Logroño to Burgos

Logroño to Navarette (13km)

Monday, 2 April, 2012

It was a choice of either an easy day of 13 km to Navarette or 29 km to Nájera.  Now my average pace of about 4 km per hour may seem rather pedestrian to athletic types, but believe me, with boots and backpack, over undulating terrain, on mud, rocks and occasional asphalt, 4-5 km per hour is what most people achieve.

Of course there are the rather irritating exceptions, going as far and as fast as they can each day, taking no time to ‘smell the birds or hear the flowers’. To them contemplation and inner peace are for the wimps.

On the Camino, most villages and every town had hospitals, that treated the sick and the injured pilgrims.  Some of the hospitals still operate, some have been converted to other functions, and many are in ruin.

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Ruins of the former pilgrim hospital ‘San Juan de Acre

After a relatively easy day of walking, I arrived in Navarette, and had no problem in finding a room.  The village was not exactly crowded.

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Rush hour in Navarette

And I spent a long and laid-back afternoon in the Bar Deportivo, eating tapas, sipping on glasses of local wine, and tapping away at my notebook.  I was blissfully relaxed.

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Tapas and wine – the good life

The athletic jocks don’t seem to know what they are missing.

Navarrete to Nájera (16km)

Tuesday, 3 April, 2012

Normally I set my alarm for 07h00 and wake up before it rings, by 06h30 at the latest, to hit the road early. That night I decided that the alarm was no longer required, and consequently slept in and woke up at 08h50, to find rain dripping on the window sill, and little visible, apart from some cars parked in the plaza below.

And all day it rained, never heavy, but with that persistent drizzle that chills, and somehow percolates ones supposedly rain resistant clothing. I arrived in Najera feeling thoroughly miserable: cold, wet, chilled through. And to cap it all, I had some difficulty in finding a vacant room.

But with persistence and asking several people, I was eventually directed to a very comfortable room, with a very reasonable price, in a back street under the cliffs.  The house was owned by two very charming men of rather obvious sexuality.

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The cliffs above Nájera

With snow flurries forecast for that day and the next ten, I had to recognise that I was poorly equipped for such conditions. So I went back into the town, and by pure luck I stumbled upon a little shop that had a waterproof jacket with a fleece lining, and at €38 seemed to me a bargain. And the old lady who sold it to me was delightful.  I had fun talking to her.

Nájera To Santo Domingo De La Calzada (20km)

Wednesday, 4 April, 2012

So at 07h45 this morning, complete with my new jacket, my fleece, tracksters and hat, I emerged from the hotel, ready and prepared for whatever nature would throw at me.  Despite the ominous forecast of the night before, to my surprise it was quite mild, and the fog and rain had been replaced by a beautiful spring morning. Weather forecasters can make fortune tellers and economists seem quite professional.

Within ten minutes and partly up the first hill, I was sweating and had to stop to take off my fleece. Another ten minutes and off came the jacket and the pack was noticeably heavier. Before the top of the long incline, off came tracksters, of course requiring removal and replacement of boots.  Now I was comfortable, but cursing the weightier pack.

At the top of the hill, once removed from the shelter of the valley, the wind felt quite cold, and before long back on went the fleece and jacket, but my legs remained bare – it was too much hassle to fiddle with boots.

And for much of the day the dressing and undressing was repeated, depending on the state of the wind and sun. I felt like a male model at a fashion show. If I were ever to master mincing and pouting, I could have a new career as an aging clothes horse.

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The cathedral in Santo Domingo de Calzada

Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Beldorado (23km)

Thursday, 5 April, 2012

When walking across Spain, one thing struck me; there were enormous swathes of cultivated land, but no farmhouses to be seen, the reason being that the farmers live in the villages and commute out to their farmland.  This seemed to me as an imminently preferable arrangement, in that it gives much more social opportunities for the farmers’ wives and children, and brings added life to the villages.

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The long and empty road

Until I eventually arrived in Burgos, this region gave me the impression of being rather left behind: remote, overlooked, forgotten. Yet the people were some of the most kind and friendly that I have ever come across. They reminded of Ulster country people: willing, honest, modest, with few pretensions.

