Primitivo Day 1 – Oviedo to Grado 25km

For the 2 nights I spent in Oviedo I chose to stay in the Hotel Vetusta rather than the Pilgrim albergue which allowed me to stay out late and enjoy the atmosphere of The Fiesta de San Mateo as well as taking in the Real Oviedo game ( the albergues have a 10pm curfew ) . The Fiesta takes place in Oviedo every September for 2 weeks and the 21st ( the feast of San Mateo ) is a holiday in the city. It was lively to say the least . I particularly enjoyed Spanish Country rocker Paula Rojo and her band . I’ve developed a bit of a yen for modern country music in recent years , a cause of much mickey taking from some quarters. I blame whispering Bob .

I rose early on Friday having slept fitfully , partially due to excitement due to starting the walk but I was also disturbed by the street cleaners. Anyone who visits a Spanish city will know that the street cleaners work in the early hours and can make a lot of noise. Judging by the duration of the noise in Oviedo I would guess some of them must have OCD.

Around 8.30am I set off for the cathedral , the official start point of the walk. It didn’t take long to spot the scallop shells embedded into the city pavements indicating the route.

2016-09-23-09-54-24

I walked a few kilometres through the suburbs of Oviedo where the pavement scallop shells gave way to the familiar yellow arrows . The arrows pointed me along a gradual ascent into the hills around the city and  through a forested section where I met the first of my fellow peregrinos , a group of 3 ladies from Bogota in Columbia. Only one of them , named Marlene , could speak English as she spent the first 23 years of her life in New York. She said it was a dream for her and her friends to walk the Camino so they were very excited on their first day. One of her non – English speaking friends is a paediatrician so I was sorry the communication barrier stopped us having a chat about health care in our respective countries.

We walked on through a beautiful pastoral landscape and I noticed the Asturian version of the Galician Horreo ( grain store ) present next door to a lot of the farmhouses. These are called Panera and are different to the Horreos in that they have 6 or 8 ” legs ” .

 

2016-09-24-15-06-10

Asturias ” Panera “

At one point on the walk I noticed an elderly couple in a field and the husband was cutting the grass with a scythe whilst his wife forked the cut grass into a wheelbarrow. It reminded me of my late Grannie Kate Murtagh who was the last person I’d seen using a scythe when she was cutting the grass on her farm in County Sligo in Ireland.

After quite a tough walk of about 25km ,with lots of ascending and descending , we arrived at the albergue in Grado late afternoon to be greeted by the two Hospitaleros ( volunteers ) who both came from Canada . There were only 3 beds available and the Columbian ladies looked in more need than me so I offered to walk on to the albergue in the next village but the Hospitaleros kindly offered to give me the spare bed in there own room which doubled up a their sleeping quarters and their office.

I grabbed a bite to eat in town and wandered back to the albergue to find the Columbian lasses leading a Tai Chi session. I should have learned my lesson on my last Camino. I am clearly constitutionally unfit to carry out the physical contortions associated with this Eastern stuff , notwithstanding the fact that I look like a big daft eejit when I’m doing it .

I awoke the next morning to find one of the Hospitaleros padding about barefoot in the kitchen in his pyjamas . He had a look of a pissed off Victor Meldrew about him and he told me I’d been snoring all night. He didn’t let on but I suspect after a while he’d put a mat on the floor and slept in the kitchen. He said it was ” the last time we let a bastard pilgrim sleep in our room “. I think he was joking …..

 

 

image

 

The poor Hospitalero kept awake all night by my snoring

 

 

 

Real Oviedo FC

I came to the Asturias with the intention of making not one but two pilgrimages , one to Santiago de Compostela and the other to Real Oviedo FC . Why did Real Oviedo become my Spanish team ? It is all down to Sid Lowe , football correspondent for The Guardian . The club was in dire financial straights in the last decade or so and very near to extinction until a social media campaign led by Sid , the supporters club and high profile ex- Real Oviedo players Juan Mata , Santi Cazorla and Michu . A decision was made to raise capital by selling shares in the club for a sum of €10.75 each and the campaign went viral across the world during the window periods for buying shares in 2012 and 2015. Sid was very much to the fore in promoting this and his passion to keep alive a club with so much history persuaded myself , my son Joe and many others to buy shares. In fact the club was inundated with applications for shares from people all around the world and was able to raise millions of euros thereby saving it from liquidation at the 11th hour. The whole story is told here. Since the share issue the fortunes of the club have turned around and they were promoted from the Spanish 3rd tier to the second division the season before last . Promotion to La Liga is the Holy Grail and would help greatly to pay off the remaining debt.

