Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostela – 12km

I felt well rested after a good sleep in the hotel in Lavacolla. There was a big party of Americans at breakfast who were doing the last part of the Camino in stages , being dropped off by coach and walking short stages accompanied by a Spanish guide.

It was a cool overcast morning and I quickly arrived at Monte de Gozo ( Hill of Joy ) . This is 4.5km from Santiago and is the place where pilgrims get their first views of the three spires of the Cathedral in Santiago . Tradition has it that medieval pilgrims would ” cry out in rapture ” at finally seeing their destination. Pope John Paul II visited the hill in 1989 and there is a large sculpture there that commemorates the event.

Monument at Monte de Gozo commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul 11

Another 50 minutes walking brought me to the archway that leads into the Plaza Del Obradoiro , the large square in front of the Cathedral’s west facade. It’s completely free of any traffic or cafes and it’s where all the pilgrims gather at the end of their journey. There’s a lot of excitement , hugging and photo taking as each new wave of pilgrims walk into the square. You are bound to see people that you have met at some point on the way so it’s a great place for catching up. I saw a few Primitivo desperadoes and asked about the Argentinian priests , who I hadn’t seen for a few days. Apparently they arrived in Santiago yesterday evening and have taken the bus to Finisterre today. I would have liked to have seen and thanked them for their part in making this walk so special but I fly home tomorrow so it’s not to be.

In honour of the other pilgrimage I had made to the Carlos Tartiere Stadium in Oviedo I walked into Santiago wearing my Real Oviedo shirt. I sent a photo to Miguel Sanz at the club and later in the day he attached it to an official club tweet stating  ” El Britanico de Wigan es ahora aun mas famoso en Oviedo “.

img_6359

img_6371

As you can see from the photos the cathedral facade and towers are undergoing restorative work as is the Portica da Gloria. The work has been ongoing since late 2013 and the scaffolding will be in place for a while longer. Another change from my experience in 2012 was the presence of security guards at each entrance to the cathedral and the fact that pilgrims are no longer allowed to bring their rucksacks inside. It’s a sad indication of how much the world has changed in the past 4 years.

I arrived in time for the Pilgrims Mass at Midday. Before the Mass began we were given strict instructions that we were not to take any photos or videos whilst the Mass was in progress , another change from my experience in 2012 but a welcome one.The cathedral was packed and the famous Botafumeiro was swung at the end of Mass. As a symbol of welcome, at the beginning of each Mass the priest reads out a list of the numbers and nationality of the pilgrims who have arrived in Santiago and have claimed their Compostela within the previous 24 hours. He also states the place from which each pilgrim began their pilgrimage. Traditionally this mass is for Pilgrims to give thanks to God for the experience of their adventure and for having reached their goal. At the end of the Mass I said a few prayers and lit some candles in one of the side chapels then departed to check in at the hotel I had booked the previous day. After spending most of the previous couple of weeks sleeping fitfully in the bunks of the Albergues I decided to treat myself and booked a room in the San Francisco Hotel Monumento , a former monastery that is now a 4 star hotel and is just 100m away from the cathedral. It was a good choice.

After a quick shower I walked over to the Pilgrims Office to collect to present my Credential and collect the Compostela. There were an awful lot of Pilgrims in the city and we had to queue for 90 minutes.

img_6391

My Credential

2016-10-06-06-44-47

The Compostela ( note that names are written in Latin )

img_6381

The queue in the Pilgrim’s Office

The ” Holy Door ” ( Porta Santa )

Days 11 and 12 – Ferreira to Boente 25.7m , Boente to Lavacolla 34.6km

I enjoyed my stay in the Albergue in Ferreira. It was a rustic place with a friendly owner who served a communal dinner of seafood paella. I sat with Julian and an English lad named Edmund who had just started his walk at Lugo the previous day. He is a Cambridge educated scientist who is now working on developing new vaccines for HIV and Ebola at The Jenner Institute in Oxford. He’s another addict as this is his 5th different Camino.

Julian at dinner

The walking was easy , mainly along paths through Eucalyptus groves , passing through small Galiican villages with their stone houses and slate roofs. There are a few abandoned houses in each village as emigration is high in these parts but I noticed some renovation projects on the go today. There is no doubt that the Camino is helping  to revive some of these villages as people open new albergues and cafes/bars to serve the ever increasing number of pilgrims.

