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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Swimming on the Camino

Last night we stayed in a beautiful apartment in Palas de Rei and it was therefore with some reluctance we set off at 7.15 this morning for Castaneda. Our reluctance was soon vanquished by the sights and sounds of an early morning walk through a wood on a gravel path. It was magical as the first rays of the days sun flashed through the trees and made patterns on the path as you walked. The noise was deafening as nature made you aware that you were trespassing and at one point Mary and I stopped in order to stand and listen, in total amazement, to a chorus of frogs and toads. We stopped for breakfast in the classical Camino village of San Sullivan do Camino where we had a brief hello to  Joe as he strode through the village like a man on a mission. After breakfast the walk continued through astonishing countryside with the strong smells of eucalyptus and lemon wafting in the air and then crossed the medieval bridge into Ponte Velha Furelos boasting the oldest stone cross in Galicia but it was after this that things got interesting. The path started to climb and climb and didn't stop climbing until it got to Melide. Now last year, in the world famous octopus restaurant in Melide, I had egg and chips and guess what happened this year? Answers on ten pound notes. Photographs are on Facebook. Austin had octopus, the rest of us played safe. On we went towards our destination and met the parish priest of Igrexa Santiago who gave us his blessing and signed our pilgrim passbook. Where we are staying today is a renovated 17C mansion and it is very indulgent but I think we deserve it. It even has a swimming pool so we went swimming.  C

Saturday, 29 June 2013

During this walk I keep referring to the people that we meet and yesterday was no different. As we walked along the road we were joined by a Polish man who in conversation told us he had worked in Lenadoon and as he walked on we reckoned that he was a social worker. Imagine our surprise last night in Portomarin when he was on the altar saying mass. Afterwards we had a great chat and he told us how he had helped the Polish community in Belfast. It's a small world. After all this walking we now just want it over and to get to Santiago but Santiago is like some of the towns during the walk, the closer you get the farther away it seems. Today's walk for example was beautiful and challenging but the beauty was lost as the mental attitude is not right for appreciating natures beauty whilst at the same time dealing with the body's aches and pains. We left Portomarin at 7.30 and arrived in Palas de Rei at 3.30. After firstly going over a footbridge on the river Torres we climbed and climbed  until we reached Toxibo and Gonzar where we stopped for coffee and met up with Charlie and Catherine Hosty from Co Galway.  The path took us up to Castromajor, a village with a Romanesque church and horreos.  The next stopping point was at Ventas de Naron  with its restored church and the beginning of the ascent of the Ligonde mountain range. Along the way we saw the ancient cross of Lameiros and then we were welcomed by the granite cross of Ligonde. We could quench our thirst at the fountain called Fonte do Remellon and then climbed  through Brea to descend to the town of Palas de Rei. C
Colin has been tasked with finding accommodation every day and he has really risen to the challenge.  After the collective and easy decision to forget about albergues we have stayed in some fantastic places.  Tonight we are in a 3 bedroom apartment.  Not only is it spacious and spotless but has fresh flowers and a decanter of homemade chocolate liquor.  After today's long hot walk it is fantastic.
Due to other commitments, lots of people are only able to walk the last 100 k which is from Sarria to Santiago.  After the peace and quiet and relative isolation of the last 700 k it is quite a shock to see the crowds now on the paths.  Yesterday we were joined, among others, by 105 young people and their teachers from a school in Madrid.  They were exuberant, excited and noisy.  Today they are much more subdued as they begin to feel the strain.
Anyway, time for the mentions.
Happy 11th anniversary to Claire and Gavin.  Enjoy your celebratory fish supper!
Happy 1st anniversary to Rory and Rebecca. Great memories of this day last year.  M.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Last nights walk into Barbadelo and its Romanesque church was very tough in the heat and I think that by the time we arrived I was hallucinating because I was disappointed not to be greeted by Jane Fonda in a space suit. Today's walk had many high points not least the spectacular countryside we were privileged to be walking through. A downside, if it is one, is that from Sarria  the Camino becomes crowded. You only need to walk from Sarria in order to obtain your certificate of Compostela so the path that was once almost empty is now a tide of human traffic all going to Santiago. This seems to have given the long distance pilgrims an even stronger bond. We meet up at the coffee breaks, bruised and battered, with worn down shoes and great each other with added fondness and friendship. Along the way there are kilometre markers showing the distance to Santiago and Mary today reached her favourite one, 99K to go. We met Joe at the 100k marker and he got his picture taken. Today's walk was about wooden bridges, oak woods, streams and granite slabs. The path wound its way through Rente and Mercado to enter Marzan through a stone passage and then on to Peruscallo where we could see the large granite granaries with roofs made of enormous slate slabs.  The path to the Medieval site of Brea and then Ferrerios goes along an idyllic but at times tortuous path among granite pieces and small waterfalls. We stopped at Mercadoiro for a coffee break and to catch up on all the news and then it was a big push to Portomarin before the crowds. It is now a real hassle for accommodation but we were lucky to get booked in to the same hotel as last year. Mary will tell you about one of our Camino moments, a real high today.  C.  Just in case we might feel a little smug about walking 500 miles (cue The Pretenders) we were humbled to meet Jan and Ruth from England who have walked from Le Puy, which is 1000 miles from Santiago.  They teamed up with Adrienne, her son Colm and Mary from USA in St Jean Pied de Port and have walked together from there.  Anyway they all clubbed together and gave us a very generous donation for our charities.  Its not often I'm speechless. Detached as we are from reality I am still aware that today is special for a lot of people. For all our friends, relations and former colleagues who today start their well deserved summer break from school,  have a good holiday.  Special mention to our daughter Claire and the staff of Little Flower Girl's School Belfast, the staff of Roddensvale School Larne, and Mairead in St Mary's  in Downpatrick.
And to my dear friend Ann Cunningham who retires today.  Generations of young men in North Belfast are indebted to you for your wisdom and guidance.  You will be sorely missed.  M.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Camino isn't just about walking

