May 2019: Walking in Medieval Pilgrims footsteps

I attended a talk given by Dr. Bernadette Cunningham last night at Lismullen Conference Centre, near Tara. It was such an appropriate place to hold the talk as the area is steeped in history..the hill of Tara, and not too far from Newgrange. The talk was on medieval pilgrimage from Ireland to Santiago de Compostela. Bernadette is due to have her book published shortly on the same subject, one that she has been researching since 2014.

 The book launch will be on December 6th in Kevin Street Library in Dublin and there is great excitement leading up to it. 

The book, along with the release of the Camino Voyage documentary in Irish cinemas today, highlights the evidence of how Irish pilgrims made their way to Santiago during the 14th and 15th centuries. I guess we will know more when the book comes out. 

I will be attending the cinema release of the Camino Voyage this evening (my third viewing). It’s been great watching it grow to what it is now. In 2019, it is hoped that it will be released on DVD worldwide.

And back to my plans and the Camino. I have booked flights for the 7th of May to Santiago de Compostela. I travel with my brother, not on a merchant ship but on Aer Lingus economy class. I then travel to Ferrol and walk for a few days to Betanzos. From there, we will catch a bus to A Coruna and walk to Santiago. If there is time, we will walk to the coast and watch the sunset at Finisterre. It will be magic!

Camino Francés 2018 – So Where Did I Stay?

There is one final post I want to write about before I move on to something new, and it is the issue of accommodation.

There is a wealth of accommodation on the Camino Francés. Every couple of kilometres you will find a town with a number of albergues, hostals, and hotels. The greatest distance between two towns is 17 kilometres but most pilgrims plan for this days in advance. For me, I had no issues with accommodation.  I mostly stayed in albergues, but there was the odd hostal I booked before leaving Dublin for the start and end of my Camino.

Puente la Reina – Hostal la Plaza
I booked a single room here shortly before leaving home as my flight would be arriving into Bilbao late. Hostal la Plaza is on the Camino and has a restaurant beside it. The price is reasonable and the staff are very friendly. A handy tip: if you think you are going to be late – call the hostal and let them know. You may not have a room to go to when you arrive.

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Estella – Agora Hostal 
The standard of albergues on the Camino Frances is getting better and better and those providing their time are giving something extra special back. The Agora Hostal is something special. The outside of the hostel looks less than remarkable but inside is clean, and welcoming. In the hands of Adrianna and Alphonso, I am told that this is my home for the night. Breakfast is included. The beds are comfortable. It isn’t far from the Camino. Recommended.

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Los Arcos – Albergue Casa de la Abuela
I got into Los Arcos quite early so I was before the throngs of pilgrims. I was quite lucky as there was no room in any of the albergues in this town later in the day. That is the Camino Frances for you. I was the first in the door, only to be greeted by a sprawling pile of mochilas left from Jacotrans. Again, this is the nature of the beast. Casa de la Abuela is a fine albergue and had all I needed. The hospitalera offered to wash my clothes for a tiny fee and I accepted. I could have walked on to the next town, Torres del Rio, a further 12km. But I was in no hurry. I met my friends for a meal and drinks in the plaza later that evening.

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Viana – Albergue Izar
A short day from Los Arcos I decided on stopping in Viana. Mainly because I had not stayed here before but I would see my friends for the last time before they embarked on their Camino. The first albergue you encounter once you reach Viana is brightly coloured Albergue Izar. While not opened until 12 midday, I decided to walk up the grueling hill into the town for a cafe and snack and see who else I would find. While the albergue is away from all the action (ie the church, the main plaza), the owners are friendly and the facilities are great. I met a bunch of new pilgrims here before I decided on walking a long day to Ventosa.

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Ventosa – Albergue San Saturnino
A long day. And I was glad to arrive here. Ventosa used to be on the Camino Frances but over time, the powers that be have moved the arrows so now it is kind of left out in the cold. But it is not too far away. Just 1 km away from the trail is Albergue San Saturnino. There are two cafes in this town also. Stay long enough in your bed and you will be woken by classical music. It has all the facilities and I was glad to meet more pilgrim friends here.

