Camino Francés 2013

Logrono – Leon

Following my 2011 and 2012 Caminos, I had yet to complete the full Camino Frances but the pain of the previous May would be enough to put off most pilgrims. I needed to return. However, this year turned out to be quite the opposite of 2012 and it was very much a social affair. I met people whom I am still in touch with now and my love for Spain grew even more when I finished. I started in May 2013 in Logrono and ended in the second week of June in Leon. I promised myself I would return the following year. Click on the links below to follow my progress.

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Camino Francés 2013 – Day 0 – Dublin to Logroño – May 25th ’13

I’m here. At last. After a year’s dreaming, I’ve touched down on Spanish soil. Delighted is not the word.

I woke up at 5 am after about 1 hours sleep, and made it to Dublin Airport. I was almost too early but it was good to meet other travellers on the same flight. I met a group of kids from Wexford with their teacher. The teacher was looking forward to getting going but commented that the lads were going to have a hard time (some were wearing jeans). On the plane, I was sitting beside a couple also going to walk the Camino, well a stretch like myself. Eventually, we took off and the flight itself was fine but there was some low lying cloud as we came into Bilbao. It was very hard to see anything as I looked out the window and it was a little daunting for a minute or two. An ovation from the plane’s passengers showed how nervous we all were. But Bilbao is something else altogether. I’d move here in a heartbeat. Miles and miles of green over mountains, valleys, and rivers. Some of the views were astounding. We were greeted by Basque signs and words that would win you major points in a game of scrabble. Castellan Spanish is not the official language here. The Guggenheim, Plaza Moyua, I wouldn’t mind coming here again for a weekend to get a closer look.

Bilbao Airport

I met more Irish folks once I got off the flight. Again, they came to walk parts of the Camino. A couple and their daughter from Meath were starting from Puente la Reina and ending in Ponferrada. They would travel with me to the Termibus Station but jump on the Pamplona bus, which isn’t too far from Puente la Reina. I waved goodbye to the teacher and her class also as they had a bus pre-booked. I can only assume she is their Spanish teacher. They were starting in Belorado and finishing in Carrion de Los a Condes, 5 days in total. I wished her luck keeping an eye on her class of 20. I couldn’t do it anyway.
After catching the reliable Bizkaibus shortly after arriving, we reached Bilbao city centre close to 5.30. I knew my bus to Logrono was not leaving until 8 pm but I didn’t mind the wait. I said goodbye to the family from Meath and looked for somewhere to eat. There was no shortage of shops and restaurants around the Termibus Station so I grabbed a quick snack and went back to waiting. I needed a few things for the next morning also as nothing would be open when I had planned to leave. It wasn’t long before I realised that I had left a few items behind, and I let out a long sigh. But I double-checked if I had all the essentials; tablets, money, tickets, phone..all there! Good stuff!

After a while, I jumped on the 8 pm La Union Alvesa bus to Logrono. The language barrier made it difficult to understand the driver who snapped at his passengers on one or two occasions. Maybe he was having a bad day. We drove through the sprawling countryside, the occasional river and into the region of La Rioja, famous for its wine. I’m spending the next few days here before I reach Palencia. Every field we passed had hundreds of vine trees, barely in their infancy. It’s a little too early to pick these grapes, maybe in August. I tried to ignore some of the towns I would be passing the next day, but I wasn’t having much luck.

In the end, I made it into Logrono just after 10 pm Spanish time. It was getting dark and the city’s lights were on. I jumped in a taxi and had a decent conversation with the driver about the game which was on the radio at the time. That was easily the highlight of my day. I was happy to use some Spanish that I had learned over the last few months.

I found my hotel for the night soon after..the Pension Logrono. The owner was very courteous but had very limited English so it was a little funny trying to ask for the Wifi password. So now I need to catch a few hours of sleep. I start my Camino tomorrow early and hope to reach Najera, 29km westwards. Hasta luego!!

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 1 – Logroño – Najera (May 26th ’13)

It was 4am before I closed my eyes last night. I’m not sure if this was down to pre-Camino nerves or because I was close to a bar on the main street. I tossed and turned through the night but I only managed a few hours sleep. It didn’t seem to bother me though. Anyway, I got up and ready around half 5, and I was out the door at 6. There were others in the same hotel walking the Camino as I heard movement just before I got up.

When I opened the door, it was pitch black save for a few lights in the centre of the main street. The sun was peeking from the horizon and a few peregrinos were starting out for the day. Dammit, I was waiting for this day for a long time.

