Day 27 Villafranca de Bierzo to La Laguna Castilla and O Cebrerio

Today we walked to La Laguna de Castilla, 2km short of O Cebrerio. The 6 of us are staying at A Escuela Hostel in a 9 bed dorm, so sharing with 3 others.

The walk was around 28 to 29 km, all uphill. It was a gradual climb for the first 20k or so with the rest becoming very steep quite quickly.

The landscape had turned from dry and dusty to wet and green, and is quite reminiscent of Wales back home, with the mountains and rolling landscape.

Along the way we passed a tree where you are invited to leave a note containing your dreams. I left my dreams and so did the others.

We arrived at our accommodation and showered. Then both Anna and Michelle, having learned that I wanted to visit the church in O Cebrario to light a candle, organised some transport to take us there and back. It was only 2km and we could have walked, but it was raining and would also have missed dinner.

When we got there, Mass had just started, so we joined in and received the bread of Christ. There was then a pilgrim benediction for all the Peregrinos where we were all blessed.

The priest then invited speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, English and German to perform a reading. Michelle obliged in English.

Finally, the priest, presented a bowl of stones painted with the yellow arrow of the Camino and said that each stone represents our life on the Camino. He went around hugging each of us in turn and we each took a stone from the bowl. The whole experience was very moving.

Afterwards I lit two candles. One for Anne-Marie, a friend I met on a walk I had organised along the Mawddach trail in Wales, and another for a colleague who I had worked with for over 18 years and I had learned had died in a tragic motorcycle accident only yesterday. My heart goes out to his wife and family he left behind.

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Day 26 Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

After yesterday’s emotional start, we were nearing our destination when we bumped into another pilgrim we’d met several times before. It happens like that on the Camino. Before we knew it, we were all sharing a room with our new friend Noel from Dublin and our Camino family had increased by one.

That evening, Noel introduced us to Michelle from Australia and by some coincidence we met her the following morning and she started walking with us. Somewhere along today’s route we were taking photos and needed someone to take a photo of the 5 of us. Along came Anne from New Zealand and we blocked her path as we asked for her help and then there were 6 of us.

All but Anne are sharing a dorm tonight but were all walking to O Cebrario tomorrow where we’re all staying in a Hostel together.

Today’s walk was through beautiful vineyards that were just started to get their green leaves. You can just imagine picking and eating the grapes off the vines come September.

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DAY 25 Foncebadon to Ponferrada via Cruz de Ferro

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DAY 26 Foncebadon to Ponferrada via Cruz de Ferro

What an incredible day, full of emotions and then inner peace.

Last night’s accommodation at the Albergue Cruz de Ferro was terrible. With 20 people crammed into a small bedroom, boy was it hot, even with the windows open.

Breakfast was a help yourself affair of coffee, croissants, cereal and pineapple juice. We were up early which was just as well given we didn’t sleep much and we were walking by 6:15am.

The energy I felt yesterday was still with me and the 2km to Cruz de Ferro seemed like a breeze. I was the first to arrive and as I approached, I unstrapped my backpack and started to climb up to the iron cross with tears streaming down my face. I stood at the top briefly before leaning over to touch the cross and as I did my tears stopped and a feeling of inner peace came over me. I stood there touching the cross for a shirt while before stepping back and placed the three stones I had brought with me on a rock close to the cross. The first stone was for myself, a token of forgiveness for what my first wife did to our son when he was only 14; she abandoned him and I never knew until a year ago. The second stone was for my daughter Holly who suffers with social anxiety. The third and final stone, I brought along was for all the members of the #walk1000miles Facebook group.

I said the traditional Pilgrims Prayer quietly to myself:

โ€˜Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage that I lay at the foot of the cross, weigh the balance in favour of my good deeds some day when the deeds of my life are judged. let it be so.โ€™

As I was uttering the words, tears once again were flooding down my face. I touched the cross once more, standing there for a good few minutes while people were trying to take photos, but I didn’t care; this was my moment.

As I stood there, I could feel the anger and hate that had built up slowly dissipate until I was once again feeling extremely calm and at peace with myself.

We each left something behind there and as we walked away, the energy I had felt yesterday and earlier was gone. I felt weak and drained, yet I could still feel a presence walking with me, that stayed with me for some time.

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Day 25 Murias de Rechivaldo to Foncebadon

Today started at 5am when 2 people in our Albergue decided to snooze their alarms twice. Tell me, what’s the point in setting your alarm for 5am if you’re not going to get up straight away eh! Oh well, that’s the Camino and luckily my earplugs blocked out any other noise.

We didn’t have far to go today, only 20km and we had booked ahead, so didn’t get up until 7am and felt like a lie in. We only had a few biscuits left and the nearest town was 8km away, but we were soon tucking into Tortilla Patata and cafe con leche. After that we all had freshly squeezed orange juice. I had drunk most of mine, when I noticed something wriggling in my glass. I dished it out with a spoon and put it on a plate. It looked like a small maggot and the guys named it Freddie. Needless to say, we left the rest of our orange juice on the table and left.

