26 days to go…

26 days until Camino numero siete. I can’t wait…no, literally! This feeling doesn’t get old.

And naturally enough, I want to bring you along with me…well, not carry you, but you know what I mean! I hope to write about my 2 weeks away and I hope it will be useful to most of you. But I won’t be doing that while in Spain. No, I plan to start writing when I touch back home in Dublin. The blog will be barren for a number of weeks from the start of September, but I hope you understand. The goal is to journal (write with a pen!!) while abroad and use those thoughts as part of my posts. So I don’t want to keep you out of the loop! No, quite the opposite!!

I will be posting quite a few photos of interest while on the Camino on Instagram (@clearskiescamino) and the occasional post on my Facebook group page. So if you want to follow me while I walk and you use either Instagram or Facebook, add me on either. Or even both if you wish :). If not, I hope you don’t mind sticking around until the 16th of September when I start to process my thoughts.

I’ll write more until I go on the 4th. Until then, Buen Camino!

Indecision…

My 2017 Camino has come in many different shapes and sizes. First, I was to walk from Porto to Santiago. Then, I decided on the Camino Ingles from Ferrol. And finally I returned to familiarity and the Camino Frances. I suppose I have a special friendship with the French Way, but in time, I will dip my toes in other routes.

After deciding on a start from Astorga, I longed for the meseta and moved my starting position to Logrono. Yes!..Logrono was to be my final starting place. No more changes. I’ll stick to my guns. Weeeelll, that didn’t last long as I have pushed forward my first steps to Burgos. With the 11-12 days I have, I should see Astorga, or even further depending on the weather. Once I made my mind up, I cancelled my bus to Logrono from Barajas T4 and booked a bus to Burgos. I’ve reserved a litera in Albergue Hostel Burgos, on Calle Miranda, literally less than a minute away from the estación de autobuses. Day One will begin early the following day as I make way for Hontanas, another favourite stop of mine.

The countdown continues in earnest, but I just hope I don’t change my mind again!

Weekend Watch #16 – The Meseta

It’s the weekend once again, folks, and another “weekend watch” is due. This clip shows one man’s walk from the start to the end of the Meseta on the Camino Frances. The Meseta is the central Spanish tableland, which divides the Camino Frances between Burgos and Astorga. It is a part of Spain known among pilgrims for its wide skies and flat lands, all of which mess with perceptions of time and distance. Some people find this part of the Camino daunting as it is likely to get under your skin, test your mind, and confront your heart. As a result, many people choose to skip this section by bus. I have walked the Meseta in 2013 and 2015 and much prefer it to Galicia or Navarra. I can’t wait to go back!

You can also find my Camino de Santiago playlist here.

Towns Along The Way – “B”

This second installment of the “Towns Along the Way” series brings us to “B”. There are a wealth of towns starting with “B” so I might as well start by talking about them. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has stayed in any of the below towns. What have your experiences been? Good, bad, indifferent?

Barbadelo (map)

camino-de-santiago-frances-barbadelo-a-mercadoiro-riachueloOne of the first villages you will arrive at on leaving Sarria. In fact, it is 3km from Sarria. It is situated in the province of Lugo and with a population of less than 50, you know you are in Galicia as most of the surrounding area is green. I passed through here in 2011 and vividly remember the large oak tree and half-road-half-stream (left). The village has a number of albergues (www.gronze.com) which you may choose instead of the “mayhem” of Sarria. I hope to visit these parts again in 2016 so my memory is refreshed.

Belorado (map)

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Aha..now I could go on for quite a while about this particular town. It is one of my favourite parts of the Camino. Why you may ask? Well, each time I have stayed here or passed through I have been treated exceptionally well. And I will make sure I visit again on my next Camino. The town itself is located 50km to the west of Burgos and has a population of over 2,000 people. It is also situated close to the Oca Mountains and if the weather is poor, it is not uncommon to see some people take the bus direct to Burgos. Belorado is a well kept town with plenty of murals on the wall. There is a large town plaza with plenty of places to eat. The film “The Way” was shot here also, and if you look at the ground you will see a handprint and autograph of a number of the stars from the film. There are plenty of accommodation here also (www.gronze.com). Cuatro Cantones albergue would be a favourite of mine, having stayed there in 2013 and 2014. Jana and her family will take good care of you. I stayed in Casa Waslala in 2015 and enjoyed my time there also.

