Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Last Post.

On the 7 September 2011  I set out to walk the 780kms from St Jean Pied Port to Santiago de Compostela which set in train a series of treks for charity which resulted in my covering over 2200 miles and raising through the kindness of others £25,000.  Today, I have reached the last mile of the final Camino and my mind wanders back to the first day of the first Camino.

Climbing over the Pyrenees in 30c heat that did not abbate for  the 21 days it took me to get there. There have been some experiences on the way, such as on my second day into the Camino Frances when I went into a small shop in  an isolated village with my rucksack on and managed to demolish the place by knocking over one shelf and, while swinging around to see what I had done, several other too. The fierce heat and strong wind of the Meseta has also burned itself into my memory, As has Finding a memorial in a wood to a man who had died on the Camino and taking a fir cone from his memorial stone with me leave at Santiago

My undying memory of the Camino Portuguese is the cobbles. Millions of them, that set my feet on fire. And sleeping in a hostel with  a room full of women, none of whom snored.

In the French  Cevennes on the Robert Loius Stevenson trail I twisted my knee sufficient to bring me to tears and was rescued by two elderly spinster twin sisters who found a doctor to sort me out and send me on my way. It was ironic then that later I ruptured my quadrecept and was forbidden from walking hills, which resulted in a mind numbingly boring walk along the Nantes to Brest canal to raise money.

The 1100 kilometres of the via de la Plata was an endurance test but the decision to cut to the north west and stay at the disintegrating monastery at Osiera gave a spooky and fascinating insight into the rapidly disappearing world of the dozen or so Benidicteen monks still there. But the first day out of Seville, when the rain had turned the track into a quagmire and the mud  stuck to my boots making them feel like concrete blocks almost had me looking for flights home.

On the English route when I presented my dead friend's stamped up pilgrim passport and asked for a Credentia for him. You would have thought I had asked to have tea with the pope. But I do pride myself that they did something they have probably never done in  fourteen hundred years. And that is  get two names on one credentia.

I have sleeped with a thousand different people in a hundred different beds, and navigated 1000"s of kilometres across  Spain with no map or compass but armed only with trust that the thousands of yellow arrows I was following would lead me to where I wanted to go.

And above all, when the spirits were low there were the FaceTime evening talks with my wife and my daughter that were jewels of light at the end of hot and exhausting days.

Now it is over and I have one more duty to perform.

For the last time I remove my friend's ashes from my rucksack and head down to the rocks at Cabo  Fisterra. I tip them out and they drift towards the sea. Soon the tide will take them to other oceans.

This was a man whose two most used phrases were, 'What's the problem?' And 'How can I help?'

I try to think of something to say. I know he would not appreciate a prayer. I borrow from the poet Rober Frost.

And now, my friend; you've no more promises to keep
Nor miles to go before you sleep
Nor miles to go before you sleep..

The chapter is now at an end and the book has been closed. I wipe the moisture from my salt stained cheeks, undoubtedly a bit of sea spray, and give him one final wave before turning away and starting the long journey back to my family.

You can see my video of thisxwalk at

Monday, 12 September 2016

Part nine.

Photos on public Facebook page.  Photos From the English Camino.

First, and most importantly. Thank you to the person who donated to one of the charities I am walking for. You didn't leave your name but I very grateful to you. Thank you. And thanks to all the others who did leave their names. I can assure you that as I pay all my own expenses every penny donated goes to the charity.

Last night  I had dinner  in the hotel and the Spanish waiter was a classic. He was around 60 years old, 5ft 4" with long dark hair and back horn rimmed glasses. He sported a 1939 dictator mustache and wore a black waistcoat, pinned stripped trousers and an opened neck, used to be white shirt.

He was on his own and was attempting to serve a table with ten on. Four with a four on, a few with two on and me, with one one. He dashed between tables muttering to himself constantly. The menu was in Spainish. I could make I out two salads but not the third. That, I was told was sup. 'Sup?', I queried. "Si, sup.' He made a up and  down movement to his mouth while making a sucking sound.  I got it soup. Fantastic. I would have that. Ten minutes later I got a Russian salad. My soup or sup for one was on a table for ten and, as they were Irish and very polite were spooning it from the metal bowl while wondering who was going to raise the subject with the moustachioed waiter who was approaching a table of four with what I think may have been fish. But it was waving around so fast in his hand it was difficult to see.

Eventually I got my sup, sorry, soup. Enough, I would add, for ten. I helped myself to thee portions of delicious vegetable broth overflowing with cabbage, potato, and leeks. Gosh I love this peasant food.
Realising his mistake the metal bowl from which I was about to take a forth portion was whipped from under my nose. The Irish by this time were well into the vino and didn't appear to care what they were eating.

Other customers were tapping their fingers on pristine white table clothes totally unsullied by the food they had ordered ten minutes earlier. Our frantically overworked waiter looked around the room and made for the loudest drumming. He was obviously an expert in the art of the nightly cock up.

Next was the main course. 'Fish' he said pointing at something uniteligable to me on the menu. If I had dared ask what type I could have ended up missing my flight home. So to be on the safe side I ordered the speciality of the house. A Milinasy. It turned out to be chips with a what could possibly have been,  although without a public health examination there was no knowing,  pork. Whatever it was I would have preferred the soup back.