Feeling in need of another drink, we stopped at a cowboy bar in the next town.

After examining our feet and applying vaseline, we set off for Rabanal del Camino for what, for me at least was to become a highlight of my Camino.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not religious at all, but what happened to me, I just can’t explain properly, but I’ll try.

On the approach to Rabanal, there are wire fences in which previous pilgrims have made makeshift crosses using branches and sticks that can be found on the ground. The fences go on for an extremely long distance.

Well, I don’t know why, but I somehow felt compelled to pick up a stick and make a cross in the fence. It took me a while to arrange it, but once I’d finished and was walking away, I felt this feeling of complete happiness wash over me. I know I can’t explain it, but it felt so real.

Not long after, something else happened, I suddenly felt very light, like someone was carrying my backpack for me. I could still feel it against me, but it felt so much lighter.

The next thing that happened that afternoon is a total mystery. The path started to go upwards gently and the path split in two, as it usually does, with a row of stones down the middle, presumably where the rain drains away. This split seemed wider than most and I was presented with a choice to take the left or right path. I didn’t have long to choose and somehow felt a strong urge to take the left path. One thing that sprung to mind as I was making thus choice was that Lucifer sat at God’s right hand, so I should choose to left path. Don’t ask me why I thought this, as I’ve no idea.

Anyway, what came next took me totally by surprise. The whole path was not that wide, so I could easily switch if I needed to, but I stuck to the left path no matter what, even when the right path looked far easier and less rocky. I remember there was a patch if mud covering pretty much most of the path and keeping to the left saw me pass it easily. I also remember seeing on the right side some burnt looking scrub land, yet on the left where I was walking, it was all green with abundant flowers.

I don’t know why or how, but walking on the left gave me some kind of additional strength. As the hill’s gradient increased, the quicker and easier I walked and completely left Sandra and Denis behind. I wasn’t out of breath and wasn’t tired, I just felt so alive. I thought I should wait for them and became a little worried when they didn’t appear after a few minutes. I must have waited for over 10 minutes before I saw two women approaching. They could see I was looking and waiting for someone and told me a young woman fitting Sandra’s description wasn’t far behind them. I was so happy to see her as I really had no idea how I’d gotten so far ahead.

That feeling of being so alive, still hasn’t left me as I’m writing this blog, I hope I can sleep and I hope I still feel like that tomorrow.

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Day 24 Hospital de Orbigo to Murias de Rechivaldo

We started around 7am today and met a Scottish lady called Anne, who originated from Dundee, but moved to England about 47 years ago, if I remember correctly. We walked together for a while but our pace was quicker so went ahead. That is until we stopped for breakfast. We were eating at a cafe/bar when she arrived and joined us. It was so nice having breakfast with someone you have just met – but only it seems on the Camino can this happen.

We continued on into Astorga and needed to cross a railway track. The only way over was via a convoluted green walkway structure.

Arriving at the town square we bumped into Carson and Simone, the German couple we’ve met several times and with whom I celebrate my birthday a week ago today.

Not content with the 17km, we carried on passed another couple of towns to arrive at Murias de Rechivaldo where we’re staying in Albergue Casa Flor.

Dinner is at 6 tonight, a much more reasonable time ๐Ÿ˜

Tomorrow we push to Foncebadon, so we can don’t have to get up too early to start the climb up to Cruz de Ferro I’m on Wednesday morning.

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Day 23 La Virgen del Camino to Hospital de Orbigo

Today is Sunday and we left having eaten a banana and museli bar, washed down with a bottle of chocolate milk, bought from supermarket the night before.

It was a 25km day and all the bars were closed in every town we passed, until we reached the 25km mark. This was our third Sunday, so you would think we would be used to not having shops open by now, but we were missing our cafe con leche. At last with just 5km to go we were in luck; a croissant and cafe con leche was ours, hmmmm.

Today was still mainly walking on the flat, but the Meseta is coming to an end, so we can expect hills either tomorrow or the day after.

We arrived at our destination around 1:30 hoping to find some lunch, but everywhere was closed. So we took a quick tour if the town then came back to a bar opposite our Albergue and ordered some beers. I was surprised when Sandra said she would like a beer, but only because she had been drinking coke up til now. Free tapas was served with our drinks, so we stayed for 5 more beers, just so we could eat something. We had time to kill as dinner wasn’t until 8:30. We talked and laughed and generally let the world go by. I can’t remember the last time I did that with friends, but felt so good. A Spanish guy called Alex and his girlfriend came and sat with us, he was a friend of the owner, Josh. We talked a little and as we were leaving wanted his photo taken with us. We left there feeling content with the world.

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