End of the camino

The takeaway ordered for us by the hospitalero last night arrived earlier than expected and was surprisingly good – a complete dinner kit in a crate. The head count in the albergue increased by 2 noisy cyclists who arrived at 9:30 just as the hospitalero was about to lock up.
A relatively early start in the morning (walking by 06:15) in a light drizzle; this persisted on and off for about half the day causing lots of indecision about waterproof clothing.
With an estimated 32k to do our approach to the day was a little more focused than yesterday’s bar crawl (oops, didn’t mention that before). The end really did seem to be in sight when, after only 8 km, we paused at a high point for what we believe was our first glimpse of the Torre de Hercules. Not that close though as there were another 6 hours of gentle (?!) hills, gentle rain, chicken farms, eucalyptus woods etc before we crept into A Coruna past a short stretch of industrial estate and then along the pleasantly flat riverside path before a final assault up and down an urban hill to arrive at the Iglesia de Santiagoy. (Photo at front of church, matamoros above, Tony below!).Final sello obtained from a slow but helpful priest – yee ha! We’ ve done it!
868 miles and 53 days walking.

Penultimate dia

Another relaxed start with only 24km to do today and, better still, another good breakfast since the bar helpfully opened at 06:30. On the outskirts of Sigueiro we were slightly puzzled by a roundabout which as well as having a sculpture in the middle was fully carpeted in 3 or 4 colours. Que?
After a very brief walk through the industrial estate the rest of the day was almost perfect Galicia – dry, mostly sunny but not too hot, and with tracks across attractive countryside and through eucalyptus plantations. Some of the tracks seemed very ancient, sunken as much as 10 feet below the surrounding land.
We met a total of 13 peregrinos going in the opposite direction and, near one village, quite a few locals out for walks. A large proportion of these kind people were very quick to ask us if we realized that Santiago was NOT the way we were going; one elderly chap who was walking his dog then stopped for a longer
chat, telling us how he had worked in Reading from 1965 – 1969.
3 hoopoes flew past and for the first time in the entire journey we saw 2 peacocks in a garden. (Their distinctive call has been heard frequently).
Many beautiful wildflowers again too, including some very tall purple orchids trying to camouflage themselves amongst foxgloves.
As usual the route passed a selection of stone crosses and also a quite large Santiago statue which was accompanied by a dinosaur, a collection of ancient tractors and some other random statues – a somewhat surreal collection! Even stranger was the statue on the outside of a church which appeared to be having its throat cut.
Our arrival timing at the albergue was perfect, the hospitalero appeared within seconds. He was very insistent on showing us the entry in his book for Tim from 2 nights ago and was friendly and helpful, willing to provide a manta for the peregrina without a sleeping bag, and efficient at taking an order for a takeaway to be delivered at 8 (we hope).
Currently looks like being a very quiet night, we have one other fellow pilgrim in residence, unless of course you include the great-tit who spent siesta trying to break in through the dormitorio window.

Triumphant arrival

The English Way.
6-7.6 Wednesday and Thursday.
The Camino Anglais is the shortest and quickest way to have your sins forgiven. Probably used in medieval times by those whose time was precious and with plenty of money. Royalty and nobility whose abscence from earthly concerns might result in no concerns to return to. It is still done by those with little time as three days is the average from A Coruna and five from Ferrol. Since there are only three albergues at the standard Galician rate of 5euros, two on the Ferrol part, any other nights are comercial lodging at slightly higher prices. This was not why Tim, setting off from Santiago at 0900, after getting out of the industrial zone as quickly as possible, and finding himself in Siguiero by 1200 decided to carry on walking after lunch in a Pulpuria. Not as you might think on octous stew but on a local delicacy of what would probably in English have been called fingerling trout, that is little ones, eaten whole with chopped bacon in their tummies. Delicious!
The feed was needed it was 18.45 when he reached the albergue after a long ramble up and down over Galician farmland and woods, mostly on quiet country lanes but some wooded tracks as well. Only two bars one closed. The other provided bocadillo and beer, and a chat in english with the landlady whose first ten years of life were in England.
Quite a bit later the hospitalero of the albergue took one look and said, I think, you have come from Santiago today. Time of arrival and state of quiet exhaustion, easy diagnosis, quite made his day. He is very proud of his little Camino, too short at under a hundred km from Coruna to gain one a compostela. The rolling nature of the countryside providing, as if it were needed, additional excercise.
After a night of rain and much needed sleep the next day opened much as before with more rolling Galician countryside with flowers and cows to be milked in multiple humming little milking parlours most herds being 10-20 cows not the huge dairy herds of uk dairy farms.
After a while over an oldish bridge the airport for return transport to home appears on the left and, up a hill a choice of bars, ever perverse the road is crossed and sustenance provided.
Down over the autoroute and railway, not the hairpin route of the way to Ferrol but a short cut at the end of the runway over the motorway and railway. It leads to a little parish church of Santiago on the banks of the Ria do Burgo, the long, long, estuary of A Coruna. This has a glass door so peligrinos can look but not enter.
There is a great bit of park along the amazingly clean estuary, the tide was out and it was not stinking mudflats. In the low waters there were people dredging for shellfish, as probably for centuries, just not in wetsuits.
Walking in cities is always difficult,p distances seem further and it was a while before a cheap hotel and late siesta appeared on the horizon. A late evening dip of toes in the atlantic ocean convinced that journey Mar a Mar up Spain was over.

