Skip to content

The Best of a New Year…

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 continue my involvement with Camino Society Ireland by publishing its digital magazine. That will continue into 2020.

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.

Here’s to 2020.

Shamrocks & Shells

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.

A happy pilgrim at Christmas!

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.

Join 1,120 other followers

Happy Christmas / Feliz Navidad

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.

Weekend Watch #63 – Life’s a Beach – the Portuguese Coastal Camino

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!

One sunny day in Dublin, I took a walk…

Some say I’m a dreamer. In the past, It has gotten me into some trouble. Looking out windows wishing I could be somewhere else, only to focus on the task at hand. I used to think it was a habit but in my formative years, it wasn’t the case.

Last week, I turned another year on the calendar. I usually take a day off work to celebrate. However, the week before I wanted to celebrate the day by giving something back. What could I do? I could walk! I am good at that!

The Saturday beforehand I created a birthday fundraiser on Facebook with all funds going to Epilepsy Ireland. Epilepsy is a condition I have lived with for nearly 30 years and Epilepsy Ireland do great things spreading awareness and provide assistance to those with epilepsy and their families.

I saw the weather forecast for Monday, the 16th, It was due to be sunny but cold. Perfect walking weather. So the decision was made. I would walk from Dun Laoghaire in the south of Dublin to Howth Harbour, 24kms in total. Dublin’s own coastal Camino. We also call it the Sli na Slainte, the Harbour to Harbour or Celtic Camino. For me, it was just an opportunity to give back.

Dun Laoghaire

I got off the 8.30 am train at Dun Laoghaire, tired. It was frosty but quiet at the Harbour. I started to walk northbound with the sea on my right-hand side. The route hogs the coast until it reaches Seapoint where it diverts to the town. At every given opportunity, I reached back to the sea. I passed a few Martello towers, built by the British during the 19th century, for defensive reasons.

I arrived at the River Liffey and the Northside close to midday but I was nowhere near finished at this stage. I had 11km completed, although I had the drab East Wall road to walk down. This was the heart of industrial Dublin.

The River Liffey

One of the nicer parts of the northside is Clontarf and it was a joy to walk along the coast here. There is a good area for walking and cycling right until Bayside – another 5 km away.

Just after 2 pm, and 24km later, I arrived in Howth. I must admit I was tired but very content. I didn’t stick around and returned home for some rest.

I just want to thank everyone who gave a few euros for the fundraiser. Together we raised over €200 and I’m super proud of that. I might make this an annual thing and walk a different route each year, who knows? This was a win-win for everyone. I got to witness the beauty of Dublin one more time (I have walked this route many a time) and helped a great cause.

Towns Along the Way – “I – L”

We are back! Let’s get right into it! Again, if you have stayed in any of these towns, please feel free to comment and let me know of a good or bad experience.

Itero de la Vega (map)

Yet another small town with just over 200 people living there. It is situated between Castrojeriz and Boadilla del Camino in Palencia and is the first town you will encounter after climbing the rugged Alto de Mostalares. You are on the Meseta plain now. Your feet will thank you if you stop here for a rest. I have passed through this town on a number of occasions and stopped for a bite to eat before stopping in Boadilla del Camino for the night. The town has plenty of albergues (Gronze) and all in all, from my time passing through, it looks like a pleasant place. In 2013, before entering the village, I was greeted by a BBC filming crew who were recording a series about Pilgrimages across the world. While I was asked a number of questions, there were no cameras used. Shame….I could have been famous! 🙂

Laguna de Castilla (map)

The last town in Leon you will pass and the last town before arriving at O Cebreiro. Laguna de Castilla or La Laguna is home to just over 30 people and is pretty rural. There is also a great albergue there – La Escuela (Gronze). This albergue is probably overlooked as most people want to reach the top of the hill and O Cebreiro.

Larrasoaña (map)

While technically not on the Camino itself, it is listed as an end-stage town in Brierley’s guidebook, causing a bit of confusion. To access Larrasoaña, you cross a gothic bridge aptly named “Puente de los Bandidos“.

It is situated in Navarra between Zubiri and Pamplona and is home to over 130 people. The town has plenty of albergues (Gronze) and many people walk from Roncesvalles and stay the night there. I chose to stay in Zubiri a few kilometres before, in September 2014. The Dutch volunteers in Roncesvalles placed a notice in the albergue that bed bugs were found in the main municipal in Larrasoaña, causing a little bit of panic. However, when I reached Larrasoaña a number of days later, it was discovered that they were in the middle of their fiesta. I didn’t cross the bridge to enter the town that day, but chose to walk on.

