I saw you from a foreign window…

…Bearing down the suffering road,

You were carrying your burdens,

To the palace of the Lord.

From “No guru, No method, No teacher” an album that is arguably Van Morrison’s magnum opus.

Or as Baldrick would say, his magnificent octopus.

The song floated into my mind as a woman hailed us Buen Camino from an upper window in her house as we walked past and I thought the lyrics quite apt.

I was beginning to accept the weight on my back as my burdens to carry to St James, to offer up for hope and forgiveness. It really helped me rally my strength and push on at times, knowing that this was my cross to bear.

It appears a few customers are a tad miffed that I have not concluded properly, my little odyssey. So at the risk of not fully delivering on what was promised, I shall bring this little collection to a conclusion and sign off.

A Philosopher set off on a journey and before starting, turned to his apprentice and asked “Please shorten my road”. The apprentice was befuddled saying he did not understand and so his master turned, went home and told him to be ready to start again the very next morning. Proceeding again their journey, he asked again to the apprentice, “Please shorten my road”. The young man was dismayed. “How can I possibly shorten the road. I do not understand”. Again, his master turned and went home instructing his apprentice to be ready at first light. The poor young man returned home at a loss. He explained his plight to his Mother and so she sat him down and told him that the next time he was given this instruction he was to tell his master the story which she then recited to him. Sure enough, the very next morning the Philosopher commanded his apprentice, “Please shorten my road”. The apprentice then started the story his Mother told him and by the time he had finished, they had reached their destination. “Thank you” said the Philosopher “for shortening my road”.

A quaint little tale told to me on the road by another Pilgrim, as we agreed that good conversation certainly soaks up the miles.

The final day into Santiago was a happy day of pleasant company and nice little places to stop and refresh.

It was a strange feeling of elation that the journey was at an end but also sadness for the same reason. There is a part of one that just wants to keep walking and doesn’t want the adventure to end but as we all sometimes too painfully know, all things must pass.

Entering Santiago is odd. It must be like entering London in say, Peckham but you are heading to St Paul’s Cathedral. You may finally be in London but you still have a long way to go. Still, a quick hitch up of the old rucksack and onwards on adrenalin.

15 mins out I thought I would pay homage to my dear compadrés at the Bouncing Barrel in Herne Bay and walk the final part of my journey playing the beautiful guitarlele they bought me, so wonderfully illustrated with the Camino by the gifted artist Mr Peter Gander.

And so this was it.

Finally, my fellow Pilgrims and I entered the great city of Santiago de Compostella after (for me) a month of walking across Northern Spain.

The atmosphere in the main square was happy and busy. The Cathedral was majestic.

We went to the office to receive our official certificates after having our Pilgrims Passports scrutinised and being congratulated officially, receiving the certificate, then stepping out to realise the weight of accomplishment and that it was finally all over, was for me (of course) quite overwhelming.

I then went to the shrine and wrapped my arms around the broad shoulders of old St James, hugged him as if I didn’t ever want to let go and allowed the tears to flow. I then followed the signs to the crypt and there behind glass was a silver casket containing his mortal remains. Yes, I can hear people shout…”allegedly”…”yeah right”…”don’t be fooled” but I don’t care. People have been doing this for a thousand years and I believe.

I believe in God. I believe in the life of Christ and most importantly the mystery of his resurrection. Yes there are a tons of things I can’t rationalise or explain (and don’t really care to), a billion questions to which there may never be answers enough to satisfy the human mind but it is the power of faith not to believe in what is seen but what remains unseen.

You think I’m mad?

Take a look at the double slit experiment, particle entanglement, the serious discussions physicists are having around simulation (a discussion no different in my mind to the contingency of being and the un -moved mover, that Thomas Aquinas was reasoning in the 13thC.) Some science especially in the field of quantum physics is looney tunes compared to my belief 😂

Anyway, I am wandering off topic.

At the kindness and generosity of my Sister I was treated to 3 nights of unashamed luxury in a Parador right by the Cathedral. In the 15thC it was a hostal for the Catholic Kings on Pilgrimage and boy did they know how to do the Camino. The place is a palace. No dirty, flea-bitten, unwashed here my friend.

The Camino has been a wonderful and hopefully life changing thing to do. It has really affected me in ways I could not have imagined but maybe that’s usual when someone achieves a big goal in life. I must admit I don’t get out much😀 and haven’t done many great and adventurous things, so maybe it’s an effect of that.

