Day Forty One

Despite the bunk beds squeaking I managed a good nights sleep. I’m up just before six and out by half past. Todays walking is broken up by several small villages along the route.
The ground is damp from last nights storms and the morning light is still blocked by grey clouds. The route takes us parallel to a busy main road, as we make our way towards Grañón, and on to Recedilla del Camino, where I spot either a hen harrier or montague harrier. From here we pass through Castildelgado, Viloria de la Rioja and Villamayor del Rio in fairly quick succession before arriving in Belorado. The walking is fairly even on wide tracks and small lanes.
Gus & I have noticed tomorrows route has us walking over three fairly high peaks, so we decide to carry on further today.
We head through Tosantos, Villambistia, Espinosa del Camino and on to Villafranca Montes de Oca. By now my feet are aching massively and I’m relieved when we find an albergue. Just in time to, we’ve dodged the odd bit of drizzle all day, broken up with bouts of sun to dry us out. But as we enter the hostel the heavens open and it rains, followed by more thunder and lightning, hail and torrential downpours.
I’m glad the way has been fairly straightforward today otherwise I don’t think I’d of managed the 35km.
We are still in agricultural farmland but we have moved from the province of La Rioja to Burgos.
I’m tired, we’ve out-walked many of the pilgrims we’ve walked with for a few days now.
I hope tomorrow isn’t to hard and maybe the rain can hold off again for us.

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Day Forty

I slept ok besides the fact the bunk beds were so close together I felt like I was sleeping next to a burly Spanish guy who snored. At one point in the early hours I’d turned over and he was facing me, freaked me right out! I slept on my back for the remainder…
I woke late, 6am. I was still out the door by my usual 6.30am. Gus had waited for me, so again we walked together.
As we leave Nájera I read the towns name in Arabic means ‘place between rocks’. We climb up out of the town between two cliff faces and the place name becomes obvious. Besides the first hill climb, the walking is once again fairly easy, but I feel we make it difficult for ourselves by walking faster than usual. A problem I have come to understand in Spain. This idea of racing to the next stop, it’s annoying and takes a lot of enjoyment out of the whole experience. I believe the Spanish are the worst culprits for this attitude, followed closely by the Germans.
Within an hour of walking we are passing the first village, which according to my guide, is 6km away.
I had planned to walk to the village of Grañón today, a total of 28km. But seeing the amount of pilgrims on the road and the fact it’s Sunday I decide to stop in the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, another modest day of 21km.
We arrive in the town at 10.30am, I don’t feel bad about stopping so early. My feet are sore and I’m one of the very few who’ve walked from well before the Pyrenees… (At this moment in time I think I’m allowed to drop that in)…
With rucksacks lined up outside the Albergue, we head to a cafe for a coffee before stretching out with other pilgrims in the square. It’s one of the most bizarre sights I’ve ever witnessed, such a random mix of people in rambling gear all doing different stretches. Todays my first day for stretching out, but after my pilgrim shuffle (it’s the walk we have once the boots are off) has got so bad I decide it’s time to try to get rid of it.
Our hostel has a capacity of over 200, add to that it seems to be one of the most up together and well run places and only asks for a donation of 5€.
I’m showered, rested and currently the light has just turned out with me on the toilet?! (Too much information I know but stupid sensor lights never work…)…
I’ve sat and talked with a professor of French back in the States, a very nice lady who made us mint tea.
I’ve now (yes I’ve left the toilet) explored the town, just in time too, as black clouds have rolled in with thunder, lightning and some serious rain!

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Day Thirty Nine

Last night was a really good experience. The tapas bars were so busy. The food was good and the local Rioja was even better. Our night was cut short by the fact our albergue (hostel) closed it’s doors at 10pm. We got back just in time to find the gates already locked….! Hahaha… The panic started, I found it all very funny, possibly one to many Rioja’s?! After a while another door opened and one of the staff let us all in. We all had to be very quiet and sneak into our dorms.
In the morning it was another noisy early start. I was nice and carried all my things into the hallway to pack, so as not to be another annoying rustling pilgrim.
I left at what had become my usual time of 6.30am, once again Gus walked with me. The signs out of Logroño weren’t the best but we managed to head the right way. The morning was fresh, the sun was out and there were no clouds in the sky, but the air was cold.
After leaving the city we climbed up to a local reservoir, early morning fisherman already set up with their rods out. As we passed, fish were jumping, we also saw two red squirrels and a hoopoe. We crossed a small bridge over a corner of the lake and beneath us were dozens of carp, feeding in the shallows.
We carried on, the road being fairly easy today. Arriving in Navarrete earlier than expected we stopped at a cafe for a quick drink and to use their facilities. We joined a host of other pilgrims, whilst others carried on past. Half an hour and we were back on the path, passing through more vines, another hilltop village and eventually a round stone build structure which is the site where Roland is reputed to have slain Ferragut, a Syrian giant supposedly descended from Goliath, with a huge stone, in the same way as David & Goliath. From here we could see Nájera ahead. It wasn’t far…
The walk into Nájera seemed to take longer than expected but eventually we found the centre and began to look for the Albergue. A very kind local pointed Gus & I in the right direction, so we crossed the river and joined a queue to get a bed. The albergue was basic but adequate and as they only asked for donations I couldn’t really complain.
Late afternoon sitting on the river bank with an ice cold beer, watching the storks flying overhead, while swifts, swallows and one of the types of martins flew acrobatically over the river.
Tonight Man Utd play Barcelona, woo hoo… Just because I’m English doesn’t mean I support a game played by overpaid vain nancy boys. If any footballers read this, sorry these are my views and you wont change them! I’ve met a few when I worked in photography and apart from Mr David James (who I believe was a goalkeeper) and a very nice chap, the others were ignorant muppets, I won’t mention any more names, Scholes & Gerard…
Instead of watching the game, I look into hotels for Santiago and Hitec Magnum’s website trying to see how to get a pair out to me…!?!
I have a very quiet and early Saturday night.

