Saffron Walden

Our Lady of Compassion

Camino - The Way of St James 2014

Andy's Blog


Regular reports, as captured on Andy's iPad, and sent home on a daily bases - wifi allowing

Camino

Intro: On 23rd April 2014, Andy Taylor, Tony Grossfield, Lawrence Bonavia and Tim Chase began a walking pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago in Spain, a distance of 787.1 km. They did this in memory of friends, relations and members of the parish who are no longer with us. They are raising funds on behalf of EACH (East Anglia’s Children's Hospices) and would appreciate any promises of donations by e-mail, direct to Andy, Tony or Tim or on the list in the Church Porch.

Chapter 1: We have just arrived at Villamayor, a 24km hike from Cirauqui where we stayed last night. The first part of today's walk was through rough scrub land, climbing and descending up and down gullies and then a long flat stretch by the side of a motorway. The least scenic stretch of our pilgrimage so far. The day was overcast and I found the route a slog. My mood improved when we got to Estella an attractive medieval town. We stopped to eat the cheese and bread we had bought the night before. Then the sun came out. Hurrah. The climb to Villamayor went past a wine museum complete with wine fountain but we thought we had better not stop or we might still be there. Another steep climb and we reached Villamayor and our hostel. We are sharing a room with four others. Bags the top bunk. The building is modern and the showers hot and clean. Fresh sheets on the beds and breakfast thrown in all for 15 euros a night. The small village at the top of a tall hill - I know, I climbed it - has fabulous views of the surrounding countryside. Lots of large rolling fields in the river valley with the mountains peering down from the distance. Very verdant after the recent rain. Anyway off to investigate the local restaurant. Lots of love to you all

Camino

Chapter 2: Just completed 28km walk from Cizur Menur to Cirauqui including a climb of about 300 metres or about 1,000 ft. Moving away from the mountains to rolling fields of barley and wheat in broad river valleys bordered by the still heavily wooded hills. Weather taken a turn for the better with lots of Spring sunshine. The path was fringed with aged olive trees already heavy with this year's fruit. Wild thyme flowering along our route was heavy with scent. The medieval town of Puente la Reina with its narrow streets and baroque churches, dark and ornate provided a fascinating counterpoint to the natural beauty of the countryside. We also spied our first vineyards, although we have tasted their fruits. A short note tonight as we have another 24km to walk tomorrow with another stiff climb and we need our sleep. Our pilgrims meal tonight was shared with a husband and wife from Bayern in Germany, a Dutch man and a woman from Australia, such is the Camino.

Camino

Chapter 3: Every day on the Camino seems to prompt a different emotion. Today it was the physical joy of walking through some magnificent countryside on a perfect May day. Clear blue skies and just enough of a cooling breeze to make walking comfortable in the bright sunshine. We have moved away from the mountains into rolling hillsides onto which the Rioja vines cling in their rich red soil. Large verdant fields of wheat and barley intersperse with vineyards. A slash of yellow from a field of rape provided a vivid contrast to the overwhelming greens and reds of the landscape We left Vantosa, heading west, just as the first light of the sun was appearing above the hills. To the north the sun's rays captured the snowfields on the distant mountains. The overwhelming feeling was one of how great it was to be alive. Even the rucksacks felt lighter prompting me to worry that I might have left something behind.

We had breakfast at Najara, capital of the kingdom of Navarre in the 12th century. The old part of the city was bedecked with colourful banners in preparation for a medieval festival. By the river, a flamenco singer was practising in preparation for the festival. It was a shame we couldn't stay. One of the few disappointments of the Camino is that we pass by so many interesting historic towns and buildings but have so little time to stop. The pilgrimage would otherwise take months rather than weeks. But maybe we can come back and visit some of the more interesting places. So on we go. The pilgrim path of compacted red clay and stone is about three metres wide cutting a swathe through the undulating landscape. Next stop is Azofra a small village with a population of just 500. We stop at a friendly cafe where we have a second breakfast of tortillas. (I should point out that Rosemary is adamant that I am totally unsuited play the role of Frodo in our reduced fellowship of two. Every morning as we came to leave the Albergue, she claims I would be shouting "where's the bloody ring. I put it here last night. Somebody must have moved it." For the word ring substitute car keys, phone, wallet or credit card. Mrs Taylor says I have previous. Damned though, if I am going to play that servile Sam Gamgee. I would rather be an Orc" " Who says you're not," snorts conscience.

On we go. We have 31km before we reach Santo Domingo de Calzada. Feet start to ache as the hard packed ground takes its toll. Packs start to feel heavier. We rise the brow of one more hill and there it is.

We are staying in a convent in a single room with its own shower and bathroom and proper beds. No shared dormitory for us tonight. We have travelled 215km in eight days of walking. We still have 574km to go but have managed to claw back one of the three days lost during our enforced stay in Zubiri. Tony should have the stitches out tomorrow after which we have only a short 23km trek to Belorado. We are feeling pretty good.

Camino

Chapter 4: There has been 24 hour delay in sending the story of our tenth stage of the Camino. Before you read it I can assure you we have both had a great 11th stage (of which more later) which is great after the travails of the previous 24 hours.

Just when everything appears to be going swimmingly the Camino can throw you another challenge. This time all turned out well although this was far from clear at the time. After a magnificent day's walking we were enjoying our dinner in the open air of a warm summer evening in Santo Domingo. We had just finished our main and I was joking with my brother on the telephone when I noticed Tony slumping alarmingly to one side in his chair. He appeared to pass out and seemed very confused and then was violently sick. It seemed he had become badly dehydrated during our walk, although he had drunk a large part of the water he was carrying and we had stopped for other drinks along the way. The nature of his collapse only became clear several hours after we were taken by ambulance to Logrono hospital passing most the track we had walked in the previous two days. Several hours of tests revealed no problems with the heart but potassium levels were very low and he was put on a drip. It was more than 12 hours later that he was allowed to leave the hospital. I slept in a chair beside his bed. It seems I'm destined to be Sam Gamgee after all. The care was excellent but occasionally frustrating as I speak no Spanish and Tony very little. Two of the staff however had enough English to convey the information we needed. Tony has been cleared to complete the Camino but will not walk today but will take a taxi to Belorado where we are booked into a hostel. I will walk the 23km tenth stage on my meeting up with Tony tonight before we resume the rest of the walk together.

