Day Fifty One

The albergue was so peaceful, there were only about twenty of us staying there. I slept well, I didn’t get woken up to early, and I didn’t get bitten in my sleep!
By the time I wrap my heals up and pack it’s almost 7am, time to go…
Yesterday was a mere 20km, maybe a little less. Meaning today to Astorga is about 27km. I set out slowly, trying not to irritate my feet. Like yesterday I feel calm and relaxed about walking on my own. By the time I get to Hospital de Orbigo I begin to see the pilgrims that had taken the longer route. I also stop and chat to a Canadian lady called Nikki who is interested in why I’m raising money for UNICEF. She and I compare stories of other pilgrims along the road and travel stories, (of which she has more being a ‘trolley dolly’ as she described herself), (thats an in flight attendant for all you politically correct people out there)…
I continue on my own as more pilgrims arrive at the little cafe. Shortly afterwards Michael, the high speed German catches me up, he slows to talk to me. I see another side to him that I’d previously missed, we walk together for a while, stopping for a coffee at the next village. He walks on just after a very nice refreshment stand up on one of the open plateau’s. Whilst there Carlos, Jonathon, Neville and Bruno arrive.
I carry on, seeing Astorga in the distance I put my headphones in and relax to some wailing country (Dixie Chicks).
The walk in goes quickly despite the route twisting and turning. I stupidly go the wrong way into the town but eventually find an albergue just around the corner from the cathedral and the bishops palace. It’s big but friendly and clean. It’s all I need. Plus I have a mains socket by by bunk, score. (It’s the small things).
I go for a drink at the hotel around the corner, where I meet two ladies from Finland. They walk a couple of weeks each year, today is their last day this year so they’re treating themselves to the hotel. Nikki joins us and we talk more about the Camino.
I had planned to eat here as they have a pilgrim menu, but as I explore the town (and find a chocolate tasting tent, it’s a big thing here!) I bump into some other pilgrims staying in the same albergue. I’m asked if I’d like to join them for dinner, I accept. It’s nice to meet some new pilgrims…!
My feet haven’t been as bad today but I need to re-drain my blisters. Mmmm fun times.
I should mention Astorga is a nice town with a beautiful Gothic cathedral and a very interesting Bishop’s Palace built by Gaudí.
Tomorrow I begin my climb up the first of two mountain ranges I need to pass to reach Santiago. I begin to realise how close I am to reaching the end of my journey. I feel I could carry on, I have a routine and a rhythm going, plus I don’t know what I’m going to do on my return?!
I feel I’m left with more questions than answers at present…


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Day Fifty

I don’t sleep that bad considering the amount of people I’m sharing with. I wake around six but don’t start getting up until gone half past, I’m not in any rush today.
7.30am, I’m packed and ‘twiddling’ my thumbs… I want to make a start. I head out of the albergue with all my gear (wearing flip flops) and with the help of a city map I make my way towards the shoe repairers. I find it surprisingly easily. Next I search for the closest open coffee shop, were I sit and wait for the next hour and a bit, drinking possibly too many coffees.
8.45am and I’m waiting outside the shop, it’s cold when I’m not walking, very cold. A lady opens the shop dead on 9am, I go in and wait, shivering. The workers arrive at 9.15am and finish off a few bits on my boots. It costs just over 30€ but they look good. I put them on and look for my path out of the city.
The boots feel much heavier and my heals are hurting already, add to this the bad signs for leaving León and I’m not happy. Still I’m walking solo again which makes a nice change. I can take my time.
Once I’m out of the city, the Camino splits again. Everyone told me to take the left route, because it’s nicer, but it’s also 9km longer. I opt for the shorter route along the roads, mainly for my feet but I can’t help thinking to myself there’ll be less pilgrims. I’m right I spot maybe three all day.
The walking is slow and painful, awkward looking is an understatement. I haven’t had blisters for 48 days and now I’ve got new ones. Oh well, yet more obstacles to overcome!
It’s just gone 2pm and I’m entering the town of Villadangos del Páramo, I’ve had a nice quiet walk today despite the pain and the traffic. I get myself into the albergue and have a nap, at 5pm I’m going to pop to the pharmacy to get some more tape and padding for my new blisters. Ah the lifestyles of the poor and non famous?!!