The Camino Primitivo joins with the Camino Frances at a town named Melide and this was at about 20km on my walk on Day 11. A German lady I talked to at breakfast said it would be like ” joining the Autobahn ” and she was right. Suddenly we were accompanied by a steady stream of Pilgrims , many of whom had started at Sarria, a distance 100km from Santiago , thus allowing them to receive the Compostela. Four young Korean girls overtook me and I noticed that each of them was carrying a musical instrument strapped to their rucksack. Someone told me they had been putting on performances each evening in the places they have stopped. Melide is known as the town where Octopus is the gastronomic speciality so I stopped for a lunch of Pulpo Gallega at Pulperia Ezequiel , a place which is famous for serving it.

I walked as far as Boente and called it a day. The Hospitalero showed me the dorm and I was amused to see a sign stating ” Be kind to older people and give them a lower bunk ” . There were no lower bunks available and no one offered so I hauled myself up to the top bunk. So I spent the night on top of an ” older ” lady from County Kildare. I hope I didn’t snore ……

I put in a big day’s walk of 34.6km on Day 12 as I wanted to leave a short morning walk into Santiago on Day 13 with the intention of attending the Midday Pilgrim’s Mass when the Botafumeiro is usually swung , a sight not to be missed. I felt good and definitely had that mildly euphoric feeling that you get after so many days of walking and being out all day in the countryside. After a bright start it became drizzly with low cloud , the first rain of my trip , so I put the head down and pushed on. I reached the small village of Lavacolla late afternoon , just 12km from Santiago. My guide book tells me that the Pilgrims paused here to clean themselves in the river before arrival in Santiago. The translation of the name  Lavacolla  is ” wash scrotum ” , indicating a particular concern for Pilgrims in medieval times. I normally like to perform the Camino rituals but on this occasion I excused myself , crossed the river without a second glance and booked myself into a small hotel. I then had a good soak in a hot bath : )

Almost there .

img_6308

 

Sadly twas not to be

When I saw this in a garden I thought for a minute I was hallucinating !

Primitivo Days 9 and 10 –  Cadava Baleira to Lugo 30.5km , Lugo to Ferreira 25.7km

A symphony of snoring , dominated by the Bavarian bass section , would be an apt description of the nocturnal experience in the Cadavo albergue. For once I wasn’t the main culprit as I don’t think I slept more than an hour or so. First thing in the morning I made the decision to book into a hotel in Lugo to catch up on sleep.

Breakfast in Cadava

Sleeping quarters in Cadava

It was a long walk of 30.5km today so I got out early and walked pretty much non-stop aiming to arrive at Lugo mid afternoon. The route took us steadily downhill to Lugo with long unbroken stretches on paths through woodland or by the side of quiet country lanes. I remarked in my Camino Frances blog on how much Galicia reminded me of the West of Ireland and today I felt that I could have been walking along a Boreen in Aclare , County Sligo , a very familiar memory from my childhood holidays. It was all mossy stone walls , small fields containing a few cows , old farmhouses with an adjoining vegetable patch , a henhouse and a slumbering dog by the gate . I remembered that the replay of the All Ireland Gaelic Football Final was to take place today and hoped that Mayo would finally overcome the curse. That great song by The Saw Doctors came to mind as I meandered along.

I arrived at Lugo around 3.00pm and walked through the outer suburbs towards the old centre of the city which is completely surrounded by the world’s largest surviving Roman walls ( declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000 ) . They are a very impressive sight.


 

 

img_6163-1

 

Within the Roman Walls was a typical old Spanish city containing a warren of narrow streets , a large central Plaza , a magnificent cathedral and lots and lots of people of all generations promenading , eating and drinking. It was a Saturday evening and it seemed like everyone in the city was out enjoying themselves. My hotel was within the old walls so I had a good look around before heading off to eat some octopus cooked the Galician way and washed down with a couple of glasses of Albariño. Throughout dinner I was glancing at my phone for the live score updates from the All Ireland Final. By all accounts it was a real thriller but sadly Mayo lost by a single point. The curse continues . Feck .

