Tag Archives: Holiday travel

Camino Day 6 – Estella to Los Arcos, plus a few random thoughts

Monday 21 August 2023 – Well, here it is, 3.15pm, we have arrived, showered, stretched and rested and I would appear to have some time to write up the day.  As a day, it shared many features with yesterday – an early start after a limited breakfast, much walking through Big Scenery,

feeling the heat increase to quite oppressive levels after midday, and arriving some six hours after departure, significantly sweaty.

A pattern in the days is that towards the end, particularly in the heat, progress seems to slow as we get nearer our destination.  Some of the Camino signposts have the distance to the next town on them, but it increasingly feels like Spanish kilometres are longer than anyone else’s. Jane says they must have expanded in the heat…

You can see the pictures and route via Relive, as usual.

The stats: distance – 21.6km, bringing us to a total of 136.1km (84.5m); and we went up 423m and down 393. There were a couple of steepish gradients, but nothing to write home about, which is why I’m not writing about them.

So, what stood out about the day?

The schedule

The hotel served breakfast from 0700, and were point-blank resistant to the idea of preparing a takeaway snack for us in advance (basically the only minus point). So we thought we might have a very quick cuppa and bite of something as early as possible before moving on, thinking perhaps they might start the breakfast informally a little early.

They didn’t.

So at 0650, we decided just to Get On With It, as the forecast for the day was scorchio.

Other pilgrims

We followed, for a short while, a matched pair.

These two constitute the first couple I have seen so far who are kitted out identically from the waist up.  This is not normal, and was somewhat charming to see.  It put me in mind of another pilgrim fashion statement I wanted to cover, which is the power of branding. We saw this with another pilgrim as we departed Zubiri for Pamplona

Check out those socks!

Seeing that photo reminds me of another general point I wanted to make concerning solo pilgrims, I have been surprised by the number of pilgrims travelling alone who are female. I make no point from it; it’s just something that interests me.

The socks also remind me of another thing I have pondered as I make my way, which is the yellow painted arrows that, alongside the formal posts displaying the cockle shell, you can find making it very difficult to miss your way, The Camino (in fact all the Camino routes) is (are) a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I wonder:

  • Is the yellow colour a standard across the Camino routes?
  • What’s its pantone number?
  • Is there a single approved supplier of the right shade of paint?
  • If, so, how did he land the gig?

Anyhoo…back to today

The Wine Fountain

Yes, there’s a place (Bodega Irache) where you can bowl up with your bottle and fill it with their wine, free of charge,

Neither Jane nor I drink wine these days, and in any case it was 0730 at this point, and we didn’t have any receptacles handy. But we had a quick slurp, and it was not too bad. Tradition dictates that you should use, as your “glass”, the cockleshell that you can get anywhere to wear attached to your backpack to show you’re a sucker pilgrim.

I couldn’t be arsed to detach mine, so a cupped hand had to do.

The Blacksmith

Just before we got to the wine fountain, we passed a very engaging scene – a real, working (and open) ironworking forge.

The smith was charming, and stamped our Credentiales del Peregrino – the fanfold document which you use to collect evidence of where you’ve been and when – essential to get the all-important Compostela certificate at the end.


As I say, there wasn’t much else to mark the day out from others – nice and cool to start, horrible and hot by the end, when we made it to Los Arcos, a small town in Navarra that simply couldn’t be more different from Les Arcs, the French skiing resort, if it tried.  We are staying at the Casa de la Abuela and Jose, the manager was very helpful as we arrived – taking our bags upstairs, arranging for us to join a pilgrim’s dinner at the hotel later today and – this will be important, I think – telling us that breakfast starts at 0500. Given that tomorrow could well be hotter than today, I think a very early start could well be on the cards.

The hotel is an albergue, a simple hotel, but we have private facilities – not all of the other residents do.  It shares one characteristic of every hotel we’ve stayed in so far – you only get one (long, thin, bolster-type) pillow. It seems to be A Thing.  All the other hotels share another characteristic in that Jane has so far found the beds to be uncomfortable, which is tiresome for her. We’ll see about this one, but I’m not, frankly, sanguine.