Santiago and onwards.

Our third visit to Santiago has proved most successful with opportunities to do several things we regretted having missed before. The first of these was attending the pilgrim mass in the cathedral shortly after our arrival. The congregation were coached by a singing nun before the service began so that audience participation would be up to standard, and she also led the singing beautifully. The list of arriving peregrinos included “3 English from gibraltar” and, best of all, the magnificent botofumeiro was put through its swinging & smoking routine, passing very closely above our heads. We heard later that a group of elderly lawyers had paid 400 euros to have this ritual on a day it wouldn’t normally have been performed. Lucky us.
The following morning we went on the cathedral rooftop tour (which Tim had booked for us the necessary day in advance while we were at the mass). Most impressive, actually wandering around on the sloping roof – great views and plenty of interesting info from our guide. Health and safety – hmm! Apparently there used to be 20 recognized places around the city for the pilgrims to burn their dirty ragged clothing and one of these still exists on the cathedral roof – a small walled enclosure with an interesting mix of Moorish and Christian styles. Although we had been pointed out to a tour group as authentic peregrinos we didn’t rise to the occasion and remove and burn our clothes!
Our third achievement was finding the right place to queue for a free meal – at the Santiago Parador hotel. As numbers 8 and 9 in the queue, clutching our compostellas we were entitled to eat at no cost at (probably) the most expensive hotel in the city! The provision of free meals for up to 10 pilgrims 3 times a day is a condition which the Parador chain are required to fulfil for ever to allow them the use of the building. Admittedly the meal was obtained directly from the kitchen and was staff fare, not haute cuisine, but it’s definitely on the list of things a pilgrim should try and do. And we were not at all surprised to see that Peregrino Total (aka Fabrizio) was the last person to sign the book before us.
On a more practical note, I managed at last to buy some new waterproof overtrousers – very cheap because the only ones which fitted were children’s!
We bumped into Kim the Canadian again and said some more farewells, but were surprised by how few others we recognized during the day.
An earlier night than the previous one, time to pack up again ready to move on in the morning.
Up and out by 7:30 this morning and we found one of my favorite breakfasts – freshly squeezed orange juice, giant croissant and coffee so, suitably fuelled, we set out for a relatively short day – the first of the 3 final days to A Coruna. The first half of the walk was out through suburbs and industrial estates with persistent rain (thank goodness for the new overtrousers!) And the second half we zigzagged through freshly washed Galician countryside in bright sunshine. We were surprised by the number of people we met (going of course in the opposite direction to us), including a chatty American who seemed fairly sure we must be lost, and a friendly couple who assured us that Tim was alive, well, cheerful and striding out rapidly when they met him yesterday.
A good wildlife moment shortly before we arrived in Sigueiro – a very cute red squirrel crossed the track in front of us and then paused to watch us for a few seconds.
Haven’t yet managed to try the trout that Tim recommended very highly, but our cheap lunch menu at 8 euros did include an excellent bowl of fabada – Spanish bean stew with some carrots, potatoes and lumps of meat and chorizo.
Sigueiro turns out to have many shops and restaurants but very little else of interest. A plate of the crispy little trout made a tasty evening snack to round off the day.