Doing the Camino isn't just about walking it is also about the people you meet and the relationship and bond you make with them. We have been fortunate on our Camino to have met so many interesting and remarkable people. Last night in Triacastela was a very touching personal moment. We had met over a period of days two lovely people, Ann and Philip Hackett, from Limerick, who always shared a bit of craic. Phillip is a larger than life character who epitomises everything the Camino is about. Last night Phillip gave us a book of his personal poems to be used for the benefit of our fund. Phillip had not shared his poetry in public before but wanted to be part of our Camino and that was true bonding. One of his poems about the Camino will appear on this blog when we arrive in Santiago. Early this morning we had breakfast with Joe before we all departed for the walk to Sarria. I must say, and this is for Joes wife and daughter back in America, that he is going really well and looking fit and healthy. We left Triacastela, Joe disappeared in to the horizon, and we slowly and steadily made what now seems the customary climb out of the town. Since Mary and I had done the route to Samos last year we went over the mountain route today. Not sure that it was such a good idea. When the guide book says you have a steep climb to Alto do Riocabo then you can be sure that it is near vertical and at that early stage of the morning I am really struggling.  I must say that the views were something else and with the birdsong and the sounds from the river this was as perfect as it gets, unless like me your lungs are bursting and your legs are screaming for you to stop. We stopped for coffee at the popular cafe near Furela where we had the opportunity to meet fellow travellers including Carol from Banbridge. The rest of the walk into Sarria was hard going but uneventful. On reaching Sarria we decided to move through the town and do the extra distance to Barbadelo and therefore make tomorrows run to Portomarin shorter. Maybe not a good move, it was uphill for about an hour but on the other hand we are staying in great accommodation. Tomorrow is a big day for us, we break into the last 100 K.   C

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Long walk in the sun

We had a lovely night in O Cebreiro, good food and equally good company. This morning it was an early start for the long and tiring walk to Triacastela. Climbing out of  O Cebreiro in the early hours of the morning was both exhilarating and at the same time, if its possible, depressing. Exhilarating due to the spectacular mountain scenery whilst depressing because I really wanted a nice lie in. The early mists gave a magical appearance to the mountains whose tops seemed to be floating above the mists like small islands. All around was the first awakening of nature and it was a pity I was not fully awake to appreciate it. By the time we had climbed the steep path though that wound around the hill to Alto San Roque I wasn't just awake I was struggling for breath. It was nice to have an excuse to stop at the Monumento do Pilgrino, the imposing statue of the medieval pilgrim who stands above the vast Galicia valleys and take a group photograph. Now fully awake I joined the rest of humanity for the climb to Hospital de la Condesa where a steep path brought us to the highest point of the Camino in Galicia at 4380 feet. It has become a habit during this trip to climb a hill and then climb up another one. In the true spirit of the Camino we went down and then climbed very steeply up a rocky path to Alto do Poio where we stopped for coffee.  This coffee stop was very popular and we were glad to see our friend who has become known as American Joe. Joe is going really well and after coffee he disappeared into the horizon. We hope to meet up with Joe, Shane and others in Santiago.  The rest of the walk was great on dusty paths over undulating countryside with spectacular views. This fabulous walk was somewhat ruined by cyclists who seem to think that the path belongs to them. These very rude pilgrims soon got the wrath of Pauline and Mary who told them exactly what they thought of them, which was clearly understood despite the language barrier. We have arrived in Triacastela and our accommodation is top class. We have met up with two women, Jan and Ruth, who have walked the 1000 miles from Le Puy in France. It sure puts our efforts into perspective.  Only 83.2 miles to Santiago.  C.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

My birthday

It is an awful shame that today's generations do not respect the traditions of the past. On this, my Beatles birthday, only persons of a certain age will get this, I had to carry my backpack ( all 20 lbs ) up the mountain paths to the highest village, O  Cebreiro, in the Galician mountains. Climbing up to 5000 ft in the heat, over rocky paths that are at times almost vertical is no joke and should not be done on your birthday. I must say that three weeks ago both Mary and Pauline would have struggled on this climb whereas now they are  going like veteran climbers. It should also be noted that both Mary and Pauline carried their backpacks whilst the majority of pilgrims, both men and women, had theirs transported. These two have earned everyone's respect. Today's walk must be ranked as one of the best in the world. You have everything from scenic mountain views to hovering red kites. All of this is enveloped by the stereo surround sounds of nature. A truly magical and inspiring journey that would gladden the heart of even an old sceptic like me. We met Shane today after his hard and difficult journey over the Dragonte. Again it must be recorded that only three in the party carried their backpacks and Shane was one of them. We decided  to stay the rest of the day in O Cebreiro which is the most wonderful place surrounded by mountains that are magical. It, along with the rest of Galicia, takes tremendous pride in and celebrates its Celtic roots. Celtic symbols are evident everywhere and Celtic music, including the Chieftains, is always playing in the background. Tomorrow we have a longer walk to Triacastela where we will pass the pilgrim statue at the highest part of Galicia. This is one of the unexplained mysteries of life - you spend all of one day climbing uphill and completely exhausting yourself to spend the next day walking down hill to the level you started at.  By the way I'm not the only one getting old today. - Happy birthday Paddy.   C

Another mystery of the Camino much discussed , is that you can walk and climb for 6 hours minimum every day for 4 weeks and not loose an ounce.  Why is that?  Although I must admit to being very proud of myself today.  Climbed for 10 k over rocks and tree roots and hardly out of breath.  Four weeks ago I would have been a gibbering wreck.  Although we are now covering what we already covered last year, it has lost none of its magic.  Tomorrow week we will be in Santiago. Magic!    M(

Monday, 24 June 2013

Birthday Boy of the Camino

Maeve here- for those that do not know me, Colin and Mary are my parents! Dad you are really going to have to find a new password, because I was able to "hack" into your account on my first attempt!

This is just a quick blog to wish Dad a very Happy Birthday for tomorrow from all of us!

All our love

24th June Maeves Birthday

Last night was a lovely night spent in the square in Villafrance sharing good food and drink with friends, some old, some young.  This morning we left fairly early for the trek to Herrerias where we would encamp before the big push tomorrow to the top of the Galician mountains and the village of O Cebreiro. We could have gone over what is called the Dragonte route which is difficult, remote and poorly sign marked but we left that to the younger and fitter walkers. Our good friend Shane and several others have decided to do that route but even they got their bags carried on to their next stop. Our walk today was extremely hot and tiring. We passed through a variety of mountain villages. Our route followed the river valley and passed through Pereje where we stopped for a quick coffee stop. We then made our way to Trabadelo where we stopped at the little 9th century church and were fortunate to come across a service for the celebration of the feast of John the Baptist. The long road to Herrerias was very, very warm but we arrived by mid afternoon.  Where we are staying, El Paraiso del Bierzo, is about the best Posada Rural on the whole Camino. Mary and I stayed here last year and I am glad to say that our opinion hasn't changed and has indeed been endorsed by Austin and Pauline.. It is set in glorious countryside surrounded by high mountain ridges and would remind you of a Swiss chalet. Mind you the mountain ridges are a constant reminder of what is in front of us tomorrow. The big Camino climb into O Cebreiro. Tomorrow we break into the last 100 miles. It is hard to believe we have walked almost 400 miles and it has been your fantastic support, the support from fellow pilgrims and the support from within our group that has kept us individually strong. For the first time I feel that we will be able to complete what we set out to achieve and highlight the fabulous work of our designated organisations whilst at the same time offer some monetary assistance.  C.

