Day Sixty One

Bruno, Katja and myself had agreed last night to walk in together at sunrise.
My alarm goes off at 5.30am, I’d been sensible and pre packed most of my gear last night. By 5.45am I’m pretty much ready, so is Katja but for once Bruno is the slow one… We leave by 6am, walking in darkness until we find our way back onto the Camino at which point we have occasional streetlights. It’s cold but dry which is lovely, we walk through suburbs following signs towards the centre of Santiago.
As suburbs become city and city then becomes old town, our conversations and humour subside to a more personal inner calm. I’m contemplating how I will feel stood in front of the Cathedral, knowing I’ve walked over 1500km to get to this point, I’ve raising money for an amazing cause, I’ve built websites and written press releases and done so many things to be where I am about to be… I break the silence and make some funny comment just to stop myself from becoming overwhelmed by my emotions.
The plan is, find the Cathedral, then a hotel to dump our packs, then go to get our Compostela’s, before waiting in front of the Cathedral for everyone to meet.
We walk down some steps and turn to our left, there in front of us, stands one of the most humbling buildings ever built. We all take a moment to gaze upon the magnificent structure, and then just like tourists, we all take pictures.
It’s just before 7am and the morning sun hasn’t actually shone across the Cathedral yet so we wander around until it does, it is an amazing sight.
Next job, find somewhere to stay… The Parador stands proudly adjacent to the Cathedral but it’s a little out of my price range. We had passed a couple of smaller hotels on the way in but Katja has a piece of paper with information about rooms from €25 so we check it out. It takes us nearly an hour to find the place, (and yes you’ve guessed it, being 8am, it was closed…), next we find hotels out of our price range, then an apartment, but as Katja inspects the bedding the guy throws us back out?! (A very rude man that is supposedly a hotel manager as well, I think he’s in the wrong trade but instead of telling him I just call him a few names before marching off). My stress levels are rising and the Parador is looking more likely with every step. We find a very trendy cafe who advertise rooms, good prices, oh no, it’s in the same apartment block as the muppets rooms! Katja stays but Bruno and I decide against it. I’m about to give up hope when we walk past a casa something, we go and ask. €50 for a double, it’s nice, really well done out, it’s a done deal. So bags dropped off we go and get Katja before heading to the pilgrims office. It’s nearly 9am and the queue is fairly long already. As the queue moves steadily forward we turn around to see Carlos, Jonathan and Ava. Neville appears a little later (with his war wound…he fell after O Cebreiro splitting his hand open and needing stitches)! We are all happy to see each other and after we are handed our Compostela’s (I begin to realise I’m holding two months of walking in my hand) we go to find breakfast. As a celebratory breakfast we all deserve churros con chocolate, (all the weight I’ve lost may be going back on…!?!).
After breakfast we arrange to meet at 11am for twelve o’clock mass. The place is heaving, we find seats in different areas, I am sat with Bruno, Neville, Nikki and a young Estonian girl. The service begins and to mine & Bruno’s dismay the pilgrims who started furthest away aren’t mentioned (only nationalities walking the last 100km, just to show how commercial the Spanish Camino has become!), also they don’t swing the botafumeiro (worlds biggest incense burner).
After mass we regroup and find a bar to sit outside. The sun is shining and the beer is cold. Protesters march past, the amount of people involved is incredible, some more vocal than others but at least they’re standing up for what they believe in.
The rest of the day is spent with friends made on the Camino, pilgrims who may have only met me fleetingly and others lost back in France. The atmosphere is special and unforgettable, I’ve met such amazing people, some will hopefully stay in touch, and others will probably drift into the night, but they will always be in my memory.
I feel sad as everyone is planning to leave tomorrow to Muxia & Finisterre but I’m leaving on Tuesday as Jaz is arriving tomorrow, (which is going to be amazing as I haven’t seen her for two months, but I’m also a little nervous?!)… I hope I see everyone at Finisterre before everyone leaves, I’d like Jaz to meet them!
Tonight I’m spending in good company with new friends and acquaintances, tomorrow is a new day.