I didn't have the heart to look around the rest of the room, for fear I might see the skeletons of those that never got fed and others hurridly making nooses out of napkins.  I scoffed my ice cream, never knowing what ruzz or pludding might be.

When it came to paying the bill it was a bit of a stand off. It was 12 euro. I proffered  a twenty euro note. I got three euro coins in change. I waited. He looked at me, we were bull and
matador. Eventually he placed a five euro note on the table. It would appear I was the matador. I collected up, the note and left. The quite guffaw as the three euro coins were scooped off the table made me realise that perhaps, after all, the bull had won.

At the end of the day deservedly so. He worked jolly hard dancing around the room before stopping to peer, Meercat like around him to see who was missing what', and checking that the right food has landed where it should have!

The meal was not that good and the only thing that I remember that was good was the house white wine. And the only other  thing I remember before crashing out is that before quaffing it I had taken two paracetamol and one ibuprofen before the meal for my Swollen knee. How I managed to wake up, let alone get up the following day I shall never know.

Now I have to make a mad dash for it. The weather today is not too bad and I think I can get in a 32kms dash to the next town. That leaves another 32kms on Tuesday when they are forecasting heavy  

I breakfasted with the Irish contingent. They were all from Cork and had a lovely lilting accent. It was like sitting at a table  full of Terry Wogans. At 0700 I was out the door and into the dark. Through the town gates and into the woods. Now I had a problem. My head torch was not working and it was like walking into a tin of black paint. Opposite the entrance to the wood was a gaggle of  Spanish  ladies, one of whome had a head torch. I entered the wood and waited. Sure enough I found by keeping a little distance ahead she would light my way. I was lucky. Very lucky, for close to my right was a steep bank that was impossible to see without a light. I kept just far enough ahead not to be a threat eventually coming back  to a road where I could pick up the concrete way markers.

The ladies were making a ferocious noise behind me. Every single one of them was talking, very  loudly, and at the same time. No one was listening. As we passed through a small village bedroom lights would come on. I'm surprised they did not get covered in night soil.

It was getting lighter and I could manage on my own. Through farmyards with concrete paths that cats had trod on before the concrete had set. Through pine woods and small hamlets. All the time my boots pounded a metronomic and hypnotic beat. The weather closed and became cold and misty that soon became a drizzle that got into the bones. The smell of pine intermingled with wood smoke and silage. Huge machines with  vicious looking teeth swept through fields out of which tractors emerged, their trailers full with mashed sweetcorn.  And all the time the drizzle and mist swirled into every bone and sinew.

At 1400 I reached my destination and threw myself into the room.  It had been a cold wet miserable day. Which was just about how I felt.

Checking on google maps it looks like a six hour, 30kms trek to The town of Finesterre. You won't want to read about me walking on the black stuff so my final blog will be in two days time.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Part eight

Photos at Facebook page. Photos from the EnglIsh Camino.

I don't normally suffer from melencholy but I did today. Usually when I reach Santiago I am flying home the following day. This time I would be walking way from it. And it's at this time I start to look forward to the 'Shall we have a cup of tea in the garden, or that spontaneous no reason cuddle, and even, 'could you please put the toilet seat down. ' So, every step away from that seemed somehow not right. Then of course the friend chipped in. 'You're not walking away. You said we were going to Finesterre  and that's what we are doing. So in fact  every step is taking you closer to home, not further away.'  There was a logic to that.  I was walking in the wrong direction but getting closer to home.

I called into the cathedral at around 0730. It was empty save for one lady taking photographs. I asked her if she would take one of me leaving some ashes of my friend by the alter. She was from Canada so language wasn't a problem. She duly took the photos and she asked for my story. I told her. Before I could take a breath she had hold of me in a bear hug. She was strong well built lady who could rip out fir trees and milk two cows at a time while standing up.  I gasped for breath which she took as emotion and held me tighter. By the time she let go I felt as if I had been in a trouser press.

There were tears running down her face and by now the whole situation was beginning to get to me. I didn't have the heart to tell her that neither my friend or me were particularly religious and that the leaving of the ashes was  symbolic of our arrival at a point we had planned to be at together had he lived.

Fearing being nearly crushed to death for a second time I kissed her cheek and beat a hasty retreat for the exit.  And as I descended the ramp by the Parador in the main square the sun came out. I pulled back my shoulders, tightened the straps on my rucksack and headed of for the coast.

Further into the county the sun had not yet broken through and I was enveloped in mist. The familiar pattern of eucalyptus forest, farm track and country road was followed with gusto. There was not too much to do so I was entertained myself by annoying the dogs in the numerous houses along the route.

There were a variety of breeds but they all responded to being looked at and spoken to. They would run the length of the garden fence twisting and snarling and all the time I held my hand sufficiently close to keep them interested. Dogs, seemingly miles away would then join in. It was like the howls from hell. I know this was not very pilgrim like but it did pass the time.

