My six minute video of walking the Porto Santiago de Compostela camino.
Turn the speakers on as there is music and have popcorn and a hanky at the ready.
To see the video click below.
The Camino Portuguese from Porto
To see my take on the camino Frances and other European walking routes go to
Tuesday, 10 June 2014
To give you some idea of what the cathedral looks like with no scaffolding I've copied a photo of me arriving from a couple of years back. Then I was walking for injured British servicemen and have so far collected £5600 for that fund. Hopefully I can do as well for St Lukes in the fullness of time.
I went to the service in the cathedral last night and they swung the Botafumeiro, a huge incense burner that needs six men to pull on hawser sized ropes that stretch to the ceiling. Its original purpose was to make the filthy and sweaty smell a little better. Imagine thousands of medieval pilgrims all crushed together after walking hundreds of miles to attain their life's ambition. Most had no change of clothes and rarely washed. And often so many were trying to get In that riots ensued.
The action is quite theatrical. The assistants, known as Tirboleiros, surround the rope and lower the burner towards the floor. Then, in unison, they pull together and this massive silver bowl begins to swing. Ever so gently to start with and then higher and higher until eventually it is whooshing down the isle over the heads of the congregation before almost touching the cathedral ceiling. Incense bursts from the Botafumerio to cloak the congregation in a cloying sweet smelling fog. While this is going on a pitch perfect baritone male voice is filling the cathedral accompanied by organ music that seeks out every space not taken by the incense. It is a stunning experience that leaves the congregation silent and awed, with many wiping tears from their cheeks. Eventually the burner gently reduces its swinging arc, the musical crescendo and the service end. There is a collective intake of breath as the congregation come down to earth, and then everyone slowly disperses.
My photo does not do this event justice but I have video that I think does and will post on YouTube next week.
On. my last day I went to the pilgrim's office to collect my certificate that would show I had completed all the stages of my walk. If you go in the middle of the day you can be waiting up to two hours to get into the office, so long is the queue. And that is no fun in hot sun. The office opens from 0800 to 2100 so I went early to avoid the crowds and the heat. I duly presented my pilgrim passport and I thought the stamps of varying designs had turned a boring piece of card into quite a work of art. A young man with a beard sitting behind a counter and a computer scrutinised my passport while I filled in a form giving my details. Eventually satisfied he presented me with my illuminated scroll with my Christian name spelt in Latin upon it. Rogerium. I went to another desk and paid 2 euro for a cylindrical cardboard container. The man carefully rolled up my scroll and slid it inside. It would remain there until I got home.
It was now time to visit the cathedral. The remains if St James are contained in a shining silver casket under the alter. Steps lead down to this very small space. There is an in door and an out door which no one takes notice of, leading to a confusion of bodies struggling to pass each other. The situation is made more difficult when someone stops to pray or to slip their hands behind the bars of the vault to get a picture.
I now had my duty to perform. I had chosen a side chapel to be on my own. Candles have come a long way since the days of tallow. Today they are electric, but burn the same length of time and have the same meaning to the faithful. Anyway, who am I to pass judgment. I was reading out a list of names from an iPad.
For all those that asked rest assured the candle for your loved one now burns in the cathedral. I lit three extra. One for those that were too shy to ask, one for those in hospice care worldwide, and a special one for those that couldn't care less. Well, you never know, sometimes we get protection and we don't even realise it.
There were very few people in the cathedral early that morning. In one of the chapels a Japanese priest was conducting a service for his fellow countrymen and women. Some chapels had been reserved for other nationalities to hold a service later. Priests were hearing confessions in various languages, and people were mounting the steps behind the alter to wrap their arms around the figure of St James that sat high above it.
The incense burner that had performed so sterlingly the previous night lay at rest and I could clearly see the four wrought iron ladder supports that sat high on the columns above and which held the wheels and pulleys that made it swing so ferociously.
It was nice to spend the rest of this last and sunny day in an unstructured meander though the old quarter. A museum here, a shop selling jet there, and a quiet stroll to the park to seek the shade of trees as the temperature soared.
So that was it, my second camino completed. I had said yesterday that this might be my last camino. Now I am rested, cleaned up, and those feelings of negativity I experienced have gone.