Beldorado to San Juan de Ortega (26km)

Friday, 6 April, 2012

Once past Villafranca Montes de Oca, the path climbed to a plateau and for kilometre after kilometre there was nothing to be seen, except forest.  It had rained heavily the night before and one had to trudge through thick clinging mud.

In the Middle Ages the area was quite remote and it had the reputation of being dangerous for pilgrims; they were preyed on by bands of thieves and robbers. The pilgrims had no resource to banks and ATMs; they carried their money on their person and were quite vulnerable, unless escorted by volunteer knights.

At one point the path passed a monument erected by the relatives of the 300 people shot by supporters of General France, soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.  It was a grim reminder that not so long ago, the country was very divided.  Some would say that it still is.

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Monte de la Pedraja

Eventually the path descended into a valley and there I spent the night in the tiny village of San Juan de Ortega.

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San Juan de Ortega to Villafría (17km)

Saturday, 7 April, 2012

When I set out next morning, the sun was shining, but soon darks clouds moved in and it turned much colder.  Then the rain started and it continued to rain heavily all the remainder of the day.

On the outskirts of Atapuerca, I passed the archaological complex, where some of the oldest remains of man had been discovered, during the excavation of a railway cutting in 1976.  The site contains evidence of continuous human occupation since over one million years.

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After Atapuerca, the path climbed up to the Sierra and the rain turned to snow.

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On the descent from the Sierra, the snow turned back to heavy rain, and it continued relentlessly.  The long trudge around Burgos airport on the edge of the asphalt road was quite dispiriting, and I decided to stay at the first hotel I came across, enabling me to change into dry clothes and dry my wet gear.

Villafría to Burgos (8km)

Sunday 8 April, 2014

And finally Burgos; kilometre after kilometre of industrial area, before arriving at the well preserved heart of the old city – a jewel of parks, plazas, churches, overseen by the magnificent cathedral.

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And the narrow streets, with their bars and restaurants, were filled with Easter Sunday celebrants.

Just before I left for Spain in March, I had read a book called La Sombra del Viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.  It was set in Barcelona and events that took place during the Spanish Civil War were central to the plot.

One of the central characters in the book went by the alias of Laín Caubert.  Now I have a very good friend called Laín Burgos-Lovéce, who is from Santiago de Chile, and our friendship dates back to Caracas in the late 1970s.  In all those years I have never come across another Laín, until that book.  The name is apparently quite rare today.

Fast forward by a month and I was staying in Burgos.  I had just checked into a small hotel and when I left the hotel to explore the surroundings, I noted the street names, in case I got lost.  The street that I was staying on was called Calle de Laín Calvo.  In Spanish ‘calvo‘ means bald, and that would certainly be an accurate description of my friend Laín today.

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The street sign of Calle de Laín Calvo

So were Laín + Burgos + Camino de Santiago just a coincidence?

Perhaps it was a very positive sign that I was on the right path.  I have no idea of where the path might lead, but I suspect that if I keep my mind open, I will come across more signs.

Jimmy

James Bankhead was a quite tall slim man with fair hair.  Before he bought his first car, he used to regularly walk into Portrush.  He had a very long loping stride and in a few steps he was over the crest of the hill and out of sight.

He was married to ‘Nan’ Stewart, a childhood friend of my mother.  They lived in the big schoolhouse, next door to our farm, and he was headmaster at Carnalridge Primary school, no more than fifty meters from his front door.

Between the schoolhouse and the school lived a very strange old man.  He had unkempt hair and a long grey beard, and must have belonged to a religious sect, for he had a sign in his garden declaring ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is nigh’, or something similar.

The old man’s house was so small, it could only have consisted of one tiny room.  His garden was a large patch of bog, in which the only thing that grew were rushes.  The old man was rarely ever seen.  As a child I was afraid of him.

Carnalridge school was originally established in 1850 by the congregation of the Presbyterian church.  When I first attended the school in 1953, it consisted of just two rooms, a recently built extension for infant children, plus a dining room and catering facilities.

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Carnalridge Primary School

There were three teachers – Miss Moore, who looked after the infants, Miss ‘Old Biddy’ McCartney, who was my first teacher, and James ‘Jimmy’ Bankhead, who taught the older children, until they left for the secondary schools.  I don’t know how many pupils there were in that era, but my guess is that there were about 60 altogether.