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Day Thirty Eight

Well last night four of us (myself, Gus, Pepa, Lordes) made a huge salad and pasta with tomato & tuna with fresh bread with tomato and olive oil. There was too much for the four of us, but we did a good job of trying to finish it, especially as they kept trying to force more food my way?! The stories of my eating habits and my rucksack are beginning to spread through Spain. After a pleasant night I slept well, only to be woken by a Spaniard turning the lights on at 5.30am. I didn’t complain, I never do. I got up just before six, had a coffee (and a banana) and set off on the road with Gus.
My plan today was an easy 20km to Logroño and explore the city.
Well the first ten kilometres were not particularly easy. The path avoided a main road by weaving up and down small hills and valleys. Even now the hills still tire me! After the track evened out we entered Viana, a very pretty old town, with a church almost as grand as a cathedral.
From here the walk to Logroño was fairly even, if not a little bland on sights. Logroño itself and La Rioja just before it are very industrialised areas, with big factories covering the landscape and many flat topped hills which to me look man made?!
The weather has been touch and go all day, I did expect rain but it hasn’t come as yet. I’ve been informed by a local it will rain tomorrow?
We arrived in Logroño just after 10.30am (yes we have still walked for 4 hours and I said it was an easy day), we find a market to buy some bread, ham & cheese before walking back to the main hostel to eat and wait for the doors to open.
We were the second here and by noon there were thirty people waiting, but again people queue in the right order, I’m shocked but happy.
Once I’ve showered and refreshed we explore the city properly, most things are now closed until 5pm but we find all the sights, the church’s, the monuments. The street with a string of tapas and wine bars one after another!
I return to my bunk for a siesta. At 5pm I venture out again, I’m still looking for Hitec Magnums, Gus wants a penknife to cut food. We both buy lots of dry fruit when we stumble across it.
Tonight a few of us are going for tapas and a fine glass of Rioja (although I’ll probably just have one before switching to beer, or jäger-bombs, or flatliners, or maybe even a teapot)?!!
I will probably add more later, or in the morning, depending on tonight!
And if anyone reads this that works at Hitec, I’d like a pair sent out to me, I’ll write you all the reviews you need. After all, your boots have covered a distance the crap German ‘Hanwag’ boots could never cover, (without crippling me)…!

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Day Thirty Seven

Bed bugs….. Ahhhh crap! The first hostel that hands out disposable pillow cases and sheets and I’ve got a line of bites across my left butt cheek. What is it with my left hand side, swollen foot, mosquito bite and now more bites…!?!
The rain has stopped but it’s still damp outside. Just before half past six and I’m out the door and walking.
Just outside Estella I pass Ayegui, and after this the monastery of Irache, famous for being one of the first Benedictine houses in Navarre. More important to the modern pilgrim is the wine fountain opposite the monastery. Placed by a very inventive vintner, a beautiful wall display with two taps, one for water and the other for red wine. Personally, I’m not a big drinker, especially before 9am. But others filled their water bottles…
The walking is on footpaths through forests over the nearby hillside, but afterwards the track widens and opens out to fairly flat land passing through wheat fields and vines. I’ve caught up with a guy from LA, I met him yesterday, we walk together.
We arrive in Los Arcos by 11am. This was supposed to be the next stop, but not at this time of day! We stop for some food and a drink, and are met by more pilgrims from the day before.
11.30am and we carry on, the next stop is another 8km, bringing today’s total to almost 30km.
As we follow the easy tracks through the fields again we’re joined by to Spanish ladies. Luckily Gus is fluent in Spanish and so conversation flows with translations every few minutes.
Clouds have covered the blue skies above and I expect rain, but it never comes. We arrive in Sansol and ten minutes later we’re in Torres del Rio. We head to an aubergue thats been recommended to us, we’re some of the last few to get beds.
By walking a bit further today it means Logroño is only 20km tomorrow, so I’ll have lots of time to explore another Spanish city!
For now, I’m washed, relaxed and I’m going to eat tonight.

