A Coruña

The next part of my Celtic Camino was to begin in A Coruña , a sea port in Northern Galicia and one of the two traditional starting points for the Camino Inglés or English Camino , the other being Ferrol. The Camino Inglés was the first maritime route to Santiago de Compostela. A large number of pilgrims from Northern Europe took the sea journey to the ports of Ferrol and A Coruña between 12th and 15th centuries. From there they started to walk  to Santiago. These ships departed from ports in the South of England such as Plymouth, Southampton and Winchelsea , hence the name the English Way. Here is a blogpost about a 15th C Irish pilgrim from Waterford , James Rice , who made a pilgrimage to Santiago in 1473 and then again in 1483. As Waterford is a port he is very likely to have travelled by boat to Coruña and from there on foot to Santiago. An English pilgrim named William Wey , a fellow of Eton College , made a Pilgrimage to Santiago in 1476, sailing from Plymouth to Coruña , and recorded his journey in a book ” The Itineries of William Wey ” , now held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

There has been a remarkable growth in the number of pilgrims travelling the Camino Ingles in recent years. In 2000 less than 100 pilgrims walked this route and by 2017 this number had grown to more than 10,000.

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From Ferrol it is 118 km to Santiago, and from A Coruña about 75km . In December 2016 the Cathedral authorities in Santiago agreed that they would issue a compostela to pilgrims who have evidence of completing a walk of at least 25 – 30km prior to travelling to A Coruña. The suggested routes in Ireland , including the Tóchair Phádraig , are here . At the moment in the UK only the Pilgrims Way (Winchester or London to Canterbury), the Way of St Andrews (various starting points to St Andrews) and the St Michael’s Way (Lelant to Marazion) have pilgrim passports and stamps which would provide proof for the Pilgrim Office in Santiago.

The journey to Spain to walk the next leg of my Celtic Camino started on Saturday 8th September when myself and Sally , our youngest daughter ,  took the train from Wigan to Euston. From there we took the tube to Heathrow and caught the 8.25pm flight to A Coruña with Vueling Airlines ( a daily flight ). Sadly there are no direct flights to Galicia from any UK airports other than those in London. After a flight of 2hrs we arrived late evening and checked into the Sercotel Blue. We had decided to spend the Sunday exploring the city before starting the walk to Compostela the following day. I had also spied the opportunity to indulge my interest in Spanish second division football by taking in the Deportivo La Coruna v Sporting Gijon game , which was to be played on the Sunday evening.

We awoke to a warm, sunny day and set out to walk along the 13km long seafront promenade , the Paseo Maritimo,  which took in many of the city’s landmarks. Our walk started opposite the beautiful Riazor Beach not far from the football stadium. As it was a Sunday and the weather being fine lots of people were walking or cycling  ( there is an adjoining cycle lane ) and we could see that the surfers were out in force too.

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The photo above shows the red coloured Art Nouveau style street lamps which dot the promenade , each one being inset with enamel depictions of highlights in the city’s history.

We walked on passing another broad sweep of sand , the Praia de Orzán , until we reached a peninsula on which is located The Tower of Hercules. This is the only fully preserved Roman lighthouse that is still in use and is a UNESCO World heritage site. At the foot of the lighthouse is a huge Celtic compass rose . The seven symbols of the rose represent seven Celtic nations. Ireland is represented by a 3-leafed clover , Scotland by the flower of the milk thistle , Wales by a winged snake , Cornwall ( Kernow ) by a yellow circle, a red half circle and salmon-coloured half circle , Brittany by three small black diamonds and a bigger, arrow-shaped geometrical figure and Galicia by a scallop shell. The eighth in the direction of the south represents the legend of Tarsessus , the home of the mythical Geryon , and is marked with a skull and crossbones.

According to a myth that blends Celtic and Greco-Roman elements, the hero Hercules slew the giant tyrant Geryon after three days and three nights of continuous battle. Hercules then buried the head of Geryon with his weapons and ordered that a city be built on the site. The lighthouse atop a skull and crossbones representing the buried head of Hercules’ slain enemy appears in the coat-of-arms of the city of A Coruña.

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Another legend associated with the tower is included in the ‘Book of Invasions’ (Lebor Gabála), written by Irish monks in the 11th century. According to the legend, King Breogán (who is mentioned in the Galician national anthem as Galicia’s founder) founded the city and built a huge tower. On a clear night, one of his sons, Ith, could see a distant green land from the top of the tower and decided to sail north to explore that unknown land. This green land would be Ireland.

Unfortunately, the locals didn’t take to Ith and his invasion plans very well; as a result Ith was murdered and sent back to Coruña. To avenge the death of his brother, Mil (another son of Breogán) decided to take a big army and sail to Ireland to conquer this land, once and for all. The descendants of Mil and his army (Milesians) are said to have stayed in Ireland, becoming the Celtic ancestors of the Irish people.