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Day Forty Nine

I wake sharply at 6am, by 6.30am I am putting my poncho on as it’s been raining, it’s still drizzling a little. It’s just under 25km today to León, it should be an easy day! It’s not…
The path leads us mainly besides main roads all day, the rain comes and goes for the whole journey. My feet hurt from the long day yesterday, I think I may be getting new blisters?
We finally get to the outskirts of León and the sun comes out. The trek in is long and arduous. After finding the Benedictine albergue we dump our gear and go out to find supplies and shoe repairers. The good news is my boots are being resoled and I’m getting new insoles, the bad news, they won’t be ready until 9am tomorrow…!
I head back to the albergue to shower and wash all my clothes, I stop for some food as well and then we go back out to explore some more. I’m in two minds as to stay here another day, but besides the grand cathedral I’ve seen the city. But starting so late tomorrow I may have problems finding a bed?! Also I have two new blisters to deal with, one on each heal.
Curfew at the hostel is 9.30pm, so I’m sat here (outside) trying to charge my phone and write my blog before going to bed… Hmmmm… And I’m in a dorm of probably fifty people!


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Day Forty Eight

Being woken by annoying early risers that then sit around talking and crumpling plastic bags neither amuses me or brings out my most charming side… (The cogs in my mind turn and begin to devise mean ways of retaliation). At present I’m toying with the ideas of airhorns, fire alarms or some loud rap. Of course there’s always the option of getting drunk on Jäger-bombs and letting me loose in the dorm, but there’s a high probability that would lead to me being arrested?!
Ok, so I’m up and leaving by 6.30am. The morning was refreshing but not cold. We don’t have a plan of where to stop today, I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing. Walking through a couple of small villages in quick succession, we pass from the province of Palencia to that of León. After this we can see the town of Sahagún up ahead. Our path today is mainly gravel alongside roads, (not overly exciting again). Arriving in Sahagún so early in the morning (8.45am), we don’t stop to view it’s history. It’s a shame as I believe it has some interesting history. Instead we carry on to the outskirts of Calzada del Coto, here the Camino divides and as we try to establish which route is which, the clouds disperse and the sun shines. We start again taking the Real Frances route as it passes more villages along the way. The landscape stretches out in all directions and as we continue, grey clouds appear on the horizon in two directions.
It’s nearing 4pm, we’ve been walking for nearly ten hours, with a few quick coffee breaks. The clouds are getting heavier as we enter Reliegos, combined with aching muscles, sore feet and hunger pangs we agree it’s time to stop. We’ve walked 44km, it’s been a long day and now it’s raining. All I want to do is go to bed…
Unfortunately I don’t get my wish as we find some of our Camino friends are here at the albergue so we sit around chatting for far to long. I haven’t even showered!
Hence why the blog is a day late…

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Day Forty Seven

Oh how the early risers annoy me… I get up at half past five merely because I’ve been woken and can’t get back to sleep.
Last night the nuns got everyone together to sing pilgrim songs in almost every language, it sounded nice from where I lay… Later in the evening they also held a pilgrim blessing.
The day starts cool with clouds but as soon as the sun began to rise we could tell it was going to be a nice day, a hot day.
The first 17km to Calzadilla de la Cueza is almost straight on gravel tracks and small roads. There are many pilgrims today, most of which we pass before the small village. The walking is fairly uneventful and so we put our headphones in and zone out to music. I choose some fairly uplifting hip hop to stride to. (Probably not the most pilgrim like, but it works, we make 17km in little over three hours)! From here the remaining journey follows gravel walkways next to a main road, (although we don’t see much traffic).
After one quick coffee stop we arrive in Terradillos de los Templarios by just after midday, (as you may recognise from the name, the village was once owned by the Knights Templars).
We pass the first albergue which looks very nice as a self contained complex, instead we opt for the albergue in the village itself. It seems ok. We are some of the first here so we get quick showers, wash our clothes and relax in the afternoon sun.
Although I still have no solid plans as to my return to Blighty, I’m more baffled by what I’m going to do once I get to Santiago de Compostela. Jaz is coming out to meet me and the plan is, she’ll walk with me to Finisterre, (and I haven’t heard from the other people that wanted to walk this last leg)?! But from here I don’t know whether we’ll try and get back across to France to meet up with my parents or if we’ll head back from Spain somehow…!?! Ooh the excitement of not knowing…
Sometimes plans are good, sometimes it’s better to ‘wing it’… (and sometimes I just wish I had my trusty motorbike)…!