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Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Albergue de la Cofradía del Santo
Super organised, well run and a great place in general. My second time there. The only thing I didn’t like was the walk up the stairs to the 2nd floor on arrival! But, with over 200 beds and 3 floors, you can be sure to find a bed in Santo Domingo. And then you can visit the chickens in the Cathedral afterward. Shout out to the hospitaleros also for doing a super job!

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Belorado – Albergue Cuatro Cantones
Nothing but good things to say about the albergue here in Belorado. There are more than one albergue in this small town but this one stands out. I have stayed here more than once and enjoyed my stay. Jana and her family have been looking after pilgrims for 15 years now. There is a restaurant attached to the albergue and there is no harm trying the food. Also, if the sun is out, the pool in the back is perfect. There is a yoga session also for those interested. Recommended.

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Atapuerca – Albergue El Peregrino
Chosen purely for convenience rather than comfort. Having stayed in this albergue 3 times before, I know a fair bit about it, including its weaknesses. That said, it is handy to stay there as it is just a mere 18 km to Burgos. Top tip: try El Palomar for the Pilgrim Menu.

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Burgos – Albergue de peregrinos Casa del Cubo y de los Lerma (municipal) – night one / Hostal Manjon – night two.
My Camino ended with a stay in the municipal in Burgos, with its 180 beds. While I have always enjoyed my stays here, I didn’t this time. I had a bad case of a head cold going home to Ireland and had little sleep here.

I had an extra day to hand before I made my way to Bilbao and back to Ireland. I checked into Hostal Manjon, a budget hostal about 5 minutes from the Cathedral. It was just ok but I managed to claw back some of the sleep I was owed.

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A New Camino, and a return to Galicia

I thoroughly enjoyed my ramble through Navarra and La Rioja in September. The weather was fine, many people were met but the days spent there trickled away all too quickly. I hope to keep in touch with my new found friends electronically, and maybe we will meet in the months and years to come. On arriving in Burgos, I sat in the municipal albergue and had a few moments to myself. I thought about the next one, the next footstep to Santiago, or even if there was to be one!

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The majority of my Caminos since 2011 have been on the French Way, and I don’t see that changing as my main Camino in the near future. My feet are safe there. I will dip in and out and walk a week here and there. I’ve grown to like the people of La Rioja and Castilla y Leon and made friends in Burgos and Belorado. I get great joy from meeting people, staying in different villages, wandering through the meseta especially. But I have unfinished business.

On the 18th of June 2017, I walked from Bray to St. James Church (32km), the first part of the Celtic Camino and on the 19th of May this year,  I walked St Kevin’s way to Glendalough. So I have a Celtic Camino Compostela for the short distance walked in Ireland. The next stage is to walk the remainder (75km) to Santiago from A Coruña – hopefully, May 2019. This should take 3-4 days. This is a little too short for my liking so I will extend it by walking to Finisterre, another 3-4 days.

I hope I can bring my brother with me. It would mean a lot if he is available for the trip. He has the Celtic Camino Compostela also, having walked from Bray to St. James Church on two occasions.

For more information about the Celtic Camino and the Camino Ingles in general, check out the below links:

Information on the Celtic Camino on Camino Society Ireland
Guidebook to the Celtic Camino
Camino Ingles on Eroski

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Breogán and the Tower of Hercules / Source: Wikipedia

Camino Frances 2018 – A 2nd day in Burgos, Burgos Cathedral and Home

September 20th & 21st, 2018 – Day 9 & 10
Burgos

It was an early morning. Truth be told I should have stayed in a private room and got a few hours more sleep. The albergue wanted everyone to leave before 8am. Poor me! So I got up, packed and had breakfast in the cafe across from the albergue. I was delighted to be joined by Jim who decided to take a day’s rest. He was having some foot problems and wanted to rest before tackling the meseta. I also met 2 Argentinian pilgrims – Marcos and Santiago. They had pretty good English but I encouraged them to speak Spanish to me so I can improve on that front.

