Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Camino Primitivo. Day 1. September 30, 2016. Santona to Guemes. 24 kms

I do like to be beside the seaside,
I do like to be beside the sea

Last night I stayed at La Bilbaina, a private albergue at Santona, housed in a tall old building on the central plaza, and run by a tall, old man who accosted me in the square and led me into a run-down, but adequate albergue, with working amenities including wifi.

It was a typical Spanish evening on the plaza: young schoolgirls strolling arm in arm, well dressed older couples taking a turn about the square, dogs of all shapes and sizes trotting after their masters, and kids chasing each other around a central rotunda. But was there, I wondered as I sipped my Rioja and watched the passing parade, a little less vitality than I've seen before? Even in this beach town, was massive unemployment having its effect?

I had originally intended to stay at Laredo with the kindly nuns, but remembering the long day to follow, 29 kms made even longer by the delay waiting for the little ferry which makes its first crossing at nine oclock, I decided to stay on the other side of the river at Santona, and make an early start the next morning.

It is a tiring business getting to the beginning of a walk: leaving home at four o'clock with little sleep the night before, and then taking three flights and two bus tides with long waits in between.

On the long flight to Europe I walked up and down the aisles, envying my fellow passengers, rugged up, seats back, sound asleep, but not me. I can nod off only towards the end of a 24-hour travelling day from sheer exhaustion. 

 I believe that service on Air Canada is looking up. Many years ago, drinks were dispensed liberally, but then they almost dried up. Three years back, when I asked for my post prandial scotch, I was told that those days were long gone, but on my last couple of European flights, it was available with my coffee, but certainly not offered. This time, after the meal, I was offered a choice of drinks, and I had to ask for the coffee. 

I was woken this morn by a loud thump that I thought for a moment was 'Er Upstairs moving her furniture around, but no, I was in Spain and fellow pilgrims were rising and shining. I was far from shining, but I set out before dawn, through the outskirts of town, and along the stone walls of a massive prison overlooked by a housing development. Some view! Then I walked through the little costal town of Berria, and up and over a mighty headland where last year I had come upon an Israeli violinist serenading the sky. 

I should explain that I have walked this stretch of the Camino before, the Camino del Norte,  This time I am walking the Primitivo, which leaves the Camino del Norte about 12 days before Santiago. It is a short cut over the mountains, and to be fit for this, I am walking the stages that lead up to the Primitivo, reculer pour mieux sauter, as it were. 

This headland, the Punto del Brusco, is perhaps 300 feet high, a difficult climb through sand and then rocky limestone, and a treacherous descent down a path of clay with brambles and gorse on either side, just waiting for me to slip and fall. In some ways it's the most difficult hour on the Camino del Norte.

Then it was a pleasant stretch along the beach to Noja, where I enjoyed my coffee. Across the bay, the sun was up behind the mist, the tide was out, and long skeletons of black rocks protruded out of the sand like ancient wrecks. 


Then I headed inland. Just out of town, I came upon a plastic playground with blue and yellow, pneumatic teeter-totters and other unidentifiable super-safe play structures, a far cry from the rusty swings and slides and monkey bars that I remember. We may not have realized it at the time but we learnt a lot about physics as we hung and swung and slid: friction, gravity and Newton's laws. And what better lesson on the Class 2 lever than sliding up and down the thick jarrah board of the seesaw, splinters in our bum,  as we tried to balance each other. 

It was up and down along pleasant rural roads through little towns. I passed the Albergue de Meruelo where I had stayed last year, an establishment which follows foolish business principles. To be fair, it may be under new management, but if you stay for breakfast, make sure you find out beforehand whether you have to make a "donation" to get a second cup of coffee. (If you really want to know the full story you can read last year's posts for October 25 and 27.)

Just before Guemes I made a little detour to visit an eglise Romane. It was locked of course, but as the Michellin Guide would say, elle mérite le détour.


I like to think that these early churches symbolise a simpler Christianity before ecclesiastical Gothic and Garish Baroque.

Tonight I am staying at Albergue de Guemes, reputed to be the finest on the Camino del Norte.


  1. You write so well Charles. I look forward to following your journey. Bien fait. Denis