Camino Postcard 27: Santa Catalina de Somoza to Foncebadón

We woke up feeling capable and ready. Today, we would walk to the famous Cruz de Fierro, and then onwards to Acebo – 28 kilometres from start to finish.

Why Acebo? Tony was ahead of us and had sent a text message to say that the new albergue there was worth staying at.

As you might imagine, though, things didn’t quite work out as we had planned; Ellena wasn’t feeling great and my leg and back hurt. When we reached Foncebadón, I was given the choice of whether to continue or stop. My heart really wanted to continue, to walk through the pain and see the Cruz de Fierro and get a serious amount of kilometres under our belts. My head, however, was quite the opposite ‘Dude,’ he said to me, because yes, my head is from California, ‘come on; listen to yourself – literally; specifically, your leg. He needs a rest. And so does your back. Take it. Take it.’

Yes, my head speaks to me in Californian and bold. And a good job, too, because it made me take notice. I listened, and we stopped. And, dear reader, as you will find out tomorrow, it was just as well we did.

But let’s go back to the beginning of the day. We left Santa Catalina bright and early. Happily, a stretch of flat ground lay ahead. To get to the Cruz de Ferro, we would need to climb four hundred metres but that section of the path would not begin until we had passed Ganso, five kilometres down the road. Plenty of time to mentally and physically prepare for it.

I don’t remember much about the weather today, but I know that it was either damp or rained as my backpack is under its bright green waterproof cover in one of the photographs taken of me today. Because putting it on was such a higgledy-piggeldy operation, I only did so if I was absolutely sure that it was going to rain. Or if it had already started doing so.

Speaking of rain, did I tell you about my most awkward – and hence only – experience during the Camino of putting water proof trousers on?

Let me do so here. It was early on the first day, as I trudged along the Valcarlos route through the Pyrenees. The rain had started and was getting heavier so I decided to put the water proofs on. To do so, I stopped in the forecourt of someone’s farm house.

After making sure that no one was around, I pulled my wet proof trousers out of the backpack. At first, I tried to put them on without taking my boots off. Duh. All I managed to do there was make the inside of the water proofs dirty. So, I took each boot off and stood on one leg so that my sock didn’t get wet. The self-recrimination began. Why did I not do this earlier? It’s raining much too heavily now.

After pulling the water proof trousers on, I knelt down to lace my boots up again. I had trodden on one of them but despite that and the rain I had avoided getting my socks too wet, thank goodness. All’s well that ended well – just about.

Do you know this quotation? Let me know!

I was also relieved to be on my way because during the whole operation, I had been worried that the farmer would come out and tell me off for being on his property. Thankfully, though, he never did. Despite that, this had been an anxious and time consuming exercise. It convinced me that it shouldn’t be done again: the water proofs either had to come on at the start of the day if it was or looked like raining or not at all.

In Zubiri, I decided the latter should be the case and left them behind. My regular trousers were made for hiking. They should be able to deal with any rain.

This digression has given Ellena, Carolin and I time to walk through the countryside, past a very angry bull in the field on the opposite side of the road and an equally chilled out bull in the field on our side. It has given us time to arrive at a nice café where we threw off our backpacks and stopped for a break. The sky was still cloudy but now, thank goodness, no rain was forthcoming.

We walked through Rabanal where we saw a pilgrim with a beautiful service dog called Buddy. The buildings here, as so often in Spain, had really beautiful stonework.

Presently, we climbed a hill and came to the one street town of Foncebadón. Here, Ellena let me decide whether we should continue or stop. After I had decided on the latter, we checked in at a rustic albergue named the Monte Irago.

Our first choice of albergue at Foncebadón was a little too rustic even for us

As with one or two albergues before it, the Monte Irago’s dining room was in what would in a hotel be the reception area. There were three or four long-ish tables where the pilgrims could all sit together. I don’t recall seeing a dryer so after showering, I put my clothes out on a stone fence to dry. By now the sun had come out. It was also very breezy but there were plenty of stones lying about to put on top of the clothes. I just hoped that no opportunists would seize the moment.

There were only two down sides to the Monte Irago; one was that the bunk beds were fairly tightly packed together so moving around wasn’t as easy as it could have been. The other is that while the showers were blocked off from the dorm by a door, the door couldn’t be locked. If you stepped out of the shower to dry off, therefore, you were liable to have an unexpected and unwanted visitor. Unfortunately, the showers were not of a size to make drying yourself inside them very easy. With that said, it could be done, and if I was passing through Foncebadón again, I would definitely go back to this albergue.

