Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Sunday, 23 October 2016

October 23, 2016. Santiago

She sat with all her friends on that great day,

New friends she'd made when walking on the Way,

And many more she knew, but not their names,

Here, in the Cathedral of Saint James.


You might mistake her for an Aussie chick,

Except, instead of saying "deck", she says "dick",

And every night a hiddy beer she sps 

And washes down he briddy fsh and chps.


And if she meets her friends when on the go, 

T'is not "G'day mate," but "Y'alright Bro."

And proud she is to be antipodean, 

But no, her land is not marsupial-ion.


By now you've guessed a Kiwi lass she was,

That land whose flag resembles that of Oz,

So they designed a new one, as they would,

But then rejected it. No bloody good!


"I guess we'll keep the old one," said the boss.

Despite its Union Jack and southern cross.

Perhaps those Aussie bastards over there,

Will change their flag. After all, fair's fair?


Her folks were not religious, born or bred,

No holy roller crap for them, they said.

No Sunday school for her, or catechism

She knew less of Holy Writ than Hinduism.


Her father said, "It's all a bloody hoax. 

I'm gunna have a beer with the blokes."

Her mother said, (She's quite a nervous Nelly)

"You go, my dear. I'll stay and watch the telly."


T'was now her very first time in a church.

Perhaps her folks had left her in the lurch!

But if at times she felt quite overwrought,

I'll just do as others do, she thought.


And so she stood and sat and knelt in time

Through holy creeds and prayers and sacred mime,

And if she didn't understand a word,

At least she didn't feel a total nerd.


And then the ritual ringing of the bell.

What's happening now, she wondered. Who can tell

What's next in this strange theatre of sorts?

She sat with nervous, apprehensive thoughts.


And when some people rose and left the pew

To take communion, she got up too.

She followed them, not knowing what they sought,

I'll just do as others do, she thought.


She waited with the others in a line.

A nice man all in white then made a sign,

And from the holy wine he took a sip

And put a sacred morsel on her lip.


O how pleased she was at such an act

Of hospitality, the wafer still intact 

And in her mouth. But then, she ate the bread

And savoured it, and to herself she said:


"How nice! I'd have another one of those.

Quite thin, but tasty, bit like Aunty Flo's.

There's probably not enough for all us lot

Or I'd go back for seconds like a shot."


Communicants in silent prayer return.

And so she follows them, without concern,

And says to friends beside her on the seat,

"How nice to give us bikkies for a treat!"


 


One of the joys of the first day in Santiago, after sleeping in, is breakfast, knowing that you will not have to leave in a few minutes and start walking. I lingered a while, and then walked up to the cathedral for the pilgrims' mass.


There were more beggars than ever before, some sitting, heads bowed in silent hope, others more agressive, wandering among clients at the tables or accosting pilgrims as they filed into mass. There were no Galician pipes in the tunnel at the side of the cathedral, but a musician playing an Elvis tune on a strange mouth instrument with a keyboard.


Love me tender,

Love me sweet,

Never let me go.


A bearded, gilded, silvered Saint James was trying to keep steady in the wind. I was watching the tourist train with Muson River on the engine and Dotto on the carriages, when I was summoned by a few of the Primitivos, Paul and Mary and Earl and Virginie. We went into the mass together.


Inside, I found a nice possie at the base of a column in the transept, thinking that this time the censer would sweep over my head, but then a young lady came and stood in front of me so I couldn't see, and an old lady with a large posteria sat down beside me and gradually edged me off my stone perch. So I stood for much of the time through the creeds, the Pater Noster, the Homily, the collection and Communion. 


I thought of the New Zealander whose tale I have told above. It may be, as they say, apocryphal, but I heard it second hand.


Much of the service was sung by a nun with a beautiful, pure voice. She was participating as much as the rules allowed I suppose, for the rest was carried on by priests from around the world. Then came the moment we had all been waiting for, a thundering of the organ, and then, 


Nothing! Where were the little men in red robes? Where was the swinging censer?


