Tag Archives: Leon

Camino Day 24 – León to Villar de Mazarife: the road (gratefully) less travelled

Monday 11 September 2023 – We’d both thoroughly enjoyed the decompression of a rest day (and two Nice Lunches) at the Colegiata, but we were nonetheless quite keen to get back on the road, so we were seated in pole position outside the breakfast buffet room ready for as swift a start as possible.

There was a little rain in the cool air as we left at 0800, but we were never troubled during the walk with a need to put on rain jackets. We passed the San Marco Convento, which was looking lovely in the morning light

and which gave me a chance to take a photo that wasn’t possible the day before because of cars parked outside the parador.

There were a lot of pilgrims on the road.

I know it’s entirely unreasonable of me, but I actually resent their presence on my Camino. I dare say they feel the same about me. Anyway, there’s not much one can do about it – I suppose we could start really early, but walking in the dark is photographically unrewarding.

Things that were worth taking photos of included: a quirkily-appointed “Colonial Bar”;

an example of the difficulties of international branding;

some bodegas, which I suppose must have been in the country once, but have now been swallowed up by the suburbs;

the base of what was once a cross offering a view over the bodegas and back towards León;

and, most interestingly, a Basilica. This one, Basilica de la Virgen del Camino, was a bit different from those we’d seen before, being modern. The present building dates from 1961 but there has been a shrine on this site since 1505.

Inside was cool and not over-ornate,

with some striking stained glass.

The stained glass was behind some very funky, Gaudi-esque statues of saints on the outside of the Basiilica,

and, for the record, here’s a close-up of St. James – the reason we’re here in the first place (to the left below, complete with scallop shells).

On we went, towards a split in the Camino.

Top right is León, bottom left is where we need to be tomorrow, blue dot is where I’m writing this. As you can see, WalkTheCamino arranged for us to take the southern route. Delightfully, the hordes of pilgrims around us decided to take the northern one, so, once we’d passed some more bodegas,

we found ourselves once again delightfully alone on the track.

The Camino signposts are, sadly, much disfigured by graffiti, but at least some of it is positive in intent.

Also, the elimination of the hated Castilla name appears to have been done with a bit more subtlety than the black spray paint we’d seen before.

We’d actually had a coffee stop just before the Basilica, but we found that this alternative route led through a small and modern village called Fresno del Camino where we noted a couple of significant things.

One was confirmation that we’re nearing the two-thirds mark; the other was invitation for more coffee, which we gladly accepted.

For the whole of the rest of the walk, we were almost entirely undisturbed by the presence of other pilgrims, which suited us nicely. The going underfoot was good, being either paved road or decent track,

and we passed through a couple of small (and quiet!) but pleasant villages: Oncina de la Valdoncina, which featured a restaurant whose speciality was reasonably obvious;

and Chozas de Abajo, which was larger and more interesting. For a start, there were rumours of a bar there, and I for one was open to the idea of more coffee and possibly even a beer; and, visible from quite a distance, it featured a bizarre object.

Outside the village there was another solar farm

and yet more bodegas.

Even as we approached the mystery object, it was entirely unclear what this strangely-shaped tower was.

It’s a water tower!

“Water storage for supply”, it says. It seems a strange design, but….whatever.

The village also has a very unusual bell tower

and a house with a very unusual rendering on it.

It’s sort of pebbledash, but writ large – boulderdash, if you like. Thank you. Thank you for reading my joke.

Oh, by the way: the bar was shut. Bugger!

The countryside hereabouts is very, very flat

but eventually, in the distance, we could see the hills that I guess we will be climbing in a few days’ time.

Some five hours after starting out we caught our first sight of Villar de Mazarife

which has a water tower the like of which I haven’t seen since I worked in Sweden, forty years ago.

Greeting the weary pilgrim is an entirely enchanting mosaic.

It’s a quiet village

home to a couple of albergues, a shop and a lion.

We found our way to our accommodation, a guest house called La Santa. We had to ring the bell, since the door was closed, but were greeted gently and courteously by Iñigo, who runs a delightful establishment.

