chatted in broken Spanish to the owner. A few metres down the main road is the church – Santuario De La Virgen Del Camino. I spent a few minutes here to enjoy its design before I crossed the road and found the start of the alternative route.

It was still dark by 7 am. My phone’s torch was brought to the rescue as I worked out where was where. Once I saw an arrow I was where I needed to be. I made my way across a main road and I was on meseta-like trail again. Perfect walking ground. I seemed to pass Chozas de Abajo and Oncina in no time. I arrived at Vilar de Mazarife at 9.30am. There was nothing open, as I expected. I didn’t seem to mind. I took off my pack and found a seat to lie back on. Fruit, a yogurt and a drink – heaven! Simple pleasures. I had two choices – stay here for an hour or so until the albergue opened or walk 8km to Villavante. The answer was plain to me. Villavante it was.

The 8km walk was slow but not arduous. There was a deliberate lack of pace. I mean, I could aim for Orbigo, but what’s the point? It would make my next two days even more difficult  I kept looking behind me for pilgrims, but I didn’t see one. This is a great alternative to the busy road after Virgen del Camino. I enjoyed it. Many wouldn’t. I arrived at Villavante at 11 am. I took a bottom bunk beside the window and waited for some company. It wasn’t long before I was joined by Ian, from New Zealand. He was closely followed by two girls from the US and South Africa. We had dinner at 7 pm and a drink after. The parrot got the last laugh however as my request for a photograph was again denied. Hmmph!

I had no idea what I would do the following day. Orbigo maybe? 5km? Records will again be broken.

September 13th 2017 – Day 9
Villavante to Santibañez de Valdeiglesias

Second to last day of walking. It would be a short day as well. I had already began thinking of returning to work, which is a no-no while on Camino. Sigh. Anyway, moving on. I had yet to reach one of my favourite towns, Astorga, and of course, make my journey to Santiago. The evening before I had no idea where the following day would end. Hospital de Orbigo was only 5km away. The next town after, Villares de Órbigo is just 8km while Astorga is a whopping 24km. Note my sarcasm there.  So I would walk until my feet told me not to.

I woke in Santa Lucia at 6.30am…a late start for me! I left the albergue at 7 am, after some breakfast. Last night’s sleep was poor. I woke a number of times and at one stage, someone had the cheek to pinch my 5th toe, possibly due to my snoring. The one toe that had a blister on it! The blister didn’t cause me any bother walking however. I was joined by a German couple on leaving the albergue and despite their lack of English (or my lack of German) we still managed a conversation. The sun was rising as we left the small village and aimed for Hospital de Orbigo. En route to Orbigo, you cross train tracks, walk over a motorway before seeing the water tower at the entrance of the town. It was quiet enough at this time of the morning, however. I said goodbye to the German couple here as I wanted to see more of the town. Nothing was open, as expected. Even Albergue Verde, one place that was on my list of must-sees. Another time. I crossed the bridge and moved through the town. It is one long road but seems to go on forever. I’ve walked through here on three occasions; 2012, 2015 and this year. It never changes, that’s the beauty of it.

I arrived at the exit of Orbigo and saw Robert from Germany who I first met in Arcahueja. It was a surprise to see him again however I knew he was having shin-splint problems. I was quite happy to walk at his pace for the day. We chose to take the road to the right, avoiding the main road. Now, we were back on a meseta-type trail until arriving at Astorga. We arrived at Villares de Órbigo at 8.30am and were greeted by a Danish lady who had started her Camino in St Jean. All three of us continued slowly to Santibañez and arrived at 9 am. We stopped for a cafe con leche and took in the morning until Robert and our new friend parted company. Their destination this day was Astorga. My destination would be the albergue attached to this bar I was resting at – Albergue Camino Frances, with 14 beds. €20 with 3-course meal included. It wouldn’t open until 11 am however so I had another hour to spare. It made sense to stop here. If I continued to Astorga, I would need to find a bed for an extra night as my bus to Santiago was to leave the following day.

