Monday, 24 August 2009

Change for the better

Coca - Alcazaren - 25 km - Valladolid

The 25 km or so yesterday to Alcazaren would normally have been an easy and attractive day. The route is substantially on sandy forest paths. But as the day progressed so too did the heat and by afternoon it felt extraordinarily hot. Although we had ample water supplies I've showered in cooler water than came out of our bottles. Lone walkers would have to treat this route with caution in winter and the height of summer. More of that another day.

As we had planned, after arriving we made the short 15 min bus journey to Valladolid. For the life of me I can't understand why the Amigos didn't plan the route to pass through this town. Perhaps they just continued their objective of creating a series of country walks and by passed it.

It is a lovely city with parks, fountains, the Cathedral and many museums and restaurants. There's plenty to do including a visit to the Church of Santiago pictured above.

Whenever I've stopped to enjoy a town or city on a route such as Merida or Caceres on the Via de la Plata I've thought of these days as "days off". I also hear other pilgrims using the same description. I think what we mean is breaking the momentum of walk - eat - sleep which day upon day forms the routine of most pilgrim journeys. Many pilgrims don't stop until they get to Santiago and plan their flights home according to the number of days to get there.

I also think that the pattern of albergues which has emerged particularly on the Camino Frances can also mitigate against visiting towns and cities along the way. I recently read a comment by a pilgrim that they "always just walked through Pamplona to get to that lovely albergue several km outside".

Pilgrims' accommodation was always meant as infrastructure, support, for pilgrims on their way. And yet nowadays moving from albergue to albergue has become the done thing.

It seems to me that this was not the case with the original pilgrims in whose steps we follow. Theirs was an essentially penitential journey and so they stopped to pray at cruceiros and shrines along the way or nearby and they certainly visited the Cathedrals, churches and shrines in towns along the route.

Pamplona, Burgos, Leon on the Camino Frances, Sevilla, Merida, Caceres on the Via de la Plata, Valencia, Toledo, Avila on the Camino Levante. These are the great cities of Spain. It is inconceivable to me that a medieval pilgrim making the once in a lifetime journey to Compostela would hurry past those great places they would probably never have the chance to visit again. So why should we? Rather we should stop and drink deeply of the rich spiritual and historical heritage of these places. It is also an opportunity to clean clothes, attend to blistered feet and prepare mentally and physically for the next stage. And we should ditch notions of doings so being a "day off" as a false application of a modern work ethic.

We could also try to thoroughly enjoy these visits - fun is also food for the soul.

When we arrived last night the thermometer on the wall read 41 degrees. The same thermometer this afternoon read 26 degrees. There's been a significant change.

So too it has been a journey of change for companero Esteban. I can testify to the fact that from St George's Hospital in London and that lecture from the doctor not a slice of Tarta de Santiago has passed his lips. Liquor de Cafe usually drunk in significant post prandial quantities has given way to thimblesfull of cerveca diluted with soda and he's now proclaiming that salad is his new best friend. I'm hugely impressed.

Over the next two days we will walk the last of two etapas before meeting Rebekah Scott with whom we will stay in the Peaceable Kingdom in Moratinos before heading to Santiago. Let's hope the weather stays cool until we get there.


  1. Hi Johnnie,
    I am glad to hear you are having cooler weather AND that you are taking time to enjoy a bit of beautiful Spain. Good advice for any Pilgrim. Unfortunately, life today is more hectic and most have only enough time to walk straight through.
    I plan to walk in September at a leisurely pace stopping to visit some of Spains lovely landmarks along the way.
    Buen Camino

  2. It was much easier to have 'days off' in France, where you could reserve two nights in some of the gites. But after reading this, I don't feel the need to apologise for them anymore! I had always planned to spend a day in Conques, and what a memory I have of my time there- in a village that was a jewel. Quite by chance I was there on a Sunday, and there happened to be all sorts of music-making going on in the beautiful abbey. I sat and listened, then wandered, then came back and listened... the acoustics were superb. Then I went to vespers and a thunderstorm struck! All quite magical.