Lavacolla (Map)

When you reach Lavacolla, you will know that you don’t have far to go to Santiago. Home to just under 200 people, it is also home to Santiago airport. Watch out for the planes flying overhead as you pass through this suburb. It is in fact 10km away from the cathedral. Should you wish to stay here, there are a number of hostales (Gronze) although personally, I would be eager to reach my destination! Lavacolla is also where medieval pilgrims used to wash before arriving at Santiago.

Leboreiro (Map)

Another town within a stone’s throw of Santiago, 60km in fact. It is located between Palas de Rei and Melide and has a population of just over 60 people. There are no listed albergues or hostales in this hamlet so Melide is the next town, 5km further on, should you wish to find somewhere to stay.

Lédigos (Map)

Further back on the Camino, Lédigos is located between Carrion de los Condes and Terradillos de los Templarios. It is in Palencia and is home to barely 6o people. It is so small that you can pass through it within minutes.

In 2013, I walked through it, but in May 2015, I stayed in El Palomar albergue. At that time, there was one albergue but now there are two (Gronze). Lédigos is very much a rustic town so if you are looking to stay somewhere that is not an albergue, then Terradillos would be the place.

Lestedo (Map)

Back in Galicia, Lestedo is situated just outside Palas de Rei. You will have just over 70 kms to walk when you reach here. It is home to just under 50 people and has a few albergues to choose from (Gronze). My tip – keep walking to Palas de Rei as you will have a greater selection of facilities there.

Ligonde (Map)

Ligonde is another hamlet in Galicia, situated between Portmarin and Palas de Rei. You will have just under 80 kms left to Santiago when you arrive here. Not that far to go! It has a number of albergues that are popular (Gronze). This is another town I passed through, the last time I walked in Galicia in 2011.

Liñares (Map)

The final town in Galicia for this post is Liñares. It is the first hamlet after O Cebreiro (3km afterward). It has a population of just over 60 people and has one casa rural to its name (Gronze). It’s not noted as a Camino town but as it is on the Camino, it was best to mention it!

Linzoáin (Map)

Linzoáin (or Lintzoain) is situated in Navarra, between Roncesvalles and Zubiri. It is home to just over 60 people. While based on the Camino, it does not have any albergues nor does not have any facilities.

Lorca (Map)

Albergue La Bodega del Camino

Lorca (or Lorka in Basque) is also based in Navarra, close to Estella. It has a population of just under 150 people and has a number of albergues (Gronze). I have stopped off here for a cafe con leche in 2014 and again in 2018. The stage from Puente la Reina to Estella hugs the main road so the stop off here provides some light relief. The albergues have received some good reviews so I will pencil in a stop the next time I walk through this area.

León (map)

León is the capital of the province of the same name and one of the most important cities on the Camino. It is situated between Sahagun, to the east, and Ponferrada, to the east. It is also the place where the Camino del Salvador starts. Over 131,680 people call this city home. It was originally founded as a Roman city, and their walls still stand to this day (below). I passed through in 2013 and witnessed a celebration of this Roman heritage. Actors celebrated the past by role-playing combat, just outside the large Cathedral de Santa Maria.

2013-06-07 12.37.48

León’s historical and architectural heritage make it a destination of both domestic and international tourism. Some of the city’s most prominent historical buildings are the Cathedral (below), the finest example of French-style classic Gothic architecture in Spain, the Basilica de San Isidoro, one of the most important Romanesque churches in Spain and the Hostal de San Marcos.

2013-06-06 11.33.32.jpg

One of my greatest memories of León is from 2013. I had finished my Camino for that year and was due to travel back home to Ireland the following day. I had said my goodbyes to my fellow peregrinos who were staying in the main albergue. I was downbeat. I decided to visit the Cathedral. While inside, I spent a good 30 minutes listening to a choir sing. They lifted my spirits. I later learned that they were also pilgrims who were travelling on to Santiago. That memory will stick with me.

