Tag Archives: Camino de Santiago

After the Camino, Part II – A Day Trip to the End of the World

Monday 2 October 2023 – As satisfied as we might have been with our 800 kilometres of walking the Camino Francés, one could say that we hadn’t actually completed the staff work. Yes, the Camino primarily leads to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, because the remains of Saint James the Apostle are believed to be buried there, but some pilgrims choose to continue their journey to Finisterre and Muxía, on the west coast of Spain, for a few reasons, historical, symbolic or traditional among them. We had, in our way, chosen to do this, but it would be by bus, not on foot (walking to Finisterre would have added three days minimum and some 80km to our pilgrimage).

Thus it was that we found ourselves standing outside an underground car park at 0845 waiting for a coach to turn up and whisk us off to Finisterre and Muxia so that we could at least see what lay at these two significant and symbolic end points of the Camino.

The itinerary turned out to be a lot more varied than I’d expected, and  involved no fewer than seven stops. It was a pretty standard tourist setup – coach with guide, stopping at places so everyone could scramble off the bus and wander around for a few minutes taking photos before getting back on and being whisked off to the next place.

The weather was quite cool as we started, and as a result we could see the mists in the valleys as we went along.

The first place we stopped at is a staging point on the Camino as it wends its way coastwards. When we arrived, because Pontemaceira was (being centred around a bridge over a river) in a valley,

It Would Have Been Better If It Were Clearer.

Despite the poor visibility, one could see it was a charming place; I can imagine it to be eye-achingly photogenic in the right conditions.  The bridge from which the village takes its name is a 13th-century bridge built upon the foundations of an earlier Roman bridge, and the place (which, Wikipedia tells me, has 73 inhabitants) is a monumental village. That means it’s a village which is in itself a monument rather than one which is huge. It has a couple of dwellings, a chapel, two old water mill buildings and a more modern manor house. One can look into the mill buildings

and see the river Tambre rushing past underneath to give some idea of what would have powered the mills when they were operational.  I really wish that (a) the weather had been clearer and, if so, (b) we could have had longer to take photos. The whole thing was a bit rushed, but that’s not unusual for these kind of tourist outings.

So it was back on the bus and off to the next destination, which was a fishing village with, it would appear, a speciality of farming mussels.  There were some large platforms out to sea, reportedly some 25 metres square.

As you can see, the sun had burned off the mists, and was shining strongly, making Muros look very pretty.

Again, we didn’t have much time to wander around, but then again the place didn’t have much to offer. I’m not quite sure why we stopped, to be honest; it was perfectly pretty, but didn’t really add anything to what I perceived to be the mission of the day trip, which was more to do with the Camino.

Neither did the next stop, which was, again, pleasant enough, but slightly puzzling.  At Ézaro there’s a waterfall which is unusual in that it debouches directly into the sea. Also unusual is the amount of tourist infrastructure in place for something which is nice enough but doesn’t have the gravitas to merit what one finds there. There’s a tourist centre, with a cluster of outlets – souvenirs, clothing, ice cream, coffee, all under a large shelter with plenty of seating. To get to the falls, there’s a very well-engineered walkway, which leads past a thundering great hydro-electric facility; this made me wonder whether the price of being allowed to set up the plant was an obligation to provide the somewhat over-engineered tourist facilities. The falls themselves,

at least when we saw them, were, well, just these waterfalls, you know? It may be that the hydro plant was extracting lots of water  and the tide was low; perhaps on another day they would even impress an Icelander. Anyway, we scarcely had time to have beer and crisps and visit the falls before we had to hurry back to the bus and on to the next destination, which was Finisterre.

I was keen to see Finisterre, principally because of its status as an end point of Camino pilgrimages. It was named by the Romans, as they thought that it was, literally, the end of the world – Finis Terra. Also, the name was familiar to me as one of the names in the UK Shipping Forecast, along with Rockall, Dogger Bank, German Bight and the rest of them. I started to look for a chart of where the Finisterre area was and made a discovery that quite startled me: it no longer exists! It used to be the area, as one might expect, to the north-west of Spain, adjoining Biscay. However, its name conflicted with a different Spanish meteorological area definition, and Spain won the international wrangling over the name, So the Finisterre name was dropped and the area has been christened FitzRoy, named after the grandpa of all shipping forecast areas, Met Office founder and HMS Beagle captain, Admiral Robert FitzRoy.

