It’s February and as I settle back to my new home (long story!), I begin to look ahead on the next few months. 2019 brought a record number of pilgrims to Santiago and the expectation is that this year, the numbers of visitors to Santiago will be higher. But I am here to write about my own walks and how I enjoy them. And I do enjoy them. The fact that I return each year shows you that I get great love from my time in Spain or Portugal. If I could spend longer, I would, but that’s for another blog post. I will make do with two weeks and a few days in Santiago once I arrive there.
I suppose I have an affinity with the coast. I was born and bred along the coast. I have lived with the sea breeze. Walking the Portuguese Coastal Route is somewhat special to me. It may not be the “true” Camino but having walked from A Guarda in 2018, I knew I would be back again. Am I even going as far as saying that the Portuguese Camino is more enjoyable than the Camino Frances? I will leave that for you to decide but it can have it’s benefits. The French Way will always have much more infrastructure – because more people walk it. On the Portuguese Camino, especially in September/ October when I do walk it, there will be less pilgrims but some albergues will be open.
I’m still conflicted, however, as the French Way has a small place in my heart. All those years on the meseta have had an effect on me!
Speaking of tomorrow, I will help with our local Camino association at their annual information event in Dublin. I think this is the 3rd one I have attended in St James Church and each one has been packed! It just shows that each year interest in the Camino is growing and people are always curious looking for the right information. I will be there on deck helping future pilgrims. We seem to get a great response each year. I will post some photos in my next post. Talk to you later.
I have mentioned before that I edit a digital magazine for Camino Society Ireland, Shamrocks and Shells. It gives me great joy giving back to the Camino and it keeps me out trouble! It is published every quarter and the whole aim is to showcase the Society’s events throughout that quarter. We also look to publish pilgrim experiences, book and film reviews and practical information. Anything that a future pilgrim might find useful.
At present, we have the start of growing list of pilgrim stories dating back to 2018 but we are always looking for more. Every pilgrim has a story to tell, no matter where you have walked. If you do plan on writing, your submission will not be published on this blog but on Shamrocks and Shells. If interested, you might send me an email here. Looking forward to hearing from you and Buen Camino!
It’s been a while since I wrote about the various towns that line the Camino Frances. In my last update, I talked about the towns of Maneru, Melide, Molinaseca, Manjarin, and Mansilla de las Mulas. Molinaseca is a favourite of mine. In this post, I’ll talk about some more towns. Again, if you have stayed in any of the below towns, please let me know how you got on in the comment box below!
Najera is a small town in the region of La Rioja. It is nearly 27km from the city of Logrono and has a population of over 7,000 people. The Najerilla river splits the town in two and on a sunny day, relaxing by the river after a long walk is a great idea! I passed through Najera myself in 2013, 2015 and again in 2018, and it looked like the town had been built right out of the hills. It is visually stunning. The main sight in Najera is the church of Santa María la Real which was founded by García Sánchez III of Pamplona in 1052.
There are many different options for accommodation in Najera. I have stayed once (in 2013). If you are walking from Logrono and feel up to walking more than 25km, stopping in Najera is a good choice. Many people prefer to stop in Ventosa, the town prior.
Navarrete is also situated in the La Rioja region, 12km from Logrono. I remember seeing it first in 2013. Picture postcard stuff. It was my first day walking and it was pretty warm. I was thinking of calling it a day but I knew I had a few more kilometres left to walk that day. I stopped for a moment and saw the town at the top of a hill ahead of vineyards and that gave me the energy to keep going. After an Aquarius, of course!
Over 2,000 people live in this small town, which is based at the bottom of a hill. The streets are small and winding but it is a lively town. There is a castle at the top of the hill and there is one theory that the castle was used for defensive reasons. Nafarrate in Basque means “Door of Navarre”. Anyway, Navarrete is a welcoming place nowadays and treat peregrinos like their neighbour. There are many different places to stay here, both municipal and private. I have stayed in Albergue La Casa del Peregrino and I’d recommend it.
Ok, so even seasoned veterans will find it hard to remember this town. It is that small. We move from La Rioja to Navarra where Obanos is situated. It has a population of around 700 people. It is the final town before Puente la Reina and many choose to stay here during busy times. The Camino de Aragones from Somport and the Frances meet here and continue to Santiago. Obanos holds the Gothic church of San Juan Bautista which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. I found it amusing on passing the town in 2014 to find the same banner hanging from the church.