But whenever I see a scallop shell or a yellow arrow something stirs deep inside and a yearning arises. A yearning for the Camino, for enlightenment, for God?

This sign as you enter the outskirts has been artistically defaced by passing Peregrinos. It is a wonderful sign of togetherness, shared experiences of pain and joy and a unified celebration of achievement. I have loved spending the days here watching new Pilgrims come into the square, crying, laughing, hugging and cheering each other. I kind of envy them. It’s funny. But it gives me a warm glow.

And now I am here…

…much further south in Andalucia at a house The Sister keeps, resting and reflecting and waiting for Easyjet prices to fall so I can come back to Albion.

So there it is.

A big thank you to all the followers of this blog journey. The support, well wishes and humorous comments. And to all the dear folk at the BB for the multitude of kind and generous gifts and good wishes.

I consider myself lucky to have such goodness in my life.

Buen Camino on the journey through life to you all.

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Inarticulate speech of the heart.

This amazing song (2 versions) by the one and only Van Morrison is the soundtrack of this afternoon and the rest of the day.

I will report back in more detail tomorrow but for now I just need to be in the moment with my inarticulate speech.

‘Nuff said.

What can I say…

The reason this song from the amazing Silk Degrees album by legend Boz Scaggs is rolling round my head is that yesterday and today have seen a large increase in Pilgrims and the atmosphere is really buoyant, happy and almost party-like along The Way. It is so enjoyable and relaxing. Everyone is happy. I have been walking with so many different people and we all keep drifting apart only to re-meet at a café or bar further along to catch up again. It’s really quite fun and today was an absolute pleasure.

Not much to report really apart from the fact that the pressure is off and it’s a dance from now on into Santiago.

Daniel and I finally met up with Sayo again yesterday evening, so we are back as our original group. I am so glad we will all enter the city together. It means a lot, after all we have been through.

This is us setting off this morning.

The day before yesterday saw Daniel and I walking through many kms of villages where all the cafés and bars were closed for some reason, and it wasn’t even Monday 😉

At one point we had to stop next to another closed café and re-assess our options. I managed to scrape up a slice of cheese and a slice of mortadella each which we rolled up and ate. We then finished the remains of a bag of dried fruit, seeds and nuts that I had and somehow found enough resolve to carry on another 5k to the next village hoping that the bar there would be open. We eventually arrived to find two bars which were…you guessed it, closed.

I thought back to my previous experiences of this nature along the way and said to myself…do not despair, God will provide. This is the Camino and St James will look out for you. I sent up a silent prayer for help and as we re-saddled the rucksacks, resigned to punch on through another 3k, we turned a corner and there was a big crowd of Pilgrims outside a roadside café all enjoying tortilla and coffee.

No words were necessary.

The following morning I thought we should be prepared due to our experience of so many closed cafés for such a long distance but I thought, no. Trust that we will be ok. Fear not and God will provide.

Walking along, I was saying my usual morning prayers for a good day and trusting completely that we will be provided for. As I concluded there was a big sign Saying “Jesus Loves You”. This made me smile. Then within ten minutes and for the rest of that day we passed a multitude of lovely bars and cafés serving wonderful fare and good supplies. With a good breakfast inside and enough stocks to keep us going, we had a delightful day’s walk with loads of new Pilgrims.

Today it has been the same but amplified. The three of us are back on the road and last night at Mass we met a lovely group from Ireland with whom we have been walking on and off, all day.

Daniel and Sayo often walk ahead and I am alone. They have struck up such a lovely friendship and I love it when they share time together. I am happy to be alone at these times with my own thoughts and it’s not long before they look round and tell me something or ask a question.

We have also met another Japanese family who are walking with this little fella.

He is 5 yrs old and is having a great time. What a wonderful experience to give him.

We stopped for a break today at a bar with a lovely garden. It was packed and the clan from Ireland were there. I had spent a nice hour walking and chatting with one of the men from the group. We had drifted apart and met here again. I played some songs on the guitar.

Everyone seemed so happy to have music added to the ambience, to add to their experience and they all appreciated it. I told them they’d be sick of me by the time we reached Santiago 😂

I was playing last night in the town square and it was lovely to have the little children gather round all wide eyed, wondering what on earth was going on.

