Camino Frances.

The Pilgrims office in St Jean PDP - 3

The Pilgrims Office in St Jean Pied De Port.


Getting Ready

How exactly do you get ready for something like this? A walk of 800 Kms from the French side of the Pyrenees, over the mountains into Spain and onto Santiago De Compostela.

We got books. The first was a step by step guide to the Camino by John Brierley. There are many guide books out there but I liked the look and feel of this publication. The other book is ‘The pilgrimage Road to Santiago’ by Gitlitz and Davidson. This is not a guide book. It describes itself as the complete cultural handbook and is more about what to see along the Way such as architecture, flora and fauna, history and so forth. Between the two you get enough information to give you a good start.

Visits to various camping shops to get a good fitting backpack of around 35 to 40 litres capacity and other essentials for each of us was the highest priority. We already had decent walking boots that we took time to wear in and get supple. Carrying too much weight is a strict dont do. No more than 10% of your body weight is a good guide. No need for a tent as we will be staying in the pilgrim hostels along the route. Carrying too much weight for 800 Kms is a real dont do.

We have spent a lot of time pouring over the excellent forum which is a wealth of knowledge and I thoroughly recommend you read it if ever you do this yourself. Here is a link to it.

Nearly packed

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Two backpacks ready to go.

We are just about as ready as we will ever be. We have packed our back packs, then took it all out again and repacked them over and over again until we are happy. The golden rule of carrying no more than 10% of your body weight has been maintained.

We will travel up to London on the 3rd of June, stay overnight and catch the 0715 Eurostar train to Paris and then the TGV to Bayonne and onto St Jean Pied de Port. We stay the night of the 4th in St Jean and then on the morning of the 5th June our Camino starts. I hope to keep you all updated along the Way if and when we get WiFi in the bigger towns.

Day 1: Home to London

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Setting out for our Camino

Not sure if this is day one or not. If the pilgrimage starts at the time you set foot outside your front door then this is day one.


We bid farewell to Leo and took the train to London. Our hotel is the Kings Cross Inn and we are sat in room LG05. LG is lower ground. We are below ground.

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Room LG05, a room without a view

Our view is not of the magnificent structure of the station but of cigarette butts, a dead plant and a wall. It is not the best room we have ever stayed in but it is right across from the station where we need to be tomorrow morning for a 6am check in. The rumbling of tube trains beneath our feet somewhere will no doubt lull us to sleep. The pictures on booking.com were not quite a true story of the room but it is a bed for the night.

The station on the other hand is simply magnificent. I have seen stations similar in cities around the world but none match it for magnificence.

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St Pancras Station

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So having had a very nice dinner at a nearby pizza restaurant I am off to bed.

I must admit to being a little nervous about all this. I still hope my knees and feet will hold for all of this and I won’t let Debbie down. Time will tell. I am really looking forward to the journey through France on the Eurostar and TGV trains tomorrow.


Day 2: Arrival in St jean Pied De Port.

St Pancras station

St Pancras station and our Eurostar awaits.

After an awful nights sleep in London we woke to the alarm clock at 5am, showered and dressed and headed for St Pancras International station to catch the 0701 Eurostar train to Paris Gare De Nord. I am sold on this mode of transport. For €48.50 single it is the only way to get to Paris. We passed through security and passport control in less than 5 minutes. We were first mind you but there is no hassle at all. After a breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and tea in the station cafe we boarded the train, departed at 0701 precisely and arrived in the Gare De Nord at 10:17 right on time.

GARE DE NORD - 2

A bit of a blurry Debbie in the Gard De Nord.

You can buy the tickets for the Metro on the Eurostar train and its a little cheaper to do so. You also miss the queues at the ticket booths in Paris. Metro line 4 took us directly to Gare Montparnasse 25 minutes later. No changing, easy peasy. Gare Montparnasse is not a pleasant station being reinforced concrete with little sparkle to it. It is a marked change to the magnificent central stations in London.

The TGV on the other hand leaves UK trains looking like museum pieces. It was magnificent. Quiet, smooth and very very fast. It left Paris on time at 12:28, went non stop to Bordeaux and arrived in Bayonne at 19:33, 2 minutes behind schedule for which we received an apology. Incredible.

The local train to St jean however was cancelled due to a landslide blocking the line so we joined around 40 other people with backpacks on a coach ride to the small town lying at the foot of the Pyrenees.

St Jean Pied De Port - 3

St Jean Pied de Port.

A short walk took us to our accommodation for the night at 20 Rue De La Citadelle, Maison E. Bernat built in 1662. It is a lovely little place. Not the cheapest place but just wonderful and not 30 metres from the pilgrims office.

Outside Maison E Bernard in St Jean Pied De Port - 3

Here we had our Pilgrims passport stamped (known as the Credencial) to prove we are now pilgrims on the Way of St James.

Pilgrims Passport

We have had a wander around this most delightful little town steeped in so much history. We had dinner at the local cafe and sample Le Menu Pelegrin, the pilgrims menu. This was a vegetable broth each, chicken and french fries, a crepe and a small carafe of red wine all for €24. Not bad at all. The daily task of washing the drip dry clothing is over, the journals have been updated and its time for a good nights rest.