Logrono early in the morning

Logrono was empty, dark and hardly a car on the roads. Must have been something to do with it being a Sunday. As you leave Logrono, the Camino cuts through a large park, with plenty of green and trees. There were a few locals out walking their dogs or taking an early morning stroll. It was cold and I couldn’t see a cloud so the day had great potential. It had been raining badly throughout the North of Spain for the last week so maybe this was some respite? It took a while to get out of the city; it is really big but it wasn’t until I got to Planta de Granjera, that it hit me where I was. This is a large man-made reservoir and it is home to many fish and birds. Although it was close to 7 at this stage, there were groups of men fishing on its banks. They shouted out Buen Camino as I passed. I shouted out a “Gracias” to them all as I passed. Strangely enough, I hadn’t passed any other pilgrims this morning. Maybe it was too early?

I was picking up a heavy pace and soon after, Navarrete peeked its head over the horizon. It is a large enough town on the base of a large hill. That was 10km I covered. I was surprised by that pace, to be honest, and the last thing I wanted to do was pick up an injury on my first day. I walked through the town bright-eyed hoping to spot movement, but there was nothing to be seen. I wanted to stop off here for a cafe con leche and rest my legs. I also wanted a wooden pole for the remainder of my trip but there were no shops open. My back troubled me last year and maybe one could help. I found a cafe and ordered a cafe con leche and tostada con queso. Yum! I had a short stumbled conversation with a pilgrim from Barcelona. He didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand me. We both laughed and wished each other a Buen Camino.

Statue in Navarrete

I left Navarrete and the sun was out in full now. It was pretty warm and out came the hat and off came the fleece. Out came the earphones also, I needed some music. Again my pace was getting faster and I was getting close to Ventosa which is 1km off the trail. At the start of the day, I was in two minds whether to stay here or continue to Najera. I went in for a coffee and hoped to meet some people. There were quite a few there. I met a man from England who had a large backpack and a strong laugh. He was fun. There were also people from Germany, Italy and a few college students from the States. There was also Colin from Singapore and we walked for a bit. Next stop Najera 11km ahead.

Hut on the way to Najera

I felt a hotspot on my foot but I decided to wait until I got to Najera to do anything. It wasn’t causing me too much bother. Colin was good fun, he had great English and I had hoped to tag with him until I reached Najera. We walked together for a bit but he was a little slow so I wished him a Buen Camino and walked on. I hope to see them all tomorrow at some stage. Eventually, I arrived at Najera after a grueling day in the sun. It is easily an hour to get there once you see the city in the horizon. I passed a funny looking dome of some kind and scrolls with verses in Spanish written on a wall. I took a few photos and moved on. I had booked a pension called Hostal Hispano for the night. It’s a nice place and dinner came with it. No shops or pharmacies are open though. Again, they take their Sundays very seriously here. The town is on the banks of the Najerilla, a rather large river. I ventured around for a while until 6 pm and settled in for the night. Tomorrow I’ll be on the lookout for a wooden pole, an open pharmacy, and more peregrinos to talk to.

Next stop – Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 2 – Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada – May 27th ’13

Buenos Dias, one and all. I have finished for the day and as I type I’m in one of the nicer albergues of the Camino – Casa del Santo in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. It is modern and large, it holds close to 180 people. So there is no chance of you not finding a place. There is a strong Irish contingent here, a few Germans, Spanish but I didn’t meet any of the people I met yesterday. But I have to say that the German pilgrims are loud!

Anyway, today was tough going. Not because of the length of the day, it was only 20km in distance which was less than yesterday. The return of the wet weather made it difficult to walk and for a time I was walking through piles of mud. But eventually, the paths got more easy on the foot after 5-10km.

Azofra

I woke at 4am in Najera in the pension I had booked earlier. I had little sleep again last night and save for a few cereal bars, I had no breakfast. I decided to get ready and head out in the rain that had started not long beforehand. I put on my rain jacket and poncho and covered my backpack. There was no sun today, just cloud and rain. I left Najera with an elderly German man. I met him walking through the park in Logrono yesterday. He is a nice chap with a few words of English. He is walking to Burgos and staying in more plush accommodation. Sure why not? I moved on soon after. I may even meet him tomorrow.

