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LIVE from the Camino The Invierno in summertime

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Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
A couple of months ago, there was a long-running thread on this site discussing what the people at home think when the pilgrims abandon them for rural Iberia. In my own case, this is rarely a consideration. To the contrary, around the beginning of May my nearest and dearest typically begin enquiring, in increasingly imperative tones, what plans I have made to discharge my penitential duties, along with reminders about how affordable are flights to Spain these days.

This year, the volume and frequency of such encouragements grew in proportion to my demurrals that 2019 might not be a good time for me to be out on the trail. Having exhausted all non-surgical options to try to cure an intractable case of plantar fasciitis I picked up on the Camino Português Interior two years ago, I'm booked for an operation on my left heel in the autumn. I haven't walked more than 12 km in any single day since January, and have no idea whether I'm capable of anything longer. Such protests were brusquely swept aside with the rejoinder that this was all the more reason to get in a last trip before I'm required to wear an orthopaedic boot for three months; that the Almighty created cortisone shots for a reason; and that in any event suffering is good for the soul. Thus motivated—or, as the case may be, propelled out the door with my loved ones' hands planted firmly in the small of my back—I'm once again at the starting-point of a journey that I hope, but can't guarantee, I'll be able to finish.

For a combination of health and work reasons, it's inexpedient that I attempt anything too ambitious. Surveying the possibilities, I thought I'd take a crack at the Invierno, which appears to have been growing in popularity and viability during the past couple of years. As is the case with all Santiago routes, no two sources agree on how long it is. But there seems to be a general consensus that it can be completed in nine or ten days, which will work quite nicely for me if my foot holds up.

The biggest complication with which I've had to deal thus far is getting to the starting point. I've only been to Ponferrada by foot, and for a while it looked as though that might almost be the most viable method. Flying to León is the most convenient way of getting to the general vicinity, but neither the available schedules nor the eye-watering airfares made that a practical proposition. In the event, the fact that I couldn't get off work until 14:00 on Saturday meant that flying to Bilbao that evening was as reasonable as anything else. It's three 'buses from there, but it was going to be at least two, no matter where in Spain I landed.

As it transpired, the connections panned out fairly well. Landing on time, I was able to make the last 'bus to Burgos with four minutes to spare. It being just a little too late to snag a bunk at the municipal, I put up at the Hostel Catedral, a couple of hundred metres away but open until midnight. That, it turns out, was a mistake. The establishment itself is fine—clean and well-appointed, if a little pricey at EUR 17.50—but it overlooks a small square full of all-night bars and restaurants, and with acoustics better than those of La Scala in Milan. My British friends often lament the unhealthy attitude of their young people toward alcohol, in contrast to the more mature consumption patterns that are supposed to prevail on the Continent. All I can say is that the amateur dipsomaniacs of Burgos are giving their Anglo-Saxon counterparts a run for their money. The whole time I was there, a cacophony of shrieks, raucous laughter, shattering of glass bottles and what sounded like exchanges of fisticuffs or of handbags arose from what seemed to be never fewer than a hundred revellers below. When I crept out quietly at 05:00 this morning, sidestepping an exhausted-looking bride who was draped across a kerbstone trying somewhat ineffectualy to keep the skirts of her wedding dress out of the gutter while still clutching her drink, they were still at it. I would have obtained a far better night's rest had I just crashed out in the estación de autobuses until making my connection. The bottom line: if you can't get into the municipal in Burgos, find somewhere to sleep that's well away from the city centre, at least on weekends, or you won't be sleeping at all.

My 'bus to León was scheduled to leave at 05:25. On a Sunday, this isn't one you want to miss. Services are few and sell out quickly. By contrast, getting from León to Ponferrada is very easy indeed. Lots of departures; no need for reservations; and the route as far as Astorga goes right along the famous N-120, paralleling the Francés and reviving pleasant memories of a few years earlier. Based on what I saw, I can well believe the stories I've read about this being the most lethal section of the entire Camino. So thick were the throngs of peregrinos and bicigrinos that the ALSA driver—admittedly, a disciple of Juan Fangio who cheerfully barrelled at 100 kph through the villages placarded at 50—was on a couple of occasions literally weaving his way around groups of them as far as the San Martín del Camino albergue. Not really until that point are they adequately separated from vehicular traffic. Three years ago, after an unusually worrisome spike in fatalities, the local council declared its intention to take this matter in hand, especially on the way out of town. It doesn't look to me, though, that much, or anything, has been done since then.

