Monday, 14 July 2014

Resources


This post is about the resources I found most useful when planning my pilgrimage.

Planning the route through southern England 
I used the 1:50,000 OS maps, including the online version available on www.bing.com . Recent editions show long distance cycle routes.
Sustrans.org.uk have an online map of long distance cycle routes. This can be expanded to a very large scale. However, there was no convenient direct route from St Ives to Hertford, and the London-Brighton route headed too far west for me as I wanted to reach Newhaven. So I plotted my own route, using the official cycle routes for only part of the way. The Lea Valley route proved to be very rough for several miles, and was the cause of the problems I had with my pannier bag disintegrating. Signposting on these long distance routes was erratic and confusing.  For example, I lost the route in the Isle of Dogs, at Catford, near the Croydon Tramway, and in New Addington.

Planning the route through France
IGN maps at scale 1:100,000 show all minor roads and contours, and are ideal for planning a route avoiding hills as much as possible. 'Tourisme et Decouverte' series www.ign.fr
At an early stage, I tried the online version http://www.geoportail.gouv.fr/accueil but ended up buying printed copies from Stanfords bookshop in London, which I carried with me on the journey. I used a standard road atlas of France for the macro planning i.e. establishing a direct route between Dieppe and St-Jean-Pied-de-Port broken into days covering approx 60 miles (100km).  I was keen to visit Amboise, final home of Leonardo da Vinci, and also to call in on my cousin near Marmande. Both these places are off the regular pilgrim routes. Having established the ideal stopping points, I sought campsites at these locations using a Google search. In fact, most town and many villages in France have a municipal campsite and it was possible to simply turn up and pitch the tent. The only major place we visited in France which didn’t have a campsite was Mont-de-Marsan.

Planning the route through Spain  
I used the German-language guide Jakobs-Radweg von Pyrenaen nach Santiago de Compostela. 2009. Radingersdorf: Verlag Esterbauer. 978-3-85000-166-3; and   The Way of Saint James : a cyclists guide from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (by John Higginson). 2nd ed. 2005. 978-1-85284-441-7 Milnthorpe: Cicerone. The German guide has details maps of each section of the cycle route through Spain, with a very approximate gradient profile, list of accommodation and other facilities in towns and villages en route, including campsites. But both books were quite old and so some of the information was out of date. Although the Higginson book has the advantage (to me) of being written in English, the maps are less detailed than Jakobs-Radweg. Gradient profiles were better, but still it didn't give enough detail about certain hilly sections of the road. I didn’t try to cycle on the walkers’ path, which is often very rough, and used normal roads instead. 

Another cycle pilgrim showed me the guide book he was using - St Jacobs Fietsroute (by Clemens Sweerma). It’s in Dutch, but the layout and detail looked excellent. The guide is in 3 volumes - Haarlem to Tours, Tours to the Pyrenees, and the Pyrenees to Santiago. Available from Europa Fietsers. I plan to buy a copy out of curiosity.

The Junta de Castilla y Leon publish a series of booklets describing several of the pilgrimage routes into Santiago. I have Route de Santiago: the silver route: a practical guide for pilgrims. This route comes up from the south via Salamanca, so only part of it was relevant to my 2014 journey. The booklets include tables of distances, facilities at towns or villages, photos, websites, what to see, gradient profiles, list of useful addresses. And they are very compact, so don’t add much weight to your pack.

The ‘Maps with me’ app proved handy as it could be enlarged to show local roads and street, marked campsites, shops, and hotels, and functioned independently of a wifi connection. http://mapswith.me/en/home

Before setting out from home, I located campsites by internet searching, and took a printed list of them with me. I did this because I wasn’t sure how reliable internet access would be (it varied). Booking ahead is unnecessary, at least at the time of year I was travelling (May/June), and you need to allow some flexibility to cope with weather conditions, injuries, accidents, and breakdowns. 

I varied from the suggested routes in several places because I found that the main roads were generally quiet, having been bypassed by new motorways.

Confraternity of Saint James
The Confraternity is an association of pilgrims and others interested in the Camino. It publishes the Bulletin, a magazine with news, informational and reflective articles, about 4 times a year. The Confraternity will supply members, on request, with a Pilgrim Record which can be used to collect evidence of places visited en route, and presented to the Pilgrim Office in Santiago in order to obtain the 'Compostela' or pilgrim certificate.