There are a number of places to stay in Obanos however the majority of people prefer to walk an extra few kilometres to Puente la Reina. Keep an eye out for the town’s fiesta however, as the people who live there put on a play every second year for the pilgrims who pass through.
We start with possibly the largest town on the Camino, other than Santiago herself. When someone mentions San Fermin, “the running of the bulls”, Hemingway and “The Sun Also Rises”, you automatically think of Pamplona (or Iruña in it’s favoured Basque). Situated in Navarre, it is home to close to 200,000 people. The city is also famous for its “pinchos” and it’s always worthwhile to spend some time in the historic quarter where you can sample them (www.spain.info). As you make your way into Pamplona, you will pass a number of suburbs – Villava and Burlada – and finally see the town’s fortress walls. You are now entering the old town. There are many albergues, hostels, and hotels to choose from here (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in the municipal albergue. Pamplona is well worth a visit if you are not walking the Camino.
Staying in Navarre and only a further 25 km westward, we find Puente la Reina. The town was named as such as the bridge was built by Queen Doña Mayor, the wife of King Sancho III, to facilitate passage of pilgrims over the river Arga. It is a town heavily influenced by the Way to Santiago, with the remains of walls and several religious buildings in place. El Iglesia de Santiago was founded by the Knights Templars, who settled in there. Also worth mentioning are its large medieval bridge of five arches, and the church of San Pedro, from the 14th century. There are a number of places for the weary pilgrim to rest their head in Puente la Reina (Gronze); Albergue Jakue being one of the better ones.
Close to 300km further on down the Camino Frances, we reach Población de Campos. Calling Población de Campos a town would be a push, however, as nearly 200 people live here. A hamlet would be the appropriate word! It is situated in Castilla y Leon and is the next town to Fromista. In the village, you will find Church of the Magdalena; and the chapels of Socorro and San Miguel. I do remember stopping here for a cafe con leche in 2015, but I haven’t considered it as a stop-off point. There are a number of albergues here, however (Gronze). The following video shows you scenes of the town.
A further 100 km along the way, we arrive at Puente Villarente, a suburb of Leon. Named after it’s large Romanesque bridge, it has a population of approximately 150 people. I have passed through here on two occasions and wish I had stayed here as it is a long slog into the city of Leon. A footbridge was built recently for pilgrims to avoid any accidents on the busy main road. There are a number of albergues here also (Gronze); San Pelayo is getting good reviews.
Ponferrada is the capital of the El Bierzo region and is one of the major points of the Camino Frances. The historic quarter of this town sits below an imposing castle built by the Knights Templar. The Castle rises above the river Sil, dominating the city’s historic quarter. Construction began on this medieval fortress towards the end of the 12th century. It is also worth visiting the Museum of El Bierzo, located in Calle del Reloj, in the building which was the former prison. Its facilities provide an introduction to the history of Ponferrada. As with every large town, there are many places to stay (Gronze). I haven’t stayed here myself, preferring to stop in the town prior, Molinaseca.
Another small village located just outside a larger town. Pieros has a population of fewer than 50 people and is dependant on the Camino. Five kilometres along the way is the much larger Villafranca del Bierzo, in the Bierzo valley. Pieros is home to the fantastic Albergue El Serbal y Luna and don’t forget to take a pit stop at the Café Bar Arroyo (on the left-hand side of the road) before moving on.
Pereje is the first town you arrive at on leaving Villafranca del Bierzo; 5 km to be precise. However, it is worth noting that you will only see this town if you walk along the roadside. There are two alternative routes (via Dragonte and via Pradela) which skip a number of towns, but that’s for another day. Pereje is built just off the busy N6 motorway and also lies on the River Valcarce. I walked through Pereje on my way to O Cebreiro in 2012 and even though it was a tough day, Pereje is one of those towns that make you want to come back to Spain, open an albergue and give back. There is a great albergue and a pension to choose from here (Gronze). Leaving Pereje, you return to the N6 with Santiago on your mind.
The first thing you will notice as you approach Portomarin is the large bridge over the Mino river, following the climb of a number of steep steps into the village. But if you look close enough, you may see another bridge underneath. The reason for this is in the 1960s the Miño River was dammed to create the Belesar reservoir, putting the old village of Portomarín under water. The most historic buildings of the town were moved brick by brick and reconstructed in a new town, including its church – La Iglesia de San Juan in the main plaza. In the seasons when the dam is at a low level, the remains of ancient buildings, the waterfront, and the old bridge are still visible. Also, if you look close enough at the church, you will see numbers placed on the bricks, to ensure each brick is put back together! I walked through this town in 2011 and was fascinated by the history. There is no shortage of accommodation in Portomarin (Gronze).