Since writing the above I have completed the stage to Belorado. The previous evening's events meant that I did not leave Santo Domingo until 12.30am. Today I was missing my walking buddy and my heart was not quite in it. The sun was much hotter than the day before. There was little cooling breeze. The hard packed clay and pebble path took its toll on my feet.The landscape also was not quite as attractive as before. The vineyards have been replaced by large prairie style fields (of grain crops and the hills above are more arid and dusty. The saving grace was the attractive tiny villages through which the broad pilgrim path winds. Belorado is a little gem and athe hostel has provided us with a private room with two proper beds. Tony has come up trumps again. We are both looking forward to him rejoining the Camino tomorrow which is another gruelling 30km day with some big climbs along the way. The scenery, however, promises to better and there should be more shade. A dinner of paella followed by grilled pork and fried potatoes, with a glass of vino has mellowed my mood. So buen Camino everyone and let's see what tomorrow brings. I FEEL GOOD! As the late James Brown sang. Cue the brass section.

Chapter 5: At this point, I should say that I have considered introducing a third voice, that of an internal editor in addition to the narrator and his conscience. I imagine this new character groaning, slumped over a table in a darkened room, with a damp towel over his head.

But I shall continue with this diversion. Alan Plater in his Beiderbecke trilogy (is that another muffled groan offstage) introduced the character Trevor Chaplin a secondary school woodwork teacher. Trevor a gentle, generous, warm hearted Yorkshire philosopher was a simple soul who was also a jazz freak. He divided the human race into those who heard the music (of life) and those who didn't.

Well today I felt the music. Body and spirit and landscape in harmony. So again I say: I FEEL GOOD. The fact that Tony was fit again to accompany me on the Camino simply added to the melody of the day.

The previous day I had felt overwhelmed by the heat and dust and the unchanging variety of the landscape. Today's 28km trek from Belorado to Ages involved several steep climbs through attractive woodland. Wild flowers abounded and the cicadas were in fine voice as were the cuckoos.

The merry chatter of the pilgrims, of every nationality, added to the music of the day. Tony has recovered after his overnight stay in hospital. He is making sure that he is drinking and eating enough. Which reminds me that dinner will be served in half an hour. Hit those horns. I FEEL GOOD.

I continue to delight in our early morning walks which have become our custom on the Camino. We leave at first light. For the last nine days we have had no rain, bar 20 minutes when we have had to wear our ponchos. For most of that time we have been bathed in Spring sunshine with temperatures rising to 24C by the afternoon when it can get too hot and dusty for pleasant walking. For that reason we try to reach our night's lodging by early afternoon. The early mornings are the best for pilgrims. The air is clear and cool and the light soft and dappled in the shade.

Today was just such a morning. As we left Ages I saw a stork flying lugubriously towards the town a large twig in its beak. I don't know whether it was female or a male building a nest to attract a mate. Echoes of the large house at Pemberley? The nests in fact are quite spectacular, like a large rambling thatched house that needs a lot of work on it. In previous days we have seen several tall redundant brick built factory chimneys which have a large stork's nest perched on the summit.Well it's either a nest or a very large and long chimney sweep's brush protruding from the top. But then there was a stork sitting on it.

Camino

I wonder why I haven't told you of this before. Or several of the other sights that might have interested you.

"If I might interject, sir," said the firm but deferential voice of my internal editor. "If perhaps you had spent less time externalising your feelings and perhaps a little more on narrative, you might have remembered to include these events in your diary" I imagine this said in the voice of Jeeves (played by the excellent Stephen Fry) to a flabby minded Bertie Wooster.

Anyway, there was this stork and it did remind me of other sights I have forgotten about. "Just so, sir" said Jeeves.

One of the most spectacular visions of the Camino were the gryphon vultures, seen on the first day of our pilgrimage, circling high above the Col de Lepoeder at almost 1500 metres. They have a wing span of about 2 metres (six to eight feet). I was told that pilgrim had fallen and the body picked clean by the vultures before it was found.But then I expect stories like these have been told by pilgrims for hundreds of years.

The Camino has been walked for about 1000 years. At Navarette we came across the ruins of the Hospital San Juan de Acre built in 1185 to service the needs of pilgrims travelling to Santiago. That's a lot of blisters. The sighting of the ruins are another memory that had been tucked away.

Then there were the two deer scampering early one morning across the brick red earth between the Rioja vines. Yesterday it was a robin that brazenly stood its ground singing (no doubt epithets) at the pilgrims passing on their way fro, Belorado to Ages.

Today's walk was about 22km to Burgos. The first and best part was the early morning trek to Atapuerca where some of the earliest stone tools carved by man in Western Europe have been found. We passed several large raised stones which we presumed were part of the world heritage sight.

After Atapuerca there was one more stiff climb before the gentle descent to Burgos. The centre of the old town around cathedral is beautiful but the path into the city is less pleasant passing through industrial sites and a large airfield. The medieval centre of the city, however, is worth the trek. A lunch of tapas and local beer. Time to go and investigate the sights. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 6 Been without wifi for24 hours so this sent a day late .......now on our way to Castrojeriz

Another early morning start. It was just before 7am when we left Burgos to travel the 21 km to Hornillos de Camino. Our route took us through the old town, past the magnificent Burgos Cathedral, through the narrow streets past the old buildings (17th century?), several stories tall, with traditional Jacobean windows. This was so much more pleasant than our entry to the City yesterday.

At the end of one passage I was delighted to spy a stork, not 30 metres away, rearranging the twigs in her nest. She even turned her long face towards the camera for sufficient time to permit a photograph. Clearly a star in the making. Whose her agent?

As we turned towards the open country, my thoughts began to wander (again).Should I be concerned by the emergence of several voices in my head, such as my conscience and internal editor, during the course of writing this diary. No, I thought. This is ok. I shall become concerned until I start worrying about the threat of alien abductions or the possibility that secret CIA cameras may be watching every step of the way to Santiago. Although the latter maybe not so far-fetched.