Another place in Foncebadón that I would go back to is its one pizzeria – L’isola Che Non C’e: Neverland. The pizzas were absolutely mmmm! Delicious! As the pizzeria’s name suggests, the owners were big fans of Peter Pan. His imagery appeared inside:

and out:

The second star to the right

The two guys who ran the place were also very friendly. I highly recommend it to you.

We ate our pizzas just a couple of hours or so before tea time and so were still pretty full up when the hospitalera served tea at the Monte Irago. Carolin skipped the meal altogether and Ellena stayed only for a little while. I remained at table but did not try to eat too much. I did, however, have a lovely conversation with a Frenchman who, if I remember correctly, was walking the Camino in stages having started at a place called Le Puy.

Camino Postcard 26: Astorga to Santa Catalina de Somoza

Today, we were unashamedly lazy – we did not leave the Hostal Coruña until after eleven o’clock in the morning. We were very comfortable in our hotel room and did not want to leave!

Such a late departure time would not have been possible in an albergue: there, pilgrims are required to leave by 8:30 or nine o’clock: the hospitaleros have to get the beds ready for the pilgrims who will be arriving later on. At a hotel, though, the rules are different, and we were happy to obey them.

After hauling ourselves out of bed, we trotted downstairs to the little hotel café for breakfast. I nearly left without paying but the vigilant hotelier was wise to my games. She probably knew that I had form for nonsense. I once left a pub in Primrose Hill without paying for my food – the barman had to chase me outside. In Siena, I left my wallet on the seat after paying and the waiter had to chase after me to let me know.

After paying up, we headed out of Astorga. The walk today was mostly along the roadside or within a close distance of it. Snow peaked mountains dominated the horizon ahead of us and it was another hot day.

At Murias de Rechivaldo the Camino path split. The left hand path turned away from the road, while the righthand path continued to follow it. I cannot remember at all which one we took. In my journal, I have noted that it was possibly today that Ellena met another dog – friendly, of course, because she knew it’s language and was a friend to it.

I say possibly because, of course, I wrote today’s diary entry a few days later and sometimes events shift around in one’s memory.

We arrived in Santa Catalina de Somoza whenever it was that we arrived – probably in the mid-afternoon given our late departure time from Astorga and its distance from the same (10 km).

After walking down a side street or two with high walls and bushes, past a church with a by now very familiar arched top, we stopped at an albergue for a beer and to decide where to stay the night. Why not here? Well, indeed, why not; so, we did. Here was the Albergue El Caminante. It was a lovely albergue with the café and dining area and dormitories being set around a central courtyard, which had a flower filled fountain at its centre (Photo above). We decided to stay at the El Caminante mainly because we were there. I imagine it’s prices were not too different to the albergue up the road as well. At least, I hope so.

We checked in. Carolin went to sleep. Ellena and I returned to our table. Not long later, we heard an interesting chattering sound. At first, we couldn’t locate its source but before long the owner was revealed to be two storks who had taken up residence on top of the church opposite the albergue. It was lovely listening to them speak to one another.

It was a windy afternoon and while we sat at our table – I used the time to drink beer and write notes for my Nicola Fixx book – the breeze blew over the parasol on someone’s table, which was diverting for all concerned: especially the people at the affected table.


At six o’clock in the evening, we ate the pilgrim’s meal in the dining room. We were rather blessed as other people who turned up to eat not long after us were turned away until seven o’clock. Like most pilgrim meals, this one was much of a muchness. The best that can be said about it is that it was food to keep you going rather than to admire, which, for a pilgrim, is really about as much as he can – or probably should – ask for.

To round the day off: I hung my clothes up to dry in the back yard on a line next to a very rustic looking rear exit from the albergue. I met the albergue cat and unsuccessfully tried to photograph him. A helicopter – or aeroplane? – flew overhead. That was notable because it was very rare to see or hear either on the Camino. Before we arrived in Santiago (via the airport) the only other occasion I remember seeing anything other than a bird flying above us was a small plane flying across some fields of the meseta.

Our dorm was tightly packed with bunks so there wasn’t much room for our backpacks. I put mine against the wall and hoped for the best (which happened; it didn’t get in anyone’s way). The place was packed with pilgrims so I had to wait outside the bathroom to make sure I got to the one shower before anyone else. That evening, we relaxed, and then rested. It was good.

The Political Week Ahead (1)

May you live in interesting times…

The times have been very interesting in Britain ever since the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

And from this week they may be about to get even more interesting still.