Pulpo Gallego

Lugo at night

Lugo is around 100km from Santiago so there were some new faces on the walk on day 9. In order to receive the Compostela you need to have walked the last 100km of any of the Camino routes ( or cycled 200km ). I followed generally flat , wooded terrain for the duration of the walk today and saw my first Galician Horreo of the trip. After a few kilometres I met four ladies from the Bournemouth and Bristol areas who had started in Lugo. They were the first English people I’d met on the trip and were doing an organised walk with ” Camino Ways ” , most of their baggage being transported between hotels en route to Santiago. They were all very experienced nurses , now working in senior management roles , three in the hospital setting and one managing the GP out of hours service in Bournemouth. I walked with them for several hours and they were great fun , recounting some hilarious stories. We had a long chat about the current state of the NHS and all were agreed that the system was under huge strain for a variety of reasons but in the main due to underfunding. There was also general agreement that Jeremy Hunt and his ilk are a shower of bastards.

The Albergue in Ferreira sold craft ale : )

Galician “Horreo”

Primitivo Days 7 and 8 – Castro to Fonsagrada 21.2km , Fonsagrada to Cadavo Baleira 24.1km 

I had a decent sleep in Castro in our room which contained just 2 bunks. On waking I greeted the bleary eyed young Spanish girl in the bunk opposite with a cheery ” Buenos Dias ” . I asked if she had slept well and she made a gesture indicating that she hadn’t . Mea culpa……..

There was a lot of foot care going on first thing this morning as the long descent yesterday had taken it’s toll . Nearly everyone had developed blisters , myself included. The nail on my right big toe looks like it’s done for too. A mobile podiatrist would make a killing on the Camino !

It was a beautiful morning’s walk , the mist taking until late morning to clear and providing some great photo opportunities as we ascended to a windmill lined ridge

Around mid morning I met an Aussie from Brisbane named Richard who was walking with a French lady. He remarked that it was unusual to meet a native English speaker on this route. Indeed he was only the second one I have met so far as most of the walkers on our leg are Spanish , French or German. Richard is 68 yrs old and started his walk on July 9th in Geneva , so he has walked around 1800km up to this point. He told me he walked the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome last year and intends to walk the Pacific Crest Trail next year , followed by the Appalachian Trail the year after. We had a brief chat about the risk of attack by a Grizzly Bear on the PCT but he didn’t appear to want to dwell on this. I guess in Australia you’d call that ” Walkabout Extreme “.

I met a few retirees today who had chalked up long walks. I stopped at a small bar in Acebo and got chatting with a German lady who told me she’d walked alone from Switzerland to Santiago 8 years ago , taking 3 months to do so. Some people will do anything to get out of grandparent duties : ) .

Richard and Annick

During the afternoon we crossed into Galicia and the rays on scallop shells that mark the route switched direction and are now pointing towards Santiago. I arrived at the small town of Fonsagrada late afternoon and decided that was enough walking for the day. Fathers Juan and Gustavo also stayed in the town and concelebrated evening Mass in the town church with the local Parish Priest . At the end of Mass all the pilgrims , including Fathers Juan and Gustavo , stood in a semi- circle at the front of the church and the Parish Priest gave us all a Pilgrim Blessing.

 

2016-09-30-08-17-36

Pilgrim blessing at the church in Fonsagrada

The walk on day 8 took us through a number of very small Galician mountain villages and included the last significant stretch of high elevation walking . It was another fine day and I spent most of it walking with Julian , a gregarious Argentinian lad in his mid twenties who was taking a year out after completing a law degree in Buenos Aries. He had recently spent some time working in Cornwall and had also had a period of busking with his violin in London and Paris. He proudly told me that he was ” half-Irish ” , explaining that several generations ago some of his ancestors had migrated to Argentina from Ireland. He went on to say that there was a very large community of Argentinians of Irish descent and that many of them intermarried down the years and still maintain their cultural identity. He informed me that it was the Irish Christian Bothers and Jesuits that introduced Rugby Union to Argentina via their schools. I was aware of Admiral Brown connection with Foxford in Mayo and knew that Che Guevara’s Father was a Lynch but really had no idea that there were so many of Irish descent in Argentina ( which I now read is the 5th largest Irish community in the world ) . 

Marlene ( from Columbia ) and Julian ( from Argentina )

Primitivo Days 5 and 6 – Campiello to Berducedo 31km , Berducedo to Castro 24.9km 

I didn’t sleep much in the Albergue in Campiello . You can guess why but I’m not blameless when it comes to snoring as I have been told in no uncertain terms already on this trip. Day 5 day turned out to be overcast and much cooler so it was ideal for walking . The Camino split after a few kilometres and there were two route options , a tough one named the ” Hopitales ” route and another lower level option. I chose to take the Hospitales route which led into the Fonfaraon mountain range away from civilisation for most of the day. It is considered the most strenuous but also one of the most beautiful of the Spanish sections of The Way. It took us along a high mountain ridge and past the ruins of three former pilgrim hospitals . It was a fantastic walk though the mist at the high levels obscured the views. There were a number of wild horses up there grazing above the tree line.

