Towns Along The Way – “P” – Part 1

Ok..So we are nearly there! Our credencials are nearly full with sellos and your Camino family are looking to book flights home. But before we do anything else, there is the small matter of talking about towns beginning with “P”….and there’s a few!!

Pamplona (map)

800px-pamplona_rathaus_2005We start with possibly the largest town on the Camino, other than Santiago herself. When someone mentions San Fermin, “the running of the bulls”, Hemingway and “The Sun Also Rises”, you automatically think of Pamplona (or Iruña in it’s favoured Basque).  Situated in Navarre, it is home to close to 200,000 people. The city is also famous for its “pinchos” and it’s always worthwhile to spend some time in the historic quarter where you can sample them (www.spain.info). Just make sure you call them “pinchos” and not “tapas” like in the rest of Spain! As you make your way into Pamplona, you will pass a number of suburbs – Villava and Burlada – and finally see the town’s fortress walls. You are now entering the old town. Leaving the following day, however, is another issue, as I discovered in 2014 when I was geographically embarassed 🙂 The yellow arrows don’t tend to be distinct. There are many albergues, hostels and hotels to choose from here (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in the municipal albergue. It is also well worth a visit if you are not walking the Camino.

Puente la Reina (map)

puentelareina2Staying in Navarre and only a further 25 km westward, we find Puente la Reina, or the Queen’s Bridge in English. The town was named as such as the bridge was built by Queen Doña Mayor, the wife of King Sancho III, to facilitate passage of pilgrims over the river Arga. It is a town heavily influenced by the Way to Santiago, with the remains of walls and several religious buildings in place. El Iglesia de Santiago was founded by the Knights Templars, who settled in there. Also worth mentioning are its large medieval bridge of five arches, and the church of San Pedro, from the 14th century. There are a number of places for the weary pilgrim to rest their head in Puente la Reina (Gronze); Albergue Jakue being one of the better ones.

Población de Campos (map)

poblacion-de-camposvista-genal-copiarClose to 300km further on down the Camino Frances, we reach Población de Campos. Calling Población de Campos a town would be a push however, as nearly 200 live here. Hamlet would be the appropriate word! It is situated in Castilla y Leon and is the next town to Fromista. In the village, you will find Church of the Magdalena; and the chapels of Socorro and San Miguel. I do remember stopping here for a cafe con leche in 2015, but I haven’t considered it as a stop off point. There are a number of albergues here however (Gronze). The following video shows you scenes of the town.

Puente Villarente (map)

2015-05-14-09-26-50A further 100 km along the way, we arrive at Puente Villarente, a suburb of Leon. Named after it’s large Romanesque bridge, it has a population of approx. 150 people. I have passed through here on two occasions and wish I had stayed here as it is a long slog into the city of Leon. A footbridge was built recently for pilgrims to avoid any accidents on the busy main road. There are a number of albergues here also (Gronze); San Pelayo is getting good reviews.

Ponferrada (map)

Ponferrada is the capital of the El Bierzo region and is one of the major points of the ponferrada_16372Camino Frances. The historic quarter of this town sits below an imposing castle built by the Knights Templar.The Castle rises above the river Sil, dominating the city’s historic quarter. Construction began on this medieval fortress towards the end of the 12th century. It is also worth visiting the Museum of El Bierzo, located in Calle del Reloj, in the building which was the former prison. Its facilities provide an introduction to the history of Ponferrada. As with every large town, there are many places to stay (Gronze). I haven’t stayed here myself, preferring to stop in the town prior, Molinaseca.

Pieros (map)

valley-with-houseAnother small village located just outside a larger town. Pieros has a population of less than 50 people and is dependant on the Camino. Five kms along the way is the much larger Villafranca del Bierzo, in the Bierzo valley. Pieros is home to the fantastic Albergue El Serbal y Luna and don’t forget to take a pit stop at the Café Bar Arroyo (on the left hand side of the road) before moving on.

 

Pereje (map)

14112442555_53ac63b6f1Pereje is the first town you arrive at on leaving Villafranca del Bierzo; 5 km to be precise. However, it is worth noting that you will only see this town if you walk along the roadside. There are two alternative routes (via Dragonte and via Pradela) which skip a number of towns, but that’s for another day. Pereje is built just off the busy N-V1 motorway and also lies on the River Valcarce. I walked through Pereje on my way to O Cebreiro in 2012 and even though it was a tough day, Pereje is one of those towns that make you want to come back to Spain, open an albergue and give back. There is a great albergue and a pension to choose from here (Gronze). Leaving Pereje, you return to the N-V1 with Santiago on your mind.

