Tag Archives: Camino Frances

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.

Camino Day 38 – Melide to Arzúa: Just another pleasant day

Tuesday 26 September 2023 – Our Cunning Plan for a somewhat later start was, in the end, a sound one, but got off to an unimpressive start. We were assured that Jacotrans, the company which has so effectively and accurately transferred our suitcases from place to place ahead of us, wouldn’t collect until 9am, as opposed to the 8am deadline which other places (and Jacotrans themselves) have specified. So we rose later than usual, but still in time to get our bags down to the hotel lobby at about 8.30. Just in case.

Trouble was, it seemed every other bugger in the hotel decided to take breakfast at the same time. The hotel’s breakfast room is small and was absolutely jammed, making it difficult for punters to navigate the buffet and for staff to keep the buffet properly stocked. It was chaotic and not very satisfactory.

Afterwards, I went out in search of an ATM to replenish our supplies of cash. Conveniently, there was one next door and I returned – triumphant with both cash and the card – at 9am, to see (a) our bags being taken away by a chap with a van and (b) a quiet and peaceful breakfast room.

Ah, well…

As usual, if you’d like to see the summary of the route and pictures, you can watch the Relive video.

The way that WalkTheCamino.com has booked our accommodation is actually, according to our friend who walked the Camino last year and who therefore Knows These Things, a fairly standard tactic among Camino walkers to avoid post-Sarria crowds. An author, John Brierley, sadly recently deceased, has written many books about all the Caminos; his detailed description of the Camino Francés breaks it into 33 chunks, the “Brierley Stages”, which many people use as their guide to planning their daily walks and destinations. The result is that every day, waves of pilgrims start out from each of the start points of the Brierley Stages and, equally, arrive at the destinations in waves. This makes for “pulses” of pilgrims along the way and, apparently, can make booking accommodation more difficult due to the popularity of these particular destinations – particularly from Sarria onwards. Neither Lestedo nor Melide are end points of Brierley stages, and this is the main reason that our journeys yesterday and today were so relatively quiet. Our Cunning Plan of leaving a bit later? Probably irrelevant, actually, in comparison to our location.

Another consequence of the “Brierley Stages” is, of course, the “Camino Family” idea. If certain places are popular to stay overnight and people start out at around the same time each day, then one is almost bound to encounter and re-encounter familiar faces over the days; we’ve certainly seen evidence of this. While we haven’t forged any major conversational bonds since we last saw Lara, there are certain familiar faces as we go along and we do the Very British smile and nod thing to show we recognise them.

The Brierley Stages and the Camino’s own 100km rule also combine in a less positive way. Before Sarria, encountering fellow pilgrims was a relatively rare event, and so the various greetings and wishing of “Buen Camino!” were, it seemed, a reflection of genuine fellow feeling and friendliness. After Sarria, not so much. The number of people on the route means that the “Buen Camino” greeting is used so frequently that I think people do it from a sense of duty, rather than because they genuinely give a toss about the other people. I have certainly practically given up using it, but Jane heroically and stoically takes on “Buen Camino!” duty for the pair of us and I am grateful for that.

It’s similar to our experience walking in England. Out in the country, it’s relatively uncommon to encounter other walkers and the exchange of greetings tends to be cordial, unless they’ve unleashed their dog on you or some such. However, when walking in towns, where there are so many more people, it’s much rarer to be acknowledged by others as you pass.

Whatever, we started out at about 0930 in misty conditions, with relatively few pilgrims about.

We didn’t have the same long periods by ourselves as we luxuriated in yesterday, and it wasn’t long before we caught up with a wave of pilgrims.

However, we were never really bothered by the numbers of people around us, and quite often had the trail almost to ourselves.

All in all, it was a pleasant day’s walk amid the pleasant, familiar but unremarkable Galicia farmland scenery. There were a couple of fairly steep ascents which, gratifyingly, we found were not at all difficult, and, once the mist

had cleared there were some nice scenes along the way.

Pleasant and unremarkable the landscape may have been, but the walk was not without interest. We passed a few noteworthy vignettes: some mischievous graffiti;

the 50km distance marker;

a house with some nice models outside it;

Cunningly used for delivery of the post (left) and bread (right)

retail opportunities beyond simply bars and restaurants;

engaging decoration of houses;

and a (an?) hórreo which was open, displaying what it was being used to store.

Probably the most interesting thing we passed was early on in the walk – a lavadoiro: a public clothes washing place.

You can see that it’s well-organised, with a reservoir of water being refreshed and overflowing into a nearby stream, and a passage around it so people could gain access to the washing stones. We had seen mention of these in descriptions of previous villages and thought of them as relics of a bygone age; so we were amazed when a lady came up with a trug full of clothes and started drubbing away at them.

(She was quite happy to be photographed, by the way, just in case you wondered.)

Just over half-way along our journey, we passed the village of Castañeda,

which – you’ll remember, because you were paying attention, weren’t you? – was the place where pilgrims were enjoined to drop off the limestone they’d picked up in the Triacastela area to be fired to make the lime used in the building of the Santiago Cathedral.

The final village on our route was Ribadiso,

proud owner of a medieval bridge

and an interesting back story.

The Ribadiso da Ponte Hospital, or Santo Antón de Ribadiso Hospital, was built here, beside the bridge, to receive and serve pilgrims, and run by the Franciscan monks before passing into the ownership of Santiago ‘s brotherhood of silversmiths, known as St Eligius. In 1523, the Brotherhood rented the house to Rodrigo Sanchez de Boado, a native of nearby Rendal, for one half silver real a year, with the condition that he keep the buildings in good condition. There are other historical references to the hospital buildings and they were all restored by the Xunta de Galicia in 1992-1993 for use as a pilgrim hostel.

At a guess, this is why Ribadiso is the destination of one of the Brierley stages, but our journey took us on a couple of kilometres further, to the town of Arzúa. The town itself is not particularly prepossessing

but it does have one of the Estrella Holy Year posters

and a few other cute corners.

It also has the very lovely 1930 Boutique Hotel,

which we were lucky enough to be staying in – another excellent choice by the crew at WalkTheCamino.com. It’s delightful inside

and out

with very charming hosts, Adrian and Andrea, who, apart from welcoming us very, erm, welcomingly, mentioned that they also owned a nearby restaurant, Casa Nené, which was still open for lunch!

After a quick refresh in our room, we hied ourselves thither and had a Nice Lunch, which was a pleasant appendix to a pleasant walk.

Our stats for the day: we covered a modest 14.6km, and so now our total distance stands at 769.3km, or 478 miles. Given that the official mileage of the Camino Francés is 480 miles, one is permitted to wonder why our actual is going to exceed the official version. We have taken a few diversionary routes – still official Camino trails but maybe not the exact ones that give this official figure. We should hit the 500 mile mark a couple of miles outside Santiago, which is an invigorating thought.

However, let’s not celebrate until we actually achieve, eh? We still have two stages to go. Tomorrow takes us about 20km to Arca, which is actually one of the Brierley Stage destinations, implying that our last day, Thursday, will be spent elbowing our way through mobs of pilgrims all, erm, hell-bent on reaching Santiago for the prized Compostela. The tension mounts (yes, it does), so tune in again a couple more times to this channel to witness the exciting denouement!