This, by the way, was back in 2002. And no-one told me.

Finisterre was not the desolate, windswept outpost I expected. There’s a rocky outpost, yes, which is a lighthouse at the top of a cliff

but it’s not desolate; it even has its own hotel.

OK, there may be only six rooms in the hotel, but as soon as I learned that it was possible to stay there, a plan started hatching in my mind, matching the one which had been forming in Jane’s for several days now: we could do one of the other Camino routes, with the Portuguese one being the favourite, and finish with stay at the hotel. More on that plan later…

The Finisterre lighthouse is a popular tourist destination, and so there were a lot of people there as well as the contents of our coach. There is a “zero kilometre” Camino marker there

which is inevitably a selfie magnet, though I don’t believe that any of the people queuing up to have their face in a photo of the marker had actually walked there. There are a few other things at the site: a small memorial cross;

and a rather nice symbolic boot.

The lighthouse was built in 1853, in part to address the reputation of the coastline as the “coast of death”, because of the appalling loss of life due to shipwrecks in the area. Its light is reportedly visible at a distance of 30 nautical miles. Except in fog, of course. For that eventuality it was equipped with a siren that sounds like mooing, so it has the nickname “the cow of Finisterre”. I have a picture of the cow’s horns.

The lighthouse is, of course, right at the tip of the land, because its usefulness would be limited were it elsewhere. I thought that there was nothing else there, or at best a few shacks.  I was therefore surprised at the size of Finisterre town, at which the coach stopped after we’d visited the lighthouse.

It even has its own castle,

although it’s rather small and is now in use as a fishing museum.

We wandered round the back streets of the town

which has one of those “Spanish open” – i.e. closed – churches, and also a rather engaging chapel, Capela de Nuestra Señora del Buen Suceso,

and also a lavadoiro,

albeit one which doesn’t look as if it gets a whole lot of use.

There are numerous eateries along the seafront by the harbour, and we managed to choose the one which gave us the single most horrible cup of coffee in our entire Spanish travels before going back to the bus and on to the next destination.

Muxia was also not what I expected. Having seen the film “The Way”, I expected a dark, desolate, rocky, windswept outpost, lashed by Atlantic seas, with a dark stone church as the sole construction there.

It wasn’t quite like that.

For a start, there’s a very impressive monument, which was erected in recognition of the events of 13 November 2002, when the oil tanker ‘Prestige’ ran aground at Muxia, spilling some 75 million litres of oil into the Atlantic and along the coast from Portugal to France, with Muxia being the worst hit. A massive cleanup followed, which means that the site is now pristine.

The monument takes the form of a broken rock – symbolic of the break in the ship, the wound to the sea and also of how the disaster divided the community through the economic hardship engendered by the damage to the area. The monument is called “A Ferida” (“The Wound”) and was sculpted by local artist Alberto Bañuelos.

In front of the monument is the other “zero-kilometre” marker for the Camino. “How,” I hear you cry, “can there be two places which are at zero kilometres?” There are two Camino routes which start at Santiago de Compostela; one leads to Finisterre (called Fisterra in Galego, the  language of Galicia), and the other leads to Muxia.

Each of them is around 90km in length, but to receive a Compostela for these Camino journeys, one has to complete 100km.  This means visiting both by foot, in either order, adding some 30km to the total.

Can you imagine how the plan hatching in my head is developing?

Anyway, Muxia. This is what it looked like on the day we were there.