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Jim, Marcos and Santiago, on no walking days

After breakfast, we all agreed to visit the Cathedral. Bringing your credential gets you a pilgrim rate, so that’s handy. Even though I’ve been in the Cathedral twice before, I am blown away by the work. It is always full with tourists so early morning is a good time. You get an audio tour too. The following image was posted on Instagram and has been shared by the Spanish tourist board.

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The rear of Burgos Cathedral

And some photos of the interior of the Cathedral…

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Afterward, I checked in to a Hostal that I had booked before arriving in Burgos. I left my bag there and walked back to the cafe outside the albergue. Jim was there and there was already a healthy queue forming with pilgrims for the albergue. The beat goes on. It was good to see some people that I met along the Way and I lost touch. We shared stories over a drink and swapped contact details.

Later that evening, I visited a friend who lives in Burgos and afterward I went back to the hostal to pack for the bus to Bilbao. My Camino was closing to an end but the many people I had met had weeks to go yet, I hoped to follow them to Santiago.

Until next year.

Camino Frances 2018 – Belorado to Atapuerca

September 18th, 2018 – Day 7
Belorado to Atapuerca, 30km

This day had finally come. This has the least appealing scenery of the Camino, in my opinion. But it still needs to be walked. The night before, pilgrims were busy making reservations in Ages, one of the more popular towns. The bed race had begun. It didn’t seem to bother me. I had walked this etapa twice before and while it doesn’t stick out as a favourite, it is memorable. Is that saying something?

I had a bunk in the attic of Cuatro Cantones, which meant I had the dangerous task of walking down 3 flights of stairs to the kitchen. No bones broken. When I got there, I saw Karsten, a Korean couple and a number of other pilgrims. The morning was still young. This sign in the albergue caught my eye.

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It was a super morning, the skies were clear but it was a bit chilly. We reached Tosantos in no time and we hoped that 2nd coffee could be found. Unfortunately, everything was closed. We arrived at Espinosa de la Camino with a little success. Some breakfast later and we had some energy. Now we were rocking. We met Guilhermo again walking in a casual way. He had stayed in Tosantos and was aiming for Ages and then finally Burgos the next day to end his Camino this year. I wished him well.

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Espinosa

It was all fun and games and good conversation until we reached Villafranca Montes de Oca – a small town based on an incline into the Oca Hills. We stopped for refreshments and chatted to 2 young German (or so I was told) pilgrims, before making a start on the climb. It wasn’t steep but it went on for a while. So, we had 12km of ascent and descent before arriving at the next town San Juan de Ortega. And I was glad.

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 San Juan de Ortega holds nothing more than a monastery, an albergue, a hotel and a cafe. Most stop here after the long nothingness. The cafe is buzzing with cafe con leches flying out the door. Karsten buys me a coke and I sit down. I spot two very young pilgrims buzzing around with more energy than us all. I ask presumably their father if they are his children. He says yes and says they are 4 and 6 and have walked from St. Jean. This is their Day 16. I’m stunned and ask for a photo. It’s a great story to tell and what a great experience it will be for them when they complete it.

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Karsten and I decide to walk on. We have another 4km to Ages and another 2km to Atapuerca after that. Our feet were fine but I had a bad case of the farmers’ tan now that the lower part of the trousers was missing. I needed the sun to move back under the cloud. Back into the woods we go for a few km before we arrive at Ages. Atapuerca is just 2km or 30 minutes away. I could walk it in my sleep at this rate.

We arrived just after midday. The albergue wasn’t due to open until 1pm. I left my back with Karsten and paid the tienda a visit. I knew Atapuerca well at this rate having been here in 2013 and 2015. But the people make the place you stay and I was waiting for the right people to show up. I had Karsten, he was good fun. While waiting, Jim from the USA and Ben from Israel appeared. We would get to know both well over the next few days. And then was Bruno and Blanka. I had met Bruno earlier on in the week briefly. But I didn’t get a chance to talk to him for long. Bruno had written a novel and had with him a number of his books. Later in the evening, he would give me a copy of his book to read when I returned from my Camino.

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After a few light refreshments, Jim, Ben, Bruno and myself went for dinner in El Palomar. It was smashing and I was filled with energy for the walk to Burgos in the morning. I wasn’t looking forward to my last walking day but I was walking so fast I now had a rest day. So I could chill for a day before traveling to Bilbao and Dublin.

