Wednesday 21 September 2023 – My fears about approaching rain were confirmed; it hurled it down and blew a gale all night, and when we went for breakfast this morning it was still pelting down and we had to splash through the puddles to the Hotel Cebreiro for our meal. This was dispensed with brisk efficiency by the lady manageress who’d been in charge for our lunch yesterday. She had, today as yesterday, her finger on the pulse of everything going on in the restaurant and made sure that it all ran smoothly. She really earns her crust, like so many of the people we’ve met who manage establishments catering for the pilgrim trade. Several places were run almost single-handedly by someone who has to work the bar, take restaurant orders and manage the reception. Our hat is off to them all.
As usual, the route summary and photos for today can be found in a Relive video.
As we set off on our 21km walk to Triacastela, I was not looking forward to what I thought would be a very wet day
but it wasn’t actually raining after all.
There was some confusion right at the start as we encountered two official Camino signposts pointing in different directions, neither of which corresponded to what the black line on our Google map suggested. We opted to trust the black line, but it soon led to a very suspect trail
which soon ran into grass. While I’m sure we could have followed it, I really didn’t fancy the prospect, equipped, as we were, with sandals and socks. You might question the widsdom of our footwear choice, but it’s not as daft as it might seem: we’d established, way back in the early days of our Camino, that walking with damp socks doesn’t cause any major issues; and, furthermore, we knew we were in for a major descent into Triacastela, and sandals are much our favoured choice for downhill work, as they remove any danger of mangling one’s toes against the front of a shoe. However, there’s a difference between damp and sodden; walking through wet grass seemed a poor idea, so we backtracked and restarted on one of the offical alternatives.
Someone commented, as we passed, that she thought our feet must have been cold, but they weren’t. It also reminded me that we’d offered some advice to a chap yesterday who had noticed our sandals and asked us about wearing them for walking the Camino trails (as opposed to when relaxing at the albergue or wherever one is staying). We had assured him that we highly recommended hiking in sandals but advised socks, as we thought that combination was a winner; I wonder if he was at this point testing out our recommendation and what he thought…
A little further on we came across the point at which the black line rejoined our actual track
and I felt that my reluctance to walk it had been justified.
The rain, remarkably, held off, and we even caught the occasional glimpse of the scenery as a shaft of sunlight broke through
but fundamentally, the weather was very gloomy and the view, when the clouds parted, quite dark.
The going underfoot was good;
so far I have been impressed with Galician Camino footpath maintenance as compared with other provinces we’ve walked through. And every so often, the clouds parted and showed us what we had by and large been unable to see.
We passed through Liñares
personfully resisting the urge to stop for coffee – we had, after all only walked 3km so far. The trail wound up, at times sufficiently steeply that I was tempted to unship my poles, and reached a hilltop, Alto de San Roque, at 1270m – not today’s highest point, as we’d hit that soon after setting out, but the point at which the overall trend of the path was now downwards. The Alto is marked by the statue of a wind-blown pilgrim
in a pose which matched ours at times. Soon, though we caught sight of the place for our first coffee stop; a village called
Hospital. Yes, really.
Suitably refreshed, we moved on in increasingly pleasant weather; the sunshine was nice, as it was a cold and windy day.
For the first time I was wearing both a fleece and a rainjacket against the chill; and I found gloves were necessary to stop my hands getting uncomfortably cold.
A further tribute to Galician Camino maintenance comes in the form of very much more frequent distance markers – it seemed that they cropped up about every half a kilometre.
Mind you, looking closely at them shows an unnervingly precise declaration of the remaining distance.
Our Brierley book comments that upgrades and changes to the course (as well, of course, as the various optional diversions on offer) render these more useful as encouragement than anything else.
We passed through the small village of Padornelo, which gave evidence that even stone-built dwellings can crumble
but seemed to have its own saint, as the church
is noted as Igrexa de San Xoán de Padornelo.