As did calling into a small bar for breakfast. Coffee, of course, but I fancied a sandwich. I could see a mountain of them under some cling film but they were all salami or ham. I wanted cheese. The owner dug  through the stack to the bottom and produced a cheese sandwich the size of a small submarine. Crunching into it was like shattering glass. Bits went everywhere, including bits of cheese  onto the floor.  There was no way I was going to waste those so I scraped them up and scooped  them into my mouth.  Time would tell if I would develope boils. I appologiised to the person next to me, who was munching delicately onto a tortilla, and scrapped  all the crunchy crumbs into pile and then into my hand and did anther scoop into my mouth. Mr tortilla looked at me, I smiled at him and told him I was from Germany. He nodded as if saying, 'I thought so.'

Along another isolated lane I came across  a woman standing in the road carrying a yellow flag. I waited and within seconds mountain bikes exploded from a forest track.  Their riders were short, stocky with hairy black legs, pumping for  all they were worth.  Their chiselled features were obscured by wrap around sun glasses and they swooped off into another part of the wood
To be honest, I thought it resembled one of those after shave adverts. All youth and testosteron. Ah, those were the days.

By 1330 I had covered the 24kms and had treated myself to an hotel room.  Only two more days to go but according to the forcast there are clouds on the horizon. Thunder clouds to be exact.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Part seven.

I have lost my iPad charger. Normally that would not be a problem but it would mean I could not write the blog or take photographs. But the really important thing is that I would have to keep it switched off for the duration of the trek as my boarding pass is on it. And... I would not be able to FaceTime my wife and see the dogs, both of which I look forward to at the end of each day.

So I set about getting another. There are no English speakers here, and indeed why should there be. There are very few Spanish speakers in the UK, a large group to which I belong. So it was back to sign language again. I took my eye pad and its lead, complete with its taped bit over wires that became exposed on the via de la Plata last year. I should have bought a new one but plaster is cheaper. I came to a cafe and there I was, not a good sight I have to say. I had lost the top button on my end of day walking shorts so they were hanging on by a thread just below the knees.
I was wearing slippers which I always do because my feet burn like heck at the end of the day, and I was waving a piece of twisted wire in the nose of a nice lady who was trying to sell me coffee and free use of her wifi.

She invited me inside the cafe and gave me the wifi passcode. Fortunately, nearby was a lady who was charging her phone while using it. I pointed to the charger and the pesetas dropped. She pointed me acros the road and mentioned macaroon. I didn't want anything to eat I wanted a charger. Then I realised she was pointing out the colour of the building. In I went in to be greated by a delightful Chinese lady. I wiggled my lead again which by now was looking like a decimated snake and pointed towards the plug socket. She got it in one. She took my iPad from me, opened a box plugged the leads into the iPad and the wall and hey presto a purple light glowed and the charging icon appeared on the iPad.

Now for the cruncher, knowing how Apple like to recognise the exclusivity of their products by their high prices I awaited in trepidation. It cost me five euro. When I got back to the hotel and plugged it in a warning came onto the screen 'This is not an authorised charger and may result
In you receiving a plague of flies. I ignored that. It charged my iPad and the hotel hasn't burnt down yet. So now I feel whole again. Life was much simpler when we just went away, walked around a bit and then came home again.

Today I walk the last 16kms into Santiago. I had taken the precaution of finding the route out and the fact it was as dark as a cow's insides did not effect my direction of travel. Over the bridge and left into the woods.

Then it was plough on head down and thump thump the legs forward. As I walked through yet another eucalyptus forest a Ryan Air jet passed close on its way into Santiago. We both had out flaps out and landing gear deployed. That said, by the time I got to,Santiago, he would be back in London.

Forset, track, lane, road it all melded into one as I skirted under and over the motorway like a serpent on a staff, eventually immerging into the outskirts of Santiago and the inevitable industrial estate. A large factory, belching white smoke into the air drenched the area with the smell of fibre  board.

Then the suburbs, the same the world over. Cars being washed, verges being strimmed and dogs chasing cats up trees. This is the fourth time I have marched into Santiago, each time from a different direction, and each time I stood erect strode in as if I had been out for an afternoon jaunt. I chose to ignore my swollen knee and the blister on either heel. And what a welcome they had laid out  for me.,

The square outside the cathedral was thronged with noisy cheering crowds. In one corner a magnificent troop of young men, dressed in the finery of Cavelry stood proud on snorting prancing horses. I another corner a groups of dancers swirled  and dived like dervishes at a fertility rite. And all the time the packed square pushed and jostled for view of me. I told them it was all too much and that I  had to go and look for a bed for the night and get my credentia for completing the walk. Perhaps I would make a speech later. That seemed to subdue them and, unable to take a selfie with me took one of themselves with the horses.

All along the Way I had been getting two pilgrim passports stamped. One for me and one for my friend. I waited in the queue in the Pilgrim office to get the certificates and  when it was my turn slapped both passports  on the desk. I knew what was coming. They only give certificates to live people.

'Where is your friend?' I was asked.

'He is dead' I replied. A stunned silence followed and I produced a black and gold  rimmed cylinder  with his ashes in. The young girl behind the counter drew back in shock as some of him fell on the counter. An elderly Irish women was  also serving,  and I could see was sympathetic to my plight and put her head  in her hands.

'But you have to walk it' she had recovered some, but not all, of her composure.

'He did walk it. He was in my rucksack walking with me.'