A short day to Burgos in the morning. Everyone is talking about a river route. I have walked it in 2015 so I’ve been giving tips on how to avoid the mundanity of the industrial centre of Burgos.

Camino Frances 2018 – Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado

September 17th, 2018 – Day 6
Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado, 24km

Not much sleep was had in the Cofradia in Santo Domingo. The bunks make enough noise to wake the dead. But I was looking forward to this day. Belorado is a place I have been to many a time and one I will hope to return to again. The albergue Cuatro Cantones is a special place run by Jana and her family. Do stay if you get the chance. I decided to stay this year.

I gathered my backpack and slowly walked to the kitchen in the Cofradia. There were a few pilgrims asleep on the sofas nearby – tired of the snoring maybe? After a quick cafe con leche and some fruit, I was ready to head out but I saw Karsten. I decided to wait. The forecast for the day was good with a slight chance of rain in the afternoon, but there was much talk of the swimming pool in Cuatro Cantones over the pilgrim meal the evening before. I have not yet seen the swimming pool in action so there is a first for everything.

We were on the road by 6.30am. Leaving Santo Domingo is nothing special. You walk along the main road until you arrive at Granon and it’s tall steeple church. We stop for another breakfast at the cafe “My Way Frances”. It has a very active presence on Instagram so it was nice to say hello and thank them for doing what they do. A short while later, we walk on.

 

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It was also the day we left the La Rioja region and entered Castilla y Leon. Just after Granon, you arrive at a large sign which sets out your path for the next week or more. It was nice to see that again. We bumped into Andrew again and just enjoyed naming off some of the towns the gang will be walking through soon. I sat back and took a photo.

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The scenery was gradually changing too. The vineyards of La Rioja were no more, only to be replaced by sunflowers, We speculated how the price of wine will be affected!

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On our travels and somewhere before Belorado, we saw a chap in front of us with earphones plugged in, presumably listening to music. He was zoned out. However, a large truck was coming his way. Karsten ran toward him to warn him. Our newly-met pilgrim (Jim from the US) couldn’t thank us enough. We walked together to Belorado.

Onwards. Conversation makes time and kilometres shorter until we arrive at Belorado. Albergue A Santiago is all bells and whistles and opens at midday, however, Cuatro Cantones is situated in the centre of the town. We have another 30 minutes to wait. A queue is beginning to form already, and I expected that too. It is a popular albergue.  We walk to the main plaza where it is market day. We buy some fruit for tomorrow morning. I see Andrew also. He is walking to Villafranca Montes de Oca, a further 12km. I wouldn’t see him again.

 

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After checking in, I grab a shower. The swimming pool is open with the temp being in the mid-20s. The sun doesn’t look like leaving us. There is a yoga session planned for before dinner so I decided to join that. First time for everything. Until then, we are relaxing in the back garden. I get called from another Irish pilgrim “David, come on in, the water is perfect”. The thing is I can’t swim, so that’s my excuse. I can paddle though!

I take off my zip offs and paddle like the best 5-year-old child. An hour passes and the rain that was promised arrives. I quickly jump from the pool and run for the washing line to gather my clothes. I just hope they dry for tomorrow morning. My zip off leggings are still in Belorado.

Camino Frances 2018 – Ventosa to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

September 16th, 2018 – Day 5
Ventosa to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 32km

A long day, but a day I met and walked with new faces. It was expected to be a hot day again, so I was prepared. It was a Sunday also. So we were prepared for that too. Sunday’s on the Camino are a different kettle of fish.