"If I might interject, sir," said my internal editor in his Jeeves voice. "I do believe sir is starting to ramble and it may be best at this juncture if we could return to the narrative."

Right. Good point. So this might be an opportunity to tell you a little more about Burgos and Castilla y Leon the region we are walking through. We left Rioja for Castilla several days ago. It (says my guide book) is the largest autonomous region of Spain, eleven times the size of the region of Madrid but with less than half it's population. It contains the Meseta plateau which lies between 1000 and 3000 metres, representing a third of the Iberian peninsula, and a vast grain producing area.

Burgos one the few large cities has a population of 175,000. Its old town, as this diary has already noted, is described as "a veritable architectural jewel"with the 13th century Gothic cathedral one of the finest in Spain.

The city has two other distinctions. Firstly it was home to Count Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid, the 11th century war load, born in Burgos in 1040, who recovered the city of Valencia from the Moors. The Camino path passes the site of his house in Burgos.

Burgos was also the home of Franco's government in 1938. The city, according to the guide book, has struggled to cast off its austere religious and political image. This diarist can pass no judgement, but must continue with his Camino.

The first part of today's walk took us through some more delightful countryside before a steep climb took us into Meseta country, of which more later. The walk into Hornillos was hot and dusty. The red ochre path of the Rioja country is now a greyish white, which I assume to be chalk, judging by the several small independent cement works we have passed in the last couple of days. But this is Catherine's domain. Can you elaborate?

At this point, I would like to thank all of you who have sent emails or commented on Facebook. It gives me such a lift to open my IPad after a long hot walk to find messages of support, news and jests and japes. It's also great to hear your news. Now I must go and find where those CIA cameras are in our hostel. Lots of love and Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 7: Stage 14 Hornillos to Castrojeriz. But even before we started the curse of the Camino struck another blow. Mr Taylor at about 4am came down with a sharp attack of D and V. The roles were reversed this time with Tony looking after me. With the help of masses of water (you need it with temperatures up in the mid to late 20sC) containing dyoralite and bananas and lots of rest stops (difficult when there is no shade on the high plateau) we still managed the 20km to Castrojeriz in five hours. We have a nice cool two bed room with en suite shower and toilet. I have slept all afternoon but drinking lots of water which seems to be staying where it should. Tony is getting me a couple of yoghurts and more bananas for my evening meal. If that also stays where it should, the plan is to have breakfast and take stock again. It is another short stage tomorrow so we hope that with another good night's sleep I should be fit to walk. It seems to a 24 hour illness and I am feeling lots better already. If we have wifi I will send another bulletin tomorrow. If not I will text Rosemary and my brother Alastair to let you know how we fared. Lots of love.

This is high country farming. The high Meseta plateau, the region across which we are now trekking, accounts for 40 per cent of Spain's landmass and has a average height of 650 metres. The rock that I though might be chalk is heavily weathered limestone. Looking back after a steep climb out of Castrojeriz, where we stayed last night, revealed a broad flat river valley carved through the plateau. The sides of the escarpment up which we toiled had deep ravines down which water has poured during heavy rain. But we have had no rain for almost a fortnight and the days are now blazing hot after about 11am. This part of the Meseta is a massive grain growing region. Wheat on the better soil, barley and oats on the poorer. Some the grain is looking a little parched and farmers today were irrigating the fields as we trudged past. Trees are few and behind and there is little shade for the pilgrim. You are warned to carry plenty of water.

Village life in the area has declined as farming has become more mechanised. Populations of several thousand have fallen to several hundred in some places. The population of Boadilla del Camino where we stopped for lunch has fallen from more than 2000 to less than 200.Few young remain in the large stone houses that fringe the Main Street. The houses are solidly built from irregular stone blocks with a thick mortar between the blocks. They are two or three stories tall and their construction points to better days as does the large 16th century parish church which dominates the skyline. But where homes have been abandoned the decay can be seen between the gaps in the heavy wooden shutters. The Camino's increasing popularity, and trade, offers a lifeline to villages which would otherwise be suffering even greater hardship, says our guide book.

We are staying at Fromista which appears slightly more affluent than the surrounding villages. The beautifully shaded, at least to this pilgrim, Canal de Castilla passes by the town. Built in the 18th and 19th century it was designed to transport grain to Spain's norther harbours. Modern transport has made it obsolete but it appears to be well maintained and is a beautiful sight. According to our guide book, Fromista is derived from the Latin word for cereal frumentum dating back to when the region "provided copious supplies of wheat to the burgeoning Roman Empire. For those who care my health has improved. Food has been taken and stayed where it should. "Oh really. Was that necessary?" I had thought to escape my internal editor for this latest issue. So, duly chastised, I had better sign off. And Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 8: An excellent day's walking on several levels. At least I thought so, but you must make up your own minds. The weather, for once was overcast. The temperature several degrees cooler which made walking less sweaty and tiring. Leaving Fromista, we found ourselves one of the sections of the old Roman road over which the medieval Camino trail passes. Dead straight and wide the road celebrates. the skill of the Roman engineers. The Romans first came into contact with those pesky Celts, who then inhabited the Meseta during the a Second Punic War 218-202BC (guess whose been hitting the Google button) when Central Spain provided troops for Hannibal, Rome's enemy from Carthage. The Celtiberians however were not finally defeated until 133BC. The major expansion of trade and road building taking place during the rein of Augustus. The region remained under Rome's influence until the 5th century AD when it was seized by the pesky Visigoths.

From the Roman road the pilgrim's path took a pretty riverside path along the Rio Ucieza where a chorus of mocking frogs could be heard (cue classicists, answers by return email). From there we walked into Villalcazar de Sirga home to a magnificent 13th century Templar church, Santa Maria la Virgen Blanca which boasts a splendid panel behind the altar depicting the life of St James whose bones are said to have been laid to rest in Santiago and in whose honour pilgrims have made the trek for almost one thousand years.

But what of my inner pilgrim of which we have, mercifully, heard nothing for several days. For those of you with a weak stomach, and I do sympathise after my own experience of the last few days, I suggest you keep a finger poised over the delete button.

My latest ponderings have led me to consider the course of my life (I know, it is all about me, but it is my diary).

