Tag Archives: San Juan de Ortega

Camino Day 14 – San Juan to Burgos: the longest walk yet

Wednesday 30 August 2023 – There were two main testing elements to today’s walk: a cold start; and a long distance.  The alarm went off at 0545, dammit, and we went through what is now quite a well-understood exercise of hygiene and re-packing of suitcases. The picnic breakfast provided for us was copious, if not refined – for each of us a bottle of (rather weird) OJ, a ham and cheese sandwich, banana, a muffin, a slice of cake, an apple and a bottle of water (single use! shock!! horror!!!). As we left at 0700, the temperature was 10°C, which is chilly, but there was little wind.

We had a little unexpected company on the track.

The horses were not the only unexpected company. Our hopes for a spell of quiet walking as the dawn broke were rudely shattered by the presence of moaning Minnie (see yesterday’s entry), who was waiting for someone – anyone, I guess – to latch on to because she was too scared to set off on her own. Hoping further that she had sorted out her blood sugar shortage and might thus be better company today also proved fruitless, as she demonstrated no real interest in talking about anyone but herself and rarely dealing in anything other than negative sentiments.

Our jaws dropped when she told us she was a nurse.

Our natural pace was greater than hers and so once it got light and we approached the next village, we strode on, glad to be once more in our own company.  After the tedium of listening to Minnie and trying to find something positive to say, although it didn’t take long to reach the next village, it seemed like Ages.

Agés is an attractive village.

We kind of wondered if it might have been a better place to stay than San Juan; on the other hand, San Juan had its charm and its monastery, and maybe the extra kilometres might not have been welcome yesterday.

The next village, Atapuerca, is upon you almost as soon as you leave Agés.

There were a couple of fields in the area where the sunflowers had not yet finished, which added a nice dash of yellow to the scenery. Atapuerca is notable for its evidence of early human occupation. Bone fragments from around 800,000 years ago, found in its Gran Dolina cavern, provide the oldest known evidence of hominid settlement in Western Europe and of hominid cannibalism anywhere in the world. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 2000.

Enough with the history, already. Atapuerca is also where the cardio segment in today’s workout begins, with a 2km ascent up a path which at times was steep and stony.

At the top is a cross, named Cruz de Matagrande on a signpost at the bottom of the hill and Cruz de Atapuerca where it matters (Google Maps). I have been unable to establish what its message is, but what tickled me was the string of boots dangling from its horizontal.

There’s a story there if only one could find it. For example, how did they even get up there? Anyway, the views from the top are pretty fine, repaying the effort of slogging up to it.

One even gets one’s first sight of today’s destination, Burgos.

That’s a decent view of the landscape. What you don’t see because of my artful construction of the image is

a sodding great (and very noisy) stoneworking factory.

Also up by the cross are a couple of enigmatic scenes.

ChatGPT translates the above as “Since the pilgrim ascended the mountains of Navarra in Burguete and saw the vast fields of Spain, he has not enjoyed a view more beautiful than this.” Sounds great, but we’re not sure we agree.

After the descent, one begins, basically, a long trek into Burgos.

There are many different and offical Camino routes into Burgos; the one we chose took us south of the airport and then along the river into the city, but there are plenty of other options.

It seems that there’s a river, Riopico, which is of sufficient pith and moment that it lends its name to multiple local villages. The first of these is Cardeñuela Riopico, which is approached via an innovative advertising hoarding.

The village gave us a refreshment stop, which, frankly, I needed, as I was quite chilled.

The village is not unattractive,

and gives a decent view over a neighbour, Quintanilla Riopico.

Walking along the road takes you to Orbaneja Riopico, the inhabitants of which have made great efforts to make the place look interesting.

Our onward route took us past a bizarre place –

just a few identical houses right by the motorway – very strange. Then we walked past the airport and crossed the mighty Riopico!

Shortly thereafter, we passed beside a fairly industrial town called Castañares, which had little to recommend it until we hit the back streets, where there were a couple of nice corners

Note the stork’s nest on the church

and then we were into a parkland trail into Burgos.