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Day Sixty

Last night we bumped into Katja, Michael and then Nikki found us. We ate bad pizza, drank green tea and then all went to our different albergues. Some idiots decided to spend ages making loads of noise and giggling like children, (yes I know that sounds like me but I was in bed)! I believe tonight is a good time to set my alarm… Not too early, maybe 6am.
When my alarm went off I was already awake but I decide to let it play for a while before opening the blinds and letting in the morning light. Oh dear did I wake last nights idiots, oh well.
Today still looks a little grey but at least there’s no rain at the moment. As we walk out of the town we are surrounded by hordes of pilgrims. Each coffee stop and bar we arrive at is overrun with them, pushing and shoving. Despite the 100km pilgrims, we come across others who started like me in le Puy en Velay, and a few who started from their homes further afield. The scenery although not the most photogenic is still pretty, more eucalyptus woods and small lanes passing through tiny villages. The path leading up and down slopes, some steeper than others.
The plan today is to get to Lavacolla, which is 10km from Santiago. Yesterday and today should be about the same 30km (roughly). The others who were a day behind, (as Neville had fallen and had to have stitches in his hand), had pushed on hard and were now only 10km behind. They would join us for the walk into Santiago tomorrow.
As it happens there isn’t much in Lavacolla and so we continue to Monte del Gozo, a kind of pilgrim barracks 4km outside the city. It can supposedly cater for 3000 pilgrims?! We talk to Carlos and the others and plan to meet them here to walk in together, but then the plans change again and we then agree to meet them at the Cathedral at 9am tomorrow. Everyone is excited, also a little nervous, but most of us are walking to Muxia and , so we have at least another four days walking. I’m a little worried and very excited as Jaz is arriving on Monday. Worried because I don’t want to put to much pressure on her walking with me?! 30km a day is a lot when you’re not used to it…
Oh for …… sake, I have an extra loud friggin snorer opposite me! I guess it would be wrong to put a pillow over his face so close to Santiago!?! (I am joking people)!!!
Ok it’s not late but my alarm is set for 5am… I don’t think things have sunk in yet but my blog will continue.
Ps. Quote of the day – be the change you wish to see in the world.
And for a lolly can you tell me who said it? No, he’s not on the Camino…!

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Day Fifty Nine

I slept really badly. I think it was a combination of being too hot, realised my way was almost over and having snorer’s all around me… When I did finally fall asleep I was woken shortly afterwards by a very annoying woman rustling and shining her torch in my face just after 4am. I bet she only started in the last 3 days!?!
I get up dead on 7am, I pack my things before getting Bruno up. We leave just before 8am.
This morning the walking was up and down but very enjoyable despite having to pass dozens of day packers… Thats right there is a real sense of difference between those that started back in France (even St Jean Pied du Port) and those that started in the last week. Maybe I should be more tolerant of them… Nope, not gonna happen, and I am a tolerant person!
We pass through beautiful little villages with stone footpaths nearly all the way. We pass the first of many eucalyptus woods, which I’m surprised to see. The weather is grey and overcast and slowly as the day wears on the drizzle starts to fall.
Ooh, I forgot, we did stop in Melide and finally Bruno found me a cafe serving ‘churros con chocolate’, I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing, damn the sugar rush alone was superb, give me a couple of espresso’s as well and watch me bounce of the walls… Amazing stuff, now I want more!
Ok, so back to the day… The rain came and my poncho came out, much to Bruno’s amusement. The walk began to drag along with my feet, my left foot wanted to fall off it was so tired and achy.
At last we reached Arzúa and we’ve found an albergue with wifi and hot water, amazing! We could be in Santiago tomorrow if we wanted but I rather like the idea of arriving at sunrise on Sunday?!
Today is so miserable I doubt I’ll go out again but sometimes it’s good just to relax…
If anything exciting happens I’ll add it later…
Ps. If anyone knows of jobs going in the area of the Lake District, please let me know, I think I want to move back up there…!?!
Pps. I have two new nicknames – Captain UNICEF or my favourite UNICEF Boy!?!
I have pilgrims trying to source a cape so I can enter Santiago in costume??? Oh dear…