I am often asked what prompts people to walk such great distances. I leave religion aside, that is personal to each of us. I tell them I enjoy the solitude, the challenge, the fleeting friendships, the start of each fresh day. But they continue to ask, what reward do I get from it? That is simple.
Tomorrow, at mid-day, as my plane flies me over Iberia and back to my family a priest will stand on the alter in the cathedral of St James in Santiago de Compostela. He will face the congregation and say....'An English pilgrim has arrived from Porto', and that will be all the reward I need.
Thank you for being with me on my journey, and may your God go with you.
Posted by THE PILGRIM at 22:59
My mother had told me never to pull anything unless it was a lavatory chain. I thought of that advice yesterday afternoon when exploring Padron and its old quarter. The massive church of Santiago looms over the town and seemed worth a visit. Entering the large portico I was confronted by a massive green door, which was locked. By now I'm beginning to get a little teed off about this. I have an interest in church architecture and almost every church in any large town I've wanted to get into always seems to be locked. But this one had a large chain hanging outside so I gave it a yank. A deep, sonorous clanging came from somewhere above. Nothing happened so I pulled a second and third time, plenty of clanging but still no action. Then I began to wonder. Exactly what bell was I clanging? Could it be? No, surely not. I had visions of a houseful of mourners somewhere in the town looking at their watches and panicking. Had they not booked the funeral for 4 o'clock, not three?
I went outside and looked up at the two big bells above. Not a tremble could I see. Eventually an elderly man opened the door and grunted at me. I indicated that I wanted to visit the church. For such a slow mover he could not get the key back in the lock fast enough. I took that to mean no. I asked why not. He ambled off and I followed in the wake of his liberally applied after shave, still asking why not. He refused to look at me and shuffled into a car and was gone. So, if you want to know what the inside of the church of Santiago at Padron looks like, I am not the person to ask.
I had decided not to rush today. A gentle amble was all that was required. The town petered out into suburbs and then an industrial area and then into a wiry laberyinth of country lanes where ruined barns and pristine farm houses marked the passing of time. Occasionally the route returned to the road and when passing across a hotel forcourt I heard loud banging coming from within a coach which was filled with pensioners who were filing onto it from the hotel. The banging was coming from a man sitting in the back seat who was hitting the back window with his fist and shouting for all he was worth. I wondered what had caused this man to become so frantically angry. Has someone stolen his wallet, made a pass at his wife, taken the batteries out of his hearing aid? No, it would appear someone had parked behind the coach and it would not be able to get out. By now the self appointed bus guardian was getting apoplectic and was hitting the window for all it was worth.
The driver if the coach went to the rear, nodded at the driver of the car who moved it. I hope to goodness I never get that angry over something so trivial.
The commotion had drawn a well proportioned women to one of the forth floor bedroom windows. Her freshly combed long black hair cascaded over a purple silk nightdress. She leant her arms on the balcony and heaved her decolletage onto them. My mind wandered back to the bicycle rack we had at school.
Once more the journey resumed its pattern of main road, country road farm track, wood and fields. The weather had started cloudy but I knew this would not last. The sun was going to come out and remain out, it was going to get very hot for the remainder of my time in Spain.
Along the way I came across a young man, and a lady I assumed to be his mother, who were walking to Santiago. I would estimate his weight at over 20 stones. (127 kilos). She was carrying the pack and he was taking small steps using poles for support. We exchanged smiles, I though they were a valiant couple.
I am not one for taking breaks, preferring instead to plod steadily along, and only at mid-day did I stop for lunch. I took the remainder of my provisions from my pack. A tin of tuna, an orange, some two day old bread, and a bottle of water. I reflected that this might be my last trekking lunch. I was approaching seventy, I had a dicky leg, but most of all I missed my family. I did have grandiose visions of walking the Via Francigina, or the Camino Norte, but these were now fading dreams for I no longer wanted to spend weeks away from home. Perhaps I would return next year to walk the five day Camino Ingles, from Ferrol, but we would have to see
My lunch finished I pressed on and I was soon on the outskirts of Santiago. A long descent to exit the woods under a ring road and I was pounding up the last hill. Past the city hospice I found myself in flat dwelling country. Soon I was swimming through an ocean of people on a footpath as wide as a river, alongside shops selling all sorts of fancy bits and pieces.
