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LIVE from the Camino A shepherd on the Lana

Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#1
I have bought a little of my sheep's wool with me, but only enough to rub my feet with every evening, so probably not enough to get a good price if I eventually get to Burgos, where many of the people who created this route were heading.

I finally joined the Lana after a long hard day being buffeted by a nasty headwind coming up the Puerto de Almansa from La Font de la Figuera. At some point I crossed over from Valencia province into Albacete and Castilla La Mancha, but the only indication was that the hunting signs changed from Catalan "vedat de caça" to Castillian "coto de caza".

The Levante joins the Lana on the battlefield of Almansa, where my ancestor James Fitzjames, fighting for Felipe V, defeated the allies under Henri de Ruvigny, thought to be the only time that an English general commanding French troops fought a French general commanding English ones. The dominating castle is visible from far off, and because of desvios caused by the scalaletrix of the new motorways and AVE lines, takes what seems like forever to get to.

At Almansa the Esclavas de María nuns provide a few beds for passing pilgrims, but I was alone in the place. The track from Almansa to Alpera is wonderful. Basically, you do a 270° tour of the base of the imposing bulk of El Mugrón sierra, without passing any towns or villages in 25km. Alpera is a friendly small town with an excellent albergue (7€). There I meet my first pilgrims since leaving the sea. They were French and heading on the Levante, so I won't be seeing them again. According to the town hall person who gave me the albergue key, over half of the pilgrims passing through here in the last year are French, as I'd noticed in the visitor's books in Almansa and La Font de la Figuera. Nobody seems to know why.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#2
Alpera to Alatoz

A really great day. Almost as good as it gets, just ambling along through fruit groves and olive groves, and the occasional pine wood and vineyards, with the temperature around 20° and a light breeze and almost all off tarmac. It really doesn't get much better. And the marking was outstanding, quite impossible to get lost. After 17km was the bifurcation where the Levante went left to Higueruela and the Lana turned right. Last time I backtracked from Alpera to get onto the Levante and had a bad day on tarmac. This way would be much better.

Alatoz was a delight, friendly bars, an excellent albergue (back of the sports centre, very comfy beds, donativo). What a great day.

Alatoz to Casas Ibáñez

More flowering almonds and vines after coffee in a village bar (open early). The marking once you're out of Alatoz district becomes pretty poor. After about four hours you are in the entirely nondescript village of Casas del Cerro and suddenly you're standing on top of a cliff looking down on the triangular castle of Alcalá del Júcar and the oxbow gorge of the Júcar river. One of the great townscapes of Spain, up there with the "el Greco" view of Toledo from the Levante, and Ronda's cliffs from the Serranía. Just amazing. Unfortunately you've then got a spectacular but knee busting 150m of descent in under a km, and much the same back up the other side. There is acogida in the town, but apparently it doesn't involve mattresses or blankets or anything much except the floor of a schoolroom, so I carried on to Casas Ibáñez, only another ~11km. Very very flat once you're out of the Júcar gorge. The albergue in Casas Ibáñez is in the plaza de toros, two rooms with 3 beds, plenty of blankets etc, loo and shower, free. Only the second time I've slept in a bullring, unfortunately not as memorable as La Roda, as it's just a flat on the outside of the ring, not the whole plaza. Had a decent meal in the nearby Hostal Aros.
 

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#3
Dear Alan,

Thank you for the info. Very helpful, I am starting the Camino Lana on May 4th. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#4
Casas Ibáñez to Villarta

The bar on the main road by the bullring was open at 7.30 so I was coffeed and fed and away by 8. The local cemetery has a mass grave of people shot by the rebels in 1939, with the dignified memorial "En memoria de los hombres fusilados en este lugar ... por su defensa de la democracia y la libertad". Then across more flat flat flat. Many of the fields have been replanted with the new espaliered vines that are harvested by machines, although there are still a few of the old stand alone stocks, splayed out around you with multiple Vs and vanishing points. I bumped into a farmer in Alatoz who told me he had a machine that could harvest an entire almond tree in one minute. When I worked in the vines, one of my autumn jobs was to pick the almonds, and I think it took me around a week to bag up 20 trees.