'But he has to be here in person'

'He is, I've shown you, this is the Catholic church, you deal with dead people all the time,  anyway, what's all this business about life after death. If that's true he must be here.'

This was escalating above this poor ladies pay scale and she went to seek help. Five minutes later she returned.

'We can make an exception to make the certificate out to you and put the fact that you dedicate the walk to your friend on the bottom of it. ' I agreed. 'Which one are you?'

For one minute I was sorely tempted but they tried so I played a straight  bat and got my certificate and dedication all nicely written in Latin. The Irish lady smiled and shook my hand.

'I'll be coming this way again next Thursday if you see me don't say anything. '

She smiled again, I think she got the message.  And I think you get the message too. Don't you!

Part six

The last couple of days have been physically draining but I did feel at the end of yesterday's strenuous section better Rhan I did yesterday, which means I am getting my Camino legs. It always starts out like that. I only ever really get going three or four days into the trek.

There is another odd phenomenon. Most of the hostels are full at night yet during the day I hardly meet anyone, save for the occasional farmer. I think different walking pace has something to do with it. I am never refused water but yesterday, at the top of that exhausting climb a farmer offered me a small bag of nuts, trail mix in essence. I thanked him and didn't have the heart to tell him that eating them there and then would send an already burning thirst into overdrive. But it was a kind thought.

I should not suffer the early morning ' How do I get out of this place? ' problems today. There is only one way out and even my rusty radar can find that, the hostel being on a country road a few miles from the town. It is only a few yards from a bar. Now on not really a morning breakfast person but for   The price of a cup of coffee i was able to use their toilet and washroom. The hostel at Bruma was good, but not enough facilities for everyone.

I asked for a coffe and milk and got a question back in return.  I had no idea what I was being asked so simply nodded. It's always worked before. I got a piece of toast the size of a small field and a portion of butter and jam to match. The toast was burnt around the edges and the soft dough had large holes in it where the gas escaped when baking. I peeled back the golden top to the butter and watched as the yellow slab melted into the holes. Then I spread the jam, filling the holes as best I could . I hung over it and inhaled the smell of warm butter and crunchy edges. I took a bite and sucked on it. It was delicious. The fatty butter seeped out of the holes and the jam, silky yet sharp, readily followed. I took another bite and held it in my mouth while taking a gulf of coffee and allowing the coffee to feel the bread, melting it my mouth. I didn't need to chew it it simply slid down.

When finished I wiped the plate with my finger together with some jam that had escaped, sucking on my finger like a calf sucking a teat. Fantastic.

Today was a 25 kms walk to a small town called Sigueiro. A few miles of country Tarmac with the sun rising to my left, and only a small layer of mist hiding the fields. The sun showed red, then yellow and finally white, all the time  warming me. It was level walk, through country lanes where the evocative smell of woodsmoke competed with the eucalyptus and smell of pine. Drovers roads, rough track very narrow with high hedges were surmounted by thin trees through which the sun flickered like someone flashing a pack of cards in front of my face.

I came across a lovely house. Beautiful brown stonework exquisitely pointed with tiny well varnished  brown shutters at the upstairs windows, where, red clay pots sprout a profusion of red and  yellow flowers. I have to say it looked like me in my prime. Alongside was a another building. The red pantiled roof had collapsed and what was left sprouted patches of moss and grass. The windows the eyes of the house, were covered in grime making the view from them myopic. The aged stone walls were building and sagging in the middle. The analogy was not lost on me.

But, that's what time does to one, no good moaning about it.

The rest of the walk was a breeze. Long  stretches of forest track where only the distant buzz in of a chain saw disrupted the silence. There were no other walkers and few residents Thise I did meet posed for a picture or simply slumbered the morning away lost deep in dreams of bygone days. What activity there was done at a leisurely pace. A pushed wheelbarrow here, a horse being given a slow brush down, and even the dogs could only manage one yelp before  dumping their heads back onto
their chains.

After six hours I arrived My destination and found a hotel, the only person snoring tonight would be me. Then I discovered I had left my charging adaptor back at the last hosel. So it is only with the good grace of the owner of the hotel who has lent me is sons lead am I able to get this done today.

I now have to go looking for shop.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Part five

Photos at Facebook public page entitled.          Photos from the English Camino

The hostel was a delight. In a large granite building that was as pristine outside as it was in. The man in charge showed me to my bunk. I shook my head and pointed to one on the lower level near to the door. Two reasons, I would have plenty of space, and there was no way I could climb up a ladder. The knee that I had ruptured three years ago was beginning to swell up so I needed to treat it with respect.

I consulted my friend. 'Get on with it you wimp.' Well, that was that sorted.

I suspect I am becoming paranoid but I am sure I am being followed around Europe by a man who always gets to sleep before me and snores like a train. It's the same snores and if I could track him down I'd put a bag over his head. Still, I eventually got to sleep.

Today was going to be hard. 27 kms over steep terrain with  25C forecast. As always getting out of the town proved problimatical and today was no different. Down the hill and then ask at the newspaper stand seemed a good idea. I was directed up the road and over a small stone bridge. Then I got into a small lane. Above me a bleary eyed lady opened the windows of her second story flat and peered into the darkness to see me scratching me head. 'Camino? It must have been the rucksack that gave the game away. She pointed behind me and to the right. Soon I was climbing the inevitable steep hill into the mist. It was dark and foreboding and the track into the forest did not look that inviting.