2013-06-06 10.03.54

On reaching León, you will have over 300km to walk before arriving at Santiago de Compostela. Many pilgrims use León as a starting point to Santiago and gain their compostela. Here you can find plenty of albergues and hostales, as with all major cities (Gronze). In 2012 and 2013, I stayed in the very comfortable Posada Regia and in 2015, I rested my weary head and feet in Leon Hostel, which is just beside the Cathedral.

If you have a few hours to spare after your walk into León, talk a walk around the small streets and plazas and soak up the atmosphere. This video shows you some of this fine city.

Logroño (Map)

Logroño is the capital of the La Rioja province in northern Spain. The population of the city is just over 150,000 and is the largest city you will walk through after leaving Pamplona 3 to 4 days earlier. The city is the centre of trade in Riojan wine. You should arrive in Logroño in 7 or 8 days if you follow Brierley’s guide.

Walking into Logroño is far from attactive as the Camino hugs the main road. Some choose to by-pass the city as a result and walk to Navarrete. You will spot the large green “Comunidad de La Rioja” sign before you enter the city and later on the “Puente de Piedra” bridge over the Ebro river. Logroño awaits you at this stage.

There are plenty of places to stay (Gronze) also. There are over 50 “taperías” located near the town centre. The traditional tapas restaurants often serve only one tapa, meaning one serving, or media ración (half portion), a small plate of tapas. Calle de Laurel, known as “the path of the elephants” is the main street where restaurants and tapas bars offer some of the best pinchos and tapas in northern Spain. Calle Portales is the main street in the old town, where people like to walk and sit in the terraces to eat a meal or drink wine. Finally, make sure you visit the Co-catedral de Santa María de la Redonda close to Calle Portales. It is also in the old town and was designated a protected building in 1931. The cathedral, while not as large as Leon or Burgos, is a fine work of art.

And here is Logrono in 5 minutes:

Los Arcos (Map)

Los Arcos (meaning The Arches in English) is a town in Navarra, much smaller than Logroño, with over 1,000 inhabitants. It is situated between Estella and Logroño. It has a number of albergues, all of which have received good reviews (Gronze). The town has a large main plaza which always seems to be filled with pilgrims. The church of Santa Maria is worth a visit for its exquisite design. I managed to stay in Los Arcos in September 2018 on my way to Burgos. The albergue Casa de la Abuela is one of the best and I loved my time there.

arcos

Weekend Watch #62 – Maddi on the Camino Frances

It’s the weekend again, and we have another clip from YouTube for you. In this clip, Maddi takes us from St Jean Pied de Port on the Camino Frances. Her Camino was not without suffering however due to the recurrence of a previous injury but her determination led her to Santiago. This is a super video and the ending is emotional.

Towns Along The Way – “H”

Onwards and upwards in the Camino alphabet, we go. We must be near the end! The next letter we meet is H and there are a few. One is in France, four are in Castilla y Leon, and two are in Galicia. Again, please comment if you have stayed in any of these towns.

Honto / Huntto (map)

I have seen many variations in the spelling of this place name, however, this is not so much a town but an area in the Saint Michel region of France. You will pass it within an hour of leaving St. Jean Pied de Port if you choose to walk the Napoleon route. While there are bars and accommodation in Honto (gronze.com), it’s probably best to keep focused on the climb ahead and celebrate when you reach Orrison a further 3km up the road. The road up to Honto is entirely on asphalt but it leaves the road shortly after and gets a lot steeper to Orrison. Enjoy the scenery also as the road gets higher!

Hornillos del Camino (map)

Hornillos is situated about 20 km from Burgos and is in the meseta region of Spain. The meseta is known for being flat, with roads lasting long into the distance. The towns are few and far between and often are unremarkable. Hornillos would be one of these unremarkable towns; it seems as if history left it behind. While it has plenty of accommodation (gronze.com) I prefer to stay in the next town, Hontanas, a further 10 km up the road. The photo above gives you an idea of the vastness of the meseta plain with Hornillos in the distance. The picture was taken from Alto del Meseta some 2 km away.

Hontanas (map)

Hontanas is also situated some 30 km from Burgos. The name is derived from a number of natural springs (fontanas) that can be found in the locality. If you choose to walk the 31km from Burgos (like I have), don’t let the flat landscape deter you but keep on walking. It is a favourite of many pilgrims! Hontanas is built in a valley so it is very difficult to spot the town at first but when you see the church steeple you will be surprised. I have stayed in the municipal albergue at the edge of town on both occasions that I have been here, but there are other albergues (gronze.com) so it is worth looking around.