After setting a good pace at the start, I met a lady called Angie who was walking with her family from the States. They commented that they had met plenty of Irish since they started in St Jean. Their daughter walked ahead listening to music. Angie smiled and said she was still asleep. She also commented on my boots and that they may give me some difficulty later on. Meh!
The conversation made the morning seem a little better, the rain was annoying but the views were amazing. A red path filled with pilgrims divided fields upon fields of green. W arrived at a small village called Azofra soon after. This has a well-known albergue, one of the best I have read. I stopped here and had a coffee con leche and croissant while watching the rain fall heavily from the cafe’s window. It was really filling but eventually, I put on the poncho and moved on.

I’ve met a good few people today, and some I’ve bumped into numerous times. Apart from Angie and her family, I met Louisa from Italy, a trio of French sisters whose names are lost on me and I also met a large number of people from Ireland. UCD has one of its societies staying in the same Albergue tonight while they are walking to Burgos. I also met Christine and Jimmy from Limerick and Tipperary respectively. They were walking together and it was fun chatting with them. I hope to meet them again.

After Azofra, I walked through a ghost town. Ciruena. It is a large estate built by the owners of a local golf course with the hope of attracting folks from urban areas. It was kind of eerie walking through it with no sign of life. All its’ windows were shut and there were no signs of life save for the local Albergue.

Onwards we go and at this stage, the rain had gotten heavier. The silt red clay had turned into thick mud and was sticking to everyone’s shoes. I didn’t own a stick and it was very hard to keep my balance. I got through it in the end. It was a long way yet to Santo Domingo but meeting Louisa made the hours quicker. She didn’t want to stay in this town and moved on further.

Waiting for laundry to dry in Santo Domingo

On reaching Santo Domingo, the sun came out and it made for a nice evening. It is a small tourist town built around a large cathedral and many many shops and restaurants litter the main road. But the Albergue is top of the class. One of the volunteers spoke a few words of Irish and seemed to know where Raheny is. Small world. I had dinner with the group from UCD this evening. It was fun chatting to them all.

Anyway I’ll finish off now. I hope to walk to Belorado tomorrow. I’ve heard lots about one of its’ albergues.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 3 – Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado – May 28th ’13

Today was a wet and windy affair but the sun started to shine as we arrived at our destination for the day – Belorado. I had heard a lot about the Cuatro Cantones albergue here so I decided to get up at the break of dawn and head out. It was another night of little sleep with lots of shuffling and snoring. My earplugs offered little protection. I moved on out close to 6am. I opened the door of the albergue only to see the rain pelting down. “Dammit”

Out came the poncho and cover for my backpack. It was windy also as I left Santo Domingo and it was the first time I needed the light from my mobile phone. I met the friendly old German man again as he was leaving the Parador close to the albergue. He is great fun in a dry German kind of way. I walk with him for twenty minutes or so and moved on letting him be. He seemed to be happy by himself. My pace was a little slow to start with the wind against me. There is a long walk along the main road as you leave the town and I had to double check where I was going as there aren’t many arrows around.

Eventually, I see Granon with its large church and tower. It’s a nice place and one of the treasures of the Camino. There was nothing open at that time of the morning (7 am) so I moved on with a heavy heart. I have heard loads about the fab albergue there. I move on to Redecilla del Camino, another sleepy village. I stop for some breakfast and am greeted by the old German man as I sip on my cafe con leche. We chat about the weather and where he is going to walk to today. After twenty minutes I move on again in the wind and rain, pulling my poncho over my head.

I begin to have pains in the back of my legs at this stage. Nothing too serious but something I needed to be wary of. No blisters so far though.

Not too long after I leave Redecilla, I meet a Dutch girl called Femke. I greet her by asking her if she is Irish. Quite possibly the worst greeting ever! I would walk with her until Belorado, a further 12km. It’s amazing how fast time goes when you have someone to chat to. The first 10km I was walking by myself and it felt like forever but don’t get me wrong, I enjoy time by myself. All the tiny niggling pains I had notched up paled into insignificance and my pace picked up. We walked 12km in little over 2 hours!! There were another folks we met along the way and after a brief hello and how are you, we fired on to the next town. We passed Espinosa del Camino, Viloria de Rioja, and Castidelgado before we reached Belorado. These towns only hold an albergue, a church, a few houses, and a cafe. There is hardly any life and we passed through them in no time.

Waiting for Cuatro Cantones to open

Belorado is a fine large town, with winding streets, a central square and large church. The albergue Cuatro Cantones is closed when we arrive so we sit outside and wait. There are a few others there, including some of the Irish group. The remainder were en route at that time. There are 4 albergues in Belorado, each with their own traits. This holds 62 people over 3 floors and boasts a large back garden, chicken coup and swimming pool. Unfortunately, the pool is off limits today due to the weather. The opening time was 12.30 so we were pretty early. Over the next hour, we chatted about random things and rarely touched on anything of a serious nature. The queue for the Albergue grew and grew, with some people we knew from the previous 2 days.