As I entered the branches either side of the track seemed to link up and envelope me, but soon I was on metalled road, small but good walking. Then I had a ' What have I done with my wallet? moment. I stopped and turned everything out of my rucksack onto the wet road.  Nothing. Then all the pockets,  nothing. I had visions of having to retrace the ninety minutes I had been on the road! And then, tucked down into the corner of the sack I found it. Crises over.

The early going was good. I borrowed an apple from a nearby tree and chewed on it, that was breakfast sorted. Walking was now drovers tracks punctuated with minor Tarmac lanes. Everywhere the smell of eucalyptus trees pervaded the air. The way marking was good and progress was swift .

In what seemed like the middle of nowhere I came to a bar, coffee and a slice of home made lemon cake went down great.  This was now beautiful walking country.  The sun was getting high and the mist on distant hills was drifting away to reveal their wooded glory. it was so still I could hear the sweetcorn ripening. The only thing to break the  silence was the sound of an unseen buzzard mewing in the distance. The sweet smell of silage pervaded the air and there was not a person in sight. Only barking dogs and sleepy cats kept me company.

And then I came to the hill. A climb that went up 350 meters in three kilometres. The first part was Tarmac. So steep I thought I might slip back down it. Then it became a twisting stone track. Even steeper. There was no respite from the heat. There was no shade. On many occsions I had to resume the recovery position. Hand on knees and gasp for breath. I sat down, I walked in short bursts, but all the time I was taking little bits out of the hill. Marginal gains. After a very long hour I made it to the top.

Betanzos, where I had started is 30 metres above sea level. Bruma, my destintion, is 477 metres up. It was a gradual climb all the way interspersed with steep sections. But this was countryside to savour and the swollen knee became irrelevant.

Deep in the woods I came upon a cross festooned with votive offerings of scarves, boots and ribbon   This seemed an an aappropriate place for my friend to rest also. Just a little to encourage the weary on their way. He would be good at that.

Another two hours and I arrived at my hostel for the night. Out in the country but with a conveniently located  bar nearby.   A large bowl of country vegetable soup, fried chicken and a carafe of cider drew to a close a very satisfactory day.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Part three

An apology. Blogspot has a mind of its own and always posts the latest post first. Also I. Ant upload photos for some reason so I have created a public Facebook page entitled


Hope this of interest.

Also, please excuse the spelling/grammar and miscellaneous other mistakes. I write this at the end of long sweaty days so I'm not on top of the grammar etc then.

So, to continue day one. This photo is of me and my friend leaving the start line in Ferrol.  A little sprinkle of his ashes and we are off.

Walking out of Ferrol in the dark, bearing in mind in doesn't get light until 8am, was quite challenging. I found the first arrow opposite the magnificent town hall, but from then on it was all keeping the head going up and down like a nodding donkey and hope to see a sign. My intuition took me past the early morning cafes with their reluctant pre work clientele. In those that were empty there was always some one half heartedly cleaning the bar and kicking chairs into place while all the time looking out the door for the first customer.

The navy seems to have taken up all the port here and numerous naval and marine buildings displayed their austere but beautifully powerful archetecture showed a time when Spanish Naval power was at its height. In numerous parade grounds sailors stood on the first parade of the day awaiting orders. Dressed in their summer whites they looked resplendent. Except for one chap who was being quick marched away between two others. At first I thought they were going to raise the flag, but they skirted swiftly across the parade ground and out of sight. Perhaps he had taken too many chips at lunch time. If that was the case I would always be on report.

The town then fell into the routine of so many towns I have walked through in Europe. High rised flats, roundabouts, and supermarkets. These dissolved into small factories of glass makers, car repairers and paint factories. Then, by a convoluted series of lanes and roads I was in the other side of the motorway and in the suberbs. All bungalows, tall walls topped with dark green painted wrought iron fences and all protected by barking dogs. Very sensitive they were too. You only had to pass wind and they were on their hind legs snarling through the fence. Fortunately I like dogs so I did resist the urge to punch them on the little bit of nose they managed to squeeze through the openings. They were after all, only doing what they were fed to do.

Dusty lanes, small forests of Eucalyptus and minor roads took me beside the estuary and onto my first stop at Neda. it was here, bizarrely that I was now walking up the other side of the tide witching Ferrol on the opposite bank. The morning had started out foggy and it persisted until midday when the temperature shot up to over 30C. and goodness did I feel it. 

The climb out of Neda was back breaking and I was bent over, hands underneath the rucksack to support it, and watching the sweat dropping onto my shorts. All the time I was trying to catch my breath. It reminded me of the first day on the Camino France's five years ago when I hauled myself up in similar temperatures wondering what on earth I had taken on.