He also cooks a delightful dinner. I guess he might have been less than entirely disinterested when describing one of the albergues in the town as bad and the other as providing an OK dinner for €15 where he could do us a nice meal for €20; but he did a great job, not only for us – there were four other guests and he single-handedly produced great food for us all. Oh, and he had gin, too.

After dinner, we went for a walk. Obviously. The sightseeing fare for the avid tourist is not vast. There’s a shop – fair play, it stocked salted almonds – a really beautifully-executed mural

and a church. And, erm, that’s it, really. The church is of unusual construction. There’s an obviously old bell tower

with A Thing beside it, which we think might be for enabling access to maintain the bells; although I suppose it could be so a chap with a hammer in his hand could go up there and beat, erm, seven bells out of them to call people to mass. The rest of the church is, I would say, not contemporaneous with the tower.

and there are a couple of statues nearby. One is of a pilgrim

and the other is of a lion, although not in quite such fine form as the Town Lion.

And so to today’s stats. Relive and Garmin Connect added some spurious kilometrage and put our distance at around 30km, but Jane’s measuring app showed a more credible 21.6km, so I’m going to use that. Our total is thus 498.5km – tantaisingly short of the 500 mark and equivalent to very nearly 310 miles.

Today has been a really nice day. Tomorrow’s destination is Hospital de Orbigo, a mere 14km down the road. This will take us over the 500km total, but leave us a little short of the 520 we need to claim two-thirds of the total covered. Because we had a (for us) late dinner, we will make a late start, but should still arrive in time for me to report back tomorrow. That’s the plan, anyway; tune in then to see if I manage it, OK?

Camino Rest Day 3 – León

Sunday 10 September 2023 – As you will have read (you will have, won’t you? Good!), we arrived here yesterday. Walking through the city to our hotel gave us a chance at some of the sights. Since our hotel room was available and a Nice Lunch was forthcoming there, we needed a walk afterwards, and we also went out during the evening to see if any of the sights looked nice lit up. Today we took another walk around, so we’ve covered a few miles and seen quite a lot of what the city has to offer,  It’s-a nice-a place – the centre is very handsome and has such a cosmopolitan feel that I actually found it difficult on occasions to remember that I was in Spain.

This post is going to be mainly just a selection of the photos I took, and most of them are of the many religious buildings that litter the place.  If you’re content with that, please read on….

The City

León has a long history, having been founded as the military encampment of the Roman Legio VI Victrix around 29 BC. So the city’s name comes from the latin for Legion, and not from Lion, although you’d never guess from the number of Lion statues around the place

The lion has also been adopted as a local emblem for the Camino

though this is apparently not popular and I’ve heard some of these signs even feature bullet holes. I’m not surprised; it’s a rubbish idea, and demeans the Camino, the animal and the City all at once.

In 1188, the city hosted the first Parliament in European history under the reign of Alfonso IX, and this is why it was acknowledged as the “cradle of Parliamentarism”. Now, the Icelanders might have a thing or two to say about that, since the Althingi, established in 930 AD, is often regarded as the world’s oldest extant parliamentary institution. However, it’s essential to note that it was a very different kind of assembly from modern parliaments, being an outdoor gathering of chieftains, rather than a systematic process of representation from local burghers as well as noblemen and clergy. The city’s prominence began to decline in the early Middle Ages, partly due to the loss of independence after the union of the Leonese kingdom with the Crown of Castile, consolidated in 1301. This still rankles with the locals; all over the place you can find signposts where the “Castilla y” part of “Castilla y León” has been black spray painted over. The signpost above is one of the few I saw where this had not happened.

After a period of stagnation during the early modern age, it was one of the first cities to hold an uprising in the Spanish War of Independence, and some years later, in 1833, acquired the status of provincial capital.  This chequered but consequential history goes a long way to explain why it is such an important city.

Religious buildings

Apart from the cathedral, there are many churches and other religious buildings across the city.  Our hotel, the Hotel Real Colegiata San Isidoro, is part of the fabric of the Basilica of San Isidoro, which has a striking interior.

and also features a museum.   I took some unofficial photos in the museum.