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Day Fifty Eight

I slept so soundly, it was a pilgrim who woke me but it was late, 7am. I got up and started to go about my morning duties. Bruno and I were the last in the albergue. I think because we are so close to the end the tiredness has kicked in, (either that or we have a routine of lying in knowing that 90% of the people who left early will be overtaken by lunch)?!
By the time we leave it’s 8am, pilgrims who started at the village before Portomarín are turning up. We follow the arrows down to the river and across the footbridge. There are so many people, despite the hill climb we pass most of them. We cross railway tracks and small streams, we pass through small villages, stopping at the odd cafe, cross or church. Every time we stop a few people pass by that we’ve already overtaken, when we hit the road again, it’s not long until we pass them again.
We arrive into Palas de Rei just after 2pm, we pick an albergue, it’s not the best but it’ll do.
After the usual chores we grab some bits from the supermarket and sit outside a closed cafe to eat. A voice calls from behind us… It’s Nikki aka Earth Mother of the Camino, how she got that name I’ll never know. We persuade her to stay in what is a fairly boring town, the mention of wine is all that was needed to twist her arm, then Michael and Katja turn up. We go for a drink and arrange to meet later on at 7.15pm for dinner. In the meantime it’s siesta time. During my siesta a call comes through from Jamie back at home. I was half asleep but I hope I was coherent…?! It was good to hear from him and he told me his design company ‘Hello Communications’ was going to donate to my UNICEF fund, which I just need to add is now over £5000.00 thank you so much to my family and friends for being so so generous!
Anyhow, after the phone call I fell asleep again and so we were nearly half an hour late for dinner. Ooops. After dinner we chatted some more before calling it a night.

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Day Fifty Seven

I woke up just after 2am shivering, my god it’s cold and now people are snoring. I eventually move and get my hoody…still cold! Ok this sucks. I get up and pull my other sleeping bag from my backpack, I climb inside whilst still in my silk liner and with my hoody on… I wake just before 7am.
I start to pack all my things, half the room has left already. Bruno gets up and packs. As we leave we talk about the others who are now behind us and we hope they catch us up before arriving in Santiago de Compostela.
Todays plan is an easy 24km to Portomarín. Like yesterday, the walking is casual, the scenery reminds me of home. Undisturbed countryside, oak woodlands and small farms, the farmers moving cattle from here to there. The only traffic being the dozens of pilgrims we pass. (Bruno and I joke about the amount of pilgrims who start around this point to do the last 100km, and how the people who started in St Jean Pied du Port are probably thinking how much better they are than them all). Little do they know that there are a select few, who are now pure walking machines… Yes you can say I’m big headed but when I started there were people who didn’t think I’d make it, hell I wasn’t sure after my poor start with those rubbish boots. But here I am less than 100km from Santiago, and I’ve met some amazing people. I’m in awe of some of the people I’ve met along the way, young and old.
At a coffee stop we bump into Rachael, her mum and her auntie, so we all walk together into Portomarín. After checking into an albergue we go for a wander around the town. It’s small but beautifully placed above a wide river gorge.
The rest of the day is filled with siesta, talking, eating and the odd drink whilst playing cards.
I’m very nervous about finishing now….

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Day Fifty Six

When we arrived at the hostel last night we decided we would not backtrack to O Cebreiro as it seemed a pointless exercise and after yesterday we needed an easier day.
After a shower we have a bottle of wine and talk before turning in for the night.
This morning we all wake up late, the sun already shining and the sound of the first pilgrims already walking past. We pack and after saying bye to Rachael who has to wait for her mum and auntie, we head out, our target today is Sarria, a mere 25km.
The walk today is easier despite taking the shorter more strenuous route. We pass through a few small villages, but after yesterday’s experience the views don’t compare. The day is beautiful and hot (which makes it harder for me), we stop for breakfast and later on for a coke. It’s about half past three before we get to Sarria, we find a beautiful old albergue in the town and get cleaned up, I wash all my clothes.
After a short siesta we explore the town, first going to the church and then we look for a supermarket. Bruno wants to cook, so we get supplies and whilst he prepares I sit and catch up on my blog.
At present we are sitting outside enjoying the evening, most of our Camino friends haven’t made it this far today, but we want to try and get to Santiago for Sunday so we can attend mass and be mentioned in the service.
Today Bruno has been making up songs or poems about the towns we’ve walked through and ‘churros con chocolate’… Very amusing despite the fact I haven’t had any yet!