One other thing that has interested me is the language. We are in the Basque region, and I had mistakenly thought that the language would be a mixture of French and Spanish.


This is a roadworks sign I saw in Pamplona.

I think this gives a clear idea of how much Basque has in common with the romance languages that we western Europeans are familiar with. The language is known as “Euskara” in its own tongue, it is an ancient language that predates the arrival of Indo-European languages in western Europe. Its roots are somewhat mysterious, and the language’s origins remain the subject of ongoing research and speculation.

So I’ve learned something today, and so have you. Who knows what further insights you may get by staying in touch with these pages, eh?

It’s Day 5. What have we learned so far?

Sunday 20 August 2023 – One thing has become abundantly clear over the last few days: it’s just as well I previously set your expectations here, because there is no way that I could seriously contemplate creating an entry in these pages for each day of our peregrination. That’s not to say that there isn’t a story for each day; there is. But attempting to write up a Camino faces two serious hurdles: lack of time; and lack of energy.

Lack of time. We have walked in excess of 20km each day so far. Day 1 (25.3km) was particuarly brutal and I have regaled you with its story already. On each of the following days until today we haven’t arrived at our destination before about 3pm, and in some cases much later than that. Once stretched, showered, changed, rested and got back after finding something to eat, it has simply been time to get to bed in order to have enough sleep.  What I have been able to do is to use the Relive application to give an overview of each day, together with some of the photos I took:

That’s a smidge over 71 miles in Imperial money, by the way.

Lack of energy. Basically, by the time we arrive at our destination, we are knackered. Day 1 was particularly tough, but each day has had its challenges.  Day 2 involved a really tedious and lengthy descent on a horrid rocky 3km stretch; Days 3 – 5, whilst not being as challenging as Day 1 (there may be one other day on the Camino that’s that tough, or maybe even not), have been completed in stinging heat – temperatures of 35°C and higher. Whilst I have been pleasantly surprised at my ability to keep going – even uphill! – at these temperatures, that doesn’t mean it didn’t take a lot out of me.  So, frankly, seeking refreshment and rest were about all I could cope with. Much as I enjoy writing these pages, there are limits, you understand.

What my editor wife and I have decided to do is to use these pages to present the sidelights and items that have interested us or struck us as being noteworthy as we go along.  Every day brings greater understanding of the subtleties and patterns of existence that Doing The Camino involves.

The main settling-in to the rhythms of the Camino has been trying to work out a routine and a schedule that allows for enough to eat, the right things to carry with us, time to get to the destination and – particularly relevant from day 3 onwards – how to deal with the heat, which becomes punishing after about midday,

I have weather envy.

It is traditional for people on holiday to have better weather than people at home.  For us,

it’s rather the other way around.

Our starts have been getting earlier and earlier as the full horror of dealing with the heat is borne in on us. It is traditional, when we’re away from home, to reflect ruefully that we only get up early when we’re travelling; but here, we’ve had 0530 alarms to get us up and out of the hotel by 0700 to give us a chance of getting most of the walk done before the cooling breezes become hot blasts, typically some time between midday and 1pm.  Hence, this morning, we had a typical scenario as the sun cleared the horizon behind us.

Food. Another challenge is simply eating.  I admit that we have a slightly unusual dining schedule, if we have our druthers: we like a late breakfast – like, perhaps, midday – and a (very) late lunch as our two meals of the day. We also like to eat a lot of vegetables because when you get to our age you need ’em.

This pattern is a bit tricky to engineer anywhere in Spain, where lunch is served until 2pm and dinner doesn’t start until 7 or 7.30pm; it is an utter impossibility on the Camino. I really don’t want to eat dinner at 7.30pm when I ought to be in bed and asleep by 9.30pm. At the other end of the day, when we want to be on the road before 7, many of the hotels don’t start serving breakfast until 7.30.  A couple of kind hotel managers have prepared us a takeaway grab bag – yoghurt, fruit, maybe a sandwich – which has been very kind of them, but we haven’t had a cup of Twining’s finest Earl Grey for days now!

There is a way round the evening meal – tapas, or, as it’s called in Basque country, pintxos. One can get delicous tortillas, creations around chorizo sausage, croquettes of all sorts and many other tasty morsels. We got some lovey examples at this slightly mad bar in Pamplona (I mean – look at that celiling!).