Some of the books date from the 16th century

In the Pantheon part, they actually police the prohibition of taking photos, so I was reduced to buying a couple showing the Pantheon and some of the mural painting that has survived nearly a thousand years.

The Basilica has some lovely cloisters.

Somewhat away from the old town is the Convento de San Marcos, which has a splendid portico

and much of which is now a parador hotel (featured in the “The Way” film, apparently.

And of course, there is the cathedral.

In the 100 years after the Moors were defeated, 200 Christian cathedrals were built over Iberia. The three largest are Toledo, Burgos and, yes, León. It gives less of its interior over to the vast number of chapels that there are in the Burgos cathedral, so the inside space feels much larger.

It’s difficult to realise from the outside, but inside is one of the largest arrays of stained glass anywhere.

The choir is exquisitely carved.

The stained glass is so famous that people even use it as a garage door decoration.

The cathedral also has very grand cloisters.

There are, of course, other churches, such as the Iglesia de Santa María del Camino o del Mercado, on Plaza del Grano.

Thinking of which, there are lots of plazas, such as del Grano,

several smaller ones, inevitably with a selection of bars and restaurants,

the main one, of course, being the Plaza Mayor.

The plazas tend to feature buildings with cloisters or galleries under building overhangs,

All around the place you find statuary

The above is on a plaza outside a building designed by the famous Antoni Gaudi, whose buildings contribute to the unique feel of Barcelona. This one, by comparison is somewhat muted,

but still features an extravagant entrance.

There are other lovely architectural settings, too numerous to articulate in full.

but the tout ensemble makes the old town a very pleasant place to wander about. As we did so, it was nice to bump into some of our “Camino Family” – Molly and Mike from Minnesota, and Petra and Tom from Kõln. In the evenings, some places are lit up. This makes the cathedral even more impressive, for example.

and the shopping streets, which feature innumerable bars and restaurants, have a wonderful buzz about them.

Mind you, occasionally things take a slightly more rowdy turn, such as when we came across this bachelor party celebration in one of those plazas.

León has provided a wonderful break from walking the Camino, but we have to get back on it tomorrow.  We will retrace our steps to the convent and cross the Roman San Marcos bridge

as we make our way towards Villar del Mazerife, about 23km away – a medium-distance walk which we hope will get us back into the swing of progressing along The Way. We’re hoping for decent weather, of course, as we start this next segment of the Camino. Do please keep in touch so you can find out how it all works out, eh?

Camino Day 23 – Mansilla de las Mulas to León: after the Meseta, the rest

Saturday 9 September 2023 – After all the exuberant shenanigans in Mansilla during yesterday evening, I expected the night to be a noisy one. In the end, the only thing disturbing utter quiet was the sound of thunder, so we had an undisturbed night. The forecast was for rain to fade away by 8am, leaving a warm day, so we timed our departure accordingly. The hotel’s rather patchy service level extended to breakfast which was only available over the road and only after 8am, so we quietly ate yoghurt and bananas that we’d bought, imbibed a mug of Twining’s finest Earl Grey and slipped out onto the Camino at 0730.

As we crossed the Roman bridge past the old city walls, the weather looked somewhat ominous,

and some pilgrims in front of us stopped to put on rain gear; I decided to put my confidence in Accuweather and refrained. Once again, we got some lovely light, courtesy of clouds and the rising sun

but basically the clouds cleared and we escaped any further rain, although we could see lightning ahead of us and thunder occasionally rolled around us.

The path ahead looked very similar to what we walked into Mansilla the previous day,

i.e. a track beside the road; I expected this to be our lot all the way for the 19 or so kilometres to León. There was some variation, though. After a few kilometres, informal signage promised us a bar off to the left, and so we headed that way into a village called Villamoros. There was a church

and, indeed, a bar – which was closed, despite a sign on the door saying it opened at 0730. Sighing, we moved on from Villa Morose and got back on the track.