Triumphant arrival

5.6 Tuesday
Yes we did reach Santiago, a pleasant walk right into the heart of the city in mostly countryside. We passed close to thw new centre for Galician att and culture and records. It seems mostly finishex now, twoyears ago it looked like a dry ski slope with cranes. It still looks like a dry ski slope but the cranes are gone and it looks quite good.
We check in to the old seminary building albergue. Tim for one night, Betsy and Tony for two. Tim has a plane to catch on Saturday and will walk earlier to Coruna.

Bridges in the dark, bridges in the day.

4.6 Monday A Laxe to Outiero.
A long day to leave us an easy early arrival in Santiago. We start at 5.15 Tim is so excited he woke Betsy at four! This was not appreciated! Still we roll down hill in the dark along the N 525 and off it down more to an old bridge in company with 2 other bridges. A beautiful spot, somewhere, we think but it is dark. After a while longer mostly along the N525 we reach Silleda for coffee and our breakfast, some walnut cake served with the coffee was very welcome.
The sky is clear the air is cool but warms up later, we ramble on over a lot of Galician countryside mostly small farms with bits of mixed forest (pine and oak) in between. We heard an owl as we started out in the darkness and later heard and saw a flock of long-tailed tits. On spotting a hoopoe Tim says it is likely to be the last we will see – surprise surprise we see another two during the day!
Betsy is not going well due to sleep deprivation, and we know whose fault it is don’t we?
So eventually we reach a steep valley with the Rio Ulla in the bottom, beside us spanning it, is a spectacular new bridge carrying the high speed rail link from Ourense to Santiago, behind it of similar but less spectacular design is the old railway bridge. We drop down into the valley and cross the old road bridge to lunch on the far side at a good restaruant. The albergue is 4.5km away and 100m higher with no bars or shops, Tim shops with Juan (who we have met again) for food for tonight and they yomp together with extra full packs up to the albergue finding Fabricio asleep on the way. He is pleased to learn we have wine as well as food and promises some golden fluid as well.
A rest before the party/meal is indicated.

Link to where we are on Google Maps

A Galician switchback.

3.6 Sunday. Cea to A Laxe.
We discovered yesterday that Cea is famous for bread, and has several old communal ovens in town. Apparently the name is still franchised across Spain. The bread in question is hard crusted, chewy with very large gas holes. It is hard work and very filling. This morning we start at 5.15 and the route soon heads up 400m into Galician mists to a height of nearly 900m. As we descend light shows clouds left from yesterday’s rain lying in the folds of the land we are crossing.
We walk through a mix of farmland, heath and thin forest, efforts at reforestation being foiled by patches of burnt young woodland and heath.
Birdlife is typical british the hoopoe has not been heard in Gallicia much less seen though cuckoos are still cooking in the woods and valleys. We also spot, a nuthatch in one of the mature oak woodlands through which our path passes and a deceased Robin at the side of the road.
We are not yet finished with Pan de Cea, eventually on a Sunday in a sparsely populated land we find a bar/cafe open and subside gratefully into it awaiting coffee and toast, the traditional spanish snack, a tray of inch thick toasted Pan de Cea appears with butter (a pack), a box of Philadelphia cream cheese and a jar of peach jam. There is more than enough to keep us going as the morning switchbacks up and down across the approaches to Santiago, only two more days now.
33km 8hrs. (probably more than 700m ascent)

Link to where we are on Google Maps

The still spirit of the camino.