Emilio Estevez’s hand and foot in Belorado

I got myself a bottom bunk and put the feet up. A communal meal is due shortly and I’m really looking forward to it. I also hope to check out the town after the meal to see if I can find a walking pole! Tomorrow is a long uphill slog but again I want to go further to avoid crowds. If you have Brierley’s Camino manual, you will know that a whole lot of people follow his route religiously. I’m trying to avoid these end towns so I can veer clear of the large crowds. There’s a reason Belorado has 4 albergues and a bunch of hotels…Brierley. If he changed the end town to another, the end result would be to close one or two due to the lack of demand. I’m hoping to move to the next town tomorrow, 27km in total, but again I’ll see how the weather is. Hopefully, I won’t be walking alone at the start of the day.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 4 – Belorado to Atapuerca – May 29th ’13

I had woken up earlier than planned today after a decent sleep. There was no shuffling and I was refreshed. It wasn’t raining either, so maybe..just maybe. it will be a good day. After a delicious meal last night, I had agreed with Femke that we would leave together at around 6 and after a little breakfast, we left in the dark.

Belorado in the morning

We left with Michel also who I had met the evening before. I enjoyed walking with them. Michel is from France and had pretty good English. He has been to Ireland also for a few months improving his English.

Villimbistia – a smaller town on the way

Today, the plan was to walk to San Juan de Ortega and see if I can make it further depending on the time. We heard it wasn’t a great place and when I said there was a rat found there a few months back, I think the decision was made to walk on. Today was tough on the legs. It was flat most of the time, but there was a section around Villafranca Montes de Oca where it gets high. This section is one of the more difficult parts of the Camino with a 12km trek through nothing but woods and clay to San Juan de Ortega. What made it worse was the clay was now mud after the recent rain.
There were a number of small quiet towns we passed through in the morning, Tosantos. Villambistia, Espinosa del Camino but we walked by ourselves once we got to Villafranca. I enjoyed that as it was a chance to meet some new people. I met two guys from the US who were taking their time. They told me to slow down but there was no stopping me today. I was in a good mood after the rains of the last few days. That said my tendons at the back of my leg were acting up and I had the beginnings of a cold sore. I always get cold sores when I go abroad. The same thing happened last year.

Further on, I met Bartak from Poland. He was a strange guy. He was wearing shorts and was carrying a massive backpack. I was stunned by its size and he was clearly having problems with it. He had opinions about who should be entitled to a Compostela. He believed that only those who walk the full Camino should receive it. Controversial to say the least. He also asked if I could give him a few euros until the next stop off point but I had no money myself. I later found out he asked everyone who passed him by. Strange. I didn’t stay long talking to him and moved on. I could see the red coat of Michel further on in the woods before San Juan and I did my best to catch up, jumping over the red-coated silt on the path. This part was tough going. My boots are pretty much ruined from the walking through it.

I catch up with Michel eventually before San Juan de Ortega and we walk at a decent pace. It is only 11 am at this stage and we had covered over 20km in 4 hours. After arriving at San Juan, we meet James from England and Tanya from Canada. I had met James in Ventosa on my first day and we all had an Estrella before setting off. The Albergue here wasn’t open at this stage so myself and Michel moved on. We could even make it to Atapuerca at this rate although my heart was set on Agés, the next stop off point. Atapuerca was another 6km away at this stage, 2 hours.
After talking to Michel about Ireland, the French way, and Le Puy route, we reach Agés. I decide to call it a day here and said I would catch Michel and Tanya (who had caught up with us) in Burgos, another 15km away. There are three Albergues here in this town and none were open until after 12. I sat here for ten minutes waiting for movement or other peregrinos but nothing was open, so I moved on. I was far too early. Atapuerca was another 2km so I moved on.
The albergue in Atapuerca was just opening and got a bottom bunk bed again. James stopped here along with Franco who I had met the evening before. He carried his bags in a trailer strapped to his sides. It was fairly unusual but it was second nature to him. Femke had stayed in Ages with a few others I was told.
So now I’m settled into my daily routine of washing clothes, shower, find something to eat and a glass of vino to drink and sleep early. It becomes second nature in time. There is some wifi here also so I can update the blog.
Tomorrow is a short trip (19km) to Burgos, so hopefully, I will get there before 11 am to see some of the city.
Oh, and I have the beginnings of what is called a ‘Camino family’. This is basically a group of people who meet at the end of a day walking. People from around the world; South Korea, UK, Hungary, Italy, Canada, and Ireland. I seem to be staying in the same albergues as the crew from UCD. They are good fun though.
Now I am off for a bite to eat in the local cafe as there the kitchen here is tiny.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 5 – Atapuerca to Burgos – May 30th ’13

It’s only now I’m getting to write up something for the day so apologies for the delay. We have a lack of wifi. Anyway, I move on.