The church is the Santuario da Virxe da Barca, the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Boats. It was originally a pre-Christian Celtic shrine and sacred spot. This part of Spain was resistant to conversion to Christianity, and was only converted in the 12th century. The Christians built a hermitage on this location at first, and later the present church in the 17th century. Throughout the centuries, it has been a magical-religious object of worship and of veneration for thousands of Camino pilgrims travelling from Santiago to Muxía. In legend, it’s the place where the Virgin arrived in a stone boat to inspire courage in the Apostle James. The church was closed, but Jane managed to get a photo of the interior through a window

and if you look closely, you can see small models of boats hung inside.

We are told that when a fisherman gets a new boat, they offer a model of it to the church to ask for protection – presumably similar to those we saw hanging from the ceiling of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (The Sailors’ Church) in Montreal, Québec when we visited last year.

I would have liked to spend more time at Muxia, which is a very charismatic location, but, once again, it was time to head back to the coach for our homeward journey. This was interrrupted by one final Tourist Attraction, probably the most unusual of the entire day. This was

the longest and oldest hórreo in the world. Well, the oldest one with an actual documented history anyway. – 27 metres in length with 22 pairs of legs, and looking rather like a millipede.

The size of your hórreo depended on many things, such as the size of your harvest.  Each harvest used to be subject to a tithe – a tenth, given to the church. A large hórreo such as this might well have belonged to the church and been used to store the tithes that had been taken. One nugget we learned on the trip was that in Galicia the hórreos are under a preservation order – they may not be destroyed.  That accounts for why there are still so many around the province, as well as why so many of them are so obviously disused and decrepit..

That was it for our day trip. It was great to see Finisterre and Muxia, and I expect we will visit them again as end points for another Camino, possibly even from Lisbon. The other destinations? Well, they had some charm, I suppose, particularly Pontemaceira, which I think would have been stunning on a decent day. But we learned a few things and saw some more sights and, moreover, got back to Santiago in time to do a final bit of shopping to (eventually!) get hold of a bottle of a particular Galician gin,

to which we’d been introduced in Casa Marcelo, and which we wanted to contribute to our hosts on the final segment of our stay in Spain.  We are now headed for the wilds of the Galician countryside to relax and eat and drink a great deal more than is in line with current government guidelines. Thank you for joining Jane and me on our journey from the south of France to the west of Spain. These pages are about to go quiet for a few months until our next expedition, which is planned for February next  year. I hope that you’d like to subscribe to the blog (provide a comment, provide an e-mail address and ask for future updates) so that you don’t miss out on what we hope will be a spectacular holiday travel. Until then, hasta luego!

Camino Day 40 – Arca to Santiago: end of the road

Thursday 28 September 2023 – I suppose it’s no surprise that we woke earlier than the alarm today, so, rather than try to enact our previous plan of a slightly later start, we got up a little early and Got On With It. You can see the Relive route summary and photos here.

This turned out to be a good plan, in small but telling ways. For example, it got us to breakfast earlier than we would otherwise have arrived. Breakfast was served in the café/pizzeria next door and was administered by one very busy lady, who had to provide some form of breakfast for each person in the queue. We were second in line, so had a relatively short wait before we got our toast and jam. By the time we had finished it

the queue was out the door. As we left our hotel, at a few minutes past 8am

it was no better, so it was worth getting there a little bit early.

Much to my surprise, the crowds of pilgrims I had expected to encounter from the word “go” today failed to materialise, at least immediately.

That was a welcome surprise; less welcome was rain, which hadn’t been forecast, and which varied between a fine drizzle and something a little wetter. We never needed our rain jackets, but a hat was useful to keep my specs dry.

“Red sky in the morning” proved to be a reasonably accurate warning, and the day was dull and cloudy and occasionally damp.

It wasn’t long before the path filled with people

and it stayed that way pretty much all day, with one very notable exception, which I’ll cover later. As well as regular peregrinos, there were also large groups of teenagers giving every indication of being on school trips. The crowds, the rain and the routine nature of the trail we were on meant that there were only a few photo opportunities which engaged my attention as we went along.

We passed the border of Santiago parish council,

the airport,

a place called A Lavacolla,

a location where the pilgrims of old washed and purified themselves in preparation for arriving at the cathedral; and a mad piper, the “Piper at the Gates of Santiago” (about 10km away).