I was coming in from the south. To my left others would be coming in from Ferrol and to the east, those on the Camino Frances, who by now has been joined by those who had walked the caminos from Alicante or Madrid. Countless people had been guided by thousands of arrows dragging their pilgrims with them, all to land in front of the alter of the church of St James in Santiago de Compostela.
At 1400 hours I entered the main square. I had arrived. I permitted myself a little fist pump before entering the cathedral where I sat for some time, deep in thought.
I went outside and found an English couple to take my photograph. They asked why I had done the walk, I told them, they gave me 10 euro for my hospice fund.
The facade of the cathedral was being renovated and was covered in scaffolding. A great shame for those who can only do this journey once. I am fortunate, when I arrived last time it was not so covered.
I was lucky in finding a single room in a central hotel for the princely sum of 70 euro for two nights. Tomorrow I would get my certificate and discharge the duty I had been given. I can't imagine putting on my boots tomorrow morning and not marching off. Mind you, my room is on the forth floor, and there is no lift,, so that will give me some exercise.
But what I do know is that tomorrow will be my last day here and my last blog.
Posted by THE PILGRIM at 08:33
Sunday, 8 June 2014
Caldas de Reis is a small town with thermal streams that have pumped up through the ground for millennia. I came across a small font in a back street which displayed a newly placed sign that I think said, 'Do not wash your feet in the font.' They must have known I was coming. I took advice from my hotel as to where the locals dined and was directed to a granite building, to the right of and half hidden by the bridge over which I had entered the town. I went down a board walk under the bridge and found myself in a world of hocks of ham, spirals of sausages, salty sardines and chewy cheeses of all descriptions. Vegans had not been forgotten for next door was a park where they could chomp on a few leaves while waiting for the carnivores to come out.
Inside, two burly men carved ham thinly and bread thickly while a lady the size of a butterfly flitted around serving as fast as she could. The three tables in the bar area were made from large mill stones and one also propped up the bar. The dark wooden ceiling and old granite walls gave a secretive feel to the surroundings. There was a terrace by the river but it was cold and didn't have the atmosphere of the inside. I opened the menu to find I was in fact in a tapas bar and everything on the menu was written in Spanish, which, considering where I was, was not too surprising. Seeing my confusion I was presented by the butterfly with another menu written in five European languages.
I chose the Padron peppers followed by hash. The peppers, a speciality of the area, were small green, succulent and covered in rock salt and oil. The hash had great chunks of chorizo of all descriptions and wallowed about in a sea of red oil. This was the meal of peasant derivation which suited my antecedence perfectly. I am not one for fancy food. When I get served I want the contents of my plate to block the light coming in the window.
So that was Caldas de Reis. Another town on the route march to Santiago done and dusted, I Now needed two more stamps to complete my pilgrim's passport, the second of which would be in Santiago de Compostela.
I did not have to raid the breakfast buffet as the young lady on duty behind the reception desk harvested it for me.I had no idea what was in the bag she presented to me but it weighed a ton. I doubt there was much left for others to enjoy. And so I plodded on. Over the old bridge, past the forbidden foot fountain and into a small square. A number of market stalls were in the early stages of being erected and a man and women were arguing. He was either complaining about the size of the fish he caught yesterday, or, as is more likely, telling her she was invading his space and to push off. She was equally adamant she was going nowhere. I expect they sorted it out.
The road gave way once more to woodland path accompanied by the aroma of wet bracken and pine. Occasionally, the scent of a eucalyptus tree wafted in. The mist wandered idly up the valley and save for the odd pilgrim or two I had the world to myself. The weather was dull and, judging by all the locals carrying umbrellas, rain was expected. But it never came. Sometimes the sun would make an effort to break through and I could feel a warm wind wafting over me, like being caressed by a tepid furry glove. The sun was at an argumentative stage with the clouds, not quite able to break through and forming a white bright oval behind of, but never in front of, the clouds that eventually won the tussle.
It was while contemplating this particular scene that a lorry drove past along the quiet country lane I was on. It stopped up a slight incline before reversing back. the driver got out and approached me.
" Camino?" "Si Senor," he pointed behind me and held up five fingers. Once more I had wandered off into dreamland which nearly had me wandering off to who knows where. I thanked him, shook his hand, and got back on track.