Bercianos del Real Camino (map)

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Another example of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town along the Camino. Bercianos is a small town about 10km west of Sahagun and it has a population of roughly 200 people. While it is small, it has great character and I have enjoyed my time here. The terrain in this part of Spain is pretty basic, it has to be said, but my time here, I will always remember. If you do opt to stay here (rather than in El Burgo Ranero a further 8km onward), ensure you stay in the Parochial albergue run by a voluntary order (www.gronze.com). It is large, you will be fed well and all you need to do is sing a song from your own country. Rest assured that Bono will never feel threatened after my singing of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m looking for”!!.

Biduedo (map)

Biduedo, or O Viduedo as Galicians call it, is a tiny village about 7kms from Triacastela. It is a typical rural community with close to 30 people living there. It does it’s best to serve the peregrinos passing through by having a number of private albergues (www.gronze.com) and there are a number of bars to stop at for a few minutes to rest the weary legs. One might find this town the perfect place to stay during the busy times of the Summer months.

Boadilla del Camino (map)

2266129Another pilgrim’s favourite and an end stage in Brierley’s guide book. It’s a favourite of mine and I have stayed here both times I have walked through. It is situated about 60km to the west of Burgos and is in the Meseta, Spain’s high central plateau. The town has a population of about 175 people and lives mainly on agriculture. However in recent years, it depends more on the Camino with more albergues and bars opening to support the increasing numbers. There are quite a few albergues and hostals here (www.gronze.com). By far my favourite would be “En El Camino” owned by Eduardo and his family. I have stayed there in 2013 and in 2015. You are provided with dinner there also. On leaving the next morning, you may even spot some fishermen look for the first catch of the day along the Canal de Castilla.

Boente (map)

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You will encounter Boente as you walk from Palas de Rei to Arzua in Galicia. It is another small town with a population of less than 50 people and is fairly close to Arzua. It is highly likely that you will not remember much about Boente by the time you reach Santiago. This is perfectly natural however, as at this stage you will have 50km left to walk and you will be trying to think of ways of how to slow time down! Should you wish to stay here and not in Arzua, there are a number of albergues (www.gronze.com).

Burgos (map)

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Burgos is one of the largest cities that you will encounter on the Camino, along with Pamplona, Leon, Astorga and Santiago herself. It has a population of over 200,000 people and is in the autonomous community of Castille y Leon. It is a fairly large city and there is a good distance to walk before you at it’s heart – the Cathedral. The Cathedral (left) was declared a world heritage site in 1984 by UNESCO and I strongly encourage you to visit it no matter how weary the feet are! Many people choose to take a rest day on reaching Burgos to visit the sites and recover. Another option is to walk a short day the following day. There is a wealth of accommodation as you would expect in a major city (www.gronze.com) however I have stayed in the cheap-as-pie municipal albergue beside the Cathedral. For €5 you can’t go wrong. Leaving Burgos brings you to the Meseta, which kind of puts people off walking the next 100km. I am baffled by this myself. The meseta is my favourite part.

El Burgo Ranero (map)

Situated some 8km from Bercianos de Real Camino and 18km from Sahagun, El Burgo Ranero is a small town located in the province of Leon. It holds a population of over 850 people and the Camino goes down it’s main road. I have stopped here on two occasions for cafe con leche, preferring to stay in Bercianos and Sahagun. There are a number of albergues here should you wish to stay (www.gronze.com). On leaving El Burgo Ranero, the path is on the whole uninspiring until you reach the large city of Leon, some 35km away. In May of 2015, I met two Irish ladies here who spoke in Irish. It was a shame I couldn’t join them in their conversation however!

