Pilgrim’s Progress

757 nights : 28,768 miles travelled : countries visited: 27

‘(A) journey becomes a pilgrimage as we discover, day by day, that the distance traveled  is less important than the experience gained.’     Ernest Kurtz

We first saw them as we drove north out of Portugal. Usually in ones and twos, often with a stick and always with a backpack. In rain and sun, heads were down looking at the path directly ahead. We were confused, as we thought the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela was one path across northern Spain from the Pyrenees.  But the promise of a sunny weekend by the sea distracted us from seeking an answer straight away.

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There is nothing so relaxing as watching azure waves foam white against rocks. Listening to the same would have been nice, but for us that was drowned out by the wimpering and whining of a spoiled bratdog nagging for yet another game on the beach. Yes life is hard!

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The Costa de Morte is punctuated by crosses marking the scenes of shipwrecks but on a more positive note is known for the regular sightings of dolphins. Well not so regular; it took many hours of gazing to see three. As I say….a hard life!

There is a good reason why Spain’s north western corner is so green and the blue skies soon gave way to the threat of rain. So we retraced our trail and headed to the destination of the pilgrims that we had passed.  The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela houses the tomb of whom many believe to be St James the Apostle and while the scaffolding disguised the splendour, it could not hide the sheer scale of the facade.

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Many believers queue to embrace the statue of the Apostle behind the altar
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Pilgrims arrive in the Plaza del  Obradoiro
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The fabulous Hostal  de los Reyes Catolicos is now a fabulously expensive hotel!

Neither of us have a religious faith but it does not take much to imagine the joy felt when arriving here after walking hundreds of kilometres and when you multiply that emotion countless times over many centuries you can’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere of the old streets.

It would seem that the Camino de Santiago or ‘The Way’ is not one path but a network of pilgrim routes. What we knew of was the Camino Francés or the French Way. Others include Camino Portugues from Oporto  which explains the pilgrims we saw, and Camino Ingles from A Coruna and Ferrol on the north western tip of Galicia. This English way is one of the shorter routes (less than 100 kilometres) and dates back to the 12th century when thousands of pilgrims from England and the Nordic countries began their walk from the ports they disembarked at.

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The scallop shell has long been a symbol of the Camino de Santiago

Our walk from the camperstop into the city was lined with hairdressers and barbers. This was too good an opportunity to miss so I dived in to find one with availability. We have had several fun experiences trying to communicate what we need with a mixture of sign language, photographs and google translate in salons in Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal and Italy and this was no different. Smiles and nods reflected in a mirror saw me leave happy, more Judy Dench than Clare Balding once again!

Lugo has the finest Roman walls in Western Europe and it is possible to walk the two kilometres encircling the old town. We didn’t, as we seemed to get even wetter on top than in the streets below, which goes to show that we probably aren’t cut out for any pilgrimage routes!

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Going up!
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The wall is up to 7 metres wide and had 85 towers
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The town has encased the wall as it has grown over the centuries

As we drove around Galicia we noticed that many properties had strange little buildings in the garden. These grain stores, or horreos vary in  age, size and construction but all were of the same basic design and are a real feature of this part of Spain.

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The trail hugged the coast heading east and we enjoyed spectacular scenery as we drove between mountains and sea. The somewhat hairy La Hermida gorge drive took us up to Potes on the edge of the beautiful Picos de Europa National Park with dramatic peaks and crisp air.  They may not be the highest mountains in Europe but they were our favourite.

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Potes
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The walk back to the campsite
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Fiat 600s making their own pilgrimage!

The landscape levelled as we headed further inland but was no less cinematic. Ancient villages and twisting roads slowed us to a crawl, perfect conditions for our snail. We took a break and stood in awe at the transition before us, from castle topped hills  behind to a vast plain ahead.

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The ochre earth of La Rioja made this wine growing region distinctive from other areas we had driven through.

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With more time we could have followed a pilgrimage trail of a different kind, as wine makers seem intent on outdoing each other in the quirky architecture of their bodegas. We made it to Ysios near Laguardia where the bodega sits so perfectly with the mountains, which gave us the desire to come back to see (and taste) more!

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Labastida is a perfect example of our favourite kind of stop on the trail. The camperstop is free and next to the leisure centre. A historic little town is within easy wandering distance with shops and bars where we can buy local produce to repay our free stay!

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Many properties in Calle Mayor  have an aristocratic heritage 
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Old fortifications now form part of a town garden

We snaked around the Camino de Santiago and crossed it’s path several times.

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Waymarkers guide pilgrims along the whole route

This made us wonder why journeys feels different when they have a purpose and appreciate the time we have enjoyed travelling with none. Nevertheless we were delighted to meet Lorraine who was walking the camino, with Larry in the support vehicle at the camperstop in Ayegui. We were drawn here by the stories of a wine fountain for pilgrims on The Way. Amazingly it was true, but having only walked about 500m  we felt it would be wrong to help ourselves and bought ours from the winery!

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Exhausted in less than a kilometre!
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Kipper had a sly taste while Graham was still trying to believe his dream was true!
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The Monasterio de Irache was one of the first hospitals on the Camino de Santiago

Puente la Reina is a beautiful Romanesque bridge and the medieval town has a constant stream of pilgrims passing through as it is where two main routes meet.

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The Church of the Crucifixion was founded by the Knights Templars
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The stillness and simplicity of the chapel felt more spiritual than all the grand cathedrals

It felt appropriate that we spent our last night in Spain in Sos del Rey Católico.

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This is the birthplace of Ferdinand II of Aragon, one of the Catholic Monarchs and we had crossed their paths many times. Not deliberately however. We have not made any plans beyond the following week on our trail. It is less of a pilgrimage more of a coddiwomple, travelling purposefully towards an unknown destination, but no less meaningful for that.

M & G xx

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Treat of the week: We left Spain with some nice chocolate and delicious aniseed biscuits which we’ll be trying to recreate when we get home!

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