El Acebo to Ponferrada.
We descended from our mountain village 600m in the course of the morning. We had carefully considered our options for today as spending Saturday night in a large town again was not on our list of priorities. However the options for accommodation in a reasonable distance past Ponferrada, plus the fact that we now have a date (Sept 1st), for arrival in Compostella and have time in hand, combine to persuade us that the charms of Ponferrada are worth the possibility of a night of inadequate sleep. The aubergue it turns out is on the outskirts of town and the dormitories are for four persons so we should be alright here.
A slight worry that assails us is the passing of three memorial plaques to dead pilgrims who having got this far unfortunately got no further. One a cyclist from Germany (to whom there is a cycle shaped memorial in El Acebo), another an elderly man from (forgot where) and finally in the garden of the albergue a Finn. We hope that this is just statistics as we approach the most frequently walked part of the Camino.
During the walk down we met two Scots in kilts coming in the opposite direction, one walking down from north to south the length of Spain for an Amyloidosis charity (see www.caminocontrolaamiloidosis.blogspot.com), the other with him as support for a few days. We wished them luck and narrowly avoid an international incident when two Austrians we met earlier as if they can photograph the English. He was very restrained only muttering ‘I’m not English’.
The albergue is closed until 1300 and it is 1130 when we arrive as we only walked 16km with a late start, so we leave our rucksacks and go into to town to visit the castle. This was originally built by the knights Templar in the 13th century as a stronghold from which to rid the surrounding countryside of bandits preying on pilgrims. It was taken over by local nobility when they fell out of favour with the Catholic church internationally in the 14th century. It has been extensively restored but in a sensitive manor and provides a strong contrast with the new city of high rise blocks on the other side of the river that forms part of its natural defences.
We check in to the hostel, which is manned by volunteers and accepts donations not charging a fee and after lunch are pleased to see the Hungarian girl we left behind some days ago. She had a day off not feeling well and has caught up with us on our first small day since then. We have always had great respect for her walking abilities.
Ponferrada is so named is there was an iron bridge built here at the end of the 12th Century. Don’t know if it still exists in any guise as we haven’t been able to find it.
We are currently about 200 kilometres from Compostella. Maybe. Every guidebook, leaflet or other literature seems to give different distances. This is some extent because the route has been changed innumerable times over the years and thus the distance from any point has changed with it. A large number of bars have a sign outside telling the poor pilgrim how many more kilometres they need to walk. These signs are sponsored by Mahou beer, so this obviously must be the pilgrim’s choice of refreshment.