Camino Francés – The Meseta– Part 2/3
“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a track that has always been there waiting for you. And the life you should be living is the life you are living.” – Joseph Campbell.
Day Nineteen: Fromista – Carrión De Los Condes (Hostal Santiago)
We had a choice of tracks today. I choose the scenic path as opposed to the long soulless straight road Población de Campos to Carrión de Los Condes – 19.7 km. While I was looking forward to walking alone, I liked knowing I would be meeting up with Pam and Den later in the day.
Given it was a short day, I slept in, then strolled into Fromista for breakfast. The town was shroud in darkness. I walked passed the Church, saw some lights on in the square, then I noticed the outdoor tables. A few people, braving the cold morning air, occupied the chairs. Despite the rising steam from their coffee cups, the idea of sitting outside for breakfast was unappealing. Behind them was a bakery, fresh bread aromas drifted out in the street. The smell plus a couple of empty bar stools beckoned me in.
Once again, finding my way back onto the Camino Francés route was challenging. Crossing motorway roundabouts with little to no lighting over the on and off-ramps under a night sky, freaky! I finally reached the senda (gravel track), which runs parallel with the A-67, then entered the small village of Población de Campos. I followed the yellow Camino arrows on a journey that went around the peripheral, lead us back into the quaint centre and back out again. Daylight was breaking as we began to exit. The South Koreans from Burgos, three school teachers, walked by. Then stopped and asked if I was taking the detour route. We continued on together, once again with other pilgrims in our wake. Thankfully, avoiding the wrong turn. I was relieved to have made it onto the correct route. I stopped at the start of the track to take photos. The straight path to Villovieco stretched out ahead of us. The band of walkers dispersed some sped up, while others dawdled, enjoying the scenery. The vista, a densely planted forest with skinny bleached trunks to the left, to the right open agricultural fields – a mix of paddocks recently ploughed and others with messy weed-like crops – overshadowed by a pink sky; worth the wayfaring hassle.
On the outskirts of Villovico, we crossed Rio Ucieza, the track now switching to the other side of the river. The bridge was blocked by a team of groundsmen, clearing the river banks. I was not in a hurry, plus the café on the other side looked like the ideal spot for a break. Sadly, the café didn’t open until 10:00 am; one of the disadvantages of leaving early. I hiked on. Opposite Villarmentero de Campos, I took the track leading into the fields, found a cosy spot to rest and air my socks and feet. My only woe of the day, now that my blister was healing was my hat. I had been trying so hard not to lose anything on this Camino. The night before, I had tied my still damp hat to the bedpost. Before crawling into my sleeping bag, I gathered all my belongings, stashed them into the cupboard, by my bed, so I wouldn’t disturb the late risers in the morning. I did a final check, not realising I had missed my hat.
The scenic route finishes near Ermita del Cristo de la Salud, an uninviting imposing building with a Fuente. I left the road, climbed the ridge up to the building. The water from the Fuente was not potable (drinkable); however, the knight’s templar symbol on the ancient circular picnic bench, was worth the detour.
The village ahead, Villalcázar de Sirga was a commandery of the Knights Templar and home to Santa Maria la Virgen Blanca X111th C, a magnificent Templar church. Churches are not my thing, but this one, which is now a national monument, excited me. I sauntered around the honey-coloured stone church, taking in the imposing archways and thick wooden exterior doors; I’d arrived an hour before opening time.
I headed for the café/bar in the mediaeval inn, MesónVillalcázar, which had a great view of its front entrance. I ordered fresh orange juice, coffee, and a slice of apple tart – thick velvet custard, with thin apple slices on the top – sublime. The café owner informed me that the church was closed on Monday. Sundays and Mondays on the Camino are tricky!
Carrión De Los Condes delivered the navigation challenge of the day – the passageways off the main square snaked around and returned me to where I had started. Without a hat, my sun-addled brain was ready to quit, I pushed on, eventually finding the Hostal Santiago, where I had booked a single room with bathroom. When we finished the check-in paperwork and processed the payment, the Hospitalier, paused, then said that the Smiths were waiting for me to joining them. It appeared that Dens booking was not recorded, given it wasn’t the first time it had happened to him, he booked another room. Worried that I also might find myself in the same situation, he requested a room with three beds. The Hospitalier shuffled on his feet. I felt he was waiting for me to offer a solution. Thankfully there was another person in reception. Caroline and I met last night in the garden of the Albergue. As she didn’t have a booking, I offered her my room for what she could afford. Our host let out a sigh of relief.