So as luck would have it my Camino trip coincided with a home game v CF Reus. I contacted the club by email before travelling and was put in touch with a lovely guy named Miguel Sanz. A free ticket to the games is given to all foreign shareholders as well as a stadium and club museum tour. Miguel spent a good hour proudly showing me the museum/stadium and telling me all about the history of the club. By the end of it I was a totally convinced ” Oviedista ” and had developed an irrational dislike for Sporting Gijon , the local rivals.

Unfortunately I didn’t bring the team any luck and we lost 1-0 to a goal in the last minute of injury time. Just like watching Blackburn Rovers ……….

Miguel Sanz showing me around the club museum

My first press conference : )

With Cesar , ex Bolton Wanderers in the days of Big Sam

 

 

Oviedo


 



 

First impressions of Oviedo are that it is a real gem of a small city.There are lots of elegant 19th century buildings and a sprinkling of historic old structures , not least the beautiful Cathedral of San Salvador . There is a definite ” old money ” feel about the place , much like my favourite Spanish city San Sebastian. It is extremely clean ( it’s renowned for this apparently ) and very pedestrian friendly. I had a wander around this morning and noticed the abundance of statues. Someone in authority definitely has a statue fetish as there seemed to be one around every corner and there were loads in the park , including one of an Argentinian cartoon character that was perched on a bench. Just opposite the main park I stumbled across a statue of Woody Allen and my wackiness barometer was going off the scale. I had a look in the guide book and it seems he has had a bit of a love affair with the city having used it as one of the locations for his film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. He is quoted as saying that Oviedo is “a delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, lovely, tranquil and pedestrianised city. It’s like it doesn’t belong to this world , as if it did not exist.Oviedo is like a fairytale”. No wonder they built him a statue !

image

Woody


After lunch I headed for the Cathedral to pick up a Credential ( the Pilgrims Passport that allows you to stay at the Refugios/Albergues ) . I went to one of the side chapels where I put 5 euros in the candle box and so many of the electronic candles lit up the whole chapel was illuminated. I said a few prayers for my knee joints , for safe passage to Santiago and for Mum and Dad ( who has heart surgery pending ) . I then took a tour with one of those hand held devices. I was particularly interested in seeing the Camara Santa ( The Holy Chamber ) where the relics are stored. It contains The Arca Santa ( the ” Holy Ark ” or chest ) . This is an oak reliquary covered in silver gilt and is reputed to contain a piece of the true cross , pieces from the crown of thorns and the Holy Sepulchre , some bread from the last supper and some of the Virgin’s breast milk ! . As well as this the Chamber contained The Sudarium of Oviedo or Shroud of Oviedo . This bloodstained cloth is reputed to be the cloth wrapped around the head of Jesus after he died. Relic Central you might say.

image

My ” Credential ” ( Pilgrims Passport )

image

The Arca Santa ( Holy Ark )

image

The Sudarium ( Shroud ) of Oviedo above the Arca Santa

From the Cathedral I took a taxi to a site about 3 km outside the city to view the ancient churches of Santa Maria del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo . These are pre-Romanesque ( pre-Norman to us ) churches built between 842 and 850 and it is a UNESCO world heritage site as they are considered to be some of the most significant buildings of this age in Europe. If they were in England they’d be thronged with people and have a visitor centre. I saw three other people in he hour or so I spent there.

Santa Maria del Naranco

 

San Miguel de Lillo

Camino Primitivo

Image


map-caminoprimitivo

Well I arrived in Oviedo yesterday evening for the latest chapter in my Camino addiction , a serious affliction that I have passed on to others since I walked the Camino Frances in 2012. I returned in 2014 and spent an idyllic week walking the first section of the Frances with our youngest daughter Sally but did not update the blog then for fear of repetition. As this is a new route for me and is walked by relatively few Pilgrims in comparison to the Frances I have brought the mini iPad and will write a few pages as I go along . By all accounts it is a hard route through the Cantabrian mountains with a great deal of climbing and descending so I will light a candle for my knee joints when I visit the Cathedral in Oviedo later this afternoon.

