Updated: Nov 14, 2018
I began walking, for recreation, in February 2018 after my weight spiraled out of control and I was up to 18 stone.
In the build up to the walk, work had become troublesome, and a break was needed. I have never considered anything like this before, but nevertheless, off I went to embark on a unforgettable experience.
Along with my friend Ian Kibble, we flew from Stanstead airport on the 4th September and arrived in Santiago airport after lunch. There we met Carlos, our driver who would transfer us to our start, just South of Ponferrada, about 220km away.
We drove through mountain range after mountain range, and this is when it dawned on me that this maybe more challenging than I expected initially.
We arrived at our first Albergue, San Nicolas de Flu, and received our pilgrim passports, and of course their stamp, and our first of many. The Albergue was completely rammed with pilgrims, and we were lucky to get a bunk bed in the basement, along with another 50 people. People had traveled from all over the world to walk the Camino, and the languages were varied as you walked through the grounds of Nicolas de Flu.
The first night was a real culture shock. It seemed to be a mixture of coughing, farting, snoring then a bit more snoring mixed in with torches from mobile phones coming on all night. This was the second time I thought, what the hell are we doing!
In the early hours of the night, a unbelievable storm broke out, and the thunder sounded like canon fire. I was hoping the rain would stop before we set off on the first stage of the walk, but it just got heavier and heavier.
No such luck.
We were awoke at about 6.30 a.m. by pilgrims shuffling about, filling back packs, and dressing. The rain was absolutely pounding down.
After a brief chat, we decided that we could not chance waiting around for the rain to stop, so we put the wet gear on, and heading off on the Camino towards Villa Franca del bierzo, about 25km away.
We made our first mistake here too. We followed two pilgrims out of the albergue, thinking it would be easier at first to find the way. After about 20 mins, they stopped and started scratching their heads, looking at a map. They had taking the wrong turning at the Castle of the Templar Knights.
"Ponferrada is also noted for its Castillo de los Templarios, a Templar castle which covers approximately 16,000 square meters. In 1178, Ferdinand II of León donated the city to the Templar order for protecting the pilgrims on the Way of St. James who passed through El Bierzo in their road to Santiago de Compostela.
The castle hosted the Knights Templar's Grand Master of Castille."
Above text from wikipedia, picture by Andy McPhilbin
After about 2 hours of constant downfall the rain subsided and the sun began to rise. The humidity soon started to rise, and off came the wet clothes.
Prior to walking the Camino, I really did not know what to expect, and naively, thought Spain would be mainly dried out landscapes, or full of tourist bars, but how could I be so wrong. Almost immediately, we were walking through vine yards and magnificent landscapes, that went on and on. It was also apparent, that unlike the Costa brava, the Spanish did not speak much English, and we would have to pick it up quite quick, if we wanted to get on.
We made Villa France del Bierzo by lunchtime, and we were ready for a rest. This was our scheduled stop for the night, and I was ready.
In the center of the town was a strip of restaurants, so we stopped for our first beer, which did not touch the sides.
After a hour rest, we chatted a bit, and decided that we had a bit more in the tank, and we could press on a few more kilometers. Boots back on, and off again in the heat of the afternoon.
It was one of those moments, about 6 or 7 kilometers further that I wished we had stayed put, but nevertheless, step by step we continued till we got to Trabadelo, and found a great place to stay owned by Ellie from the Netherlands.
El Puente Peregrino Country house was like a oasis after a long day. We were greeted by the lovely owner, who let us have a room above the bar that was fantastic. Just what we needed after the last stretch of the walk.
Ellie, the owner, was super efficient, and after 6 p.m. made us an evening meal, followed by a vegan brownie, which, if i am honest, was really good.
It was here where we met Gasper. Gasper was from Brasil, and had started weeks before in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and was really ready to get to Santiago and finish.
Gasper was our first member of our Camino family. Even when we lost him on the route he kept in touch via Whatsapp and we arranged to meet in Santiago when we would arrive.
Leaving Trabedelo on a glorious morning.
We awoke early, backpack was waiting, and so were our boots. Surprisingly, I was not aching too much, but the Trek ahead was daunting, because we was not too sure what the terrain was going to be like.
Our mission today was to get to Tricastella, or as near as possible, but to start we would have a trek to Las Herrieras, a climb through La Faba, La Laguna, O' Cebriero, Hospital.
Ellie made us a goat cheese baguette and off we wen. A common site in the mornings were the small white vans, tearing off, stopping suddenly, beeping the horn, and delivering the bread to the homes door to door. It was a good pace to keep up with them, and every now and then, when you changed region or town, you would meet another bread man.
We walked into Las Herrieras in no time and as we came out of the village, we had a sudden incline for about 200 meters. Once at the top Ian commented "If thats all the Camino can chuck at us, we will be alright!" He spoke too soon.
We turned the corner and dropped on to a really bad track, with a small decline, and then the climb began. Kilometer after kilometer of up hill, hard, rocky track. The Camino was throwing everything at us.
It was a tough climb, for everyone walking it. You would look up the track and see the end, only to find it turn and climb again. The watering hole was most welcomed when we reached La Faba, not realising we still has a long climb to go.
Here at the bar, we discovered Radler. A shandy made from local beer with lemon and lime, that was super refreshing, and no so heavy as a beer. It was our new refreshment whilst walking.
After a brief Radler, we began again, and the paths got worst, but more open, so we got to experience some unbelievable hillside landscapes.
The climb was a real wake up for me. I realised how unfit I was, despite walking everyday in the Vale of Belvoir where I live. The Camino was a challenge, and I was very weary.
We stayed for lunch in O Cerbriero, but it was buzzing with people, and coach parties, so we decided to press on a little, hoping there would be a decent now. There was, very briefly, then a climb again. Up and up to the highest point, 1270 meters above sea level.
There was no way we would meet Tricastella today, we were knackered, and ended up staying a bit further on, in a albergue that was really scruffy, cold and dirty, but I found a new friend. Pedro the mountain dog.