The Camino Through My Eyes #4 – Maggie Woodward

The “Camino Through My Eyes” series is becoming a big success and I’d like to thank you all for stopping by. It’s interesting reading other people’s perspectives and it sure backs up the phrase “No two Caminos are the same”. Last week’s contribution from Terry McHugh has seen quite a bit of traffic since I posted it.

This week I am delighted to introduce to you Maggie Woodward. Maggie is just fresh from completing the Camino Mozarabe, and she has posted a YouTube video, so check that out. I asked for Maggie’s thoughts to the questions I posed to my previous guests. By the way, you can find Maggie over on Facebook so make sure you give her a “like”, and her website magwood.me is packed with information for anyone about to take on the Camino. I’d like to thank Maggie for her time.

1) How did you first hear about The Camino de Santiago and when did you decide to walk it?

I’m not sure how I became aware of it.  I knew it existed but had no thought of walking the Camino until my daughter invited me to join her.  She wanted to walk the Camino to celebrate her 30th birthday.  I had never walked for pleasure before, so needed to do a lot of training.  So my first Camino was the Frances route from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago and Finisterre in April / May 2013.  I suppose I started to train seriously 2-3 months prior to setting off.

2) I find that planning for an upcoming Camino can be almost as enjoyable as walking it. How did you research and plan The Camino de Santiago? 

I googled and discovered two pilgrim forums where I could find every piece of information I needed.  I also searched for blogs of people who had walked.  My daughter and I had originally planned to only walk for a couple of weeks, but the more research I did the more I realised that I wanted the ‘real deal’ – to walk from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela and beyond to Muxia and Finisterre.  So yes, I have to agree with you that research is all part of the journey, and the planning for my first Camino was very exciting – I thought of little else for quite a few months.

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3) What advice or tips can you give future pilgrims walkers who might be considering walking The Camino de Santiago? 

    • Try not to have any pre-conceived ideas.
    • Be open minded.
    • If staying in albergues, take ear plugs.
    • Walk your own pace, don’t try to adjust to someone else’s – you can always stop and wait for walking partners at certain points along each stage.
    • Be aware that you are likely to hurt, a lot, for the first couple of weeks, but it will all get easier as you go along.  Three Caminos down the line, I don’t even think about taking my boots off now when I arrive at my destination, whereas on my first Camino the thought of removing my boots was never far from my mind.
    • Seriously consider using trekking poles.
    • Turn around often and look back at the view from where you have walked

4) Did you face any challenges?

Knee pain on my first Camino – I took many painkillers (pilgrim’s candy), but on subsequent Caminos this has not been a problem. I have always stayed in Albergues and I was always more worried about the lack of privacy in dormitory accommodation than about the actual walking.  It can be difficult, especially when beds are pushed close together so that it is like sharing a double bed with a total stranger (and some pilgrims can be very strange!).  I still find this a bit of a strain, as I do like my own ‘space’, but I still choose to use Albergues rather than private Hostales.

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5) I’m a big fan of Spanish food and drink. What were your three favorite traditional meals along the route?

I have had a few exceptional meals along three Caminos, probably most enjoyable on the Portuguese – good hearty soups in particular.  But I am not a fan of the pilgrim’s menu, which is often poor quality, carbo loaded to fuel an empty tank.  I much prefer a single course of quality food or to make myself a lovely salad. I miss fruit and vegetables when I am walking – I eat a lot of fruit at home but surprisingly it is  not always easy to buy in small villages along the route.

6) Molinaseca and Belorado are favourite towns of mine along the Camino. Do you have a favourite spot?

I also loved Molinaseca but most of all I loved the tiny stone villages – most particularly Santa Catalina de Samoza, which has been tarnished now due to the murder of Denise Thiem in that area.  To be honest, on my first Camino I was too tired by the time I arrived at my destination to have any energy for sightseeing.  But I got to know and absolutely fell in love with Santiago de Compostela. On my second and third Caminos I had much more energy after my arrival at each stage and did plenty of sightseeing.  On the Portuguese route there are countless beautiful towns and cities to admire and enjoy and also on the Mozárabe.
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7) One can feel a range of emotions on arriving into Santiago de Compostela and seeing the Cathedral standing tall in he Praza de Obradoiro. How did you feel when you completed your Camino?
On arriving at the cathedral for the first time back in 2013 I was overcome with emotion.  I am not a religious person but something about this majestic place, coupled with the joy at having reached my destination, left me lost for words and only able to sink onto a pew and weep uncontrollably.  I am always drawn to the cathedral when I am in Santiago – it means a great deal to me.
My reaction on reaching the cathedral at the end of the second and third Caminos was not much different to the first experience.

8) Looking back, do you think you were prepared for your first Camino de Santiago? Have you or would do something different?

I was as prepared as I could have been, as a newbie to long distance walking.  I had researched and prepared very well.  There is very little I would have done differently – maybe I should have been more independent of my daughter, who is an experienced traveller and backpacker – I should have let her do her own thing a bit more.  But I couldn’t have been too overbearing because she wants to walk with me again next year.

Camino 2013 – Day 12 – Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon

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 5am 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 7am 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 crested 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 8am at the earliest. My bus is at 3pm 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 7pm at this stage and the Spanish people were coming out to eat so most restaurants there tend to finish serving pilgrims around 7pm. 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.

Camino 2013 – Day 11 – Bercianos de Real Camino to Mansilla de las Mulas

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 6am 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 9am, 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 learnt 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 has 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 2013 – Day 10 – Terradillos de Templarios to Bercanios de Real Camino

We decided the evening before to leave before 6am 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. Myself and Femke 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 8am at this stage. We talked about the strange Australian man who we met the previous night. He had run into us in the past and was hoping to be part of the group. Not to be.
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 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 over see it to 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.

I’m having a lot of difficulty in finding wifi and all the places I stay don’t have it. So my posts will be a little scattered. When I find wifi I will fill in the gaps.

Camino 2013 – Day 8 – Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de los Condes

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 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 7am, 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 a main road. It was kind of ugly to say the least and it was a day I did not enjoy. 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 decide to take it show and hope some of the girls catch up. There is 6km left to the next town and it is hardly 11am.
It is close to 12am 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 in to 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 walk over the decorations and march to the main square for food and drinks. 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 2013 – Day 7 – Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino

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 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 drived 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 it’s 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 far ahead from me now as my pace dropped off. The heat had a big effect on me. 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.
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 2013 – Day 6 – Burgos to Hontanas

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.

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We moved on cursing its concrete paving as we did so. There is a lot to see in Burgos but I wished I moved to the next town, away from the bright lights and nonchalant people.
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, 11am 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!

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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.