Fortunately there was a bar open a couple of kilometres further on, so we stopped for a coffee and pastry to supplement what we’d eaten earlier. Shortly after moving on, we crossed a bridge

that makes life a bit easier for pilgrims, as originally, it seems that people were expected to ford the stream below. As we left this modern bridge we were confronted with a much older and more impressive one.

This is a Roman bridge which I think has as many as 20 arches, although it’s not possible to see them all; anyway, it’s an impressive piece of work, and further tribute to the quality of Roman construction.

The main Camino then carries on alongside the road for a few more kilometres, but the Google map we had courtesy of WalkTheCamino.com showed an alternative which was slightly longer but which took us away from the road.

The going was largely fine, although it required some careful puddle slaloming and the occasional well-judged leap. We were glad, though to get away from the trail of pilgrims on the main drag; although it couldn’t be called crowded, there were enough other people to encourage us to seek quiet and solitude – which we found with the exception of one other pilgrim, from Switzerland. He stopped to ask us what what was going on when he saw me apparently videoing an electricity pylon. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? This is what I was videoing.

Jane had spotted what was going on, and it was a pleasure to spend a few minutes watching the antics of these little chaps. I also spotted a bigger electricity pylon which I reckon has the face of a cat,

and we saw storks’ nests on other pylons, including one with both penthouse and mezzanine dwellings.

I reckon flying into the lower one of those requires a well-calculated approach path.

We eventually re-joined the main Camino track, which by this stage had also diverged from the road

and followed it past the village of Arcahueja, and past a rather nice pilgrims rest area

which featured a couple of water fountains, one of which had an amusing disclaimer on it.

We didn’t need any water anyway, and as it happens we were approaching a refreshment stop so moved on after I’d applied a bit of sun block, since the sun was now out and hot. The refreshment stop was in Valdelafuente, just a couple of kilometres further on, somewhere clearly beginning to be within the León industrial catchment area.

There were a couple of bars

and so we stopped for a coffee. On the left of the picture above, you can see the edge of a garden which featured some lovely colour

and the lady whose house it was was there, so Jane stopped to compliment her on the display, which I think she rather appreciated.

After our usual coffee/OJ/beer injection, the route was clearly nearing the city; we could soon see its sprawl

and, after a little more walking, could see the cathedral in the distance, too.

The rest of the walk in was, rather like Burgos, a bit of a fag, trawling through the suburbs which were pretty much like city outskirts everywhere, with the odd occasional sight worth a photo,

and then we were into the Old Town, which is very handsome and photogenic, and has some streets with a nice atmosphere.

I’m going to end the narrative here, because there’s so, so much to see in León that I would like to dedicate a separate entry for our sightseeing, and just say that we reached our rather nice hotel,

the Hotel Real Colegiata San Isidoro, which has some lovely corners

and were able to collapse, with a relieved sigh, into a comfortable, air-conditioned room with a couple of hours free to decompress before taking lunch. And a Very Nice Lunch it was, too – a Proper Lunch, indeed. We needed some exercise after it and so we went for a walk. Obviously. That walk, and all the things we saw today and will see tomorrow, will feature in an swpics Special Entry on Sightseeing In León.

I leave you with some stats. Our total kilometrage is now 476.9, a mileage of just over 296. Since Burgos, and the start of the Meseta, we have covered 193km – 120miles.

The Meseta, often talked about as the “mental” third of the Camino Francés, has not been dull, and we haven’t found it mentally challenging. It was very different from the first section – no really large towns, many small, very quiet villages, and a landscape dominated by large-scale agriculture – so very interesting to observe as we walked through it. But I have to say that it was wonderful to arrive at this luxurious accommodation, knowing we don’t have to walk tomorrow. A couple of places in the Meseta were nice to stay in – Emebed Posada in Castrojeriz and Casa El Cura in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos top the list – but the norm was for basic levels of service. That’s not a complaint or a criticism – I can’t imagine that there is a credible business model for a four-star hotel in the middle of the Meseta. It’s simply the way that things work there, and coming into big city levels of accommodation and service amplifies the contrast.

Weather permitting, we’ll be out and about in León tomorrow and I hope we’ll get some (more) great photos from the experience. Do check in and see how it all went, won’t you?