We were eating lunch in a small square when Caroline stopped at our table, with tears in her eyes, saying that she was so grateful to have a night with an ensuite. As we hugged, I noticed the hotel sign across from us – another Hostal Santiago. They were probably waiting for Den to arrive.
After lunch, we found a sports store in the square. It was great to catch up with Jimmin and Stefan, who were milling around outside. We wished them a Buen Camino, went inside, and I bought another hat – this time a cap.
Day Twenty: Carrión De Los Condes – Ledigos (El Palomar)
The temperature as we left the Hostal was 9 degrees (Celsius). By the time we had crossed over Rio Carrión and passed San Zoilo a luxury hotel, which once was a monastery, the temperature had dropped. My hands were freezing! I was walking with Pam and Den, and although we had headlamps, we were struggling to locate the waymarkers. Once we had crossed the N-120 we could relax – this was the start of an isolated 11.6 km trail. The first 5 km of the days was on asphalt tarmac – easy walking. Not long after we joined the straight, solitary stretch – the original Roman road – we stopped, turned around, to enjoy the orange glow of sunrise, overlayed with the silhouette of tree trunks and branches.
I was struggling with my backpack. Thankfully, there was a picnic table up ahead. I needed to get my pack off and repack it. Because the day included a 17.2 km stretch without water, toilets and only a possibility of a mobile café, I was carrying extra water and food.
The café was open, and we piled into the fenced yard, dropped our packs and ordered something to eat. Pam and Den each had a chorizo bocadillo – the chorizo taken off the BBQ, into the bun with lots of sauce. The freshly squeezed orange juice, the best so far. I also had coffee and a chocolate croissant, perhaps not the best choice for the long walk ahead. Christy and I were briefly united, while she sat with us, waiting for her posse.
The temperature started rising as we left the roadside café; by the time we reached the only shelter stop on this track, we needed to stop and strip off some layers. A man, maybe mid-late 70s asked if we thought the roadside cafe sold water and if so how far back would it be. Given nobody on the Camino likes to retrace their steps, I dug a little deeper, finding out he had no water. I offered him some of my water, he declined. After some wrangling, Den managed to get him to accept some of our collective water supply. Thankfully we walked past this man the next day; carrying water!
We descended on an earthen path into Calzadilla de la Cuez, our first sighting of civilisation, tumbling into chairs under an umbrella outside the bar of the Municipal Albergue. We took it in turns to go inside, order a cold drink and a snack. We were sitting next to Jimmin, then Stefan arrived and joined us. He was waiting for one of Christy’s friends as they were going to stay at the Municipal; as they both wanted to walk less and take more time to experience the Camino.
We left the hamlet of Calzadilla de la Cuez, crossed back over the N-120, followed it, on a tree-line very rocky path which played havoc with my almost healed blister, into Ledigos.
Our Albergue looked ram-shackled with its overgrown backyard and inner courtyard, my little room upstairs with its wood-cabin look was clean and inviting. Den and Pam’s downstairs room was quaint but comfortable. We hung out our washing, then made our way to the Albergue La Moreno. We booked in for lunch, it was a set menu my choice: vegetable soup, a rabbit stew and tiramisu for dessert; scrumptious. We shared the bottle of Vino Tino.
Day Twenty-one: Ledigos – Bercianos del Real Camino (Berciano-1990 Casa Peregino)
We left Ledigos just after 6:30 am; according to the Camino de Santiago forums we walked past the halfway mark of the Camino Francés 3.3 km later at Terradillos de Los Templarios. Walking under a sooty night sky our minimal was lighting. Finding a half-way sign was not as important as locating Jacques de Molay, Albergue and the earth track that would lead us out of the hamlet, and across the Arroyo de Templarios to Moratinos.
Albergue Moratinos, ablaze with lights and a huge sign offering desayunos (breakfast) beckoned us. Inside we managed to navigate around chairs, backpacks and find some seats along the back wall. The menu looked delicious. I settled on a tomato and Jamon tostadas, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee; a nice change from the yoghurt and fruit breakfast we usually ate before heading out on the track. The small bar/restaurant pulsated to the sound of different languages, laughter and the clatter of coffee cups.