So what is the Camino Primitivo ? ( the ” Original Way ” ).  Put simply it is a walking route starting at the Cathedral in Oviedo and taking you through the Asturias and Galicia ending at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela , which holds the relics of the apostle St James. It is one of the alternatives to the now very popular Camino Frances and is said to be the most challenging of all the Spanish sections of the various camino routes. Given good weather there should be some spectacular scenery. The route is 320 km in length and reaches heights of 1200m so I estimate it will take me 11 or 12 days assuming the old carcass holds up. Drugs may be required …….

How did this route come into being ? By the 9th Century most of the Iberian peninsula had been conquered by the Moors aside from a small strip in the North that included the Asturias. King Alfonso 11 , the king of the Asturias up until 842 ,fought back the Moors and kept the region and Christianity on the map in this remote  corner of the peninsula. He built the new capital city of the Asturias in Oviedo , a strategic place in the mountains. It was during his reign that the remains of St James were discovered in Galicia. It is said the king himself travelled to Galicia to help the Catholic Church determine the authenticity of the find. When the discovery was confirmed to be St James the king ordered the building of the original basilica in Santiago to store the apostles remains. He the established the first pilgrimage route from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela , hence The Original Way.

In 840 Alfonso gained possession of the famous Shroud of Oviedo , another great attraction for the medieval pilgrim. The pilgrims walking the Camino Frances in that period would often make a detour at Leon and travel the 121km north to Oviedo to venerate the shroud and thereby gain extra indulgences.The shroud is believed to have covered the face of Jesus at his burial and is housed in the ” Camara Santa ” or Holy Chamber in the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo. In those days it was said ” Quien va a Santiago y no al Salvador, visita al criado y deja al Señor (“Whoever goes to Saint James and not to the Saviour, visits the servant and misses the Master.”)

Travelling to Oviedo from the North of England requires either a journey to Stansted to take the once daily flight to the Asturias Airport ( a 30 minute bus journey from the city ) or as I did , taking a flight from Manchester to Madrid and then boarding a train at Chamartin station for the 4 hour journey to Oviedo. The trains in Spain knock those in the UK into a cocked hat for space and comfort so it was a pleasant journey and I even managed to sleep for a spell. I hope I wasn’t snoring ……

 

Reflections on The Camino

Apologies  for taking a while to get around to writing some reflection on The Camino but my feet haven’t touched the floor since my return from Santiago nearly 4 weeks ago. 

I have certainly missed the daily routine of the Camino and it has take me a while to adjust back to my normal life , a great deal of which is spent sitting in front of a computer screen. For me the Camino experience was a joy and I returned from Spain as fit in body and mind as I ever have been. I cannot tell you how much of pleasure it was to know that all I had to do for 5 weeks was to get up every day , go for a walk and only have think about where you might eat and sleep during the course of each day 

For me the best thing of all was the Pilgrim camaraderie en route. I wrote in the blog that I couldn’t think of any other experience that would allow you to meet so many people from all corners of the globe and spend so much time walking , talking and eating together. The communal living thing certainly wouldn’t suit everyone and , reading back through the blog , I did a fair bit of moaning about the snoring but that is all part and parcel of the Refugio experience .Some Pilgrims stayed exclusively in B&Bs or hotels but If you can accept the lack of privacy and the odd bout of snoring-induced insomnia then staying in the Refugios/Albergues is certainly worthwhile. Aside from the fact that you meet many more Pilgrims , there were some really great Refugios run by volunteer ” Hospitaleros ” who were wonderfully welcoming and went out of their way to make sure the Pilgrims had a special experience. For me the best example was ” Refugio Gaucelmo ” in Rabanal del Camino. This place is owned and run by the London based ” Confraternity of St James ” and was my favourite Refugio of the Camino. It helps that Rabanal is a beautiful little village up in the mountains and the modernised , stone-built Refugio itself is lovely but the welcome and friendliness provided by the two English volunteers , Brendan and Dave , was something else. It inspired me so much that I have resolved to volunteer as a Hospitalero for Rabanal myself when our youngest has left the nest. In order to do this you have to be a member of the Confraternity , have walked the Camino and to have a working knowledge of Spanish. I can speak only very basic Spanish phrases and will have to take a language course at some point. The fact I had very little Spanish was a regret as many of the local people I met en route couldn’t speak English and being able to hold a basic conversation would certainly have enhanced the experience.

