Villafranca to El Cebreiro.
What a great day, we enter Galicia almost at the top of climb to the small settlement of El Cebreiro. There are three options for the route on this section, the obvious old Camino up the floor of a steep sided valley, following the old main road either on it (mostly protected now by a concrete crash barrier) or at the side of it, in places upon even older roads, but all tarmac, is the one we take. The two alternatives that go up the sides of the valley and into very small villages on either side are significantly longer and add a deal of height to a day that is already planned to be 30km with an 800m ascent at the end. The real clincher is that in daylight yesterday we could not find the way out of Villafranca to the first village of Dragonte so we elect to follow the classic route up the valley bottom.
There are bars open to provide coffee and breakfast after a few kilometres and the motorway from Madrid to La Coruna criss-crosses our way usually high overhead on some quite impressive viaducts and occasionally underground through short tunnels. Eventually it peels off to the north.
The road gets smaller and smaller with a sense of gradually travelling back in time, going up a valley that gets steadily greener and more like England. There are cows grazing in green fields and a small clear stream runs beside the way until we cross it across a bridge reputed to have existed since Roman times. It is in remarkable repair and much daily use, some of the stones are probably original but it cannot be 2000 years old.
After Las Herrerias and the site of a previous pilgrim hospital (known as the Hospital Ingles), the ascent steepens and we manage to produce sweat due to exertion, a phenomenon not seen for many days. There are some superb views looking back to the east and the vegetation is now broom and heather not unlike the Lake District. We pass the marker stone (2metres high) on the border between Castille y Leon and Galicia and are pressed into service as photographers by a happy Italian family. From here on there are marker stones every 500 metres telling you how far there is left to go to Compostella (150 kilometres at the border stone), so hopefully we shouldn’t get lost from here on. We have met many Italians along the Camino always noisily cheerful. Many have done the trip starting at Roncevalles just in Spain on the Pyrenees. There are also Germans and Danes, and today several ladies from Sweden.
The top is the small village of O Cebreiro, with a reconstructed Celtic settlement consisting partly of pallozas which are round thatched dwellings. There is also an Albergue and quite a lot of other accommodation, taxis arrive by road (a disappointment one feels it should be foot pilgrims only up here) bringing those starting or taking away those whose time on the Camino is too short to finish in the time they have away from their work all around Europe and indeed the world (party from South Korea yesterday).
As we wait beside our fellow pilgrims for the albergue there are stunning views of the mountains of Galicia to the north and west and we see these again through the open window on to the terrace from the men’s shower room, as Tony said “I’ve never had such a good view stark naked before!”.