Tony, Tim, Betsy & Ray's (not forgetting Geoff) 2014 Camino

GR65 (France), GR11 & Camino del Norte (Spain)


17.06.14 Tuesday. Markina Xenein to Guernika. Up and out of the little donativo alburgue by 0645. We soon head uphill and then some more and down and up again all in similar forest and field to yesterday. This continues without coffee through the village of Bolibar from whence came the progenitors of Simon Bolivar in the 16th century (there is a bust in the village). And on up to the monastery in another unpronounceable Basque village. Eventually a bar and coffee materialise in Muntibar, well you would hope so, a very Basque little place followed by a lot more up and down through forest field and little valleys with streams. And so down to the outskirts of Guernica where about 100m above the town we find a pelota game in action and behind the church an excellent bar/restaurant where we have a good lunch. Down into Guernica and the International Hostel at a somewhat expensive 19 € each. 26km 1000m up and down


16.06.14 Monday. Mutriku to Markina-Xemein. A day of interesting stones. We are raring to go this morning and a forcast cloudy morning in the hills means easy walking conditions. With directions from the campsiye lady we find the ywo gates out of the top of the campsite and Tony's expert navigation gets us to the top of the hill and an old reconstructed hermitage. Although lockef outside are some interesting stones with metal allachments used for competitions pulled by oxen and men. Other competitions included lifting quarried stones the record being 329kg. Othe local competitions include rowing larfe whaling gigs seversl of which we saw on sea and road over the last two days. A morning of great cool tree lined walking ensues and much of the woodland is pine trees with occasional Eucalyptus. The way has been dry with only occasional mud patches remain but large pine cones embedded and polished by walking feet are found frequently. The wrll marked way yakes us past a new alburgue with delightful goats and finally down into our destination where a wonderful hexagonal church was built long ago around several huge boulders possibly used as a megalithic temple in pre chistian times. The effect of this cross between a climbing wall and a place of worship is amazing. We wander into town and identify our albergue choices and have lunch. There is no convenient campsite. 21km 100m up and down.


15.06.14 Sunday. A Day of Rest in Mutriku. After the labours of yesterday Tim plays his joker and suddenly demands a day of non walking. The rest appear surprised or pretend to, but agree so a further two hours of sack time is enjoyed by all. This is a lovely quiet site up on the headland out of town and eventually we go into town for coffee and a bit of shopping in the only shop open. We spot the town fountain with its ducks and an advert for a film called Cocknies v Zombies strangely Ray would really like to see this but we will not be here. He goes off for a swim in the sea and the rest of us lounge about on the campsite doing various chores largely concerned with drying clothes and eradicating unwanted smells in clothing. A well below average day. 0 km. About 100m ascent and descent in to town.


14.06.14 Saturday. Zarautz to Mutriku. After a nights sleep the early part of which was marred by the goals scored against Holland and indeed the other way round as there were quite a few Dutch surfers on the site. The bar was not a long way from our tents. An early start up at 5.30 and of by 6.30 we are going down the steps to the beach and through Zarautz, looking back we see the dawn and forward a full moon with Rhona's rabbit very clearly visible just above the dunes. As recomended by our first Spanish hospitalero we go round the coast road with great views on the Flat route to Getaria, on the way we learn about the whaling history of both towns and later see two racing gigs on the water. The towns provide coffee at regular intervals and the day is going very easily into the projected 24km. We launch upward out of Zumaia after an excellent fresh orange juice just off the marina and soon reach a picnic place up on the cliffs with a water source and a view of the coast to the west. We may have made an error here and decided to continue as close to the coast as possible... Some hours later we have been up and down some very interesting coastal strata, found the railway line that goes along the coast and both individually and severally been past the sewage plant and climbed the mud bank with the knotted rope that would have been needed eere it anything but bone dry. Sweaty and grubby we are passed by families with 5year olds out for a Saturday stroll and finally arrive separately, by agreement in Deba. Tony and Ray were dispatched to hack their way through the cliff top jungle to reach the town in time to shop for dinner, it being Saturday and with no knowledge of size of shops and opening hours. A rendezvous in the main square by text reveals that there was only a 10 min difference in arrival times probably as R&T went down a field following locals and then got asked the way to go! We are joined, in a town with shops open till late, by several pilgrims we have already met Gemma a ? Spanish girl and Simeon a Californian, like us on his third or fourth Camino and in hot pursuit of a Dutch woman 10 days in front met on a previous camino. They will all be staying in the brand new opened today alburgue in Deba. Betsy is harangued by an elderly spaniard who probably has had a lot to do with the new alburgue and can not understand why we want to leave town. We go reluctantly after only two beers and climb out of town up the hill towards Mutriku. The day is not yet finished with us, the campsite is on the hill above the town so we expect to see it on the way down. Tim and Ray are lagging and nattering and so when it appears on the far side of a steep valley believe they have missed the entrance, and retrace their steps finding only barbed wire fences and wishing to be welcome rather than forcing an entry they finally descend to the main entrance on the main road and reascend. Betsy and Tony had done the same but had expected Tim and Ray to be more successful and wondered what kept them. We are told there is a top entrance and hope to find it in the morning. EVENTUALLY 30km and an undetermined amount of up and down , not exceeding 1500 m! A very good day.