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Day Thirty Six

(Yesterday)
The early risers are at it again… It’s so annoying! The guy on the bunk above me wakes me at just after 4am by clambering around for the toilet and then climbing back up. Others begin to rustle and clatter around by 5.15am… I could backhand the lot of them. I wait until most of them have cleared the area before I get up, 5.45am. I’ve been bitten in the night, I have a huge swollen bite mark on my lower left leg.
I share my watermelon (amazing I know, fruit at breakfast time) with a couple of pilgrims who didn’t disturb me, before making my exit.
The morning light is so warm, as I walk my path out of Puente la Reina. I stop to take pictures of the landscapes approaching. I wait for pilgrims up ahead to clear the scene, whilst making sure no others enter the frame from behind. As I stop to take another picture, an older gentleman, German, pauses to ask if it’s a good picture, but instantly walks into frame and stops to take his shoe off before I get the shot. (Now I promised my mother I wouldn’t swear on my website), but by God, he was lucky I didn’t wrap my crook around his head.
Todays walking is pleasant, (besides the ignorant people I mean), along old footpaths and roman roads. Vines and crops on either side, pretty villages laid out on the horizon, that I’d soon be walking through.
I spot more vultures soaring overhead, all manner of finches in the hedgerows, butterflies I recognise and some I don’t. Finally I find a snake that isn’t instantly spooked by my approach, not quite a metre, green with two black stripes running it’s entire length. It’s hunting just off the path. It enters a hole, then comes back out, it senses me. Two more walkers come up the path and in an instance it’s gone.
The sun eventually gets to hot for me so I put on my hat, which instantly soaks up all my sweat and begins to drip down my neck….
Today I’ve crossed so many bridges, all old pilgrim bridges, so pretty. Including a bridge that crosses a salt river?!
I arrive in Estella just before noon, this is my stop for the night. A small town with many old streets and buildings.
As I wait for the hostel to open I’m greeted by a Canadian, two Australians and two Americans. One of them I know, Alison. I met her in France walking with her partner David. He has had to fly back to the states for work but Alison plans to walk the whole way. She’s the only other person I’ve seen that started in Le Puy en Velay.
A few of us go for a wander around the town. We stop for a drink before I head back to my bed.
As the lights go out rain begins to fall outside, then the thunder and lightning starts. It’s a big storm. If I wasn’t locked in I’d probably want to go out and try to get some pictures….
Instead the earplugs go in!

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www.thewaytosantiago.co.uk

Just want to check if my twitter and Facebook publicise features are working…! Raised over £4000.00 for UNICEF…so far!

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Day Thirty Five

Well there goes my idea of leaving early… I sleep badly. Possibly due to the fact I put my special foot cream on last night and before washing my hands, I ate some biscuits. I felt sick for hours, when I finally did sleep I had whacked out dreams (I can’t even tell you about them they where that gross)…! I was awake by 4am but no way was I getting up. I did eventually at 6am.
6.30am, I’m walking the alleys of Pamplona, following the signs, the scallop shell plaques in the floor, and some pilgrims in front of me.
I’d like to say I feel refreshed by my stay at the Maisonnave Hotel. I can’t recommend it enough, it was an above quality 3* hotel. The problem is, once the backpack goes back on, it’s as if you never took it off.
As we leave Pamplona, I brace myself for some serious rain. The clouds, the wind, it all looks imminent. But it’s now nearly 6pm, there’s been no rain only high winds and blue skies!
As I pass through a couple of smaller villages I’m constantly looking up at about 40 wind turbines high up on the ridges in front of me. My gut tells me, that’s where I’m heading. Yep, I am. (The wind turbines give Pamplona all it’s power). The climb is ok, but as I reach the top I’m almost blown over by the wind… Luckily for me as soon as I’m at the top, I begin my decent on the other side. The landscape is laid out in front of me, villages dotted almost in a straight line. Each one I pass through, Uterga, Murazábal and Obanos. I was looking forward to seeing a modern statue of the pilgrim in Obanos, marking the junction of the caminos Francés & Aragonés. I didn’t see it…?!
By midday I arrived in Puente la Reina (Gares). This is my stop. When I got here so early I did think should I carry on? But no, I’ve planned the distances so I have some easier days like today of 22-24km and I have some longer days of 28-33km. I stay, my hostel costs me 4€. I find a shop, I wash, I rest, I explore. I’m now writing this. I’ve seen less wildlife today but at least I’ve seen some.
Also, thanks to my dad, my total raised has jumped from nearly £3000 to nearly £4000. I guess this means he now trusts I’ll finish what I’ve started?! I can’t thank you enough dad, and everyone else. Without everyone supporting me, I’d have been about 10 kilos lighter and feeling selfish about walking the route just for myself. As it is, my pack weighs twice what it should (pain), but I have an immense sensation of doing something good (pleasure)…!?! Hmmmmm…
I hope everyone’s well back at home and enjoying the pictures of my feet.