The Camino track closely followed the road for several kilometres
and leads past some modern-looking pallozas
to our next planned coffee stop, which was to be in a village called Fonfria. There were a couple of options shown on Google maps, one of which was a modern-looking building, an Alojamiento (lodging).
We approached it tentatively, as it wasn’t at all clear whether it was in the business of offering sustenance to passers-by. There were lights on and a single person sitting inside, but the door was open and so we asked after the possibility of coffee and were rewarded with a positive response. It was basically deserted, but we were rather pleasingly the trendsetters as a few others drifted in after a few moments and soon they were doing reasonable business. A group of lads sat outside for a while but then came in to eat their sandwiches, which made me a bit concerned as to what the weather was doing.
Rightly, as it turned out. It had started to rain as the clouds descended around us from the surrounding hills.
We got back under way, and the rain changed from the sort of wet mist that you get in every cloud into real, proper rain. Quite heavy rain.
The rain lasted for some 4km before we dropped down below the clouds and once again could actually see some scenery. And it was quite lovely.
There was actual warmth in the sun as we approached Fillobal,
a quiet village with a couple of surprises for the unwary passer-by (quite apart from the lamppost, which was somehow incongruous in this setting).
Above is, we think, an example of a traditional grain store, mounted on mushroom-shaped stilts to keep the rats out.
The path wound down, quite steeply in places
and with frequent reminders that this was cattle farming country. One had to be really quite careful in picking one’s way down the track, particularly in sandals and socks. However steep the path, though, the surface was almost entirely benign, as opposed to some of the other descents we’ve had to make as part of our Camino.
We passed through Pasantes, another quiet village
and approached Triacastela,
passing, as we did so, a Castaño Centenario, a 100-year-old chestnut tree, which was a very gnarly thing.
We reached Triacastela some five and a quarter hours after we’d set out
and made our way to our hotel, which is just after the church shown in the picture above. Our accommodation is the grandly-named Compliejo Xacobeo. It really is a little complex, consisting of an Albergue, a restaurant and a modern wing at the back, which houses our room. It’s all very well-organised, with laundry facilities, a restaurant that’s open all day and – this is something I’ve dearly missed for several days now – internet access of a decent speed.
We took lunch in the restaurant and went for a short wander around the village, picking, as we did so, one of the only times it rained. Although it’s not a big place, Triacastela has been an important calling place throughout the ages for pilgrims coming down from the mountains. It’s named after three castles which no longer exist and which may, indeed, have been destroyed by Viking invaders as long ago as the 10th century, before they were fought to a standstill. The church still bears, albeit faintly, a stencil of three castles in its tower,
below the status of St. James in the niche. There are other clues as to its status to be seen in its streets.
Down by the bus station (by the first of the two plaques above) there is a Camino monument
which was erected in 1965 to commemorate the tradition described in the Codex Calixtinus. According to it, the eleventh stage of the Way starts in Villafranca do Bierzo and ends in Triacastela, which “… is where pilgrims pick a stone and take it with them to Castañeda [further along the Camino from here] so as to make lime with it to be used at the building works of the Apostle basilica”. The stones could be picked up from any one of a number of sources along the way.
The village also has a rather charming dovecote,
and, erm, that’s it. We had Seen The Sights and could retreat to our hotel to relax for the rest of the day.
We have seven more walks to do in our Camino. Tomorrow’s will take us to Sarria. There is a “direct” route of about 16km (it still winds its way across country); there is also the option to travel via a place called Samos, where there is a sizeable monastery. Doing this increases the distance to about 25km and that is our plan A unless the weather is a complete disaster.
Our stats: today was 21.7km, according to Relive, so we have now walked 664.2km on the Camino – very nearly 413 miles. The descent to Triacastela was a major part of the day, but we climbed at first, too; our total ascent was 337m and descent 964m. Highest point was 1,376m and lowest 667m.
After Sarria, things start to get more serious and we can expect a great increase in the density of pilgrims (who’ve by and large been reasonably intelligent thus far). I’ll explain more once we reach Sarria, so please check back in soon to discover more.