I was now having to nurse my leg which was beginning to wish this was all over. I slowed my pace a little which helped. At around mid-day Padron, my destination, came is to sight. Santiago was now only 15 miles away. A few years back I would have slipped down a gear and gone for it. Not now though. I have time in hand and needed to use it to the best advantage. Which meant resting the leg.
Approaching Padron I was overtaken by an young Asian boy and girl. They wished me "Buen Camino" as they went off into the distance. They were running, taking little baby steps but running. "Are you running the camino?" I shouted after them. "Yes", they fired back without altering the cadence of their tread. I could not resist clapping their effort and they raised a hand in thanks. Gracious me, even with two good legs I would have trouble running to the foot of our stairs.
Approaching Padron, on the opposite side of the river, I came across a large factory with three chimneys belching white smoke. It was a confusion of pipes and buildings and the noise of machinery coming from within its bowels was constant. A chipboard, MDF smell pervaded the air and indeed that is what it produced. I later asked a local how people could live with that noise and smell. He shrugged, "You get used to it." Well, I suppose I could get used to hitting myself on the head with hammer all day if I had to.
I booked into my hotel, made myself presentable and went to the bar for a beer. The first came with tapas, a small plate of beans and stew. The second beer with speghetti and meat. I really wanted a third beer but I didn't think I could eat what might follow. Still, at 1.60 euro. a throw I could get fairly squiffy and quite replete for very little money tonight.
One more day to go and, of course, there is serious point to all this walking which is to raise funds for my local hospice who's sole reason for existence is to ensure no one dies alone, in pain, or without dignity. I intended to raise £1000 for them and am very close that target now, thanks to the generosity of others. If you go to:
You will also be able to see how a got along on previous treks.
Now for the final push.
Posted by THE PILGRIM at 12:38
Saturday, 7 June 2014
I like Pontevedra, not simply because it's a busy regional capital with a great shopping centre, or the fact it has a stubby interior to its remarkably grandiose church, and an old quarter where you can laze about in the square and people watch, no, I like it because it's where I finally discarded my old canvas evening walk about shoes and bought some new ones. I would be the first to admit that my canvas shoes stank. I am a tall man and I can smell them while standing up straight in a gale. It's simply that I never seemed to have the time to buy new ones! But they do make my feet sweat. So yesterday afternoon I squelched into town to buy new ones. I found a pair of open toed leather sandals that were just the job. But I had to try them on and I knew it was justly unfair to subject the shop assistant to the smell of my shoes and the sight of my feet with the three day old Compeed plaster on the left heel, one on the third toe of my right foot, and a toe nail on my right foot that was as black as night and about to fall off, as it always does when I go trekking.
Not only that, if I had my shoes off for any length of time anything under three foot from the ground would be likely to pass out. I bought them and left the shop. On the way back I stopped off for meal and halfway through the spaghetti bolognese realised I had left my hat in the shop. I had consumed more than half the meal and two glasses of beer, now you try telling someone to whom you owe money to put your meal in the microwave while you go find your hat. I'm really not sure if she believed me and I half expected the police to be there when I got back.
I went back to my hotel emptied the mini reservoir out of my canvas shoes, washed my feet thoroughly and gently let the virgin leather caress the souls of my feet. I could go on but there might be children reading this. It would have been unkind to expect the hotel cleaner to throw my old shoes away so I donned my new ones, skipped down the street and found a large bin to put them in. If there was something living inside that bin they had about thirty seconds to get out.
Whenever, in the future, I have a spaghetti bolognese my heart, and my feet will remember a fondness for this town no one else could understand.
The following day I woke to rain, lots of it, which delayed the start by an hour. On leaving the hotel the porter tried to get me to use the rear exit where the yellow arrows were to be found. But I only ever leave the back of anywhere if I'm trying to get out of paying the bill. I told him I was going out the front knowing full well that both roads led to the same junction. It actually set me thinking a bit in that for centuries everyone has been arguing with each other over which religion to take to the end of life, and killing each other in the process while doing so. I remember an Irish comedian called Dave Allen who at the end of each show would say, "Thank you for watching, and may your God go with you". Which seemed to sum it up nicely for me.
