Let the adventure begin. Six o´clock usually happens only once in the day, towards evening and getting up whilst it´s still dark is not one of my more enjoyable treats but I am a happy riser, at my age, I´m just happy to wake up!
We´re meant to be on the 0718 Manchester Airport train from York and looking forward to starting the journey.
The plan is to fly to Bilbao in Northern Spain, take the bus to Santander and overnight in the Central Albergue then set off walking the Camino Norte where we left off last year. We’ll follow that with a cheap flight down to Lisbon for no other reason than I’ve never been there before then either road, rail or air down to Albufeira on the Southern Coast of Portugal for Costa del Folk, our bi-annual fix of music. The name of the festival is a little misleading as the content is a broad mix of all genres and usually experienced whilst lying in the sun or with feet lightly dipping into an open-air pool or drifting in and out of a rhapsody on a sun-bed. In short, it usually has the edge on wellies and brollies in a field of mud.
The Camino element is another leg for me and a joining up of different tracks for the Pilgrim as she has already done the Primitivo which is an offshoot of the Norte that hugs the coast.
The sun is making an appearance as Bridie drops us at York Station and I, once again, look on in amazement at the machine that is our rail system. The bike racks on the station are full and I think of the emotional farewell to Otto yesterday and Kathy the day before. I’m not good with farewells, especially if you’ve no idea if you’ll see the person again. Both Otto and Kathy were only meant to be acquaintances for a couple of legs of their Coast to Coast walks; however, the warmth and nature of both of them coupled with the adversity of two astonishing storms have created a far closer relationship with both of them and I feel a fleeting sense of loss. The train from York to Manchester Airport is quite full but we manage to get our seats although we’re told later that the reservation system has failed and as the carriage fills as we pass through Leeds and beyond we feel lucky.
Manchester airport is quite busy and they seem to be having issues with security as we’re redirected to another basement room where there are long, zig-zagging lines of people. The staff are upbeat and manage the situation well but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s a pain.
The EasyJet flight was good and made up the time that was lost pre-takeoff so we arrive just about on time. On exit we make our way to the travel desk to acquire the bus ticket into town, we need it as soon as possible as our coach to Santander will leave at 1700 whether we’re on it or not. There’s no need to worry in this instance as the journey takes less than half an hour and drops us at the same depot as the ALSA bus that will take us onwards, we even have time to visit a restaurant/bar!
The buses run like clockwork, usually, bang on time and easily identifiable and even when you cock it up by trying to board the wrong one the driver couldn’t be more helpful in redirecting us.
We’re in the Santander Central Hostel and at 25€ per person per night including breakfast it’s at the top end of albergue range but it’s clean and there are sheets and blankets. It’s full of other peregrines all with a single objective, to reach Santiago de Compostela at some point.
My objective is to see the countryside and enjoy the weather, no more, no less and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
We reach the terminus and everything comes flooding back, the terminus is definitely in the middle of Santander and the Hostel is definitely not far away. It’s also not good value for money when you consider there are two of us and we’re housed in nothing more than an albergue facility; don’t get me wrong, I’ve paid £100 or £150 per night (or rather, the company has) but I draw the line at what is an overpriced bunkhouse although Angel, the owner/manager seems friendly enough and everything is clean.
We take advice for the bright lights of Santander and after a short wander, we find what we’re looking for, a bar selling pintxos which is the Basque equivalent of tapas. A brief conversation in pigeon Spanish later and I establish that the tortilla is indeed ‘sin lactosa’ or without milk and, as a consequence, safe for me to eat. The Pilgrim goes for the heavy-duty ‘con lactosa’ that includes blue cheese and a strange mix of caramelised onion that’s more like a jam layer that sits between the cheese, the potatoes and the egg. After a few mouthfuls of both, we establish that my traditional, reduced threat variety has the edge but both are devoured with relish along with more than one wine and cerveza (not in the same glass).
A couple of hours sets us up with the nightcap that is required and we settle in the dorm ready for me to give the other occupants the benefit of my nocturnal moose impersonations.
The Pilgrim has taken the top bunk and hung a walking stick from a hook that’s been carefully screwed to the wall for the purpose of creating a handy resting place making it easily accessible for the prodding of the moose-man if/when the volume becomes worthy of a risk assessment and aurally damaging. She’s under strict instructions to avoid my face and genital areas, other than that, a prod could land anywhere – and does! She’s quite skilled at this and It doesn’t wake me up but does silence the moose impression for a while and by 2 am everyone is happy and asleep.