Across the church from side to side it swings

And as it passes through the air it brings

Fire, and flaming frankinsense to quench

With purifying scent, the pilgrims' stench.


Apparently, no one had paid the €150 necessary to get the censer-swingers out of bed. I asked for my money back, the few coins I had put in the collection box, but to no avail.


Outside, the huge plaza in front of the cathedral was a place of poignant meetings and emotional arrivals. Most moving of all was the arrival of an incapacitated man in a wheelchair, who had been wheeled in his chair from Roncevalles.


Of course, who should I meet but Judith and Jurgen.


It is impossible to exaggerate the variety of shape and size and age and race of pilgrims who arrive in this town, singly, in pairs, and in groups, with and without poles, and wearing caps, hats, scarves and toques. And there were as many selfie-sticks as hiking poles.


How lucky we have been with the weather on this walk! Only twice, I think, did I put on my poncho.


At last I have achieved a certain fame as a pilgrim, not in my own country, or in France or Spain, but in Japan. I was strolling through the town, holding my Compostelle in its cylindrical tube, when I was approached by a tour guide leading a group of Japanese tourists. Could they, he asked politely, see my Compostelle? Of course, I said, pulling it out and unrolling it in front of me. Ah so, they said, and snap, snap, snap, snap, snap. And then, even more politely, could they see my pilgrim's passport? I unfolded it, displaying all the stops from Santona to Santiago. They were even more delighted. Thank you, thank you, thank you, they said, and we wished each other well


Tonight I leave for Bilbao on the overnight bus, a painful journey, with stops at many of the towns along the Camino del Norte. All being well, I will make the connection with my flight to Munich, and then on to Toronto and Victoria.


Saturday, 22 October 2016

Day 22. October 21, 2016. Arzua to Santiago. 40 kms

All roads lead to Santiago 


 


It was crowded on the path today, so in summer it must be unimaginable. Not so long after I walked the Camino in 2003, I can remember being shocked when the total number of pilgrims arriving at Santiago reached 100,000, 90% of them having walked the Camino Frances. How was this sustainable, I wondered at the time. A few nights ago, I saw on the Spanish TV that the total so far this year was 260,000.


It is particularly bad on the last 100 kms of the Camino Frances, this being the minimum distance to be covered on foot to receive a Compostela. A majority of the people on this last stretch are Spanish; this is probably not true of the earlier part of the Camino, since anyone travelling from foreign parts is going to walk a longer distance.


This overloading occurs on the Camino Portuguese as well, but not the Primitivo, because it's too hard. If you are going to walk the minimum number of kilometres required, then you will choose flat ones.


But there were fewer in the afternoon. Most would break this long stretch in two.


I passed a number of weary, footsore pilgrims, usually young and probably wearing the wrong boots, limping, hobbling, shuffling off to Santiago. But there were some older ones as well, who were likely on a religious pilgrimage. I saw an old fellow sitting on a bank halfway up a hill, exhausted, and a woman moving very slowly, literally pushing one foot in front of the other.


The supply of facilities has grown to meet the demand. Arzua must have twenty or more albergues, for in summer, a thousand or more pilgrims pass through each day. Ours was a large building with several dorms, and at this time of year, not busy at all. There are dozens of albergues along the stretch to Santiago as well, and these compete for clients, especially at this time of year, with colourful advertisements. One even had an electronic display triggered by a motion detector as you passed.


And there are also very many bars and cafes. Some land owners with a small piece of land at just the right spot, where the Camino enters a village after a stretch through the woods, must have moved from economic hardship to affluence after setting up a bar with a "beer garden" right on the path. Others were out of luck. Satiated pilgrims leaving one bar aren't going to stop again for the next hour or so. The ideal spot is where pilgrims are ready to stop for a break.