2.6 Saturday. Ourense to Cea.
After yesterday baking and being basted in beer, today should be better. The forecast is for a cold front bringing rain and cooler temps by afternoon. The tv news is that Ourense yesterday was 41degC, this is unseasonably hot andhas caught everyone out, all the swimming pools are still green from the winters disuse. The total yesterday was 36km and 9.30 hrs including bar time.
In the evening we saw Fabricio, Peregrino Total in a bar, he has found his friends who live in Ourense, who he met on the Camino Primitivo. They are set to party for the week end. We may yet meet in Santiago although his time constraints are different to ours. When he finishes in Santiago he will catch the train to Bayonne, the French have a scheme where youngsters who have fallen into bad ways and company, and committed offences can be sent on Camino with an experienced mentor one to one. The mentor is paid 1200euros for 2000km plus albergue and food expenses for both. At the very least it should remove them from a harmful environment and not teach further illegal practices, at the best maybe a new life! Fabricio hopes to be taken on for this program like another pair we saw in Extremadura.
We start at 6.30, the temperature is still over 20deg after coffee in the station cafe opposite a large steam train we head up hill out of the valley of the Rio Mino which becomes the border with Portugal flowing west to Tui where we crossed it two years ago on the Camino Portugesa. The way is steep tarmac but after an hour we have gained 300m in height back up to 400+m. The walking is then very pleasant along typical Galician farm tracks. Shortly we are looking for a bar for a coffee stop, and as Betsy put it we have a Camino moment. A goose comes hissing from a farmyard his owner shoos him back and seeing our interest shows us the goslings he is protecting and invites us up to a private bar area for coffee. We accept, and are given not only coffee, from a camping stove, but samples of his home distilled liqueurs! Hmm quite strong. Tim expresses interest and is shown his still or alambique in the back of the barn, copper coil in an old oil drum. His mother was English but his English these days sees little use but we have a chat and admire his heavy old military rucsack that he carried on his Caminos in the early seventies. We hope we made his day as he did ours.
The road kill is interesting with two slow worms, two toads and a couple of moles added to the collection. Birdlife is like home – blackbirds, jays and magpies plus serins and turtle doves. Relatively early and painlessly compared to yesterday we arrive at the albergue in Cea, an old typical Galician building refurbished with a covered drying area and an horreo outside, lunch and sleep follow after washing the rain passes while we are inside, a near perfect Camino day.
22km 6hrs.

Link to where we are on Google Maps

The Long Pub Crawl.

1.6 Friday. Villar de Barrio to Xunquiera de Ambia, no no. to Ourense!!
We set off late after a good nights sleep in a half empty albergue, the first part includes walking through typical small farm lands but along some very flat straight tracks. Oak trees and birch are common with yellow broom and gorse in flower. We do see large numbers of horeos designed to keep out thr rats from the maise stores.
On spite of starting at 7am we are still there (only 15km or so) by 10.30. It is too early. Betsy after considerable thought agrees that Ourense (about another 20km) is feasable with a forecast that includes cloud. Alas it is not so the day turns first into a dodge the lorry game in small country lanes (we never do find were the empties are going) and then into a pub crawl through the suburbs of Ourense from bar to bar (about every 2km) until finally we haul ourselves up the hill to the albergue behind the cathedral at gone 4pm. The need to keep cool walking in 35-40degC heat keeps driving us inside (one even switched on the aircon we looked so hot) in another we got some bits of home made cured sausage with the beer, from as Betsy said a contented pig, excellent. Ourense is a typical large spanish city and with some difficulty we find the very hot thermal springs near the market (just closing).
To tired for more going to bed.

Link to where we are on Google Maps

Definitely over the hill.

31.5 Thursday. Lava to Villar de Barrio.
We have some choices about distances to walk over the next few days, there are some stiff climbs before Ourense and distances are awkward. We opt for the shorter distances and the extra days travel. One donkey is dozey.
So with only 20ish km to do we start late, about 6.30 after a disturbed night and none of us at our best. After a 4km amble up the valley from Laza during which we see a field of brilliant yellow lupins (wild or tame? impossible to tell), we start to ascend from the misty verdant fields up a steep slope into yellow gorse, heather and later young pine plantions. Views as the mist rises are fine and frequently admired (nothing to do with rests)!
We see two turtle doves and a rock bunting, eventually reaching Albergueria at about 900m from 450m in Lava on the valley bottom. This hamlet, now very depopulated once had a pilgrim hospital for those sick or injured on the Way. Now for a few years it has a private albergue and cafe at which it is customary to write one’s names, date and start on a scallop shell and it gets nailed to the ceiling. There is a fair amount of space left but filling rapidly!
Shortly after another stream takes over the path, Betsy nearly comes to grief on a large wobbly stepping stone. Tim, an admirer of Santo Domingo (the civil engineer of the medieval Camino Francais) stops to improve the way for some future pilgrims by wedging it more solidly. Probably not a work as durable as some of Domingo’s.
Another km or two and the route passes an old wooden cross and starts finally to descend to Villar de Barrios. The day is warming up by the time we reach it, passing several Horreos on the outskirts. It is two years since we have seen these characteristic Gallician grain stores, and currently they are a new and exciting landmark, they are so common later as to be boring, but for now Betsy gains points for spotting the first.
20km 5hrs

Link to where we are on Google Maps