On Tuesday, Theresa May’s successor as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister will be announced. Boris Johnson, of course, is the hot favourite to win.

My preferred candidate was Rory Stewart. When he was eliminated I switched to Michael Gove, and when he went out, I plumped for Jeremy Hunt.

Once upon a time, I might have supported Boris Johnson. He wrote a good book about Rome and was a rather funny buffoon with an echo of Churchill in the way he looked. Then I grew up a little and he became a very unsatisfactory figure.

To be fair to him, he did reasonably well as Mayor of London (2008-16), and I have not heard anything against him as M.P. for Henley (2001-08) or Uxbridge (2015 – present) but I have not read anything good about him as Foreign Secretary (2016-18) and he has caused controversy in the past over things he has done and said.

Of course, I have to be careful here: who was it that told journalists that Johnson was a bad Foreign Secretary? Why did they tell them? I have to consider that it may have been people with an axe to grind. As for his various controversies – we are all capable of being stupid at one point or another.

That’s fair enough, but by the same token, we all have it in us to act intelligently and wisely, and in the Conservative Party leadership race, I just haven’t seen him do that. He has declined to appear in television debates, when he has spoken he has not been clear about his policies, he appears to have fallen back on his buffoon image to get by. This is just not good enough for someone wanting to become Prime Minister.

At the moment, Boris Johnson comes across to me as all image and no substance. It’s such a shame as he is clearly an intelligent person – his book on Rome was a genuinely good read. He needs to have substance, though, to successfully oversee the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union.

During the campaign, Johnson said that he would make sure Britain left the E.U. on 31st October come what may. I believe this means with or without a deal. I might have supported a No Deal withdrawal until I saw this video that Stewart made about it during the leadership campaign in which he outlined precisely what a No Deal would mean. Now, I worry about what might happen to the well being of the country in the event of a No Deal exit. And neither Johnson nor any other Brexiteer has stepped up to the plate and said ‘Actually, Rory Stewart is wrong; a No Deal exit will be good, and this is why—‘


Because I worry about the effect of a No Deal exit, I also worry about the Conservative Party. It is the only thing that stands between anything approaching sanity and the insanity of a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government. Corbyn is not fit to be an M.P., let alone Labour leader, let alone Prime Minister.

Over the last few years – years! – he has failed again, again, and again to deal adequately with the anti-semitism crisis within the Labour Party. Again, again, and again. Reprehensible. Then there is the issue of his own past associations with pro-terrorist figures. But let’s say he met these people because somebody had to in order to help the such and such peace process. This, argument would be more convincing, however, if we had footage of Corbyn meeting British or American officials. He appears to be very selective, however, about who he will meet.


When the new European Parliament opened a few weeks ago, the MEPs from the Brexit Party turned their back on the E.U.’s anthem (Beethoven’s Ode to Joy). That was predictable and ignorable from a bunch of bores as them. At the same time, however, the Liberal Democrat MEPs arrived wearing T Shirts bearing the legend ‘Bollocks to Brexit’. The Liberal Democratic party is a mainstream party with deep roots in British politics. I expected better, much better, from their MEPs.

That’s been the problem with Brexit, though; it has made fools of so many people. Why? Because they want their objective to be met so much, so, so much. So, so much it has corrupted them.

What’s to be done? That is what Boris Johnson will almost certainly need to work out. Can he do it? Personally, I don’t think so; I don’t think he has the popularity or good will in Parliament to make it happen. I suspect we’ll be heading towards either another Conservative leader or, more likely, a General Election before too long. And God help us if Jeremy Corbyn wins.

God help us – prayers are all we have left right now

Camino Postcard 25: Santibañez de Valdeiglesia to Astorga

Today was, I think, the first day on the Camino that we did no walking whatsoever. Ellena was unwell so the hospitalero in Santibañez kindly called a taxi to take us to Astorga.

While we waited for it to arrive, we said goodbye to Tony – he was heading on by foot. We didn’t know it at the time but this would be the last occasion that we saw him on the Camino.

Astorga was ten or so kilometres away – a morning’s walk on foot but less than an hour by car. Before we knew it, therefore, we were sitting in the seating area of a rather ornate hotel drinking coffee, looking up albergues on-line.

The Palacio Episcopal in Astorga

In the end, we decided to stay at a nearby cheap hotel – the Hostal Coruña on the av. de Ponferrada – nearby was important so that Ellena didn’t have to walk too far. We also wanted a little extra privacy.