I leave Atapuerca this morning before 6. The albergue was just fine and it left us with a short day today. One or two of the guys stayed in Ages and San Juan and they would meet up with us all later.
Michel, Tanya, Franco and myself left before 6 to total darkness. Not a light in the air and no clear sky to guide us. So we used the light on my iPhone to lead us. There was a large hill to crest before we saw the lights of Burgos and it was a tough climb with little signage and light. Over the hill, the skies would light up thousands of flickers from industrial estates, trucks, and the airport. We were yet 15km from Burgos and I wished we could get it out of the way.
Tanya and I walked ahead and we soon lost sight of Franco and Michel. Tanya is from Quebec who uses English as her second language, but we had great fun talking about languages, Gaelic football, and her Camino. She started from Lourdes a month ago so had a lot more experience than myself. Chatting like this made the hours go by and it wasn’t long before we saw the Cathedral standing tall. The municipal albergue is at the back of it. I have to say the walk into Burgos is one of the most mind-numbing sections on the Camino. Most people get a bus through industrial buildings, residential estates, and smog.
The walk was mostly on concrete and this hurt my feet. I feel a blister coming on and my lower back is aching. I don’t think this would happen on gravel or sand.
That said, I was delighted to get at the municipal albergue at 10 am …a whole two hours before opening. Do I go further or stay and see more of Burgos? I was quite happy to stay put for the night.

I met all the Irish folks from over the last week. Jimmy and Christine finished up today and were heading back to Dublin in the morning. I also met Niall from Monkstown who I had been told about but not met him. He had a few injuries and was taking things slow. He was doing what I had wanted to do and stay in the smaller hostels along the way; Azofra, Granon, Tosantos..and tomorrow San Bol which has no electricity. He was a great laugh but I can’t see him meeting me again.
I also met a blog follower who owns ‘Melanie’s life online’. I knew she was on the Camino but has no idea I would meet her. I recognised her face and asked if she was who she was. It was great to meet a blog follower.

The highlight of the day was meeting old friends from day 1 and 2.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 6 – Burgos – Hontanas – May 31st ’13

Today was a long day! My third 30+km day in 6 days. And the pace was fast..I will be slowing down from now on.
I woke after half 4am with rattling from the bunk next door. I got up at that stage as there was no way I was going to sleep again. When I got to the kitchen for some breakfast, I was greeted by Tanya, Femke, Michel, Franco and Somin from South Korea. After some coffee, we headed out. But the municipal albergue doesn’t open it’s doors until 6.30. That’s an hour and half of waiting to get out on the trail. No other Albergue had the same rule and I wondered what would happen in the event of a fire.

We moved on cursing the concrete paving. There is a lot to see in Burgos but I wished I moved to the next town, away from the bright lights.
I was eager to see the meseta also, the flatlands between Burgos and Leon. Miles and miles of nothing will greet us before we hit Hontanas, that’s the plan anyway. I walked with Femke to start with and our pace picked up without knowing. We left the rest of the crowd behind unawares, passing through Tardajos and Rabe de las Calzades. These again are quiet ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ towns. We top up our water and move on.
Michel and Franco somehow catch up and we walk together for a while. We venture into meseta country at this stage and notice the temperature getting warmer as we pass. The sun was shining down on us with very few clouds in the sky and I could feel the sun on my arms and neck. It was good to see the sun after so long wading through muck and bearing the rain. But was it too early to give out about the sun? I’ll give it a few days!
We then crest a very high hill and at the top, you can see the next three towns in the distance. It’s amazing how flat this land will become in the next few days. Hornillos del Camino was the next town and while we wanted to finish up, 11 am and 21km is too soon to end the day. Onwards we go to Hontanas, another 11km away. The name always escapes me so I usually think of Pocahontas..it works!