Tomorrow is Colin's birthday.  He tells us there is an ancient and historic tradition of having your backpack carried by friends and family on your birthday, rather like the tradition in my family of never having to put coal on the fire. Seeing as tomorrow is a 10 km sheer climb, Pauline and I offered  to accompany his bag in a taxi, but apparently that is not the traditional route and we all know about traditional routes!
Happy birthday Maeve! You have been in our thoughts all day.  M.
pps. " if a pilgrim on his birthday doth travel then it is deemed that his fellow pilgrims on that day will his possessions carry."  This was an early Camino ritual I unearthed in an ancient manuscript.  C

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A floral display

Yesterday afternoon sitting in the plaza in front of  the Hostal La Encina was like a meeting of the UN. Austin and Pauline ( England )  Joanne ( Australia) Joe ( USA )  Steff ( Holland ) a German lady and Mary and I. The only thing we had in common was the Camino and here we are sharing experiences and emotions, we have become part of the Pilgrim Family. Then up the hill came a familiar figure to complete our happy family, Shane. After a lot of hand shaking and hugs we all caught up on the latest Camino gossip. It was a wonderful Camino moment. I have to say there have been many Camino moments during this trip. On Friday afternoon, after the emotion of the cross, I spent an hour outside an Albergue drinking coffee and sharing the emotions of the Camino with Steff, a complete stranger , but that is the beauty and indeed the special nature of the Camino. Today's walk has been different in that we have been seeing things for the second time. As we walked through the villages nothing had changed but at the same time everything was different. It is a different time of year and after three weeks we have become better walkers. We can now concentrate on what we see and hear. As we went through Columbrianos the local church had a floral display that stretched all around the outside of the church, it was stunning and a photograph would not give it any justice. At Cacabelos we were invited into the courtyard of a townhouse to see the most stunning display of window boxes and hanging baskets you have ever seen. The colours were special and the locals, quite rightly were so proud. Eventually we arrived in Villafranca and after some haggling over prices got rooms in the local hotel. Everything is good, at the moment, everyone is going well and we are still one day in front of our schedule. I haven't forgotten to mention that tomorrow is a special day for Maeve. Happy birthday and a big blog hug from Mum and me.
Anyone wishing to donate to our designated charities, Children's Kidney Fund and Roddensvale Special School, can do so through the Ulster Bank at Carrickfergus.
Account name - candmcamino
Account number - 10917515
Sort code - 98 04 00

Saturday, 22 June 2013

A rocky goat path

Last night we had really good accommodation in the small, beautiful village of  Acebo. In fact the last two nights have been really good. Rabanal was equally beautiful and friendly. I have posted photographs of both villages on Facebook.  Well, if the villages are great it sure makes up for the walking which has been at its most difficult during the past couple of days. Today's  journey down the  mountain on a small, rocky,  goat path was not just hard but at times highly dangerous. With rocks slipping under foot you had to concentrate the whole time. This meant that you could only appreciate the views and the bird song when you stopped for a rest.  When we reached the village of Molinaseca we stopped for coffee and enjoyed the views This was a truly picturesque spot. It would have been nice to stay here and enjoy the mountain views and the river but we were heading for Ponferrada and had to move on. The rest of the walk to Ponferrada was very warm and frustrating. You could see Ponferrada in the distance but instead of getting closer it seemed to be moving away from us. Eventually we made it and are staying in a hostel just beside the famous  Knights Templars  Castle. During today's walk our paths crossed with some pilgrim friends, Phillip and Ann  from County Clare  and  Joe the American who we have been friends with since the very start of this  journey.  Joe had a complaint to make about the blog. He said we need to give information on how to make donations. I will look up sort codes etc tonight and put the information on tomorrow's blog. Having reached Ponferrada, Mary and I have now joined that group of people who have walked the entire Camino from St. Jean to Santiago, since we walked Ponferrada to Santiago last year. From now on we are retracing old steps in order to join that illustrious group who have done it all in one go. C.

Yesterday was for the most part very cold and windy, which kind of matched our mood, but on reaching the picture postcard village of Acebo, suddenly the sun came out and the rest of the day was glorious.  For the first time since 26 May we ate dinner outdoors.  Today has been sunny and hot, opportunity at last to use sun cream carried all the way from home.
We have given up on staying in albergue dormitories.  Much too up close and personal for our liking. We heard a story from a German lady today.  Last night in the Albergue where she was staying, a man lit up a cigarette in the toilet beside where she was sleeping (the fact that the door kept scraping on the floor is another matter) so she complained to the owner who threw them all out this morning without breakfast!
Anyway Ponferrada is very historic and all things Knights Templar if you are into that sort of thing.  I am more interested in trying to get my washing dried on the balcony, which according to a notice on the back of bedroom door, contravenes some sort of bye law.  Here's hoping we don't get thrown out!     M.

Friday, 21 June 2013

A stone at the cross

Last night I was lucky to experience the evening vespers being sung by Bavarian Benedectine Monks. It was very moving and spiritual.
There have been some very hard physical days on our Camino like crossing over the Pyrenees but nothing really prepared us for what was in front of us today. In terms of physical, mental and emotional exertion this was the hardest day yet. This morning we left Rabanal in the pass of Irago to climb to the highest point of the whole Camino, Punto Alto, at more than 5000 ft. In very cold and windy conditions we steadily climbed towards the semi - abandoned village of Foncebadon where we stopped for a coffee break. There would be nothing from here to our final destination, about 4 hours later. Leaving Foncebadon we followed the steep, rocky mountain path through mountain gorse and heather to Cruz de Ferro, the doorway through the mountains with its memorable cross. The scenery was breathtaking and the colours had changed from the vivid reds and blues of the plains to the more muted purple, cream and amber of the mountains. It was truly spectacular and very demanding. Because of the rocky terrain you had to concentrate on your footing whilst at the same time wanting to breath in the sights and sounds. Eventually we made it to Cruz de Ferro, at 4934ft where an iron cross stands majestically above a large wooden weathered pole that has become one of the iconic symbols of the Way of St. James. At this point pilgrims for centuries have left stones or other symbols of love that have now become a great pile. It is a very emotionally charged place. Our special stone wrapped in red rosary beads, carried from Carrick, in memory of our beautiful granddaughter Rachel, was placed at the top. It felt like our Camino was now complete. The rest of the journey to Acebo was just a real effort but we eventually made it. C and M