We checked in and found our room. Ellena and Carolin settled down to rest. I went in search of food, and a cash machine. Surely there would be one in this town?

Off I went, enjoying the sight of the countryside and distant mountains until I turned left and found a church, which I decided to pop into. There, I found Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament exposed. That was a bit of a treat, so I knelt down and prayed before Him. I prayed for Ellena and, yes, a cash machine. Laugh when you have gone three days on the Camino without money and have had to rely on the kindness of people with not much more than you. I also gave some thanks because twice during this Camino when I had run out of money and not been able to find a cash machine, including at Santibañez, Tony had lent me some of his.

After saying my prayers, I left the church to resume my search. Along the way, I ran into Lillian. I told her about my quest and she offered to lend me some money as well. The miracle of the Camino: being so kind to people you barely know. Lillian and Tony were very kind indeed. Thanks to Tony in Santibañez, however, I didn’t need any more money at the moment, but I told Lillian I would let her know if no cash machine was forthcoming.

Off I went, and not long later – a cash machine! Two cash machines! Three! Hold on, there’s a fourth!! All within spitting distance of each another. Wow.

I withdrew as much money as the machine would let me then went in search of my second target: a supermarket. Today was a Sunday so many of the shops were closed; Lillian, however, had found one and gave me directions to it. As much by accident as by design – remember I am Malcolm the Bad Navigator – I found it and bought some supplies for the afternoon.

After returning to the hotel, it was my turn to rest for a while. Later, we watched The Fugitive in Spanish, and in the evening, I went to a local pizza restaurant to buy our tea.

The pizzas that we ate on the Camino were generally okay to good; I think there were only two or three had were really good. I’m sorry I didn’t write down where I ate them – another reason to do the Camino Francés again!

After finishing our food, we settled down for the evening. Rest was the order of the day; rest, and recuperation.

Camino Postcard 24: San Martin del Camino to Santibañez de Valdeiglesia

Today was a hot day and a short day – we were on the road for less than three hours. I can’t remember why we stopped so early but illness or the desire for a break are the most probable answers.

The highlight of today’s walk was a very long medieval bridge that took us from one end of Hospital De Órbigo to the other.

By the way, just in case you were thinking ‘That MJM, he’s a good chap’, I did intend to text message my family and say ‘I am in Hospital… de Orbigo.’. And not only once but on the two or so occasions that we came to a town with that name. I never did but that was only because I forgot (or God had mercy and clouded my memory).

Anyway, the long bridge was called the Puente de Órbigo. According to Brierley, it was built in the 1200s. Here it is:

I’m guessing that in the Middle Ages, the rio Órbigo stretched from where I stood to take this photograph to the buildings at the far end. Or maybe the field existed then and the bridge also functioned as a kind of grandstand for any tournaments happening there? Or maybe it was a working field and I’m completely wrong. The latter is most likely.

Anyway, at the other end of the bridge, immediately on the left, was a hotel called Don Suero de Quiñones; we stopped at its café-bar for a break. There was a plug in the wall next to our table, which was a great mercy as I needed to recharge my portable phone battery.

In Praise of Portable Phone Batteries
There are people who say that you shouldn’t take your ‘phone with you on the Camino. But if you do, and it is a smartphone, I thoroughly recommend taking a portable battery as well. It is extra weight but it is also piece of mind. I found that on the Camino my phone used up its battery with alacrity. That may have been because it was nearly two years old. Or because – unbeknownst to me apps were running in the background. Or because it was forever trying to find a signal in the countryside. Whatever the reason, the portable battery ensured that if I needed the phone for an emergency or, as happened, to plan the way ahead or find an albergue, the phone would be there for me.

We sat down in the Don Suero with Lillian, with whom we had been walking. When we got up again, I kept a look out for a cash machine – I still hadn’t found one. I didn’t have to wait long: a few seconds up the road, one magically appeared out of the mist, like the sword in the lake—

Okay, it was a hot day and there was no mist, but come on. I strode over to the cash machine like a knight about to fight a duel only to find that my adversary refused to fight me. Which is another way of saying that the cash machine had no money in it. Severely disappointed in the Spanish banking system, I withdrew with such dignity as I still had in me.

A statue and an Ellena in Villares de Órbigo

We kept moving. Possibly in Villares de Órbigo we bought pizza slices. I say we, I mean Ellena and Carolin. Ellena kindly bought me one and I happily and appreciatively nommed my way through it.

