Friday, 8 May 2009

Dear Diary – Day Three of the Camino Inglés

Betanzos – Hospital de Bruma 29 kms (+2 Meson do Vento)

The previous evening I had spent talking to the people in the Tourist Office in the square in Betanzos. I had explained that one of the biggest problems with this very beautiful route is the length of the stage between Betanzos and Meson do Vento. They were very familiar with the issue and the fact that 12 kms from Bruma there is a steep walk uphill. I explained that some pilgrims had written to me asking if there was any alternative accommodation along the way. They got out their maps and directories and demonstrated what they had researched many times before: there was no other accommodation on or near the route. We discussed the feasibility of getting a taxi to meet pilgrims along the way either to return to Betanzos or go forward to Meson do Vento. Their view was that the latter was the best option. I resolved to get the number of a local taxi in Meson do Vento when I got there. But first I would take a hard look at just how difficult this stage would be for older or less experienced pilgrims.

6am. No time to even imagine seagulls this morning. We were full of purpose knowing that a walk of over 30 kms awaited. We organised breakfast the night before although we knew that there were some bars open from 7am. The air was chilly but as the sun came up it was obvious it was going to be another very warm day.

We set off sharp. I was silent. It takes me quite some time to come fully awake in the morning. Not so my companion. He began to read the guide book out loud as we got started interspersing information about the route with updates of the football scores gleaned from the Spanish newspapers. I momentarily began to think murder might be the answer.

I think the thing that irritated me was the fact that I wrote the guidebook. And here was this smart Alec reading out my own instructions:

“There are sections of the stage today which some may find demanding. There are opportunities to top up on water on the way but in very hot weather it may be advisable to carry more than usual. Food is usually available at the Bar Julia some 18 kms from Betanzos but you may wish to carry some with you. You should also carry some energy food such as dried fruit and nuts or energy bars.

Whilst there are stretches walking uphill the rewards of this stage are many and you will encounter beautiful scenes and vistas.”

We had organised breakfast but not a packed lunch despite the advice I had written. But we set out with self assurance. We would have lunch at the Bar Julia only 18kms away, about 4.5 hours walking.
We walked steadily uphill out of Betanzos noticing that the new waymarks which have been placed through the route are particularly helpful in this stretch as the yellow arrows are very faded. And from the occasional figures of St James it appears that people are becoming more aware of the pilgrimage. Numbers are increasing every year.

This is a long stretch of forest paths and pastoral scenery. Before the temperature rose with the sun it didn’t feel like Spain. This could be Scotland or Devon. We remarked on how lush it was. The dew has been heavy. Silken cobwebs still glistened on the grass. Many flowers by the path were in bloom.

The sound of seagulls had been replaced by the sound of other birds as we walked through the woods. We stopped for a break and scoffed the half bag of nuts we had left from the day before. The temperature was rising but we were making good progress.

Just as were discussing how the scenery could have been in Scotland we passed a tethered donkey quietly grazing under a tree. It could only have been Spain.
Feeling hungry I explained to my amigo that we were nearly at the Bar Julia. The proximity boosted my confidence, “ We just turn left along here, go through what appears to be someone’s front garden, go down a slope, turn left on to the road …and there it will be.”

We did all of that. It was there right enough. Closed.

Worse than closed. It had a bag of bread hanging from a hook on the door awaiting the owner’s return. Hmmmm.

But the bread was safe and we beetled off down to the fuente at the bottom of the road to recharge our water bottles and prepare for the ascent in front of us.

The guide read that we would be walking uphill for approximately 3 kms or at my pace 45 mins. After that in a further 1 km there was another bar 100 meters off the route. This gave us an incentive. Lunch in 1 hour. Off we set.

To be honest the first time I walked up this hill it was daunting and exhausting. The problem was I didn’t know when it would end. Now I knew that the rise is steady and steep in places with an elevation of 400 meters in 3kms. 45 mins.

I had also discovered on previous Caminos that the best way to make progress for me was to refuse to stop. Stopping doesn’t get you any further forward. Far better to take the smallest steps or take a short break every 20 paces than stop completely.

Just before the steepest stretch on forest path there is a little house. Looking back the view is excellent. With much groaning we set off up the last stretch. When yet another section of path came into view I heard a not so soft curse beside me. Rashly promising double the fee in beers that evening we both made the final burst and we were there.

After resting we made our way to the Café Bar Vizoño. There was only one other customer. We asked the chap behind the bar if they had food. He in turn asked the person in the kitchen. His wife came out to speak to us. She was wearing wellingtons, a dust coat that had seen better days and a pork pie hat cocked at a cheeky angle. She was nice but explained that they didn’t have food. Undeterred we asked if she had some bread, “yes” she replied…and it was also “yes” to tomatoes and chorizo. She retreated to the kitchen finally understanding that if she didn’t feed us we might raid the fridge ourselves.

When she brought the food it was a feast. A plate of chorizo and salami, rustic bread and plate of the most delicious tomatoes and onion drizzled in thick green olive oil. This was the best thing we’d ever tasted.

“As for the Bar Julia” she said, “your guide is wrong, they only open by arrangement during the week.” Fortunately she told us this after we had eaten or the murderous feelings I’d had for the Guidechecker earlier in the day might have been reciprocated.

Then it was a breeze reaching Hospital de Bruma where Benino and his wife Carmen the hospitalera greeted us like long lost friends. I made arrangements to come back and see Carmen at the albergue in the morning and we made our way to Meson do Vento.
The greeting was just as warm at the Pension O Meson Novo. After putting down a large deposit for the amount of beer I had to pay for that evening and sorting out the rooms we had a chat with the family who run it. They speak English having spent some years in England in the catering industry returning to that very place 34 years before. The son Antonio explained that it was time to modernise…start a website, advertise. To make the point he handed me a handwritten leaflet. I asked him what this sentence meant, “ Posibilidad de buscar a peregrinos al Camino Inglés”. “Oh”, he said, “If pilgrims call us to book a room we’ll go and get them, bring them here and drop them back again the next morning. That should help with the Big Hill.”

Help? Problem solved!


  1. I love that 'full of purpose' phrase. I know I had days like that in France, and it was amazing how much faster and further I walked on mornings I had that kind of urgency in my brain. (Not that I tried to do it too often!) I would have wanted to murder the guide book writer as well had I discovered that cafe closed after such a lot of walking....

  2. my own defense it has been open every other time I passed! What do you think of the route?

  3. It all looks very beautiful and very pastoral, though I think I would be wanting to take advantage of alternatives like that booking instead of the "Big Hill" late in the day. At least I think so. I was quite scared of some 'big hills' I had been told about early out from Le Puy, only to discover that by NZ standards they were relatively tame!

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  5. As a newbie in preparing my first camino for 2013 (Camino Frances), you have striked my interest in this camino as well. And that lunch that you had sounds positively delicious!