13.06.14 Friday San Sebastian to Zarautz (yes really but no good for scrabble). Not included in the blog yesterday was the cat that offered to carry Betsy's pack. Sadly it did not fit. We get out of the alburgue in San Sebatian by 7.30 and ascend the steep path on to the cliff walk as yesterday. Today however it is very foggy and the navigational aid (blue right green left) fails us as we hardly see the sea until we descend again into the old fishing port of Orio where pilgrims were ferried across for free in medieval times. It is interesting that the old restored town and churches are all on the near bank where development occurred to cope with the pilgrin arrivals, the development on the west bank is all modern. We go up the hill out of town and a couple of km across the top between Orio and Zarautz we pass by the first campsite in favour of the one at the bottom of the hill nearer town. It is just in the process of opening for the season and will not take us. This causes consternation we should have realised it is Friday 13th. So into nearest bar for food a menu de doa and the walk back up seems easy instead of a major trial. A nice campsite on the top of the cliff with drying sea breezes, the morning fog has mostly cleared and much airing and washing takes place. 20.5 km maybe 500m of up and down although the GPS tracked 1000m which even with the reversal of route to add an additional 100m or so seems excessive.


12.06.14 Thursday. Irun to San Sebastian. After a longish walk yesterday through Irun to the little Alburge wr gain a great deal of information from the hospitalero including a free booklet like the one Geof found for the whole route. Including campsites. There was one in Irun but another 7km out of town was a bridge too far. We zate off after a light breakfast at the donativo alburgue and after a walk though flatland just outside Irun start to.............. you guessed it climb. We go up steeply for a couple of hundred metres and then start to contour round on an excellent track, well three of us do. Ray thinks he sees a shortcut and follows a set of older markers both red and white GR marks and yellow arrows. He goes over the top of the mountain without even a Virgin on top and rejoins us some km later looking even more sweaty than the rest of us. We carry on round and descend steeply to sealevel at the first deep inlet/estuary at the start of San Sebastian where a little foot passenger ferry takes us and other walkers to the edge of San Sebastian. The route then goes, instead of the obvious urban way, up and around a great cliff path and over and down into San Sebastian proper. We are still hearing the cuckoo but less persistent than before and the cries of seagulls are heard and will doubtless become commonplace. Robins and wrens arr seen and Ray glimpses a weasel crossing the path ahead. The walk had been notable for shirtless male dog walkers up to the point when as we walk along the beachfront in San Sebastian the seem replaced by female ones without dogs, sunbathing in the heat. We concentrate on the way and eventually passing a great little sculpture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, find our alburgue a much grander and more costly affair than last night. Hopefully we will get to a campsite tomorrow. 27km and up and down which at 1700m seems unbelievable. The system may have failed in this case.


11.06.14 Wednesday. Bera to Irun. Well no fiurther excitments after we got fed in Bera. Up in the morning at 6.45 and breakfast from our hostess. Florita and her husband are trying to sell the Casa Romana to retire to his village in the Navarre lowlands. In the breakfast room there is a pelota racket on the wall Ray and Tim are allowed to try it on, it is surprisingly light.As we leave the town over the recently refurbished bridge we see an echo of a British past hero. The Spanish treat the Napoleonic occupation of their country as the War of Indepenence and many references to the British Campaign of Wellington are minimised, here is a wonderful joint commemoration of a minor part in the final days of the Peninsular campaign. After that the day follows it's familiar course with a steepish ascent though not as bad as yesterday and a long ridge wslk as we rise above the lower layer of clouds. The day remains reasonably cool and we race across the first few km. The descent to the coast at Irun has several false starts with ascents short and steep afterward but finally a view of Irun and the sea comes in view. We wander through the outskirts relieved to be in a town with an open bar at 2pm. The Irun alburgue opens at 1600 and its hospitalero is as helpful as he can be Betsy and he have a long conversation gaining information about the future course of our Way. Hopefully we will not have to contend with the same difficulties of the last few days even if coastal routes are notorious for up and down. Todays gradual climb up out of the Embalese (reservoir) was a great walk very well graded and we were surprised by a cyclist pedalling quietly up the rough track behind us. Today. 24km 1400m up 1450m down