Wild Horses at nearly 4000 feet

 

With Claudia and Valentin on the. Hospitales Route ascent

You’re never far from the “Flecha Amarilla”

Wild Crocus line the path

 

One of three medieval pilgrim hospital ruins on this route

View from the mountain ridge

I walked most of the route with Valentin , a young lad from Moscow who spoke very good English . He was good company for what was a long days’ hike as we walked non stop for 8 hours. Later on in the walk we were joined by a great guy named Martijn, a Dutch lad who had camped out in the mountains the previous night but who has been struck down with a stomach virus and spent a very uncomfortable night intermittently vomiting. He had gradually felt better as the day wore on and we had a good chat over the last few kilometres. He had spent the 6 months prior to walking the Camino working in Ireland and had come to love the place and the people , to the point he is considering settling there in future. He had spent a few weeks house sitting in Sligo for Marion Dowd , an archeologist and author. Before she left on her trip she had given him lots of information on passage tombs and caves that had been inhabited in ancient times and he had taken the opportunity to visit some of these including “ Diarmuid and Grainne’s ” cave near Benbulben ( reputed to be the last resting place of the ill fated lovers ) and the caves at Kesh. He was absolutely fascinated by these and gave me the urge to go and visit them myself the next time I’m in Sligo , should I ever be able to tear myself away from the riverbank : )

Day 6 took initially took us along a windmill – lined ridge and then around a large reservoir ( the Ria Navia was dammed here ) . There was a lot of descent ( dropping 800m in 6km ) so it was hard on the knees and the feet. There were some spectacular views to be had though.


I had another ” Mr Bean does the Camino ” episode towards the end of the walk. I was walking along a road side with Martjin , who was just ahead of me and is a big guy. I didn’t notice that he had ducked under one of those transverse signs that indicate that you are leaving the village. I was also looking at the ground. I walked head first straight into the sign and was thrown backwards , my rucksack cushioning the fall. I must have looked like an upturned turtle and was dazed for a minute or two. I think Santiago must be looking after me as I got away with nothing worse than a big lump on the head .

We stopped at the tiny village of Castro and booked into a rustic albergue which catered for 16 people and was full. There are two young priests from Argentina , Father Juan and Father Gustavo , walking on our stage and they were staying in the same place. They started on the Camino del Norte in San Sebastián 23 days ago and , if given permission to do so , have been saying Mass in the local churches each evening . It wasn’t possible to say Mass in the tiny church in Castro so instead they moved a table from the bar in the albergue into the garden and used this as an altar. Father Gustavo said the Mass in Spanish and Father Juan read the gospel in both Spanish and English ( using his iPhone to translate it into English ). It was a beautiful , sunny evening and about a dozen of us attended. In the background you could only hear the sounds of cows in the surrounding fields and some Asturian folk music drifting out from the bar. They gave us all a blessing at the end of the mass. It was one of those special Camino moments that will live long in the memory.

My dinner companions , Father Gustavo second left and Father Juan far end of the table , lady on the left is 73yr old German walking alone and carrying a tent to camp out , she speaks 5 languages including Russian and Chinese !

 

img_6011

Fathers Gustavo and Juan preparing for Mass

Father Gustavo on the left , Father Juan on the right

 

Primitivo Days 3/4 – Salas to Tineo 19.1km , Tineo to Campiello 15.3km

I walked relatively short distances on days 3 and 4. The first two days had been quite strenuous and tiring in the heat and I wanted to have a couple of shorter days before the big walk of 31.5km through the mountains on day 5. This is a much harder walk than the Camino Frances with lots of ascents and descents but this is compensated by the fact the scenery is beautiful. There are also far fewer pilgrims compared with the Frances . I’d guess there are around 40 pilgrims walking per stage and they are predominately Spanish and French . I’ve met no British or Irish up to this point and there are just a handful of pilgrims who speak fluent English. Hardly any of the locals speak English other than a few words so it’s a source of regret that my Spanish language skills are still at the basic level.