Burguete (map)

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From the end of the meseta in El Burgo Ranero, we travel back 400km eastward to the town of Burguete. It is located in Navarre and is the first town you will encounter on leaving Roncesvalles. Many people call it by it’s proper Basque name “Auritz”. Ernest Hemingway lodged in Burguete in 1924 and 1925 for a fishing trip to the Irati River, and describes it in his novel The Sun Also Rises. 

The town has a number of albergues (www.gronze.com) but many people choose to stop here for breakfast before moving on to Zubiri or Larrasoana. It is one of the more picturesque towns along the Way, with white facades and red window shutters a feature for many Basque houses.

The next installment will feature towns beginning with C.

Towns Along The Way – “A”

Did you know that there are 158 towns along the Camino de Santiago? Probably not. Anyway, the aim of this series is to talk briefly about these towns you will pass through while making your way along the Camino Frances. Many are so small you will not think twice about their history but some are significant. I am going to talk about them alphabetically rather than geographically, so if you are only interested in Zubiri you may wish to check back in a few weeks 🙂

El Acebo (map)
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El Acebo (or to give it it’s full name, El Acebo de San Miguel) is a small mountain village in the province of Leon. It has a population of roughly 40, and depends solely on the Camino. You will encounter it after reaching the Cruz de Ferro and is a blessing in disguise as the descent from the Leon hills can be tough. It’s English translation is “The Holly”. In terms of the Camino de Santiago, the previous town is Manjarin (with a population of just 1) and the next is Riego de Ambros, some 3.5km further down the hills. A lot of pilgrims choose to stay here and there is a wealth of accommodation (www.gronze.com). However, in 2012 and 2015, I chose to keep walking, preferring to stay in Molinaseca at the foothills of  the mountain. However, it serves as a great pit-stop for weary pilgrims. The sun chairs at “La Casa del Peregrino” are amazing!

Agés (map)

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From the foothills of the Leon mountains, we travel to the outskirts of Burgos metropolis, in fact 22km from Burgos. Agés is a small town in the province of Burgos. With a population of approximately 60, it is also dependent on the Camino. Like El Acebo, there are plenty of restaurantes, casa rurales and albergues (www.gronze.com). I have always chosen to walk the 3km extra to the next town of Atapuerca, which leaves me with a short days walk into Burgos the following day. Agés is a popular town however, and it is not unusual to find it’s albergues booked up a week in advance.

Ambasmestas (map)

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I have yet to meet anyone or read any blogs by people who have stayed in this little town. The reason could be that it is so close to the major Camino towns of Villafranca el Bierzo and O Cebreiro. Ambasmestas is a village in the Valcarce region and in the Leon province. It has a population of roughly 60 people and you pass through it as you make your way to O Cebreiro. My only memory of this town is from 2012. I took the low road route from Villafranca el Bierzo and Ambasmestas offers a nice reprieve from noise of the busy N6 motorway. On leaving the town, you make your way to Vega del Valcarce and begin to climb in Ruitelan. Ambasmestas does offer albergues and casa rurales for pilgrims also (www.gronze.com).

Arcahueja (map)

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Another town you may not have heard about. It lies 8km from the hustle and bustle of Leon. Most pilgrims, including myself, would not think twice about stopping to look at this town, instead pushing on to Leon. Funnily enough, Arcahueja has an albergue and a casa rural (www.gronze.com) and a playground which gave me a little bit of light relief during my 2015 Camino 🙂 The town, with a population of 200 people, lives beside the main road into Leon and is the last little bit of civilization until you reach Leon (you will also pass through a tiny village called Valdelafuente).