Walking down the road I came across a machine that promised that if I put in 2 euro it would cook and deliver to me a beef burger with bacon and cheese. I put my money in and after much whirring and whining I slid back a grey cover to reveal a swollen plastic bag containing something that looked like a breast implant. Walking down the street throwing this thing from hand to hand as it cooled down I eventually managed to get it open to reveal not a plastic bag full of silicon but a rather tasty hot breakfast.
I had intended to visit the church on my way out and was surprised to find it closed at 0745 on a Sunday. Passing under the colonnaded granite columns of the old town I soon reached the suburbs where I found gaggles of pilgrims plodding through the puddles. On the outskirts of the town the little man inside my leg woke up, got his grade two sandpaper out and would spend the day using it on my repaired ruptured tendon. I knew from experience it would reach a level of discomfort that was tolerable, and stay there. As the town's industrial area petered out I came across a sign inviting me to detour along the spiritual route. It was pointing to a wooded hill. The graphic on the sign resembled the spike one might see on a heart monitor on a very fit man. If I had gone up there I would have needed the heart monitor.
Two men in front of me dressed in matching green ponchos and battered hats were discussing the world and how to put it right. 'My philosophy,' one said, 'Is that the world is insane and you have to be insane to live in it so therefore perhaps it is the insane who are sane.' Trying to un-convolute that almost brought my breakfast back up. The other chap stepped into a puddle and pretended not to have heard.
It was now easy walking. Wooded tracks, the occasional asphalt road and a plethora of mountain bikers. At one point an express train, hooting for all it was worth, approached and crossed an unmanned level crossing deep in the heart of the wood. Then, once again, the heavens opened and the rain came down like stair rods. My £1 yellow poncho had split, although I was keeping it to take back to complain that I had only 99p of use out of it. I donned a nice blue number and set off for my destination. Having seriously underspent I could now afford to stay in an hotel, the Acuna, where the price included bed and breakfast. I didn't want breakfast, not wishing to wait until 0800 for it, so I tried to negotiate a reduction in the price. Impossible I was told. So we compromised and agreed that I could take a selection of food and fruit from the breakfast bar to eat later as picnic. All I had left to do was to find a huge plastic bag.
Posted by THE PILGRIM at 13:06
The hostel was a rather crowded affair last night and with many people caught in the heavy rain space to dry clothes was at a premium. There was space, but it was spaced out, so to speak, which meant leaving socks pants, shorts and tops in various places around the establishment. There was a rigorously enforced rule of no washing to be hung out of the window and not wanting to be arrested by the underpants police I went along with it.
Then the next day's ritual starts. At 0530 someone's phone alarm goes off. Usually a calming melody but non the less irritating at that time of the morning. Many groan and pull their sleeping bag over their head and disappear. Then the Mosquitos arrive. Zzzzzzip, Zzzzzip. That's the sound of zips being opened as people start to pack. The room is still very dark for now we are on Spanish time, one hour ahead of Portugal who share our BST.
Then it's the turn of the drunken lighthouse keepers. Those with head torches who think they are being considerate but every time they turn their head a lance of bright light pierces the room. Get half a dozen people wearing these and it look like a Star Wars duel.
I have dumped all my stuff in a corner and gather it up to go to the landing to get sorted out. It is quiet there and I can get dressed in peace while using the last few minutes before I leave to get a little bit more charge into my iPad. Once dressed I wander across the street to the cafe which is just opening up. A group of Italian pilgrims are standing outside.
I look around for the first arrow but it's too dark to pick it up so I go in for an orange juice and toast. Soon the Italians leave, I follow them but they too cannot find the first arrow. Get it wrong and you can spend ages getting back on track. They disperse like an exploding star until someone shouts. They have found it. They troop off and I follow at a discrete distance, not wanting to appear that I am riding in their slipstream,which of course is exactly what I am doing. When I lose sight of them I can still hear them and eventually it's light enough for me to pass and find my own way through the countryside.
Ninety-Nine percent of my walk has been in my own company. I have met other pilgrims, of course, but these are fleeting moments and I was soon alone again with my own thoughts for company. There were two modest climbs on route, one of 153 meters and another of 145. As I made my way up the first the hills still had clouds sleeping on them and although the wind was coming from the south it was cold.