We’ve walked through medium sized hill country with plenty of wooded sections passing small villages in which there  is often a small Romanesque church , a few cats and the sound of cockerels crowing. There are loads of apple orchards and fig trees and every house seems to have a vegetable patch growing a variety of things , often including a large area of Kale. Making cider seems to be bit of a religion around here and I have developed a taste for it. They pour the cider into a glass from a height and it fizzes when the stream gushes out. I poured out a glassful from the bottle like this but the bar owner in Salas told me I was doing it incorrectly and was quite insistent I do it the right way. They only pour small amounts into the glass , so called ” culinos ” that must be consumed immediately after it has been poured “so that it doesn’t die ” ( meaning it doesn’t go flat ). By doing this it’s supposed to give it a bolder flavour. I seemed to like it whether it was dead or alive.

Early in this walk I was delighted to receive a text from Gail Hooley to tell me that she and her friends from Dublin ( Pauline , Denise and Catherine ) had just arrived in Santiago to complete their Camino Frances . They had done it in one week stages in every year since I had met them  on the first day of my own Camino Frances walk in 2012. As a reward for their efforts they treated themselves to a couple of nights at the Parador in Santiago , and why not . Gail sent me the photos below.

The girls at Monte de Gozo

 

 

 

 

I walked part of Day 4 with Birgitte from Hamburg and Jay from California , both interesting characters. This was Birgitte’s 10th Camino including two long walks in Italy including the Camino de St Francisco ( St Francis Way ) . And I thought I had it bad ! She worked in quite a stressful office based role for The Ministry of Science in Hamburg and loved escaping for long walking holidays. Jay works as a ” Humanitarian Photographer ” for USA Today and was photographing everything in sight with a retro Fuji camera.

During the course of day four I noticed this blog had suddenly started receiving a lot of hits from Spain , in fact into the hundreds , which I found puzzling. Later in the day I found out why. Miguel Sanz , the lovely guy who showed me around the stadium and museum at Real Oviedo had written an article about me on the club website , including a picture of ” El Britanico de Wigan ” . His colleague had then tweeted a link to this which had then been retweeted and favourited lots of times. All of a sudden I have a lot of Real Oviedo fans following the progress of ” El Britanico” on his Camino. He messaged me again today to tell me 2 local newspapers have done a little feature on me. If seems my 15 minutes of fame have taken place here in the Asturias !

 

 

 

 

 

 


Primitivo Day 2 – Grado to Salas 25km

The walk on day 2 was similar to the first day , plenty of ascent and decent and some shady sections of hillside forest walking . The temperatures in the afternoon have hit 30 degrees and this has made the walking tough. You know that feeling when you have rivulets of sweat running down your forehead and into your eyes ? There’s been plenty of that.

I reached the small town named Salas around 4.30pm and booked into the municipal albergue. I was allocated a bunk bed in a room catering for eight people and all my room-mates turned out to be French. I wandered across the road to a bar where I rehydrated on a couple of bottles of Asturian cider whilst watching the Sporting Gijon v Barcelona game. The bar was full of Oviedo fans , like myself , and given my new found hostility to Gijon I was delighted to see them spanked 5-0 , as was everyone else in the bar.

I then had a stroll into the town and fell into a conversation with a Spanish Pilgrim with the splendid name of Juan Fernando Peredes Batista. Juan told me he had trained as a GP in Spain but then went to work for MSD , a big American pharmaceutical company . He worked all over the world , ended up as a vice-president and took early retirement a few years ago. Since then he has worked 2 days a week as a GP in Madrid but he takes a few months off every year when he travels by motorbike across continents . He then writes books on his travels. He has travelled South America North to South , USA East to West and latterly across North Africa while researching a book on the Spanish influence in that part of the world. His own Grandfather had to flee Spain to Tangiers during the Spanish Civil war as he was on the Republican side , as did many others. He told me that his book on this adventure , Buscando a Hercules , had sold quite a lot of copies in Spain. I could have chatted to him all night he was such an interesting character.

After dinner I headed for the albergue about 9.45pm only to find all the French asleep and the lights out in our room. I undressed in the dark and got into the top bunk trying not to make any noise. I then realised I’d made a schoolboy error and had replaced what I’d lost in sweat only with Asturian cider at various points in the day. I spent the night tossing and turning due to dehydration. I got some funny looks again this morning …..

Leaving the Albergue this morning

image

image