Camino Frances 2017 – Day 1 – Burgos to Hontanas

Camino 2017 – Day 1 – Burgos to Hontanas – September 5th
An early start..and hot!

I asked the owner of Hostal Evolucion the evening before if it was possible to leave early in the morning. She said, in broken English, that there was no problem, but I needed to ring a little bell at the front desk. Hmm…I wonder if this was going to work in practice? Time will tell.

DayOne

DayOne2I had an amazing sleep and woke at 5am. Right on cue. My bag was ready, I had a few snacks for breakfast. All I needed was to find the first arrow. I rang the bell as agreed and at 5.30am, I was on the road with pack on bag and pole in hand. I walked toward the bridge over the River Arlanzon, in search of the first arrow, although I had an idea of the right way. My previous two times in Burgos had been brief but I felt I had seen the city in it’s glory, thanks to Patricia. My head was a little dull due to the vino de ribeiro, but a little walk would shake that off.

The walk out of Burgos is along the river and at this time, it was pitch black. I kept an eye out for the Universidad de Burgos so I knew I was on the right track. On seeing the first arrow, white and not yellow, my heart jumped. Onwards I walked until the road turned and the arrows were no more. A passer by shouted at me “¿Estás buscando el camino?”. I said “Si!!” with positivity and he directed me to a turn off 10 metres behind me. This was the way to Villalbilla de Burgos, and I saw arrows again. I was leaving Burgos and heading for the first village, Tardajos. There was no stopping me. My feet were dancing and I was eager to meet fellow pilgrims – but not at this hour, I laughed to myself!

It was pretty flat, and I was alone so far. The sun was beginning to rise at my back and I stopped for a few moments to take it in. It wouldn’t be the last sun rise I would witness but each one is special. You can immediately feel the heat at your back as the sun creeps over the horizon. “Beautiful”, I thought to myself. I arrived into Tardajos around 7am and had Cafe con leche y tostada con queso, my normal breakfast on the Camino. I bought some fruit to keep me going until at least Hornillos. Tardajos is a smashing town with a great albergue so there is an option if you want to bypass the hustle and bustle of Burgos. It is a further 10km however.

Rabe de Calzadas is a further 2km away and the entrance to the meseta. Another quiet village with a recommended albergue. After this point, you need to have enough water as you are in no-man’s land. It is another 8km to Hornillos del Camino and today the temps were rising. It is in the mid-20s at this stage and only morning. And I needed sun cream!!

Onwards I walked into the meseta and towards Hornillos. I never had much of a love for this town and have always walked toward Hontanas, a further 10km. I had my heart set on Hontanas again but it depended on how hot it got. I arrived at Alto de Meseta, a 150 metre climb and could see the next few hours ahead of me, most notably Hornillos, a barren town, but growing in size. It was two early so I decided to stop for a while and walk on. The last building at the end of town caught my eye. I walked in and asked for an Aquarius. The woman behind the bar asked me where I am from. I naturally say Dublin and she asks which part. She is also from Dublin and in the last few weeks has taken over the running of a Korean restaurant in Hornillos. It’s name is Neson. I could not believe it. Another Dublin man was there chilling out with a ukelele trying to sing “Fix You” by Coldplay. I give it a go but playing a ukelele is different to playing a guitar. I stay here for a half an hour chilling out and talking about our love of the Camino. She was brought here because of love and has a child now. I say my goodbyes and promise to look them up the next time I pass through. As I leave, I’m warned to carry lots of water as the next few hours will be tough going. They are right as temps were in the 30s until I reached Hontanas.

I feel like I made a mistake moving on to the next town. After Hornillos, there is a gradual climb and there is no shade. I stop three times out of breath and consider turning back. Somehow I gather the energy to move on, while brushing the dozens of flies from my face.

I meet two English pilgrims ahead of me – Adam and Robert. They had been chilling out in Hornillos and I had said hi to them then. I walked with both until we reached Hontanas and I am so glad I did. They gave me the energy to reach my destination and proved that conversation is a great distraction. We walked with purpose past the great San Bol Albergue in the middle of nowhere, and then on to Hontanas. Well…we first needed to find Hontanas. It is built in a valley and the first you see of this pilgrim town is the large steeple of it’s church. We wait for it to pop over the hill and boom! we descend into the village.