I reached Ponferrada too late in the day to start out on the trail. Being Sunday, it was also necessary for me to hear Mass. Because I was short on sleep, I thought it was worthwhile to splurge on a single room so that I could begin the journey well-rested. As it turned out, there was plenty of room at the municipal; they were still admitting wayfarers when I arrived at 20:00 for the pilgrims' service in the adjacent Franciscan chapel. But I'm quite happy with what I'm getting at the Hostal San Miguel, about seven or eight brisk minutes' walk from the Templars' Castle, which is clean, unpretentious, and, including as it does both air conditioning and a private bathroom, at EUR 30 reasonably cheap for the high season. Having had an evening meal at the restaurant beside the Basilica (4 Bocas; recommended), I'll be in good shape for the exertions ahead.
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
As is the case with all Santiago routes, no two sources agree on how long it is.
Roughly 260 Kms, and a bit.
But there seems to be a general consensus that it can be completed in nine or ten days, which will work quite nicely for me if my foot holds up.
I took longer - 13 days, with one very short day (7.5 Kms, Borrenes to Las Medulas), so that I could savor Las Medulas - it is an amazing place. So 11 or 12 days is still pretty relaxed. 9 or 10? That would have some challenging days, but still doable for the fit.

Buen camino, Auringy! May you have a wonderful camino.
I hope your climb to Castilo Coronatel is not too hot tomorrow.

As for getting to Ponferrada, for future reference: fly into Santiago and take the train back - it was a very easy direct train with a departure a bit after 10AM.

the ALSA driver—admittedly, a disciple of Juan Fangio who cheerfully barrelled at 100 kph through the villages placarded at 50—was on a couple of occasions literally weaving his way around groups of them as far as the San Martín del Camino albergue.
:eek:🤣
 
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Ksalud

New Member
A couple of months ago, there was a long-running thread on this site discussing what the people at home think when the pilgrims abandon them for rural Iberia. In my own case, this is rarely a consideration. To the contrary, around the beginning of May my nearest and dearest typically begin enquiring, in increasingly imperative tones, what plans I have made to discharge my penitential duties, along with reminders about how affordable are flights to Spain these days.

This year, the volume and frequency of such encouragements grew in proportion to my demurrals that 2019 might not be a good time for me to be out on the trail. Having exhausted all non-surgical options to try to cure an intractable case of plantar fasciitis I picked up on the Camino Português Interior two years ago, I'm booked for an operation on my left heel in the autumn. I haven't walked more than 12 km in any single day since January, and have no idea whether I'm capable of anything longer. Such protests were brusquely swept aside with the rejoinder that this was all the more reason to get in a last trip before I'm required to wear an orthopaedic boot for three months; that the Almighty created cortisone shots for a reason; and that in any event suffering is good for the soul. Thus motivated—or, as the case may be, propelled out the door with my loved ones' hands planted firmly in the small of my back—I'm once again at the starting-point of a journey that I hope, but can't guarantee, I'll be able to finish.

For a combination of health and work reasons, it's inexpedient that I attempt anything too ambitious. Surveying the possibilities, I thought I'd take a crack at the Invierno, which appears to have been growing in popularity and viability during the past couple of years. As is the case with all Santiago routes, no two sources agree on how long it is. But there seems to be a general consensus that it can be completed in nine or ten days, which will work quite nicely for me if my foot holds up.

The biggest complication with which I've had to deal thus far is getting to the starting point. I've only been to Ponferrada by foot, and for a while it looked as though that might almost be the most viable method. Flying to León is the most convenient way of getting to the general vicinity, but neither the available schedules nor the eye-watering airfares made that a practical proposition. In the event, the fact that I couldn't get off work until 14:00 on Saturday meant that flying to Bilbao that evening was as reasonable as anything else. It's three 'buses from there, but it was going to be at least two, no matter where in Spain I landed.