Online groups
The Yahoo group santiago_bicicleta was worth joining as it put me in contact with other cyclists who had  made the pilgrimage.


What to take - a friend gave me a copy of her packing list when she cycled the Camino 17 years ago. It gave me some useful hints (e.g. about having some string and wire for emergencies). There are plenty of examples on the internet of what different cyclists have taken with them. My toolkit was the one I carry every day when cycling near home. However, because I had a support team (i.e. Brendan in the car), I didn’t need to carry a tent or sleeping bag or indeed my spare clothes on the bike. On the Camino, I noticed that some cyclists were loaded with a huge amount of stuff. Others were travelling light, either because their belongings were being moved for them by a van or minibus, or because they were staying in hostels, refuges, or hotels.

For an idea about how little it’s possible to travel with, visit the blog of Frank Burns, on http://frankburns.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/the-final-detail/ and you’ll see photos to show what minimal luggage looks like. 

Insurance - I joined CTC and used their insurance scheme. My bike is valued at more than what the household insurance will cover.

Mobile phone and internet access

Mobile phone coverage was excellent throughout rural France and Spain. My internet provider promised free online coverage in France, but this did not materialise. Most campsites, restaurants and bars had wifi access. Just ask.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The journey home. 25-28 June.


Unless you are like the German pilgrim by the name of Prosper, who died en route, and whose memorial stands by the roadside between Sarria and Portomarin, you have to return home from Santiago. Our original plan was to catch the ferry from Gijon on Friday 27th. But the ferry was fully booked, so a long drive proved necessary.

Our first day on the return (25 June) took us along the pilgrimage route known as the Camino del Norte, in reverse. This cuts overland and then follows the north coast of Spain. Few pilgrims come to Santiago this way, and they are said to be a more adventurous breed. Maybe. We saw hardly any of them. There is a fine motorway all along the coast, flying across valleys on spectacular viaducts, then burrowing through hills and under villages through innumerable tunnels.



Bilbao is bypassed by a series of incredibly long tunnels, yet hardly any vehicles seem to use the road. We encountered two different tolling systems. One, where you put money into a slot to make the gate open. Then one where you took a ticket and paid at the next toll gate. All very confusing, and nothing to explain.

We stayed the first night in Donostia, better known as San Sebastián. This is a large seaside town, with two beaches and new and old towns on opposite sides of a river. Hotel Record, really a B&B, was simple and comfortable. The receptionist was in the middle of walking to The Camino and had got as far as Gijon in the first week. She'll continue later. She recommended a couple of good streets for bars serving pinkos, and we ate in a small restaurant nearby. Great breakfast. Good wifi.





26 June. Busy motorway from San Sebastián across the French border near Bayonne. French motorway tolls are easier to understand. We rattled on through Bordeaux, then took the non toll motorway via Angouleme and Poitiers. Our second night's stop was at Azay-le-Rideau, a small town on the Indre river, with a spectacular chateau that we plan to visit in the morning. The hotel is called Les Trois Lys. The room was cheap, but is comfortable. However it has no view, just looks onto a sort of light well in the middle of the building. After exploring the town, we decided to eat at the hotel. The staff were friendly and charming, but overworked. The only waitress was having to double as hotel receptionist. This lent whole place a Fawly-esque air. The food was OK but not outstanding. My main was a cassoulet consisting of andouillettes done in a red wine sauce.

Our third and final day of the journey back to the Channel (27 June) started with a visit to Azay-le-Rideaux's beautiful chateau. It is surrounded by water and a landscaped park. In the old days, nobility had to be ready to receive the king as a guest. Louis XIII stayed here two nights and they still have the royal bed on display. Beautiful woodwork in the chateau's attic, with oak beams cut from the forest in 1518.
Leaving the chateau, we kept to ordinary roads for our journey to Honfleur, a small fishing port on the south bank of the Seine opposite Le Havre. I'd seen paintings of Honfleur. Its tall narrow houses arranged around a sheltered harbour basin are all unique. Some are brick, some are painted, but most are faced with grey slate.



There are dozens of bars and restaurants around the basin and in the narrow streets nearby. I wanted to try Tripes a la mode de Caen. Only two or three seemed to serve it, such was the dominance of fish and seafood on the menus. We ate at L'Hippocampe (seahorse). The Tripes were excellent.