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Day Forty Six

Wow I feel rough… Hardly any sleep and up by 5am… I know I know serves me right!
It’s 6.15am, before I’m ready to leave. I drink as much squash as I can, it’s gonna be a long day. At least today feels a little warmer. We follow the road out of Frómista and as I look back the sunrise is beautiful, shades of red and orange. Slowly the sun begins to rise from the horizon, I feel a little better already.
The farmers are already busy in the fields, harriers pass overhead and birdsong echoes from every direction. Within an hour we pass through Población de Campos and as we turn to follow the river, most of the other pilgrims take the new slightly shorter route along the road. The old route is by far the more interesting route but we are plagued by gnats & midges along the river bank. Despite the irritation I spot a heron overhead, (it has some reddish colours to it), I also see cuckoos and some kind of warblers singing loudly from their reed hiding places.
We pass through a couple more villages before arriving in Carrión de los Condes.
I had toyed with the idea of continuing on to the next village, but considering I’d walked 20km already and the next village was a further 17km, I decide to stay here. The town is small but has a grand church at it’s heart and the albergue next door is run by nuns.
We have to wait for the albergue to open so we go for a coffee. After checking in, we explore the town.
After the conversation with Carlos, Neville & Jonathon yesterday, I have suggested to Gus we set ourselves a new target. We have walked 40km in a day, I now want to see if I can do 50km. My plan is to set out early (very early) from a town just over 50km before León. If we get tired we can always stop before but otherwise we get to León and then have the next day to explore the city…!?! Me and my hair brained ideas…
Please feel free to pass my stupid idea on to friends who may want to sponsor or donate to UNICEF to help motivate me.
To those of you who have donated recently I’d like to thank you very much. Its such an important cause and your donations mean I must be doing something right!


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Day Forty Five

(The old ruins on the hill above the village are in fact a castle!)
The old man on the bunk above me coughs and moves all night but somehow I manage some sleep. As I wake I can see the sun is just about to rise, the morning skies looks clear. Amazingly no one has got up stupidly early today. I pack my things and get ready to make a start. Despite clear skies the morning is still fresh and so my jacket gets it’s use once more.
Our path heads out of the village of Castrojeriz and directly towards the only hill in the vicinity. Despite the cool morning air, the climb brings a sweat to my brow. Soon enough we reach the summit and find it is another plateau of the Meseta. Shortly afterwards our path drops away suddenly and a huge bowl-like valley appears before us. Our path is visible far into the distance.
I can see that within a few weeks the Meseta will be the dusty dry landscape I’d heard about and imagined, farmers are beginning to cut crops and meadow land, harriers scan the newly cut fields for prey.
We cross a river and pass from the province of Burgos to Palencia. Soon after we pass through a small village before crossing once more a great expanse of land with three small peaks ahead to guide us. The next village comes into view as we reach the small summit, once at the bottom we reach a small canal and follow it to the next village. Birds and butterflies are in abundance along the canal and despite the odd cyclist racing past us, the walk is tranquil and enjoyable.
The next 6km are a mix of canal and road. But we arrive in Frómista without any problems, it’s midday, just gone. I had planned to walk to the next village but this town appeared fairly nice. I’d seen a restaurant serving paella and the church looked nice to. It was the paella that won it?!!
We checked into the albergue and settled into our routine. After some exploration I decided to sit outside a bar in the square and write my blog. (See this is where it all went wrong…)
I order a beer and make the mistake of accepting a grande size. It’s warm, the beers cold, it’s refreshing after walking 25km. It goes down easily… As I begin to write my blog, (yes I did start to), two Dutch guys sit at the next table and begin a conversation with me. Ennio is Italian but moved to Holland forty two years ago, he’s in his sixties and his wife passed away some years ago. He’s hilarious, telling me stories of his youth and giving me his slant on politics. He buys the next round. Gus stops to join us but isn’t drawn in by the beer, (sensible), I buy the next round. Next Jonathan, Neville & Carlos show up and join us, Gus goes off to explore more. Conversation flows and so do a couple more beers, (oh dear). The guys head off to freshen up and Gus comes back to tell me the restaurant serving paella is open again. It’s just gone six (I think), I have a noodle type of paella, iced coffee and another beer. To be honest they could have given me stale bread I’d have eaten it. It was tasty but I was drunk… I went to bed shortly after and at one point jumped off my top bunk in my sleeping bag, (to get my phone) and then proceeded to hop back to my bed and up the ladders!?!
(At least I didn’t try to get naked and pole dance….)