I do consider myself to have been blessed. I had loving and supportive parents who cared and nourished me, always encouraging. I should have done more to thank them. It's too late to say thank you to my father but I hope my mother reads this. I then found a wonderful, kind, warm, generous and clever woman who (unbelievably) agreed to marry me and we created our own loving family. In my profession was fortunate to have a natural aptitude. I am not a fine writer but a journeyman. I would like to say these skills were forged through hard work, but they were God given. As a result I have had a deeply satisfying career that has paid well. I have always known love, never violence. I have never had to beg or steal or push to the front of a bread queue past weaker souls. I was born in Sheffield in prosperous England and not Rwanda. So what should I conclude from all of this. Firstly do not be too hasty to criticise the actions and attitudes of those who have not had all of my benefits. Secondly, given such inequality, how can I believe in a fair and just God. I too can share the doubts of atheists and agnostics.

Then if there is God, what is my purpose.The parables suggest that those who have been given more, should give more. But how much? Surely, it is natural to want to keep enough to secure your own family and to help your children.

So where does all of that leave me. A wise priest, drawing on Rabbinical teachings, recently told me: "You are not expected to succeed in the task but neither are you expected to give up the task." But surely that is just a cop put unless the emphasis is really about not giving up on the task. It is with these puzzling thoughts that I finally entered Carrion de Los Condes, our stopping point for today.

And what does my internal editor make of it all. "The sentiment are no doubt admirable if something of a cliche. The thought process however is very muddled. But that may be the nature of the problem. I think it was the same wise priest who recently reminded you that what Descartes actually said was 'I doubt, therefore I think, there I am' . I think in your case, a little more doubting and a little less thinking, may be in order." Descartes, indeed! And you say I'm pretentious. "I am only an extension of yourself," sighs my internal editor. Enough said. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 9: Just walked 30km and calf muscle in my left leg feeling tight. So, you lucky things, just a short diary item today as I want to lie down and rest. For a large section of today's route we again walked on a Roman road, still in pretty good shape after almost 2000 years. What is more remarkable, says our guide book, is the route passes over bogland devoid of any stone for its construction. It is estimated that 100,000 tons of rock had to be imported by the Romans just to raise the road above the level of the flood plain. We had to take cheese, ham and bread with us as there were no villages for 17km after leaving our hostel. We had a picnic alongside the road just as Roman travellers might have done. Roman legions could march 30km 40km a day carrying a lot heavier kit. Puts our efforts into perspective. We are now as far south as we are going to get. We may have already started heading north west to Santiago. The landscape too appears to be softening a little. Today the sky was again cloudless but the temperature, at least in the morning, was slightly lower than recently. Even so we were glad finally to arrive at Moratinos where we are stopping tonight. It is a tiny village with a population of less than 50, excluding pilgrims. So I expect it will be bouncing tonight. Tony has just made a complete exploration and reported two old boys and a dog. Early night then. We now have less than 400km to walk and will pass the halfway point early tomorrow. Lots of love and Buen Camino.

Chapter 10: Thanks for all the supportive emails. We are going well. Calf strain responding to stretching and Camino tummy a distant memory. A shorter walk today, about 23km and pretty flat, will write the dIary when we arrive but just thought I'd say thanks for your all your kind words and encouragement. We have also decided to raise money for a charity. I will also give details for those of you who might be interested. Lots of love Andy.

This may be a longer diary item than normal as I appear to have a number of points I want to make. So put the kettle on, or pour yourself a large one.

 

1) Milestones. We are now well past the halfway point having travelled just over 428km 266 miles in 17 walking days, averaging about 25km (just over 15 miles) a day. Our walking speed has been fairly consistent at just over 4km an hour. We only have another 361km or 224 miles to go. Easy peasy. We have moved from mountains to the Meseta, the high plateau which we will not clear for another few days. After which it becomes more mountainous again. After Tony's earlier setbacks we have been relatively trouble free. Camino tummy and the odd tight calf muscle are par for the course on this sort of journey. The most common problems among the other pilgrims are blisters and leg pains, particularly sore knees. We don't all walk at 4km an hour, some walk faster but some are limping their way to Santiago. By comparison we have escaped unscathed. Let's keep it that way.

Camino

2) Today's journey 23.7km from Moratinos to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos was another delight. I think I wrote yesterday that the landscape had softened. It is slightly more rolling. There are more trees and meadow flowers once again line the route. We stopped in a field of wild lavender and lemon thyme under the shade of a grove of trees. There we had a picnic of local cheese, Serrano ham and freshly baked bread, idyllic. The weather was again glorious. Not a cloud in the sky, but the temperature has dropped a couple of degrees, making walking more pleasant. We pass through Sahagun once "the seat of great ecclesiastical power" says our guide book. The emperor Charlemagne was also linked to the town. It also does a nice line in cafés serving great coffee and apple tarts.

3) Hobbits. The biggest response I receive to my many diary and Facebook items is when I make a reference to hobbits. Yesterday 's photo of hobbit type homes, typical of this area, burrowing their way into a nearby bank prompted a number of responses. As a diarist I feel rather like a medieval playwright who is repeatedly advised by the theatre manager to stick in a couple of cod piece jokes to liven up a particularly dull piece of drama. In my case it's stick something hobbity in (if that's a proper adjective). I might have been wiser to get in touch with my inner hobbit rather than my inner pilgrim. Which brings me rather neatly to my next point.

4) Our Camino charity. This venture is not only about seeking my inner pilgrim and honing my already well toned calf muscles. We are also seeking to raise money for East Anglia's Children's Hospices which supports families and provides care for children with life threatening conditions in Essex, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. It has particular resonance for some of my colleagues in Saffron Walden who have had close contact with families with children suffering from cancer. It also has a resonance with our own family. So if you want to donate go to www.justgiving.com and type Andrew-Taylor49 in the box marked search press enter and follow the instructions.

Anyway that's all for today.

 

Chapter 11: We are still heading west on the Meseta but the landscape has changed again. To the north, since yesterday, the mountains have reappeared. In the bright morning light, they can be seen clearly a long jagged ridge with snow still lying in the hollows and ravines where the sun doesn't reach. The guide book tells me they are the Cordillera Cantabrica an extension of the Pyrenees. Beyond them are the Picos de Europa with the highest peak of 2,648 metres (8,687 ft). The piece of the Meseta across which we are walking is 900 metres above sea level. Spain has the second highest average height, about 650 metres, of any European nation. Topped only by Switzerland.

