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

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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I Have an Itch..an Itch to Return..

I am home less than three weeks now and naturally enough, I am beginning to think of where my feet will take me next year. I don’t expect next year’s Camino to be long, 2 weeks will be fine. A have a number of options:

  • St Jean Pied de Port and continue for 11 or so days – I haven’t walked from St. Jean since September 2014 and I miss the climb out and up to Orrison. However, the Camino Frances is usually extremely busy unless I walk in the off season.
  • Astorga – Santiago de Compostela – Another section that is due a visit. I love the walk from Rabanal to Molinaseca. I haven’t been beyond Sarria since 2011. However, along with it’s beauty comes it’s crowds.
  • The Camino Portuguese from Porto – This was a runner until last week. The coastal route, or Senda Litoral looks great. It is quiet, the route touches the ocean and it is short. However, there is a lack of municipal albergues and I would need to book my accommodation ahead. It is one for the future, and at that stage, there may be more albergues
  • Then, there was also my old favourite, the meseta, from Burgos to Leon. However, it would be my fourth time walking through it. I need a change.

In have decided to stay in Galicia and walk the Camino Ingles. The English Way originates in Ferrol or A Coruña. It was a medieval pilgrimage route for people from Britian or elsewhere in northern Europe, who arrived by ship to the ports of A Coruña and Ferrol.

I have no dates decided as of yet. On walking to Santiago, I will continue to the coast and visit Muxia. Today, the Camino Ingles starts in Ferrol or A Coruna and is just over 120km from Santiago. You will only be entitled to a compostela should you start in Ferrol as the distance from A Coruña does not exceed 100km. It is a much quieter route to Santiago with 2,174 pilgrims collecting compostelas in August 2016 compared to 14,936 pilgrims who walked from Sarria.

Walking alone for most of the day did seem to catch me off guard on the Camino Finisterre, so I guess I am prepared for much of the same on the Camino Ingles.

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However, the Camino Ingles is a tough trail, it is no walk in the park. It takes pilgrims on many climbs and descents. Betanzos to Hospital de Bruma, for example, has a steep climb of 500m in just over 5km. The Camino Ingles, according to many guidebooks, can be walked in 5 days, but I may walk it in 6 days, breaking the above stage into 2. But just like my recent walk to Finisterre, any plans made can be thrown out the window.

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Camino Finisterre 2016 – Day 6-7 – To Santiago & Home

Camino 2016 – Day 6-7 – To Santiago & Home – September 7th & 8th
It had to come to an end….

I had a restless sleep the previous night. A large group came in to the dorm at 3am from gathering at the cape. I didn’t blame them though. It’s the last night. Maybe if I was younger, I would have joined them. Anyway, I got up just after half 7..the sound of flip flops being my final alarm. My Cork friend was gathering his belongings while I carried my bag out to make sure I had everything. He was to walk to Muxia that day, but was waiting for another friend to accompany him. I said my goodbyes to him. Muxia would wait for another day. Today, I was travelling to Santiago.

I walked down to outside the Xunta albergue, where the bus stop is. I had a good wait ahead of me before the bus arrived shortly after 8.15am. People were busily going to work and opening the cafes and restaurants. I was really hoping this was just a dream. I picked up my rucksack..ouch…nope it’s real. I had aches in my lower back from the previous few days’ climbs. Hmm..I need to get (and remain) Camino-fit. I got on the bus and had a seat near the top. A few minutes later, my friend from Slovenia got on. I knew I would meet her before I left. I was delighted! The Monbus coach takes you from Finisterre to Cee and further south along the coast, before it arrives in Santiago. All in all the trip took 2 and a half hours. It was good having company on the bus, as well as looking at pilgrims walking between Cee and Finisterre. I had hoped on being in Santiago by 10.30am for the English mass, but the bus was delayed. Not to worry. We both got a feeder bus from the Estacion de Autobuses to Praza de Galicia (only a €1 each) and walked to the Praza da Obradoiro. No matter how many times I have stood in front of the Cathedral, I feel a great sense of joy. I watched other pilgrims enter the Praza happy to have completed their Caminos. I noticed a number of members of Guardia Civil with arms there too, which I didn’t notice the last time I was here. Times are changing. We both agreed to meet later for some food once we checked into our albergues.