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The cowboy bar

As I said yesterday we found Astorga to be a really beautiful university city. It was however with trepidation that we set off at 7.30am. Today we were heading into the mountains and the prospect of 24 K of steep climbs was not something any of us wanted to embrace. As it turned out this was one of our best days walking yet. Even though you were constantly climbing, the scenery was spectacular and the small mountain villages were intriguing.  Our first port of call was the small hamlet of Murias de Rechivaldo which was a classic Maragato village with an interesting rustic parish church and several bars. Since we were all going well we decided not to stop for refreshments and keep going to the next village. I hate missing the opportunity of getting cafe con Leche but majority rules or to put it another way, female votes count as double. Anyway 4K later we stopped for my coffee break in the village of Santa Catalina where we met up with several fellow travellers. On the road again and we met up with Venessa, a young girl from Glasgow, whose path has crossed with ours several times since the beginning of our walk. The next mountain village was El Ganso and boy was it different. It is described as a hauntingly crumbling village and that is exactly what we found. As you walked through there was a sense of yesterday and better times. Then you rounded a corner and there it was, the Cowboy Bar. Believe it or believe it not there was even a saddled horse tied up outside. See the picture on Facebook. Oh and don't mention the toilets to either Mary or Pauline, ever. From here we made the steep climb to the top of Cruz de Ferro and then the gentle descent into the most beautiful village of Rabanal del Camino where we are staying the night. At 7pm we are going to listen to Bavarian monks vespers and Gregorian chant. Tomorrow we climb to the highest point of the whole Camino - 5000ft.  C

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Spectacular Astorga

We arrived today in the beautiful university town of Astorga. I will bore you later with photos on Facebook.  Astorga is like all Spanish cities it is set high on a hill. It isn't the size of a large city it is more  like a large market town. There are three main Plazas. The first one you enter, San Bartolome, is stunning, that is until you enter Plaza Modesto, and then you are confronted with Plaza Cathedral with its St. Martin Cathedral and Bishops Palace designed by Gaudi. The whole place is inspirational and spectacular. It even has its own town clock tower like the one in Prague. Later after a rest and shower we are going to explore the cafe culture.  Well to get here we had to walk. Today's walk was flat to start with but then started to climb towards Astorga. The walk today did not have the colourful scenery we have become used to nor did it have the orchestra of nature we have been hearing but it was challenging. Tomorrow we go up into the Leon mountain range where on Friday we will reach the highest point of the whole Camino, Cruz de Ferro at 1505 mts, about 5000 feet above sea level. It is therefore an early night and a very early start tomorrow.   C

On walking into Astorga we went into a church which turned out to be the Redemptorist church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.  And guess what?  The Novena starts tonight.  So that is the plan for later.  We can compare it with Clonard!  I certainly need all the help I can get to face the climbs of the next two days.  M

Dear Rory, Calum and Lucy
Granda and I are still doing our big walk in Spain. And I am sorry to say that no, we have not seen any bears in the mountains yet.  Perhaps they see my very cross face and hide behind the trees.  But we have seen lots of huge birds;  red kites, eagles, vultures and storks.  The storks build huge nests as big as your trampoline.  Granda has tried to take lots of photos to show you but storks don t really like to pose for photos.
We have seen loads of mini beasts.  When it rains there are huge black slugs, snails with very colourful shells,  millipedes, caterpillars and great big beetles.  When it is sunny there are bright green lizards and dragonflies. One night we stayed beside a lagoon which had snakes and salamanders.
We have seen the droppings of many animals but I think they only come out when all the walkers are in bed.
Soon we will be in a part of Spain called Galicia.  In Galicia everyone likes to eat octopus, they call it pulpa. Would you like to eat octopus?   Granda says he is going to have some but I would prefer a boiled egg.
We have to climb a very high mountain tomorrow and the next day and then in 2 weeks we will be home.  Grandad and I will be very excited to see you all again.
Lots of love
Granny and Granda. xxx

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Where was granny?

Well folks, as you know, we stayed last night in Vilar de Mazarife, and what a night it was. When we first arrived our Albergue of choice was fully booked so we walked on to Albergue Tio Pepe which was in the centre of the village opposite the church. The girl was really nice and because they were almost full she offered us accommodation in a small house down the street. When she took us there she informed us that we would be the only people staying there that night. Our first impression was great. We had a kitchen, a sitting room, a downstairs wash and shower room, a choice of 5 bedrooms, an upstairs bathroom and an outside patio. Don't be mislead by first impressions. We then discovered that it was like the Marie Celeste. It was like someone's granny had been put out minutes before we arrived. In the sitting room there were crumbled, used tissues behind the cushion.  There was even a wash on in the washing machine. In our bedroom, one wardrobe was full of granny clothes, including a fur coat, and at my side a wardrobe with suits and shirts. After a few glasses of vino we started to speculate what they had done to granny. This didn't go well for a good nights sleep. You kept imagining the old granny appearing at the end of the bed and wanting her revenge.  Anyway we survived and started our walk the next morning. The walk today was truly spectacular. The path was long, straight and dusty, but it passed through beautiful countryside. Our destination today, Hospital de Orbigo, is approach by a truly remarkable bridge. It is one of the longest and best preserved medieval bridges in Spain, dating back to Roman times, with its myriad of arches leading to Paso Orbigo,  made famous by a famous jousting tournament in the Holy Year 1434. We had difficulty finding accommodation in de Orbigo and because of that I have fulfilled a lifetime ambition. The roadside motel is called El Paso.      C

Walking long straight paths can really mess with your brain.  Villages which look to be 15 mins walking distance away can be 1hour 15 mins away.  But as I complained endlessly about the mountains what can I say about the plains.
Lots of people we met in the early days have gone home hoping to return next year to take up where they left off.  And a lot have just started 2 days ago from Leon.  Unbelievably we have been walking for over 3 weeks.  We passed a sign earlier which said Santiago 279 k. That would be fantastic except  we have yet to reach the highest point on the Camino.  That should happen on Friday, God help me. M.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The beauty of Leon