I have 3 more towns from Galicia to talk about in my next post.

2016 Plans so far…

The #camino de santiago hashtag has been trim of late on WordPress which leads me to believe that people are busily putting together their plans for upcoming Caminos. Once we hit April, blogs burst into life with great stories and many photos of people’s times in Spain. However, for me, I’ve been trying to convince myself that my return to the Camino is done and I just need to throw on the backpack. It has been harder than I thought so I thought I’d write a post listing out my reasons for my indecision. This very time last year, I had my flights booked, my leaving date chosen and even my holidays booked with my employer. This year? Nope..none of the above. Nevertheless, I still hope to return to Spain this year and have my feet re-acquainted with the road.

So why the delay, I hear you all say? Well..I may have mentioned in a previous post that I have purchased an apartment (responsibility..sheesh!). At present, the legalities are being worked out before contracts are signed. I had hoped to be moved in at this stage but there are delays which I would rather not go into now. I would ideally like to be moved in before February so I can start to budget and get settled in. So you may understand why I’m hazy about a 2016 return.

But this is what I do know?

When will I walk? – I have decided between either August or September. I’ve pushed this back a few months as a result of the delay with the sale. I’m normally a May walker. Provisionally, I have chosen Tuesday August 16th as my start date.

What distance do I hope to walk? – My start point will be Ponferrada and I hope to walk to the coast. I’ve been looking at flights to Madrid and they are reasonable enough at the moment. Ponferrada to Santiago should take me 9 days and Santiago to Finistere / Muxia an extra 4 days. If I stick to the start date of August 16th, my return date will be August 30th.

ponferrada-castillo-2-1024x682

Do I have any changes to make since my last Camino? – Other than buying a lighter sleeping back and some pacer poles, none. I will keep the same backpack, the same equipment, and the same mentality.

Any expectations? – I have walked this 300+km distance before between 2011 and 2012 and I would rather choose to absolutely forget both occasions. In 2011, I walked from Sarria to Santiago as part of tour group to raise money for charity. It was my first experience of long distance walking and after 6 days I arrived in Santiago, sore and tired but delighted at what I had achieved. I returned home and the thought of returning never entered my mind until later that year. In May 2012, I walked from Astorga to Sarria and while I met people from all corners of the globe, I did not prepare correctly and suffered from bad blisters. I have no idea why I decided to return the following year. I suppose I was being called. And this is exactly what is happening now. I guess I’m only hoping I don’t have the same problems I had in the past when I walked this section.

A compostela? – I received one in 2011 and I am quite happy with it. I value my credencials and sellos more than any compostela so I will give it a miss this time.

 The coast? – Yes absolutely. Finistere AND Muxia. I think I will walk to Muxia first and finish in Finistere. I’m really looking forward to this section on reaching Santiago.

More details in the future.

 

2016..

…it’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

two..oh..one..six..

..I haven’t got used to writing it yet, but at least we have got one extra day to try and complete all those New Year’s resolutions, eh?

Christmas was good but I’m happy to be out of silly season. There wasn’t much walking done however, as the weather was as Irish as you can get. However, I was one of the lucky ones as hundreds of homes around Ireland were destroyed due to flooding. The beautiful Lough Derg Way which I walked last year, and the towns surrounding it, is submerged in water. The weather in general has been unusual for this time of the year with tornadoes in America and extreme heat in Australia. I find it insane that some people still don’t believe in global warming.

Anyway, moving on…

product_thumbnailI’m really eager to receive a new purchase in the post next week. I love keeping an eye out for books (paperback or kindle) about the Camino and I have found one written by Luke Darracott. Luke walked the Camino a couple of years back and decided to write about it before going. He also video logged his journey. Once I receive it and read it, I will post a review. It can be bought online on lulu.com. I love the cover art, it’s very vibrant and it’s just like the Camino during the months of May and June.

 

And finishing up for now, I’ve decided on returning to Spain in September when I will walk from Ponferrada to the coast. I haven’t walked this section since 2012 so I’m eager to return. More on that later.

 

 

 

Three days before I go….however…

Well, it’s not long before this Irishman finds himself back on the Camino trail. I will pick up where I left off last September and will walk for two weeks. The fortnight is going to be relaxed, it’s going to be enjoyable and fingers crossed I meet some good friends like I have done since 2011.