Some of these local people must bless the Camino; others must curse it. Imagine having a thousand people tramping through your back yard each day!


It was fairly easy terrain, with stretches beside the road, and though eucalyptus and deciduous woods, and along sunken paths through the fields, with some gentle climbs.


The bornes, the concrete marker posts displaying the shell, which, strangely, was sometimes pointing in the wrong, pre-Galician direction, a worker's mistake, I suppose, too expensive to rectify, were covered in graffiti or slogans. Some In English I remember are


God loves you

We love everybody

Tourist pilgrims, please leave albergues for pilgrims

There no hell below you and only sky above

Five Turk's was here


Strangely, or perhaps not, there were no cynical or blasphemous rejoinders, such as "No, He doesn't" or "Bugger off".


Our strategy for covering this forty-kilometre stretch into Santiago, was not to stop for a break too often or for too long. After walking for ten kilometres it is very tempting to stop for a coffee, and it's very tempting to linger. So we stopped only three times, round about the 16, 26, and 34 marks,, and arrived around at the Hospedaje La Tita at seven o'clock. This is not luxury like the Mapoula where I stayed last year. It is a small room above a bar, without facilities, but not bad for €25.


It has been a very satisfying walk, hard at times, but rewarding in its variety and spectacle. Preben has been a good companion. We would walk separately, but meet up at bars and hostels.


 

Friday, 21 October 2016

Day 21. October 20, 2016. As Seixas to Arzua. 28 kms

We're not out of the woods yet


 


Bad start this morning. We set out before dawn, into a bitterly cold wind, without benefit of Jean-Marc's kindly light. In the open we could just manage to see, but in the woods there was no light at all. We squished over squashed chestnuts, stumbled into fallen rocks, and somehow missed a sign, for we ended up at a T junction with no arrow in either direction. Resorting to the GPS on my phone, we followed directions to get to to Melide, and soon joined the Camino again.


By now it was light, and I walked across moors, along minor roads and tracks, hoping all the time to find a place open for breakfast. But it was a long, cold ten-mile walk before I found a bar open in Melide, the end of the Primitivo, for it was here that it joined the Camino Frances.


And what a different Camino it is, with vendors selling Camino trinkets, getting the jump on merchants in Santiago. People beckoned me, offering to stamp my credential, but there was bound to be a cost to it. One fellow offered a donkey stamp, but you had to pay for it to help him and his donkey get to Santiago. This was the commercial Camino.


Who were they, these unfamiliar pilgrims? They seemed a race apart. I looked down on them as highlanders looked down on lowlanders. We were Primitivos, Preben the Dane, Jean-Marc and Louis the Frenchmen, Virginie the Quebequoise, Paul from Sydney, Mary with the lovely Irish lilt, Earl from Seattle, and I. But now there were all these people we hadn't seen before, Francesians, not in throngs, but numerous enough that it was difficult to find space along the path for a private pee. On the Primitivo you could pee all day and never be disturbed.


On the Camino Frances

If you stop for a wiz,

You're bound to be caught in mid-stream.


On the Primitivo, 

If you happen to go,

You can stand all day long in a dream.


At Ribadiso, arriving at a little bridge, I looked across the water and realized that I'd been here before. It was a lovely albergue on the bank of a river where I had stayed in 2003. It had expanded somewhat, and now included a bar and restaurant. I had one of the biggest (500 cc) and certainly the coldest beer I have ever had in my life. It was Estrella Galicia, of course, poured from the tap into a glass retrieved from a freezer. Frost formed on the outside of the glass, and ice on top of the beer. Memorable!


Tonight, there are four of us in a huge dorm in one of the many albergues in Arzua. Tomorrow is the last day: 40 kms to Santiago.


Thursday, 20 October 2016

Day 20. October 19, 2016. Lugo to As Seixas. 31.5 kms.

I met him today, I was crossing the Strand,

And he stopped the whole street with a wave of his hand.