As it transpired, the connections panned out fairly well. Landing on time, I was able to make the last 'bus to Burgos with four minutes to spare. It being just a little too late to snag a bunk at the municipal, I put up at the Hostel Catedral, a couple of hundred metres away but open until midnight. That, it turns out, was a mistake. The establishment itself is fine—clean and well-appointed, if a little pricey at EUR 17.50—but it overlooks a small square full of all-night bars and restaurants, and with acoustics better than those of La Scala in Milan. My British friends often lament the unhealthy attitude of their young people toward alcohol, in contrast to the more mature consumption patterns that are supposed to prevail on the Continent. All I can say is that the amateur dipsomaniacs of Burgos are giving their Anglo-Saxon counterparts a run for their money. The whole time I was there, a cacophony of shrieks, raucous laughter, shattering of glass bottles and what sounded like exchanges of fisticuffs or of handbags arose from what seemed to be never fewer than a hundred revellers below. When I crept out quietly at 05:00 this morning, sidestepping an exhausted-looking bride who was draped across a kerbstone trying somewhat ineffectualy to keep the skirts of her wedding dress out of the gutter while still clutching her drink, they were still at it. I would have obtained a far better night's rest had I just crashed out in the estación de autobuses until making my connection. The bottom line: if you can't get into the municipal in Burgos, find somewhere to sleep that's well away from the city centre, at least on weekends, or you won't be sleeping at all.

My 'bus to León was scheduled to leave at 05:25. On a Sunday, this isn't one you want to miss. Services are few and sell out quickly. By contrast, getting from León to Ponferrada is very easy indeed. Lots of departures; no need for reservations; and the route as far as Astorga goes right along the famous N-120, paralleling the Francés and reviving pleasant memories of a few years earlier. Based on what I saw, I can well believe the stories I've read about this being the most lethal section of the entire Camino. So thick were the throngs of peregrinos and bicigrinos that the ALSA driver—admittedly, a disciple of Juan Fangio who cheerfully barrelled at 100 kph through the villages placarded at 50—was on a couple of occasions literally weaving his way around groups of them as far as the San Martín del Camino albergue. Not really until that point are they adequately separated from vehicular traffic. Three years ago, after an unusually worrisome spike in fatalities, the local council declared its intention to take this matter in hand, especially on the way out of town. It doesn't look to me, though, that much, or anything, has been done since then.

I reached Ponferrada too late in the day to start out on the trail. Being Sunday, it was also necessary for me to hear Mass. Because I was short on sleep, I thought it was worthwhile to splurge on a single room so that I could begin the journey well-rested. As it turned out, there was plenty of room at the municipal; they were still admitting wayfarers when I arrived at 20:00 for the pilgrims' service in the adjacent Franciscan chapel. But I'm quite happy with what I'm getting at the Hostal San Miguel, about seven or eight brisk minutes' walk from the Templars' Castle, which is clean, unpretentious, and, including as it does both air conditioning and a private bathroom, at EUR 30 reasonably cheap for the high season. Having had an evening meal at the restaurant beside the Basilica (4 Bocas; recommended), I'll be in good shape for the exertions ahead.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
Arriving at the bar this morning for my first coffee of the day, I was amused by a conversation at the next table between an English and a Spanish woman on the Francés, who were trying to decide (i) whether to walk together that day; and (ii) which of the two had the most gruesome and biologically explicit blister-story to tell. It occurred to me that some enterprising television channel could probably make a fortune with a reality show focusing on the extraordinary subculture that is the life of the pilgrim. It's the only world I know in which, as I observed at Astorga a few years ago, a diner can not only plonk her suppurating foot on the communal table and begin to go to work on it without grossing everyone else out, but the others, craning their necks to get a better look, will enthusiastically offer suggestions and advice as to the best way of cleaning and dressing the lesions even as they shovel forkfuls of ensalada mixta and lomo de cerdo into their faces.

But I couldn't dawdle long. While there was plenty of early-morning low cloud, I knew well that it would burn off well before noon, and the temperatures were forecasted to rise later on into the mid-thirties. Making maximum use of the cool hours was an imperative necessity. Accordingly, I slung my backpack over my shoulder and headed briskly south out of town. This path is marked by an excellent sign if one is approaching from the municipal albergue-side, but not at all if one is leaving from the centre of Ponferrada. However, it was to be a rare, indeed unique, lapse. All along today's route, I found the waymarking to be first-rate, and much better than I had expected. Never was I in the least doubt as to where I ought to go next.

The trail passes through a series of villages—Toral de Merayo (en fête as I passed, with the funfair in town; tepid café con leche available at the local bar in the main square), Villalibre, Priaranza, Santalla—that seem to function principally as dormitory towns for Ponferrada. There's a bit of money in the nicer houses that clearly wasn't being generated by local economic activity. Further along, one passes beyond the commuter belt, and the consequences are obvious in the rapid deterioration in the quality of accommodation one sees. The Bierzo region in general is the land that time forgot, but a great many of these buildings would have evoked nostalgia even in Ortega y Gasset's time, which was probably the most recent era in which they saw any maintenance. Immensely picturesque, to be sure, though it would be rough if one had to live there.

