Calzadilla de la Cueza – Sahagún – El Burgo Ranero – Mansilla de las Mulas – León
As soon as we arrived at the Albergue/Hostal Camino Real in Calzadilla de la Cueza it was obvious from the shrieking from the swimming pool that there were other pilgrims around, although as usual we hadn’t met many during the day. César the owner, and leading light in the Camino world in Spain, welcomed us enthusiastically. “You seem to have brought other pilgrims Johnnie,” he joked. “These last days we’ve had four or five but they’ve been arriving all day today, and we have 37 between the Albergue and the Hostal.”
Indeed pilgrims littered the place. Sprawled on loungers, splashing about in the pool; some making notes, others planning tomorrow. In a Camino empty of pilgrims it was like old times. Dinner had to be phased in a number of sittings to maintain social distancing. I looked around and thought, “this is the Camino we know and love”. Martíne and Nicole waved from their corner table. Next to them was James from California, now living in Seville. I may not be the oldest in the room! Two French cyclists stared into their soup exhausted and totally silent. It was a different story at the next table, where Mark from Holland was receiving instructions on blister management in broken English from Michael from Berlin. In the other corner was a group of six German pilgrims walking as a group. Behind them, tucked away, were two young pilgrims. The girl was English and the boy spoke English with a heavy Spanish accent – not that I was eavesdropping! They were totally engrossed in each other. Whether they had met on the Camino or not we’ll never know, but let’s just say it was clear they were having difficulty maintaining social distancing!
The pilgrims, the piping hot soup and chicken casserole, the Camino chatter and the canoodling couple was the most reassuring scene that, despite everything, our Camino is alive and intends to remain so.
Sleep that night was long and deep. We left at dawn because the days are still hot. As the sun rose the moon still hung in the sky, winking down at the small procession of pilgrims weaving along the path.
On the way to Sahagún we stopped to pay our respects at the tree and memorial for Philip Wren, an Internet friend, who died on the Camino some years ago. Shortly after this we were in Moratinos meeting another old friend, Patrick O’Gara who, with Rebekah Scott, provides a warm welcome to pilgrims in the Peaceable Kingdom – their house in the village.
The half way point stone marker in Sahagún and the “La Peregrina” statue in the church where the half way certificate was issued on behalf of We Walk For You 2020
The day passed quickly with all this chatting and soon we were in Sahagún, the town which marks the fact that we had walked half of our journey to Santiago. Although I’m not a great fan of the proliferation of certificates, we thought it appropriate to get one for all of the pilgrims not walking this year. We had a convivial dinner with Rebekah and Paddy in downtown Sahagún before another deep sleep. We were out sharp next morning and left passing the sculpture which notes Sahagún as the centre of the Camino. Half way!
Long roads and beautiful Meseta scenes
I don’t think that that there has been a day when we haven’t remarked on the gorgeous scenery which proves a distraction to the long, long straight paths on the way to León.
First we had to reach El Burgo Ranero. We were venturing not just farther along the meseta, but into the heart of Castilla León. This region of Spain was formed in the middle ages by the unification of the two separate historical kingdoms of Castille and León. You would think after 1,000 years of marriage any problems would have been ironed out. Not so. The old rivalries are still very much in evidence, with graffiti proclaiming “León alone” and Camino signs where Castilla has been erased… then added back in. I’m told that these views are not held strongly by the majority of people. Rather, it’s more a friendly rivalry, most of the time.
A more serious insight into the tensions in modern Spain are exemplified in the parish of El Burgo Ranero, where the parish priest is chaplain to the movement which supported Franco the dictator, and still advances his ideology. There are many stories of local conflicts with the priest, including the raising of a petition with 54,000 signatures seeking his removal. When the State of Emergency was declared in Spain on the 14th of March this year all churches were ordered to close. The priest announced that he would not close the church, that he would still ring the bell, mass would be held as usual and a large procession which had been planned would go ahead.
This time the local Bishop took action and issued a decree that the church would be closed and there would be no procession. A victory for good sense. Another good decision was for us not to visit his church! Rather we lodged in the splendid Albergue La Laguna.
There weren’t many pilgrims and Victor, the hospitalero, made us very welcome and comfortable. We asked about dinner. “That’s in my father’s restaurant across the street.” Isn’t Spain wonderful!
Next morning Víctor bade us farewell and handed us two packed lunches. These were gifts for the pilgrims. Food for the journey. Inside was a little card with two handwritten words, “Buen Camino”.
The air was cool as we left along another long, long path. We sauntered along, chatting to the occasional local out for their morning exercise, and soon we were in Reliegos where we had been invited to call in on Gail Todd, a friend from Facebook. “We live in the house opposite the Albergue”, said Gail. What she didn’t say was that this was a 300 year old adobe house which she and her husband, Mark, are renovating. I loved seeing what they are doing. They are living their dream. We went for a coffee with them and Gail told me that the following day we should stop at a particular cafe, beside a butcher shop, on the way.
To be honest next day on the long drag into León I had forgotten about this when Stephen said, “there’s Gail and Mark outside that café”. They’d come to meet us and make sure we found this splendid patisserie which gives free pastries with every coffee.
This evening I’ll mosey around León and we’ll attend Mass in the splendid and quite extravagant Cathedral – but even the size and beauty of this magnificent building will not overshadow the lasting memories of these few days.
The kindness and warmth of Gail and Mark, the gift of a simple packed lunch, the school children who shouted, “Buen Camino” and the drivers whose horns tooted their encouragement on blistering hot afternoons.
The magic of the Camino is here. Perhaps more alive, more concentrated because there are fewer pilgrims. The warmth of the welcome we’ve received everywhere seemed to be embodied in the awesome sight of the sunset from El Burgo Ranero.
All is well.