Balugües to Pontevedra

Saturday, 1 April, 2017

Step by step, I have been slowly moving north across the map of northern Portugal and into Galicia.  It has been six days since I left Balugües, covering 127 km, spending nights in Ponte de Lima and Parades de Coura, before leaving Portugal and crossing into Spain, and staying in Tui, O Porriño, Arcade and tonight in the attractive city of Pontevedra.

Until the last couple of days the weather has been challenging – cold, wet and windy, with occasional downpours.  The torrential rain always waits until I am in the open countryside and far from possible shelter.

When we stayed in Montevideo, there were several sets of outdoor exercise machines, also in our current base of Green Point in Cape Town.  They always seem to be heavily used, and if broken, it would almost certainly be the result of overuse, rather than vandalism.  And now, I have walked through two small villages in Portugal, with their own set of machines, right on the camino.  I admit that I did not feel tempted to have a workout.


The camino in Portugal is so well marked with the yellow flechas, that even I could not get lost.  This rather spoiled my normal excuse for talking to people in the street, but I soon found other reasons.  In Portugal language was a complication for me, as my Portuguese, so far, does not exist. I found that some Portuguese are comfortable in English, others in French or Spanish, but the majority are mono-lingual.  Before I go back to Portugal, and I surely will, I must master the basics of their language.

I was always aware that the Portuguese camino was mostly on paved surfaces, but I understood ‘paved’ to mean asphalt.  Big mistake!  For much of the Portuguese camino, paved means cobblestones of all sizes and shapes, whether roads and pavements through villages, roads between villages, country lanes etc.  The stones are unforgiving, and by the end of the day, my feet, knees and hips feet were quite beaten up.

A typical village road
A village pavement with smaller stones
A typical country road

I would describe the Portuguese route as being undulating.  It is certainly not flat and in one case, between Ponte de Lima and Paredes de Coura, there is a steep climb of 400 m, largely on smooth rocks.  I had to be very careful not to sprain my ankle for the fourth time in three years.

The view from the top of the climb

I have never before seen tame sheep wandering around a village with lambs.  One of the lambs was walking along the top of a wall and jumped down on the other side.  That set off a furious baaing by the mother, especially when its lamb could not get back onto the wall after several attempts.  I was about to set off to find the owner of the sheep, when the lamp cleared the wall in one leap.  The motherly scolding ceased and all went back to eating.


Coming across a Roman mile-stone is a vivid reminder that the path had been used for more than two thousand years.  The mile-stone dated from c200 BC, probably from the reign of Trajan, and was a on a road that linked Braga with Astorga, via Lugo.


The bridge from Arcade to the north was the scene of a decisive battle in the Peninsular War, when the Spanish forces defeated the French.  During the battle, one of the central arches of the bridge was destroyed to halt the French advance.


The Ponte Romano de Pontesampaio across the river Vergugo at Arcade

It is now late Saturday afternoon in the beautiful city of Pontevedra, and I have just arrived.  The sun is shining, spring seems to have arrived and the plazas, streets and bars are packed, and everywhere there are children playing football.

And in three more days I hope to once more walk into Santiago de Compostela.

Porto to Balugäes

Sunday, 26 March, 2017

It is now five days since I left Porto, spending the nights in Matosinhos, Vila do Conde, Arcos, Barcelos and tonight in Balugäes.  In total I have walked about 86 km so far.

It was a blustery day when I set out last Wednesday.  Overhead the clouds were moving rapidly, but down below, along the river, all was relatively calm.  In the distance, I could see the spray of huge waves smashing against the sea wall.  I had a sinking feeling that I was going to experience a reminder of what an angry North Atlantic can be like.  And how could I ever forget; I grew up in its full blast on the north coast of Ireland.

The relative calm of the river valley

As I reached the coast to turn north, the rain started.  It was like having a pressure hose aimed straight in your face.  When I first had a warning of the coming storm, I quickly donned my poncho, but it proved to be next to useless; it filled with air and threatened to lift me off, like Mary Poppins.  I scuttled along the promenade desperately looking for shelter, and finally escaped the storm into a passing coffee shop, where I spent an enjoyable time chatting with the owner.  I finally emerged, totally convinced that the Portuguese were my kind of people.  At least that lady was.

But the relative calm did not last for long, when another storm hit; one could see them coming in the distance; a huge threatening black mass, preceded by cold winds.  And for the rest of the day I was repeatedly hit, sometimes sheltered, other times totally exposed, until I finally reached my destination, feeling thoroughly beaten up.

Another pending storm

The next day the sea was still thundering against the coast, but on land all was relatively calm.

Not a day for swimming

I continued north along the coast, much of the time on an elevated boardwalk.  The coastal scenery was beautiful.  I was completely alone; I never saw another walker.

Much of the coastal walk was on board walks such as this

I spent the night in a beautiful old hotel in Vila do Conde.

Crossing the bridge into Vila do Conde

The next morning, I set off late, for it promised to be an easy day.  I headed inland along a very busy minor road, through village after village, until I reached the few houses that consisted of Arcos.

The churches look quite different to those of neighbouring Spain

Finally back in the countryside at Arcos


I found the walk to Barcelos to be rather challenging.  Much of it was on roads paved with cobblestones, and they are unforgiving on the feet, knees and hips.  There was no escaping them, and by the time I limped into Barcelos, I felt thoroughly beaten up.  I recall that the London Marathon has a short stretch of cobblestones in front of the Tower of London and for the race, the organizers  cover it with thick carpet to ease the impact on the runners.  There is a good reason for having that carpet.

Last night the rain started again and it rained heavily all night, with intermittent thunderstorms.  This morning it was still thumping down, so I had a late breakfast, and started out after 10:00 when the rain finally ceased and the sun started to shine.

For much of the route a cross-country cycling race was taking place and the backs of the competitors were plastered with mud.


And finally one for my sons, who once claimed that only bulls could have horns.  You can just about see the tiny calf behind its mother.


This has not been an easy camino so far, but sometimes I have to remind myself that a pilgrimage can turn out to be a physical and mental challenge.  It is not a short stroll in the countryside.  I have not been walking comfortably – my leg is not happy, but in my head and in my heart, I feel good.

Algo es algo, peor es nada.