Saturday 28th June. Our ferry from Le Havre was at 12.30. Leaving Honfleur about 9am we stopped at a supermarket to stock up on some French products. I was amused that 'trompettes de mort', a kind of mushroom known in English as 'horn of plenty', were labelled euphemistically as 'trompettes de Maure'. They are like black chanterelles. To get to Le Havre, we had to cross the Seine estuary by the magnificent Pont de Normandie. Le Havre is a huge container port - "la Porte de Europe' it calls itself. The town centre is post war, so I guess it was heavily bombed. At the far end of the town is a rather stony beach, where we parked and had a walk and a coffee. There are hundreds of beach huts, all painted white.

I can recommend Brittany Ferries. Their fast ferry to Portsmouth was very comfortable. We got seats at the front with a great view ahead. Good meal deal at the cafeteria too.


The drive back to St Ives took 3 hours with some slow traffic on the A3 and M25. We stopped by the allotment to pick a lettuce and some rasps, and survey the landscape. The whole place was under water. George told us it had rained solidly for 4 hours during the afternoon.


Back at the house, we were greeted by balloons, a bottle of bubbly and a huge 'congratulations' banner, and a jungle in the back garden!


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Pilgrim's Record

In one of the early postings on this blog, I mentioned my Pilgrim's Record, the booklet which I got stamped as I went along, and which I presented at the Pilgrim Office in order to get my certificate, or 'Compostela'.

I thought my readers would like to see it, so here it is.

And here is Brendan's Pilgrim record and his 'Compostela' certificate.






Day 28. 24 June 2014. San Marcos to Santiago de Compostela. And back. 10 miles.

Day 28. San Marcos to Santiago de Compostela. And back. 10 miles.



It was misty in the morning, but not actually raining, when we set off to complete the pilgrimage. It's mainly downhill, some of it quite steep. The sun shone briefly to allow the photo above. After passing a couple of straggly villages, you cross a motorway, then a railway, and another motorway. The Camino is well signed. We stopped for a coffee, and got our Pilgrim Records stamped on the way in. The centre of town is mystifying. The cathedral cannot be seen from any distance because of the many tall buildings lining the jumble of small streets. Finally we arrived.

After suitable photos, we climbed up the steps into the cathedral, and walked forwards to admire the botufeiro i.e. the giant incense burner which hangs from the centre of the crossing and can be swung right across the cathedral hoisted by a team of about 6 men when in use.

Finding the Pilgrim Office proved tricky, again due to the maze of streets, with lack of direct sunlight making orientation impossible. Mike had warned us there would be a long queue.

In fact, we were an hour in the queue, so missed the Pilgrim Mass at 12. But we did get our certificates to say we'd completed our pilgrimages. You are asked to fill in details about yourself, how you travelled, where you started from and what was your motivation. It was multiple choice - religious, religious/spiritual or sport. The staff and volunteers at the office were very pleasant and welcoming.


Next we went in search of a few souvenirs and gifts, before treating ourselves to a Galician meal in a small restaurant called Conroy.


Then the slog back up to camp.

It's been dry all day so the washing is dry. We plan do spend a bit of time packing and sorting stuff for the journey home e.g. Cleaning the bike, rationalising the camping equipment. Hopefully we can get the tent down dry in the morning. But if not then we'll have to pack it we and hope we get a chance somewhere en route to let it dry out.

Totting up the distance covered, I make it 1337 miles, plus about 80 miles of toing and froing in Amboise and on the last stage where Brendan was walking and I had to juggle the bike and the car.
.

Day 27. To the outskirts of Santiago. 24 miles


Day 27. O Empalme to San Marcos. Both directions. 24 miles.

Another catch up day for both of us.

Yesterday evening, though, was pretty wet. Torrential rain, in fact, for about 2 hours. We spent most of it the Refugio checking our emails, charging up our electric gadgets, and trying to book a ferry home. The Friday ferry from Gijon is fully booked, and there's not a convenient one from Santander or Bilbao at a reasonable price, so we've decide to drive through Northern Spain and up through France to catch the 12.30 fast ferry from Le Havre. The internet told me that it would be 14 hours driving. Plus, of course three overnight stops. Ah well, we should have booked the Gijon ferry a week or two ago, but at those stages we really weren't sure if we could keep to our schedule.