I decided to check into Albergue El Puntido, while Adam wants to keep walking to the refugio at San Anton 5 km further on. I was one of the first here and got my washing done. The sun would dry my clothes in no time. A community dinner was not until 7pm so I decided to rest until then.

The dinner was super. I ate with Denis and his wife from Florida who had walked from St Jean Pied de Port and were taking it nice and slow. 20kms a day is their maximum. I also met Tara from Salt Lake City who gave me the ultimate compliment and praised my Irish accent. She also gave me a bottle of sunscreen, proving that the Camino does provide. The only shop in this town had after sun which was of no help to me. I slept well here, even though the church bell would chime on the hour every hour throughout the night.

There was music in the form of a small guitar outside the albergue and we stayed out until close to 9pm. I was tired however and wanted another early start the next day. This day, I walked over 30 km..the following day, I hoped to reach Boadilla del Camino and Eduardo’s En El Camino Albergue. We expected sun and we expected to meet new pilgrims. It was going to be a fun day.

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The Countdown continues…

With 3 days before I board my flight to Madrid, I am filled with mixed emotions – happiness, trepidation, excitement – but this is all normal.

I have walked into Burgos twice before but have not had the chance to properly explore. This year I arrive between 1-2pm and I will make the most of this free time to not only visit the Cathedral but it’s Castle and the Museum of Human of Evolution. But all this may change. I remember in 2015 that I had very little energy on arriving at the albergue and skipped the opportunity of seeing the Cathedral – possibly the most beautiful one along the Camino, with the exception of Santiago.

Am I ready? Of course – I have been since September 2016. Am I prepared? – I hope I am. I will find out when I arrive. My pack weight is lighter than before at 7kg. The weather forecast has made me decide to carry a silk liner instead of a sleeping bag. New additions include rain pants and pacerpoles. I return to 1000 mile socks also.

This may be my last stroll on the Camino Frances for quite some time, as I have previously mentioned. A jaunt on the Celtic Camino from A Coruna has been planned in early May of 2018 with my younger brother. This will be first time I walk with a companion. He is a much faster walker to me – so I may still be walking alone. Either way, I look forward to this trip.

You can follow me on my meseta Camino from Monday on my Instagram and occasionally on my Facebook page. Please like both if you can. You won’t miss a footstep if you do.

Buen Camino!

Camino Information Centre – First day proper….

I had such a great time today and the time I was there flew by. I could have stayed much longer, you know?

Today was my first day in Camino Society Ireland’s Information Centre in St. James’ Church. The centre is open from Thursday to Saturday from 10.30am to 3.30pm but I can only take on Saturday due to work. There was myself and another volunteer there for the day and we are there to try help any visitor who had queries about the various Caminos to Santiago. We also sell pilgrim passports, guidebooks and badges for backpacks.

We had a whole host of visitors today. Some walking from Sarria to Santiago, others starting in Astorga and a few taking on the Northern and Portuguese ways. I find that the Portuguese Way has increased it’s popularity.

One future pilgrim is taking her child with her on the Camino del Norte, starting from Bilbao and they hope to walk to Santander. Short and sweet. The little girl must not be over 10. I think that’s brilliant if she is used to walking.

Another future pilgrim is walking from Le Puy in France all the way to Spain and will then continue on the Camino del Norte to Santiago. Once that route has been completed, the plan is to walk from Lisbon to Santiago. This is all for a worthwhile charity – to help Syrian refugees. Truly amazing! I have no idea how long that will take but I’d love to take it on someday. Unfortunately, I have a mortgage now and my pilgrimages will be much shorter for a little while to come.

We finished up at 3.30 and I am back again in the Information Centre in August. I look forward to it and I look forward to continuing to give something back in whatever way that may be.

Camino Society Ireland hike – Ticknock Woods – 1st July 2017

65 days.

The countdown to my next Camino continues and I long for the day I throw on my backpack and find the first arrow. I can then let the simple life take over and let the walking do the talking. It’s not long away, that’s for sure, so any practice hike until the 4th of September is a good one. Camino Society Ireland held their third hill walk today for members and friends. After last month’s washout in Bray, I was hoping that the weather would be a little kinder to us. A little sun even?

We weren’t disappointed however as the forecast was for variable cloud and sunny spells. I’m not going to argue with that. That said, I did bring along the rain gear, just in case the folks in Met Eireann were passing on false information!

