Camino Frances 2017 – Day 8 – León to Villavante

Camino 2017 – Day 8 – León to Villavante – September 12th
One last long day..and walking by myself again.

I had a good sleep in Hostal Madriguera. It’s somewhere I recommend if you want a good rest, and I did. The owner, Alba, who has walked the Camino, is very helpful and the hostel is situated pretty close to the main square. Give it a look-up. However, that said, I should have stopped by the albergue. The previous day would be the last time I would see the majority of those I had met. I would walk alone the next day. But that’s not a bad thing sometimes. I know most of whom I had met were aiming for Hospital de Orbigo, a 30+km day. If I could manage it, well and good – I would see my pilgrim buddies again. If not, so be it. There were plenty of pilgrims on the trail…even in mid-September.

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In 2015, I stayed in Albergue Santa Lucia in Villavante and fell in love with it. The hospitality, the owner going out of her way for you, but I need to mention Coco the parrot! She would put a smile on your face if she squawked while you washed your dirty clothes. I remember not being allowed to take photos so that was a little disappointing. So..I would aim for Orbigo but if all else fails, Villavante was there to welcome me. This means taking the less travelled alternative route on leaving León. You have two options: walk along the road passing through small towns en route to Orbigo, or walk on a meseta-type trail through two towns. This was my meseta-Camino, so I’d do what I could to draw it out. Not many walk the alternative route, but I encourage it. It’s quiet, there is a town to stop after 21km – Vilar de Mazarife with it’s 3 albergues and if you feel up to it, there is Villavante after 30km. I felt up to it today. Being alone, I wanted to record some video, and I did (below)

I left León after 5.30am. The darkness engulfed the city, just the way I like it. I stood in front of the cathedral saying my goodbyes knowing that it would be some time before I saw it again. I walked on..alone. It was cold this morning and predictions of rain abounded, but it was dry for the time being. I felt good but thoughts of an ending Camino weren’t too far away. It would be 2 further days before I arrived in Astorga, only hop-skip and jump down the road. I was going to stretch these two final days out – records will be broken. But first, one last long day.

There is nothing interesting to see as you leave León however you climb for a bit and reach a number of bodegas at Trobajo del Camino. Make sure you turn back here and watch the sun rise over the city behind you. I said my goodbyes and moved on into the new morning. The locals were waking up and going to work, I wished each a Buenos Días as I passed. There was no music today, just me and my thoughts. Thinking – it can be bad, but it can be good. Too much of it is a bad thing – I’d argue against that if you are on the Camino. Promises can be made and there were a few promises I made to myself since I left Burgos. I won’t go into them now. I reached Virgen del Camino and stopped for a breakfast coffee and tostado – a regular occurrence at this stage. The cafe was just opening and I chatted in broken Spanish to the owner. A few metres down the main road is the church – Santuario De La Virgen Del Camino. I spent a few minutes here to enjoy its design before I crossed the road and found the start of the alternative route.

It was still dark by 7am. My phone’s torch was brought to the rescue as I worked out where was where. Once I saw an arrow I was where I needed to be. I made my way across a main road and I was on meseta-like trail again. Perfect walking ground. I seemed to pass Chozas de Abajo and Oncina in no time. I arrived at Vilar de Mazarife at 9.30am. There was nothing open, as I expected. I didn’t seem to mind. I took off my pack and found a seat to lie back on. Fruit, a yoghurt and a drink – heaven! Simple pleasures. I had two choices – stay here for an hour or so until the albergue opened or walk 8km to Villavante. The answer was plain to me. Villavante it was.

The 8km walk was slow but not arduous. There was a deliberate lack of pace. I mean, I could aim for Orbigo, but what’s the point? It would make my next two days even more difficult 🙂 I kept looking behind me for pilgrims, but I didn’t see one. This is a great alternative to the busy road after Virgen del Camino. I enjoyed it. Many wouldn’t. I arrived at Villavante at 11am. I took a bottom bunk beside the window and waited for company. It wasn’t long before I was joined by Ian, from New Zealand. He was closely followed by two girls from the US and South Africa. We had dinner at 7pm and a drink after. The parrot got the last laugh however as my request for a photograph was again denied. Hmmph!

I had no idea what I would do the following day. Orbigo maybe? 5km? Records will again be broken.