Minutes later, we were back in the countryside. Our path took us up a gentle incline. I remember feeling wary when we passed a motorbike rider who had stopped ahead of us to drink from a fountain. There was something about him I didn’t like. More likely, though, is that I had taken an irrational dislike to him and now feared him. Silly, really. We passed him without bother and went on our way. May God’s peace and protection from irrational idiots like me rest upon him.

We walked along a gravel path that had a golden hue under the bright blue sky. Presently, we rejoined the road, and began walking up a hill. It didn’t last long, however, and soon the path began to slope. Along the way, another motorbike rider stopped just ahead of us and disappeared into his house.

Funnily enough, I didn’t fear this man. And actually, I immediately fell in love with his motorbike. There is something about the kind of motorbikes where you sit back with your legs forward that – now I think about it – I find very attractive. Maybe it’s the rider’s posture which makes him look laid back and carefree; in short, cool? Or maybe it’s a mixture of the gleam of the sun on the bike’s muscular metal body, his sitting position, his leathers and sunglasses which give him an air of power, strength, nobility, purpose and sexiness?

Whatever the answer, I inevitably thought of Bon Jovi’s reference to steel horses in Wanted Dead or Alive. This also upped the bike’s, and it’s owner’s, cool rating.

Reluctantly, I left the bike behind and caught up with Ellena and Carolin. Not long later, we arrived in Santibañez. Our first choice albergue had not yet opened. Too disappointed to simply wait for it to do so, we went back down the road to another one that had a café. There, we drank beer in the sun. At some point, Tony arrived and joined us. As always, he brought new life to our group.

The albergue we stayed at was called the Albergue Camino Francés and was a pretty nice place. The café was on the ground floor, the dorms on the first – they were quite small without being too small. Ours had about six bunks and plenty of space in the centre of the room to walk about (not always the case). I think we had our own plugs, too (also not always the case).

Best of all, the albergue had its own knight.

Imagine riding your steel horse in that armour!

Camino Postcard 23: Valverde to San Martin del Camino

Before writing this post, I consulted my journal to remind myself of what happened today. My entry is eight lines long and was written nine days after the event.

Unfortunately, it is the beginning of the end for my journal, for after catching up with the entries from 3rd to 9th May, I stopped writing it. We arrived in Santiago on 16th May so the last week’s blog posts will have to be written from memory and using Instagram, which I managed to update for the duration of the Camino.


Today, we took our leave of Valverde and set off down the road (side). We walked for just under three hours before arriving in San Martin del Camino where we decided to stop.

The journey to San Martin was unspectacular – our path was sandwiched between the road and fields with hardly any variation. I don’t say this from memory but the witness of my photographs. After the first few days of the Camino, I started to take more and more; the only days when I didn’t was if the path was monotonous. Today, I only took 15 photos, relatively few for me, so that tells me that there wasn’t much to see. The storks in the photograph below were an exception. It was always heart raising to see them in their nests, built on tall ruins or atop churches.

I regret very much not keeping up with my journal – I’m pretty sure that when we set out, we didn’t intend to stop at San Martin but I can’t remember where our original destination was meant to be: Hospital del Orbigo and Santibanez de Valdeigleisia are in my mind but why?

Actually, Santibanez is where we walked to tomorrow so that’s probably why – did we mean to go there today, though, but were waylaid by illness or the heat?

The weather was very hot and when we arrived in San Martin, the albergue had a little swimming pool. Unfortunately, it was too early in the year to use it.

Not to worry, quoth I, a shower will do.

Yeeeah. About the shower. Naturally, you would expect the men’s and women’s showers to be behind closed doors. At this albergue, though, there were no doors. Once you stepped out of the shower unit, anyone walking down the corridor could see you. While this was not ideal, there was – at least – room in the shower to hang one’s towel and clothes up away from the shower tap and so dry off and get dressed before stepping out into full view of passers-by.

If the albergue showers were a bit of a let down, the albergue cat was not. He wandered about at will and was happy to accept strokes from Ellena. Our dorm was a small one with four bunk beds, all of which were taken. We thought we would have trouble with one woman who had starey eyes and asked with a bit too much purpose if the lights would come on at six o’clock tomorrow morning but in the end she didn’t turn them on and left before everyone else with admirable quietness.

The only other thing of note to happen today is that I ran out of money. Ellena and I went in search of a cash machine in San Martin but found nothing. The Camino is a cash economy so I was very fortunate that Ellena paid for me until I was able to refund her – either directly or, as usually happened, by paying for things for her.