Well folks I can honestly say Leon is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen. True, we were only there for an afternoon and an evening but the architecture, the people, the atmosphere, and the cafe culture make Leon special. The Cathedral is one of the oldest Baroque style in Europe and is truly magnificent. The San Isidoro with its fountain commerated to the VII th Roman Legion, the Plaza San Marcos, the Gaudi designed buildings, and a total lack of pollution, make this place something special. The buildings are so clean and sparkling white. This is a place I would love to revisit as a 3or   4 day city break.
Back to the walk, after my sponsored spot on Leon, and things are going great. We are about two days in front of schedule and doing really well.  Today's walk was gently undulating through beautiful countryside, after we left the city. The temperature has dropped and we had some rain but after the heat of the Meseta it was perfect for walking. We have taken the alternative route over Alto Cruceiro and Alto Abojo to Villarreal de Mazarife. We had two pleasant coffee breaks at La Virgen del Camino and Fresno, where we had refreshments and chewed the fat with other travellers. We get a lot of respect from fellow pilgrims when they hear we are going from St Jean to Santiago. Most  are only doing a part of the way. We are now less than 200 miles from Santiago but we still have to climb  Cruz de Ferro, the highest point of the whole Camino, and cross the Galician mountains, but sure it will be wee buns for hardened walkers like us. C

We turned up here only to discover that our preferred accommodation was full.  After a long walk that is the worst ever news.  But, said the waitress, we have a house nearby that you can have all to yourself, if you like.  So we are staying in a Spanish house, decorated circa 1965, but lovely.  It's as if the previous occupants left yesterday.  It's fully furnished with a living room full of family photos and       holy icons everywhere.  The variety of accommodation has been the star of our experience; some dreadful but most lovely and quirky.
Ok. Time to wash the socks.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The pleasure of a cup of coffee

This morning at around 6.45am we left El Burgo Ranero and started the long, flat, dusty and warm trek towards Leon. This is the last stretch of the Meseta. Because today's route is so long, without shade and without any watering holes along the way, we are forced to carry extra water and energy bars. After about 3 or 4 hours walking it was nice to reach the small hamlet of Reliegos where we could sit under a canopy and enjoy a cup of coffee. This Camino really teaches you about the simple pleasures of life and that coffee was one of life's pleasures never to be forgotten. Life's pleasures don't last forever and one has to then lift the backpack and keep walking. By the time we reached Mansilla de las Mulas we were very hot and bothered and a nice glass of cold beer restored our spirits. We had almost completed the Meseta or as I liked to think, we had broken the Meseta and it hadn't broken us. Mansilla was a lovely town, famous for its tomatoes, and at another time we could have spent some time there but today Leon beckoned. We really wanted to make Leon and so we ploughed on. The run into Leon is again long, dusty and warm but worth the effort. Leon is beautiful. I booked a boutique hotel and it is remarkable. Very Parisian. I'm sitting in my room with the balcony window open and listening to the accordion music wafting up from the street below. As I said before, the simple pleasures of life.  C

And so we plough on.  Thankfully the long flat paths of the Meseta are behind us.  The weather has really picked up and we must leave early to avoid walking in the heat of the day.  Those endless days of cold, wind and rain, of being ankle deep in cloying red mud seem like a lifetime ago.
We have exceeded our walking plan and are 2 days ahead of our schedule.  We hope to arrive in Santiago on 3 July.  Not so long ago I was not allowing myself to even contemplate that day but now I feel really confident that we will make it.  There are mountains to be climbed (both literally and metaphorically) before then.  I can see the blighters in the distance .  One day at a time sweet ......   M

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Running the bulls

We stayed in Sahagun last night and what a time to be there. The festival of the bull. A weekend festival of drinking, celebration and of course bull fighting. Last night was the night they put barriers up along the streets and the bull runs from the edge of town, right through the town to the bull ring. Hours before the run the streets are thronged with bands and groups of children being chased by dummy bulls. All very loud and exciting. At about 7.30 three hooters went off and the atmosphere was a real frenzy. Men dressed in red, blue, yellow, and green shirts with red sashes appeared running in front of the bull. I really wanted to join in but wasn't allowed to. It seems that you are not allowed two from the same family to participate and Mary as usual was too quick for me!
After the previous nights festivities we started later than usual and made the long walk to El Burgo Raneros. It was a beautiful walk but very long and extremely hot. When we walked into Bercianos del Real Camino we came upon the nicest little cafe. A little piece of heaven run by a young couple with a great story. They met and married on the Camino. They have a delightful place and a lovely little child. We told them that they should open up an albergue and if it was to be the standard of the cafe it would be an instant success. Well tomorrow we must leave early because we are hoping to do extra and make Leon. If not we will stop over in Mansilla. C.

What a fantastic day! Beautiful blue sky, sun shining and great paths.  Really looking forward to reaching Leon tomorrow.  I had always thought that if I reached Leon I would make Santiago. So  that will make me very happy.  Our accommodation has been excellent recently which makes life easier.  So, still going strong.  M.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Empty villages

Last night we stayed in a hostel in Calzadilla de la Cuerza. The hostel was really nice but the village was like something out of " the good, the bad, and the ugly". Walking in to the village I felt that we should have been wearing ponchos and wide brimmed hats. The hostel was one of the best so far and the food was absolutely brilliant. We left around 8am and started the long walk to Sahagun. Unfortunately the walk today was made harder for Mary who was suffering from a tummy bug. True to form she refused to give in and with true grit she made the long walk in the searing heat. During our walk today we mainly followed the old Roman road through what appeared to be either deserted or semi deserted villages. As you walk in to the village you expect to see either people or animals but everywhere is empty. We stopped for a much needed drink in Moratinos and met an absolutely remarkable woman,   Sylvie Hane  . Sylvie is French Canadian, has completed the Camino not once but twice, and is now helping a friend establish an Albergue. After walking the Camino she redirected her life. She gave up her position as an International Adviser to a Multi National Company, gave away her possessions and now says she is free. Make up your own mind. What I have found is that the Camino affects people in different ways some in a positive manner but also some in a negative way. One thing I am sure of is that people change during the Camino. Tonight we have a private room in an Albergue, Viatoris, on the edge of Sahagun. The room is first class. Sahagun is a very old historical town and was once a seat of great ecclesiastical power during the reign of Alonso VI. The foundations of the town extend further back to its Roman past.  Tonight they are driving the bulls through the city to the local bullring in readiness for Sundays sport. This will be something to witness. If I'm not gored to death by a bull I will write again tomorrow.  C

Another day, another long dusty path.  M.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A mental challenge