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Etapa 1 of the Celtic Camino (por segunda vez) – Bray, Co. Wicklow to St. James Church, Dublin

I had previously walked this route with my good friend, Oihana, back in June. However, the opportunity arose to walk it again and I couldn’t refuse as it is a smashing trail along the coast of Dublin…. 28km in total, although a few would argue that it is a little more in distance.

The Camino Society organises monthly walks and this month they had decided to take members and friends on one of the many recognised routes of the Celtic Camino. It is also the most accessible for those in Dublin. Those who walk any of the recognised routes will gain an Irish compostela provided they receive at least two sellos. When complete, pilgrims can continue their Celtic Camino in the city of A Coruna in northern Spain to Santiago. Today’s walk was well advertised and this morning close to 50 future pilgrims turned up to take on this challenging but beautiful walk. We all met at the Bandstand in Bray at 9am. The weather was just perfect, not too cold, not too hot and the forecast was good. I suppose I should have left the raingear at home, eh?

My brother came along with his Camino Society pilgrim passport bought for the occasion. He had received his first sello in St. James’ Church last week and was eager to get started. We have agreed to walk from A Coruna in either April or May next year, over 4 days – 75km. I’ve been entrusted with looking for accommodation and I will leave the decision to him whether he wishes to carry his baggage..not an important decision to make. However, it needs to be mentioned that he is a pilgrim now..everyone who has completed the walk today to St. James Church has started their journey to Santiago on the Celtic Camino. Many turned up to walk part of the route, with the intention of continuing another day…which is acceptable.

Back to today…

After a quick briefing, those who did not have pilgrim passports were offered one. There were three sellos to receive today to prove that we had walked the route. The first sello can be received in Sea Life Aquarium in Bray. The great thing about this stamp is it was made especially with this route in mind. I just love the large shell.

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Onwards we walked northbound, in the direction of Bray village and Shankill. We were away from the coast during this time but on arriving at Killiney, we saw the coast again, like a chink of light.

It wasn’t long before the group had split up with the faster walkers leading the pack and the more relaxed and easy-going further behind. I suppose I took on my natural pace and was at the front of the group for most of the day, and there was a large number of people I hadn’t met that I wish I did. Ah well, I will leave that until next time.

We walked through the beautiful town of Dalkey before reaching Sandycove and the James Joyce museum at the Martello tower. Sello number 2 (below) was waiting for us and we took a breather before saying our goodbyes.

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Myself and the brother took a rest stop at the port town of Dun Laoghaire, saying a temporary goodbye to those who we had been walking to. The benches looking out to the sea were perfect and we waited for a few other unfamiliar faces to pass us by so we could chat to them. Dun Laoghaire is the start of the annual Aware Harbour 2 Harbour walk and we are both familiar of what’s ahead of us…until Ringsend that is, but we will reach that point later on.

We keep close to the coast passing the towns of Monkstown, Blackrock, Booterstown and Sandymount, before we reached Ringsend. We were nearly home and dry, as this is the point we make inroads to Dublin city and James Street. I am a native of this great city all my life and I still don’t know Ringsend all that well. Shame on me! However, we made it to the docklands and crossed Samuel Beckett Bridge, one of the tallest bridges in Ireland. We were both accompanied by a woman, whose name escapes me, and she kept us entertained until we reached St. James’ Church. My back was causing me problems so she was great at distracting me. So nameless pilgrim – thank you!

We eventually reached St. James’ Church just after 3pm after leaving Bray just after 9am. The final sello was provided to us and we said our goodbyes.

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This is a tremendous walk and today was well organised. I look forward to the next walk. But first I must look forward to my wander across the meseta on the 4th of September. Rest is in order to ensure my back doesn’t cause me any problems while away. I hope to end this Camino in Rabanal del Camino before I set my focus on Etapa 2 of the Celtic Camino.

After walking this route twice, I would do it again at the drop of a hat. I would encourage you, dear reader, to do the same. Not drop your hat, but check out the below links and find out how to receive your Irish compostela and then your Celtic Camino compostela.

 

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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!

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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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Howth Head – A Camino on my doorstep…

I can’t praise Howth Head and it’s various loops high enough. I live 15 minutes on the train from this great town and it’s impossible not to get tired of this beauty of a walk. The Bog of Frogs Loop – it’s longest walk at 12km – has many surprises and I’ve often described it as Camino in one day. It has everything – uphills, descents, bright colours, smells and of course, the sea!