Ticknockmap

Ticknock Forest is located to the very south of Dublin and in the Dublin Mountains. Now, being from the north-side of the city, transport was always going to be an issue but the Camino Society posted directions on Facebook and Google Plus a number of weeks beforehand so all was well. A quick journey on the Dart and following a cross-Dublin bus trip, we were collected and brought to the start point in Ticknock Forest. It is also the site for Biking.ie, a Mountain Biking Company, so we would be sharing the trails with bikers. The word “bicigrino” flashed before my eyes!

I had decided beforehand to invite members of our Camino Prep meet-up group along as it might be helpful to them in their decision to walk the Camino. Eight came along and I was delighted with that. We started off, after some safety announcements, shortly after 11am and it was uphill from the off. The numbers were close to 30, most I knew, some I didn’t. So I wanted to get to know the folks I hadn’t met before. We varied our walk between sections of the Dublin Mountain Way, the Wicklow Way; all the while taking in the best views of Dublin. Naturally, the higher we climbed, the colder it got, so I was glad to bring along a fleece! We reached the top of our climb within an hour and decided to stop for some lunch. Una sabia decisión!

The terrain varied from clear rocky trails, boardwalk, loose gravel, to a particularly dodgy descent through boggy marsh. But maybe that was me taking a wrong turn! Hmm! Highlight of the day was descending through a pine tree forest and spotting an arrow on a tree. It reminded me of the descent to Roncesvalles on day one back in 2014. All in all, we walked close to 10km however, it is one part of Dublin I want to return to. There is potential to walk for longer and there are many trails. An enjoyable day. Thanks to Bernard and Jim for organising.

The next walk will be at the end of August, so if you are interested and live close to Dublin, keep an eye on www.caminosocietyireland.com. If you have an Instagram account, make sure you follow the Society also, there are plenty of exciting things in the pipeline. Below are just a few photos that myself and my fellow peregrino Oihana took today.

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The Camino Information Centre – Starting Out

I had such a fun day yesterday at the Camino Information Centre. Based at St. James’ Church in Dublin, the Centre is open from Thursday to Saturday from 10.30 to 3.30 and is run by volunteers for prospective pilgrims. After walking the Camino for a number of years, I felt that the next step was to pass this knowledge on to those who were to take their first steps in the coming months.

I arrived at St. James’ Church after 10am and was greeted by Joe and Aileen, who were to “show me the ropes”, so to speak. This was my training day and although I feel passionate about the Camino and talking about it, I had many questions. My experiences revolved around the French Way out to Finistere but I have very little knowledge of any other routes. Luckily, Joe and Aileen had good knowledge of the Portuguese Way and could give hints and tips regarding great towns to stop at and accommodation.

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We had many visitors and it had to be one busiest days of the year, so I was glad to experience that rather than have the opposite. Many came to buy pilgrim passports, while others came to tell us how they got on after returning from the Camino. We also have a visit from a couple who were hoping to walk from Villafranca del Bierzo to Santiago in 7 days! We planned out an itinerary for them and recommended accommodation for them. I can’t wait to hear how they get on! I had a visit from 2 friends from the Camino Prep Meetup group, so that was a surprise. One is walking this Thursday from Sarria so I wish her a Buen Camino! I picked up a pilgrim passport myself for my walk on St. Kevin’s Way and then from A Coruna to Santiago in March or April of next year.

The day had a downside however as we heard the news of the drowning of Danny Sheehy after his currach Naomhog overturned on the River Mino in Galicia as he and his team made way for Porto. It was Danny’s idea to row to A Coruna from Ireland over the course of the last four years.

I make my return to the Camino Information Centre in July and after my time yesterday, I am looking forward to it.

Giving Something Back

Ever since I took my first steps on the French Way back in 2011, the Camino has ever so slowly become part of my life. My returning each year gives me great food for thought and when I return to Ireland, I plan for my next time in Spain. Everyday, I seem to remember a moment or an experience I have had from the last 7 years. This blog is evidence of how much the Camino has become part of my life. At home, I think of the past and I long for the future, but on the Camino I am in the moment. The complexities of daily life don’t matter after you arrive and take your first steps. You wake and you walk until you reach a certain point. That’s it. It’s pretty simple.