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Day Fifty Five

I slept perfectly and it wasn’t until a sensible time I was woken by a few pilgrims rustling and turning on lights. I get up just before 7am, Bruno and I are supposed to be meeting others for chocolate & churros for breakfast in the square… We arrive five minutes late and see Michael leaving with one of the Estonian girls. Jonathon, Neville and Carlos are still here but the others have gone. We also find out there are no churros until 8am, I’m disappointed!
We set off after a quick discussion on which way everyone is going, as the Camino splits in three directions just outside town. The census being most people are taking the second longest route up to the right of the main road (the shortest and lowest route). Bruno and I however, choose to take the longest highest most difficult route which ventures left from the road and crosses the whole mountain ranges between Villafranca and O Cebreiro.
As we leave we watch all the other pilgrims turning right off the road as we head left, crossing the main N-VI and turning right up a steep small lane to Dragonte. As we climb the whole landscape opens up behind us, the views are stunning. In front, the path continues to climb steeply, a rainbow up above the peaks seems to be holding back some grey clouds. We pass through Dragonte, a tiny little hamlet set towards the top of the first peak, shortly afterwards the path opens out to an old quarry, as we look back we see other quarries high up in the distance, we can even see Ponferrada.
We continue on in complete peace no pilgrims, no cars, it’s bliss. We cross over to another valley and look down on villages dotted across the landscape. Up in front a single mast sits proudly on the highest point.
The path splits and despite my guide saying all three routes are well waymarked, we cannot see which way to go, so we continue climbing. The scenery all around is so stunning, and grand, valleys and peaks in every direction. We pass around the summit onto yet more beautiful scenery but still no signs, we head slowly down and see some roof tops below. Luckily for us a lady is outside in her garden and spots us. Bruno talks with the lady and it turns out we’ve already gone wrong, we are in Corrales and not Villar de Corrales, but we are now on one of the oldest routes in history. The lady invites us for tea and her husband comes out with maps to discuss our options. They are a lovely couple and we are very lucky as they only use the house for the weekends (& Monday’s). In the time they have owned the house they have only ever seen two other pilgrims, (who they drove back over the mountain)?! We are given the old route passing through the villages of Barjas, Busmayor and a couple of others (none of which are mentioned in my guide) before arriving at O Cebreiro.
As we walk we talk about this and that, lives and loves, we both really appreciate the peace and quiet of today. Bruno started in Arles so he’s actually done a couple of hundred kilometres more than me.
As we pass through the villages, people come and talk to us, cars stop and ask if we’re lost, their faces show shock when we tell them we are walking the old route! Eventually we guess we are about 4km from O Cebreiro, I check my phone map and it tells us it’s nearly 30km away. It deflates us massively but not for long as we turn a corner and ahead lies O Cebreiro, it’s 7pm…
We’re exhausted, we have walked just over 45km and we have been going all day. We go to find some beds, oh dear, everything (I mean everything) is full!!! We bump into Rachael who cooked for us in Ponferrada, she has no where to sleep either?! I’m too tired to mess about walking further to find a bed… Eventually Bruno finds someone who has a contact for a hostel 4km away, we book it and arrange to be picked up at 9pm after we have eaten.
9.15 we finish our menu del pelegrino at just after 9pm and dash for our lift (when I say dash I mean hobble and bump into friends on the way). It turns out our hostel is 14km further along the Camino but I am not going to complain as I’m exhausted. Today has been the best day I’ve had in Spain!!!
Sorry I almost forgot the route we took today is the Camino Templario and the villagers we saw along the way informed us that no more than a dozen pilgrims pass this route per year any more!

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Day Fifty Four

When I finally open my eyes properly (because two pilgrims turn on the light), I realise myself, Bruno & Michael are the last here, it’s half past six. I get up and start packing as does Michael, Bruno soon realises and follows suit.
By the time we leave it’s close to 8am. Today most people are stopping at Villafranca del Bierzo, a small 22km, I was planning to go a little further.
Oh also my phone had a major meltdown overnight, possibly because of the back up battery case I keep it in… It’s fine again now, I think?!
Despite being overcast the day is warming up already. The walk out is not the prettiest, we pass through industrial zones and suburbs and on to small villages on the road. The best thing are the mountain ranges that surround us. Finally we turn off the road and begin walking through vineyards, Villafranca up ahead in the valley.
We arrive in the town passing the municipal alburgue on the way in, we stop at the next next to the church but they are complet (full), friggin tourist pilgrims booking ahead…! We walk on and stumble onto a very modern albergue, with huge power showers, single beds (no bunks), bedside table and lamp and lots of power sockets…perfect!
Like I said I was going to go further today, but the 22km have been as hard as the 40km days, I’m hot, sticky, tired and I haven’t enjoyed today’s walking at all.
After cleaning up we walk up to the other albergue to see some of the others, then a group of us wander into town to get a coffee. In the square we meet more of our comrades and enjoy a few hours of socialising, talking rubbish and enjoying the hot weather.
Bruno and I head back to the albergue to eat, he helps me get rid of some of my stupidly heavy food supply before we head back to the square for an evening drink. Tomorrow we cross into Galicia and hopefully stop at O Cebreiro. First we have to climb a mighty big hill?!