I was drinking more and needed water. Everyone seemed to be indoors with the shutters firmLy closed. The equivalent a 'Do not disturb sign'. In a small village I came upon an elderly man with his head stuck in the boot of his car opposite what I hoped was his house. I proffered my empty bottle. He took it into his house. Moments later his wife appeared. 'No, no, no. ' so that was that then. Except it wasn't. She was not going to let her husband give me tap water. Only the best water from their well as good enough for this Pilgrim. She brought me one from her fridge in a green bottle that once contained wine. I took a huge draft and smacked my lips. She gave a grunt of satisfaction and 
produced another. I walked off fully satiated. 

It was all down hill to the end of this 29km leg and I was not sorry to hit the magnificent beach at  PONTEDEUME. Where I considered that I deserved a beer and a tapas and an hour in the sun.

Where to stay was the next problem. I eventually came across a bar in the Plaza del Convento. Lunch was being served. The bar appeared to be run by a family. The no nonsense owner , a rugby prop forward of ever I saw one, asked if I wanted to go inside. I nodded . With a tray of drinks in his hand he propelled me through the door.  'Did I have a reservation?' 'No'. He scratched his chin. Got out a book and thumbed the well worn pages. 'Passport'. He demanded. I like that , it means I, going to get a room. His mother led me out of the bar and across the square to another building. She Pointed to the  room number on the key and indicated the third floor, my last challenge of the day.

I dragged myself up the stairs, and slumped on the bed. I was pleased not to have a cat with me as there was no place to swing it. But it had a great hot shower and the bed was comfortable and it had only cost me 15 euros, and, as I fell asleep. To me it was a veritable palace.

Part four

I am having the Devil's own job uploading photos on blogspot which, to put it mildly is c*** . So, I will blog here and you can see my photos on a public Facebook page entitled

Photos From The English Camino.

I hope that works.
OK, now to day two of walking.
It was to be a fairly easy day of only 25kms (15 Miles). But as with most things there is always a twist this time in the beginning. The walk out of  Pontedueme was up a very steep hill. If I had to have done that last night I would have given up and gone home. But the legs felt good and the granite buildings with their collonaded walkways were showing the first signs of life. Shutters were clacking open, yellow lights were glowing in the dark, and the first ambling residents were heading for the bread shops. It was around a kilometre to the top of the hill and I was puffing a bit come the end.

But then it was forest track, rough and stony with a few inclines here and there. All around me Eucalyptus trees were shedding their bark and the path was covered with last year's skin, now turning brown and quite slippery if you weren't careful. The track emerged in the village of Mino, another seaside resort with a large beach. It was regulation hiking. My friend who was with me remarked that if it was always like this life would be easy.

The heat was being kept at bay by a covering of sea fog although I could feel the heat rising as I walked on. I love the feeling of being deep into the countryside and away from the rush of the city. The little villages I went through had no your people on show, but there was always the very elderly man or woman, inveriably leaning on a walking stick and always dressed immaculately, and always ready to exchange a smile and a Buen Camino.

On the via de la Plata that I walked last year dogs were a problem. I found that the best way of dealing with them was to point my finger at their eyes and shout as loud as I could while advancing towards them. It seemed to work. And when it didn't I threw stones at them. That always worked.
Well, today I met another dog. A ginger one about the size of a rat and who could easily of had several fathers. He was wearing a large diamanté collar and came snapping at me from a farmyard.

Well, you can't really invoke violence on something so tiny and before I knew where I was it was up me legs and in my arms licking the salt off my face for all it was worth. It would appear I had this one for life, until that it is spotted a group of three young ladies walking behind me. Off it went to be cuddled and cosseted by them. Smart dog that, I thought.

The rest of the journey was minor country road until I entered the environs of Betanzos, my overnight stop. I was pleased to see they were hosing down the sheets for me as I descended into the town. A carpet of palm leaves would have been nice but you can't have everything.

The last challenge was another steep cobbled road that led into the main square, at the top of which I assumed my usual recovery position of hands on knees while gasping for breath. Quite normal but before I knew where I was someone had their hand on my elbow. I looked up,to see a woman in a white uniform. I waited but hearing no harps assumed I was still alive. She was the pharmacist from the chemist shop I stopped outside of. She obviously didn't know that men in their seventieth yer can often be found gasping for breath t the top,of this particular hill.

I pulled myself up straight and smiled. Satisfied I want goin to die she smiled back. At least I know where to go for free pills in future . The hostel I was going to stay in opened later in the day, so I found a bar with great Galician cider and Miles Davis playing over the radio. Another satisfactory day on the Camino.

Don't forget.       Photos on Facebook page.    PHOTOS FROM THE  ENGLISH CAMINO

Part two

Getting to the start of a trek can be more stressful than the trek itself. I drove to Chippenham and left my car at my daughters. Took a Coach to London central  where heavy traffic ensured I had about three minutes to get my connection to, Gatwick. A two hour journey followed through Brixton, Mitchum. Sutton ad  a number of other places to numerous to mention. As these places are all joined up I don't know why on earth they don't just give then one name and be done with. A 3am alarm call for the early flight to Santiago. I slept well slept well on the flight except when the pilot said that as Santiago airport was fogged in he was going to let the plane land itself. 

I was dreaming, of course, except I wasn't he and his co-pilot really where going to put their feet up and trust to technology. I looked out of the window searching for parachutes and was sort of relieved to see none. Yet I still had this vision of the pilots munching on biscuits and reading back copies of The Sun newspaper. As,it happened the flaps extended, the plane banked, and the wheels touched the ground, gently. Of course, I never had any doubt. 