Last nights hostel was pretty good although Austin and Pauline had problems about their bedding. We were told today's walk, although not our farthest in distance walked, could be one of our hardest. About 5 hours walking on the old Roman Road without shelter or anywhere to stop. Not even for a coffee. The road was dusty and stretched in front of you as far as the eye could see. The scenery was again spectacular with vivid colours but because of the heat, dust and boredom of the road you seemed to retreat into your own thoughts and get lost as the kilometres drifted by. I can now understand why so many people find the Meseta so difficult. It's not just the physical challenge, though that is hard enough, it is the mental challenge. Being lost in your own thoughts for so long a time without any distractions can cause problems. Ok for me then, just plugged in to Van the Man and the Meseta  was wee buns. We arrived at a really nice hostel in Calzadilla. The hostel is about the only thing here but it is really nice. The rest of today is about attending to cuts and bruises and getting ready for tomorrow. Almost forgot to say, today we reached 250 miles, the half way mark. Only 250 to go.       C

If you want to escape the rat race and lose yourself, come to Northern Spain.  Five hours walking along the straightest,longest path with wheat fields on either side and not a hamlet or village, nada, is extreme.  But to know that this exact path built by the Romans is 2 000 years old, bar the odd shovel of gravel, is  hard to comprehend. When I get frustrated that The Camino meanders through every little hamlet and village  I remind myself that that is because I am following in the exact footsteps of the pilgrims going back ten centuries.  And as they say its not the destination,it's the journey that counts.
On another note, to Maeve and Derek, have a wonderful time in Rome. Maeve will no doubt look a great deal more elegant and less like a bag lady than her mother!  M

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Heat at last

Well folks last night was a nightmare. The Albergue was terrible. Everything you would dread. There were 12 of us in the room. There was no air and you heard every noise that a human could make. Snoring, farting, burping and others I couldn't possibly mention. We started walking early, before breakfast. Well who would eat in that Albergue. Anyway even the Meseta turned against us. The cold breeze turned in to searing heat and the dust was choking. This was the real Meseta, the Meseta we were warned about. Mile after mile of heat and dust. The conditions might have been tough but the scenery was stunning. I couldn't describe it and give it any justice. The colours and the noise. You are told that the Meseta walk is solitary and isolated. You are not warned about the noise of nature. Frogs, toads, cicadas, and the millions of birds all in harmony, absolutely stunning. Paddy it was even better than Marty R. The walk today was really something else. The best yet, well they do say practise makes perfect. We are staying in luxury tonight, the top hotel in Carrion de Los Condes.  C

Could not believe the blue skies today.  Only the second day of sun since 27 May.  And I loved today's walk. Good terrain, sun and NO HILLS.  Perfect.  M.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

No hills

Our Albergue last night, Puente Fitero, was quiet and we got a great nights sleep.  Believe it or not we were sleeping before 9pm and slept through to 7am. This mornings walk across the Meseta was really nice. Couldn't believe our luck, no real hills. Were we dreaming, a stretch of the Camino without a steep incline. We passed through the small village of Boadilla where we stopped for coffee with Matt and his son Kaleb. We had met these two Americans on our first day on the mountains and our paths have crossed many times. The walk from Boadilla to Fromista was along a canal and was really beautiful. The colourful fauna and the music of the birds would be appreciated by even the most hard hearted, but true to form and not wanting to change tradition, I moaned about my shins and blocked everything out with the sounds of Marty Robbins. Only for gunfighter ballads I wouldn't have made it this far. Anyway we made Fromista where we are staying and a Pharmacist has sorted out my shins and I am raring to go on. Albergue tonight is certainly not 3star. Least said the better. Forgot to say, got an email from Shane yesterday. He is still in Burgos and hopes to catch up later.

So Colin has a very impressive strapping on the shin with tendinitis and my feet are more or less sorted out so no more complaining!
The two things that concerned me before starting this mad adventure were
A. Carrying a backpack
B. crossing the Meseta
The backpack has been no problem.  That's not to say that I forget I am carrying it but you do get used to it.
The Meseta is an area of Spain which is for the most part flat, with little shade or shelter from the blistering sun.  Many people get dehydrated, disorientated or worse over the 5 days it takes to walk it.  
Such is the awful Spanish summer this year that we have had no problems with 3 days done and 2 to go. So far so good.
Tonight's accommodation looks a bit grim but we have done well these past few nights so its back to being a real pilgrim.  M.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Colours of the Meseta

Last nights Albergue in Hontanas was very comfortable and after a good nights sleep we set of before  8am. It was a very pleasant  5.5 to San Antonio where you walk through the splendid ruins of the 14 century Convento de San Antonio . The Meseta path then winds its way to Castrojeriz Iglesias Santa Maria. This ancient town is laid out as one straggling line between path and hill. Obviously from its ruined castles and monasteries this ancient town had a very illustrious past. Today it is a tranquil sleepy place with evidence of few inhabitants. Outside Castrojeriz the earthen path made a strenuous climb back up on to the Meseta. When I say strenuous I mean lung busting for about 2miles until you reach Alto Mostelares and by that time you have gone through the pain barrier.  You then walk along the top of the Alto before plunging violently down in to the valley below. The Camino takes us up every hill and mountain in Spain and remember what goes up must come down. Today's downhill of about a mile and 18 percent was hard on the joints. After the descent it was a beautiful 4 mile walk to Itero de la Vega with its famous eleven arched bridge over the river Pisuerga and into the Provincia de Palencia. Today's walk was all about the colours of the Meseta. The reds of the poppies and whites of the daisies contrasting with greens, yellows and purples, give a masterpiece that only nature can create. On a negative note my shin is giving me jip and was in a class of its own during the steep downhill. On the map tomorrow's walk looks reasonably flat but I'm sure between now and then they will have rerouted us up a hill somewhere. If pain is penance then I'm looking forward to all the sins I can commit once back home because I've stored up enough penances to forgive an entire nation.  C

The walk today was lovely but my poor feet were in agony.  With a few miles to go the massive blister burst and I limped into town wearing my sandals.  Everyone on the camino gets blisters no matter how many precautions you take.  In the evenings almost everyone has bandages or dressings and any shop that sells Compeed makes a fortune.
We have met so many people on our way.  Most are from USA and Australia with Canada a close contender.  Their currencies are very strong against the euro so they find Spain extremely cheap. Everyone is very happy and great fun, never any long faces despite aches and pains.  That is why the camino is so special, we all have the same purpose and the same objectives.
Hoping our third day crossing the Meseta is less eventful than today. M.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Starting the Meseta