My earliest memory of the school was the morning of my first day.  We had to stand around the room, with backs to the wall and give our names. The little girl beside me wet her pants and stood in a large puddle of urine. I feel sure that she has never forgotten the embarrassment that she must have felt.

In my last year, there were only four of us who took the ‘Eleven Plus’ examination, that determined whether we would go on to a grammar school, a technical college, or to an intermediate school, which was little more than a holding pen, until the children could leave at age of 15.

Three of us went on to the grammar school in Coleraine, all in the ‘A’ stream, which was a tremendous compliment to the teaching skills of James Bankhead.  In addition to me, there was David Hunter, who ended up studying law at Oxford, and who became a barrister in Belfast, and Michael Moore, who ended up as a headmaster, like his father before him. The fourth pupil was Joan Gurney, who went on to the Intermediate school.

James Bankhead was born in Ahoghill, in 1906, the son of Samuel and Jane Bankhead.  He started his teaching career in Clooney Primary School, in the Waterside area of Londonderry, where he was an assistant teacher for 5 years.  He was appointed principal of Carnalridge in 1932, and remained there until his retirement in 1966.

James Bankhead

He was a man of many talents and diverse interests.  He was a renowned horticulturist, specializing in growing and studying daffodils, and wrote many articles on the subject.  He was a local pioneer in the field of radio and television.  He built his own radio in 1939 and took it to the church to hear the declaration of war.  He built one of the first television sets in the area, and invited local people to his house to see the coronation ceremony in 1953.  He was an accomplished tenor soloist and sang with the church choir.  He was a keen golfer and bowler.  He was an accomplished mathematician and read widely.

My years in his class were some of the best years of my youth.  He taught me in arithmetic and I loved it, and my love of mathematics endures to this day.  He introduced me to the classical  books in the small school library and I borrowed and read most of them: Children of the New Forest, Treasure Island, The Black Arrow, the Enid Blyton books, Robinson Crusoe, among many others. He talked often about the history and geography of our area.

It was James Bankhead who introduced us to cricket, and in our lunch breaks, when the weather was favourable, we used to play, and he always joined in.

Cricket became a passion with me, especially after he showed me a game being played on his television.  I used to spend hours bowling against a wicket placed against the end of our house, and I made up different ways of keeping score.

In about 1986 I visited him.  He was living in a bungalow on the edge of Portrush, on the Ballywillan Road.  His wife had previously died in 1977 and he had remarried to her sister, Lily, who had been living with them in their later years.

I spent a very enjoyable and memorable couple of hours with them, sipping on sherry, and chatting about old times.  I asked him where he had found all the fascinating historical facts about Portrush and the area, history that used to enthral me.  He remembered the book and the author, but regretted that he did not have a copy, otherwise I felt sure he would have given it to me.  It was not until recent times that I discovered a complete transcript of the book on the internet.

Before I left him, I took the opportunity to do something I had wanted to do for many years.  I told him what a great influence he had been on me.  I thanked him for having given me such a good grounding and fostering my interest in a diverse range of subjects.  It was an emotional moment for me and I suspect it was also for him.  He was already an old man at that time, and shortly after, he had a stroke.

He and Lily spent their last days in an old people’s home in Portrush.  He died in 1992 and was buried beside Nan, just outside the door of the ruined church at Ballywillan.

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Lily died some time later and was buried in the new graveyard, across the road from the old church.  I have always thought that Jim and Nan would have wanted her to be buried with them.

Coleraine

The earliest known settlement in Ireland was found at Mountsandel Fort, about one mile from the centre of present day Coleraine.  It was there where nomadic hunter-gatherers built their shelters in about 7000 BC.   Dating from about 4000 BC, there is much evidence of Neolithic Man in the area, such as the stone tomb at Magheraboy and the standing stone at Carnalridge.

Coleraine is reputed to have received its name when St Patrick passed through around 450 A.D. Popular tradition states that the Saint was given a piece of land by the local chieftain on which to build a church. The ground was covered with ferns, and so he called it “Cuil Rathain”, which means the ferny corner. Again, authorities differ in this, some asserting the meaning to be “the rath at the bend of the waters”. Over the centuries the name was anglicized and became “Coleraine”.  It is believed that the first church, or monastery, was in the same location as the present St. Patrick’s Church.  The earliest record of Coleraine occurs in Adomnán’s ‘Life of Saint Columba’, written on Iona, circa 700.

