Belorado – Atapuerca – Burgos – Hornillos – Castrojeriz
Dear amigos, greetings from Castrojeriz. Do you ever get lost when walking a Camino? This is the question every new person on the Camino asks. My answer is always the same, “Yes, if I’m very fortunate.”
Let me explain. It is almost impossible to get physically lost on the Camino Francés. The signage is excellent and in normal times so many pilgrims are walking all you need to do is follow the pilgrims in front of you. Becoming lost in other ways is a different matter, and I’m aware that this year I needed that to happen more than any other.
I’ll be honest, like many people, I’ve found coping with the pandemic difficult, very difficult at times. Here in Spain the “lockdown” was very strict. For two months we were only allowed to leave our homes to do a little shopping, no more. Things have eased of course, but there’s still a tension as everyone gets on with a life of no handshakes or hugs, where we now use handgel 50 times a day and face masks outside of our houses. The hardest thing we’ve all had to cope with is the feeling of powerlessness and our inability to know the future. Being stuck at home I swung from laziness to feverish activity, from being lighthearted to raging at the news on television. There were sentimental moments when I reached out to friends I hadn’t been in contact with for a long time. Sometimes I slept well. Often I didn’t. All along I had a growing feeling that I needed to walk again…just to get lost.
We set out from Saint Jean Pied de Port 14 days ago. The first few days coping with the physical aches and pains focuses the mind. Of course the scenery was captivating but it is only after a few days you begin to notice the small things – like the wild fruits growing by the side of the Camino Path and the ripening grapes on the vine. Sure signs that no matter what, nature will keep renewing.
Within days the routine is established of: wake, eat, walk, wash, eat, sleep, wake etc. No decisions are needed on the trail. Just follow the arrows. My sense of time goes first as I concentrate on getting my old frame up another hill. Whatever day it is seems increasingly unimportant.
There’s a bond between pilgrims as we share the same history and the same path. Casual nods on the first day graduate to conversations discovering each other at a coffee stop, then having dinner in the evening.
All of these things come together as the things that help us get lost. We were sitting having coffee on the way to Burgos when one of the young people we’d seen three days before arrived. “Sancho is here” he shouted to his friends. They all arrived – and it was all I could do to stop them hugging me. They explained that they regularly see Stephen Longlegs striding ahead, like Don Quijote looking for windmills, with the smaller figure of Sancho trailing behind. A happier bunch you couldn’t find. We’ve met up each day at some point but I think they will forge ahead soon to walk much longer days.
The route is beautiful but the weather also plays a major part. The way from Belorado to Atapuerca is a long stage. Thankfully the temperature had reduced by 10 degrees. Rain was forecast but it remained dry until we were walking down that lovely long stretch to begin the ascent to Montes de Oca. The heavens opened and we were caught in a shortlived but spectacular downpour. Light drizzle followed but this was nothing compared to the pilgrims already in Burgos who messaged, “did you have hailstones?” It’s the end of August!
Next morning the day started with some decent cardiovascular exercise as we climbed out of Atapuerca to the Cross erected at the summit, before slowly descending to Burgos. As we were panting up the hill we heard a shout from behind, “hello Scottish” and soon a Spanish couple we’d met who are walking for a few days sped past. Just after this we met the young people who seem to have adopted “Sancho”. We all agreed we would walk the alternative “river route” into Burgos. It was lovely. The right decision.
In Burgos we went to Mass in the Cathedral and saw several other pilgrims. This was followed by the dinner to say farewell to Billy, who was returning to Amsterdam. What a dinner … with a vast portion of morcilla – but still not quite as good as Scottish Black Pudding!
That evening we sent a message to Alexis who was also departing back to England. Poor Alexis had been suffering from blisters and was prone to vent her anger at them in the most colourful language. A repeated phrase over these days was Alexis shouting, “pebbles and rocks, why are we walking on these @🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬@ things?”
We walk on them because they are on the Way. They are part of the Way. I’m sure every pilgrim knows the feeling of walking on pebbles and rocks, at the end of a hard day, when your feet are throbbing and toes are aching to be released from their captivity in hot boots. When coping with sore feet and pebbles it isn’t possible to think about anything else!
I’ve come to realise that this is part of getting lost. Meeting new friends, climbing challenging hills, gazing at amazing views, seeing nature renew itself. These things come together to form a potent brew which makes me forget myself, helps me to leave the cares of the world behind. It gives me peace. And then there’s just the sheer fun of it. Seeing Don Quijote himself on the swings in a park. Meeting Louise from Holland and Nania, also from Holland, but now living in Madrid. They’ve hooted with laughter whenever we’ve met them. They didn’t know each other before arriving at Saint Jean Pied de Port, they’ll be together until Santiago and friends for life thereafter. No prizes for guessing what Louise did next to her friend with the ice cream!
We walked along that straight road lined with trees towards Castrojeriz. There were no other pilgrims. The iconic abergue in the ruins of the Monasterio of San Antón is closed, but the ruins stand proud as a reminder of the millions of pilgrims who have passed under its glorious arch over the years. Castrojeriz looked majestic this afternoon as we approached. The castle on the hill was bathed in golden light.
A single figure outside the church reminded us that when in towns and villages we must respect the rules.
I’m certainly more lost than I was leaving Saint Jean 14 days ago, and as we continue on the long path of the meseta before us, I hope to get completely lost.