Day 20 – 6th October 2015, Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz.
I suppose it is about time for another nerdy fact alert don’t you think? According to the Brierley guidebook, Hornillos del Camino is at a point approximately 469.4 km (291.7 miles) away from Santiago de Compostela, so I deduce that I have walked approximately 306.8 km (190.6 miles) so far. It won’t be too long before I reach the half way mark.
I enjoyed a lovely, cosy night’s sleep under a down duvet in La Casa del Abuelo and I was able to get up and about quite early. The house was full and there was already lots of chitter chatter and packing noises. Breakfast was a bit sparse so I didn’t hang around for long but talked briefly with some lovely Irish ladies, Mary, Una and Mary in the kitchen. After a quick cuppa, I stepped out onto the narrow street when it was still quite dark. I strode along past Casa Manolo and felt the first drops of rain fall onto my face. There was nothing else for it. I would have to put on the trusty, tangerine rain poncho and look like an oversized turtle again! I am not sure how ‘trusty’ this Altus poncho was exactly, considering I had felt it rain on the inside but anyway it might still act as a kind of barrier for the worst of the weather.
While I trundled along looking for the way markers, I pondered on the name of this odd place. Is it just me or does Hornillos sound like a place of lost libido? No?, oh, it is just me then. Never mind! Funny how the mind works so early in the morning…It didn’t take long to walk to the end of Hornillos and soon I had joined the end of a short, straggly line of early bird pilgrims, out and about before the pilgrim rush hour was in full swing.
I fell into step with Don, a very active 75 year old from California, who told me he was a retired methodist minister. We talked amiably as we made our way up onto the Meseta plateau and didn’t really notice the rain, which seemed to come and go. We discussed a wide range of topics from Paulo Coelho‘s book ‘The Pilgrimage’, which had inspired us both at different times in our lives to walk the Camino, to theology, church traditions, social justice, Buddhism, relationships, travel and adventure sports and poetry. Don mentioned he admired the work of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and I include an English translation of one of his poems called ‘The Walk’, which aptly describes our stroll on the Meseta that morning.
Already my eyes touch the sunlit hill
Far ahead of the road I have just begun
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
We see its light even from a distance –
And it changes us, even if we do not reach it,
Into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;
A gesture seems to wave us on, answering our own wave,
But what we feel is the wind in our faces.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
Soon we descended into the pretty village of Hontanas, past the little hermitage dedicated to Saint Brigid. Saint Brigid was a humanitarian at heart, known for her generosity to the poor and her healing abilities. In addition she believed in building the capacity of other people by founding monasteries for women and men and a school of art. I reflected upon her wonderful faith in action and discovered this beautiful, traditional Catholic prayer.
You were a woman of peace.
You brought harmony where there was conflict.
You brought light to the darkness.
You brought hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious, and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made.
Brigid you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit.
Hontanas nestles in a small valley and takes its name from fontanas, the fountains that bless the village with cool, refreshing water. I looked ahead to the spire of the church of the Conception, rising up majestically and calling us forward. We decided to stop at the Albergue El Puntido for a cheery breakfast. I was glad to take my rain poncho off and sit down for my usual cafe con leche and, this time, tostadas. Don was deep in conversation with another pilgrim friend and I felt compelled to continue along my journey alone so I bade farewell, sure that we could bump into each other once again.
On my way out of the village I passed a man with a long ginger beard and dressed in dark clothes, who was walking in the opposite direction. He wore a pack and also carried a stick. He walked in a rather agitated manner. I called out a cheery ‘Buen Camino’and he shook his head rather furiously and replied ‘Learn something new today’. I thought, fair comment actually, how often do we say ‘Buen Camino’ en route as a force of habit?
The next part of my Camino journey that day undulated gently upwards past the ruins of the abandoned village of San Miguel and rejoined the asphalt on the approach to a magnificent ancient ruins of the Monastery of San Anton. I would have loved to have spent a while amidst its crumbling walls to soak up the atmosphere of centuries gone by but a bus load of tourists had just arrived, shattering the peace with their babbling cacophony. I decided to stride on beneath its imposing arches. The views on the other side were truly spectacular. The flat plain stretched into the distance and I could see the Camino pathway ahead through an avenue of tall trees, shivering in the afternoon breeze. Their presence reminded me of courtiers, gently bowing and gesturing signs of welcome and I felt, at once, as though I was approaching a right, royal kingdom.
Castrojeriz stood, strong, timeless and looming upwards from a large outcrop of rock. In front towered, Iglesia de Santa Maria collegiate church of Our Lady of the Apple, (I assume this has nothing to do with Steve Jobs or MacBooks) and I followed the camino pathway around the church grounds to enter the village along a ‘high road’. The village appeared to be long and narrow and as I continued to follow the large stone arrows integrated into the roadway I found myself looking above to an impressive castle in the sky. It appeared ominous and out of reach but, nevertheless, I made a mental note to explore it later on. I glanced back, briefly, to the way I came and marvelled at the colours in the landscape, sky and buildings.
A little further on I came to the Albergue Ultreia, cleverly tucked into a row of houses so it could have been very easy to miss. I decided to stop here for the night and received a warm welcome from the owner’s daughter, Vanessa, who told me that she lived in Peterborough but had come back to help her parents out over the summer. The Albergue was still very new and had only been open for a couple of years. It was immaculate, very clean and well thought out with plenty of facilities and good value. I was early enough to get a bottom bunk by the window. I showered and changed and did my laundry. I was ravenous, but realised that most places would be shut at this time for siesta.
However, I ventured out to explore the village, moseyed on by the lovely Santo Domingo church (unfortunately closed at that moment) and onwards to a square with archways. There I found a small deli and bought bread, ham, cheese and a drink. I made my own lunch in a sunny but very windy spot at a viewpoint, overlooking the village and the Meseta. I turned my face towards the sun’s rays and devoured the UV light as well as my, hastily-put-together bocadillo. What bliss, to stop and wonder at the beauty around me, to breathe in the refreshing air, feel the warmth of the sun and rest for a few moments.
Afterwards, I resumed my exploration and enjoyed meandering throughout he quiet, village streets. I felt strangely drawn back towards the ruined castle and began to climb up the winding gravel pathway, round and round the hill. I wondered whether this experience was somewhat akin to K’s in Franz Kafka‘s novel ‘The Castle’ as I did not seem to get any nearer to the castle entrance. My legs were trembling with exertion from the day’s walk already and became tired. I listened to my legs and reluctantly retraced my steps down the hill and back to the Albergue.
Until the sun dipped down behind the rooftops, I sat in the courtyard, where I had a strong enough wifi signal to skype Brett, which was a joy! I look forward to talking to him in the afternoons when I have reached my destination, as it feels as though he is journeying with me, across the miles from his home on Salt Spring Island. He always listens attentively, gives me good advice and celebrates my achievements, even on days when I feel like I am struggling to keep going!
Later on, after sunset, I popped next door to the restaurant in Hotel La Cachava for a pilgrim meal. This seemed to be quite the gathering place, for I immediately spotted Don and Mary, Una and Mary, having a whale of a time at the table opposite. I smiled and waved to them, before I tucked in heartily to my evening meal and felt at home and wonderfully content.
Peace, love and light,