I started to get tired mentally and physically here. The legs hurt, my lower back was in pain and two or three blisters appeared. I think it is down to the road being flat than anything else.
Anyway, we arrived at Hontanas after 1pm and settled in at the Municipal Albergue. The main Albergue El Puntido was booked out well in advance.
I got to see the tiny Albergue San Bol which is 5km before Hontanas. Small, earthy and open to the elements. It is one recommended due to its community spirit.
Tomorrow I hope to walk to Boadilla del Camino, 28km away. Again, I will be walking on flat lands but I’m eager to see San Anton and Castrojeriz.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 7 – Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino – June 1st ’13

Today was a hard day. Not only were we walking another long day but the final 10k would be through meseta without a tree to take shelter. The temperatures were easily in the late 20s and lucky me, I had no sun cream. So I decided to wear a fleece and long pants.
I started the day with Michel. We usually walk at the same pace each morning. Franco and an Italian woman who had dinner with us the night before walked together. We usually have a small breakfast of tea, fruit, and bread and bring chocolate, and sweets with us for the day ahead.
Once we started out from Hontanas, the sun rose and it was good to see if for the first time. I had a feeling it would make an appearance once we got past Burgos. The meseta is astounding. Fields and fields of grass, low hills, and the sun glaring down with no chance of escape. We reached San Anton which is a preserved ruin of an old hospital for pilgrims. I spent some time looking at its detailed design. There is an Albergue there also for those who want to sleep under the stars.
Anya joined us at this stage. She left the Albergue a long time after us but she has amazing pace and had caught up with us. She drove ahead and was 100m ahead of me and Michel in the space of minutes.
I picked up my pace at this stage and wondered if I could get to talk to Anya for the first time. She is difficult to catch! I reach her at Castrojeriz and she was very happy to slow down and chat. Michel walked by himself for a while.
Castrojeriz is a gem of a town. It was built on the base of a mountain and it’s population is rising. It can be considered more than a town really. Once myself and Anya reach the end of the town, we notice a long path over a large hill that we need to ‘climb’. It was the first time I thought to myself that I’ll never do this. The legs hurt and once we got to the top, the views were unbelievable. Castrojeriz can be seen in all its glory. We stayed there for a while, took photos and laughed at the drawing board that said ‘fuck you hill’ !!
Next was a good descent into the next town Itero de la Vega. Amazing views around the terrain, the meseta in all it’s beauty.
The hardest part of the day was the 12km trek from Itero de la Vega to Boadilla del Camino. I ran out of water at his stage and was hoping for a quicker finish to this day. Anya was far ahead from me now as my pace dropped off. We arrived at Boadilla closely after 12 and after a monster day, we were first in line when the ‘En El Camino’ Albergue opened. This was by far the best of albergues I have stayed in so far. A lot of people rave about it and swear on going there at the end of the day. However, my stomach didn’t react well to the starter I had for a meal. I didn’t get much sleep as a result.
The highlight of the day was meeting a BBC production team who were recording a series on the Camino. I wasn’t caught on camera but ill be mentioned in some shape or form. The programme is set for showing closely after Christmas.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 8 – Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de los Condes – June 2nd ’13

While the Albergue in Boadilla is renowned to be one of the best of the Camino, I didn’t have a particularly good night there. I along with 3 others had a dose of food poisoning. It was just a minor setback however as I felt fine for the remainder of the trip. I also picked up an ‘Irishman’s tan’, two burnt legs due to not wearing the correct sun cream. It hurt walking at times.
We left Boadilla at 6.30am after we availed of their breakfast which was filling. There was a good crowd that I knew at this Albergue and most headed out at the same time.
I spent the morning with Anya and walked along the Canal de Castilla. This canal along with many was built on the turn of the century however they were put beyond use with the introduction of trains. These canals are there for fishing and for walking along. At 7 am, there were many people fishing for shrimp and crab. They were pretty successful judging by their buckets.
We walk quickly through Fromista before I see Michel and Franco behind me. I decide to walk with them for a while and I end up doing so for the day. We pass through little towns dotted in the countryside but the majority of this day was walking by the main road. It was kind of ugly, to say the least. We pass Villalcazar de Sirga and we watched a race from the Camino. For a town of 200 people, there was a great crowd topped off with a man at an announce table with a microphone. There was not much silence today.
With Franco and Michel a good kilometre ahead of me at this stage, I decided to take it slow and hope some of the girls catch up. There is 6km left to the next town and it is hardly 11 am.
It is close to 12 am when I reach Carrion de Los Condes, a modest-sized town but with one large church and a monastery. We arrived on the feast day of Corpus Christi and there were celebrations in the main square. The streets were covered in grass, flowers, and leaves. Large tapestries were made from these while people walked around them. I had no idea where Franco and Michel were at this stage so I looked around before I checked the celebrations out. Eventually, I see Franco waving at me to join the queue into Santa Maria Parochial Albergue. I was ready for sleep now, weary and burnt.
The remainder of the guys checked into another Albergue and came over to ours for dinner later on that night.
I later discovered that the people of the town would lead a procession over the decorations to the main square. Unfortunately, my battery on my phone was down so I have no photos but it shows how serious Spanish people take their feast days.
Next day is to a town called Terradillos de Los Templarios and another long walk in the sun.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 10 – Terradillos de los Templarios to Bercianos de Real Camino – June 5th ’13