I nearly asked him on the left, “What do you think of it so far?” Eric Morecambe style.

The little villages are plain but pretty enough.

In the old days, families used to keep the cattle downstairs so that the body heat would rise up through the night to keep them warm. I have a feeling some may still do this. The villages stink of cow dung and they do seem to live cheek by jowl.

The Galician language is so delightful. It is a mix of Spanish and Portuguese. I read somewhere about how they say Bon Dias instead of Buenos Dias and how, if you really want to impress, you say Gratheenyas, instead of Gracias. I did that the other day and received a bigger slice of dessert than everyone else. Maybe it worked. It’s all X’s and Q’s up here but I think generally most words end with a ‘y in front of an ‘a or ‘o, so Buen Camino is Bon Caminyo.

I have crossed a lot of bridges.

Both literally and metaphorically. (I don’t know if this is a gramatically correct sentence but you know what I mean)

I truly hope that I can carry my Camino lessons onward at home and see any future challenges as small bridges to cross rather than mountains to climb.

And to finally approach life like the last few days. Not to fear or worry of what’s ahead but just to calmly trust that all will be well and that God will provide.

I loved this roadsign.

It may be tatty, worn, weatherbeaten and a mess, but it points to a place of hope and glory.

Tomorrow when I reach his shrine, I am going to give the statue of St James the biggest hug ever.

For all of us.

Funk to Funky

Now I really do feel like Major Tom.

From the funk of dorms crammed with bunk beds to this funky pod dorm. Each pod has a light, socket for recharging the mobile and a small cupboard. The place is very well designed, very new and a nice space to land in after a long hike.

After Sarria, there was not much but more countryside and farming villages, until the delightful Portomarin.

The countryside is changing though and I could be walking through Devon on a hot sunny spring day. All rolling arable pasture land, and gentle hills.

The rapeseed is already in full yellow brightness setting.

Housemartens are darting everywhere in Church undercrofts and barns and I saw my first Swallows yesterday. Always my favourite moment in the changing of seasons. I have seen such variety in bird life here of such rarity in England and even heard a Cuckoo this morning. Such a joy.

The original Portomarin is down there somewhere at the bottom of the lake. It was flooded years ago, rebuilt up the hill and is now a modern town.

Parts of it look very Andalusian to me. They took the Church apart block by block and rebuilt it in the square.

A Gothic block typical of Galicia and so different to the baroque styles of Castillia and Rioja.

The town square was quite pretty but from how the town is facing, as soon as the sun descends over the hill it becomes very cold so there was no typical Spanish night life.

Up until then, I found a nice terrace bar and enjoyed a beer with some olives and played my guitar.

Whilst the locals up North don’t seem to give much of a fig about a bloke playing his guitar in public, it wasn’t long before I was approached by some obviously southern Andalusians who sat around me enjoying the music, encouraging me to play more.

I played in a style typical of their region and they loved the compliment. They are so much more open to music. Anything for a Fiesta. We enjoyed each others’ company for a while then they walked on saying I was an artist.

Though whether they were referring to the guitar or the pint of lager I am not sure.

The next morning bought a fog bank in.

I thought of the great John Carpenter film. Within an hour I was looking down on it.

The walk today was enjoyable. I met Daniel again and we spent the day together. He is such pleasant company. We are now in Palas de Rei in our space pods.

The daily Pilgrim cycle.

Rest, shower, wash clothes, eat, Mass, early to bed ready for the next day’s walk.

Of which there are but three left until we get to give old St James a big hug.

70k left mas o menos. A mere 45 miles.

All seems suddenly over so quickly.

And I was thinking today, if my memory serves me, about the programme Luther where the final scene at the end of every season has him asking…

“What next?”

Ground control to Major Tom

I feel like I’ve been floating in a tin can. Days of mountains and bad wifi have rendered me out of touch. Feels like a blur.

Walk.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.

I felt ill in the morning after arriving in Ponferrada. Inevitable I guess as the owner of the Albergue at Acebo obviously thought it a waste of money to turn on the heating for a piffling six Pilgrims. I was shaking with cold and with teeth chattering grabbed three blankets for the night. The following descent in full exposure to the sun must have taken its toll as I awoke the next day to a big cold sore and swollen throat. I was in no shape to hoist up the rucksack that morning so took it easy and jumped on a bus just a quick ride to VillaFranca del Bierzo as Ponferrada held no particular charm.