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The Hospederia San Martin Pinario hadn’t changed in my absence. I got my key – Room 409 – ugh! Another climb up those steps. On the top floor, I heard Dublin accents. I said “so I’m not the only Irish person here?” We had a long conversation about our completed Caminos. Both had walked from Sarria and loved the experience. They invited me out for a bite to eat but I needed to clean myself up. I was grateful for their offer. I hope to see them at the airport however when we were flying home. After a shower, I had an hour snooze and wandered out to a busy Santiago. The streets were full of tourists, pilgrims and souvenir traders. It was bustling. Walking down Praza de Cervantes and into Rua do Preguntoiro, I look at all the shop windows. I was looking for Rua Nova however and it isn’t long before I am lost, yet again. I find it after a while and take a seat at El Retablo (you should go there). It’s a great cafe and I ordered an Estrella. The best part of ordering drinks in Spain is the snacks that you are provided. 

After an hour or so after, I went to the Cathedral and then met up with my Slovenian friend, We decided to have some food and before long we were in a resuraunt at the end of Rua Vilar. It was really enjoyable! We then walked to to Casino Cafe to finish the evening. We were then joined by a Latvian girl who had walked the Camino Frances. She enjoyed the Camino experience so much, she was now going to walk to Porto or further. We wished her well and gave her some Portuguese phrases to use 🙂 I hope to walk from Porto soon.

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I then had an early night, promising that I would go to the English mass at 10.30. The following day, I woke at half past 7. I decided to get some breakfast in the San Martin. It was fab! Toast, tea, fruit and you can take more when finished. Yum! I then checked out, left my bag behind reception and went to find the English Mass. If you are interested and if English is your first language, there is a mass at 10.30am Monday to Saturday and 9am on Sunday in the Capella de la Soledad. About 50 turned up for this service, mostly from Ireland.

We went for a short way to the Parque de la Alameda to count down the remainder of my Camino. I hadn’t long before I had to take my bag and fly off from the airport. I said my goodbyes, although I gave an invite to come to Ireland! 🙂 and made my way to the airport.

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There, I was re-introduced to queues…and everything that I didn’t see on the Camino. I was back to reality. I met my Irish friends from San Martin again and sat with them for lunch. They seemed to have a good time, which is the main thing. While waiting for the plane, I thought about walking, I thought about the next time. The question of “if” had long been answered, it was more a question of “when” and “where”. I had met some great people also – from Ireland, Slovenia, Italy, France, Hungary, Latvia, Colombia, Germany. I hope these memories will stay fresh as they are now. I arrived home tired, wanting to be in Spain. 

 

 

Camino Finisterre 2016 – Day 5 – Finisterre

Camino 2016 – Day 4 – Finisterre – September 6th
A hop, skip and a jump and I’ve arrived

I woke just after 7am after a perfect sleep in the Hotel Playa Langosteire. I knew I had a little under 2km to go before I reached the main village of Finisterre, so I left after gathering all my things. The sun was slowly rising above the horizon and I stopped for a while to watch it rise. Later on that evening, I would see it go down. It was 8am and I had a fear that nothing would be open. However, I passed a group of American women who told me they had an amazing breakfast in one place just off the main road – Albergue Cabo da Villa. I thanked them and wandered off, searching for this place. Arriving there, the owner instantly invited me in for breakfast, which consisted of coffee, toast, and fruit and then she offered me more. This was great! I thought about staying here but there were no rooms ready at this time.  However, she offered to take my bag and pole from me for later, so I could wander around the harbour and take some photos.