Located at the lowest fordable point of the river Bann, Coleraine suffered repeated devastation by competing tribes, by the Vikings in 830 AD and by the Normans in 1177.  It was not until the end of the 16th century that the Ulster tribes were subdued.  In 1610 the first settlers arrived to rebuild Coleraine.  Fortifications were erected and the town was laid out in its present form.

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Coleraine in 1613

In 1642 the dispossessed Irish rebelled and for six weeks laid siege to the town, during which 2000 of the inhabitants died of disease and famine, many of them having fled from the countryside seeking protection.   The siege was broken by the arrival of a Scottish army. In 1689, when the invading army of James II approached the town, the people fled to Derry, where they again suffered siege and famine. James II was eventually defeated at the Battle of the Boyne.

As a result of the devastation of the countryside, poverty was widespread and over the next 200 years there was a steady exodus of locals to the New World. There was continued threat of uprising and there was much suffering as a result of the serious outbreak of cholera in 1832 and the Great Famine of 1840-46.

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Possibly due to the lack of local opportunities, there was a strong tradition of young men enlisting in the military and many local men fought in the Crimean, Boer and the two world wars.  The Battle of the Somme had a particularly devastating effect on the area and there was scarcely a household that did not lose a family member, as witnessed by the long list of names on the local war memorials.

In 1844 a new stone bridge was built across the river and in 1855 the current town hall in the Diamond was built. The town also became an important centre of the linen industry and textile and shirt-making industries expanded.  In 1888 the river was dredged and piers built, allowing the passage of ships to Coleraine harbour.

In 1968 the new University of Ulster was opened between Coleraine and Portstewart and the influx of students provided a much-needed new source of income to the providers of accommodation, suffering as a result of tourists going to warmer climates for their holidays.

Like much of Ulster, Coleraine suffered from ‘The Troubles’.  In 1973 an IRA car bomb killed six, in 1992 a car bomb exploded in the town centre and in 1995 a massive explosion devastated the entire centre of the town.

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The Diamond with its town hall as it is today

A grammar school in Coleraine was first proposed in 1846, but the plan was shelved, die to the economic crisis resulting from the Great Famine.  Coleraine Academical Institution (C.A.I.) was finally open in 1860, with two masters and 14 boys. The number of students peaked at about 1100 in the 1970s and has since been reduced to 700.

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Coleraine Academical Institution, now known as Coleraine Grammar School

The school includes 27 acres of sports fields, including rugby and football pitches, tennis courts, cricket pitches, an athletics track, a swimming pool, a games hall with multi-gym equipment and a boathouse.

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James Nesbitt – actor

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Andrew Trimble – Ulster & Ireland rugby

Two well-known C.A.I. Old Boys

Boarding, which was a feature of the school since its beginning, reached its peak in the 1970s with 300 boarders, but since then it went into decline, and the boarding department was closed in 1999.

In 2015 the all-boys C.A.I was merged with the all-girls Coleraine High School, to become Coleraine Grammar School.

Just past the school, off the Castlerock Road, was the farm of my maternal grandmother’s family.  Her ancestors had farmed the land since at least the early 1800s.  Unfortunately, there are very few records that have survived from before the mid-1800s, so the tracing of Irish ancest0rs soon meets a dead-end.

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Kilcranny House

My great grandparents had eight children, seven girls and only one boy.  I guess that the only son did not want to be a farmer, and the farm was eventually sold.  The only son died when he was only 48.

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Today some peripheral buildings have been added to Kilcranny House, which now belongs to an organization that promotes much-needed peace and reconciliation.

I suspect that the organization would have had my ancestor’s approval.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Causeway Way

The Causeway Way is a long distance path of some 50 km, that starts near Portstewart, at the mouth of the river Bann, and ends at Ballycastle.  It passes through Portrush, Dunluce, Bushmills, the Giants Causeway, White Park Bay and the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

The North West 200 is a motorcycle race meeting held each May.  It is run over public roads between the towns of PortstewartColeraine and Portrush (the Triangle)  and is one of the fastest in the world, with speeds in excess of 200 mph (320 km/h).  In practice for the 2012 event Martin Jessop was clocked at 208 mph (335 km/h).  The first meeting was held in 1929.  It is the largest annual sporting event in Ireland, attracting over 150,000 visitors for the weekend.