The irony then was that I had to catch a bus into Santiago and then catch another out to Ferrol. That was a doddle, but then I had to find the hotel. 

Now, despite having walked over 2000 miles in Spain the language and me remain total strangers. So when asking for directions I do it in bite  sized pieces. First the nice lady in the pharmacy put a pen mark on my map, and then the lady in a bar a few streets on got a man in the bar across the road to call to his wife who was in the supermarket to put another pen mark on the map. I was getting closer. Last but not least was the newsagent. He wasn't there but two elderly ladies where. I pointed to the address, one  took my glasses and put them over hers. Now we were both blind. Her friend took a look, pointed up the hill and then bent her hand and within two minutes I had arrived. Absolutely knackered and looking forward to walking into the wilderness. That's always the easy bit.

The start of the walk is marked by a small granite column located out side the tourist office. This in turn is opposite a very small yachting marina which is dwarfed by the. Arsenal. A huge military establishment dominating the harbour. 

The town is a delightful mishmash of glassed balconied three story houses and the usual plethora of bars and cafes provide sustenance for all levels of finance, including the impecunious, which is me. I can manage to live off mixed salad for a  week or so knowing full well that my wife will, tut when I get home and she finds she can get her arms around me once again. She likes me thin, but not that thin.

I did explore, a little, but the fact it was 31c meant that most of my observations where conducted from a harbour side bar.

Day one

 My friend and I started together, walking through the long thin pedestrianised area hemmed in by those glass fronted three story houses. At the magnificent town hall a swift right and then left turn had us leaving the town and heading off into wooded country. It was going to be another hot day. I never did find any reference to the Spanish Armada on the local information panels. I suppose there must be something around but I considered it too impolite to ask. One thing I did learn, though, was that this town of 70,000 souls 
was the birthplace of the Spanish General and dictator Francisco Franco in 1892, and was officially known as El Ferrol del Caudillo from 1938 to 1982. It was also the birthplace of the founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), Pablo Iglesias, in 1850.

So for a city of Celts whose eyes and heart are forever turned to the sea some of its progeny have had a profound effect on Spanish history.

Monday, 29 August 2016


A potted history lesson. James, as he was in his early days, was one of Jesus's inner circle and found himself preaching the gospel on the Iberian Peninsula. On his return to Rome his insurgent views resulted in his having his head chopped off, thus becoming the first martyr. His remains were put into a stone coffin and floated away to eventually land on the Atlantic coast of  Northern Spain where they were found by his followers and buried, but not before a bit of a run in with the local queen Loba, or She Wolf, who happened to be a pagan.

Fast forward to the ninth century when a hermit named Pelagius found a tomb containing remains that he referred to his local bishop. They were led by a star to a field, or a Campus Stellae, and found the tomb, The remains were soon confirmed as those of St James and hence the Way was born, and St James in the field of stars became Santiago de Compostela.

And how did they know they were the remains of St James? I have no idea but one of the best ways to get pilgrims to your area, and hence money, was to have a religious relic such as a piece of the cross or a thorn from The Crown of Thorns. So having the remains of a saint was really hitting the jackpot. So Santiago de Compostela was added to Rome and Jerusalem as a major destination for pilgrims. And as wars made the the first two harder to reach Santiago became a favourite.

The only hiccup came in 1589 when Sir Francis Drake and others were sent to root out those ships that had not been destroyed during the Spanish Armada, the ill fated attempt by Spain to push Elizabeth 1 off the English throne. Drake sacked La Corruna and the authorities at Santiago de Compostela, fearful that he was after the remains of St James, hid them. In fact so well did they hide them that for 300 years they were lost. No one wants to visit an empty tomb so the pilgrims disappeared and Santiago de Compostela became something of a backwater.

It was not until 1879 that the remains were rediscovered but it has taken until the 20th century for numbers to recover. Today walking the Camino is a life ambition for many. I have walked three, the Frances, Portuguese and the Via de la Plata. I should have walked the Norte from Bilbao by now but, as you will read, that was not to be.

My blog and video on the Portuguese  is here

My blog and video on the Via de la Plata is here

OK, lets go for a walk.

It is the 16 th May. The time is 0530. I am leaving Bilbao and I want to get as much under my belt today as possible so anticipate a 12 hour day. I leave my hostel with everyone else still snoozing and groaning and pass the metal plates that form the bizarre tinpot edifice that is the Guggenheim museum. Crossing the river I tramp through the the empty park passing the occasional bleary eyed resident on their way to work.

Heading uphill away from the river I pick up the tram tracks. The road here is dual carriageway and very wide and drivers will not slow down if you do not obey the traffic lights. Jay walkers here don't last very long. To my right is the lattice bowl that houses the local football team that last night was a cauldron of noise and fireworks with the inhabitants caged within its concrete ribs surrounded by riot police. It seems to be the norm the world over that the beautiful game attracts so many imbeciles.

A sharp right then left turn and I'm walking uphill passed the bus station. At the top, near an old hospital, I find my first yellow arrow pointing to the west. I am once more on the Camino.