We decided the evening before to leave before 6 am and we did just that.
A quick breakfast and some milk was enough to get us ready. Michel left first while I was still gathering my things. Femke and I left shortly after, while the sun was rising. I was pretty tired at this stage and it took a whole hour for my limbs to wake up.
It wasn’t long before I met Michel and walked through Moratinos, a small hamlet isolated in the meseta. It was still asleep as we passed through it and I was amazed by a Hobbit-Like house being built. I guess it wasn’t more than 8 am at this stage.
We pass more towns without stopping and we hear Franco and his cart running behind us. Now that was quick. I don’t know how he does it.
Getting to Sahagun takes forever but for a town with a population of over 10,000, it looked sparse and sleepy. We passed through it in 10 minutes, before taking pictures of the town church ruins and statutes. They litter the Camino but they are so old.

We walk in pairs for a while as the path turns from a gravel path into a senda at the side of the road. There is a whole 10km of this before we reach Bercanios de Real Camino at around midday. The municipal Albergue didn’t open until 1.30 so the four of us had an hour and a half to kill before we got to our beds. A perfect time to wash and dry clothes!
The Albergue in Bercianos is one you should try to go to. It is a run by a religious order and is donativo. A lot of people oversee it and walk to El Burgo Ranero but it is a gem.
Tomorrow is a long day and is my penultimate day. We are making it long so we have a lot of time in Leon on Thursday.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 11 – Bercianos de Real Camino to Mansilla de las Mulas – June 6th ’13

Today was a tough day.
The heat was a little too much and walking for more than 25km, made the feet sore. Still no blisters though. Happy days!
I woke up earlier than anyone else in the room, around 5.15am. We were told the evening before that the albergue would not open until 6 am so there was no hurry. I got my pack ready and headed out the door. Not before the Italian sister gave us a traditional Italian goodbye.
Today, the 5 of us, Franco, Michel, Tanya, Femke and myself left the albergue at the same time. The sun was rising and a glowing red lit the sky. My snoring from last night was brought up, much to my denial and bemusement.
The pace was slow, we took it easy. Over the next hour, we were met by Gary and his partner from Canada who were taking things much easier than us. Six of us headed on to El Burgo Ranero, the first town that we passed today. It is another small town who are dependant on the Camino. Again, this town was sleepy and only had one bar open at the time. Most folks walked to this town yesterday as it is a recommended stop off point in a few manuals.
I stopped off for a drink and stayed for a few minutes with the girls and the Canadian couple. Franco and Michel walked ahead and it would be a while before I caught up with them.
From then on, around 9 am, I walked by myself and the heat was getting a little too much for my liking. I had plenty of water though. The scenery was still amazing but had not changed from the time we stepped into the meseta. Fields and fields of freshly cut grass and the same fields turning into gold.
I’ve also learned that I’m a very fast walker when I’m alone and it wasn’t long before I was overtaking people while wishing them a Buen Camino. I met a chap from Wexford who was on his way to Finisterre. He had met all the Irish people I had met previously and he had stories to tell from his weeks on the trail. He was taking his time as he had this time to take. Unfortunately, I need to be in Leon for a certain date.
I moved on and after half hour or so, I met Franco and Michel closer to Mansilla de Los Mulas. We walked into the town and attempted to find the Albergue. The municipal is recommended but did not open until 12.30, we have an hour to spare.
We checked in, paid the €5 and grabbed the showers. After some time, the girls walked in after taking it slow. Maybe it’s best to do that. I will be doing that tomorrow.
Last day jitters.