There have been 16 deaths since the event was first held, with three in one day in 1979.

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The path of the Causeway Way follows the northern leg of the NW200.  My father’s farm was on the road,  just south of Carnalridge.

At the edge of the headland at Portrush, between the port and the recreation grounds is a disused quarry, in which is today located a water amusement park.  Originally it is believed that this was the site of Portrush castle which, together with the church, was ransacked and destroyed by the army of General Munroe in the late 1600s.  It was later demolished to create the walls of the harbour.

It was Richard Óg de Burgh who built the first castle at Dunluce, on the cliffs adjacent to the White Rocks, near Portrush.  The castle was first documented in 1513, as being in the hands of the McQillan family. They were Lords of Route from the late 13th century, until they were displaced by the McDonnells in the late 15th century.

In 1588 the Girona, a galleass from the Spanish Armada, was wrecked on nearby rocks in a storm. Of the 1300 men on board, only nine survived, and were eventually transferred to relative safety in Scotland. About 260 bodies were washed ashore.  In 1967-8 a team of divers located the wreck and much treasure and other valuable items were recovered and are currently held at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

Following the Battle of the Boyne and the defeat of James I in 1690, the McDonnells were impoverished, and since that time the castle deteriorated and parts were scavenged to serve as materials for nearby buildings.

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In 2011, major archaeological excavations found significant remains of the “lost town of Dunluce”, which was razed to the ground in the Irish uprising of 1641. Lying adjacent to Dunluce Castle, the town was built around 1608 by Randall MacDonnell, the first Earl of Antrim, and pre-dates the official Plantation of Ulster.  It may have contained the most revolutionary housing in Europe when it was built in the early 17th century, including indoor toilets which had only started to be introduced around Europe at the time, and a complex street network based on a grid system.  95% of the town is still to be discovered.

Bushmills is a village some 8 km east of Portrush, along the coastal road.  The river Bush passes through the village.  It is home of the world-famous Bushmills Whiskey.  There used to be five distilleries in the region, but only one now survives.  The distillery draws its water not from the river Bush, but from one of its tributaries, Saint Columb’s Rill.

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King James I granted a licence to distil in the area in 1608 and Bushmills claims to be the oldest licenced in the world.  In 2005 the company was acquired by Diageo, but now is in the process of changing ownership with José Cuervo.

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Close to Bushmills is the Giant’s Causeway, an area of basalt columns that descend into the sea.  The Scottish island of Staffa has similar rock formations.  There are approximately 40,000 columns, typically with five to seven sides and measuring up to 25m in height.

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When we moved in to the new house at Islandflackey in the early 1950s, my mother bought a load of five-sided causeway stones, to use in her garden as borders.  I cannot imagine that today that they are quarried in the same manner.

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The Portrush to Bushmills tramline was the first in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity, by water turbines installed in a generating plant at Wakemill Falls outside nearby Bushmills.  The service started in 1883, with an extension to the Giant’s Causeway in 1887.  The line ran from Eglinton Street, beside Portrush railway station and the distance to the Giant’s Causeway was about 15 km.

Initially there was considerable mineral traffic from quarries along the line to shipping in Portrush harbour and there was goods traffic to Bushmills.  By 1900 this business deteriorated and the line relied on tourist traffic, supplemented by military operations during WW2.clip_image007

In late 1949, operations ceased, and the line was dismantled.  The section from Bushmills to the Giant’s Causeway was reconstructed and opened at Easter 2002.

From the Giants Causeway, the path follows the cliffs until one arrives at White Park Bay, and a little further on, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

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There has been a rope bridge there for more than 250 years.  It was used by fisherman laying their nets to catch salmon that used to pass by there, on their way to their spawning rivers.

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The Causeway Path ends at Ballycastle, the port for access to Rathlin Island.  Ballycastle is known for its Ould Llamas Fair, held every year on the last Monday and Tuesday of August.  The fair has been held for at least 400 years and it probably started as a market at the end of the harvest season  These days there are more than 400 stalls and traffic is grid-locked for miles around.

When I was young, I recall being given a packet of dulse from the fair.  Dulse is a reddish edible seaweed, very salty, but allegedly quite nutritious.