Arzúa (map)

Picture164You know your Camino is coming to an end when you reach the municipal of Arzúa. It is around 40km from Santiago which is a day or so walk. I have come across people who have walked the 40km in one day, while others have split it into two. Arzúa is in the province of La Coruna and has a population of over 6,000 people. It is a major Camino town and has a wealth of albergues, hotels and pensions (www.gronze.com). I passed through this large town in 2011 and stayed in Pension O Retiro. Should you wish to avoid the hustle and bustle of this particular town, you could finish your day in Ribadixo da Baixo some 3km beforehand, or in Salceda 5km ahead. There are plenty of pulperias in Arzúa (well, you are in Galicia) and should you wish to drink some Queimada, here is the perfect place to taste some. Although I didn’t particularly like it, it was good to try it. Your time in Arzúa will be spent reminiscing over your last few weeks and trying to stretch out the little time left. Plans will also be hatched to return 🙂

Astorga (map)

2015-05-16 14.07.50Moving eastward some 250km and the next town in the A category, we come to the large university town of Astorga. Personally, I love Astorga as it is vibrant and comes to life after the siesta. Restaurants and cafes line up in the main plaza and there is a great buzz about the place. It lies in the province of Leon and holds a population of over 12,000. It is most well known for the Catedral de Santa María de Astorga, the Palacio Episcopal, designed by Antoni Gaudí, the Town Hall and it’s bells, it’s Roman archaeological remains, and last but not least, the Chocolate museum!! :). Unfortunately, I have not seen the chocolate museum yet as it was closed when I arrived into the town after a long day’s walking. As with all large towns, there are plenty of options for accommodation (www.gronze.com). I have stayed in both albergues but prefer the Albergue de peregrinos Siervas de María at the entrance of the town, even though it is a little bit out of main plaza. Also, if you are starting your Camino here, you can’t go wrong with Hotel Gaudi.

Atapuerca (map)

2015-05-06 12.03.40Moving further eastward by another 200km, we arrive back to the province of Burgos and Atapuerca. This part of Spain is steeped in history. Not far from this town is the Sierra de Atapuerca, an archaeological site. It contains several caves where fossils and stone tools of the earliest known humans in western Europe have been found. Naturally, it’s visitor centre is very busy. All of this is away from the Camino however. The town of Atapuerca is quiet and has a population of just over 150. It doesn’t seem to have reaped the rewards of the excavation site as visitors come to and from Burgos. Atapuerca is only 19km from Burgos itself and I have stayed here twice before. I have never had a problem with accomodation myself as most people choose on staying in either San Juan de Ortega or Ages.There are two albergues and two casa rurales (www.gronze.com). Also, I would recommend that you eat in Restaurante Como Sapiens (see what they did with the name!!), it is fab!!.

Ayegui (map)

0004743Ayegui is a town in Navarra and is deeply rooted in the Basque tradition, It is some 45km to the west of Pamplona. You may not have heard of the town itself as it is so close to Estella. Some people actually mistake it for being part of Estella. It has a population of roughly 2,000 people and this is increasing as it is a suburb of Estella. I have stayed here in 2014 staying in it’s only albergue (Albergue de peregrinos San Cipriano). The town is very close to the Bodegas Irache..the fountain of wine. If you are looking to eat out, you may as well walk back into Estella as there is very little to offer here. Oh..on a side note, the footballer Javi Martinez was born here. He plays for Bayern Munich. I suppose that’s the town’s claim to fame!

Azofra (map)

2013-05-27 07.07.45Azofra has all the hallmarks of a Camino town. I wonder what effect a diversion of the route would have on this town of 200 people. Azofra is based 8km from Najera and the Camino passes straight through the town. It has a number of shops, cafes and bars. The municipal albergue, which was build recently, is outstanding. It is highly recommended but there are also two pensions in the town (www.gronze.com). I passed through the town in 2013 while it was raining torrentially. I don’t have many fond memories of that day as a result. However, I stayed in the municipal albergue in 2014. My time there was quite the opposite to the previous year. The sun shone and the owner of the town’s shop opened up for me during siesta. I had no food otherwise. The town is also situated in La Rioja, wine country..so there is no shortage of wine!

The next instalment will feature towns beginning with B including favourites of mine Belorado and Boadilla de Real Camino. If you have stayed in or have any comments about the above towns, please comment below.