I ate Pimientos de Padrón in Padrón.
And I enjoyed the little peppers as much as I loved the town of Padrón which is saturated in the legends of St James. It’s here he supposedly preached in Spain for the first time, in a quiet spot high up on the hill overlooking the town. I walked up to the simple statue and cross that marks the spot on the rock far away from the bustle of the town below. And I felt a peace there that’s been missing on most of this camino.
I felt it less in the Igrexa de Santiago church which houses another of the great legends, the original stone mooring post to which the boat carrying St James was tied at the quayside on the river. And, at the other end of the Saint’s story there’s a roadside monument showing the arrival of the his sarcophagus as it passed through.
In the morning, after breakfast in a pilgrim cafe by the ancient stone bridge, four of us set off to walk together on the last leg of our journey. There were roads and traffic and noise, but there were trees and bridges and peaceful places too. We weren’t in a rush for the walking to end and met friends who also stopped countless times before they took the last steps into Santiago.
And when I turned a corner on the medieval streets and the familiar sharp spires of the cathedral rose into view I felt the smile spreading over me. It felt like coming home.
… and hitch an effortless ride on the swings.
You’re never too old for a play park or climbing trees. Right?
I suspect there will be yet more tricky twists and turns to negotiate in 2015. But for now the sun is shining in Aberdeenshire’s wintry woods. Happy New Year.
I was having a bit of a wobble; a bleak, dark November crisis of confidence and positivity. So I went for a walk around the seaside town I’ve made my home for the winter (probably: the jury’s still out). And that’s when I stumbled across the Scallop Shell House.
It sits on an unprepossessing corner of a busy road, but it’s a work of art. And it brought an immediate rush of powerful Camino memories from the happy weeks I spent walking across Spain, following the scallop signs. At that time I had no doubts; it was enough to just follow the shells on the roads, the pavements and on the backs of my fellow pilgrims.
Earlier this year I discovered a rough track in the north of Scotland that was spread with thousands of scallop shells and took some comfort then that I was, just maybe, following the right road. I’ll do the same again tonight, and place my trust in the crazy little house of shells just along the street.
The walk to Muxía was long, lush and memorable for its scents. Wild fennel grew abundantly along the borders of the paths when we finally tore ourselves away from Finisterre, after waiting for the sun to rise, admiring John’s freshly created Camino tattoo, checking in at the supermerado for fruit and bread, and saying “hasta luego” one last time to old friends about to scatter across the world. We walked on through the haze of aniseed. It conjured up incongruous images of Pernod in smoky Parisian cafes.
In the deep thick woods and on farm tracks there was the moist autumnal morning scent of ferns, then freshly cut wood, stacked and guarded by dogs at a sawmill. I saw more large dogs on this stretch than any other, and they were often loose and haughtily territorial. We eyed one another suspiciously.
And then suddenly a familiar smell from childhood; the imprinted aroma of sodden hay that’s been lying in the field too long. It was a hazard of Highland summers but seemed impossible in this climate, yet there it lay, flat and dark in shady rotting rows.
I’d read that this extension of the Camino was poorly marked but I think someone must have just been out with a yellow paint spray because the arrows were strong and clear, all the way to Lires, and the solitary cafe that was midway on the 30km route. It was just as well I’d had no breakfast because the tortilla served on a huge bocadillo would have fed three – generously. There must have been at least six eggs involved in its creation. I gave it my best try.
I loved the walk over moorland and through the woods but near the end of the long day our route joined the main road and skirted the beautiful Lourida beach where pilgrims were jumping from sand dunes and paddling in waters that are too treacherous for swimming. It felt like a long, weary haul on the hot tarmac through the outskirts of town to find the tourist office where old ladies knitted and another compostella was granted with evidence of stamps from my pilgrim passport. The best hostel in town is Bella Muxia and just beside it is A de Lolo restaurant which serves the poshest pilgrim grub I’ve ever come across! The wine is good too.
But now we’ve reached the end of the road and will have to get a bus back to Santiago tomorrow. There’s still another sunrise to look forward to in the morning though, maybe up on the rocky hill above the town, and the legendary stone boat down by the sea to explore. It’s not over yet.
There weren’t many pilgrims on the road this morning. Or maybe they’d all left early, leaving us trailing in their wake. My friends Doug, Pam and John certainly did. They intended to leave at 6am, they told us over paella in a restaurant in the old city last night, in order to get to Negreira before the heat of the afternoon. I felt only a momentary flicker of guilt at my decision to loiter until daylight then daunder alone through the outskirts of the city, past the park and along empty paths.
It was a stark contrast to the Camino Frances where there were always people alongside, ahead or behind, the crunch of a boot on gravel or soil, the sound of voices or a swish of a cyclist screaming Buen Camino. But I enjoyed the peace and the ruins of old buildings so close to the city, the living decay of stones covered in ivy and roofs burst open by growing trees. The medieval Ponte Maceira over the river Tambre was an oasis. There were palm trees, a still heron on a stone, clear water still running through the ruins of a mill.
It was only 22k to Negreira but for a first day it was enough. My feet were hot and my legs ached for the final kilometre we trudged through the hard pavements of the town. Our Australian friends had secured beds in the Mesquita albergue and I chose an upper bunk as far as possible from the known snorers in our midst.Friendship can be a fickle thing when decibel levels transcend even the finest earplugs.
But before sleep we needed food, drink and … exercise! So we meandered beyond the supermercados and modern buildings to find a shaded park and a disturbing sculpture of an emigre leaving his family, a symbol of the waves of emigration from Galicia all through the centuries. It was reminiscent of so many paintings of the Highland clearances, the woman clutching a baby, an older child tugging at his father’s clothes, imploring him to stay. But in this one the father’s legs appeared to be rotting and his skin hanging off. Maybe he’d have been advised to stay behind and let his much healthier looking wife set off to seek her fortune?
Its gaelic name is Sgurr nan Conbhairean and it’s a high, elegant hill that’s hidden amidst the ravaged peaks of Kintail, a wild land that I thought would be far beyond my caution (i.e. terror) of exposure to huge drops.
The summit, behind the rounded top in the foreground, peaks at 1011m at the top of a steep slope and this picture’s taken from another high top, Carn Ghluasaid, the Hill of Movement. And yes, fortified by my patient pal, I endured a (scary by my standards) ridge walk and climbed them both. It was exhilarating to be so high, absorbing wave after dusky wave of the mountain ranges that stretch across Scotland, from the jagged Cuillin of Skye and Rum, south to the imposing lump of Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart and far beyond.
We saw red deer and ptarmigan, or snow grouse, at around 1000m. These chubby little birds don’t venture much below this height and a funny family of seven allowed us to watch them potter around on their rocks before they flew away in a covey of crisp white underbellies.
And now I’m back down at sea level and hungry again for the crunch of my beloved new boots on stony tracks, the scent of rocky streams in spate and the wind whirling my hair on the high tops.
I could do without this morning’s unbendable legs, but even that discomfort brings a certain gratification; I’ve earned it.