This region of El Bierzo is apparently gaining a reputation for its wine and passing through, it did seem a bit like Rioja. Vines in every direction, young and old. Acres of land stripped bare ready for further planting. They were busy at it.

Fruit of the vine and work of human hands.

VillaFranca del Bierzo was very pretty but I just had a quick lunch and head off.

A big mountain and a famous spot lay ahead but by the time I had reached 12 km it was mid afternoon and I decided to stop for the day as the sun was intense and there was not much shade.

The place was Trabadelo and I elected to pay an extra 2.50€ for a room with low beds hoping no one else would pass through and was lucky, so had the whole room and bathroom to myself. Luxury, as bunk bed dorms were starting to grate.

Then a solitary hike up a very steep incline to 1200m.

A nice day to do it though.

Up, tiddly up.

Trying to smile for the camera.

With my heart thumping away.

I stopped at 900m to catch my breath at a sleepy village called La Faba. A nice little spot where I rested for half an hour and ate some supplies. There were a couple who passed me en-route, from the Czech Republic. The chap works for Euro tunnel and lives in Ashford. He knows Herne Bay and often walks to Reculver Towers. Small world.

There was a quaint little Church where I spent some time.

Then off to complete the task. More sunbaked climbing.

It was tough.

But I eventually crossed into Galicia.

The scenery was all quite spectacular as mountains usually are

and I eventually found myself in a famous place called O’ Cebreiro.

This was a small village of typical Galician thatched huts of Celtic origin and has some quite interesting Camino history dating back to the 11thC but any form of honest integrity and uniqueness has been defiled. It is now nothing more than a vulgar tourist trap.

I popped into the Church for a quick prayer of thanks and moved on swiftly. Shame, as I had planned to stay there.

Another 5.5k and I came to Hospital de la Condesa and decided to stay as it was getting late, I was hungry and had walked far. Also it was the only place with a bar for miles.

This Pilgrim statue was at the peak.

Then the next day, the bit that is down, tiddly down to Triacastela.

After lunch here I decided to take a diversion to Samos, the home of the oldest Monastery in Galicia.

The guide book said Vespers at 7pm followed by Mass but of course there was no such thing. So I took the 5 buck tour.

What a place though.

Incredibly beautiful.

Sadly there are only four Monks left here.

He is the one that gave the tour.

It will probably end up as a Parador once they have all gone.

In its heyday there were over 100 and they make their own chocolate, honey, Turron and liquor.

This is the Altar of St Benedict.

Impressive.

Today Sarria.

Only 15km but I need a rest so have splashed out for a single room with a private bathroom.

Sarria is the town where most quickie pilgrims start. It is the minimum distance you must walk to qualify and get your certificate.

I am told the crowds pick up from here and Santiago is only five days away but I may make it a bit longer. I think my body is slowing down and needs a rest.

This is it though.

The beginning of the end?

Or the end of the beginning?

Only 85 miles to go.

One more cup of coffee before I go, to the valley below.

It was with this song, that only Bob could write (album:Desire) that I continued my descent to the valley below. I called in for breakfast to a small café just opened by two Australian sisters in their mid to late sixties. They have taken a five year lease on the place, having walked seven various Caminos. I thought they were so brave, leaving their homes and families on the far side of the world to come to this tiny hamlet and run a cafe with a few rooms. (30€ per night-too expensive for a peregrino). I stayed at a nice enough albergue though but it was so cold I helped myself to three blankets.

I stopped at the Aussie joint for lunch the day before on my way in and had a lovely but brief chat with a man who was not only 84 yrs old but had walked the Camino 25 times. I was amazed at his story. He honestly looked no more than 70. He sat there with his small lunch drinking a whole bottle of wine. He claimed the Camino and wine kept him alive, fit and happy. I had to agree.

And so the descent.

Tough terrain. Rocks and boulders all the way down and really hard on the feet. I felt sorry for my toes bearing the brunt of the forces of gravity against the top of my shoes. I already have two black toenails from similar descents but I hang on to the hope that they have earned me proper hiker’s stripes.

Down, down, down.

I took a break after two hours.

Wild lavender grew everywhere it could find a home, in all the crevices.

I rubbed my hands in it and inhaled its intoxicating gift.

The valley below loomed, the sun was up and hot and the cicadas were singing.

And then, sight of a town. At last, refuge.

