Burgos to Homillos del Camino (19km)
Monday, 9 April, 2012
I knew it was not going to be a good day, when I got out of bed a little too enthusiastically, and felt a sharp pain in the inside of my good knee. I struggled on the flights of steps that led up to the street behind the cathedral.
For some time, I limped along very slowly and when I finally arrived at the edge of the city, I sat down on a bench opposite a hospital, feeling quite sorry for myself. I hesitated to continue, not wanting to do any more damage to my knee. But I eventually decided to persist with the walk, and when an hour or so later the first village came into sight, I realised that the pain had stopped, without my being aware. I took it very carefully for the rest of the day.
The weather was glorious; blue sky, mild, with a soft breeze. The hills were long, but gentle. It was a perfect day for walking.
And before I knew it my objective for the day lay below: Homillos del Campo.
It was a really small village; there was one street, a church that was locked, a tiny bar and a Casa Rural, at which I was the only guest. I had the beautiful house all to myself.
I had some drinks and dinner at the bar, where I had the most delicious bowl of lentejas and an animated conversation with the owner, who was barman, chef and waiter.
And it was followed by a solid night’s sleep, to be woken in the dawn light by a wonderful chorus of bird song.
Leaving the window open at night can bring such dividends in the morning.
Homillos del Camino to Castrojeris (20km)
Tuesday, 10 April, 2012
So this morning I set off in high spirits, with no apparent repetition of yesterday’s knee pain. But the spring in my step soon disappeared when I emerged from the shelter of the village, into the teeth of a strong headwind.
And as I climbed out of the valley the wind increased in force and for the next six hours I was buffeted and jerked around like a demented puppet.
And there was absolutely no shelter whatsoever.
It was with much relief when I finally hobbled into Castrojeris, where I found a room with no problem.
And the local food and wine were excellent.
Catrojeris to Frómista (26km)
Wednesday, 11 April, 2012
I had another challenging day. Once on the open plain, one met the full force of the wind. And thirty minutes later there was a steep climb diagonally up the side of an impressive ridge. The climb was not difficult, just steep and long and led to a wide table top, before another steep descent to a landscape, flat as far as one could see.
And the wind did not relent. It roared and howled in one’s ears, like an angry Irish housewife. There was no escape; nowhere to shelter, except for two small villages en route.
And then the threatened rain started, not long after an old farmer working in his field assured me that there would be no rain that day, but the next day for sure.
For the next two hours I plodded along, accompanied by both wind and rain, until I finally arrived in Frómista, very wet and tired.
But with a comfortable room and after an excellent meal, I felt quite revived.
Frómista to Carrión de los Condes (22km)
Thursday, 12 April, 2012
So the farmer of the previous day really got his weather forecast quite wrong. According to him it should have rained, instead of turning out to be a beautiful spring day. If he ever tires of farming, he would have a job waiting for him at the BBC weather desk.
Today the path was unrelenting; straight and gently undulating for all of its 22km. It ran alongside the local road, separated from it by a ditch. The path was formed of stones sunk into sun-baked clay. Unfortunately, the stones protruded and after an hour my bad foot ached and throbbed with each step, and my good foot started to whinge in sympathy. At times El Camino can be a real test of perseverance.
From the crest of some of the slopes, one could see for two or three kilometres in either direction. That day for the first time, I noticed that the bounce had gone from the step of many pilgrims. They did not pass me cheerfully. Many limped or had their heads down, moving painfully, struggling with blisters, knees, shin splints, hips; the romance and adventure had receded and the personal struggle to keep going had taken front stage. Some will give up, perhaps returning one day in the future, with fresh enthusiasm and healthier bodies, to resume where they left off. Most will continue with their struggle all the way to Santiago de Compostella.
For those who persist, the reward will be theirs.
Carrion de los Condes to Calcidilla de la Cueza (17km)
Friday, 13 April, 2012
When I awoke the next morning and looked out the window, the sky was clear and turning blue. And when I left the village the sun was shining and there was not a cloud to be seen. It was another perfect day for walking. And the birds were singing their heads off, oblivious of my presence. I could have almost touched some of them, as they clung to solitary branches by the path. They seemed to have no fear of pilgrims.
But the wind had slept in that morning, and when aroused felt quite guilty, and started rushing hither and thither, bumping into everything it encountered. And the nosey clouds rushed over from the horizon to see what was happening. So what had promised to be a gentle stroll, became another head down leaning forward sort of day.
It was with some relief that the tiny village of Calcidilla de la Cueza finally came into view.
Calcidilla de la Cueza to Sahagún de Campos (23km)
Saturday, 14 April, 2012
Walking against the never ceasing wind across the seemingly vast plain was almost hypnotic. One could walk for hours, but seem to be remaining on the spot; a feature on the horizon remains what it was when the day started; a feature on the horizon.
And yet one knew that there were villages between here and there, but where were they? By then one of them should have been in sight. And on one plodded until suddenly, with no prior warning, there it was, a little village nestling below in a hollow in the plain.
As one descended, the wind continued its frenetic rush above, as if it had more pressing matters to attend to elsewhere; to the mighty wind an insignificant little village was not worth the expending of time and energy to descend. And I made my way down to the welcome shelter of the village bar and a coffee and a slice of tortilla, with a chunk of bread. And so once revived, I ascended once more to the fray.
And when mid-afternoon arrived, I stopped at the first village with accommodation; by then I will usually have reached my limit for the day.
And so for day after day the routine repeats, the wind continues to buffet everything in its path. Occasionally it rains.
And slowly, almost imperceptibly, I have been moving across the map of Spain.
Sahagún to El Burgo Ranero (18km)
Sunday, 15 April, 2012
Sahagún reached it greatest splendour during the reign of Alfonso VI of Castile (1047-1109), as evidenced by a plethora of ancient buildings. In the 14th century, it housed a university.
On the way out of Sahagún, one crosses a Roman bridge over the river Cea.
El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas (19km)
Monday, 16 April, 2012
I always like to leave the curtains open when I go to bed, so that I can awaken to first light, but it is not often that I can lie in bed and watch the rising sun. I remember once witnessing the rising of a huge orange sun as I crossed Sydney Harbour Bridge in the early morning,when I had set out on one of my crazy marathon walks. In El Burgo Ranero I woke to the rising sun and I did not have to move a muscle to see it, apart from my eye lids.
And I felt incredibly at peace, totally relaxed, a feeling that I only once before recall experiencing, and that was when I was having a stroke. It apparently happens when the logical side of the brain switches off and the sensual side becomes dominant.
I wondered if I will feel so peaceful when I have another stroke. My sight was fine and all I had to do was to raise both my arms to be reassured. But I felt no panic whatsoever and lay without moving, enjoying the sensations. Eventually the logical side woke up. I raised my arms and another day began.
I walked relaxed all day, past a huge wading bird, past yet another wayside memorial for a pilgrimage fatality – I have lost count as to how many memorials I have seen.
Another helping of tortilla and a beer served by an attractive girl in pink top and tight pants saw me through to the ancient village of Mansilla de las Mulas.
Mansilla de las Mulas to Léon (19km)
Tuesday, 17 April, 2012
The first view of Léon was rather deceiving. It looked as if I was almost there.
But there remained much more than an hour of suburbs and city streets before arriving at the central plaza, with its magnificent cathedral.