I don't think there's any doubt that this part of the world could well do with a little of the bounty that the Francés provides. Traditionally, the major economic activity was slate-mining, and some of that is still taking place. But it's not a way to get rich. More recently, the Bierzo area has started producing its own wine, a reasonably priced fruity dry red that my wife knows well. In contrast to other such regions in Iberia, though, I was struck by how small are the vineyards along this part of the Invierno. Two or three acres (1 ha.) is a substantial plantation, comparatively speaking. Here too the contribution to individual household incomes must be on a modest scale.

For the pilgrim, the most noteworthy feature on today's opening leg was the ascent to Villavieja, a village that lives up to its name. It's a long, steady uphill pull along a rough surface of about two kilometres, though not excessively difficult for those who remember the hiker's maxim, "Halve your pace, double your fun." Upon reaching the village I didn't see or hear the local Hound of the Baskervilles of which I had read so much on these boards. Perhaps age has lessened his ardour, or perhaps, like everybody else in Villavieja at that time of day, he was enjoying his afternoon siesta, dreaming of cooler days roaming the Grimpen Mire. Certainly the heat by that point was thoroughly oppressive, radiating off the ground and soaking me in sweat. As the day wore on, though, the left-hand side of the path was often in shade, providing a measure of relief. It was unfortunate that the local flies had already taken advantage of it, and were lying in ambush in large numbers at just those spots.

After Villavieja, the trail passes the small but pretty Cornatel castle. Having so recently visited the Templars' equivalent in Ponferrada, I gave this bijou version a miss and continued on to the village of Borrenes. At its entrance, the site of an early eighteenth century pilgrims' hospital has been turned into an attractive tree-lined memorial garden and shrine. According to the information board there, the local abbot provided at that time that all pilgrims should receive two fried eggs as they passed on their way. Deplorably, the custom seems to have fallen into abeyance; I could have found a home for them. However, on the other side of town a small but well-appointed exercise area—deserted as are almost all such places I've seen in Iberia—features long, comfortable and well-shaded park benches on which the weary wayfarer can have an hour's siesta in the heat of the day.

I had entertained some thoughts at the outset of pressing on to Puente Domingo Flórez, but the strength of the sun and the fact that my short snooze had left me a little behind schedule caused me to make As Médulas, about 28 km from my starting point, my night-stop. I'm not sure when is high season for this little town, the overwhelming majority of whose visitors arrive in camper-vans to see the remnants of the old Roman gold-mines, which are indeed impressive. But August would not appear to be it. While there is an albergue túristico on the main drag, the owners appeared to have departed for their summer holidays. The same was true of all the restaurants with a single exception, the Merife, whose proprietor informed me that he stopped serving hot food at 15:30. That left me with but a single option for both dining and accommodation, the Hotel Medulio. I've had worse in both respects, but just the same what the French describe as rapport qualité-prix is sadly lacking. In retrospect I'd have done better, I think, to keep on going, for all that it would have meant a very late arrival. Still, I've a nice view from my room of two of the enormous anthill-like structures that people come so far to see.
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
Thank you for sharing your camino with the growing number of us who are Invierno fans, @Aurigny !
Your lively description really brings it back.
Buen camino!

I'm not sure when is high season for this little town [. . .] But August would not appear to be it.
Hmm, maybe there is none, since neither was June. But now at least we know that the hotel is actucally open. Many of us stayed in Casa Socorro, and when I was there the hotel looked deserted.
And Tuesday is a day when practically everything is closed there, high season or not.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
As Médulas was dark and quiet when I got up, making a quick breakfast of the last couple of bananas that I'd brought with me from Ponferrada. The waymarking continued to be excellent, if at that point superfluous: there's only one way in and one out. This consisted of a standard country trail that rose gently for a couple of kilometres before topping out and setting the pilgrim on an exceedingly long descent into Puente Domingo Flórez (the locals casually omit the "de" where one would normally expect to see it). The scenery along the way was delightful: a heavily forested mountain bowl into the bottom of which one was proceeding. As for the town itself, more economic activity was taking place than I would have imagined. It features not one but two well-appointed supermarkets—the Clodio, on the way in, and the Día, on the way out. Of the two, the latter is the better. Knowing that I probably wouldn't see its like again until nightfall, I took the opportunity to stock up with the usual road-food items: ham, cheese, bread, fruit.