I have a long-held ambition to walk around Ireland.  When I finally set out, the first stage will be on the Causeway Path.

 

My Home Town

Portrush is on the north Antrim coast of Ulster, close to the county Derry border.  It was originally a small fishing village built around the port, on a peninsula.  The town was recorded as having been granted to Richard de Burgo in 1305.  There are many spellings of the name of the town – Portros, Portross, Portrossce – all meaning Port on the headland.

Shortly after the ice age, some ten thousand years ago, the headland was an island surrounded by bog land.  Evidence of the bog can at times be found exposed on the West Strand.  Evidence of early settlements have been found where the East Strand car park and Causeway Street are now situated.

Above the Harbour next to Ramore head there used to stand the taller Crannagh Hill but it was quarried away to provide the rock to create the harbour’s pier.  Also around here used to stand a castle known as Castle an Teenie (Castle of Fire), because a light was shone from it on stormy nights to warn sailors of the rocks all around.

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Portrush in the late 1960s

The village of Glenmanus, where I spent my first five years, is less than a mile from Portrush harbour, and just off the road to Coleraine.  Originally Glenmanus would have consisted of a small cluster of houses, surrounded by farm land.  When I was young, Glenmanus was on the edge of Portrush, but today it has been swallowed up by the expansion of the town and the old traditional Irish houses have been demolished and replaced by humdrum modern bungalows.

Portrush remained little more than a fishing village, until the railway between Belfast and Londonderry, via Coleraine, was completed in 1855, with a branch line connecting the latter to Portrush.  With easy access from the industrial cities, Portrush was eventually transformed into a fashionable seaside resort, complete with hotels, boarding houses, golf course, boating, cinemas, amusement arcades, bowling green, tennis courts etc.

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Portrush railway station in the late 1800s

In 1870 the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway purchased the already established Antrim Arms Hotel and renamed it as the Northern Counties Hotel in 1883.  With over 100 rooms overlooking the Atlantic, both at the front and back, it provided luxury accommodation for wealthy tourists visiting the Giant’s Causeway.  It even had an indoor swimming pool in an era when few, if any, existed within many miles   For many years in the late 1940s and 1950s, my father’s dance band played at night in the ballroom during the summer season, as well as the Easter and Christmas holidays, often with an additional session in the afternoon.

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The Northern Counties hotel

An ancient abbey formerly stood on the site of the hotel and its lawn. It was mentioned in a document from 1262. In 1884 portions of the walls were unearthed, with quantities of human bones.

The hotel was destroyed by arson in 1990 and the owner and two others were eventually charged with paying terrorists to burn it down, in order to claim the insurance money.  The owner was Roy Crawford, with whom I used to work at Dalzell & Campbell in Coleraine.

East Strand lies between Portrush and the White Rocks.  In calm weather the water looks inviting, but it is both very cold and dangerous, with strong currents and steeply shelving shore.  Behind the East Strand lies an extensive area of sand dunes.

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The East Strand

About halfway along the strand there is a deep hollow in the sand dunes, between the Strand and the golf course.  Here it is believed took place the Battle of the War Hollow in 1103, in which the King of Norway, Magnus Barefoot, was killed along with many of his supporters.

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The War Hollow

At the eastern strand are the White Rocks, an area of chalk cliffs, with caves, arches and freestanding pillars.

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The White Rocks

North of the East Strand, between one and four kilometres off shore, are the Skerries, a group of seventeen islets which help create a natural breakwater. There is vegetation on four of them. The islet furthest east is called Island Dubh. It is probable that it was named after Tavish Dubh, a pirate, who once frequented the Skerries, and died in his ship there, and was buried on the island.  The place of his grave is unknown. It is said that Tavish Dubh, in 1310, when Edward Bruce invaded North Antrim with the object of winning Ulster, waylaid four English ships bound with provisions for Coleraine, held by an English army, and took their provisions up the river Bann to Bruce, who was in sore straits.  Soon after, Bruce abandoned his attempt.

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The Skerries

On the east side of the largest of these islands there is good shelter, with an anchorage of six fathoms, a place often made use of in later times by smugglers.

In my time, there was a boat that took occasional visitors around the islands, when the sea was relatively placid, but I personally never knew anybody who had ever set a foot on them.