As we walk we can see high peaks in front of us, as well as to the north. The range appears to form a semi circle to the right and ahead of us. It reminds us that we will have to start climbing again in a few days.

Camino

Our route today, 24.5km from Calzadilla de los Hermanillos to Mansilla de las Mulas, across the high plateau, is relatively flat. A large section was along the Calzada Romana described as one of the most perfect stretches of Roman road remaining in Spain. The original camber of the road is clearly visible and the surface, in patches appears, unchanged. The road was used, 2,000 years ago, by the Divine Emperor Augustus on his way to beat up the Cantabrians. I take the Pythonesque view of history and do not believe that Augustus was a God at all, but just another very naughty boy. Our guide book tells that the Roman road was also used by Charlamagne and other Christian and Muslim leaders in the battle for Spain. No doubt all very naughty boys.

The day was another cracker. A strong cooling breeze from the north again made walking pleasant in the sun. My mood was once again reflective perhaps a product of a story told by Camino pilgrim as we shared a meal last night.

Melinda a young English woman, who part owned a backpackers hostel close to the Kruger national park in South Africa, told of a shelter for children run by poor African mothers. The children included two very young sisters who had been trafficked across the border for sexual purposes. They had been rescued but not before the elder girl had been abused. There was also a boy at the shelter who had been been abandoned by his own parents because he was a dwarf.

I could dwell on the evil of people who could treat children in such a cruel way. But what of the poor African mothers who despite struggling themselves had sufficient love and time to spare to support a and care for others. And my new friend and her black Zimbabwean partner who gave up their time to decorate the shelter. Melinda's story was one of great darkness but also of light.

It was with these thoughts that I and my inner pilgrim travelled along the old Roman road. Buen Camino my friends.

Camino

Chapter 12: Today we travelled just over 22km, almost 14 miles for the Luddites, from Leon to Villar de Mazarife. But before we leave the historic provincial capital, our favourite of the three large cities we have visited (the others being Pamplona and Burgos) I should write something of the history and beauty of Leon. The Roman legion the Sixth Victrix established the first settlement here during the 29-19BC campaign by Augustus against the Cantabrians (who gave their name to the snow capped mountain range, we can see to the north and west). A more permanent base was built in AD74 by the Seventh Legion. The name Leon derives from legion. It later became the capital of the kingdoms of Asturias and Leon. It was conquered and reconquered by Visigoths, Moors and Christian forces. The first ever democratic parliament, under Alfonso IX, was held in the city in 1188. Some of the old medieval walls, built on the former Roman fortifications, still stand. The eleventh century Romanesque Royal Basilica of St Isodoro contains in its square the fountain built to commemorate Rome's Seventh legion. Roman remains and vaulting medieval architecture sit happily side by side. The 13th century gothic cathedral is also well worth a visit, just for its 125 stained glass windows. Finally as we leave the city, we pass the Plaza San Marcos but not before praising the stunning Renaissance carvings and plaster edifices that adorn the ancient monastery dedicated to St Mark. A statue of a pilgrim sits at the foot of a cross in the square resting his feet and admiring the craftsmanship.

It takes serveral km before we leave the outskirts of Leon and arrive back in rural Spain. The blue sky arches high above. The temperature, which was 6C when we left our hostel at 7am, climbs above 20C. The fields are again full of wheat, barley and oats but, as I have previously noted, there are more trees than when we entered the Meseta. Unfortunately they are not alongside the sun drenched broad road Camino track. As we arrive in Villar de Mazarife we spy three separate stork nests, complete with tenants, on top of the church bell tower. A stork condominium. That's all till tomorrow. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 13: Today we travelled 31.2km from Villar de Mazarife to Astorga. The first time we have topped the 30km mark for several days. The landscape is definitely changing as we near the end of our passage across the Meseta. The mountains, over which we will be climbing in two days, are now much closer. Maize has taken the place of wheat in the fields and we see our first vineyards for well over a week. We also hit our first real hills climbing a total of 250 metres (800 ft) over the length of the route. The view of Astorga framed by the mountains behind is magnificent as we crest the last hill. The last part of the route was through woodland although the path, as ever, did not get much shade. Wild thyme and purple flowering lavender along with a proliferation of other meadow flowers once again lined the pilgrims' road. A bird of prey hovered above the tall grass seeking its lunch, hope he's not expecting pilgrim.

But before we reached this section, we had to cross the 13th century Puente de Orbigo, one of the longest and best preserved medieval bridges in Spain. It was built on the site of a former Roman bridge and is one of the famous landmarks of the Camino.

The story goes, that a famous jousting tournament took place here in 1434 after a 'noble knight' Don Suero de Quinones was scorned by a beautiful lady. To get over it, he challenged all comers to a tournament. Knights from all over Europe took up the challenge and, according to our guidebook, Don Suero successfully defended the bridge for a month until 300 lances had been broken. "Together with his trusted comrades, he then proceeded to Santiago to offer thanks for his freedom from the bonds of love and for his honour now restored," it says.

It seems to me, that, if you've been dumped by your girlfriend, a few pints with your mates on a Friday night, might be an easier way of coping with rejection.

Less romantically, this spot also witnessed the slaughter of the Swabians by the Visigoths in 452AD and a confrontation between Christian forces under Alfonso III and the Moors. The book doesn't say who won.

The sun meanwhile continues to shine without a cloud in the sky. Here in Astorga, we have showered and rested and will shortly go and find somewhere to eat. You remain in our thoughts and prayers. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 14: Today we travelled 31.2km from Villar de Mazarife to Astorga. The first time we have topped the 30km mark for several days. The landscape is definitely changing as we near the end of our passage across the Meseta. The mountains, over which we will be climbing in two days, are now much closer. Maize has taken the place of wheat in the fields and we see our first vineyards for well over a week. We also hit our first real hills climbing a total of 250 metres (800 ft) over the length of the route. The view of Astorga framed by the mountains behind is magnificent as we crest the last hill. The last part of the route was through woodland although the path, as ever, did not get much shade. Wild thyme and purple flowering lavender along with a proliferation of other meadow flowers once again lined the pilgrims' road. A bird of prey hovered above the tall grass seeking its lunch, hope he's not expecting pilgrim.