Despite the fact that we were both at the “just want to be there” stage, there were a few vignettes along the track. For example, another instance of landscape photography being deceptive: a nice bridge

as opposed to the whole scene.

By this bridge, there was an interestingly-shaped weir

which gave us some amusement as we watched the ducks near it.

The river (Rio Arianzón) gives some photogenic possibilities.

Murals on the Arianzon bridge supports

The park has an outdoor gym for young people, yes, entirely men, to show off,

and it’s good to see the efforts that the city has gone to to make a dull road bridge a nice sight.

By this stage we were near the city centre and we made our way as directly as we could to the hotel, because, after 27km, we were quite in favour of a bit of a rest.

Our hotel

offers a lovely large room and a balcony overlooking Calle San Lorenzo, one of the Happening Places should one go looking for tapas.

Which, eventually, we were.

First, though, an essential task.

The hotel didn’t have a guest laundry, but suggested that El Cid’s just down the road, might do the biz; and so it turned out. These things are important, you know.

Content in the knowledge that we had clean knickers for the next week or more, we went in search of nourishment – mainly in the form of gin, it has to be said – and found an agreeable bar, ably served, single handed, by a very competent lad

and, suitably refreshed, wandered out into the buzz of a Burgos evening. heading for the Plaza Mayor before heading back up San Lorenzo to the hotel.

Burgos has patently got Lots Of Things To See, and we have a day free of this bloody walking nonsense tomorrow.

I should update you with the stats first, though.  Today, we covered 27.1km, so the cumulative total has risen to 280.3km, or just over 174 miles. We have therefore covered more than a third of the total distance, an assertion which is borne out by various waymarks and signposts along the route, which, by the way, aren’t necessarily telling a consistent story; at one stage we walked about 200 metres along the track and the distance to Santiago had seemingly increased from 527 to 544 kilometres, However, if the total distance is 780km, one third of that is 260km and we’ve definitely covered that distance. Oh, yes.

Tomorrow, then, we will take a rest from the Camino and we will go for a walk. Obviously. And report back at some stage on the wonders of what promises to be an entertaining city. I hope you’ll join us for that.


Camino Day 13 – Belorado to San Juan de Ortega: Preparing for boredom?

Tuesday 29 August 2023 – The destination today was San Juan de Ortega, about 25km away, with an uphill section that looked non-trivial, though, of course, minor compared to the demands of Day 1.

The ascent would be one third that of day 1, but still 300 metres to be climbed within about 2 km. The forecast according to Accuweather was at least encouraging in that we wouldn’t have to do this in punishing heat – the predicted temperatures of the day varied from 13°C to 20°C. Chance of rain was medium.

The hotel served breakfast from 0700, and so we were there promptly, and eventually joined by some locals, including the police.

It was a rudimentary breakfast, frankly, but at least it included a cup of Twining’s finest Earl Grey.

We left at 0730, and were grateful for our rain jackets, not for dryness but for warmth.  At least the wind wasn’t as strong or as cold as yesterday.  On the way out, Belorado showed off some more of its murals, starting with intriguing instructions.

Doing that revealed this

and on the way out there were several more on display.

The threat of rain seemed a long way off and the early morning light gave us some nice views.

Before too long we had reached another village, Tosantos, and we were sufficiently chilled to call an early coffee break at a bar next to the rather pretty church.

En route there we met an Australian lady who professed to be practically unable to continue because she’d had nothing to eat so far that day. So we carefully helped her along to the cafe, and I hope it was the lack of blood sugar that made her a right moaning Minnie, because she did nothing but complain about anything and everything. Fortunately there were others at the cafe who she knew and on whom she inflicted herself, so we could make a break for it fairly quickly without seeming to be rude.

Our original plan had been to call in at the next village, Villambistia,

but we pressed on instead, to the final village before the climb, Villafranca Montes de Oca, where we stopped for a refuelling coffee and snack. En route we passed a great lump of something

that turned out to be all that remains of Ermita de San Felices; and a stream that was simply chocker with water cress,

not a sight that I expected to see in Spain, somehow. How parochial I am!