At Villamalea for noon, I had a snack and a glass of the tasty fruity greenish local Altos de Cabriel white. It would be a nice town to spend the night and the guide says you can stay in the town hall, but the people in the bar denied there was an albergue. A few km after Villamalea you pass into Cuenca province and the landscape becomes a little less pancake flat, with even some hills hazily visible to the east. It is the beginning of the campo undulato.

At Villarta I stopped in the imaginatively named El Bar, a not very clean not at all welcoming all male establishment, most of them smoking. This was depressing, as I'd booked a room in the other bar in the village. Luckily Los Tubos couldn't have been more different: a bustling, spotless, friendly place full of noisy families enjoying Sunday lunch. And I was soon sitting down with them, having a delicious paella and a drop more Cabriel to go with my main course of pig's ear.

As well as serving a good meal, Los Tubos has several very comfortable rooms. Mónica, the dueña, is a keen pilgrim and gives a very generous pilgrim discount of 15€ for an en suite room (I've paid 25 or 30 or more for much less good). Highly recommended.
 
#5
Thank you Alan, I am following your walk and wishing you blessing walk. Looking forward to hearing from you for your next day to Campillo de Altobuey.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Except the Francés
#6
Villarta to Graja de Iniesta and on to Campillo de Altobuey

2-3 pleasant undulating hours take you from Villarta (a bar open for coffee at 7am, and Mónica, bless her, left me out some biscuits and juice - her bar is closed on Monday) to Graja de Iniesta. I was intrigued to see on a map that there is a place called the Descargadero de los Desesperados in the sierra to the east - perhaps a popular suicide spot?

As it was St George's Day and as the patron of Graja de Iniesta is San Jorge Mártir (martyr? - don't remember that bit), the village was in fiesta, and the camino passed the door of this year's Reina de las fiestas, Paula, whose house was heavily decorated in her honour and there was a procession to the church and marching band and firecrackers and (eardrum bashing) daylight fireworks. Everybody dressed up in their finest, and I should think I saw 300+ of the village's alleged total population of 365. When they discovered in the bar that I was English they refused to let me pay, on the grounds that St George is my saint as well.

Then on across mixed vines and fruit trees and a few pines, rising steadily upwards. After about 10km, there were some beautifully planted avenues of almond and pines leading from several directions to a handsome semi-fortified farmstead. Once, I expect, the residence of Don Cacique. It is worth stocking up with water at Graja, as I saw none in the next 20km.

At nudging 1000m of altitude, you get your first view of Campillo del Altobuey, dominated by its tall square church tower. A handsome village/town once known for its labour intensive saffron. The saffron isn't grown there anymore,and the population has halved in the last 50 years. There is acogida in the polidiportivo (mats etc, showers and so on) but I had to catch a bus back to the coast (several buses, in fact - it is not a simple place to get to or from) for my return home.

Looking forward to spending the night here on my return in October, and exploring the place more. Depending on how fast I can walk after my knee op, and a side trip to Sigüenza etc, I guesstimate that it's about 18 days to Santo Domingo de Silos.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Frances 04-16
Norte/Primitivo 09-16
VdlP/ Sanabres 02/3-17
Levante 09/17
#7
Alan, What an excellent account of your Camino , I am enjoying reading it. I am flying into Alicante late August 2018 to start the La Lana and am presently in the planning stage (no exit plan post Burgos as yet) and am scooping up as much information as I can.
I know we all walk our own camino's but reading another's account is very helpful. Thanks.
Don.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Via Podiensis 2002, Camino Frances 2003, 2004, 2008, 2012, Via de La Plata 2005, 2006. 2013, Camino Ingles 2013, Camino de Madrid 2008, Camino Salvador 2008, Camino del Norte 2010, Camino de Levante 2012,
Camino Mozarabe 2015, Camino Salvador 2015, Camino Primitivo 2015
#8
Hello Alan and thanks for an entertaining and detailed account of Your Journey on the Lana. I'm hope to start on the 3rd or 4th of September and will try for Burgos. I thought I might try and Write an Alison Raju style guide for the Lana. I seem to remember you have walked the last stages of the Lana when you crossed the Sierra from the Ebro. I would really appreciate any info you have. My email is kfobrien@online.no I've sent a Message to Laurie as well. Best to all. Kevin
 

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