The downside of this approach is that, dietetically speaking, it’s a disaster area, particularly if it’s something that is going to carry on for a month and a half. We haven’t quite cracked this aspect of the Camino yet, but we’re working on it. We thought we might have a decent chance of a more balanced meal here in Estella; a friend recommended a place called Namaste, which serves salads and that. It closed just as we arrived, still hot, sweaty and in need of a shower, so we’ll have to look for something else. The hotel we’re in, the luxurious (air-conditioned!) Hospederia Chapitel, features a bar which is open all the time, so we have an emergency plan right there.

Health is an obvious concern, particularly of the feet; but other bits of the body have their say, as well.  At the end of day 1 I reported that my knees were not up to the task of allowing me painlessly to take suitcases up two flights of stairs. I’m glad to report that that problem appears for the moment to have gone away, despite the poor things having to deal with 90 more km of slogging up and down Spanish hills. I’ve had a couple of other niggles but nothing too serious, and Jane’s been fine.

The feet, though. We’re both now in a situation where part of the morning routine is the ritual Binding Of The Feet. The brutal descent into Zubiri has inflicted damage to a couple of Jane’s toes, so she is wearing (please forgive her) sandals with socks.  I am also trying to wear sandals (Tevas, proper walking sandals), but needed to take a bit more care than I already have, so need to attach bits of microporous tape to stop things getting worse.  I might also have to wear socks, though if I do, I’ll pair them with walking shoes. There are limits, you know.

Another of the challenges that come with the Camino is that of sightseeing. It seems senseless to visit all the various places we pass through without going and having a look around. (The exception was Zubiri, which is basically an industrial town where we decided not to even consider walking round, but instead cosumed nuts and raisins in our hotel room and a state of exhaustion.

However, one simply shouldn’t visit Pamplona, billed as the most beautiful city in Navarra, without taking a look around; and there are a few Things That Must Be Gawped At, so we made a bit of an effort (eased by being in a comfortable hotel, with air con). And it is a fine place.

Our hotel was near the main square, which has cloisters round each side

and is, of course, home to the famous Cafe Iruña, where Ernest Hemingway used to spend time,

We looked inside.  Google described it as “not too busy”. You decide….

The cathedral is of simply staggering size and sumptuous appointment;

the Town Hall has a wonderful façade

and, of course, there is the bull ring

and a statue dedicated to what Pamplona is probably most famous for – the Running of the Bulls.

It’s not the only place they do this, by the way.  Puente la Reina also hosts this somewhat bizarre ritual; you can tell by the way that they can block off streets with gates so that the bulls stay on the main drag where they, erm, belong.

We wandered around Puente La Reina, and it’s a very charming place, with a sumptous cathedral,

and a striking Roman bridge

which was being used as the backdrop for a jazz festival

which we completely failed to visit because we wanted to get up early the next day. The bridge offers a striking overview of the town.

But it has to be said that sightseeing is a challenge to fit in with the rhythms of the Camino, the weather, the need for sustenance and our energy levels.

There have been several nice little vignettes:

  • Outside Espinal, a chap was doing some exercises beside a tree and hailing all passers-by who looked a little pilgrimish, asking them where they came from and so forth. He was actually the cook at the second coffee bar along the route and wanted to make sure that we knew where to go, even showing us the landmarks on the iPad that he magicked up from somewhere.
  • Arrival at our hotel in Pamplona, the Sercotel Europa, was great for several reasons. Firstly, it was air-conditioned. Secondly, the room had a kettle and a fridge. The receptionist, Jusone, was wonderful, fixing up a jug of milk so we could have tea and also fixing up a take-away breakfast so we could leave early.
  • As we walked through Pamplona’s outskirts, a lot of folk (normal local residents) wished us “buen Camino”, showing that they welcomed the throughput of tired, largely foreign, visitors.
  • Our reception at our hotel, El Cerco, in Puente la Reina, was lovely. The manager saw what state we were in and immediately went off into his kitchen to come back with two glasses of lovely cool, fresh lemonade.
  • We hardly see swallows as we go about in England, so it’s a delight to find a profusion of them here, such as around the eaves of the church in Lorca.
  • The hotel we stayed at in Zubiri was 2-star, but very well organised, and we had a comfortable night. We had read reviews (and overheard a couple of comments) which complained about the loud church bells interfering with sleep, but were clearly so knackered that we didn’t hear a thing.
  • The breakfast room in Zubiri had some interesting puppets hanging from the ceiling.
  • We left Zubiri and walked through woodland, which was quite dark, as we were early. It seemed a little spooky, and, at the far end, we saw that early Christians in the area had decided that the women who lived in the woods and helped with healing people’s ills were witches, and erected a cross to ward off their evil. Idiots.