 


Two days ago, I trudged. Yesterday, I strode. Today, I plodded. It was a long, long day, through fairly flat country with little opportunity for a refreshments. Now that we were down from the mountains, I expected that villages and towns would be more common. But no, hamlet after hamlet with no bar.


As we walked through the old town this morning, the street cleaners were out, big machines, but also men and women working on nooks and crannies.


You'd better work hard at school, boy, or you'll end up sweeping the streets.


I remember them vaguely, men with brooms. And tall policemen with long arms and leather-gloved fists, standing on pedestals, directing the traffic at intersections. And somehow I avoided the threatened fate.


As I've mentioned before, there are many people working on the streets in Spain, sometimes doing jobs that don't need doing, like weeding roads. But it's providing jobs in a country with high unemployment.


After ten kilometres, I stopped at a little bar 50 metres off the road. The patron added grappa to my coffee. "It'll help you get to Santiago," he said.


But after that it was on and on through little stone Galician villages, or hamlets really. No bar, no refreshments, but I was always hopeful.


Finally, I hit a road, and popped into a bar at San Roman de Retorta, for a beer and a delicious sandwich, big enough to feed an army.


Then I followed a Roman road, and at Ferreira,crossed the little Roman bridge pictured above.


I passed an old lady hissing at a ewe and a few lambs. What was she doing? If she was trying to wean the lambs she was out of luck. Bunting away, they just weren't having it. 


 


Now, there seemed to be more and more sheep, and a little further on I came to a field just dotted wth the creatures. Nice photo, I thought. But by the side of the road, quite still, was a white furry mass. Oh, no, a dead sheep, I thought. No it was a white lab, and he was still, but alert. He was watching over those sheep. I don't think he wanted me to take a photo, and I respected that. He was not a sheepdog, but their guardian. He was looking after then.


It's a hard life for the women. I pass them them all the time, hoeing in the fields, driving tractors, herding cows along the road, or gathering chestnuts in an old shopping bag, the elderly among them wearing old woollen coats over old woollen frocks.


We are staying tonight at the public albergue at As Seixas. It's a very nice place, quite modern really, but the hospitalier is quite a harridan. Four foot six with a loud, strident voice, she screeches if we make a wrong move, such as crossing over an invisible line with our poles or boots, or committing the unforgivable sin of putting our packs on a bunk. But she's helpful as well, with the washer and dryer, showing us how they work, and even, for the first time ever, helping us put the disposable sheets on the bed. "Hold that corner," she yelled at me in Spanish. It's her albergue, and she runs a tight ship.





Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Day 19. October 18, 2016. Cadavo Baleira to Lugo. 30.5 kms


A bit crook yesterday, but now I'm right as rain

Up at sparrow's fart, and on the road again.


 


Actually, we left before dawn, unwilling to wait for breakfast at a restaurant that opened at eight o'clock. We had a long day before us. Jean-Marc led us into the night, finding the way with his headlamp. I sang a few lines of the old hymn.


Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom;

Lead thou me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home;

Lead thou me on!


After six kilometres, just as dawn was breaking on the little village of Vilabade, beside the church was a travelling trailer providing breakfast. And not a skimpy snack, either. Strong hot coffee and delicious toast for €3.00. 


There is no doubt that the Camino contributes to the Spanish economy. Certainly, on the Camino Frances, dying villages have been revived, for hundred of pilgrims pass through them every day. Here was an entrepreneur finding his niche, pilgrims setting out early and anxious for breakfast.


Just out of the village, another enterprising fellow had made good use of a pair of old cart wheels. That's Preben sitting on the bench.


 

 


One more stop, two kilometres on, at Castroverde for a second coffee in warmer surroundings, and on to Lugo, more than 20 kms without a break.


What a difference a day makes!

Twenty-four little hours


It was a glorious day, quite springlike. Even the birds seemed to think so, for they were chirping more than usual. Yesterday I trudged in gloom. Today I strode in joy.