Last night we stayed in Burgos. The old city is very beautiful and really is like the film El Cid. The city is a walking museum to El Cid and the Knights Templar. We went to mass in the cathedral, Santa Maria, 13th century and the second biggest in Spain. If the city centre is beautiful the outskirts are the complete opposite. This urban jungle is soul destroying to walk through and actually feels quite intimidating. Today was scheduled to be a rest day but due to the cold and wet weather we decided to continue walking.  I think we are morphing in to Forrest Gumps. The start of today's walk was quite pleasant. It was flat and quiet for about 6K until we reached Tarjados where we left behind the built environment and entered the wilderness of the dreaded Meseta. There is little or no shade on the Meseta  and habitations are few and far between. It is semi desert and water is scarce. Because of the intense heat and the dust the Meseta is thought by some as the hardest part of the whole Camino. Today in freezing conditions we left Hornillos and made the long climb to Alto Meseta. This was tough but we didn't know what was in front of us. After a few kilometres the path became a sea of mud. The recent rains had turned the dry dust into mud that clung to your boots and made your feet feel like ton weights.
For over 10 K we struggled up this slippery slope, constantly loosing our footing and fighting for  breath.  It was a tired group who finally made it to Hontas where we found a really great Albergue. This time of day is now all about patching ourselves up in readiness for tomorrow. Mary has blisters to attend to and I have developed a lump on my left shin. I believe that the only thing keeping us going is the support for our charities. Who would have thought you would or indeed could get weather as severe as this in Spain? You are all having a heat wave and we are cold and freezing, in a desert. Is God or someone having a laugh?  C

Spain has had the most dreadful recession and I think Burgos is testament to that. Walking through the outskirts , business after business is closed.  Due to the torrential rain and cold we had to buy new raincoats.  Full length,long sleeves,hood and a big hump on the back so that it fits over you and your back pack.  Probably not a fashion that will catch on but needs must in these conditions.  My P20 is right at the bottom of my pack and has yet to see the light of day.  Today was tough but I enjoyed it.  And that in itself is worrying.  M.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Burgos and a bath

Well folks this is my second blog today. Just finished the first when it disappeared into the ether and who knows where it is now. Last nights albergue was very comfortable and after a good breakfast we set of at 8am. The weather was cold, wet and windy. It was a pleasant walk to Atapuerca which is a small village that was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. It was here that the earliest human remains ever found in Europe were discovered,  dating back over 900,000 years. We then climbed and climbed.  Over rocky ground for about 2 miles and to a height of over 3510 ft. At the top, in the freezing wind and rain, we stopped and pretended to admire the views at a large wooden cross. In reality we were absolutely shattered. The steep downhill was stoney, muddy and dangerous.  We stopped for coffee at Cardenuela and then enjoyed the pleasant walk through the villages of Orbaneja and Villafria until we reached the outskirts of Burgos. Walking around the perimeter of an airport and then through the suburbs, in freezing wind and rain does nothing to lift the spirits. We were tired and almost beaten when we finally got to our hotel and oh how our priorities have changed  during a journey like this.  Luxury of luxuries our room has a bath. A real bath and plenty of hot water. Ah bliss.    C

When we decided to do this pilgrimage we asked our old friends Austin and Pauline if they would like to do it with us.  They readily agreed and have been great company and support.  Better still they have secured a lot of sponsorship for The Lily Foundation which supports children with Mitochondria Disease.  It remains to be seen if they are still our friends on 3 July, our due date to arrive in Santiago!
Of course we remember John Madden and his dedicated staff from Roddensvale School who are the other beneficiaries of our fund raising.  So if you would like to donate to any of our very worthy causes details about the Ulster Bank account candmcamino are in previous blogs.  M.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Going the extra 5K

Well folks we stayed in an absolutely brilliant Casa Rurales last night and after a good breakfast set off at 8am. We knew today would be hard with  about 5 or 6 hills to climb but the reality proved to be even harder. Leaving Belorado we had a pleasant walk to Tosantos where we stopped for Cafe con Leche.  It was then a gradual gradient to the small village of Villafranca which was really picture postcard pretty. We were in excellent spirits and in good physical form. Then we hit the peaks. Alto Mojapan, Alto Pedraja, and Alto Carnero. You climb up to 1500mts and then drop steeply down to climb back up again, three times. Now I know what a yo yo feels like. At the top of the first alto we stopped at the Monumento a Los Caidos, dedicated to the fallen Caidos during the Spanish Civil War.  Because we couldn't get accommodation at our scheduled stop in San Juan de Ortega we had to do an extra 5K and walk to a very tiny village called Ages. We stopped for shelter in San Juan from yet another electric storm and met up with a group we have become friendly with which includes Joe from California and Venessa from Scotland. They informed us that the local Albergue was an absolute flea pit so we were glad we couldn't book it. Walking the extra 5K was worth it because our room tonight is great. The miles are beginning to catch up with us. Sore feet, blisters, sore shins and frayed nerves seem to be the order of the day. This walk is getting to become more "pilgrim" than I expected. I knew it wasn't going to be a holiday but honestly the aches and pains have arrived a lot sooner than expected. Tomorrow we reach the city of Borges and the end of stage 2.   C.

The weather has been more Donegal than Spain though apart from the electric storms its much better for walking.  It is very cold in the evenings.  Last night we sat in front of a log fire in our accommodation, but none the less this is a beautiful country and a million miles from the Costas.
So far there are almost 4 thousand hits on our blog which is staggering. Time to say a big HELLO to Hazel and the team in the Renal Unit Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.  When the going gets tough we remember why we are here and it puts an inch to our step. Do any of you have any tips on dressing blistered feet??    M.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The convent

Well last night was a real experience. There were two albergues in the town, one municipal one run by the nuns, so we choose the convent. Our thinking was that the convent Albergue would be the cleanest. When you get it wrong you get it wrong big time. It was minging. The beds, the toilets, even thinking about them gives me shivers down my back. We left at 7.15 this morning and enjoyed a lovely stroll to the small walled village of Granon where we enjoyed a delightful cup of coffee. We then made the steep climb to Redecilla and passed into Castillay Leon which is the largest autonomous region in Spain. Things were going well and we were making great time in glorious sunshine. We passed through Castildelgado and along the undulating road to Viloria de la Rioja. Heading over the mountain at Villamajor on our way to our final destination, Belorado, the Camino hit back. It had allowed us to enjoy our walk, it had lulled us in to a false sense of security, and, then it threw up a storm. We were caught on the mountain path with driving rain, thunder and forked lightening. It was spectacular. Lightening flashing all around and the thunder booming overhead. Soaking wet we walked into the town of Belorado.  Tonight we have broken the bank and have booked a Casa Rurale. Pure luxury and we deserve it after last night.  Tomorrow is a tough one. Over the mountain path with seven peaks to climb before we reach San Juan de Ortega. By the way we are now 342.4 miles from Santiago.  C.