For most of us, they were so near, yet so far away…

Pamplona to Logroño

Kb

Pamplona

Tuesday, 27 March, 2012

I arrived from Uppsala in the mid-afternoon, after an overnight stay in Bayonne, SNCF to Irun, local train to San Sebastian and finally bus to Pamplona.  It felt great to be back in Spain, with the prospect of three weeks of walking from village to village.  After several pictxos (tapas), each accompanied with a glass of local wine, I felt that life could not get much better.

And I slept soundly that night.

 

Pamplona to Puente de La Reina (23km)

Wednesday, 28 March, 2012

It was quite cool when I set out in the morning. The sun does not reach the narrow streets of Pamplona until much later in the day, and then only briefly. When Pamplona was still a fortress, the inhabitants were not allowed to build outside the city walls.  So they expanded vertically.

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The narrow streets of the old city

I started very slowly, as my bad leg did not seem enamoured with the prospect ahead. After some fifteen minutes I emerged into the already strong sun, to realise that I had left my hat in the hotel. So reluctantly I went back and forth once more. I really did not need the extra walk on what was not going to be an easy day.

Once out of Pamplona, the path was undulating, climbing to a col between a multitude of huge wind turbines, strung along the ridge for as far as I could see. The steep descent from the ridge was arduous, on stones that moved with each step. It seemed endless.

But once down from the ridge, the going was easier, passing through several picturesque villages, each with their church, which I imagine pilgrims in the past would have visited. Today the churches are locked, a sign of the times we live in.

Finally I arrived in Puente de la Reina where I would spend the night. This is where two pilgrim routes merge – the northern Roncesvalles route from Paris and the more southern Somport pass route from Toulouse.

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Puente de la Reina, looking back to the wind turbines on the skyline

 

Puente de la Reina to Estella (22km)

Thursday, 29 March, 2012

It was once more quite cold when I set off in the morning, walking though narrow deserted medieval streets. That day there was a general strike in progress, and businesses had not opened.

It was Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho III, who built the bridge across the Río Arga, to aid the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.  She died in 1066.

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The bridge over the Río Arga

For a more than an hour I walked on a path along the river before climbing steeply into the hills. It was soon very hot and remained that way all day; not a cloud and no shade. I passed through three villages, each on a hill. Nothing was open.

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In one of the villages I met two old crones, each with her stout stick. They looked ancient.  I asked them if they wanted to walk the camino with me. They cackled and said they had already done it in 1993, after they had buried both their husbands.

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Puente Picudo felt like a steep climb to my tired legs

I was very tired when I arrived in Estella and walked straight into a bunch of heavily armed riot police about to charge a huge group of demonstrators. I made a hasty retreat and after much wandering, I found a hotel.

 

Estella to Los Arcos (21km)

Friday, 30 March, 2012

I set off at the usual time – shortly before nine, bracing myself for the long undulating trudge to the ridge that separates Estella from the next valley. After 45 minutes I came to Monestario de Irache, a former Benedictine monastery.  The first documented reference to the monastery is from 958, but it is likely to have originated from much earlier. It is an imposing building, with huge doors shut, and all windows barred. Were they barred to keep the public out or to keep the religious in?

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Monestario de Irache

Across the street from the monastery was a winery, and in a small courtyard was a wine fountain, for pilgrims only. Pilgrims can drink as much as they wish and also fill any spare bottles. Three old Spanish pilgrims were already there when I arrived, all looking much the worse for wear. I felt sorely tempted to join them, but found a hither unknown common sense, and kept on walking.

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Once over the ridge there was no shelter from the unseasonably strong sun, just mile after mile of vineyards and recently germinated crops. The path was stony and dusty and I was relieved when Los Arcos finally came into sight. The spirit was willing, but my body had seen better years.

 

Los Arcos to Viana (19km)

Saturday, 31 March, 2012

The previous year, when I walked from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Pamplona, I saw several crosses by the path, most with pictures, and even some with quite fresh flowers. They were all of older people and I assume they died while doing El Camino. In the last few days I had seen three more. I cannot but believe that they died as they would have chosen; following their faith, in the open air, and walking in such beautiful country.