But before we reached this section, we had to cross the 13th century Puente de Orbigo, one of the longest and best preserved medieval bridges in Spain. It was built on the site of a former Roman bridge and is one of the famous landmarks of the Camino.

The story goes, that a famous jousting tournament took place here in 1434 after a 'noble knight' Don Suero de Quinones was scorned by a beautiful lady. To get over it, he challenged all comers to a tournament. Knights from all over Europe took up the challenge and, according to our guidebook, Don Suero successfully defended the bridge for a month until 300 lances had been broken. "Together with his trusted comrades, he then proceeded to Santiago to offer thanks for his freedom from the bonds of love and for his honour now restored," it says.

It seems to me, that, If you've been dumped by your girlfriend, a few pints with your mates on a Friday night, might be an easier way of coping with rejection.

Less romantically, this spot also witnessed the slaughter of the Swabians by the Visigoths in 452AD and a confrontation between Christian forces under Alfonso III and the Moors. The book doesn't say who won.

The sun meanwhile continues to shine without a cloud in the sky. Here in Astorga, we have showered and rested and will shortly go and find somewhere to eat. You remain in our thoughts and prayers. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 15: We are in Maragato or Maragateria country, a ancient historical region formed from a small ethnic community which was cut off from the rest of Spain with its own distinctive customs, architecture and food. There are, according to some reports, about 4000 Maragatos, with a distinctive DNA which points to some North Africa influence from the Berbers which fought with the Moors. But there may also be links to Visigoth invaders, says our guidebook. They are renowned as a travelling people selling local crafts across Spain. Maragato muleteers were used to transport Royal gold to Madrid. The local food involves a lot of stews and soups, with the soup, unusually,eaten after the meat course. Efforts are being made to preserve this distinctive local culture. We have done our best by eating a hearty lunch of fish soup, Maragato veal stew, fresh fruit and, of course local red wine.

We have travelled 21km from Astorga to Rabanal del Camino. The route involved a couple of moderate ascents through hillsides covered with broom, small conifers and holm oaks. The mountains, with their flanks still speckled with patches of snow, are much closer. Tomorrow we climb to just over 1,500 metres the highest point on the Camino. We are starting, however, at over 1,100 metres.

I ought to say a few words about Astorga before we move on. It has the appearance of a prosperous market town to which it may owe its position at the junction of several important Roman roads particularly the Calzada Romana and the Via Trajana. There was a substantial excavation of Roman ruins close to our hostel. We dined last night in the warm spring air in a piazza in the city centre on steak (half a cow each) salad, bread and a local red wine while watching Barcelona play Athletico Madrid at soccer. in a title decider, on open air television. Much cheering from the locals as Athletico clinched the championship. Mr Taylor thought he had died and gone to heaven.

Today's walk was accompanied by the usual sunshine and was, again, a delight. Gentle thoughts in the sunshine. What could be better. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 16: Today we climbed to the highest point, Cruz de Ferro, at 1,504 metres (4,934ft) that we will reach on the Camino. It was the hardest day's walking, 34km from Rabanal to Ponferrada, since the very first day of our pilgrimage when we walked 25km to Roncevalles and climbed to 1,450 metres. In fact today's climb was not as hard as the first day when we started at just 200 metres. Rabanal by comparison was already at 1,200 metres. Nonetheless 34km is a long walk. Add in the climb and we are very glad to get this stage over. Only one more big climb - in two days time - and the worst should be over. Just nine more days and 209km to go.

The mountain scenery was spectacular. All along the path and was a profusion of colour, purple, yellow, white and blue as mountain plants intermingled with the local heather.

The weather, which had been blazing hot for the previous few days, was ideal for climbing. The sky was overcast and the temperature a few degrees cooler than we had been used to. We stopped for breakfast at a small cafe and hostel in a semi abandoned village about 100 metres from the summit. Stone houses which once would have housed agricultural workers were empty and collapsing. The Camino however is bringing trade and new life back to the village and several homes, including our cafe,have recently been re-occupied. It is however only a very small beginning.

The Camino in the Middle Ages brought much more trade to these villages. Our guidebook claims that there were more than twice as many pilgrims travelling to Santiago 600 years ago, despite today's higher population and the recent revival of interest in the Camino.

At the top of Cruz de Ferra was a cross around which was piled a huge mound of stones. Pilgrims are supposed to bring a stone from their home with them on their journey. They leave the stone at the peak along with any cares they wish to leave behind. After a life time, habits and attitudes become ingrained but it would be nice to think it was possible to leave some of this baggage behind on the mountain.It may have been the sunshine breaking through, or the spectacular scenery, but my mood felt gentler on the way down.

The descent itself, however, was far from gentle. The path was steep and strewn with broken rocks and our progress was slow. Ponferrada is at just over 500 metres so we descended about 1000 metres. The route into the city was lined with vineyards and orchards. The cherries are already ripening. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 17: We continue to be lucky with the weather. For the first time in about three weeks we put on our ponchos this afternoon but it was only the lightest of showers and stopped raining after only a few minutes. By then we had travelled most of the 23.5km from Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo. The local red wine takes its name from the Bierzo region, and very tasty it is. We shall not doubt sample some more this evening.

The mountains were partially shrouded in cloud, their tops still dusted in places with snow, as we left Ponferrada. They providing a stunning back cloth to this pretty medieval town with its 12th century Templar castle which has been recently renovated and designated a national monument.

Our route took us past the castle and through the medieval town centre. Beyond we passed through a well manicured park, following the path of the river to the well kept suburbs beyond. Roses seem to be very popular here and obviously grow well. They were in full flower around the doors and in the gardens of the houses. The fields were full of vines as well as well drilled ranks of potatoes, peas, salad crops and other vegetables. The soil seems to be very fertile and well irrigated with a network of concrete troughs bordering the fields.

The weather was a mixture of sunshine and cloud. More patchy rain is forecast over the next few days which may or may not be good news with our last big climb due tomorrow.