Oh yes, I just remembered one other thing: Ellena thought she lost her I.D. card (or was it her pilgrim’s passport?); either way, a frantic search followed that led to the miscreant’s discovery. I can’t tell you how scary it was whenever you couldn’t find your passport (or I.D.) or credencial. In different ways, losing them were potential Camino killers. I mislaid my wallet and pilgrim’s passport once or twice and had my heart in my mouth until I found them again.

Camino Postcard 22: León to Valverde

On our way out of León, we met a tired pilgrim. Despite his condition, he was kind enough to pose for a photograph with Ellena and Carolin,

I asked him if he liked any sports, and to my surprise he said he was a fan of cricket. Who wouldn’t be? The pilgrim took my hat:

As for León, it took us into Trabajo del Camino. Here, we passed through an ugly industrial estate and on into La Virgen del Camino. In La Vergen, I had to stop due to back ache on my left side; actually, the muscles there were stiffening up, making turning my back a little awkward. Ellena once more proved her quality (just like Faramir) and lightened my load by taking my sleeping bag.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the loss of a sleeping bag would not change things very much as it is very light but on this day it really did make the difference. Mine was not one of those light sleeping bags that some pilgrims carry. My back would not get better again until I came home (and no longer had to carry a backpack) but while it would never be quite well again, so’s to speak, I was able to manage it – and carry the sleeping bag.

It was another hot day as we passed a bunch of cyclists taking a drinks break. We met a Canadian man who was walking the Camino with his wife. Alas, she wasn’t with him – injury had forced her to take a bus to their next destination. Fortunately, though, she would get better and we’d meet them both not long after leaving Sarria. We also met an excited group of guard dogs, and their altogether calmer mother; Ellena made friends with one of the dogs who licked her happily.

How did they get up there?

Presently, we came to an albergue just outside Valverde. It was on the side of the road but had a lovely garden with hammocks, a round table and even a bed. Inside, the dining-living room was very rustic and homely. This albergue was on the more expensive end of the scale, being 10 or 15 euros to stay at but the bed was comfortable, the food was good, and at the end of lunch and tea, they gave us shots. Shots!

Did I say shots?

not even remotely sorry

At lunch I had a grappa. Pure joy. In the evening, I gave my liver a break and had one of the gentler spirits.

Ha – ‘giving my liver a break’ – drinks another shot.

Anyway, at one of the meals I happened to say that I had finished drinking alcohol and was ‘going back to agua’. Ellena and Carolin started laughing. Why? Why?? They told me to think about about what I had said. I repeated it to myself slowly. Nope. I could find no puns. But they had – Ellena thought I had said I was going ‘back to viagra‘.


someone doth
too much

I am a strong, confident man; I do not need viagra.


In the afternoon, we enjoyed a nice rest in the hammocks. I hung my clothes up to dry and tried to walk across pebbles in bare feet. Ouch! A quick retreat followed. In the evening, we retired to the dorm. One poor pilgrim would sleep in the living room that night due to a nasty cough that she had acquired.

Camino Postcard 21: Calzada del Coto to León

Ninth and last day on the Meseta

Actually, we probably left the meseta days ago but I haven’t yet got round to finding out where it officially ends. I’ll try and do that anon.

When we left Calzada del Coto, the sun was rising in the east. My attempt, below, to photograph it is much too dark. Perhaps I was trying to take a chiaroscuro picture. Or maybe I just don’t know how to adjust the iPhone’s photograph settings. You decide.

By the way – the iPhone. Suck it up, Apple.

We got walking, but not very far – Ellena was unwell. At the first opportunity, we stopped and called a taxi to take us to León.

How far did we walk? About five kilometres – from Calzada del Coto to an albergue just outside the town of Bercianos del Real Camino. It would have been better had we been able to stop earlier, but there was nowhere to do so: the path took us either through the countryside or along the roadside, away from anywhere that we could stop.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the albergue that we stopped at. That’s a shame, because the barman there was very kind in calling the taxi for us. In fact, all the people who called taxis for us along the way were really kind. I ask God for His blessing upon them.

We had a brief breakfast at the albergue while we waited for the taxi to arrive. I also took a photograph the lovely decoration, above. Scallop shells were a very comforting sight on the Camino. Actually, they remain so today. They are a sign of something different and better. Thank you, St. James.

The taxi arrived and whizzed us to León. Our drive removed two stages of the Camino Francés and so eased our muscles, money and time worries considerably. It helped us, therefore, in a very substantial way, to finish the whole journey.