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There’s a nice descent into the harbour from the Albergue. On first impressions, it is littered with bars and restaurants, however it was too early and none of these were open. I sat down and took everything in. I knew I had another 3km or so to Cabo Fisterra, so I had technically not reached the 0 km point. But I preferred to wait until the evening to go there. It was at that stage that I saw the Italian girl from earlier on in the week. I couldn’t believe it! She had walked the alternative route to Muxia and had arrived in Finisterre the day before. We both took a slow walk in the cold ocean, which felt great but walking on shells on a beach can be painful!!. I also met the girl from Hungary who was right when she said she would see me in Finisterre. She had slept on the beach just like she said.

With sand in my shoes, I said my final goodbyes to both and walked to the main road and to “Brigantia Viajes”. I needed to book my bus ticket back to Santiago, no matter how much I wanted to stay. I bought an open ticket for the next day – it cost €13. I aimed for the 8.20am bus but there was another at 9.45am if I was late. I stopped off next door in the Mariquito Bar for two glasses of Coca Cola. Half way through my 1st glass, an elderly man, who was with his wife, said to me – “Hola amigo!” I had no idea who he was. “Did you like Casa Pepa?” Nope, still no recollection! How and ever, I enjoyed the conversation. He was from Colombia and was spending another few days in Finisterre. He showed me a photo on his phone of Galway Bay. “See this…my daughter was here and she loved it”. I didn’t doubt a word he said. I said my goodbyes and made my way back to Cabo da Villa where the bunkbeds were being made available. I chose one on a bottom bunk yet again at the very back of the room. It’s a lovely place, with great owners and I would recommend it. I showered, washed clothes and spent a number of hours thinking of the evening.

There’s no shortage of restaurants or cafe’s in Finisterre and at around 4pm, I strolled down to the sea-front and had a great three course menu del dia for €10. I’m not much of a fish-lover, so I stayed on pasta carbonara. It is perfect pilgrim food. I didn’t see anyone else I knew which kind of bothered me. It was also perfect time to collect my Finisterrana in the Municipal albergue. There was a short queue but in a while I had the certificate with my name and date of completion. I wandered back to the albergue for a short snooze until 7pm when I decided to walk to the Cape.

While lying on the bunk, a heard a guy with what appeared to be an Irish accent come into the room. He was finishing his day and looked flustered. I was delighted as I hadn’t come across any other Irish since the airport. I asked him “so what part of Ireland are you from?” He was a bit taken aback and said “Ah, how’s it going, I’m from Cork!”. I enjoyed speaking to him, as I speak as I could at home. We both agreed that we would walk to the Cape later on when he was ready.

It wasn’t long before the albergue started emptying out. Folks had bought drink and snacks and were taking them to the cape to watch the sun go down. Some would stay there for the night, others would come home by 10pm and prepare for walking to Muxia the next day. My Cork friend was one of these. The walk to the Cape is just over 2km uphill and I chose to wear sandals. Hmm..not a wise move! Within 45 minutes we were at the lighthouse. It’s a popular place to be and the car park was full with in a short space of time. I asked for a few photos beside the 0km marker and then found a spot to watch the sun go down. I managed to record it, see below. It was a special evening and it wasn’t long before it was dark. I headed back to an empty albergue Cabo da Villa and got my pack ready for the next day. Santiago was my next destination…

7 Things I Learned On Camino De Santiago | Tarek Riman

I spotted this article online written by a journalist after he had completed the Camino Frances. Yes, but there are hundreds of these articles, I hear you say….! However, the points he has made have hit the nail on the head about what the Camino is, in my opinion.

Recently, I packed 2 small bags, boxed up my bike and hopped a plane to Paris. Lugging a massive bike box through Paris, I then took a train to Bayonne in southern France, assembled my bike and rode 3 hours to a town in the Pyrenees mountains called Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port where my journey on the Camino began.

Source: 7 Things I Learned On Camino De Santiago | Tarek Riman

So what are the alternatives to a busy Camino Frances..