The inner pilgrim is still being sought. ("Oh and you had been doing so well," sighed my internal editor.)

The inner pilgrim is still being sought, I repeat in a more determined tone. It is difficult, however, to define what that means. There have been no great revelations, more a feeling of gentle inner peace that steals over you occasionally, like today. It does not last, unfortunately, but it makes the journey worth it. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 18: Stage 26 (sent 12 hours later because no wifi). Today was always going to be tough. The route from Villafranca del Bierzo to O'Cebreiro is one of the longer stages at 28km and involves a steep climb of 700 metres about 2,500 ft in last section. Add in the first real rain we have seen in three weeks and we really had to work hard for our supper. It seemed that the heaviest rain conspired to arrive just as we were climbing the steepest paths. At least that's how it seemed to me. I am afraid the inner pilgrim had little opportunity to make himself felt. Today was all about physicality just putting one foot in front of another.

The views, according to our guide book are quite spectacular but it was difficult to appreciate the heavily wooded slopes of the mountains in the driving rain and low cloud. There were patches when the sun briefly and you could see see just how wonderful this region can be.

And, despite the weather we were not dispirited. We were pleased that we were able to rise to the challenge of a difficult day. Something we will appreciate more when we have had a shower and a hot meal. Several milestones have been passed during the day. We have finally left the region of Castille and entered Galicia. Different food and wines to try. More importantly we now have only seven days and less than 100 miles to go before we reach Santiago. Huzzah. My turn with the shower and then I am going to investigate the restaurant. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 19: The rain, which has been pretty continuous for the last 48 hours has failed to dent our spirits as we tick another day off on our route to Santiago. The only disappointment has been that we have been unable to see much of the spectacular mountain scenery in the driving rain and low cloud. Today we travelled just over 21km from O'Cebreiro to Tricastela, so named because it once had - you guessed it - three castles. Now it has none which seems a little careless. To get here we descended from just over 1,300 metres to just 600 metres down some steep mountain paths, precarious in the wet. The sun came out just as we arrived to reveal a pretty village nestling between hills covered in a mixture of woodland and pasture.

As I wrote yesterday, we are now in Galicia. It takes it's name from Galleaci, the Celtic people living north of the Douro river in the last millennium BC. Its climate is rainy and temperate, as if we didn't know. The westerly winds pass over the Atlantic picking up water and do not hit land for thousands of miles until they hit Galicia and dump it on a couple of pilgrims.

Animal farming appears to the basis of the local economy. At least in the mountainous area where we have been passing through. Lots of interesting barn yard smells coming through the mist and low cloud. Thick hot soups and meat stews are popular local dishes, says our guidebook. There should also be lots of seafood as we get closer to the coast.

Our wet weather gear has been fully tested, and not found wanting, in the last two days. And neither have we. Our spirits are high as we face just six more days of walking before we reach Santiago and say Buen Camino for the last time.

Camino

Chapter 20: The sun has definitely not got his hat on. He is hiding under the bed covers while we trek on in the low cloud and rain. Today's walk, just under 19km from Triacastela to Sarria, took us along delightful forest path. The water dripping off the trees in the mist and the sounds of beck and stream tumbling down the thickly forested hillsides gave it a very Celtic feel. The path climbed steeply up to Alto Riocabo at 905 metres (2,970ft). On the way, hidden under the low cloud, we passed the Benedictine monastery of Samos one of the oldest and largest in Spain. Maybe we will visit it on another day.

The descent was steep and precarious with several sections of bare rock made slippery by the wet weather. Progress was slow but no slips or falls. The path passed through a series of small villages and farms. In a field we see a herd of light dun coloured cattle with very large horns. With them was handsome but rather grumpy looking bull.

The route, as it has been since we left St Jean Pied de Port some 650 km ago, is marked by a series of scallop shells, the symbol of the pilgrim, and by yellow painted arrows. These unobtrusive signs may be fastened or painted on buildings or on the sides of roads. In cities and larger towns, concrete scallop shells may be set in the pavement to guide the pilgrim. In densely wooded areas yellow arrows have been painted on the trunks of trees.

The yellow arrows, which guide the pilgrim for the entire route of the Camino, were promoted by a parish priest, Don Elias Valina Sampedro, who died, aged 60, in 1989, and, is buried in O'Cebreiro where we stayed two nights ago.

Sarria, where we are staying tonight was a famous medieval stopping point for pilgrims and there are still lots of hostels in the old quarter of the town. We have arrived safely again and, despite the rain, we have had another interesting journey. I would not have missed any of this. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 21: Suddenly there are lots more pilgrims on the path. To gain their Compostela certificate pilgrims have to walk at least 100km to Santiago. And Sarria where stayed last night is, you guessed it, just over 100km to Santiago. Those of us who have walked a lot further, are warned not to feel smug or be critical of those doing less, or else we risk losing our inner pilgrim.

But it is hard for those who have now been on the road for almost a month not to feel just a little bit superior to the newbies with their shiny new kit and rucksacks.

Teresa wrote to tell me how the rich, in medieval times, paid someone to go on a pilgrimage for them so as they could have their sins forgiven. The modern equivalent appears to be the air conditioned bus which greets the richer pilgrims every 4 or 5 kilometres carrying their bags for them and dispensing food and cold or hot drinks, depending on the weather. It may suit people, who view the world as a series of national stereotypes, to know that this particular group was American. But then I wonder what other nationalities would have made of self confident Britons making their grand tour of Europe in the 19th century.

So we should not be too quick to sneer. The Camino sees many nationalities and individual personalities along its route, each with their own reason for being here. If you are lucky you can find your inner pilgrim in the first mile. For others it takes a little longer, just as long as you find him or her.

So what of today's walk, 22.4km from Sarria to Portomarin. For a start, for the first time in 72 hours it wasn't raining as we left our hostel. What's more the sun has thrown off the bed clothes and come out to play, albeit fitfully. Finally we could start to appreciate the scenery of this part of Spain.

The first part of our walk was another steep climb through thick woodland with some wonderful gnarled old oaks, that looked just as I imagine Ents would appear. As the path moved into the open we could see below us an undulating landscape of pasture and woodland punctuated with small villages and farmsteads reminiscent, to my eyes, of Sussex or the Kentish Weald as seen from the North Downs ridge.