Some 25 km after Portomarin and 70 km from Santiago, we arrive at Palas de Rei. It is a major stop-off point for pilgrims with plenty of facilities, albergues, and hotels (Gronze). The town is of pre-Roman origins and it was important in assisting pilgrims during the Middle Ages. At this point, you are only three days from Santiago.
20 km from Santiago, we arrive at O Pedrouzo. The Caminos del Norte, Primitivo and Frances all pass through this large town, so it can be a little busy during the summer months. Never-the-less, there is no shortage of accommodation (Gronze) and pilgrims usually use this town to get some rest before their arrival in Santiago. O Pedrouzo is the capital of the municipality of O Pino and has close to 600 people living there. This is unofficially the penultimate stop on the Camino Frances but it is possible to stay beyond here should you want to make your final day that little bit shorter.
This is a short video promoting the Portuguese Coastal Camino and it does a great job. September can’t come soon enough. However, I can’t help noticing that this particular pilgrim walked inland to Valenca instead of crossing the River Mino at Caminha.
This post will be slightly longer than the previous ones as I try to cram the towns beginning with “M” together into one post. Hopefully, the information provided will be of use to you. There are 9 in total from the province of Navarra right through to Galicia. Again, if you have stayed in any of the below towns, please comment and let me know of your experiences!
I had to search for my guidebook before I could write about this town. It is not one that springs to mind. Mañeru is a small village located between Puente la Reina and Ciraquai in the province of Navarra and you would be forgiven if you had forgotten about it. It has a population of just over 400 people. It is a Basque-speaking zone and on reaching this town, you will have 100 km walking completed from St Jean Pied de Port. I have not stayed here however, there is an albergue here if you did wish to stay the night (Gronze). On two occasions, I chose to stay in the larger Puente la Reina, one town previous, when I walked through Navarra in September 2014 and again in 2018.
Manjarín is a very unique place. It is mostly desolate and is situated between the Cruz de Ferro and El Acebo, high up in the Leon Mountains. At present, one of a few permanent inhabitants is Tomás, and according to him, he is one of the last Templar knights. In the mid-twentieth century, like many other mountain villages in Spain, Manjarín remained abandoned until 1993 when Tomás, mentioned above, took on the work of many other hospitaleros along the Camino de Santiago. He currently serves pilgrims during the whole year, even during winter, feeding and providing them a place to stay for the night. I would consider saying hello to him when you pass his refugio, even if you don’t plan on staying there.
After a good amount of road walking, arriving into Mansilla de las Mulas is something to look forward to. Having walked through Castilla y Leon on two occasions, I have stayed here once and loved it. Mansilla de las Mulas is a town in the province of Leon. It has a population of about 2000 inhabitants. The town lies on the River Esla and you will notice that on leaving the town. Mansilla is a walled town, just like Leon further on, and it is difficult not to notice these ruins on walking through the town. On arriving in Mansilla, you will see the monument of three worn-out pilgrims taking a rest. I took a rest with them in this picture..I’d say quite a few others did too. There is a wealth of albergues and pensions to choose from in Mansilla (Gronze). I found the Municipal albergue to be perfect. On leaving Mansilla, you are 19km away from Leon.
Melide is quite a large town in the province of A Coruna in Galicia. It has a population of 9,000 people and is one of the largest towns in Galicia. On reaching Melide, you will have 50km or 2-3 days left to reach Santiago. The history of this village is deeply linked with the pilgrimage to Santiago. Also during the last few centuries, like many villages in inner Galicia, it has suffered from a vast emigration. My only encounter with Melide was in 2011 when I walked from Sarria to Santiago. I stayed in the relatively plush surroundings of Hotel Carlos and had my pack transported for me. I walk a different kind of Camino nowadays, so Melide may shine a different light on me when I pass her next. For starters..there is so much history here (church of San Pedro and the cruciero of Melide – pictured). Melide is also famous for it’s pulpo, available at Casa Ezequiel. There are a vast array of albergues, pensions and hotels in Melide (Gronze).
Did you know that when you reach the 100 km marker on the Camino, you don’t actually have 100 km to walk? The true 100 km distance point is at a little Galician town called Mercadoiro. For such a tiny town, it has a well-recommended albergue (Gronze) that can act as an alternative to the more popular town of Portomarin.
