Thursday 11 April, 2013
Saint-Jean-de-Luz to Irun – 14 km
I set out in high spirits soon after breakfast – the sun shone and the air felt warm. The road climbed out of the town and into the country, past beautiful Basque farms with their traditional houses of white walls and red roofs, doors and shutters. The road climbed and descended without cease.
The way was well marked, or at least it was, until I realised that I had not seen a sign for some time. I could see the sea in the far distance, and rather than retrace my steps, I decided to continue and follow the coast to Hendaye.
Eventually I came to a sign for Hendaye Plage. It was soon after that the wind picked up and I could see a huge pile of black clouds over the mountain, heading directly towards me. The rain started slowly and then suddenly with full force. I was drenched before I could react and get out my poncho. There is not a lot one can do with no shelter, except press on and hope it soon passes.
But it did not pass and I eventually reached the centre of Hendaye Plage only to find out that I should have gone to Hendaye Ville, for which I never saw a sign. The guy who gave me the bad news that it was a further three kilometres, offered to drive me there, for the storm was getting worse. He was a surfer complete with board and I squeezed into the back seat. He did not seem to mind that I was rather wet. He said that he had once hiked around England and had received so much help from local people, often going well out of their way to help him find accommodation. He said that it was now his turn to be the Good Samaritan. He dropped me outside the train station at the Spanish border.
I caught the local Euskotren for four short stops to a hotel in Irun and checked in, still dripping wet.
Friday 12 April, 2013
Irun to San Sebastián – 25 km
I had a schematic map of each stage of the route across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, and from my hotel room I could see what was almost certainly the path cutting across the mountain that stood between where I was and the sea. As the day was going to be somewhat more challenging than the days since Bayonne, I had an early breakfast and set off before 08h00.
I caught the Euskotren two short stops back to Irun, asked in a bar for directions and I was soon on the path, following the familiar yellow arrows indicating the Camino del Norte. The arrows are painted on walls, rocks, trees, posts, pavement etc. all the way to Santiago. The Spanish are rightly proud of their many well-marked caminos and whether one is a genuine religious pilgrim or just a casual hiker, the local people make one feel genuinely welcome. At least that had been my experience over many weeks of hiking in Spain in the previous two years. In contrast, my recent short walk in France did not leave me with such a positive impression.
For the first hour, the going was easy – a flat walk through marshlands, and then a steady climb to a path that followed the contours of the mountain, the same path that I could see from the hotel earlier that morning.
For the next ten kilometres, the going was gently up, gently down, until finally a sharp descent down to an inlet of the sea, at Pasai Donibane. I ended up on a quay, with no sight of the bridge that I had expected to cross to the other side. I spotted a man fishing and I asked him how I could cross the water. He laughed and said that I could walk across, but he did not recommend it. But just around the corner there was a boat that I could take. I did not mention my expected bridge, but I felt rather foolish nevertheless.
Once on the other side, the yellow arrows resumed and led me seawards. Eventually, they pointed towards a steep stair cut out of the rock of the cliff face. The steps were steep with only a low wall and I soon felt my heart thumping. I ascended slowly. The steps seemed to be interminable and I was glad that the rocks were dry; with rain, a strong wind and my bad leg, I would have found it quite challenging.
Once up and away from the cliff, the going was straightforward, with several short climbs and descents. Finally, there was San Sebastián below with its beautiful concave beaches. It reminded me of Acapulco in Mexico.
But I had not noticed the gathering clouds and before I got off the mountain, the rain started. I sheltered under some trees until it passed. It was obvious by the dark clouds that more rain was on the way, so I continued on my way down and to the centre of the town, to find a hotel for the night.
Finding a hotel did not prove to be very easy. Normally I would look for hotel signs, but where I expected there to be hotels, there were none. All I could find were pensiones and sleeping in somebody’s spare bedroom was not my scene. I asked some locals and they did not seem to know of any hotels and recommended that I find a pension. By now the rain had started falling heavily. I tried several pensiones, but all were full. In the end, I found one that had a room available, but the old lady that answered the door would only let me have it, if I paid for double occupancy. By then I was getting tired and quite wet, so I reluctantly agreed to an exorbitant rate for a room with a little bed, no table, no chair and the only socket contained the plug of the only lamp. And of course, no wifi.
But after I had showered and put on dry clothes, I felt better. It was still raining heavily, but I found a McDonalds close by, with wifi, and I caught up on my mail and the sports results.
And despite the crap bed, I slept the night through, without once wakening. The fresh air and the exercise always seem to have that effect on me.