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One of the common pruning methods in La Rioja

On that day I passed a quite old couple, having a picnic on the side of a hill, with an uninterrupted view across an expanse of vineyards. They were engrossed in their conversation and did not notice me. Later that day, when I was resting against a tree in an area of shade, I saw them again. They were walking along extremely slowly, hand-in-hand, like two young lovers.

If one of them were to die on El Camino, I suspect the survivor would erect a small cross and return each year to place some fresh flowers.

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The main street of Viana, with the church of Santa Maria

Inevitably, Viana was on top of yet another hill, with a steep access road.  On the long and narrow main street, I stopped at the church.  Inside one can see the tomb of Cesare Borgia, the most famous of the Borgia clan and greatly admired by Macciavelli.  The Borgias came originally from Spain and Cesare was one of the illegitimate sons of Pope Alexander VI.  He was commanding the Basque army of King John of Navarre when he was killed, on 12 March 1507, in a skirmish outside Viana.

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The paving stone commemorating Cesar Borgia

 

Viana to Logroño (9km)

Sunday, 1 April, 2012

When I emerged from the warren of streets of Viana and first saw the dark and intimidating mountains on the western horizon, I decided to have an easy day, and stay in Logroño on the way to Navarrete. And what a good decision that turned out to be, for Logroño proved to be a lively and prosperous town. It is the capital of La Rioja and very much a centre of the wine trade. Producing great wine is one of the few occupations that has not been outsourced to India or China, at least not yet.

On the way into Logroño, I was passed by a couple on horseback, with a dog, and en route to Santiago, with some 600k to go.

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The bridge over the river Ebro

 

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And the bridge at dusk

Later that day the owner of a bar told me that the previous year a pilgrim on horseback had passed through Logroño, having ridden from Switzerland.

I wondered where they stayed…

The Prince

The first method of estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him’    Niccòlo Machiavelli (1469-1527) – ‘The Prince’

When I read The Prince many years ago, that quote reminded me of sage advice that my paternal grandfather once gave me – ‘Judge people by the company they keep’, sound advice that has served me well from time to time.

Machiavelli served under the Borgia family of Florence, the head of which was Pope Alexander VI.  When Pope Alexander suddenly died in 1503 and the Borgia family were eventually defeated by the Medici, Machiavelli was imprisoned, tortured and eventually exiled from Florence to his nearby farm.  It was said that from his terrace he could see Florence, but he could not return, and never did.

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He wrote ‘The Prince’ as a guide to aspiring rulers, and dedicated it to Lorenzo de Medici, in a forlorn effort to endear himself to the Medici family. It is likely that Machiavelli obtained first-hand experience from observing the strategy and tactics of Pope Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia, as they attempted to conquer and unify several of the Italian city states.

Cesare Borgia was one of the many illegitimate children of Pope Alexander VI. Cesare was born in about 1475 and his father made him Bishop of Pamplona at the age of 15 and archbishop of Valencia and a cardinal while only 17.

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Pope Alexander VI

After his brother’s murder he resigned from the Church to take command of his father’s armies.  When Pope Alexander died suddenly in 1503 and was eventually replaced by Pope Julius II, a Medici and enemy of the Borgia, Cesare struggled to maintain his power.  He was eventually arrested and sent to imprisonment in Spain.  He escaped twice, the second time successfully joining his brother-in-law, King John III of Navarre, in Pamplona.

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Pope Julius II (1452-1513)

Commanding the army of Navarre in 1504, he led them in the siege and eventual capture of Viana, near Logroño.  When some of the besieged knights broke free, Cesare set off after them, but he was ambushed and killed.  He was buried in the church in Viana.

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Cesare Borgia (1475-1507)

In the era after 1527, the local bishop decided that it was not appropriate that a ‘degenerate’ such as Borgia should be buried in the church and his remains were removed and buried in the street, so that everyone had to walk over them.

In 1945 they were once more dug up and placed under a marble plaque outside church grounds and finally moved back inside the church in 2007.

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Church of Santa Maria in Viana

Outside the door of the church there is a paving stone commemorating Cesar Borgia.

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Apparently there used to be an epitaph inscribed on the original tomb:

Aquí yace en poca tierra el que todo le temía

(Here lies in a small piece of earth, he who everyone feared)

Today Viana is a relatively small and peaceful  town on the Camino de Santiago.  It stretches along the crest of a small hill, and is known as the last resting place of a famous Borgia prince.