Ah..Molinaseca, one of my favourite towns. After a rough 6-8 hours walk up and over the Leon Mountains, Molinaseca is a small oasis. At the entrance, you will see the shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows. The medieval pilgrims bridge, which has been recently restored, crosses the River Meruelo and you are then left at the start of Calle Real. The buildings in Molinaseca are typical of those in the El Bierzo region of Leon. It has a population of just under 800 people. I have stayed in this town twice, preferring it to Ponferrada, 8 kms further on. It is not rare to see pilgrims lying down by the river and soaking up the atmosphere. Some may even take a swim. I would gladly stay there again. I have only good memories of walking from Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca and staying there. There are many albergues and hostels in Molinaseca (Gronze) also. The main albergues are located on the main road as you leave the town, Albergue Santamarina being well recommended. Now, you have 220 km until Santiago – not long to go!
Moratinos is a small town in the province of Palencia. It has a population of just under 100 people and is situated in the meseta, just between Terradillos de los Templarios and Sahagun. When you enter the town, you will be greeted by a number of “bodegas”, or wine cellars, dug into a hill. There are a number of albergues and pensions here also (Gronze). I haven’t stayed here myself, but I would recommend Albergue Hospital San Bruno as they serve an amazing breakfast!
Another town that you can walk through very quickly. I walked through Morgade back in June 2011 and have yet to pass through it again. In a few years I will. How and ever, Morgade is situated in Galicia between Sarria and Portomarin. It is very typical of hamlets along the Camino in Galicia. This part of Spain is covered in green, just like here in Ireland. You are walking through farmland, in essence. It tends to rain a lot, so be prepared for inclement weather. I remember stopping here briefly in Casa Morgade for a cafe con leche and a sello. It was so welcome at the time as the walk from Sarria to Barbedelo is tough but worthwhile. If you are starting out your Camino in Sarria, it’s probably a little too early to stop for the day, but you should consider if your Camino starts earlier.
Murias is situated just under 5 kms after Astorga in the province of Leon. It is a beautiful village with it’s building constructed in the style of the La Maragatería. The parish church of San Esteban dates back to the eighteenth century. Just over 100 people live here. I have passed through this village on two occasions – 2012 and 2015. The problem with staying in Astorga and starting out early (like I do!) is that nothing is open when I pass through it. Murias was home to one of the most talked about cafes on the Camino Frances – Meson El Llar. Run by Pilar, El Llar is unfortunately closed but was very popular with pilgrims. There are a number of albergues and hostals here to consider also (Gronze).
I am probably the last to write one of these “end of year reviews”. I see many of my followers writing about their previous year. Some good, some bad. Me? I’m just walking a straight path at the moment with one eye for a short cut…
I feel very lucky to have walked two Caminos in 2019. Walking one with my brother was a highlight of the year. It was our 2nd Camino together, so he is no longer the newbie. The Camino Ingles / Celtic Camino is a great alternative to the walk from Sarria and I would really recommend it, especially if you don’t have the time. The few extra days walk on to Finisterre were special also. Arriving in Santiago and meeting camiga Linda topped off a perfect Camino.
In September, I had a few days annual leave spare so I decided to catch a flight to Lisbon and walk the Camino Portuguese. I gotta say it is one of the tougher Caminos out there and it is important that you don’t over-exert yourself on the first few days. The days can be long and there is alot of road walking but towns like Tomar, Coimbra, Santarem and Carlos’ Albergue Pinheiro’s really made up for it. I made it to Agueda, 60 km short of Porto while my pilgrim buddy walked on to Porto. I will go back one day to walk it over shorter days as I did over-exert myself at times. But with all Camino experiences, we live and learn and adjust for next time.
2019 saw me take up photography also. In January, I purchased a Canon 750d which I love and I have taken out on a few outings. I need more practice however and I have some good friends who give me feedback. I have purchased a DJI osmo Pocket which will be used for video and photos on my Caminos. The size of it won me over.
2019 saw me move from WordPress.com to a Self-hosted website and to be quite honest I see no benefit in the move. So in April, I will move back to WordPress.com. It was nice to try it out but unless you are looking to monetize your site, or build an audience/mailing list, there is no real advantage.
2020 will see me back on the Camino, there is no surprise there (more about these later).