However, I have reached a point where I am researching other routes away from the French Way. A number of years ago, I became a member of Camino Society Ireland to meet other people who have walked these routes. The society’s motto is to “give something back” and they do this in a number of ways. Like this blog, they, as volunteers, help prospective pilgrims by providing advice while they plan for a Camino. Their website is a great source of information, however, the society also run an Information Centre in Dublin between March and October. Here, pilgrims can receive information, buy pilgrim passports and guidebooks. So I decided to take a leap and volunteer. Hopefully I can be of assistance, maybe give something back, and hopefully I can learn a thing or two also.

Bray Head with Camino Society Ireland

Hike #2
Bray town, around and over Bray head and back to the town.

Another weekend and now just 100 days (eek!) before I fly back to Spain and into Madrid. Time flies, doesn’t it? And speaking of time flying, this day 4 years ago I had completed my third day on my third stint on the Camino Frances. My 2013 Camino was easily my favourite and one I will cherish for a long time. I met so many good people and I hope, one day, to see some of them again.

This weekend was shaping up to be something special. During the week, temperatures were in the 20s and the sun was out most days. I had 2 walks planned and was eagerly looking forward to them. Today (Saturday) was in Bray with Camino Society Ireland, and Sunday with the Camino prep / training meet-up group. There were rumours of rain coming up from the South to hit Dublin today but I quietly had my fingers crossed. The last thing I wanted was to be mid-hike in the middle of a downpour. So I packed my rain gear in the hope that there would be just a few showers and that would be the end of that. I left the house in the midst of light rain but nothing that would bother me.

After an hour trip by train, myself and my brother arrived at Bray and was welcomed by quite a few fellow walkers. There were more at the first outing in Howth a month previous but I would put that down to the weather. I brought my Osprey 33 litre backpack with Helly Hansen rain jacket and Berghaus rain trousers. I had my pacerpoles with me this time as we were advised to bring poles with us. They proved to be a great help.

So 10 am came and went and we started to move out. The walk involved using the cliff walk from Bray to Greystones but rather than continuing to Greystones, we would climb up and over Bray Head and loop back to Bray. Looking from Bray, it seemed daunting, but we were assured that the climb was gradual and not as steep as it looked. Onwards we went along the promenade which was bustling with joggers, walkers and a solitary accordionist. The clouds were dark but I wasn’t dressed for rain at this stage.

10 minutes in, as we were walking along the cliff walk, we felt the first drop. One drop became two until a steady shower started. “This is down for the day”..I said to myself. I pulled on the rain jacket and continued in the hope that it was a solitary shower and it would clear sharpish. At the very least, it would be a good time to test the rain gear! A half an hour and it hadn’t relented. The zip-offs were soaked so I thought that now would be a good time to don the rain trousers. The backpack was a lost cause at this stage and soaked through. I should have brought a cover! After a little while, we stopped for a bit so I could put on the rain trousers. They were a massive help! I would recommend them to anyone interested. Most there had ponchos but I prefer rain jacket and trousers.

The climb up the hill was tough in places but nothing too challenging. It was pretty funny seeing a sign warning us of the presence of a bull and totally disregarding it. Yes, we are that crazy!! There were a few awkward obstacles to negotiate but all in all the climb is anything you would see while walking from Rabanal del Camino to Foncebadon. At times, we were walking through flowing streams but the rain started to subside while we were making the descent back to Bray. It was pretty misty also, and it was a shame that we didn’t see the one thing that we came to see…Bray Head cross. Visibility was very poor being so high. The descent was gradual but the rain made walking difficult and it was very easy to slip. After another hour, we made it back to base safely and in one piece.

Despite the conditions, it is a beautiful walk and I would love to give it another go in better weather. During the week, the Camino Society left me a message on Instagram (after I expressed concerns about the forecast)..”It will be like a new adventure”..and it most certainly was. It gave me a great chance to test my rain gear and find any faults..which there were many. I have a few months to find a more effective rain jacket as my Helly Hansen just didn’t cut it. It was also great meeting society members again and talking about future plans. Bernard and Jim can’t be praised highly enough. I can’t wait for the next outing.

Unfortunately, with the poor weather conditions, I felt it wise to cancel the Camino prep / training meet up in Howth tomorrow. I have been on the Howth cliff path while it is raining and it can be difficult to negotiate some sections.

More photos can be found on Camino Society Ireland’s facebook page.

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