We get up late in the morning, it’s gone 0830 and we’re normally up and ready to walk by now but the weather is kind and unlikely to go over 24 degrees which means that walking at midday is entirely acceptable.
Breakfast is included in our fee and a couple of slices of toast later and we’re ready to roll.
The first part of the walk is through the suburbs of Santander and whilst it’s uninteresting in terms of scenery it is interesting how the city works. We’re also greeted many times by local people who recognise the rucksack and pained expression and greet us with the words ‘Buen Camino’. Literally, it means ‘good way’ but the extended meaning is ‘Have a good pilgrimage and may it go well’ it also makes us feel good and we reply with ‘Gracias’ or ‘Buenos Dias’ and it leaves us with a smile.
As we leave the city with the Parque del Dr Morales on our right we note the traffic activity is reducing and within another 50 metres we’re on to a track that follows the railway giving us views of the mountain ranges in the distance.
It’s late morning now and the sun quite strong, we are passing through numerous tiny villages some of which are undefined save for the sign with the village name and a line through it to say we’re now leaving. Some of them consist of half a dozen houses spread out over a mile so it can be quite a surprise that we were ever in it let alone leaving it!
There is quite a lot of road slog although there is little or no traffic then we arrive at the rather charmingly named Estacion de Boo and decide on taking the train to the next station. It takes about 4 minutes, covers about 3 miles and takes us across the river and this is the real bonus as it saves us the best part of 10 kilometres (6 miles) of following the river inland to get to a footbridge that is safe. There is another option and it is one that we were going to attempt. It’s against the law but the locals do it, they cross the river via a one-and-a-half metre wide foot-way next to the train track. The trains are purported to run every 30 minutes and it takes only 5 minutes on foot; however, on an arse-covering principle, I recommend that you DON’t use this as you could end up hurt, dead or locked-up – or an unpleasant mix of all three.
We arrive at Estación de Mogro and the Pilgrim spots the yellow arrows pointing in the opposite direction what we expected but we take that route anyway as it runs parallel to the Camino which is on the other side of a significant hill but merges at a point 3 kilometres along the road. At the station, we had covered 18km (11 miles) and the map is telling us there is another 7km (just under 5 miles) to Cudon and it’s across some hills. The upside is the scenery and beautiful weather, the downside is another 7km!
The Camino follows several roads that wend their way across the hills and some of the views are very special especially where the countryside allows us to see the Atlantic; it’s currently placid but it is the Bay of Biscay and getting angry is its only pleasure.
We’re at a junction when a Spanish man in one of those utility vehicles about the size of a bus opens his window to help. We’re OK with the directions but he confirms that we’re using the right route and also describes where the accommodation is that we need to be looking for, “Behind the Church”, he repeats and we nod our thanks. When people see the rucksack and the shell they respond with kindness and help that makes you feel good but the best is yet to come.
The next few kilometres is covered relatively quickly although we do take twenty minutes out to stop at a roadside bar to slake the dust.
It’s been a bit of a slog and we’re about ready to stop when we enter the hostal and ask about a room.
“Los Siento, Completo”, (Sorry, we’re full), was the response and after 25 kilometres over numerous hills under a full sun it wasn’t what we wanted to hear.
Then something that happens only occasionally happened, “Espera aquí, por favor” (Wait here please). Then she rang a number of other hotels and found one that she then negotiated a “Pilgrim’s” price 45 euros for a double room (down from 65). She then got her husband up from his siesta and asked us if we’d like a lift!
The journey is across town and ends up being 7 or 8 km which would be a 16-kilometre round trip. As we alighted The Pilgrim whispers I think that was a ‘brown’ journey referring to the colour of the ten euro note and I couldn’t agree more so I offered him the note as soon as he opened the rear door to retrieve our rucksacks…and he refused! I offered again and repeated “Quisiera” (I would like) but he was having none of it and refused again then he shakes our hands and wishes us “Buen Camino”) and is off.
Such kindness and generosity are a feature when you travel and it saddens me when others are ripped off or robbed as we tend to find more positives than negatives.
The hotel is more than adequate and the meal that we have is good value especially for a hotel so we’re smiling.
Tomorrow is another day on the Camino Norte on the north coast of northern Spain.
Enjoy the snaps…G..x
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This is life after an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm open repair. Don’t be afraid of the operation, it set me free. Please be encouraged and inspired to walk, it’s liberating.
You can read about it here: https://www.yorkshireramblings.com/short-stay-hospital/