We had walked 6.6 km; it was getting lighter outside, with another 20.3 km ahead of us, we were keen to be on our way. To the right of us was a lumpy mound, which looked as though it was the locals dumping ground. As we got closer, we saw the base was studded with Hobbiton like houses. I’ve since discovered the hill is called El Castillo de Moratinos, and that the caves are owned by local families to store their wine.
On the way out of Moratinos, we pass through a square; the trees connected by ribbons of crocheted flags, their trunks swathed in crocheted blankets. It reminded me of Coimbra, Portugal (Portuguese Camino route) and the crocheted Mandelas we strolled under on our way up to the top of the town. I filled up my water bottle at the local Fuente, the spring water from this fountain, rating “best ever!” Who knew my decision to minimise plastic waste would turn me into a water aficionado.
We passed through the sleepy village of San Nicolás del Real Camino and Albergue Laganares; it’s bright outdoor furniture, red chairs and red gingham tablecloths providing a stark contrast to the surrounding sombre landscape. At the far edge of the village the Camino track branches off, we choose the old route, veered out of San Nicolás del Real Camino, into the countryside. Then followed the trail up a hill, briefly pausing on the small plateau, to take in the expansive view. The white track stood out against the straw-coloured landscape. The only sign of life was the endless snaking line of pilgrims. We left Palencia and entered Provincia de León, dropping down to the Rio Valderaduey, to wend our way into the city of Sahagún.
Sahagúns architecture a mix of mediaeval, modern brick buildings and historic churches planted on a sloping city with narrow streets felt disorderly and uninviting after the sparseness of the open plains. Our destination was Iglesia Señora la Peregrina to obtain our Camino Francés halfway certificates. On the forum, there was a post that the hours July to September were “Monday through Sunday 11-2 and 5-8.” But first, we wanted to celebrate. It was, 10:30 am. We found the ideal venue in the V-shaped intersection in front of us. The French-looking courtyard, three plane trees with a thick canopy of leaves had a café, Confitería Asturcon, which turned out to be a pastry lovers dream. I had a thin multi-layered custard square. Pam, chose a cylindrical pastry piped with velvet custard, and Den a sponge roll filled with Chantilly cream.
We were on a sugar high as we made our way out of the city, then climbed up to very imposing Iglesia Señora la Peregrina, which stands on the outskirts of Sahagún.
It was good to be back out on the track; the tree-lined senda provided a welcome respite from the mid-day sun. The only tricky part of the walk was the second intersection – here the Camino splits into the Real Camino Francés and Via Romana. The latter, the original Roman road, offers few facilities and lots of solitude. At the intersection we stopped and had more sugar, this time a kit-kat; then set off on the Real Camino Francés to Bercianos de Real Camino.
All you want to do, at the end of the day, is find your Albergue, shower, change into fresh clothes, wash your trail clothes, have a cold drink and a snack, then chill for the rest of the afternoon. Later on, when the heat of the day has dissipated, we usually explored the village, visited the local tienda to replenish trail snack supplies and buy food for breakfast.
What you don’t want to do is walk to the edge of town looking for your Albergue. The address of Bercianos 1990, is Calle Mayor 49, on the edge of town. The actual building, however, is located at Calle Mayor 1. Our hosts were apologetic explaining they had tried to get their address changed; however, their request was denied. We ended up walking well over twenty-eight kilometres.
Thankfully, we liked the Albergue. It was new and purpose-built with every bunk, fitting with privacy curtains. The bed heads each had a charging station, cubby-hole and reading lamp. The separate his and hers bathroom facilities inside the large dormitory were clean and spacious. The communal boot stand, laundry and outdoor drying racks were downstairs beside the bar and restaurant area.
We bought a bottle of wine; I ordered a goat cheese salad, the others tapas, found a table and chairs under an umbrella in the Albergues very sunny front yard. We were having fun catching up with other walkers, when we realised our washing was in the shade,– we gathered up our clothes, rearranged the empty chairs, and draped our laundry over them – damp clothes in the morning, not an option.
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