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Day Fifty Three

Again I don’t even wake up until 6am, it’s half an hour before I move. It’s cold. I have to get up, but I’m so comfortable…
I get up and begin to pack, once again most people have already left. I join Michael and Bruno for some breakfast ‘ColaCao’ (it’s like nesquik but according to Pepa back in Logroño it’s Olympic?!)
Bruno and I head out, it’s cold, Michael wants to leave after us as he wants to arrive at the Cruz de Ferro alone for spiritual reasons. Traditionally pilgrims had brought a stone from home to place at the base of this tall cross, more recently people had left all kinds of things. Me, being the backwards thinking person that I am, decided I would take a stone and carry it with me! The theory being if these stones represent peoples sins (let’s face it, why else would you carry a rock across the country?), I would take this persons sin and carry it with. I may decide to give it to the sea to wash clean at Finisterre, I may carry it home with me.
From here it’s mainly downhill all the way to Ponferrada, 25km away, making it another 27km day.
There are many pilgrims again today and despite being in sight of the guys, we all have our own pace and it works fine. We talk for a while and then carry on alone for a while.
I see many butterflies today and the walk between the valleys is beautiful (it’s making me think I want to live back up North in the Lakes), the villages are very peaceful with overhanging balconies and the roofs have changed to slate.
Once we arrive in town we find the albergue and get allocated beds. After showering and washing clothes we go for a wander. Bruno and I see a sign for Mc Donalds and decide we should investigate… Twenty minutes later and we are stuffing our faces with enough to feed a whole family!
When we get back to the albergue Michael introduces us to Rachael, a New Zealand chef. He’s asked her to cook for us tonight…?! We then proceed to walk all the way back across town to visit the bus station with Rachael, before looking for a supermarket. Rachael cooks us an amazing risotto with chicken and wild mushrooms. Nikki & Katja join us for a glass of wine.
The night is enjoyable and we are some of the last to head to bed…

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Day Fifty Two

I’m glad I agreed to eat with the other pilgrims last night. The meal was lovely but it was the company that won me over. A group of nine unlikely people put together, some I’d met before others not, all kind and gentle with stories that touched every one of us. One young girl stood out from the rest, I’d heard stories of a girl walking with a giraffe (obviously not a real one), her name was Anya, a German girl with a spirit that was far stronger than she realised. Her story was so moving half the table were close to tears, myself included. I went to bed in the knowledge the night had been very special for all who were there.
In the morning I woke up late, 6.30am. Most of the beds had already emptied. I took my time to pack and get ready. By the time I leave it’s just gone 7.30am.
Finding my way out of Astorga took me a few minutes but soon enough I was on my way. As the path leads me into the countryside and towards the mountain ranges in the distance, I find my steady pace, my feet feeling more comfortable every day. Pilgrims old and new pass and are passed. After the first village I pass the landscape opens up to wild heathland, I spot some birds I don’t recognise so try to get some shots to show my dad. As I watch one scoops down and picks up a snake, carrying it off with two more following behind. I begin to see more fritillaries (butterflies) along the way, I realise how little I’ve seen crossing the lowlands of North Spain.
As I climb higher the villages become more and more spartan. I meet Bruno, Carlos, Jonathon, Neville and Michael has already passed us all by. We stop for a drink in the village before my planned stop, Foncebadón. A village that was almost completely abandoned in years gone by. Through the Camino, some life has returned but most of the village still lay to ruin. We arrive almost together at what is, I believe the highest point of the whole Camino.
Michael recommends we stay in the old chapel albergue, so Bruno and I decide to join him.
I lay down to write my blog at about 3pm… I wake at just gone 6pm in time to join the rest of the pilgrims for dinner. We then head to an old bar just down the hill where we get some dessert, and play ‘shithead’ (sorry it’s a card game), with Nikki.
We head back to the albergue before ten to turn in.
And again I write this the following day… So now I have to write today’s…!

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