Patricia, from Logrono, and Karsten, from Germany, left Albergue San Saturnino in Ventosa after 6am after some breakfast. Well, some fruit and coffee, until Najera. We had 11kms to conquer before reaching the River Najerilla and it’s many cafes and albergues. Not that we had planned to stay there. My two companions had open minds, while I had my heart set on Santo Domingo and her two hens! Patricia had taken some time off from work to walk part of the Camino and hoped to walk to Burgos. So she was in no rush. From the off, I could see she was having great difficulty with her pack. Its settings were not right and its weight was on her lower back. And this was her 2nd day. We talked about her summer spent in Ireland while studying English, which seems to be the place to be if you are a Spanish student during the summer months. She had fun, but she did tell me that not a lot of English was learned! Karsten had walked part of the Camino, from Leon, so he knew the score. He liked the silence and only spoke when spoken to. But I enjoyed his sense of humour. This is strange for a German, right? However, we would walk together to Burgos. Little did I know that he had something in common with me and it was great to chat with him about it.

Najera, our first stop, is situated underneath a cliff face and there was an eerie silence about the place when we crossed the Najerilla. There is a great cafe to the left of the river and we stopped there for a 2nd breakfast. We met Jan, from Denmark and Andrew, from Scotland. They were both aiming for Santo Domingo. They were part of the 40k club. They could do big distances each day. I’m not sure I could join them. After our coffees had been finished and our tostadas had been eaten, we sauntered on. Azofra, 6km ahead, would be our next stop.

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Patricia & Karsten in Najera

The distance ahead was pretty straightforward but now the sun was front and centre.  The trail rambled over hills with rocks to one side and vineyards to the other. This is a winemakers heaven here! Plenty of arrows sprayed on the rocks, just in case we don’t take a wrong turn. Azofra is a one street town but it is pretty great. There are a number of cafes and we decided to stop for a bit because Patricia was struggling. I offered some bandage for a new blister. I told her about the municipal albergue here in Azofra, which has a swimming pool. She decided to stay at the cafe, when myself and Karsten reached for our packs. We didn’t meet again.

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It was now coming close to midday and having walked 17km, we had a further 15km to go to our destination. The sun was relentless and there was little shade. The trail now changed from one with a lot of turns, to none. A walk for a long as your eye can see. It was time to dig deep. Karsten pushed ahead, just the motivation I needed. We barely talked until Ciruena but if you need an example in ‘let’s just get through this’, Karsten had it.

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The long walk under the sun to Ciruena

Ciruena is in the unfortunate position to be beside a ghost town that was built beside a golf course. Both Karsten and I stopped for a cold drink here and we met my Irish buddy from the flight. His wife had picked up some nasty blisters and had taxied ahead. That’s the Camino unfortunately. I hoped to meet him later. Leaving Ciruena is like trying to escape from a bank. It can be tricky, to say the least. We eventually found the exit (even though I have passed through here before).

One long stretch, one hill, and one tricky descent before we could see Santo Domingo. I didn’t think I could make it. Karsten wanted to check into the albergue and see the two hens in the Catedral. I’m not sure the viewing of two hens is worth a couple of euro. I’m happier to meet other pilgrims.

With that, I saw Doug. He was talking to a Danish pilgrim who I hadn’t met before. I heard a loud shout “Irish Dave” across the hive of peregrinos – I think the Estrellas were talking! I knew I would catch up with him but not this early. There you go! I better check in and find a bed first.

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The municipal albergue hadn’t changed since I was in it first in 2013 – well, maybe the price! My bed was in “Azofra” on the 2nd floor – more steps to climb. While Karsten checked out the Catedral, I grabbed a mini siesta and then headed out for some money. I met Jan and Andrew whom we met in Najera, and they were with other folks. So I joined them. There were pilgrims from Australia, Sweden, Canada, Spain and another from Ireland. This Irish pilgrim was walking to Santiago and having a great time. Maybe one year, I’ll be able to do the same.

After numerous drinks and tapas, we started to think about a pilgrim meal. It was close to 7pm and everywhere looked full. Who is going to serve a group of 12? Luckily enough we found a great restaurant beside the Parador that provides pilgrim meals. It was a great evening but I have no photos to remember the night due to the battery dying. That is the Camino! Shout out to Andrew for organising the table!

As is the Camino, not everyone were going to walk the same distance the following day. I hoped to walk to Belorado and Cuatro Cantones albergue, while others hoped to walk to Villafranca and Tosantos. While this happens all the time, everyone meets up in the end and a big city like Burgos brings everyone back together again.

Until tomorrow.