This albergue was one of the smaller albergues I have stayed in but well run. It looked like it was family-run. While waiting for it to open, Riley from the US and her friend from South Africa passed by. I was delighted to see them again. They were also aiming for Astorga and were looking forward to the change of scenery after the meseta.

Checking in was quick and I had my clothes washed and hung out to dry in no time. With temps of 25c, it was a perfect time for it. Dinner was at 7 pm and I ate by myself, although I had been keeping in touch with a number of pilgrim friends by email. I was looked forward to moving on the following day.

September 14th 2017 – Day 10
Santibañez de Valdeiglesias to Astorga

So the day has come. My last walking day. A short stroll into Astorga ended my Camino for another year. And it was a great walk with a few little ups and a walk down to finish off.

My morning started at 7am, they get later every day! After a quick breakfast, I am on the road and almost immediately meet Naomi from Canada. We both casually strolled westward from that point. She had stayed in Villares de Orbigo and couldn’t praise the albergue’s hospitalera, Christina, high enough. It was one of her highlights from her ongoing Camino. I missed out so! She was bound for Santa Catalina or further, so I would say goodbye to her at Astorga.

Daybreak was looming as the sun was peeking over the horizon. However, I enjoyed the conversation with Naomi so much that I did the inevitable and got lost. With no working light, there were no arrows to see and it was my companion that turned to me and said: “when was the last time we saw an arrow?”. I have walked these parts twice before but I still have the ability to lose direction. Backward we go until we see other pilgrims. Luckily, it wasn’t too far..

It wasn’t long before we arrived at Casa de los Dioses and David’s humble abode. He was sleeping in his shelter but his stall was out for all pilgrims. He is a legend of the Camino and I thought we had lost him last year when he posted a video online saying he would be leaving. I took some fruit, leaving a donation, preferring to leave David sleep.

I said goodbye to Naomi and to Casa de los Dioses and wandered on, Astorga being less than 10 km away. It was only half 8 at this stage and the end was coming closer. Thoughts of the flight home and the office popped into my head. But I had another 2 days to the flight so I pushed them back for a little while.

I passed the Cruz de Santo Toribio at the entrance of San Justo de la Vega, a suburb of Astorga. I had another hour or so before arrival. San Justo is a sprawling street mixed with properties, both residential and industrial. During the summer months, there is a gentleman with a guitar at the Cruz who sings to pilgrims. All he asks for is something from your country.

You are well and truly in Astorga when you pass a large warehouse. I walk in the shade and catch a glimpse of the Cathedral. I have just the railroad bridge to negotiate before I make my final climb into the city. Surely there is an easier way to walk into the city? The albergue on Plaza San Fransisco was closed, as expected but luckily enough one of the hospitaleros was cleaning the outside while I passed. He suggested that I leave my bag in the albergue while I go for a coffee and a 2nd breakfast. All was well. I walked into the town, past the main plaza as far as the Cathedral. I took a few photos of it and Gaudi’s Palace. Walking back I spotted Naomi making a pitstop. She was with some friends and I asked if I could join her. One cafe con leche por favor. Possibly one of my last for this year.

Ten minutes or so later, I strolled back to the albergue and there was a queue forming. It was 9.30am. The albergue was to open at 11am. I got to meet some pilgrims while waiting, one who was in pain and was forced to get a taxi from her previous night’s stay. I stayed here previously in 2015 and loved it, although I’m not a fan of large albergues. There is a great terrace for eating cooked food, however there are many restaurants in the town.

The day passes quickly and I gather my things for an early start the following morning. My bus to Santiago was at 7.30am and I wanted to be a little bit early so I could have some breakfast beforehand. One more sleep…


September 15th & 16th 2017 – Day 11 & 12
Astorga to Santiago and Home

My final two days in Spain contain little to no walking, unfortunately. A quick caveat. September 15th: my Camino this year is over and all that is left is to return home. My blisters were fading, I had caught up on sleep and I had finished checking into albergues for one more year. Bittersweet was the word. That said, I have a good sleep in Maria de Siervas albergue and I have much to look forward to. I get up early and stroll over to Astorga’s bus station. My bus arrives at 7.30am for the trip to Santiago de Compostela. An early morning, but not Camino early!

