Camino Day 35 – Sarria to Portomarin: Surrounded By The Madding Crowd

Saturday 23 September 2023 – Today was a trying day. I shall be moaning a lot about it in this post. If you’d prefer to avoid my self-pitying querulousness, you can simply see the summary video on Relive.

The weather forecast for today was fine – sunny and not too hot. The only worry on my mind was how crowded would the trail be. To remind you, Sarria is significant because it’s just over the 100km away from Santiago needed to qualify for a Certificate or Compostela when arriving there. Therefore, a lot of people start their Camino in Sarria.

On turning the first corner, the situation became clear

and my heart sank. For five weeks, Jane and I have been walking effectively in solitude and we were suddenly confronted with what seemed like masses of people. Of course, it wasn’t a crowd, but the sharp contrast with not only the walking we’ve done in Spain, but actually all the walking we have done, in England and elsewhere, made me feel very uncomfortable. Yes, of course these people have a perfect right to be there; of course I’m being unreasonable. But I hated it. All day. I even found myself at a couple of points thinking, “Well, I’ve proved I can do the hills; I’ve proved I can do the miles, why should I put up with this? Why not just grab a taxi and spend a few extra, relaxing days in Santiago?”

Annoyingly, it even affected my photography. Over the last weeks, I have taken a measure of care over the photos I’ve taken, spending time composing the image and capturing it as best I can on a (top notch) mobile phone. This takes time, perhaps as much as 30 seconds. In that time, the people that I’ve overtaken would have passed me, and so I would have to suffer the Very British Problem of feeling embarrassed when I overtake again. And again. And again, My defensive response was either not to bother taking photos at all, or just to grab a shot as I walked along and hope that it was OK. This doesn’t always work, as this one I tried to take of a chap opportunistically selling pilgrim sticks shows;

it’s blurred and badly framed. In others, there are people in the frame when I don’t want them there, or I’m not happy with the composition. The day was as trying photographically as it was emotionally.

There was scarcely an instant in the day when Jane and I had any feeling of being by ourselves.

In many respects, the day was a good one: the weather was perfect for walking; the going underfoot was very good; and the scenery was, at times, lovely.

We were passing through farmland, and so there were (scents to smell and) animals to see.

There were charming vignettes, such as this family weeding their land,

a new take on a pilgrim mural,

and attractive building decoration.

There were stops for coffee and beer.

There was uphill and down dale (much more, to be frank, than I expected, but it was nice to get the exercise). There were attractive corners of the many villages we passed through.

There were unusual objects, some familiar, such as this dovecote

and some less so: does anyone know what these are for?

We think they’re stores of some description, but if you know, please post a comment to educate us.

There was a very significant waymark,

although, as I’ve said earlier, its precision in specifying exactly 100km to the nearest metre as the remaining distance is bound to be inaccurate. I don’t care, and neither did all of the other people taking their photos and (sigh) selfies around it.

There were bridges, some very modest

some with a little more presence, albeit somewhat rough

and some really grand ones

which brings me to our destination, Portmeirion Portomarin.

Believe it or not, there was a steep descent to get down to that high bridge. Amazingly, there was a decision point on the trail beforehand

where everybody turned right, because turning left (on a more recently-crafted route) carried with it a warning that it was steep. Given how steep the “not-steep” route actually was, I can only imagine that the other route required pitons and ropes. Quite why it was put in place, I don’t know. Whatever, the route we took led you past a couple of great viewpoints to see the very impressive bridge across a river that has been widened by a dam somewhere downstream (which, incidentally, required the entire town of Portomarin to be relocated in the 1960s). Amazingly, people were walking past this viewpoint without even registering it, far less to take a photo or (shudder) a selfie. Why do all this walking and ignore what’s around you?


The bridge offers some great photo opportunities as you cross it

and when you get to the other side you are greeted by a significant flight of steps;

only 46 steps, actually, so not as bad as getting into Sarria, where there is a flight of 62 to keep your heart rate up.

Although there’s not a huge amount to see in Portomarin, it’s a handsome place

with a very large and historically significant church at its centre.

Portomarín was a town of great importance during the Middle Ages – appearing in the Codex Calixtinus – because Its bridge was a strategic crossing point, as it was the only place where it was possible to cross the fast-flowing Miño River without a boat. The church of San Nicolao, was actualy moved, stone by stone, from its original location when the river was widened. It is an unusual combination of a church and a fortress. This twofold purpose originated with the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, who built it between the late 12th century and the early 13th century to provide protection for pilgrims and traders.

Inside it’s plain, but otherwise fairly churchy.

At each end there is a modern stained glass window. The one you can see in the photo above is fairly unique in that it has actually 13 segments (the norm is 12; sometimes you see 10 or 16). We have failed to find out why this is the case.

Inside the church are a couple of photos of Dom Sampedro

(you remember – the chap who is largely responsible for the reinvigoration of the Camino) and outside there are a couple of statues, including the obligatory one of St. James.

Our hotel is literally in the shadow of the church (well, after midday it is) and it has a kitchen with a fridge, a kettle and mugs, so we can make ourselves lashings of Twining’s finest Earl Grey tea.

And this brings my story of the day to an end. I would say I’m sorry for the moaning, but I’m not. I only hope that I can come to terms with the extra numbers of people on the trail. One friend suggests leaving late and walking slowly so that the hordes are largely dispersed; perhaps we’ll try that. In any case you’ll be agog to know the latest stats, won’t you? We covered exactly 23km today, which means that I don’t need recourse to a calculator to tell you that our total is now 713.4km. I do need one to tell you that this is just over 443 miles.

Tomorrow, our destination is Lestedo,, which is about 20km away. Once again, rain doesn’t figure anywhere in the Accuweather forecast; let’s hope that they get tomorrow as right as they got today, and I’ll bring you news of the day’s events, hopefully in a more positive tone, in due course. For now, hasta luego!

7 thoughts on “Camino Day 35 – Sarria to Portomarin: Surrounded By The Madding Crowd

  1. Karin Wennas

    I didn’t start so late, about 8-8.30 but took it slow, several breaks, a long lunch and so the masses passed me so the last couple of hours I was more on my own.

  2. Ian Burley

    They don’t register the viewpoint, because they simply don’t care. All that matters to them is getting the trail done. It’s pure consumption. It reminds me of a (former) friend, I hiked around Annapurna with a few decades ago. She wanted to do it as quickly as possible so she could brag about it when we got home. I took it more slowly, and when she saw my photos after the trip, she discovered things she had never seen before! Chin up and don’t let them get you down. You’re getting far much more out of it than they ever will..

  3. Katharine C Burridge

    The madding crowd -new bastards!
    A runner called Rosie years ago blended into the Boston Marathon in its final of 26 miles – to win it. She was quickly found out…


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