Monday, 28 December 2009

El Camino Hogmanay

Today the adventure begins. All of the winter gear has been laid out for packing: base layer, long johns, middle layer, fleece and a rain shell of trousers and jacket. Double rucksack protection with a liner and cover complete the winter list. This year I’m also trying waterproof gloves having suffered from freezing fingers in the past. They’ve worked well so far.

The CSJ’s publication Winter Pilgrim by Alison Raju is still the best source of advice around in my opinion. Alison advises layering clothes as the most effective way of combating the cold and she repeats the mantra of “get warm and stay warm” as well as good advice to keep dry at all costs. In cold conditions getting wet is a real enemy and can be very dangerous as body temperature can plummet.
If the pamphlet is short on anything it is mention of the substantial range of modern “technical” clothing which is now available. This gear is expensive but is highly effective. I’m packing a featherlight windproof top which can double as a base layer. I’m also packing my Patagonia R2 fleece which is one of the best investments I have ever made. This alongside a merino wool top will keep me toasting. In the past I have always used waterproof over-trousers to pull on if it rains. On this journey, according to the forecasts, rain and snow are inevitable, probably in considerable quantities. Therefore I’m opting for a pair of fully lined waterproof trousers for walking and a spare pair of trousers for evening use. These plus the Patagonia rain jacket and gaiters will keep me dry. I wrote in an earlier post about problems with condensation with this jacket. I’ve recently been wearing less layers and keeping the pit zips open and that problem has been solved.

So, today we’ll catch the 1pm flight to Madrid from London City Airport. This evening Madrileño friends Marta and Manolo will host dinner and if there is time in the morning before the bus North it might be good to catch up with Maria Jesus the nun who used to sing in the cathedral in Santiago and is now posted in Madrid.

The bus will take us direct to Ponferrada where our journey begins. If all is trouble free then 9 days walking will ensure our arrival in Santiago on 7 January. I really wanted to mark the beginning of the Holy Year in this way. Goodness knows where we will all be when the next one comes around!
During a previous jaunt on the Camino Frances at the beginning of January the weather was dreadful and I got a very nasty chest infection. It came back later that year and developed into pneumonia. So with no apology we’ve booked hostals and hotels for each evening. We’ve used the services of the Camino Travel Centre to do this and I have to say the service has been excellent. Bus tickets have been e mailed with a full itinerary including addresses and contact numbers for all locations. Not only have they sourced places which are actually open over New Year, it looks likely that there may be hot food available at most destinations. The most precarious of these is on Hogmanay when the 31st will find us on the road to O Cebreiro. We’ll stay at Herrerías de Valcarce as there is nothing open on the top of the mountain. This is the evening where there is the greatest risk of there being no food or drink. Hogmanay in such circumstances is of course unimaginable to two Scotsmen so we’re packing emergency supplies of dried food plus a little lightweight travel kettle. The whisky will have to be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen. I promise to report further on that subject.

It seems there is a lot of snow around on the mountains but let’s hope the Camino route up to O Cebreiro is walkable. If not we will take the road. It will also be interesting to see how many other pilgrims are around bringing in the New Year in this way. Being the Camino Frances I expect there will be some. Maybe we’ll organise a party.

Since I won’t be here I’d like to wish everyone who visits this blog a very happy, peace-filled and prosperous New Year. I’ll hug the Saint for all of you including the pilgrim who asked, “Does making a Camino Hogmanay make you both Hogmaniacs?

Hasta Santiago. Hasta 2010.


  1. Travel safely, keep warm, happy, happy New Year, and buen camino.
    Pilgrim hugs,

  2. Igualmente sister Sil. I hope all is well with you in South Africa.Best wishes for New year.

  3. Good luck in obtaining the whisky. This will be crucial! Prayers all round needed, I think.

    And some good winter clothing advice here which I'll try and take on board for my own trek in mid-January.

  4. Go well John

    many prayers (and much jealousy) from here


  5. Good luck and have fun out there. See you both in 2010. I'm very jealous.

    Jacqui SW4

  6. I imagine there is some whisky to be found at that truck stop co-op in Vega de Valcarce.

    Keep warm, stay dry, and have a happy new year.

  7. Travel safely, hope the whisky finds you.
    Happy new year.

    Rose Louise

  8. I want to try this road.