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Day Thirty Four

Ahhhh… The linen, the pillows….so comfortable. So why do I get up at 7.30am!!?!
Well now I’m up I may as well have breakfast. Afterwards I ask reception what time the shops open in general. Being Monday, some open at 10am, the others 4pm…? Ok, fine… I head out and walk the city again, taking in the architecture, the layout, stopping at odd cafes for an espresso or two. I find myself no new boots. I walk further afield but to no avail… I don’t trust anything else on my feet! After hours of walking (yes I’ve probably walked as far today already as I did yesterday, just without the backpack), I find a shoe repairer in a little shopping centre (I mean little)! The man speaks Spanish, I speak English, I have no idea what he’s asked me or saying to me but I show him my soles, I grasp he can fix the heals in about 10mins. I take them off, sit and wait. Less than ten minutes later he hands them back to me saying more that I don’t understand. All of a sudden I understand, he’s fixed them for me but he doesn’t want paying as I’m a pilgrim on the road to Santiago. I thank him lots in English and Spanish, (yes I do know the odd word)…! I hope my boots will last to the end, I have a nagging feeling the soles won’t but the heals should now….
The rest of the day is spent exploring and relaxing, after lots more walking of course!
I am now packing my gear as I want to leave early tomorrow. I have gauged walking days in my guide. With no excessive days, I should be in Santiago de Compostela by the 20th of June.
I do still have to walk to Finisterre after that, but for now my sights are set. My feet still look rough, but I haven’t had a new blister for some time. My left foot is still slightly swollen and sore but unless something drastic happens I will get there in one piece!
I’d just like to say to everyone who’s following me. Thank you, I hope I’m not boring you with my rants & ravings…. If you like, please feel free to forward on to friends & family, retweet on twitter, update status’ on Facebook! Let’s use the digital world to our advantage and do some good by making some money for UNICEF to help children around the world.

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Day Thirty Three

I don’t know what time it is, but it’s early, people are rustling bags and flashing torches. What’s wrong with them… By the time I’m annoyed enough to get up, almost everyone else is up and nearly packed. My turn to annoy people, I go out, I come back in turning the lights on in the process. I repeat my trip to the washroom and back maybe half a dozen times. I don’t need to of course, but every time I do, people have to move. Yeah yeah I know, childish! But screw it, I’m not always a morning person.
I pack and leave whilst many are eating breakfast or finishing packing. It’s still dark out, but not for long. The walking this morning is leisurely, along the river Arga. The path occasionally detours through a village or hamlet away from the river, but then it rejoins it, crosses it on ancient bridges from side to side.
As I approach one of the bridges I come across a red squirrel, it’s been years since I’ve seen one. (We used to get them in the garden in the lakes, but that was many years ago). As I cross the same bridge I watch small fish jumping clean out of the pools below and a dipper cleaning itself in the shallow rapids. (When I say cleaning it was more like swimming, I’ve never seen a dipper do that before)?!
The route then crosses a main road before climbing up rocky terrain. Towns in the distance make me think I can’t be far from Pamplona. Soon enough I enter what are Pamplona’s suburbs. It’s still early and being a Sunday the streets are fairly quiet. As I get closer, the cathedral shows itself. I pass over the old pilgrims bridge and follow my signs around the high walls to an opening between the inner & outer walls of Pamplona’s old defences. It’s grand, stunning, magnificent. People pass me and wish me ‘buen camino’. As I enter the old part of the town, I’m blown away by the character, the small streets with buildings either side looming down on me, but with bright colours and pretty balconies and shutters.
It’s not even 10am…. (and yes I’ve walked about 17km).
I find the tourist office, I’m given directions to my hotel, possible shoe shops for tomorrow and free sights of interest. I make my way to the hotel to dump my gear. I then wander the streets, preparing myself for tomorrow by visiting every point the lady put on my map. After that I sit in a cafe drinking coffee.
2pm I check into my hotel. The Maisonnave is a 3* hotel, but I have to say it’s better than some 4* & 5* hotels I’ve had the displeasure of staying in! I head back out for more wandering. (I’m beginning to think I just can’t sit still…)?!
Back at the hotel, I shower (excessively), I eat (badly), I lounge (in a towel), I sleep (soundly & in luxury)…

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