Castrojeriz – Frómista – Carrion de los Condes – Calzadilla de la Cueza
We all had dinner together in Castrojeriz. The two Spaniards were there with the English couple who live in New York, the lass from Canada and the young man from Germany. And the two auld Scots. This was to be our last evening together because those with younger legs want to forge ahead and do longer stages to get to Santiago and leave enough time to go to Finisterre. “We’ll catch up along the Way”, they said. With our more experienced heads we know we won’t, at least not until Santiago, perhaps. They were up and out early. I admire their spirit. If the distances they plan are too much their bodies will tell them.
It was with a slight feeling of having lost new friends we set off in companionable silence for Frómista. We would be in the meseta proper and the long path that rose to the top of the hill was full of promise. It was cool but, as we climbed, so did the temperature. We stopped several times to enjoy the silence and the views. In the distance a long row of water spouts punched the air as the daily irrigation routine started. A tractor pulling an improbably high load of hay bales chuntered down a track kicking up a trail of dust. It was so far away we couldn’t hear a thing. Rounding a bend I was aware that Stephen was now in the distance, taking up our usual formation as I ambled behind.
The view from the top of the hill is the most iconic of the meseta. The path seems to stretch forever into a vast and beautiful landscape.
I was suddenly aware of the changes that have taken place in my world since I last stood in that very spot all of 13 years ago. The people who have passed, and the time passing in my own life. The changes in the world, where our very sense of personal security has been stolen by a virus that came in the night. I strained to look and caught sight of Stephen becoming an ever diminishing single dot below where, before, there would have been many dotted pilgrims. As I pondered the fragility of it all I was aware I was lingering too long, and as I started to walk down the hill towards the distant horizon I got the message as if the Camino was saying, “no matter what happens, I’ll still be here.”
Big thoughts and no thoughts. The effect of walking the meseta. I kept my own company and enjoyed the views and the refreshing sight of the canal leading to Frómista. With few pilgrims the shuttle boat stands silent. Waiting.
Along this stretch I found Stephen waiting for me and whilst we caught up the figure of a single pilgrim sashayed along. She was walking with the casual ease of the long distance walker. This was Jeanne from France who has walked from Le Puy en Vélez. I tried my schoolboy French but I’m afraid it has too many cobwebs. We settled for Spanish.
The Camino was silent again the next morning as we left Frómista. Although there are some 40 pilgrims walking in the same stage at the same time, we are well spread out over the distance. We opted for the alternative route from the town and we were rewarded by a day of long paths stretching ahead and absolute stillness in the countryside. Literally, you can close your eyes and hear nothing.
I saw Stephen had stopped ahead and after a while I caught up. There at the side of the path were two pilgrims having a picnic. This was Martíne and Nicole who are walking to Astorga. They’ll come back next year. They like to take the whole day to walk, no matter the distance, and “when the Camino speaks to us, we stop and have a break.”
The last time I was in Carrion de los Condes I went to the Pilgrim Mass there and met the singing nuns who staff the parish albergue. We’d made music together in Santiago Cathedral. That Pilgrim Mass was packed and ended with a pilgrim blessing in many languages and a personal gift of a little yellow arrow for everyone there. This time the church was silent, no mass, no nuns, albergue closed. In the darkness of the empty church where pilgrims have gathered for centuries we remembered all those whose intentions we carry because this year they cannot walk themselves.
Almost halfway through our Camino we decided to have a very easy 17km day next to Calzadilla de la Ceuca. There’s an albergue and hostal with a swimming pool. It may be hard to imagine (for those of you who have walked this route) but on the 4 hour walk here we met no other walking pilgrims.
It was a relief to get out of the sun and even before we checked in we sat down to rehydrate with cool drinks. Suddenly the man in charge appeared saying “help” and handed Stephen a phone. It was someone speaking English and he couldn’t understand. “Hello? Hello?” Stephen said, then listened intently. All I heard next was, “Daniel, this is Stephen, I’ll find out.” What a coincidence, it was only one of the young team who had gone ahead! They had walked 38 kms from Frómista to stay here last night. They are now 33 kms farther on. A bag had gone astray. Daniel spoke to Stephen, Stephen to the owner, the owner to the transport company, the bag was found and will be delivered.
The Camino speaks when you least expect it, in languages you don’t expect and in coincidences which are astonishing. What next!