May 15th – 19th – Kerry Camino – Tralee to Dingle
September 28th – October 8th – Portuguese Coastal Camino from Porto
I am looking forward to both walks, especially the return to the coastal route. Whether I turn inland at Caminha or continue on remains to be seen. I walk May’s Camino with my brother. The Kerry Camino is part of the Celtic Camino series and should I walk from A Coruna in the future, I would be entitled to a compostela. In September, I travel alone but I am sure to meet fellow pilgrims in Porto. It will more than likely be the final time I am in Santiago in a while as there are other routes I want to walk, so I will savour it.
I’m not going to make any wacky resolutions or predictions. I just want to be happy. Let’s see how that goes. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll change something. The Camino keeps my glass full and as long as I am wandering to Santiago while at the same time writing, I will have no need to complain.
I assume most of you reading this blog have experienced the Camino de Santiago in some shape or form. I have been lucky enough to have walked a number of Caminos since my first steps in 2011. I still have fond memories of that week’s walk from Sarria. Besides the blisters, no one forgets seeing the Cathedral for the first time. That said, I don’t claim to be the most knowledgable person on the Camino nor do I have time to walk all the Caminos available. But, I’m always happy to find myself on the road to Santiago and forever grateful to the people I meet.
Volunteering with Camino Society Ireland
Over the five or so years, I discovered the Camino Society of Ireland. I don’t know the exact date but it was at an information event. I became a member and I was quite happy with that. I had been keeping this blog for quite some time. On returning from a 2-week walk along the Camino Frances, I decided to volunteer in their information centre in Dublin. That was 2017. Two years have flown by. Now I am involved in Social media and edit the society’s quarterly magazine.
Shamrocks and Shells – a digital magazine
At the end of April 2020, Shamrocks and Shells will be 2 years old. All back issues are stored online. I have just finished the latest issue here and I’d really appreciate it if you could check it out.
I’m lucky my family appreciates that I enjoy wandering through Spain, Portugal and indeed Ireland with a backpack on my back. Santa (or my family, you decide) has been to the Smith household and he certainly is a pilgrim at heart. I have a number of walks planned for 2020 and these few gifts really hit the spot.
For preparation walks leading up to my Kerry Camino and my Portuguese Camino, I was surprised with an Osprey Daylite Plus pack. Not the first Osprey pack I own, this is the first Osprey 20 litre pack I own. I will still use my Lowe Alpine 35 litre for my Caminos, however this day pack is perfect for daily walks.
I was also surprised with replacement dry bags. These are essential if you are walking on a Camino, in my opinion. I was looking to buy these before I leave for Porto in September.
All in all, it was a good day with the family but I look forward to my first walk of the year. I hope you all had a good Christmas and were pleasantly surprised.
I will keep this short. I will write a longer post once the festivities are over. It’s kind of surreal that we are moving into a new decade, 2020. I remember the start of the millennium, so time is surely flying. I think that was one of the last times I truly rang in the New Year.
But we are not there yet. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and while many will still rush and worry about not “being ready”, in essence, the material things don’t matter at the end of the day.
Christmas is about family, friends and looking forward to good times ahead. I like to think of those who read this blog as my Camino family! So to all who read my posts and have supported me throughout the year, I wish you a Happy Christmas and the very best for 2020.
I have fond memories of my stroll from A Guarda to Santiago in May 2018 with my brother. We had fine weather apart from our day arriving in Santiago. If I had more time, I could have walked further but I was dipping my proverbial toes in the Portugues Camino at the time. I return in September 2020 to walk from Porto and I look forward to the day very much.
The next weekend watch is one that has been just recently been uploaded to YouTube and shows a pilgrim’s walk from A Guarda, along the coast to Santiago. All 160km. It looks like the weather was perfect too. Enjoy!
Clearskies Camino was born on returning from my second Camino de Santiago in June 2012. I had been writing a journal and had taken the odd photo while on the Camino Frances that it just made sense to write my thoughts online. 2012 became 2013 and my hobby became something more. Writing had never been part of my life but I guess the Camino gave me the inspiration to put finger to keyboard. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage but in my eyes, it is also a challenge. It is a great way of meeting people and a great way of getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life. There are many Caminos to Santiago from all across Europe, but my experiences have mainly been on Camino Frances; an ancient trail covering 800 kilometres across Spain starting in St Jean Pied de Port in the foothills of France and ending in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Clearskies Camino is everything Camino – I love writing and talking about the various Caminos to Santiago and if you are one of the many people who have walked these routes, you may well feel the same. I hope my talking about my times on the Camino helps you as you plan for yours. Feel free to browse and “like” any of my posts and if you have any questions, please feel free to comment.