The coffee stop in Villafranca was strictly functional

and the way out led past an attractive church

on to the Steep Bit.

I reckon that’s somewhere around one in five; it may not look all that steep, but I was certainly glad to have my poles to help. There was the occasional decent view

but basically the track wound up through woodland

and up

and up

to a section that was lined with both heather and broom, which made it look like something that would be unremarkable in Swinley Forest, Berkshire, near where we live.

Along this path is (yet) another reminder of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.

Monumento La Pedraja commemorates the place and time in 1936 when the forces of General Francisco Franco arrested, shot and buried young men and women who supported the Socialist Republic that Franco had set out to destroy. The Franco forces buried 104 corpses in a mass grave nearby. In a neighboring site, they buried 31 more. The dead were from nearby villages – Briviesca, Miranda de Ebro and Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

The monument is at one of two high points on this part of the Camino.  The track goes down

and then up again. very sharply, but not for too long.

Once up to the second high point, the track is then really rather dull, being a wide forest track that goes on

and on

and on

until finally you catch sight of San Juan de Ortega.

Only a couple of features provide any kind of variety to the track. We came across a mad artist, who was running a food truck as part of drawing people’s attention to his “exhibition”.

He was very engaging and we bought a juice off him as we chatted. One of his offerings was to paint one’s country’s flag on a shell, which is enterprising of him.  We didn’t take him up on that, but it was fun to exchange banter with him.

Later on the track is where our online map had given us to expect him to be; a place called “The Oasis”.

It bears the fingerprints of his style and we weren’t sure why he was set up somewhere else; but again it leavened the basic dullness of walking this woodland trail.  Boredom had obviously driven people to be creative with the raw materials to hand, i.e. stones.

I think this woodland trail section of the Camino is quite good preparation for what comes after Burgos, which we reach tomorrow. The section roughly between Burgos and Astorga, over 200km, is called the Meseta, the flat plains on the plateau of central Spain. Burgos is the transition point between the “physical” third of the Camino and the “mental” third.  The Meseta has reportedly very little variety, very little shade and few villages to visit as one walks through, so it has a reputation as being a mental challenge. It wll be interesting to find out what it’s like to walk across it and see how our minds react to the challenge.

Anyway, arrival in San Juan de Ortega shows one how small it is.  There is an albergue, a hotel (our accommodation for the night), a bar and a monastery and, apart from a handful of dwellings, that’s it.


Hotel Rural La Henera (where we stayed)

Monasterio de San Juan de Ortega

We had a bite of pizza in the albergue’s bar

(where there’s a photo of Marcelino on the wall, in his bonkers pilgrim outfit, by the way), and a simple but good dinner in the Marcela Bar, which is run by the people who also run the hotel. In a place this small you can’t really go for a walk. Obviously. So, we contented ourselves with a quick look inside the monastery.

San Juan de Ortega was a disciple of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and, like him, Built Things to help pilgrims along the way to Santiago, including the monastery.  There’s a church section, with his alabaster tomb prominent in it.

His actual bones are entombed a separate chapel.

One striking design point is that there is a carving of the virgin mary which is precisely illuminated by sunshine at 5pm on the two equinoxes

(she’s the one with her hands up).

Today’s stats, by the way. 24.2km, with a total ascent of 482m (and 245m descent). So our running walking total is 263.2km, just over 163 miles.

Tomorrow we have the longest walk yet since the last rest day, to Burgos, and it’s the prelude to a rest day spent there. So we have 26km to cover, with a very cool start (11°C and windy) forecast. The hotel has provided us with a picnic breakfast, so we can choose our start time. There are plenty of places to rest along the way, so we’ll see how the day evolves. Once we get to Burgos, we have a few imperatives to address, not the least of which is laundry, so I expect our rest day will turn out to be quite a busy affair. I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to report, but report I shall in due course, and I hope you will be around to catch up with our progress then.