A few kilometres after that we reached a tiny woodland chapel, the Capela de San Marcos,

where there is a significant diversion possible from the main Camino, which simply carries on towards Santiago. The diversion takes one to the “Monte do Gozo”, which logic says should be marked with a Maltese cross*, but which translates as the “Hill of Joy”, reportedly where pilgrims could catch their first sight of the cathedral in Santiago. It’s marked by the statues of a pair of enraptured pilgrims

who are carried away with joy at seeing the cathedral.

Yes, really. It is there, under the right-hand pilgrim’s right armpit.

Sadly, the weather was disappointing; “it would have been better if it were clearer” applied therefore to the first and last days of our Camino.

Apart from its not-insignificant cultural value, the interesting thing about this installation is that, despite all the crowds of people trudging along the Camino, we saw fewer than half a dozen people who seemed to have bothered to read around the Camino enough to know that the pilgrim statues were there and to take a look at them. Jane had, of course, done this, which is why we were there. We were accompanied by a nice American couple from California, Susan and Bob, with whom we’d fallen into conversation a while back. With them we looked at the various other items on display in the (really quite extensive) park that surrounds the Monte do Gozo; four large displays, in an offset-diamond formation;

a largish amphitheatre and swimming pool and, just outside it, a bonkers sculpture garden, the Skulpturenpark von Jose Cao Lata, which, though closed, had some weird and wonderful pieces on display that one could see

as well as some interesting and amusing items carved into its walls.

All those pilgrims trudging by on the main Camino missed out on these things, which is their loss.

It was rather nice to have Susan and Bob to chat to, to distract from what became a fairly dull walk through the outskirts of Santiago.

This is not to detract from the place – every city has its industrial and residential outskirts.

There were a couple of things to note: a sculpture of a Templar Pilgrim;

the Porta Itineris Sancti Iacobi, a modern and decorative gate

and, eventually, the more attractive buildings of the old town.

We wended our way through these handsome streets, which offered the occasional tantalising glimpse of what might be the cathedral, and then

arrived at the Cathedral, along with hordes of other people, which made for great atmosphere but poor photography opportunities, so we took our leave of Susan and Bob and headed off to our hotel, the very nicely-organised Moure hotel, where we were cordially welcomed by Manuel. Initially, it seemed that our room wouldn’t be available for a while, but as it turned out we didn’t have long to wait for our room or our bags, delivered by the ever-reliable Jacotrans.

It’s worth extolling the virtues of Jacotrans; it organises the transport of pilgrims’ effects from pretty much any A to any B along the Camino in a very flexible, cost-effective and, importantly, utterly reliable way. On each of 40 occasions ever since St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, our bags were collected, transferred and deposited exactly according to the schedule that had been laid out. It’s also possible for people simply to arrange transport day by day if their plans are not as baked-in as ours were. It’s a terrific service which removes a lot of the worry from a long-term expedition such as ours.

We couldn’t just relax for the rest of the day, as we had a Very Nice Lunch to go to. Asador Gonzaba was recommended by a friend, and we had booked a table for lunch. We did have time, as it turned out, to visit the Pilgrim’s Office to see if we could pick up our Certificate. When we arrived, the queue seemed rather daunting

but it’s very well-organised and, thanks to Jane, so were we, with our Credenciales fully filled in and stamped as needed. Within 15 minutes we had our Certificates of Distance and, much to our surprise, Compostelas; we hadn’t expected the latter as we’d stated right from the off that this wasn’t a spiritual exercise for us. Anyway, we got our awards and they got their €6, so everyone was happy. We then had a really properly Nice Lunch, too, so we were delighted. (We have another recommendation from the same friend for tomorrow, so we’re looking forward to that, I might say.)

We did a certain amount of wandering about and gawping at the number and size of ornamental and religious buildings in Santiago. The cathedral is utterly vast, much bigger than those of Burgos or León, and there are all sorts of other buildings to admire as well. We have a guided tour of the city arranged for tomorrow, so I’ll save today’s pictures for an entry about the city which I hope to be able to publish tomorrow.