As usual our arrival time in Bera coincided with siesta about 1530 consequently the place looked dead except for kids on skateboards and bikes. Of more concern and should have been a warning no bars were open and several showed unmistakeable signs of not having been open for sometime. So with difficulty we found a place to stay in a Casa Rurale, the Spanish B&B, and performed our rituals of cleansing, reassured by the elderly lady running it that the restaurant at the bottom of the hill would be open at 8. We do some shopping for tomorrows lunch at the only supermercado in town and finally find a bar open at the far end of town. Beer consumed 8pm at last all rather hungry back to restaurant not open 8.30 still not open some of us sit outside and some scout for alternatives, the supermarket has now closed. Eventually man emerges from watching tv in restaurant as says he's not opening tonight. Our scouts however have identified a hotel with a restaurant that was very closed during siesta, it is just opening we are fed very well pigs cheeks in red wine and a second bottle of Navarre tempranillo. Home to bed with a chance to complete the fourth big day tomorrow.


10.06.14 Tuesday. Elizonda to Bera. Cooler today after the rain yesterday. Betsy and Tim were just settling last night with the open window when their room was invaded by a bat that took a little persuading to get out of the room. Sleeping with window shit unfortunately necessary lest the whole roost came in from the rain. Out and walking by 7am across the river and straight up 600m once on tops an undulating route following ridgelines again at first in cloud with dew on plants and spider webs. Then with clouds clearing for some great views back into France and the border mountain of La Rhune a smugglers route of old. It is a long time since we were on top of it via the rack railway. We also spot the traditional Basque hay or bracken stacks on a pole that we remember from days on the GR10. While up high we find some newts with tadpoles in a puddle. As well as more stone circles, but today is a good day for covering distance and we do. Arrival in Berra at about half past 3 means 31.5km 1700m up 1800m down. We are all tired and in need of food.


9.06.14 Monday. Middle of Knowhere to Elizondo. Although it was a quiet night except for the owl and the tents were dry in the morning not all the party slept well inspite of yesterdays exertions. Much insect life seemed to want to inhabit our tents and a wild life hunt in the inner mesh parts was needed before settling for the night. But we are off up the concrete road by 7am. It is a painless ascent and the views in the early morning across this relatively low part of the Pyrennees(1000-1200m) are suberb. Once the hieght is gained the route follows the ridges and we meet ponies and sheep but no people until well down the long descent to Elizondo through beech oak and occasional pine woods. We also find in flower Purple Toothwort a parasitic damp loving plant with quite attractive flowers growing out straight from the ground. Betsy finally managed to identify it in our electronic guides. On the tops we found as in Tonys route info, several old stone circles and old border stones sometimes on the current border sometimes not, but up here it seems and probably always has been irrelevant. Elizondo is reached well before the promised rain and find good rooms by the fine river with several old bridges and another large water snake. We wash ourselves and clothes much needed and then ponder drying, the establishment being in town and a little up market of most of our previous lodgings. Opening a window finds a blank wall about 2ft away so a good place to hang the line under the eaves and so sheltered from the rain that does come as forcast. This town also seems to be on a Camino to Santiago, they have scallop shells in the pavement and occasional walkers pass through with the identifying shell on rucksacks. We were unaware of this but it is a relatively low level route through from France and certainly the flood of pilgrims in the 13 -14C would have found short easy routes which will even now vary at different times of year. It is obvious though we are in Basque heartland and the Kingdom of Navarre is alive and thriving at least on this pleasant little town. The third well above average day in succesion and another planned for tomorrow. And the hunt for wild life of the insect kind continues as 30 ants parade out of Betsy's rucksack. 
 20km 600m up 1400m down.