The sun, after the last few days of heavy rain, further lightened our mood and, I hope, helped us concentrate on our own journey rather than those of others. Buen Camino from Portomarin.

Camino

Chapter 22: Another 25km done. Only three more days walking and 68 km to go before we reach Santiago. It was a gorgeous walk from Portomarin to Palas de Rei but I can feel my mood changing as we get closer to our destination. Thoughts of everyday tasks and cares are starting to crowd in and it is becoming harder to find the inner pilgrim. I liken it to an astronaut re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The mission is almost over and you are starting to prepare what you are going to do and say next. I will only have walked 790 km to Santiago but at times it has seemed as far away as the moon.

I hope when I have finished that I will be able to recapture the inner peace that, just occasionally, I have been able to find on the Camino. But for now I am just looking forward to being with Rosemary again. She arrives in Santiago, the day after we finish our pilgrimage. Much as I have loved the Camino, Thursday evening cannot come soon enough. I have missed my wife. I have also missed hearing from children about: How the wedding plans are going; Cat's telephone calls as she walks home from the station; Jon and Jennifer's exciting lives with the purchase of their first home and how my gorgeous grandson is faring.

I have also missed my daily phone calls to my mother. We don't say much but I have missed hearing her voice. These are the siren calls of my regular life and I am ready to answer them again.

That is not to say that today's walk was not worth the journey. The weather was perfect. For most of the time sunny but not too hot. We began, however, in low cloud climbing up a steep track through ancient woodland shrouded in the mist. I think about how Augustus' legions will have felt as they marched through the woods to fight the Galacian Celts. The Celts were described by the Romans as barbarians who spent the day fighting and the night eating and drinking and dancing to the moon. Plus ca change, then.

No dancing to the moon for us but we have been enjoying the local red wines. Anyway it was the sun who again came out to play as we left the forest behind. The path wound across an undulating ridge through woodland and pasture, punctuated as yesterday, with small villages (and I mean small, the population measured in tens rather than hundreds). Trade from the Camino supports these tiny local economies as it does on the Meseta as agriculture has become more mechanised and jobs on the land have disappeared.

Galicia unlike the Meseta is pastoral farming. As I said before, lots of interesting smells and noises coming from the farmyards. It is mostly cattle, and beautiful beasts they look too,in the fields. I only saw one small flock of sheep today. Steak for lunch. Buen Camino.

Camino

Chapter 23: One of my favourite memories from the Camino is the meeting I observed on a sunny day on the Meseta between two young men.I estimated that they were both no more than 17. One was Chinese the other of East European appearance. They were struggling to make each other understood using their limited English. The Chinese boy, when asked his name, replied something unpronounceable, before adding; "Its Chinese but you can call me Hun, it's easier."

He then asked the other boy, his name. "Stanislav," was the reply. The Chinese boy struggled to understand but was told: You can call me Stan, it's easier." Ten miles later I saw them again at a cafe, sharing a pizza chattering and laughing. Two boys from such vastly different cultures and backgrounds who couldn't pronounce each other's name had managed to become friends.

There are so many different nationalities and personalities on the Camino. There was Gustav from Holland. Always jovial, always with a cheery word for his fellow pilgrims. We conversed in a mixture of pigeon English and German. Gustav may have left various hostels at the same time as us but he always seemed to arrive at least an hour before us. He had a rapid high stepping walking action which reminded me of the cartoon Road Runner. To my delight he once said "beep beep" as he came up behind us. Those too young, or did not see Road Runner, will have to catch up with versions on You Tube.Or you could just ignore the reference.

We last saw Gustav leaving Leon where he had met his brother, a much slower walker. They were going to walk together to Santiago. I suspect they are at least a day behind us. So no I fear no more beep beep.

I have already written about Melinda, an English girl who, with her black Zimbabwean boyfriend, had given up their time to help decorate a shelter for homeless children in South Africa. Then there was a quietly spoken American professor, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who I briefly befriended before an injury to his Achilles sadly halted hugs Camino.

There was a man and his wife who had walked all the way from Belgium. They started on March 1st and should have arrived in Santiago earlier this week.

We have met lots of Australians and Germans. Wendy from Brisbane is limping her way slowly to Santiago with severe tendinitis in her left ankle. One elderly German lady told me she was "kaput" yesterday as she toiled ever so slowly up a steep hill. But she was still ready to start walking as we left our hostel this morning. Then there was the Frenchman with bowed legs, who must have been at least 80, who beamed with joy when I told him in broken French that I understood his request and helped him retrieve his water bottle from his rucksack.

Camino

I have been musing on all these different nationalities and personalities as we near the end of our Camino pilgrimage. The new friendships, such as that of Hun and Stan, that have been forged. The kindness and considerations that have been given. The Canadian who stopped to treat Tony's knee on our second day. The nurses and doctors who treated him in hospital and got him fit to resume his Camino. I have watched people daily handing over their bandages and pain killers to people suffering with blisters and strains. Everybody wishes each other Buen Camino as they pass.

Chapter 24: I contrasted these kindly experiences with the recent success of the extreme right in the European elections. Their success appears to have been based on fostering fears that people from different countries are somehow different and determined to take something away from you or undermine and abuse your culture.

Surely it is slovenly thinking, not to say dangerous, to try to classify a whole group of people according to some predisposed view of their national, cultural, ethnic or religious characteristics. It paints a cartoon view of society that encourages division and feeds hatred. But while people like Stan and Hun are making friends on the Camino, there is still hope.

We are now in O Pedrouzo. Just one more day and 20.1km (12.5 miles) until Santiago. So for the penultimate time Buen Camino.

Chapter 25: We made it after 790km and almost 500 miles. Just a short walk, 20km today, but very meaningful. You have been in our thoughts and prayers throughout our journey but especially so today.

So for all whom we love, family and friends, and those we visit, especially the sick, infirm or needy; for all whom we have loved; and, for all those who we will love, those lives still to come, may God love you, keep you safe and protect you and may you also find your peace.

Buen Camino. Andy and Tony