It was market day in PDF. The main square was full of stands where people were selling the usual made-in-Bangladesh cheap underwear and T-shirts, and a couple of people were doing a roaring trade, early though it was, feeding the hungry with stir-fried sliced octopus on wooden platters (as my wife, who used to be in the business, once told me, actually a fairly unhygienic way of serving food). Pulpo not being my thing, and especially not at that hour, I contented myself with a cup of coffee and continued on my way.

The trail out of town leads past the 36-megawatt electrical sub-station and then turns uphill. The rest of the day is spent chasing the river Sil. A short climb to the top of the ridge outside the town leads you to a recently-constructed picnic area, made of native slate, overlooking a stretch of the Sil that has been turned into a small lake by a downstream dam. It's a pleasant spot to begin making inroads on one's road food while watching the tiny trains chug along the bank of the river far below. If that's too early for one's elevenses, don't worry: one will find two identical facilities further along before one reaches the tolerably substantial town of Sobradelo.

The trail between the two places is said to be on the hazardous side, on account of the steep drop-off to the left at the bottom of which the railway line is built. In reality it's not a major, nor even a minor, concern. For the three or four kilometres concerned, there's only a combined total of a few hundred metres where a fall would have serious consequences. Along the rest, the slope is either shallow enough, or sufficiently festooned with trees and shrubs, that one would hardly wind up with more than the odd bump or bruise should a fall occur. In any event, the path is wide enough to take heavy lorries, so if one hews to the right-hand side, it's not even possible to see if a precipitous drop exists. (I should, however, mention that at a later stage when one pops out onto a busy access road, there's a short section where the pilgrim has to walk along a non-existent shoulder with a low metal barrier and a more or less vertical drop beyond it to the railway-line a hundred feet below. If a large vehicle were to pin one up against that barrier, as is entirely possible should one of them take the corner too fast, one would have to choose between being squashed where one stands, or being flattened like a flounder after plummeting below. Should the Invierno take off in terms of numbers, this is a hazard that the authorities will have to take seriously in hand.)

Otherwise the main feature of today's leg is the scenery. The villages are few, small and tumbledown, or, in the case of the tiny hamlet of Nogueiras, completely abandoned. Fuentes are more common than I had expected. Having travelled other low-volume routes like the CPI, I'd expected to have to carry everything I needed for the day, including water, but the latter hasn't been a problem here. That's good news, as my pack is quite heavy enough as it stands. The countryside, though, is a definite attraction. It's a bit more up-and-down than I had expected: not quite as much so as the Primitivo—the elevations are lower—but plenty of climbs and descents just the same. All the while one has attractive landscape to admire, and little competition while doing so. If one is looking to get away from it all, the Invierno should be high on one's list. Neither yesterday nor today have I seen a sinner apart from myself on the trail.

Sobradelo features two establishments for the refreshment of patrons: the Centro Social and the Bar Mar. The former was living up to its name as I passed, with a large number of underemployed gentlemen of a certain age playing a raucous form of dominoes while drinking from tubular glasses a greenish concoction of a colour that does not occur in nature. It looked like fun so I stopped there for my second coffee of the day. Upon restarting, I made a small hash of getting out of town and accidentally found myself on the wrong side of the river. I did, though, quickly retrace my steps and the short detour allowed me to take a photograph of two successive signs, not 100m apart, on the N-536 highway. The first proclaimed Ponferrada to be 41 km away; the second, only the length of a football field along the same road, gave the distance to the same destination as 44 km. Everything one needs to know about official Iberian measurements is contained within that single scene.

Once back on track, it was a straightforward if not especially exciting run along what was now calling itself the Camino Real to the little village of Éntoma. This features a nice pilgrim sculpture; a newish-looking bar offering sellos for the price of a drink—though it's a little too early to start collecting these—and not much else. From that point on a stiffish climb, and long descent, eventually brought me to O Barco de Valdeorras, my night stop. It was about 17:30 when I arrived, and though the day's leg hadn't been particularly long—27 km or so—I was fairly tired, a combination of plenty of hill-climbing and simply being out of shape. The first place I saw, La Gran Tortuga on the main drag, was closed, but I spied the proprietors through the windows of the equally closed restaurant next door and made faces at them until they came out to see what I wanted. Fifteen minutes later, I was face-down in one of their beds, sleeping the sleep of the morally just.
 
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VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
Another wonderful (and amusing) post, thanks Aurigny!