Eventually a slight gap in the rain let us scoot across the road to the Albergue that serves food. A torrent was running down the road. Great food - 3 courses plus a bottle of local wine for only €9 each.

The manager of the Albuergue said we could bring our sleeping bags inside to get out of the rain. At least I think that's what she meant. But in reality we were fine and dry in the tent.

Brendan set of walking about 8.25, which is quite late by pilgrim standards. Many of them leave by 6am. I think this may partly be due to the fact that the dorms are noisy. Later B texted to say that he'd caught up with someone we'd chatted to the night before - she'd left at 6. So despite a blister, he was making good progress. Slowing down doesn't reduce the pain level, so why not keep cracking on?

I had to take the tent down wet this morning, but was able pitch it again by mid morning in the San Marcos campsite just 7 km from Santiago cathedral. There are plenty of trees and there is a cafe. The rare two tame rabbits, a goose, a cockerel and a flock of chickens.


I cycled back along the main road to the point I'd reached yesterday, and had a coffee in the bright yellow painted O Ceadoiro Restaurante. There, a local man asked me if I was German or French. I said no. Was I Australian? South African? He spoke excellent English and though I did too! When I said I was Scottish, he told me about his month long holiday in a van in Scotland. He liked the whiskey the beer, the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, Edinburgh, and asked about the referendum. He said Scotland was expensive. Well, Spain is inexpensive as we have discovered.

Back to the campsite for a shower, and to do the clothes washing.

A sunny afternoon and the tent has dried out nicely.

One of the flawed tent pole sections is looking extremely dodgy, so it's probably just as well we are near the end of the trip.

Brendan texted to say he was at 11.5km from Santiago, and would I like to walk out to meet him. The campsite is 7km from Santiago, so you'd think we'd have met quite quickly. But we didn't. And the reason must be that there are two Camino diversions around here - one to avoid the airport, and another taking pilgrims off the old main road through Lavacolla by looping through Villamaior. An extra 4km at least. We met at Lavacolla, an B struggled on because he knew that if he stopped, that would be it. Meanwhile another thunder storm was brewing a few miles to the north. We got to the tent just before the rain started. The Camping Gaz stove is still holding out, enough to boil the kettle at least, so we had a cuppa and some pastries. When the rain goes off we might head down to the campsite cafe for a beer, and then we'll cook our evening meal.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Day 26. Ribadiso to O Emplame and back. 25 miles

Day 26. Ribadiso to O Emplame. And back. 25 miles.

Another short day's cycling in order to get a bit beyond Arzua while Brendan was walking from Palas to Ribadiso. Also, our friend Mike was in Santiago this weekend, and it gave me time to meet up with him in Arzua.

Mike arrived by bus at 11.45. We had a beer in a cafe in the main square. There are plane trees everywhere, and the square is a great place to sit and chat.
All the locals seem to be doing the same. Something was going on in the church. Mike said it was the Feast of Corpus Christi today.


The bells rang wildly. Then the priest emerged followed by a flock of young children aged about 8 or 9. They were dressed for their first communion.More bells. Then photos, each individually with the priest, then a group shot. The town band was in evidence and they later joined in a procession along the Main Street.

Lunch was at a restaurant called Venus. I had a tripe and chickpea soup followed by grilled hake and chips. Mike had a plate of charcuterie followed by chicken. All for €11 each including an excellent bottle of local white wine.

Great to catch up with Mike who is going on from Santiago to Madrid then Toledo then Avila.

His bus back to town was at 3.45 and I headed back to camp where B had already arrived, a bit footsore, but otherwise OK.


Warm sunny afternoon, so everything has dried out after yesterday's rain. We're planning to eat at the Albergue across the road this evening.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Day 25. Palas de Rei to Ribadiso. 35 miles

Day 25. Palas de Rei to Ribadiso. In both directions. 35 miles.

Before I start on today (Saturday 21st), I need to give an update on yesterday evening. While having a pint and seeing to our emails and the blog, we got chatting to a couple from Clonakilty in County Cork. They were cycling form Burgos to Santiago, and like many of the pilgrims we are meeting, using the services of a luggage transfer service i.e. you don't have to carry all your stuff with you on your back or on the bike: it's transported for you between overnight stops.