The bus station is located behind the Cathedral in Astorga. Everything is sleeping as I make my way there. The station is just opening but I have a super breakfast in the cafe right beside it. Cafe with toast…now we are slowing making our way back to normality! The trip to Santiago is over 5 hours by bus as we take a detour to A Coruna and south to our destination. I spent most of the trip looking out the window and thinking of next year’s Camino. Where will I go? Will I go alone? At what time of the year? Will this be the last time I wander on the Camino Frances? Arriving at A Coruna was a highlight also. I hope to walk from here in the next few years. From what I saw, it’s a beautiful town. Next stop, Santiago.

The weather had deteriorated on arriving in Galicia. You’re always going to get rain once you reach this part of the world. Just like in Ireland, their Celtic cousin. The clouds rolled in and arriving in Santiago, I wore my rain jacket for the first time since arriving in Spain. I was glad to bring it. I arrived into the Estación de Autobuses around 2pm and took the local bus to Praza Galicia. A quick 10 minute walk brought me to Hospederia San Martin Pinario and to my pilgrim room. Luxury for €23. It wasn’t long before I was walking the streets of Santiago. I seem to know this town so well. I paid a visit to the Terra Nova Pilgrim House on Rúa Nova and had a chat with the volunteers. Unfortunately, I missed Faith and Nate, who look after the Pilgrim House so brilliantly. Maybe next year. Café Casino is still well intact, I paid a visit and had a quick café con leche. I made my way to Praza do Obradoiro and just sit. I sit and stare. There are many doing the same, lost in their thoughts. I look at the Cathedral, covered in scaffolding but with a heart beating away inside. I listen to the music while pilgrims enter the Praza. It’s a busy square with many tourist groups. It’s hard to think so I head back to the Hospederia and write my journal for the day. Later that evening, I had some food in O Gato Negro and return to have an early night.

While in Astorga, I received a text from author and veteran pilgrim JohnnieWalker, asking if I would meet him while in Santiago. We agreed to do so on the Saturday, the day I leave. I awake at 8am and make way for breakfast in the Hospederia. I love the breakfast they put on here…you receive a mixture of everything, fruits, cereals, breads, toast, juices. I had a healthy breakfast, let’s just say. Afterward I had packed and checked out, I made my way to Iglesia de San Agustin, a Jesuit church, where Johnnie would be on organ duty for Mass at 12 o clock. I sat at the back and listened on. “Palchabel’s Canon in D Major” rang throughout the iglesia as the congregation grew larger. The Mass was entirely in Spanish and I was lost in places but the music quickly brought me home. I hear “Down by the Sally Gardens” and as the Mass ended, the music took a more Irish feel. Johnny played Amhran na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem, as bemused Mass-goers left the church. We shook hands afterwards. It was great to finally meet after being in Santiago so often over the years. I could barely hold my laughter in, after hearing the final piece of music.

We went for a cafe and some tapas before I collected my bag and headed for the airport. The Aer Lingus flight was full, mostly with returning pilgrims, and the journey was quick. I was home within 2 hours. The many questions I had before I left were mostly answered. It’s good to return to simplicity for a few weeks, and I enjoyed my time walking the meseta. I had many memories and my friends were in my mind as they continued their Caminos to Santiago.

However, I had one question left on arriving back in Dublin….”Where will my next Camino be?”

Where did I stay?

I stayed in mostly albergues, but there was the odd hostal I booked before leaving Dublin. Some I enjoyed, some I didn’t.

Burgos – Hostal Evolución
I booked a single room here shortly before leaving home as I would be arriving late in Burgos. Hostal Evolución is central, it is clean however given the choice, I would stay in the main albergue in Calle Fernan Gonzalez. It’s a pilgrimage, after all.