I passed the time of day with cows and dogs, for they seemed friendlier today, and chooks.


The chook is a revered Australian bird, giving us our daily egg, and later in the week, our Sunday roast. In my time, it was common to have a few chooks in the back yard. The chook has given rise to such expressions as, for an incompetent, "He couldn't run a chook raffle" and, for someone who can't sit still, "She is running around like a chook with its head cut off"


O Chook, indeed it pleaseth me

To see thee scratch about in glee.

It's such a pleasant sight to see

A creature happy just like thee.


And when, alas, thy day is done, 

It's time about the yard to run,

Thy head behind thee in the sun

No more to cluck in chookish fun.


But even when the end is nigh

Know that thy spirit will not die,

But live with others up on high

In that great Chookhouse in the Sky.


Chestnuts were everywhere today, puffed up in their spiny shells as big as tennis balls. I wonder if one can do anything other than roast them. Chestnut soup? Chestnut salad?


But I have to admit that as the day passed into afternoon, and none of the bars was open, and I had walked more than 20 kms without a break, that my joy was modified a little. Even as we approached the large city of Lugo, where I expected to pass through satellite towns, there was no bar.


Lugo is a large city, with an large old quarter, reminiscent of Santiago, and the world's longest surviving Roman walls. We strolled around them, of course, and visited the cathedral with its mixture of architectural styles and incredibly ornate statutory, which it would take a lifetime to view and understand. One object I hadn't seen before was this rolling Juggernaut, doubtless hauled out on religious processions. How many thousands of people devoted their lives to this cathedral and every thing in it!


 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Day 18. October 17, 2016. Fonsagrada to Cadavo Baleira. 24 kms


I walk all day through thick Galician fog,

And underfoot, a primor-di-al bog

From time to time amidst th'encircling gloom

Familiar shapes appear and creatures loom.


 


What can I say? It was a short distance, but a difficult day. All morning I trudged through sludge in a thick fog, mainly in a pine forest, the footing often treacherous, with mud and leaves overlying slippery wet rock, head down, eyes on the path, wary of slipping and falling. 


At Paradavella, I left the forest and popped into a little bar for a coffee. Location is everything for a bar on the Camino. Here there was no draught beer, and no espresso coffee. A hundred yards further on in a more substantial bar there was. Too late, pilgrims had already taken their refreshment.


In the afternoon, I walked through woods of oak and birch and chestnut, around a path clinging to the hillside. And then it was up to the top of a hill and down, three or four times, each a surprisingly steep climb.


Why is it that when the road forks, the Camino always follows the path leading upwards? And why, when it seems to reach a summit, does it take a turn and go even higher?


I am staying tonight in the local albergue. This was not my best day.


I might have spoken disparagingly of public albergues the other day. This one was typical. No frills, but hot water, a kitchen and a comfortable socializing area. Maps, photos, lots of stuff on the walls, including information about upcoming lodging. Certainly, the dorm was small, with threadbare mattresses, but, as is the norm now, we were provided with a disposable sheet and pillow slip. In the French guidebook, the albergue was described as luxurieuse. It wasn't, but was as they say, correct.


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Day 17. October 16, 2016. Grandas de Salime to Fonsagrada. 25 kms

It is now she begins to sing --- at first quite low

Then loud, and at last with a jazzy madness ---

The song of her whistle screaming at curves,

Of deafening tunnels, brakes, innumerable bolts.

And always light, aerial, underneath,


 


Unable to find breakfast in town this morning,  I left before dawn, walking up a lane lit by lamps. With chestnuts crunching underfoot, and the occasional chattering of an early morning sparrow, and a whiff of woodsmoke in the air, I slowly climbed, gently at first, along stony paths, grassy slopes, leafy lanes and paved roads to the little village of Castro. And then it was a more serious climb along the highway, heading towards distant wind turbines on a hill that I knew I must cross.