As someone who had never visited mainland Spain before the discovery of Northern Spain was a revelation. I completely fell in love with the place. A great part of the pleasure I had from the whole experience was due to the fact I learned so much about the culture and the history of this part of Spain. I particularly liked the Basque Country and Galicia. 

Luckily I only had one physical problem during the whole journey , the peroneal tendonitis that affected my right leg , and that cleared up fairly quickly with anti-inflammatories and some loosening of my bootlace. I think the tendonitis was brought on by walking over 30km on three consecutive days on The Meseta. It seemed a more common complaint amongst the men , who were more inclined than the women to push themselves to walk those extra 5 or 10 kilometres in a day. I had broken in a pair of these German made boots over a few Saturdays before leaving and wore them with two pairs of socks. I had only one very small blister on the whole walk and can only put that down to the quality and fit of the boots.

As GPs in training we were told to look at the physical , social and psychological impacts on health and some of my fellow walkers , like the Austrian guy who was suffering bereavement , were certainly seeking some therapeutic benefits from the Camino. There’s no doubt it ticked all the physical , social and psychological boxes , assuming you could avoid injuries. It’s well recognised that walking has beneficial effects on brain chemistry and research is revealing that if can create new brain cells , so called “neurogenesis” in areas of the brain that control memory . An interesting TED talk here refers to this. 

The other brain effect for me has been to create an addiction : ) I will be back …….

Finisterre

Well I finally made my way to Finisterre on the 9.00am bus yesterday , a day later than intended. It is 90km to Finisterre from Santiago and I didn’t have time to walk the 3 days it would have taken. I said a sad goodbye to Lou and double Felix at breakfast as they were setting off to walk to Finisterre this morning. Before leaving they presented me with a small model of a Horreo that they had clubbed together to buy me as a leaving gift. They had all been amused by my obsession with photographing the Horreos and I had joked with them that I was going to get one put in the garden at home , which could then serve as my own ” Refugio”. I was touched , they no doubt think I am too. I will miss them all as they’ve been great company over these weeks of walking and staying in the Refugios.

On the same bus were Martha and a few other Pilgrims including a very fit looking 67yr old chap named Dave , from San Diego , who had also walked from St Jean. He was another whose path I hadn’t crossed on the Camino itself. I commented to him that I was surprised at the number of Americans and Canadians that I had met on the Camino. He felt that the upsurge in numbers may have had something to do with the film ” The Way ” , which was released a year or two ago.

We arrived at Finisterre around 11.30am and made our way to the lighthouse at Cabo Finisterre , around 3km from the town itself. Before the discovery of the Americas this point was considered the end of the known world so , although it held no religious significance to Pilgrims , it had a enough symbolic attraction to justify the extra days of walking beyond Santiago. It’s traditional for Pilgrims arriving here to bathe in the waters of the nearby beach , to go and watch the sunset from near the lighthouse at Cabo Finisterre and to burn an item of clothing. We took some photos at the Cape and I then tried setting fire to my socks only to be thwarted by the strong wind. So the socks are coming home after all , a little bit singed , not unlike myself.

I walked to the beach on the west side of the peninsula , the Praia Foro do Mar , and dipped my chewed up looking feet in the sea ( it was a bit cold for full immersion ). So that was that , my Camino complete and an attempt , at least , at the post-Camino rituals. I walked back into town and who should I meet but the Japanese contortionist , all smiley and friendly. I hadn’t seen her since Leon and she’s obviously long forgotten the bathroom incident. It seemed right somehow that the last person I should see on my journey should be one of the first Pilgrims I had met way back in Roncesvalles.

So that’s it , the end of an amazing adventure that has given me so much to remember and some of the happiest weeks of my whole life , give or take a few nights of no sleep : ) . I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog and maybe it might have inspired one or two of you to walk The Camino , either in full or in sections. I’ll stop here and write a bit more reflection in a day or two.

Felix and Lou

Martha

Dave and Martha