From now on it is an urban slog. The weather is overcast and it's trying to rain. Passing through the suburbs I could be in any city. It's struggling to get light and the damp streets are becoming crowded with scurrying residents going to somewhere I will never see, but which sustains their life, ambition and hope for a better existence. It is gloomy enough for the cafe lights to reflect a yellow glow off any stonework within a metre range, and they are rapidly filling with those that cannot function properly before they gulp down the day's first thick black caffeine hit.

Soon I am elevated half way between the river and the top of the hill to my left. Below is a large dock that has seen better days. A portrait of an old world superseded by fibre wires and push button finance, and where life now comes from the east, neatly contained in ships the size of a small village. Wherever  these ships land the wasteland below suggest they don't disgorge their disposable consumer goods here any more.

I can see what appears to be the mouth of the river disgorging into the Bay of Biscay but it seems a million miles away as I pound the pavement, now longing  for a greener vista. I have been walking for over an hour and drop down to the riverside where a ferry takes passengers from one apparent wasteland to another. Perhaps it's not as bad as that, perhaps it's me and the thought of the. 400 kilometres that I have yet to cover that is clouding my view. 

The concrete continues to snake out before me. A fusion of new bridges, small factories and industrial land populated by tons of oil, canisters, propane gas cylinders, and a greasy smell that suggests liquid is being sprayed onto two bits of metal to prevent them fusing together.

Around 10am I'm approaching Portugalete. I take a drink and drop my water bottle that rolls over a wall and into a park to come to rest against a bush some 20 metres away. I clamber through the iron bars and in a most ungainly fashion take the five foot drop onto the grass. It makes my arm sockets burn as they support the weight of my body. I'm beginning to wish I had left it and bought another bottle.  

I have been walking now for five hours and my 69 year old legs are beginning to feel as if I never trained hard enough before leaving home. But it always feels like that on the first day of a new trek.

 Portugalete has a beach, but I decline to descend the steep hill at the bottom of which it lies. Instead I follow the arrows that direct me around the cathedral de Santa Maria. I feel a little guilty that I don't
go inside but I have already seen the inside of more cathedrals than I've had hot dinners. I exit half 
way up the hill and am thankful for a street escalator, a few minutes of respite. I can't help thinking 
how helpful it would be if it went all the way the Santiago. 

I meander my way through the bustling town which has a sufficiency of yellow arrows to make my progress easy. All towns seem to  end or begin at a roundabout and this one is no exception. For the first time in around six hours I see countryside.  Albeit bordered by a motorway. No matter, though, as for the next ten kilometres I'll be walking along a swish new pedestrian walking route where young and old, all clad in Lycra with buds in their ears connected to iPods, are walking in the opposite direction to me.  

The walking is easy now and I make good progress and soon I am  tramping along the boardwalk that crosses the beach at Playa de la Arena. A modern iron bridge leads to a car park  and some exceptionally steep steps. By the time I reach the top I am beginning to feel exhausted. 

But now I am walking the cliffs alongside the Bay of Biscay whose waters are remarkably tranquil with only one boat moored some way offshore. This is pleasant. The views are good, the walking easy, and in the distance is Castro Urdiales, which I should reach by early afternoon. Some ten hours after leaving Bilbao. And then I get the call. My phone trills. I know it's not good news as I never get calls when I'm trekking. 

My wife has fallen ill and has been taken into hospital. I acknowledge the call and stare into the distance at the headland a good two hours walk away from me. I turn around and retrace my steps. Twenty four hours and one flight to the UK later I am at her bedside. A week later she is well, but it is apparent that my disappearing for five weeks at a time is no longer feasible. Fifty years go I promised that it would be in sickness and in health, and so it must be. 

But I also have other responsibilities. I walk to collect money for charity, (£24500 so far collected and sent on over the last five years and 2000 miles,) and I have a moral obligation to undertake a trek for those that have sponsored me this year. 

It is now the 6 of September. I am in Ferrol. I have managed to grab nine days to walk the camino Ingles to the Atlantic coast at Cabo Finisterre to fulfill these obligations. It is a walk that I intended to do with a friend some time in the future but he died before we could start out. I have with me a small phial of his ashes.  We will do this trek to the End of the World together. It will be the last Camino for both of us.

In a way it's quite appropriate that I should be walking the English Camino as the route has strong ties to the city that I was born in and now live near. Plymouth, England. In the 13th and 14th centuries England was engaged in what has become known as The Hundred Years War which meant that any English man or woman found walking through France on their way to Santiago de Compostela would not get very far. It was safer to go by sea and Plymouth was one of three ports licensed to take pilgrims to the tomb of St James, landing in Ferrol, among other places. It was then a four day trek to the shrine.

The large scallop shell shown in the photograph above is to be found on a wall near to the spot on Plymouth's Barbican where vessels departed. Around a hundred metres away are the Mayflower Steps from where the Pilgrim Fathers departed in 1620 on their way to what today is America's Plymouth Rock.

Two further photos are of painted tiles to be found on the facade of an 1890's theatre in Plymouth. One depicts the Spanish Armada leaving Ferrol and the other its defeat.


So, in deference to pilgrims past I commenced my trek by disembarking from my invisible ship and making my way to the official starting point near the tourist office.