Then off the road and onto a narrow path along a stone wall, only to find the top was occupied by three or four cows that eyed me warily, and weren't about to move aside to let me pass. I squeezed between a stone wall and a cow with large horns, hoping that she wouldn't  take a disliking to me.


 


Now the wind turbines were just above me. They make a unique swishing sound. Like a bull-roarer, if you know what that is, or the sound of a distant plane, fading in and out in the distance, or rather the romantic music of a train speeding through cuttings on its way to far-away places.


I cut across the road, through a sagging gate that was about to die of exhaustion, and straight up a stony path to the top of the hill, and then over a line of stones marking the border between Asturia and Galicia. No view here, just gloomy pine trees shrouded in mist, and a cold wind trying to push me back to to Asturia.
 
  

Then I reached the point where, if I were a mere automaton, I would turn around and retrace my footsteps, and then turn again, and walk back and forth until the crack of doom, for the shells would seem so to direct me. But no, I was wise to the fact that it was here that the shells change direction, and that whereas until now it was their heads that pointed to Santiago, it is now the rays that indicate the way.


Just over the border, I reached the little bar at El Acebo, a welcome resting place after the long climb, but a bar so full of paraphernalia that there was barely room to hold the pilgrims that were flocking in.


 

It may have been a false impression, but the countryside seemed more sombre now, more austere, dark trees against the black mountain, and masses of pine plantations filling the landscape. I walked carefully between unfamiliar, long, stringy black turds. Did they belong to the wolves that were supposed to inhabit the region?


For much of the afternoon the path followed the highway fairly closely, on minor roads or tracks on either side. At one stage the path was newly constructed of fine grit, wide and steam-roller flat and following the right of way of a hydro line. Clearly, this was a twenty-first century camino, built especially to draw pilgrims away from the dangerous road.


Some towns have a lot of charm, their stone buildings nestling in a hollow or stretching along a street. Not Fonsagrada. From a distance, it was an ugly line of white houses high up on a ridge ahead, a chateau d'eau a stark silhouette against the clouds.


At the top of this long climb, a large lab cross came out to greet me, putting up his head to be patted, and leaning up against me in the way that labs do, as if to prevent me from going on. Would that all Spanish dogs were like him! 


But they are not! I once made the naive suggestion, after a day's walking in Spain, that the dogs were plus gentils than in France. No, I must have encountered an unusual sample of well behaved dogs on that day. In fact, they bark at every passer by, scaring the living daylights out of you if you're lost in your thoughts. For most of them their bark is worse than their bite. A couple of days ago, one came running after me, barking, and then went for my heels --and sniffed. But there are some brutes, bred to be savage. Recently, one dived at me, fangs bared. Fortunately, he was caught short by his chain. I say again, it's not their fault. There is something particularly cruel about keeping a dog on a chain or in a cage and teaching him to be savage.


At the entrance to the town was a sign indicating the albergue. But I gave it a miss, not sure what was going on there. Instead, I'm staying at the Pension Casa Manolo.

Day 16. October 15, 2016. Berducedo to Grandas de Salime. 20 kms

                                                     Once again I see

These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines

Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door; and wreathes of smoke

Sent up, in silence, from among the trees


 


It was spitting rain as I left this morning, but the rain couldn't compete with the very strong wind, so cold, that for the first time ever, I walked in my down sweater.


I walked down the road, up a path on slabs of slate, and then along a lane with a hedge of gorse and broom, the latter as high as I have ever seen it, small trees in fact, and on to the road where in the lee of the hill it was almost eerily quiet. Oaks and poplars and mountain ash grew along one side of the road; on the other, heather was blooming in purple profusion. A large mountain loomed up on the side of the valley. This country is rather like the Lake District in England. 


I walked into the hamlet of La Mesa, where the little church  blends in perfectly with its background; it is almost camouflaged against the landscape.