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Celtic rose compass near Tower of Hercules
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Statue of Breogan

We walked back down the hill  passing a number of statues which form part of the sculpture park , the Monte de Bicos , that is situated on the land around the tower. This leaflet explains the significance of the statues. We then passed a small beach , the Playa las Lapas before leaving the seafront and walking towards the old city.

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Playa las Lapas

We approached the old town near to the Castillo de San Anton and headed for the Jardín de San Carlos in which is located the sarcophagus of General Sir John Moore , subject of the famous poem by Charles Wolfe ‘ The Burial of Sir John Moore after Coruña ‘, I’d remembered reading the poem in an anthology years ago and , in short , he’d been killed by the French in a battle in Coruña whilst helping the Spanish in the Peninsula Wars so he was a bit of a hero in these parts. From the evidence of the very well kept gardens around his tomb it seems he is still held in high regard .  The sarcophagus is situated  centrally in the garden , on a pedestal. Beyond a flower bed or two, a bust of Sir John looks over towards the tomb.

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We then headed towards the main square in the city , the Plaza de Maria Pita , named after another significant figure in the history of Coruña. In 1589 a group of galleons under the command of Francis Drake attacked Coruña . María Pita was assisting her husband, an army captain manning the defenses, when he was killed by a crossbow bolt that struck him in the head. An English soldier with a banner, who was making his way to the highest part of the wall, was killed by Pita. She appeared on the heights of the wall herself, shouting: Quen teña honra, que me siga (“Whoever has honour, follow me!”) whereupon the English were driven back by the defenders. The English abandoned the siege and withdrew to their ships. For this heroic deed she was rewarded by King Phillip II, who granted her a military officer’s pension , and she eventually became recognised as a great heroine of Spain. She still stands victorious in statue form in the square.

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City Hall in the Playa de Maria Pita
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Statue of Maria Pita

After a stroll around the Plaza we headed for lunch at ‘ A Pulperia De Melide ‘ where we ate octopus cooked in the Galician style ( Pulpo a la Gallego ) washed down with a glass of Albarino for Sally and Mencia for myself. I had discovered the Galician made Mencia wines on previous visits to Northern Spain and intended to do a bit of tasting whilst on this walk , purely for research purposes of course …….

Wines made from the Mencia grape are not yet widely available here in the UK but are gaining in popularity. There is a good write up about the grape here. 

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After lunch we had a wander around the streets of the old town and visited a couple of the old Romanesque churches . The first we came across was Santa Maria del Campo. The church building was completed in 1302 ( after which it became the church of the sailors and traders guilds ) and the style is Romanesque-Gothic.  The tympanum over the main door has an impressive carved Adoration of the Magi and the cross outside is 15th century.

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Nearby is the oldest church in Coruña , the Church of Santiago the Apostle , the official starting point for the Camino Ingles. It is a lovely old church in the Romanesque style, built in the 12th century.  The portal is Gothic and the tympanum displays Santiago on horseback. Sadly , as I’ve discovered is so often the case in Spain , both these old churches had restricted opening hours and were shut when we visited.

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We then wandered back to our hotel via the harbour front area of ‘Marina Avenue’ , a part of the city containing a procession of glass fronted buildings , otherwise known as the ” glass city” or ” crystal city “. The balconies on the buildings are known as ” galerias”. The balconies are enclosed  by a glass frame thereby protecting them from Galicia’s cool Winters and making them usable all year round. I have to say I prefer the appearance of an open balcony but when these buildings were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries this was a very popular design. In addition to this the original fisherman’s houses that lined the harbour and port were built with galerias and subsequent structures that replaced them continued this style.

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We arrived back at the hotel , freshened up , then headed in the direction of the Riazor Stadium to find a place to eat before the game. Then there was the small matter of finding tickets as the game was sold out. Half an hour before kick off a deal was struck with a shifty looking chap with bulging pockets and we had our tickets. It’s fair to say that Sally was not over enthused as watching football hadn’t been on the itinerary I had sold to her. The game itself didn’t do anything to bring out the hidden football fan in her and after 90 minutes of mediocrity and zero goal action we were ready to depart only for Deportivo to score the winner in the 4th minute of injury time. Cue lots of wild celebrations. She enjoyed that bit.

I certainly didn’t see anything that Real Oviedo need fear : )

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We had a spent a beautiful Autumn day exploring a great coastal city with numerous points of interest. One day really wasn’t enough to do it justice. If there were any tourists about then they certainly weren’t obvious so I would guess the vast majority of visitors to Galicia head for Santiago de Compostela. I had read in one of the guide books that most of the people who travel on the cruise ships that dock in Coruña port immediately board a fleet of coaches and head straight for Santiago. That’s a shame as they’re missing out on seeing a fine city.

There was only one fly in the ointment that evening , Sally had developed a blister ……