Day 3: St Jean to Orisson refuge

Distance to go: 789.1 Kms


We had a great night sleep. The extra money was worth it to give us a really good start both physically and mentally. We ate a good breakfast and set off at 9am for the first stop at the Orisson refuge 8 Kms away. The owner and Fiji her Golden Retriever bid us farewell and after a brief stop at the town gate we set off.

"Fiji"  - 2

The distance is not so great but there is a climb of around 800 metres to get there. It starts with a steep climb away from St Jean. No easing into this at all. My legs complained but Debbie kept me going. Actually I was surprised how I coped. Yes the leg muscles ached and yes my breathing was heavy but I was really rather pleased that the knees held up.

Leaving St Jean to start our Camino - 1
Leaving St Jean to start our Camino - 2

The Pilgrims set out!

The views from the Way are simply stunning and we watched red kites raptors thermalling in the gentle airs. Truly magnificent. I had to stop to catch my breath a few times but all in all I am happy with day one. Despite my training on the ship this was hard going.

En route to our first stop at Orisson Refige - 4

A breather to admire the view.

On a hill a young Australian was lying on the grass verge so we stopped to see if he was ok. He was enjoying a cigarette and taking a breather. I liked Angus. He is my type of guy. We were to see him later.

We stopped at various points to take in the view and chat with a couple of Irish ladies doing a 3 day walk to Pamplona and a Belgian man that had walked 60 days already from his home. He was super fit.

So I leave you with a few photos of the day.

En route to our first stop at Orisson Refige - 2

Simply stunning.

Home for the night - 2

Home for the night.

I was really glad to walk around the corner and see home for the night. All in all it was only a 3 hour walk albeit uphill. We will ease into this gently. Dont want any niggly injuries at this early stage.

"Fiji"  - 1

Fiji.

Finally this photo is for my son Leo who is dog mad. This is Fiji, the Owners dog.

Distance walked today: 8.0 Kms

Day 4: Orisson to Roncevalles.

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Sunrise. An early start for us.

Distance to go: 781.1 Kms


It is now abundantly clear to us novices that walking in the early morning is the way to go. The air is cooler, fresher and therefore we are cooler and fresher. Around 4am the wind started to blow and it was a feature for the whole day. It was very desiccating. The sun was out all day just to warm us up.

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Pilgrims Way

We walked 19Kms today. It does not sound like much but it has been tough going with some open hill tops battling the wind to steep descents playing havoc with our knees and hips. But we made it and thats the main thing. I am so glad we decided not to over do it the first few days until we got used to this.

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Hill horses roaming freely in the mountains.

It has been an exhilarating day. The scenery has been spectacular and most people we come across are really nice. There are a few old grumps but we just avoid them. We saw hill horses that roam freely and soaring vultures looking for knackered pilgrims and flora and fauna to keep us interested as we huff and puff our way along the route.The high point lies at 1450 metres above sea level and from there the view is fantastic.

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We are staying in the monastery in Roncevalles having crossed into Spain now. The facilities are delightful. Hot showers, wifi and they do all your nasty washing for €2.70. Dinner will be in a local restaurant with some of the people we shared food with last night.

My final photo is for Leo again. Another dog walking the Camino with his owner.

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Dog for Leo.


Distance walked today: 17.1 Kms

Day 5: Roncesvalles to Zubiri

Roncevalle Monestary - 3

Roncesvalles Monastery

Roncevalle Monestary - 1

Debbies home for the night

Distance to go 764 Kms

Last night we stayed at the pilgrim hostel in the Roncesvalles Monastery. We attended the pilgrim mass in the church along with around a hundred other people doing the same thing. It was very humbling although all in Spanish. What a magnificent building it is. We each had a bunk bed and Debbie took the lower one. We shared the cubicle with two other people also walking the route.

Pilgrims dinner at La Posada, Ronceville - 1

La Posada

Pilgrims dinner at La Posada, Ronceville - 2

Pilgrims Dinner

Dinner was a pilgrims dinner for €9 in a local restaurant called La Posada. We sat with a very quiet Austrian, a lad from Korea and 2 lads from Sweden.

We set off at 07:20 this morning, passed a sign that reminded us just how far we still had to go, bought some breakfast at a supermarket on our way and set off for Zubiri 22 Kms away. The wind of late had dropped and once again I was so glad we set off really early for there were a few steep climbs and some rough terrain descents to negotiate.

A long way still to go

yes, that far!

It was hot, really hot today. We did stop in Espinal for a ham and cheese baguette which really hit the spot and water. Lots of water to keep hydrated.

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More fine views


Angus, the Australian that we met in Orisson decided to have couple of beers at 10 in the morning instead and fell asleep in the chair so we had to leave him and do our own thing.

Here is dog of the day for Leo. He was taking shelter from the heat and understood our limited Spanish.

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Nice pooch

Distance walked today 21.9Kms

Day 6: Zubiri to Pamplona

Hard trek uphill

A hard slog

Distance to Go: 742.1 Kms

This was a tough walk of 21Kms. Not because the distance or gradients were much to contend with but the heat. That was something else.