 

 


I passed through the village, up the road, and around to the top of the hill and into the wind, gale force now and threatening to blow me off my feet. It was eight degrees, but Winnipeggers would have said it was minus twenty with the wind chill factor. I passed through the shadows of the wind turbines above me which seemed to give me a pat on the bum to hurry me along. What amazing machines they are, turning energetically in the wind! They are everywhere in Spain, but must be especially productive in this windy region.


I left the road, passed a little chapel, and then walked along a fence made from the slate which is the bedrock of the region. Then I looked down on the the reservoir of the Ria Navia in the the valley below, 800 metres down where the Ria Navia has been dammed. That was where I had to go.


 


Never before have I gone downhill for so far and so long. Literally, anyway. It was a three hour descent, zigzagging down the slope, then following the contours of the valley above the reservoir, and then zigzagging again down to the road. A different set of muscles began to ache.


I walked across the top of the dam and up the road on the other side, another long climb, to the town of Grandas de Salime, where we are staying in the municipal albergue, no frills, six euros, full dorm. 


It was a short distance, but a hard day: two moderate climbs and one major descent.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Day 15. October 14, 2016. Campiello to Berducedo. 27 kms

I gazed in solemn wonder at it all,

At verdant slopes, and valleys deep, and mountains tall.


 


The weather gods smiled on us today. The high variant would have been miserable, if even possible, in bad weather.


It was an easy walk along the road to Borres, our last chance for refreshment for 16 kilometres. And then it was up, gently at first, to the place where the road forked. The low road was longer, and dipped down with a huge climb at the end of the day. But it did offer a place for refreshments halfway along. The high way was more isolated and exposed, and it kept on climbing without giving up height. I took the high road, the Hospitales route.


Suddenly it looms in front of me, a mighty hill, and the road stretches up and up, gorse and heather on either side, and the occasional pine plantation. A few cows are foraging, although what they find among the heather and gorse, I don't know. Hills roll off into the distance.


Along the track are huge dumps of horse manure. I would like to take some home for my roses, but I don't have room in my pack.


I reach a summit or sorts and a huge valley opens up on my right, and beyond a mountain ridge with exposed cliff faces. The sun peers out of the clouds and casts long shadows across my path. A solitary cow is unaware of the magnificence of its surroundings. 


 


The path levels off and leads to the first of the medieval pilgrims' hospitals which gave this route its name. And then it is up again, a rocky track, then grass, to another high point. By now, the path is fully exposed, and I am walking into a chilly wind, too cold to stop and eat lunch. I pass the second hospital, more of the walls remaining. A pilgrim is hunched in a little hut, drinking some soup. 


I am now walking through high moorlands, blasted by the strong winds. The heather and gorse are quite stunted with only the occasional purple and yellow flowers. 


The autumnal crocus appears on the path, often growing in the mud away from competition with other flowers. What a game little flower it is, the crocus! It pokes its head up into the cold world, and tries to stand up straight against the wind. I pass the third hospital, just rubble this time, overgrown with brambles.


By now, the wind is chilling me to the bone and I look forward to getting off the ridge. I see a road snaking around below, and as the path descends I think I am off the mountain at last. But no, the path cuts across the road, and climbs again, up and up to reach the highest part of the trail at 1550 metres. 


 

 


Then it drops down quite suddenly, at first a scree slope, agonizing for people with knee problems, across a road that is looping below, and then to down to the village of Montefurada where perhaps I will enjoy a coffee or a beer. But no, the path skirts behind some houses and climbs again and then drops, finally rejoining the highway at Lago, where the bar was open. Only a few kilometres from here to Berducedo.


It was a magnificent day. Very hard climbing, and at times, cold enough that I was worried about hypothermia. Wide open spaces with no evidence of modern man. Not a place to get lost. In fact, I learned later that there are 300 wolves in these moumtains, and they are hungry enough to attack at night.