They were at the next table to us during the evening meal, so the conversation continued. the meal itself was excellent. No menu, you had to take what was served. Started with homemade soup (chicken stock, white beans, potatoes and turnip tops), followed by a huge platter of casseroled pork ribs, with chips and an enormous salad. A litre of chilled (!) red wine came with the meal. And for dessert there was a choice. I had pineapple cake and Brendan had local cheese with quince jelly. Neither of us took coffee but enjoyed the free glass of grappa. All the veg, the wine and the grappa were from the campsite's garden and vineyard. Probably the quinces too. So this is a restaurant to recommend. Camping Santa Marina, Portomarin. I'll add a link later.
We slept well last night.

A slightly complicated day. Brendan set off on foot from Portomarin to walk to Palas de Rei. I struck camp ( such a quaint expression!) then drove to Arzua where I'd found some information on the internet that there might be a campsite behind a hotel. The tourist office told me that it was possible to camp a few kilometres back at Ribadiso. This was hard to find, but there are two albuerges in this hamlet. We are camped at one of them with use of the facilities for €5 per person per night.

I cycled from Ribadiso to Palas de Rei and back getting caught in a thunder storm on the way back. But some good came of it. I stopped in a wayside cafe for a cup of coffee, and got a stamp for my Pilgrim Record.

It was dry when I got back to Ribadiso, so I pitched the the tent, then set off to collect Brendan from near Palas de Rei. We stopped in Melide for some food shopping.

Pouring with rain again when we got back to the tent, so headed across the road for a pint and a piece of pie while waiting for the rain to stop.

No wifi where we got our pie and pint, so spent a while writing up my blog post. I'll add it to the blog next time I can get wifi access.
Next task is to unpack everything and check out what the facilities are. The turned out to be excellent, with comfy sitting areas, showers, clean toilets with toilet paper provided. There is wifi at Albergue Los Caminantes where we are camped.

This is probably our most authentic Camino experience so far.
Here is a shot of Brendan sitting in the Albergue charging up his iPhone and checking his emails. A well deserved rest as he walked 25.5km today.



Friday, 20 June 2014

Day 24. Portomarin to Palas de Rei and back. 34 miles

Day 24. Portomarin to Palas de Rei. 17 miles (34 miles out and back)

I said I'd explain about today's activities. This is Brendan's first day of walking on the Camino. You have to do a minimum of 100km to qualify for an official Compostela certificate, and I guess have your name called out in the cathedral for completing a pilgrimage. 100km lies between. Sarria and Portomarin at a tiny place called Pinza. B chose to start at Sarria and I drove him there first thing.

After parking the car back at Portomarin, I set off to cycle the next bit of the route - to Palas de Rei. Not much in terms of distance, you might think, but the last two days involved climbing up and over a couple of mountain ranges, then the hilly road between Sarria and Portomarin, so I felt a bit lacking in energy. Also I had to cycle back from Palas de Rei to Portomarin.

The road climbs steadily from Portomarin for 12km and then cyclists and walkers are directed onto a narrow country lane. It's tarred though, but has a a lot of short steep ups and downs. So pretty exhausting. Beautiful scenery and a succession of tiny hamlets each with a cafe or two and some pilgrim accommodation. Ligonde was the biggest, and you felt you were cycling through someone's farmyard. They had certainly driven cattle along the Main Street recently!

Ligonde gives me a chance to mention languages. Hereabouts they don't speak the Castilian Spanish that we get taught at school, and that the phrase books use. Instead it's Galician, which sounds very different from Castilian. Place names often seem to have two versions, and you often see road signs that have been altered (informally) with spray paint. Ligonde has had the last two letters deleted, so I guess the Galician name is Ligon.

Cycling back against the tide of walking pilgrims was an odd experience. Instead of people's backs, you see their faces. Cyclists going with the crowd are assumed by walkers to be pilgrims, and often a greeting of 'Buen Camino' is exchanged. If going against the flow, the supply of greetings seems to dry up.
Back in Portomarin, I stopped off minto a supermarket and a gift shop. Stocking up on a few groceries and also to get a Camino T shirt and fridge magnet for B's birthday present.
B arrived back from his walk about 3pm, a bit footsore, but perked up after a cuppa, piece of chocolate cake, and a shower.

And here are his feet and boots after the first day's walk.

T
Here's the first entries in B's Pilgrim Record.


Evening meal will be at the campsite cafe.