Nevertheless, it was pleasing to walk through mixed forest on good track. Occasionally, when the clouds parted, the sun shone a dappled light on the fields of potatoes and sweetcorn. Some parts of the track narrowed into a surface of shiny huge stones worn smooth by centuries of drovers hooves which made the stones glacial when wet. I was now walking close the the sea which made the occasional appearance through breaks in the forest. As I walked under the canopy a zephyr would shake the water from the leaves high above and the drops would patter onto my hat. But rain it did not. Thankfully. Crossing the 17c stone bridge of Pontesampaio I found a monument to the local garrison who had bloodied Napoleon's nose when fighting for their country's independence.
And so the trail moved on. More woodland and narrow lanes until I eventually found myself on the outskirts of Pontevedra at noon. It had been a leisurely 11 miles, and I had come across my first friendly dog. Walking through the suburbs of Pontevedra there was a strong smell of fish being cooked and ahead I could see on the pavement a large garden parasol and a steaming metal tub being heated on a gas stove. Alongside was a table full of circular wicker baskets. I crossed the road and peered into the tub to find a couple of large octopus being boiled. I was told by the proud cook that if I waited an hour I could have some. I thanked him, but perhaps another time.
Today I am going to live in the lap of luxury. I have three days and 41 miles to go and have booked myself into a hotel where they don't have a sign saying no clothes on the balcony. I have washed everything that needs doing including my feet that really needed a good soaking. I can rest my leg which is now quite painful, and I am looking forward to a little sight seeing and a good meal. Who knows, it might be a stunning goats cheese salad.
Posted by THE PILGRIM at 06:54
Friday, 6 June 2014
Hostels can be strange places. The one I stayed in last night was a mixed dorm. Normally the beds are separated but here they were pushed together to form doubles I assume, to get more people in. But it was rather intimate. I looked at the bed next to me and tried to figure out exactly what it was I was sleeping next to. I eventually identified shaving soap so it was a rather hairy lady or a chap, fortunately, it was the latter. The toilets and showers were also mixed but they had no locks, so doors were constantly being opened and the facilities echoed to screams from the ladies when the shower door was opened and grunts from the men. And much finger ringing was going on by those who did not get them out of the way as the door slammed closed. I was subjected to such an incident when my shower door was opened by a hairy hiker who's tummy skin was folded over the top of his underpants. I responded in the most English of ways, ' nothing to see here, move along please'. He looked me up and down, grunted in ageement and pushed off.
The highlight of today was rain, rain and more rain. It started as I left the hostel so I donned my best water proof gear. I will not stint when it comes to rain gear, irrespective of cost I will always go for the best. So, clambering into my Yellow Poundland poncho I set off to conquer Spain looking like a ripe banana. When I got to the wrought iron bridge that crossed the river into Spain there was not a soul in sight, so I strode across the 600 metre iron edifice with no one to witness this wonderful event.
On the opposite bank the town is called Tui, and like Valenca has a well preserved granite 'old town', the highlight of which is the church cresting the hill. With its crenelated curtain walls it was obviously built to repel unwelcome souls as well as repair the souls of the sinners of the town. There were no barking dogs here, simply the sound of shutters rattling open. Shopkeepers appeared bleary eyed, glancing up and down the street either looking for custom or just making sure they were still in the same place.
As I crossed the granite sets of a small square an elderly lady coming towards me dropped her shopping trolley and made a slipping movement with her hands. The night's deluge had left the square like an ice rink. She proceeded to show me the scar on her kneecap where I assume she had fallen down. I then showed her my scar and among much ooing and ahing we commiserated with each other. We shook hands and it made a hasty retreat in case this was some sort of ancient betrothal ceremony peculiar to the town.
A few miles out of the town I came across a bedraggled bird on verge. Obviously hit by the
previous night's storm. I could do no more than to dry it off and move somewhere safe. I hope it lived.
The track was now mainly woodland with the occasional hamlet thrown in and I I was making good progress. The rain was now becoming incessant but there was nothing for it but to plod on. By the time I got to Porrino, nine miles from my destination, the heavans opened. The poncho was doing its job which was just as well as I had a long climb and a longer descent into Redondela which I reached at 1600, just as the rain stopped. My hostel tonight is a former 16c Tower House, but it doesn't have wi-fi, so if you'd get this it means I have found a bar with one and I'm sinking a couple of pints.
Posted by THE PILGRIM at 09:00