Tag Archives: Villafrance del Bierzo

Camino Day 31 – Villafranca to Ambasmestas: a mist opportunity

Tuesday 19 September 2023 – The transit into Galicia is the third and final Big Climb of the Camino. Day 1 – crossing the Pyrenees – has the largest vertical ascent of 1428m. Days 27 and 28 between them take the weary pilgrim up 735m to the highest point on the Camino. We have in front of us tomorrow the prospect of quite a steep ascent to O Cebreiro. Today, the task was to get to Asbestos Ambasmestas (for some reason, this is the village name which has consistently given us the most difficulty in recalling it). As many people would say, absolutely enraging me in the process, there are two choices.


There is ONE choice, between TWO alternatives, OK? Is that clear?

So, a steady ascent, or a longer route with a hill in it (quite a big one, actually – check out the axes and the vertical totals)?

The Steve Walker of a year ago – or even two months ago, come to think of it – would have dismissed any suggestion of taking the right-hand route as coming from someone of unsound mind. The Steve Walker of today, however, gammy knee and all, was game for the hilly route.

That, mind you, is because the Steve Walker of today has been unable, despite 30 days of practice, to translate from graphs such as the above to an accurate understanding of what’s involved.

You can get the usual summary of route and photos from this Relive video.

We set off at 0830 into a cool, clear morning, bidding farewell to Villafranca as we crossed the medieval bridge.

At the decision point between the routes my attention was distracted by having to avoid a couple of cyclists and before I knew properly what I was doing, I was toiling up a path that was much, much steeper than I had thought it would be.

The view up

The view down

I paused to take a valedictory photo of the view across Villafranca

and to unship my walking poles, unused for over two weeks since we exited Castrojeriz on September 3, just a couple of days after we left Burgos. They made the rest of the ascent a great deal easier, and it was actually quite gratifying to note that both of us were still capable of managing a pretty stiff climb without actually finding it unpleasant.

To start with, there was quite a lot in common with our Day 1 climb

but as we ground our way up the hill we gradually emerged from the mist because we rose above the clouds. This gave us another wonderful set of views.

The path eventually levelled out

and entered a landscape of chestnut trees

which went on for some considerable distance

including departing from this optional trail and striking out along a faintly-discernable track between the trees.

Eventually, and inevitably, we reached and passed the highest point and had to make our way down.

The path down was, if anything, steeper than the ascent, and was quite demanding, but nowhere near as unpleasant as the hideously rocky drop into Molinaseca that had made my knee question my fitness for this whole thing; indeed I was glad to note that my knee seemed able to cope with both today’s ascent and descent. There were decent descent views to distract me.

The one thing that this route option didn’t have was any chance of a refreshment stop whilst on the hill. So it was nice to come into range of Trabadelo

which offered many possibles for a coffee. This being Spain and the time by this stage being nearly midday, of course most of them were closed. But we wandered determinedly about until we found the municipal albergue which also featured an open bar, and got ourselves outside juice (Jane) and beer (me) and crisps (both of us).

By this stage we had joined the other route option, which was a long and steady, but gentle, climb. (Incidentally, a friend of ours who walked the Camino last year and who took the road route out of Villafranca, commented that it was really dull, which merely increases my smug satisfaction at our route choice. Sorry, Karin!)

You’ll have noted the motorway in pictures above; the path took us underneath it,

and basically followed the river Valcarce upstream beside the road that the motorway had largely rendered redundant and which was therefore pleasantly quiet.

I’d hate to meet the spider that wove this web

We passed motorway services

on the way into the village of Portela, which, although it had its crumbly bits

was in surprisingly good shape.

It featured one mystery vignette,

as well as a rather charming Ermita With No Name

and a restaurant engagingly called “Rock and Roll Pizza”.

From there it was a short and pleasant walk

to Abstemious Ambasmestas

which is somewhat overshadowed by the passing A6

which is the motorway taking traffic from Castilla y León into Galicia.

And Galicia is our target tomorrow, via O Cebreiro, which looks like being a stiff climb of about half as much again as we ascended today.

The consolation is that there are three villages along the route and the profound hope is that the potential business model, of hordes of pilgrims looking for a rest and refreshment stop, will encourage at least one establishment to be open in each place. If not, then I think we’ll still have proved to ourselves that we can do the climb; but it would be nice to arrive in the least grumpy frame of mind possible.

Today’s stats. We ascended a total of 620m in a distance of 17.8km (there was some extra as we searched for beer refreshments). So we have now covered a total of 628.2km, a smidge over 390 miles.

The forecast for tomorrow seems currently not to involve rain, but I think it’ll be quite cool at the top, maybe 15°C, with something of a breeze.  We’ll be spending the night at O Cebreiro in some interesting-looking accommodation. If weather permits, I hope to be able to get the drone up to take some aerial photos. If you return to these pages, you’ll find out whether I was successful or not.