I walked it on Sunday with the Camino Prep / Training meet-up group, starting out just after 10.30. Howth was pretty quiet at this time save for a pipe band that were setting up, possibly for a competition later on that day. Before arriving at the head, there is a gradual ascent on footpath – a little like what it’s like coming out of St Jean Pied de Port, until we arrive at the cliffs. A decent climb up rocks leads us to the cliff face and you can see all of Dublin at this stage. On busy days, people from all over the world visit this area to take in it’s views. I don’t blame them.

Onwards we walked with the strongest walkers at the front and myself and fellow peregrino Oihana at the back. Three hours later we arrived back to the village and devoured a well deserved cafe con leche. It was also great to meet new members to the group, some of whom are planning their own Caminos in the coming months.

Next Saturday, the 1st of July, I walk through Ticknock and the Dublin mountains with Camino Society Ireland. If you are in the area and want to join us, more information is here

Below are some photos of the walk on Sunday, many thanks to Oihana for taking such great pictures.

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Bray to St. James Church, Dublin – Stage One of The Celtic Camino

Early Friday morning I received a text from my friend Oihana asking if I was free to take a walk the following day. I said I did and the starting point was to be Bray in Wicklow. Bray is roughly an hour on the train from my home and about 30 km walk to Dublin city centre. The plan was to walk for 15 km or so and then we could catch the train or bus home. However I brought up the suggestion that we could walk to St. James Church and complete the first stage of the Celtic Camino. We were to bring our pilgrim passports and collect sellos just in the event that we do make it to the end point. I felt in good shape so there was no reason not to. If we made it and collected our certificates, we would then be entitled to a Compostela having walked from A Coruna, something I have been planning to do in March or April of 2018.

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We met on the train in Dublin city centre and continued on our way to Bray, which is a large seaside town in Wicklow. It has a large promenade and a great cliff walk that I have yet to try. We arrived close to 9am and looked for somewhere to receive our first sello. We were told by one of the staff that the information desk at Bray train station would provide us with one. We were delighted however we had much amusement changing the date on the stamp! We had proof that we were in Bray and we took a selfie just in case the powers that be had any doubts!

Onwards we went and walked northwards in the direction of Shankill, a large residential estate and town. It was a shame we moved away from the sea and I hope in time, it will be possible to walk closer to the coast in that direction. It took close to an hour to pass Shankill and we were delighted to meet a large church called Crinken Church. We hoped that it would be open and it was!! A music group were practising inside and welcomed us in. One had walked the Camino before and was delighted to hear of this new Camino. We asked if they had a sello and after much hesitation, he said he would look. He returned with a stamp of two footprints..very symbolic! We later learned that the name of the church is St. James’ of Shankill..win!

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We both felt good and with plenty of water we felt that we could complete the 30km. It was still early however the temperature was increasing. It was predicted to reach 27c in the afternoon and at 10.30, it was in the early 20’s, so we tried to stay in the shade as much as we could. Before leaving Shankill, we received another stamp at the Post Office. They were delighted also to hear of the new route and said that they were planning on walking in Spain soon. We also saw a man wearing a t-shirt with a large yellow arrow. 🙂 That could only mean one thing…he has been on the Camino! We wished him a Buen Camino and walked on!

From Shankill, our next stop was Killiney and we were back on the coast again!! The seaside breeze felt great. With the sun out for the day, dozens of people were making for the beach and the walkways were crowded with folks out for the day. I decided to take a little detour and walk through Killiney Hill. That means jumping up about 100 steps to reach the top of the Hill and the famous Obelisk statue. Phew..what a climb. And it was a perfect time to stop for a rest and to marvel at Dublin bay from a height. I could see where we both started and also where we both had hoped to finish. It is one of the highest places in Dublin and great for a walk. Killiney Hill is a large park and is very animal friendly. Plenty of dogs were out with their owners lapping up the sun.

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Adelante!! We left the park after that much needed rest, and rather than continue by the coast, we walked on a trail called The Metals straight to Dun Laoghaire. The Metals is a 3km straight walkway that was formerly a rail line from the quarry in Dalkey to Dun Laoghaire. It’s a lovely walk way but there are no opportunities to collect sellos. We might collect one or two in Dun Laoghaire, we hoped. And we did, as the local library was open. They were glad to assist.  Dun Laoghaire was bustling. It’s amazing what the sun can do. We continued on but not before we took the below pictures.