Hontanas – Albergue El Puntido
There was never any doubt that I would stay in Hontanas after my first day’s walking. It’s a beautiful town. I’ve been here before twice preferring to stay in the municipal albergue at the end of the town. I preferred a change this time. Not only is El Puntido an albergue, but it boasts a restaurant, a bar and a tiny tienda at the back. Hontanas is not short of places to stay but El Puntido must be one of the better albergues on the Camino.

Boadilla del Camino – Albergue En El Camino
I can’t speak highly enough about En El Camino. Eduardo and his family will always be in my heart. I’ve been here three times and if you haven’t stopped off in En El Camino, I’d encourage you to do so. The pool is one of the many reasons I stay here!

Carrión de los Condes – Albergue Parroquial Santa Maria del Camino
When I arrived in Carrión de los Condes, I text a friend and she asked me “Is that the one with the singing nuns?”. Well, yes is the answer to that question but on the day I arrived, the nuns were on sabbatical leave. In their place were volunteers who made us all feel at home. I won’t say anymore, but if you do wish to stay in Carrión de los Condes, make sure you stop by Albergue Santa Maria. Staying there is an experience you won’t forget.

Terradillos de los Templarios – Hostel Los Templarios
I stayed in this albergue simply because I enjoyed my stay in 2013. Hostel Los Templarios is ultra-modern with a great restaurant. The perimeter fencing is like nothing you see on the Camino, however.

El Burgo Ranero – Albergue de peregrinos Domenico Laffi
Domenico Laffi is a donativo albergue. Myself and June arrived before midday after walking 30km. While it does not open it’s doors until 1pm, the volunteers decided to open at 12. I don’t go out of my way to stay in donativo albergues, preferring private ones instead, but the volunteers were super and more. It is pretty popular also, filling up quickly.

Arcahueja – Albergue La Torre
Calling Arcahueja a town is a stretch..maybe a village, as it contains nothing but a church, a shop, a playground and Albergue La Torre. It is 7km from Leon and if I had the energy, I would have walked on. That said, the owners here were very welcoming and the facilities are modern. I had a great night with new pilgrims friends with maybe a few too many drinks.

León – Hostal Madriguera
Booked before I left Dublin, Madriguera is an ultra-modern hostel 5 mins from the Cathedral. It is super modern and very pilgrim friendly. There are bunks as well as private rooms. There is a well equipped kitchen and a tv room to just chill, but there is enough to León to keep you occupied. If you are looking to stay out past the curfew in albergues, I would recommend here.

Villavante – Albergue Santa Lucía
If you walk the alternative route after Leon, Villavante is the next town after Vilar de Mazarife. I’ve been here before, in 2015, and loved it, so I decided to stop off again. Make sure you say hello to Coco, it’s mascot parrot.

Santibáñez de Valdeiglesias – Albergue Camino Francés
12 km from Astorga, Albergue Camino Francés is in a tiny village. It is attached to a bar and it seems to be run by a family. They were constantly run off their feet but very friendly at the same time. Prices were pretty good, but if you are looking for extra special service, this might not be for you. I was quite happy to stay there however.

Astorga – Albergue de peregrinos Siervas de María
One of the better albergues on the Camino, it has good facilities, it is clean, and you receive super treatment by the volunteers. You don’t have many crammed in a room. I love the terrace over looking Astorga, where you can eat and chill.

Santiago de Compostela – Hospedería San Martín Pinario
I have always stayed here when in Santiago, but if you wish to do the same, make sure you book in advance. A renovated building, which belonged to the cathedral, it is now a hotel. Rooms generally cost €50, however, the 4th floor provides pilgrim accommodation for €23 bed and breakfast. Be sure to e-mail reservas@sanmartinpinario.eu asking for a pilgrim room. You can find cheaper accommodation in Santiago, but none are as close to the Cathedral as this one.

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