Slipping away silently
On occasional mornings, if we were planning an extra long day, we left at 5am so, in order not to disturb everyone else with sounds of rustling, zipping and clipping, we packed our bags the night before so we could slip out silently with only a sleeping bag to stow away. Boots were always left at the door so all we had to do was lace up, load up and head out into the darkness.
On the cold starry morning we left everyone still asleep on their mats in Grañón the moon was so bright we needed no torches – except occasionally to hunt the yellow way-marking arrows. We walked under Orion’s Belt, below the same canopy of constellations that guided countless generations of pilgrims, the north star twinkling high above endless wheat fields.
But while the heavens and the scenery nurtured the soul it didn’t do much for the stomach – and nowhere was open for breakfast that morning until we’d walked almost 16km. The sun was high in the sky by the time we reached the outskirts of Belorado and – finally – a café con leche grande and the biggest chunks of madeira cake in the shop.
I was persuaded to carry on to Villafranca another 12km away and while it was a long hot slog with lots of stops to fill water bottles, we were rewarded with a great albergue at San Antón Abad round the back of the town’s very smart hotel. It had been restored from an ancient pilgrim hostel once known as the Queen’s Hospice and the owner was proud to tell us about its history, pointing out the Royal Coat of Arms as he showed us the dorm where we’d be sleeping.
It was Adrianna’s Name Day, a great excuse for early cervesas with so many friends – Brian and Elaine, Bill, Tomas, Trudi and Scott from Tasmania.