Hospital de Órbigo (map)

There are number of towns that I have passed through but wished to have stayed for longer. La Faba is one and Hospital de Orbigo is another. Situated between Leon and Astorga, it is a major stopping point for many pilgrims. The town is home to the Puente de Orbigo, a long stone medieval bridge. There is also so much history behind the bridge and the town. There are just over 1000 people living in Hospital de Orbigo. You have quite a good selection of albergues here also (gronze.com) with Albergue Verde being one I would recommend. On leaving the town, the road splits in two. One takes you along the main road, while the other takes you off-road through Villares de Orbigo.

Hospital da Cruz (map)

Hospital da Cruz is a rural hamlet located between Portomarin and Palas de Rei in Galicia. It is just over 80 km from Santiago and has just under 50 people living there. The town has a municipal albergue (gronze.com) and a number of bars for a mid-morning cerveza or cafe con leche!

Hospital da Condesa (map)

Yet another town named Hospital. It’s getting difficult to distinguish between the three! Condesa is located just 6 km from O Cebreiro. It has a population of just under 50 and again is a rural-based hamlet. There is a municipal albergue (gronze.com) and bars with good reviews. While you pass through, you will notice the Church of San Xoan (Saint Joan in English). From here on, you have a steady ascent to Alto do Poio.

Las Herrerías de Valcarce (map)

And the final town starting with H is Las Herrerias de Valcarce. Las Herrerias is situated between Villafranca del Bierzo and O Cebriero. The placename means The Blacksmiths in English. Interesting. The town is right beside the Valcarce river and is the last stop before the road climbs to La Faba. There are about 39 people living here at present. Myself, I haven’t stayed here, preferring to pass through quickly in 2012. There is an albergue here along with a number of pensions (gronze.com). Shortly after you leave Las Herrerias, you leave the asphalt road to La Faba. It’s a tough climb but it is well well worth it. Enjoy it!

My next post in this series will focus on Itero de la Vega, Linzoáin, Larrasoaña, Lorca, Los Arcos, Logroño, Lédigos and León. See you then!

Towns Along The Way – “G”

Onwards we go to the next letter in the ‘Towns Along The Way’ alphabet. There are 3 towns beginning with G; one in Castilla y Leon, another in La Rioja and the last in Galicia. Again, please comment if you have stayed in any of these towns.

Grañón (map)

Roughly 8 days into your Camino, you will meet GrañónIt is situated between Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Belorado in the La Rioja province of northern Spain. It has a population of just over 300 people. On entering the village, it seems like it doesn’t have much to offer but one of its highlights is Iglesia de San Juan Bautista. The church offers basic accommodation to pilgrims, and you can sleep in its bell tower and look at the stars if you wish (gronze.com). I have passed through Grañón on 2 occasions, preferring to walk to Belorado. In 2013, I passed through in minutes as the weather was poor; however, in May 2015, I stopped for over an hour for a few cervezas. So if you are passing through, my advice is to stop here and stay in San Juan Bautista.

El Ganso (map)

Calling El Ganso a village is a stretch as it consists of a number of derelict buildings, a cowboy bar and is home to 36 people. Nevertheless, the Way passes through it and I will mention it. El Ganso is Spanish for “The Goose” and it is based in Castilla y Leon. On reaching this town, you will notice that the terrain starts to gradually ascend until you reach the highest point in Spain – the Cruz de Ferro. As mentioned above, the Cowboy Bar is one of the oddities of the Camino. I stopped by in May 2015 and again in 2017 for a second breakfast and was treated very well by the owner. There is an albergue here and I know of people who have stayed here (gronze.com). It is advisable to pit-stop either here or at the town previous (Santa Catalina) as you have a nice climb ahead of you.

Gonzar (map)

Gonzar is one of many small hamlets in Galicia. It is 8 kms from Portmarin and you have approximately 90km to walk before reaching Santiago. I have little memory of this town since walking through Galicia in 2011. Some pilgrims choose to stay here instead of the usually busy Portomarin (gronze.com).

My next post in this series will move on up the alphabet and focus on Honto, Hornillos del Camino, Hontanas, Hospital de Órbigo, Hospital da Condesa, Hospital da Cruz and Las Herrerías. See you then!