Hi folks, just a quick post about something that has been on my mind of late. The Camino has been very busy so far this year (Jubilee Year) and I’ve been asking myself the above question. When people mention the Camino, they are talking about the Way that takes you from the foothills of the Pyrenees in St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. The French Way or the Camino Frances is the route with the most deep-rooted historical tradition and it is the most popular one. A certain film has made it popular also. Over 60% of pilgrims choose the Camino Frances because it is the route where you can get the most of the “pilgrim experience”. There are many pilgrims that you will meet on your journey and there are many facilities that cater to pilgrims. It is also the best waymarked route of all. These 790kms will leave an imprint on you, whether you choose to walk over a number of years, or in one year.

However, May 2016 has seen over 32,000 compestelas (or certificates) being issued in Santiago de Compostela, with the figures set to rise over the summer. The numbers of pilgrims have been increasing gradually year on year and many see the next Holy Year as a year of new records. Will there be sufficient albergues or accommodation for these peregrinos? Will supply match demand? I won’t answer those questions now but it is food for thought. Some people may choose to have their Camino booked through a travel agency to remove the stress, while others will sleep under the stars with a mat and a sleeping bag and leave it all up to chance. I prefer to take that option myself!

But…..let’s just park the Camino Frances to one side…, just for the sake of this post. Let’s leave it and discuss the other options available to pilgrims who want to get a “pilgrim experience” and yet have some solidarity. Because, you can!

Here are just a few options available to you:

  • The Camino Finistere is the extension of the Camino Frances from Santiago de Compostela to Cape Finistere. It was mistakenly believed to be the western-most point of the Iberian Peninsula. It is about 110km in length and can take 4-5 days.
  • The Camino Norte runs from Irun in north-eastern Spain. It runs along the Cantabrian coast to Ribadeo, at the entrance of Galicia, where the route turns southwest towards Compostela. It is just over 800km in length and can be tougher than the Camino Frances in parts. After the Frances, it is one of the more popular routes, passing through major cities like Bilbao, Santander and Gijon.
  • The Camino Primitivo starts in Oviedo and makes it’s way to Santiago. It goes through Asturias and Galicia. This road has in recent years gained a lot of fans, thanks to its landscapes. This is one for the future for me. Many people take the Camino del Salvador from Leon to Oviedo and then the Primitivo to Santiago. It is a great way to have time to yourself. The Camino Primitivo is 314km in length and can take about 2 weeks to walk.
  • As mentioned above, The Camino del Salvador links Leon with Oviedo, across the Cantabrian Mountains. It is about 130km in length.

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  • Next, we have the Camino Ingles which originates in Ferrol in the North of Spain. The route would be taken by many medieval Irish or English pilgrims, who would sail to the northern Spanish coast and walk to Santiago. Today it’s popularity is rising as you can reach Santiago within a week; 119km.
  • The Camino de Baztan is a very solitary route but is very well waymarked. It started in the French town of Bayonne and ends in Pamplona, where you can continue on the Camino Frances if you wish. The route can be used instead of walking over the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port. It is approximately 100km in length and while it is solitary, it’s popularity is rising.
  • The Camino de Invierno or the Winter Way joins Ponferrada with Santiago through the valley of the river Sil. This way runs underneath the Camino Frances and avoids the climb to O Cebreiro. It is still a very lonely road, but well signposted and maintained.
  • The Via de la Plata (or Silver Way) is the most important route in Southern Spain. It is also the longest. It starts in Seville and is characterized by the enormous distances between towns and extreme temperatures in summer. Not one for light walkers!
  • The Camino Portuguese is another important and popular route. It starts in Lisbon to the south. Today its two main starting points are Porto and Tui, the last town in the Spanish-Portuguese border. It is the second busiest road after the Camino Frances. It should be noted that there are other Portuguese roads, such as the interior route and the the coastal route.

I’ve only listed a few of the many routes in Spain, but there are many more pilgrim routes further afield and where there are pilgrim routes, there will be pilgrims. A busy Camino Frances during the Summer months may be something we have to live with, as there is no sign of the numbers decreasing. But looking at the other options are interesting for possible Caminos over the next few years.