Zubiri is indeed an industrial town, with its landscape (and presumably economy_ dominated by a company, Magna, who process and deal in manganese.  It gave an opportunity to support a philosophical point made recently in Amateur Photographer Magazine, that much of landscape photography is fundamentally dishonest. I took a photo of a village as we left Zubiri.

It looks pleasant enough. But – here’s the full landscape.

That vilage is, we think, a special construction for workers at Magna’s plant, and is a tiny part of a landscape which includes slag heaps and some kind of fluid reservoir.

Views. We have had some wonderful scenery (once the fog had lifted); lovely to look at, but not necessarily photogenic. For example.

However, there have been some spectacular views, too. Particularly impressive, for me, was the view from the top of Alto del Perdón, as we headed down to Puente La Reina. I published a photo on various social media sites:

but the whole view was simply stupendous.

There have been some annoyances, principally noise pollution in the form of a couple of Americans who believe that your idea of a good time consists of listening to them rhapsodise about how fantastic they are – loudly and with a complete lack of concern for the people around them.  One of them even carries a loudspeaker with him which he used to regale us with 100dB of fucking Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer at about 0830 on a Sunday morning whilst all surrounding him were quietly trying to make their way down a tricky bit of slope. I have nothing against Bon Jovi, but there’s a time and a place, and This Wasn’t It. The lack of self-awareness or cultural sensitivity is enraging. I also got somewhat exercised on day 3 with a couple from, I think, Korea, who seemed to be unable to go more than 100 metres without taking a selfie, That’s a personal niggle – they weren’t upsetting anyone else and we haven’t seen them since, anyway.

Generally speaking, it seems that by and large we prefer our own quiet company, rather than seeking to engage overmuch with the other peregrinos.  We’ve had some pleasant encounters and helped people a couple of times, but I think being a couple insulates us somewhat from the social vibe. It’ll be interesting to see the extent to which that changes in the next six weeks or so.


One final Thing I Have Learned.  I know that what we’re walking is The Way of St. James. I know it ends in Santiago de Compostela. And I know about the shell, the traditional emblem of St James, that is used as the Camino symbol. The shell is that of the scallop, or coquille st jacques. Jacques is the french equivalent of James, and Jacob is another equivalent, and a further equivalent of Jacob is Iago. Hence Santiago. Sorry if you thought this is obvious, but it’s taken me a while to connect these various dots.

I think this brings you up to date with the highlights so far – five days in to a 40-day hike over 45 days.

I’m looking forward to our rest day in Logroño (about 4 days away). The hotel has a laundry. The forecast temperature is 41°C.

Stay in touch with these pages and I’ll try to show you the other interesting bits beyond the photos on each day’s walk.

Last day in Biarritz

Monday 14 August 2023 – There’s nothing like not having a choice to direct one’s thinking, and we found that now having a greater understanding of the hotel’s limitations enabled us to arrange things so we had a more comfortable night and a less jaundiced view of the accommodation. (The night was cooler, which helped a lot.) Actually, within what’s possible in such a sharply delinited space, it’s about as good as it could be, and it’s certainly in a very convenient location.

Today was our last full day in Biarritz, and we had only explored the area north of the hotel in our time here so far. So we went for a walk. in the other direction. Obviously.

There were still plenty of people about, but the town and beach were nowhere near as crowded as yesterday.

We made our way past the stone bridge, which was very uncrowded;

not surprising, given that it was closed for maintenance. The road carries on past a pair of good views back over the Port des Pêcheurs

and one enters a network of paths round the headland, leading to the aquarium and the Rock of the Virgin Mary.