I have demanded veto over any photos Colin puts on Facebook.  Carrying all you need to survive for 37 days in a rucksack which you will carry on your back for 500 miles up every bleeping  hill in Northern Spain concentrates the mind.  So,make up, hair driers, straighteners etc are out of the question.  Which on the one hand is very liberating, but on the other can be quite shocking when you inadvertently catch sight of yourself in a mirror. So now you know why there are few photos.  The true values of the pilgrim have yet to kick in.  M.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Poppies everywhere

Last night we stayed in a delightful little Albergue in Ventosa. The hostel closed at 8 am and everyone had to be out and on the road. We were the last to leave. It was a beautiful walk to Najera. The early morning breeze and the stillness made the uphill gradients enjoyable. We were walking through wine country. Mary says that I have wined and moaned the whole way but what's new. Getting back on course, it was great walking through countryside so beautiful and colourful. I didn't realise that this part of Spain would be covered in poppies. Najera was once the capital of the Kingdom of Navarre and is very old and atmospheric. Leaving Najera we made the long, hard, warm and at times boring walk to Santo Domingo de Calzada. We all felt sluggish and lacking in energy during this stretch. I think this was because we were walking after 2pm in the heat. Tomorrow we must leave earlier in order to get the back of the walk broken before the intense heat. Santo de Domingo dates back to before the C11 and has amazing narrow streets. Well folks I've finally done it. I will be sleeping tonight in a Cisterciense Convent. The Albergue is part of the convent. It is described as a tranquil hostel and I can believe that after seeing some of the nuns. No messing about with those stoney stares. See you soon. C

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

La Rioja

Think, at long last, I am getting in to my stride. Today was the first I have walked pain free and enjoyed the journey. We have left the wines of  Navarre and have entered  La Rioja. The countryside has changed dramatically. It is now more a rolling landscape covered in acres of vines. The weather has turned and last weeks mud and rain have been changed to dust and heat. We left Logrono  this morning and had a pleasant walk around the lakes to Partano de la Grajera. After that it was a steep climb to the top of alto Grajera and then a long walk to the beautiful little town of Navarette where we stopped for coffee and a chance to talk with fellow travellers.  We considered staying here but decided to do the extra  mileage in to the small hamlet of Ventosa and therefore get the steep climb out of the way. We are in an amazing Albergue. I am sitting here doing my blog listening to what sounds like Chieftains music but is in reality music from this part of Spain. We really are Celts in our lineage and have so much in common. The beautiful thing about this journey is the people you meet, the stories they have and the friendliness they show towards each other. Don't worry, folks I'm  not getting soft or religious or anything like that. I'm still a grump and proud of it. Notice I had to be careful with spelling proud or Gavin and Derek would have had a field day.  Sorry chaps, thank you spell check.

Monday, 3 June 2013

A family meal

We had a lovely meal last night with a group of people who have become friends due to a common share of self inflicted pain. This would be our last night out. We will miss Maureen, Brendan, and Claire, their company has been inspirational and really good fun. We are hoping that our path will cross with Shane and Marie as we journey to Santiago.  Well today we left Los Arcos, after breakfast, at around 7.40. On paper it looked like a pleasant relaxed walk but reality turned that on its head. The climb to Sonsol was vertical and never ending. We stopped at Torres del Rio for drinks and to get our breath back and then had the very steep climb to the summit of  N S del Poyo. After that it was undulating until Viana where we stopped for lunch. It was here we made a big mistake. We decided to carry on to Logrono. Why did we do that when everyone else seemed to be staying at Viana. It was a long 12K in the heat. By the time we got to Logrono I had lost the will to live. Picture Dustin Hoffman in the film, midnight cowboy, walking across the bridge, and that was me. Mary is going from strength to strength and we have assumed our reversed Muslim tradition, Mary 100 mts in front.

There are so many nationalities on the camino but the Irish are so easy to spot.  We are the ones with the snow white arms and legs.  All of a sudden the sun has decided to shine and it was very hot today.
Despite the sun block we are red and sore.  But after 3 nights in the albergues, which are a bit too up close and personal for me, we are in an hotel tonight.
On the big bird front, we have seen vultures over the past 3 days. Sincerely hope they are not following us in the hope of tasty meal.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Sunday and free wine

Hi everyone we had a very relaxed night in the Albergue in Estella and set of on today's journey at 7.30am. Today was the day we would get to the free wine fountain. Well after a short stop for breakfast we walked the short 2Kto the fountain.  Even though you think that free wine would be heaven, drinking it out of a shell at 8am does not lead to a session. On we trudged, uphill as usual, for 8k until we reached yet another beautiful mountain village, must say the novelty of beautiful mountain villages is beginning to wear thin, where we met up with Maureen and Brendan for coffee.
It is a pity they are going home tomorrow. We will miss Maureen's smiling face and Brendan's craic.
After coffee we trudged uphill to Villamayor and when I say trudged that is exactly what it was. The weather this afternoon was quite warm for a change. From then until we reached Los Arcos it was flat  and very tiring. Anyway we eventually reached Los Arcos and have booked into a basic Albergue. When I say basic I mean basic but at least it's clean. Right, going now for the equivalent in Spain of Sunday dinner, so adios for now and we will talk later.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Hills all the way

Well folks today was really tough. We thought that things would have gotten easier by now but obviously we miscalculated the punishment inflicted on the body during the first three days and the continuing steep terrain. This morning was a complete murder picture. We left the Albergue at 7.30am to be confronted by what can only be described as a sheer vertical climb that lasted for what seemed to be forever. When you got over that climb, the camino threw in, hill after hill, hidden around each bend. We did pass through some spectacular mountain villages but saw little sign of any life. We had planned to walk for an hour and a half and then stop for breakfast. Unfortunately we couldnt find any cafe so breakfast became a bar of chocolate and a bottle of water. Later we climbed up to the medieval hilltop village of Cirauqui where a small shop was selling pastries and drinks. They were making a fortune. Later in the quaint mountain village of Lorca we met up with all the old suspects from previous days. A nice lunch of Spanish omelette and coffee refreshed both our tired bodies and our spirits. After lunch it was a long walk with many hills to our destination for the night, Estella. We have just booked into an Albergue and are going about body repairs. I live in hope that tomorrow will be less painful and that this ordeal can become a pleasant walk in the Spanish countryside rather than a commando assault course.

Ok. Now for some Positive Mental Attitude.  We saw a huge heron nest complete with heron on top of a chimney stack.  We walked through vineyards and olive groves.  We saw amazing sights of multi coloured banks of wild flowers.  We crossed ancient bridges over fast flowing rivers(remember the rain?).  The paths were less muddy and treacherous.  The rain stayed off.  But still every bone and muscle in my body aches.  They say you gain your fitness over the walk.  I am fed up waiting.  M.