At León, we stopped for a coffee and set about finding an albergue. It wasn’t easy. The two closest to us were both closed – yes, it was still early, but I wonder if May Day played a role. So we wandered about, passing a pilgrim paying for their way by busking, passed the city’s beautiful cathedral, a square where a rock band was getting ready to play, and sundry bars and cafés before stopping to eat outside another bar. There, we went online and found another albergue down a side street. Better than nothing.

We used Google Maps to find the side street. If I am ever given an epithet, it will never be Malcolm the Navigator. Malcolm the Bad Navigator, perhaps, because if there is a way to misread the map, I will find it. Despite this, we eventually came to the albergue.

Hand to the door, and pu— no! The door’s locked! Damnit. Will we ever find somewhere to stay? But hold on, what is Ellena saying? She’s looking through the window and can see someone sitting at a desk. A woman. The hospitalera? Who’s going to knock and get her attention? Rap rap rap. Time to play hapless pilgrim!

The woman came to the door. And the very first thing she did was point to the doorbell. Well, thank you, lady, but as you’ll see there are several doorbells and ALL OF THEM ARE UNMARKED.

No, I didn’t say that – I didn’t even think it until later. It was, however an inauspicious beginning. Fortunately, things got better – much better – very quickly. We wanted a private room: the lady gave us a four bed room and promised that she wouldn’t give the fourth bed to anyone else. She also gave us a little map of the city and showed us various places where we could eat. In so doing, she told us about the Spanish tradition (?) of giving customers free tapas when they buy a drink.

We took our room, dumped our backpacks, showered and rested. After a couple of hours, I was ready to go and take a few photographs. Ellena came with me.


We wended our way round the tight León streets until somehow, magically, we ended up at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fact that we had seen this one on the way into town and that Ellena is fond of eating there back home is purely coincidental. I have instructed my lawyers to take action against anyone who says otherwise.

I never eat at KFC so this visit was quite an experience for me. I have to say, I rather enjoyed it.

Manynoms and good conversation but eventually a return home.

It was just as well we ate at KFC because we tried and failed to find a bar to eat a pilgrim’s meal later on. It wasn’t that they weren’t there but we timed our search badly – we looked too early when a lot of the bars were not yet open. Thanks to a newsagents, we managed to pick up some snacks and so we took these back to the albergue. In the evening, we relaxed with clips of The Hobbit on You Tube. I saw the first of the three Hobbit films in the cinema and disliked it intensely. Watching the clips, however, melted my heart somewhat. The best clip, however, was this, er, deleted scene:

Since coming home, I have watched the first two Hobbit pictures and – although they are not in the same league as The Lord of the Rings trilogy – enjoyed them much more than I expected.

Camino Postcard 20: Moratinos to Calzada del Coto

Day Eight on the Meseta

This morning we walked along the roadside and came across a possibly fake quotation from Socrates (below).

Further on, we met two doggos taking a stroll down the road – literally. It’s a good job it was empty. One was Very Large and the other Moderately So. Very Large Doggo was mum, and Moderately So her son.

If I remember correctly, mum had an injury – unfortunately, I can’t remember if it was a current or past one; hopefully, Ellena will mention it on her blog here.

If you have read the previous entries in this series, you will know that Ellena understands the language of dogs. She was able, therefore, to gain mother dog’s trust and pet her.

After enjoying Ellena’s company for a few minutes the dogs moved on to – who knows where? Hopefully nowhere near the work men that were shooing them on just before they joined us. Spain is a funny country like that: she loves her canines but we saw quite a few strays and injured dogs along the way.

Speaking of the dogs, just as they joined us, we were passed by another pilgrim who had a dog phobia. She used us as a shield before moving swiftly on! If only she had watched Ellena, though, she would have seen that if you treat dogs in the right way, there is really nothing to worry about.


Today, we reached the official halfway point of the Camino Francés – Sahagun. We entered the city in the company of another pilgrim who cleared up the question of whether or not river water is safe to drink: in short, no; it may have been polluted by animals. It’s a good job I didn’t give in to temptation on the Valcarlos route. If I had walked the Napoleon route, however, and eaten the snow, that would have been fine.

Statue on the way into Sahagun (there was another like it behind me)

In Sahagun we made our way to the Monasterio y Museo de Santa Cruz where we received our halfway compostelas (below). We had to pay a few euros for these but given the quality of the ink and paper it seemed a fair deal.

What to say about the monasterio y museo? We saw much of the latter but little of the former. The church was entirely given over to the exhibition within; I assumed then, and believe now, that it must have been deconsecrated.