For now, here are our stats (for the last time): we covered 21.4km today (including the diversion to Monte do Gozo) and so our total has risen to 810.km – 503.6 miles. The official figure for our mileage, as given on the Certificate of Distance, is 779km, which is 484 miles; but we have done a couple of route variations and diversions, so I’m going to assert our figures as the distance I shall be bragging about for quite some time to come, I suspect.

So now our Camino is over, and I really don’t know how I feel about this yet. Will we miss the relentless get-up-pack-breakfast-walk-lunch-write-sleep routine? We still have some time in Spain to enjoy ourselves, so be assured that I will include any philosophical musings on this in future updates about our time here; stay with me if you’d like to find out what else we do whilst we’re around Santiago, eh?

* go check Google Maps for Malta if you don’t understand this joke.

Camino Day 39 – Arzúa to Arca: nearing the end

Wednesday 27 September 2023 – In a way it was a shame to have to leave the splendid 1930 Boutique Hotel, but needs must when the, erm, devil drives. Breakfast was a slightly strange affair, being a table service kind of thing, with more dainty portions of your toast and yoghurt and so forth than we had been used to, but served with alacrity and a smile. Having eaten, we decided we might as well get on with the walk, as we weren’t really sure that yesterday’s Cunning Plan of having left a little later than usual had any bearing whatsoever on how crowded the trail was. You can see the summary video on Relive, as usual, by clicking here.
We struck out at 0820

and it was immediately clear that we were in for a crowded day. That was true for the whole of the 20km we walked.

At one coffee stop, I videoed the path, to give some idea of the ceaseless stream of punters coming by.

As was the case for the last couple of days, the morning was misty

but the mist gave us some lovely views as we went along during the morning.

It was easy to tell that we were getting closer to Santiago by the increasing number of retail opportunists along the way,

and also by the increasing frequency – and crowdedness – of refreshment stops.
The day, as yesterday and the one before, was Just This Day, You Know? Perfectly pleasant but unremarkable except for a few things that stood out: one nice landscape with no punters in it;

an area where eucalyptus trees had been felled and the remnants, instead of simply being left to lie around, had been gathered and bundled up, though for what purpose we don’t explicitly know;


the 30km point;

the Wall of Wisdom;

hórreos of (we think) an Asturian, rather than Galician style – square, rather than long and thin;

a colourfully-decorated house which used boots and shoes, presumably either discarded or donated by pilgrims, as flowerpots;

and – at last – an insight into how maize is harvested, since previously we’d only ever seen it either as a crop or as a blasted, post-harvest field.

Our destination, Arca, is rather difficult to distinguish on the map. Google Maps indicates the area as being the town of Pedrouzo (noted as a Brierley Stage destination), and when we got near the hotel, the town name displayed was neither that of Arca or Pedrouzo.

The place itself is not particularly prepossessing

but at least it is prepared to admit the existence of the UK on its tourist signposts, for which we should be grateful.

Our hotel, the Pension Platas, is functional rather than decorative

but was prepared to provide extra pillows and so forth to show that it cared a little. Food is provided by a related café just along the street. It was absolutely rammed when we tried to get lunch, but still managing to provide a perfectly workmanlike paella for Jane and pizza for me. We later walked through this rather unrefined area to a local church, Santa Ooh-la-la Eulalia, which, Jane had read, features a gigantic shell as an altar dressing. And so it proved

(as you can see, a mass was being performed, so I just quietly grabbed a shot from outside the door).

That was it for the day. The latest stats, then. We walked 19.6km today, bringing the total to 788.9km, or 490 miles.

Tomorrow, all being well, we will complete the walk from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela; we just have to cover the last 20km. We’re toying with the idea of a late start to see if that reduces the crowding on the trail; it might, and it might also increase the amount of queuing we have to do at the far end to get our certificates. Who knows? I shall report back and would be pleased were you to return to find out how our Camino ended.