The rock owes its name to the statue of the Virgin Mary looking out to sea from the top of the rock; you can just about make out the statue in the photo above. The statue was erected in 1865. Legend has it that fishermen from the port of Biarritz were caught in a “terrible storm” (is there any other sort?) while out at sea hunting whales. A divine light guided them back to port and the survivors erected a statue of the Virgin Mary in gratitude.

Napoleon III decided to cut a tunnel through the rock and had a bridge built to make it accessible from the seafront. The first wooden bridge did not withstand the onslaught of the sea, so, in 1887, Gustave Eiffel was instructed to design a metal bridge, which still stands today.

Sadly, as we discovered,

it was closed today, whilst men used hammers and other serious tools on it.

Looking over the beach of the old port, now called La Petite Plage, is a very pleasant view, with a striking building on the right, more of which later. Importantly, though, Jane spotted something of significance just below that building – a Bar, which we decided It Was Time For.

Walking round the cove gives a good view over it from above the central building,

and the bar, the Eden Rock Café, gives a nice view over the beach as well.

There are steps down to the water from the café, and it seems that if you decide to climb over the gate and go down them and start drowning in the huge waves, someone with a helicopter will come and rescue you, which is decent of them.

After refreshing ourselves, we carried on round the coast, past that striking building.

It shows one How The Other Half Live.  If it were mine, I’d call it a castle, but no, it’s a Villa, the Villa Belza.  Just along the road there’s a bend where watching the surfers is clearly something of a spectator sport.

The waves here weren’t as dramatic as we saw in front of the town itself yesterday, but there was clearly some fun to be had

even if the inevitable end of it was to crash ignominiously into the water. You have to admire the persistence, stamina and skill of these people even as you question their sanity. At least on skis one can coast to a dignified halt outside a bar.

We walked along the front a little, and then found a path up the cliff, which offered a variety of view back over the Villa Belza, of which this is my favourite.

Then we headed inland towards the centre of the town, where there was a market area called the Halles de Biarritz, which Jane thought would be worth nosing around.

The central halls were surrounded by market stalls on the adjacent roads,

and – ooh look! There’s a tapas bar! There, on the right!

This place runs a surprisingly large number of outside tables from just this small interior and they do a fine tapas selection, which we discovered through sampling.

We then headed back to the hotel, through the streets,

past the (modest but pleasant) Jardin Publique,

more fine buildings

and the very handsome façade of the old railway terminus,

now just the frontage for an event space.

As we’d been walking around, I noticed that there were some cute little buslets in operation.

and I even managed to get a shot of one being taught how to navigate by its mother.

And so we arrived back at the hotel, via a couple more pleasant street scenes.

It’s been a pleasure walking around such a handsome town.

After something of a siesta at the hotel, we went out again, as Jane had discovered that there was an evening market at the Port de Pêcheurs. We partook of refreshment en route, once again at the excellent Dodin bar at the back of the casino, where we once again saw the cabaret of the lifeguard station being put to bed.

The night market was a reasonably small affair within the carparking area of the port.

It didn’t have anything to offer that we were interested in, and once again, the queue for Casa Juan Pedro was at Café Opera levels.

That place must be extraordinary to attract the queues it does. Sadly, we will never find out why.

There was a bit of cabaret going on at one corner of the market, and it turned out to be a troupe of three guys wowing the crowds with some acrobatics.  We missed them at the market, but when we climbed up to the Place Saint Eugénie, there they were again. They were quite impressive, so I grabbed some video {and gave them a small contribution in return).

Our return to the hotel involved buying an ice cream and watching the sunset, alongside a load of other people.  The sunset was quite nice, as these things go

but went completely unnoticed by the bunch of beachcombers on the beach below, hopefully scanning for any valuables that might have been dropped by tourists during the day.

The final act of the day was rather lovely – a candlelit parade with some very good singing passed the hotel, marking the Assumption.

Tomorrow, we leave Biarritz for St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Well, I hope we do; we’re rather dependent upon the driver organised by WalkTheCamino being able to find the hotel. Check back on these pages in a day or so and you’ll find out whether we made it OK.  For now, It’s Time For The Bed, I Think.