However, that being said, I travel on this Camino with a weight on my shoulder. One that I didn’t have before. From Day One, I always believed the Camino is all about letting your feet do the walking, to switch your mind off and keep things as simple as possible. I don’t want to know where I will be staying on my first night. In fact, I don’t care. When my feet tell me, then I am done. But it seems to me, that more and more people want to be in control of their Caminos. So much so, that albergues, hostels and pensiones are booked up days and weeks in advance. I wanted to see how busy the Camino is at present by sending an email to two private albergues in Ages, which is a small town 25km after Belorado. I wrote an email asking if they could book a bunk in their albergues for me for the night of the 6th. I got more or less the same response from both albergues:

“Hola David, Para el día 6 de mayo estamos completos. Buen Camino”

This translates as “Hello David. For the 6th of May, we are full. Buen Camino”.

Wow!

Are albergues full that far in advance? Are people booking bunks 4 or 5 days in advance? I’ve never come across this before and if this is true, it means times are changing on the Camino.

So, as I prepare for my 2 weeks away, I am trying not to let this nugget get me down. There are municipal albergues that you cannot reserve in advance and I shall be aiming for those. Luckily, I like walking in the morning as the sun rises so I don’t think I will have any great problems with “the great bed race” but I think of those who like to take it easy and “smell the flowers”.

I hope to post a few lines after each day from the 5th of May onwards by the way.

And like that, we’re down to 20…

Time flies when you’re having fun eh? I surely hope my time in Spain doesn’t go by fast when I get there! Like the title says, I am 20 days before I start my 5th stint on the Camino Frances. I can’t believe I have been caught by this bug since June 2011. There is no sign of it letting me go also, judging my eagerness to return to Spain.

Mojones del Camino f-cc

I have just over 2 weeks of walking ahead of me so if all goes well I should get to the Templar city of Ponferrada. Although I may reach Villafranca if I put in a few long days. My flight touches down in Bilbao on the 5th of May and I catch a bus from the city’s main bus station afterwards. It will bring me to Belorado where I plan to start the next morning. I have emailed Jana in Cuatro Cantones (I encourage you all to stay there – a fab albergue) and she will save a bunk for me there! Should my flight be delayed, I have option of catching a later bus to Burgos which is 50km westwards from Belorado.

I walked from Belorado to Atapuerca in 2013 , a 30km day, but I may stop short in Ages this year. It is a challenging first day with a good climb at Villafranca Montes de Oca and a long slog of 12km through woods before arriving at the barren San Juan de Ortega. I have good memories of devouring lunch and a cerveza at the bar there before moving on to the next town.

I’ve also learnt that some friends of mine are walking different sections in or around the same week. Unfortunately, we won’t meet but we will good stories to tell when we all return. I travel to Tipperary this weekend to walk two longish days (around 20km) and hopefully to have some tapas and vino.

I had a random thought of throwing on my backpack in work today and a big smile appeared on my face. It is strange what makes people happy. I can’t wait to get back out there.

Buen Camino!

New Year…and some news for my next Camino

Well 2015 is only a few days old but I’m well into my preparation for my 2015 Camino Frances. On Monday last, I booked my flights to and from Spain for May 5th to May 19th, while today I bought a new backpack after a quick visit to the city centre.

I paid a visit to Great Outdoors again (great store!!) in Chatham Street in Dublin. I chose Lowe Alpine this time around after a few tips from the store staff. First impressions are positive but I need to take it out for some test walks in the coming months. The video below gives you a little information about it.

Just to remind you, I am starting from Belorado on May 6th and walking for just shy of two weeks. I hope to reach Ponferrada, which is around 320km. No Compostela for me this time but that doesn’t worry me one bit! I will then catch a bus to Santiago and fly home the next day. I have walked much of this section in 2013 and enjoyed it thoroughly. I met some great people also. I hope to stay in towns I passed last time. That’s the plan anyway. 🙂

2015…what’s to come?

I still find it hard to believe that I will be returning to Spain for the 5th time next year. I keep getting asked that there must be other things I could do or places I could visit, but as long as I enjoy walking, I’ll keep making plans to return. I love the Spanish people, the culture, their way of life and also meeting people from different corners of the world. I hope to start in Belorado in the first week of May. From there, I will walk from 11 days. I would hope to reach Ponferrada within that time. I then hope to catch a bus to Santiago de Compostela, stay a night and fly home to Dublin. It all looks well and good on paper, you know?, but I have found Astorga to Ponferrada to be the most challenging section. I picked up some bad blisters there in 2012. However, I think I stand to gain from walking the full Camino before.

I don’t have flights booked as of yet but hope to do so over the Christmas period. I have kept in touch with my friend Garry in Santiago (check out his site www.spanishadventures.com) and I may meet him and his family, provided he is not walking with a group. I won’t blog during this Camino but I will continue to post pictures to my instagram and facebook accounts while I am there.

And just to finish off this post, why not “like” my facebook page here?

Buen Camino!