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From here we would walk along the coast until we reached Dublin Port and 3 Arena. It seemed like the entire population of Dublin were out by the beach, even though the tide was out! With time passing, I became more aware of a niggling pain in my foot but a 99er ice cream seemed to ease the pain for a while. We reached Dublin Port at 2.30pm, a full 5 and a half hours since we started. It was by far the best walk in Dublin I have taken, made special by the great company and the people we met along the way. From Dublin Port, it was a straight walk along the quays up to St. James’ Church which closes at 3.30 on Saturdays. I had slight doubts that we weren’t going to make it but Oihana is super-positive and assured me that we had all the time in the world. I was introduced to the Jeannie Johnson ship that is based along the port and EPIC, the Irish emigration musuem. Where have I been all these years??! Along the quays we walked until we came to Christchurch Cathedral and Vicar Street. Then the Guinness Storehouse and St. James’ Church. We arrived at the Camino Information Centre at 3.15pm and showed our credencials.

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Yes, I had sore feet, yes I had a farmers’ tan, but boy! what a walk?!

If you are interested in walking the Celtic Camino, this is a great route for your Irish leg. Alternatively, you can walk a pilgrim path, for example St Kevin’s Way or St. Declan’s Way. But for somewhere closer to home, this is ideal. If you are unable to walk it in one day, you can walk it over two days. You will be still entitled to a certificate from the Camino Society. So 5 out of 5! Now to look forward to A Coruna in 2018.

All Along The Banks of the Royal Canal

On Saturday, I took a stroll along the Royal Canal Way with the Camino Prep / Training meetup group. We started in Maynooth and made for Dublin, which is 28 kms in total. The Royal Canal Way is a 144-kilometre (89-mile) trail that follows the towpath of the canal from Spencer Dock in Dublin’s docklands to Cloondara in County Longford. It is typically completed in four to five days, however we decided to take in the final day. It is designated as a National Waymarked Trail by the National Trails Office and is managed by Waterways Ireland. In 2015 Dublin City Council began extending the walking and cycling route along the Royal Canal Ashtown to Sheriff Street Upper in Dublin, and that is where we finished. The Royal Canal Way connects with other trails at Mullingar, and more excitingly, will eventually form the eastern end of the Dublin-Galway Greenway. The Royal Canal was originally built for freight and passenger transportation from the River Liffey in Dublin to Longford. The canal fell into disrepair in the late 20th century, but much of the canal has since been restored for navigation, thanks to Waterways Ireland.

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The Royal Canal

 

We started the day early by taking the train to Maynooth, 30 kms outside of Dublin City Centre. The train line follows the trail so we could see fellow walkers out for a stroll as we flew past them. Rain was forecast so I brought rain gear but as it was sunny in the morning, I was hoping it would stay. After a 40 minute trip on the train, we arrived just after half 9 and it wasn’t long before we saw the start of the trail.

There were 5 of us this day, and we hoped to arrive in Dublin before 4pm. The trail is mostly on gravel, or concrete pathways however there are sections with very little signage and the trail is non-existent. We passed through Leixlip in Co Kildare, before entering Dublin at Clonsilla, Castleknock, Ashtown and then Blanchardstown. Dublin City Council have done great work by creating a greenway from Castleknock to Ashtown and there were plenty of walkers and cyclists out while the sun was shining. However, as rain was predicted, it did rain heavily on two occasions. The rain gear was out pronto and served me well. But within minutes, the sun was out. It was a changeable day.

The closer we came to Dublin, the more built up it became and the more houses we saw. Drumcondra is the last town you pass through before arriving at Lock One on the canal. There were houses on both sides of the canal, along with a bustling street. As the sun was out, there were kids jumping into the canal to cool down. We then passed Croke Park standing tall above us. Many a battle have I seen in there!. And there it was, Lock One…the first gate and we had arrived at the end of our walk. It was a tough one, even though the trail was completely flat.

There were many highlights. We passed Brendan Behan’s statue in Drumcondra. Behan wrote the great “Auld Triangle”. In it he wrote “and the auld triangle went jingle jangle,
all along the banks of the Royal Canal”. Here is a great version of that song sang by Luke Kelly and the Dubliners.  We spotted many families of swans, and the odd duck too.  The Canal also actually flows OVER the M50, which is Ireland’s busiest motorway…I’ve never seen anything like it,

We have walked only a small section of the Canal, and in the coming weeks I hope to walk some more..possibly from Maynooth westward. It’s a great trail but it does get confusing in places, as you come closer to Dublin. Keep an eye on this blog for more on this great trail.

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Bray Head with Camino Society Ireland

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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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