I had earlier passed through this wee place.

So pretty.

And a place for sale.

Don’t tempt me.

Finally Ponferrada.

A big town / City with a knights Templar Castle.

I spent the walk with a lovely American chap from Pennsylvania. He walks Camino’s all the time but for a reason. He has type 1 Diabetes and although takes not a penny in salary, gets sponsorship from a pharma company for equipment to treat his condition on the road. When back home he gives lectures and holds events on how you can still do amazing things even if you have diabetes. What an inspiration and a lovely man.

His name is Bob Scheidt.

http://www.diabetescrusader.org

He has literally walked all over Europe and next year plans the big pilgrimage in Japan. 1500kms and 80 temples.

Now that’s a Camino.

I cross into Galicia maybe tomorrow. The last leg of my journey.

And it stoned me to my soul…

Classic Van the Man from the 1970 Moondance album, my song of today.

I departed Astorga yesterday fuelled up with café con leche and churros.

The road was a nice long slow incline up to a town called Rabanal del Camino.

My shadow in front of me, with the sun on my back pushing me ever westward.

Miles of countryside with mountains beckoning which I would soon have to climb.

I collected some colours of the day…

…and started to ascend,

eventually ending up in Rabanal. The sky was a rich hue of blue, the sun was positively beaming but boy it was cold there.

The Albergue was really good and I asked the owner if I could buy all of her furniture and ship it back to England. She had really decked it out with some lovely rustic antiques.

The highlight of the day was vespers at the Monastery sung in Gregorian chant. There were only 3 Monks in residence so it wasn’t a showpiece but wonderful enough for me as a lovely style of prayer.

The church was very old and spartan and the atmosphere wonderful.

There were a gang of Pilgrims I have been meeting up with on and off from Portugal, Spain and Mexico. Real nice hombrès and always good to talk to.

There’s also a van load of French tourist’s who ‘walk’ the Camino in small bites each day while the van drives ahead with their suitcases and secures beds for them. We proper pilgrims arrive in the afternoon happily exhausted and get the bed leftovers and have to clamber over their open cases spread all over the floor. This really annoys the hombrès and I shrug my shoulders and laugh. Buen Camino.

There are people from all over the world here and the place is packed full. I was contemplating the conversations thinking that we are all just making different sounds to communicate. Our different languages are just a different collection of sounds coming out of our mouths but the one common sound we all as humans make is that of laughter and it is the same no matter where you are from. An international sound that means the same thing wherever you are on the planet.

Today was a significant day leaving Rabanal, and one which I have been thinking of for months. The climb to the Iron Cross or Cruz Ferro. It stands surrounded by a huge mound of stones and pebbles carried by Pilgrims from all over the world. Each one carrying a dream or a prayer or a remembrance of someone.

Young Daniel, my fellow Korean Pilgrim has been invited to stay an extra day at Rabanal as one of the Monks there is Korean and has offered him a day’s spiritual direction. We departed with a hug and I wished him well. This will be good for him and I am sure he will catch the rest of us up.

The path ascended up and up.

Windmills. And I thought of Don Quixote. Quite a different era.

Temptation along the way, especially on the steep bits.

No takers here Senõr.

1500m up and the site I have been longing to see appeared.

I had made it.

Standing high up on top of a mountain I felt this quite an achievement. Back when I was questioning everything and when I heard of the death of my cousin’s husband, she send me a text asking to let her know when I had left the shell. Once I received this, there was no turning back.

I had a few pebbles to carry with me and when I asked him for one, he fetched a lovely shell that he had been given decades ago by the Natural History Museum to use for an illustration in a book version of 20,000 leagues under the sea. He showed me the book and his drawings were marvellous.

I placed the shell next to a pebble someone had painted,

along with the others I had carried from England.

Among them, a fossilised shark’s tooth I found on the beach in Herne Bay.

50 million years old and created back when there were tropical waters there. And now high up on a mountain in Spain. The earth will enfold everything back up into it’s bosom over time and re-process it all again.

The sheer volume of stones and messages from around the world is touching.

It was a special moment.

And it stoned me to my soul.

I have decided to hole up in a little town that only ever sees Pilgrims pass through,

And at €3 for an alleged, not quite pint I can understand why!!!

The others have had a big lunch and taken a taxi to the next town but I have had enough for one day.

We’ll catch up down the road…