A water stop

Drinks!

Debbie and walking friend

New friend.

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Inviting.

We had a so so nights sleep at the alberge in Zubiri and after a good breakfast we set off about 07:30 and arrived in Pamplona at 15:00. With hindsight we should have set off earlier to avoid the heat and tomorrow we will. The heat coming up through your feet is energy sapping and we had to stop many times to rehydrate ourselves. I lost my water bottle somewhere along the route so will try and get another tomorrow in Pamplona as the forecast for the next few days is going to be hot. It was 30C today which was too much to walk comfortably in.

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Beautiful towns dot the route. This is Trinidad De Arre.

Entrance to Pamplona city - 2

Pamplona entrance

The walk was varied. Sometimes over hot and dusty trails and sometimes along lush riverbanks but all the time the heat was there with no wind to provide any cooling. I was certainly glad to get to our accommodation in Pamplona, the Albergue Ibarrola. Its very modern, clean and with only 20 residents I am really hoping we get a good rest tonight.

Ibarralo Albergue - 2

Home for the night

We will make a small detour tomorrow as I want to get a photo of the statue of Hemmingway for our son Giles which is outside the bull ring and take a walk down Estefeta which is the street the bulls run down during the famous festival here.

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The dog of the day

We are off out to dinner tonight somewhere in the city with our new pilgrim friends.

Distance walked today: 21.1 Kms

Day 7: Pamplona to Uterga.

Ernest Hemingway - 3

Hemmingway information board at the bullring.

Distance to go 721 Kms.

The segment today took us off the Camino to start with as we took a detour to visit the bull ring and the statue of Ernest Hemingway that stood outside. Whether you are a fan of bullfighting or not, the stadium itself is imposing and the statue sits in a prime spot.

Ernest Hemingway - 1

Ernest Hemingway

Once we had taken some photos for our Son Giles we re joined the Camino and walked north through the streets of Pamplona out through the northern suburb of Cizur Menor and onto a fairly level path passing the ruins of an old palace, Guendulain before starting beast of a climb to pass through a small village of Zariquiegui. A fabulous little fountain poured out ice cold water to slake the thirst before the climb continued up to Alto De Perdon lying at 790 metres above sea level some 350 metres above the start point. This just about killed me.

GUENDULAIN ruins - 1

Guendulain ruins

I was goosed by the time we got to the pilgrims monument at the top. There was no shade on the way up but there was a cooling breeze at the top. Debs and I took our boots and socks off and stayed around 30 minutes to recover. It really was an energy sapping ascent.

Alto del Perdon: Pilgrims monument - 1

Pilgrims Monument on top of Alto del Perdon

The descent was tough on the knees as it was steep and over loose stones. It was slow going. By the time we got to the bottom we were about done and the small town of Uterga could not come quick enough.

Uterga Hostel.

We stayed at a private albergue called Camino del Perdon. There were only 9 other people with us and it was simply great. Our two friends Keith and his daughter Tanya arrived 2 hours later. Debs and I paid a little extra for a double room rather than a bunk bed. I needed some running repairs to my feet and Debs need some TLC on hers and its much more restful to do that with a modicum of privacy. There was our own shower with fluffy towels too. Luxuries that we can’t have every night.

Debbie, Tanya and Keith

Tanya, Keith and Debbie

We shared a great dinner in the garden with the 9 others and retired at 20:15. I was asleep as I hit the pillow. This walking business sure takes it out of you but despite all the aches and pains it really is good.

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Dog of the day. There are many dogs it would seem.

Distance walked today: 17.4 Kms


Day 8: Uterga to Puente La Reina

Eunate Church - 1

Eunate Church

Distance to go: 703.6Kms

What a totally fantastic nights sleep. We decided early on that we would not be walking all day today after the hard day yesterday. We would only walk around 10 Kms to Puente del Reina where we would stock up with a few essentials and give our feet a rest.

It was a cool and fresh morning when we set off at 7am. We took a small detour to visit the Church of St Mary of Eunate. This was recommended and was well worth the visit. It was not open but we still loved the place. The sun started to warm us up and lit up the honey coloured stone. We stopped for around 30 mins to enjoy the place and eat a slice of apple tart each for breakfast.

Tonights stop lies ahead

Not far to go now.

From here it was a 4.5 Kms walk into the town of Puenta La Reina.

Coffee and a sticky bun for breakfast

Breakfast

On arrival the first thing we did was have a cup of coffee and a sticky bun and then headed to the post office where we sent all the stuff that we thought would be useful and never used back home. Rain coats, extra shirts and books were boxed up and posted. Relieved of 3.5Kgs in weight we felt so much better.

Puente La Reina

Puente La Reina

So we have been to the supermarket, we supplied ourselves, got something for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow morning and are now relaxing beneath a tree watching a stork tending its huge nest atop a chimney not so far away. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Padres Repadores Albergue

Tonights lodgings. Padres Repadores Albergue.

Distance walked today 9.5 Kms



Mark Dexter 2015