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Day Forty Four

This morning no one wakes me up at stupid o’clock, I’m shocked, in fact I’m probably one of the first to wake up, but I stay in bed and enjoy my lie in. By just gone six several people start whispering loudly whilst still in bed. Everyone else is up so I don’t feel the slightest guilt at making noise packing my gear and then turning on the lights…. (They should know it’s rude to whisper)!
We set off into the morning light, once again wearing our jackets, the wind is still blowing cold.
As we make our way once more across this not so barren plateau, flowers line our path between farmers land, skylarks and other birds lead us along the way, wind turbines line up across the horizon, whilst black clouds play hide and seek with the sun.
Today is another modest 21km, although as I walk I’m tempted to carry on to the next village which is a further 11km. My decision is made as we turn a corner and Castrojeriz comes into view. A beautiful old village set around the base of a hill with the ruins of what must have been a magnificent church or monastery on the top. We enter it’s narrow streets in-between charming old buildings, and pass two splendid churches before we find what looks to be a nice albergue. It’s early still and I expect a long wait before it’s doors are open. Ten minutes later we are invited in. Being the first here we choose the best beds and get an early shower before the hot water runs out. We also get our clothes machine washed & dried.
Its now half past two, I’ve explored the village. It’s much bigger than first thought. I buy some bread, cheese, ham and a tomato. That’s dinner sorted!
I doubt much else will happen today so I’ll leave you with something I saw on the wall of an albergue recently. “If you find your path has no obstacles, you’ll probably find it leads you nowhere”.


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Day Forty Three

I would like to say I woke late, but I didn’t. It was about six in the morning, I didn’t move until half past. It was nearly eight when Gus appeared in reception. I geared up and we head out of the hotel. Damn it was cold, really cold. We hadn’t got out of the suburbs before we stopped and put coats on, I haven’t worn mine since I first began my pilgrimage. I’ve been blessed with the weather, up until now!?! Gusts of wind blow us from side to side.
As we move further from Burgos we cross paths with some main roads, as we walk under a road bridge, I notice high up, appearing from behind a ridge, a group of griffin vultures soar on the winds.
Besides the many pilgrims on the path today, the only noticeable thing is the fact we begin our way across the Meseta. I’m a little anxious about the Meseta as I’ve heard stories of a barren landscape, nothing to see in any direction. A time where you’re thoughts play havoc with your mind?!
Today is a very modest 20km to Hornillos del Camino. A village set in a bowl on the Meseta. (Which happens to be luscious and green and undulates calmly). We arrive in Horndillos to find the first albergues full up. We find another and begin to queue, just before our turn the host tells the lady in front they’re full…but then says she has more beds in another building…! Phew…
It’s early, but it’s cold and this village has nothing but the hostels and a bar. The bar is packed and so I lie on my bed thinking of what to write for my blog…. Obviously a bad move as when I wake up everyone else is getting into their sleeping bags… Ooops.

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Day Forty Two

Yesterday my mind was on the road and getting to my destination, nothing else mattered and so my entry reflected that.
Today is a different story…
The storms of last night had not cleared this morning. If anything the rain was lingering.
Six thirty and we begin our ascent over the peaks that stand between us and San Juan de Ortega. I wear my poncho for the third time in over a month. The rain is light but it’s constant. Our path is muddy and steep in places, but enjoyable all the same. The weather reminds me of home.
Today my mind races between the choices I need to make when I return home. Where do I want to live? What do I want to do? I know I can do anything if I put my mind to it, but it’s pinpointing what I should do… I’d like to do something more constructive, you know, something that benefits others. At the same time, I realise I am very good in hospitality and it would be great to have a small business of my own. But then, I trained in media, I worked in photography, I follow the entertainment industry closely… I’ve also worked in stage and sound production and as a pyrotechnician, I would say I’m fairly creative?! These thoughts play over in my head all day! Aaargh…my head turns to mush…
Meanwhile, we stop for a quick coffee in San Juan de Ortega before continuing. We’ve discussed trying to make it to Burgos today, it’s 40km… We pass through Agés, Atepuerca (where they discovered a fossilised prehistoric man), before making our way up onto what’s supposed to be open heathlands. It’s more like a scene from ’28 days later’, menacing barbwire fencing but placed like it’s holding something in rather than preventing trespassing. A crow calls, watching from it’s perch on a large cross, more scatter from behind the barbwire. The heathland is rocky and barren. As we approach our decent, Burgos is visible, and doesn’t look that far away. Unfortunately for us, the way does a huge loop passing through another three or four villages before following the main road into Burgos. We arrived in the centre at 3pm, my feet and legs ached. The tourist information was closed until 4pm. Cold and tired I was in no mood to sit and wait so I treat myself to a cheap but nice hotel. Just under 30€ for a room, I believe I deserve the treat after today’s walk!
After freshening up, we head to the cathedral and explore. The cathedral is stunning, as grand if not more grand than many I’d seen in Rome.
On the way back to the hotel we bump into two ladies Gus had wanted me to meet, he’d met them some days ago. I didn’t get their names, but they live in the Lakes (where I grew up). It turns out, one lives in Brigsteer just near Crosthwaite and her nieces went to the school my mum used to teach at. The other lady is originally from Somerset and bizarrely went to school with my cousin Tara in Wellington or Taunton…!?! Random…
It’s been a long day, I’m tired, my feet hurt, my head spins with thoughts and ideas.


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