Wednesday 13 September 2023 – Our hotel room was small, but exceedingly well-organised, and therefore as comfortable as was reasonably possible. It was clear that the place had recently either been converted or upgraded; everything worked, there was a place for everything and, though small, it wasn’t cramped or uncomfortable.
Breakfast was a brief affair, dispensed, like everything else in the hotel, with a brisk efficiency. Astorga was our target today, some 17km distant, and a place of sufficient pith and moment to boast at least one launderette, for which a need was building if we were to be welcome anywhere not in the open air.
We were on the road just after 8am, having taken a final view of the dogshit bridge as the dawn broke.
After we cleared the town, we had a choice of route; this time we opted for the main drag, which was perfectly decent going
and before long we were passing the next village, Villares de Órbigo.
It offered the possibility of a coffee stop but was such a short distance from our start that we decided to press on to the next village. It was clear that there was a communal sense of humour at work in Villares
and the village had an attractive centre.
We pressed on along a track which was littered with pilgrims
past some polytunnels, which were the first we’d seen on our walks.
The track led uphill, the first significant hill work we’d had to do for several days, and obviously enough of a gradient for an enterprising soul to set up a refreshment stop just after the summit called “Over The Hill”.
But once again we pressed on towards the next village
which was rather wonderfully called Santibañez de Valdeiglesias. It wasn’t entirely devoid of nice touches
but did disappointingly prove to be devoid of establishments prepared to serve coffee.
We passed this little vignette
before the track changed from straight and level to up and down.
This was actually a good thing, as the gradients and curves stopped it from being the rather tedious progression that had been so tiresome yesterday. On the other hand, every time it approached a crest,
I expected to be able to see a fantastic view revealed, or at least something worth looking at. Most of the time, though, what we got was
the next down and up.
We did hit a couple of decent views, though. One was of a refreshment stop
called “Casa de los Dioses” – The House of the Gods. Well, they didn’t have ambrosia (which would have been wrong, since ambrosia was the food of the Greek gods); but, since I was by chance in possession of Twinings finest Earl Grey and they had hot water and cold milk, we could indulge ourselves in the next best thing. It was a delightful place, self-service and funded by donations; they had fruit, chocolate, cakes, tea, coffee, juices and a variety of similar items, all presented in a very hippyish sort of way. While we rested, we chatted to Lara, a German lass who had been walking with Rocky but took ill in León and had to rest for a couple of days, which is how come she wasn’t well ahead of us.
The path took a left turn at a crossroads
(see what I did there?) and presented us with some nice views
before we reached another cross, Crucero de Santo Toribio,
at which point we had some fine views over Astorga and the nearer town of San Justo de la Vega
which has a pilgrim statue
and a coffee stop. From there it was a short walk to the outskirts of Astorga.
Astorga lies in the area of the Maragatos, a small ethnic and cultural community with distinctive customs and architecture. The town is at the junction of the Camino Francés and Vía de la Plata, an alternative path of the Camino de Santiago. It has a long and chequered history, predating the Romans, who founded a city here in 14BC and called it Asturica Augusta.
There was a confusing sign on the walk into Astorga.
At least 5km before, we’d been promised that the distance was 269.5km.
In order to get into Astorga, we had to cross the railway; the local authorities had taken it upon themselves to create an extraordinary construction to enable this.
I counted 335 paces necessary to walk up one side, cross over the 20 or so metres of the track and walk down the other side. I suppose a parent with pram would appreciate it, but it seems odd that there was no shortcut via steps.
We found our way to our hotel, the Astur Plaza, a decent enough establishment adjoining Astorga’s Plaza Mayor. However, our room wouldn’t be ready for two hours.
The hotel boasts a bar and restaurant, so we thought we’d take an uncharacteristically (for us) early lunch there whist we waited. Food, however, was not being served for 45 minutes.
We eventually had a decent lunch and got into our room, which enabled the single most important part of the day – the laundry. That task done, we went for a walk. Obviously.
Unsurprisingly, for a city with Astorga’s historical record, it’s an interesting palce to wander around. There’s the inevitable pilgrim statue,
an Irish pub,
and a few more things of greater significance. Outside the Church of San Francisco,
underneath the glass housing, lie the remains of a Roman house
with some well-preserved mosaics.
Nearby is a park, the Sinagoga Garden, which offers a fine view over the old city walls and the mountains in the distance.
There is a splendid town hall, with a great baroque frontage
and a clock with a striking mechanism for ringing the bells,
which merely adds to our conviction that Spain doesn’t really do church bells very well.
Heading from there towards the cathedral takes you past a splendid mural
which includes a great trompe l’oeuil of Charlie’s hat, if viewed from the correct angle.
There are a couple of other noteworthy murals, on the opposing walls either side of what I think is a demolished building
and just by these is another nice little trompe l’oeuil.
Before you reach the cathedral you stumble across the “Gaudi Palace”.
This striking building was designed by Antoni Gaudi in the 1890s as a replacement for the old episcopal palace which had burnt down. It is now, among other things, home to a museum about the various Caminos de Santiago.
And then you get to the cathedral. It’s another huge building; it’s not possible to get far enough away from it to do it justice in a photo; you will have seen its dominant presence over the town in photos above. I’ve put some photos in a Flickr album, as I did with the Burgos cathedral pictures – click the image below to look in more detail.
Let me share a few of the images here.
Visiting the cathedral marked the end of our sightseeing in Astorga and we retired to the hotel to prepare for the morrow. Here are our stats. We are now up to 530.8km (very nearly 330 miles), which (given a 780km overall length) puts us two-thirds of the way along. Since today was day 26 of 39, this seems a credible thesis.
Our task tomorrow will be to get ourselves to Rabanal, which is about 20km away and about 300 metres higher than Astorga; we are starting the first of the two climbs needed to get us towards Santiago. Time will tell as to whether doing all this flat stuff across the Meseta has left us soft or whether our fitness has been maintained by the walking we’ve done over the last ten days or so. And you, also, will be able to tell, but only if you keep tabs on our progress through these pages, so I hope you come back to find out how we got on.