Camino Francés 2013 – Day 12 – Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon – June 7th ’13

Well here I am, sitting in a hotel room and I’ve come to the end of my Camino. Logrono to Leon, 12 days long. I knew this day would come but I’ve not thought about it. Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve been taking each day as it comes and sticking to the same routine. I think I’ll be awake at 5 am every day for the next while until I re-adjust. The thought of using a washing machine to clean my clothes will be considered a luxury and I won’t need a sleeping bag for a while just yet.
But no matter how little I lived on over the last while and how basic my life has been, I enjoyed it. A small backpack, boots and a fit body were all I needed and it is so easy for anyone to do the same. I saw people of all ages, the retired, elderly, students and middle-aged people like myself take part. It’s not rocket science and all you need is a few weeks to spare.

Today, we started from the Albergue at Mansilla and we decided to take it easy. We left the albergue at close to 7 am today and I don’t think I’ve walked as slow since I started. The 5 of us talked about anything and everything while reminding each other that today is a slow day should we rush off. I’ve done that plenty of times before. I took plenty of pictures; more than I’ve taken in the last week. It wasn’t long before we created a large hill and saw the whole of Leon from a height. It’s a beautiful city and you can see it’s cathedral clearly on the right-hand side.
The walk into Leon isn’t attractive at all and a few folks take the bus in from the outskirts. But I wasn’t going to do that. Even though I was finishing today, I wanted to get to the cathedral. Seeing it from afar made me want to get their sooner.
We arrived eventually after another high climb and ran to a donut shop..it was like sugar to a bee. A donut and one smoothie, please. Nice! After that, I walked with the guys to their Albergue for the night, the Benedictine monastery. I don’t think this compares with the last few albergues.
I walk to my own pension that I have pre-booked before I left Dublin. It made sense to do so as the Albergue needs people to leave at 8 am at the earliest. My bus is at 3 pm tomorrow. A great sense of sadness came over me at that stage. There was no quick shower, washing clothes, and getting to talk to other pilgrims about their day. I sat in my room and wished I had arranged two or three more days walking. I sat there for 10 minutes at least and thought about the last 2 weeks and the people I have met. Sigh.
I needed to visit the cathedral to get some sort of completion. I paid the fee and walked around the monument taking in its stained glass windows, history and detailed craftwork. I also caught an impromptu performance by an American choir. The sound filled the cathedral. I finished up here and walked around the city before meeting Franco, Michel, Tanya and Carlos. Carlos has very limited English but I understood him fine with the Spanish I knew. He wished me a Buen Camino back home in Ireland before walking back to the albergue. The remainder took in the sights and had a MacDonald’s also. Wow, that tasted good. We decided to meet up later on that evening for some food and drinks.
Later on, we found a great restaurant just beside the Cathedral which still served Menu del Peregrinos. It was getting close to 7 pm at this stage and the Spanish people were coming out to eat so most restaurants there tend to finish serving pilgrims around 7 pm. The price was €15 for a three-course meal which is kind of steep for us but we sat down regardless. I really enjoyed this dinner. We talked about the last two week and I told them what parts to stay in after Leon. I was incredibly jealous of them heading off but tried not to show it. I gave them a keyring that I bought in Santiago last year and wanted them to place it on the Cruz de Ferro. I will buy another and keep it until next year hoping to do the same.
Until next year.

Homeward Bound

Well it is over a day since I said goodbye to my Camino buddies and while they have reached Hospital de Orbigo, I have left the city of Leon and have arrived in Bilbao. The trip up was long but when we reached Burgos, the scenery changed.
We climbed through hills, almost touching the clouds, almost the opposite to what I had experienced in the previous 2 weeks.
From Leon to Burgos, the bus followed most of the Camino de Santiago path passing through towns such as Mansilla de las Mulas, Carrion de Los Condes, Sahagun and eventually Burgos. I could see many pilgrims wandering around in the evening sun and sitting in bars lapping up vino. I thought ‘lucky sods’!
After Carrion, I got chatting to a German girl called Julie. She had just finished a 5 day stretch and was on her way home. She has been on many more Caminos than me and followed different routes but believes the French Way is by far the best. She just went on a whim for the few days.
I arrived into Bilbao just before 10pm and settled in for the night at Hotel Arriaga. It is a good 15 minutes drive from the bus station. The taxi driver knew no English but I got by with the Spanish I knew.
Now it is just after 8am (European Time) and my flight is at 4pm. I need to leave this room at 12 so I better get up and out. I am located just beside the Arriaga Theatre in the North of Bilbao just beside the train station.
The streets are very busy so there is no chance of me going back to sleep. I must be shaking from the Camino routine as I slept right through to 7am whereas I have been used to 5 am starts.
Next stop is Dublin.