As for the exhibition – it was a real curate’s egg. I imagine there are people who would have been impressed by the indictment of Man’s behaviour in the full-on photographs of people around the world suffering from man made and natural disasters, and the mummified body, and contemporary art but I wasn’t. There were old books on display which were nice to look at but on the whole I was glad to leave the place.

We left Sahagun and made our way down a roadside path out of town. It was another hot day. As a result, we only walked a few more kilometres to Calzada del Coto. Here, we stayed at a donativo albergue. This meant that there was no set price for our beds but just what we could afford to give. I took the opportunity to get rid of all my spare change, which amounted to five or six euros.

Bull fighting mementos in the bar where we ate dinner

There was one dorm, which was stuffed to the rafters with bunk beds. My bed was very stiff, which raised fears in me that it would hurt my back (when I was 18, I visited my relatives in Canada and we had to cut short a visit to a friend’s house there after their stiff bed hurt my back so badly after one night). Fortunately, however, all would be well this time round.

I slept on the bottom bunk, underneath a woman who couldn’t stop moving and then told us to shh later on. I made sure I spoke louder for a few minutes after that.

Camino Postcard 19: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Moratinos

Day Seven on the Meseta

For a few kilometres after leaving Calzadilla de la Cueza today, we were silent pilgrims. Perhaps Ellena was still feeling the effects of last night’s pain. As she was the glue that held the group together, we were fractured without her.

We kept walking. ln my journal, I have noted that although we were still on the meseta the path was a bit more varied than yesterday. I then spoil the effect somewhat by adding ‘Well, there were a couple of elevations, anyway’. Insert facepalming emoji here.

We came to a little town named Ledigos. There, we saw a sign that said ‘373,870 Kms a Santiago’. After what seemed a very long time, we were now less than 400 kilometres away from our ultimate destination! This knowledge was a great psychological boost. And what it also meant was that we were now definitely over half-way there. Sahagun may be the official half-way point, but we had now walked over half of the Camino.

We stopped at a café for breakfast. Not long after our arrival, Colleen walked in, as did Tony – he had stayed behind at Calzadilla this morning to tend to his blistered foot.

After we left Ledigos, the group spread out. Ellena walked ahead with Tony. I tried to keep up with them but could not. My leg was feeling better after yesterday but was not up to matching Tony’s pace. I remembered some wise advice that Colleen had given me about walking the Camino at my own pace and started to do just that. The day immediately got better.

Along the way, I saw an albergue named after Jacques de Morlay, the last Grand Master of the Templar Knights. As well as winning (and losing) the Holy Land, the Templars also provided places of refuge and rest for pilgrims to Santiago so he has a good place in my books.

Carolin and I also saw a cat on the prowl, which was a very neat sight.

As we walked, we also saw a very strange sight – doors appearing in the side of mounds. What were these – hobbit holes?

A concrete path took us into Moratinos. Embedded in it were, of course, paw prints. A lovely, funny sight!

Ahead of us and to the left, at the bottom of the incline was our albergue. Well, not ours yet – we neither owned nor had pre-booked it – but it was the one where we would soon decide to stay for the rest of the day and overnight. Ahead of us and to the right was a hill with more doors running around their side.

Fortunately, they did not look evil (moor doors > Mordors > Mordor – geddit? I’m here all week)

After checking in and relaxing with a beer, Ellena and I investigated the hill more closely. Here is the sign we saw:

We both laughed. I was, and remain, impressed at the extent of Tolkien’s cultural influence.

During the course of the afternoon, we met up with Lillian again. Tony, who had walked with us from Ledigos, decided to keep going. The albergue dorm was very small – there were just three bunk beds in our room. As Moratinos was not the end of the stage, relatively few pilgrims stayed here overnight; as a result, Ellena, Carolin and I almost had the room to ourselves. The only other person to share it with us was Lillian.

Today, I received good news from home – my friend E. who suffered two serious bouts of bad health last year sent me a text to say that he had just received a promotion. He is a police officer, and had to sit the promotion exam just after the second bout, when I and others were telling him to forget about it and relax. After spending all summer revising? he said, No way! I was ever so pleased for him as he is a natural police officer and the Met need people like him as high up as possible.

Back at Moratinos, Carolin and I ate dinner while Ellena rested – she was not feeling well enough to eat a full meal; we took her something to eat and drink later. As Carolin was not a confident English speaker, and I couldn’t speak German, we used Google Translate to speak to each other. It was every bit as cheesy as you might think but funny all the same.