The waymarking continued to be excellent, if at that point superfluous: there's only one way in and one out.
Maybe. On the way out of Las Medulas, there's room for some 'interesting' mistakes for people who are either creative, a bit directionally challenged, or just distracted at the wrong moment.
First there is the road to Lago Somido, which is a right fork off the camino as you're leaving town. If you take this and pass the lake, after a very round-about journey through the woods, you'll eventually (at least from the look of my map) end up at Salas de la Ribera which is a bit upriver from PDF.
The second potential pitfall is a left fork as you head down to PDF. This ends up at Yeres, and getting to PDF from there sounds a bit more adventurous than most would enjoy (via a busy road). It doesn't sound like fun.
(Oh, and I guess the seriously directionally challenged could conceivably end up going back to Borrenes, via all the miradors and Orellan...)

Glad you avoided all that and are enjoying the beauty of this quiet way.
Buen camino, peregrino!

 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
O Barco is a town that goes to bed early, and makes up for it by rising late. After an hour's snooze, I was just in time to acquire a handful of bananas from the Eroski on the main street before it closed. Although O Barco is fairly well endowed with restaurants, the ones I tried seemed to have the shutters down as well. Tapas didn't appeal, and as my appetite was missing in action in any event, as tends to happen when I'm out on the trail, I went back to bed without feeling that I was missing much.

I'd made arrangements with my hosts that I'd be having an early departure and slipping out without disturbing them. I hadn't made particularly good ground my first two days, and needed to put in a longer hike as far as Quiroga—around 40 km in total—to get back on schedule. So I was up before the crows, but unfortunately also before the cafés, when I resumed my progress westward. Fortunately O Barco is the easiest of Spanish towns to depart. One simply heads south to the river and then walks downstream along the grandiosely-named Malecón: no arrows necessary. An elderly man, sitting on one of the benches and staring into the water, was the sole witness of my departure.

It was surprisingly chilly early on, but the temperature took a welcome upward bounce after sunrise. I found the going quite easy, for the most part along narrow tarmacadam roads. I know that the cognoscenti of the Camino disapprove of pilgrimage sectors to the degree that they incorporate asphalt, but as somebody with a dodgy foot I've always found it to be the fastest and most comfortable surface on which I can walk. Rough stones do a comprehensive number on my heel; Portuguese cobbles really wreck it. The prospect, then, of spending the day loping along the left shoulder of leafy and well-paved Spanish thoroughfares was one that caused me no qualms of any kind.

I skirted Vilamartín, and stayed in A Rúa only long enough to swig down a cup of coffee (all right: two cups if I'm to be pedantic about it), so I can't tell you much about either place. During the first half of the day's journey, the most interesting part for me was the road uphill out of A Rúa to Alvaredos. It's a long but easy climb, with excellent views over the hills and the river to the left. Shortly after commencing it one crosses the frontier into Lugo province, a point identified by such an impressive set of markers and placards that I half-expected somebody in uniform to demand to see my visa. One of the odder peculiarities of this stretch, though, was the local carpentry enthusiast who had carved, painted, and nailed to the trees, at approximately 400m intervals, a variety of wooden totems: stylised human heads, fishes, crabs, flamingoes and Lord alone knows what else. In some respects it was charming; in others, disturbing. That American song "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You" came to mind, although in this instance it was the eyes of Lugo. Some of them, it has to be admitted, gave me a mild case of the creeps. The profusion of wooden heads and the loneliness of the road—only a single vehicle passed me while I was upon it—combined to the point that I would not have been altogether surprised if a squad of cheerful individuals, clutching bows and blow-pipes, had emerged from the shrubbery to frog-march me off to the large bubbling cauldron they had prepared in anticipation of my arrival.

The heads ran out at Alvaredos, thereby providing a clue as to where the person responsible for them lives. Having tanked up my water-bottle there, I descended by the standard country track to the bottom, where a local farmer had set out a stand containing an oddly catholic selection of items—greengages, red peppers and pears—for the refreshment of the weary traveller. I didn't want anything, but shoved a couple of euro into the adjacent money-box for fear that the next person to come along might not. But the brief pause also gave me a welcome opportunity to scramble into my raingear. Very shortly afterwards the sky, which had been threatening ever since A Rúa, finally unleashed a cascade of water across the area. The rain was warm enough, but it soon turned my nice solid trail into a Primitivo-like quagmire.

Something went seriously wrong for me after I reached the railway station at Montefurado, and even in retrospect I'm not quite sure what. It was raining especially heavily by then, and whether I missed an arrow; someone had parked his car in front of it (not an uncommon experience in Spain); or it just wasn't there, I failed to notice a right-hand turn uphill to the north that I ought to have made. Instead I continued along my last indicated course, which put me on the far side (as it turned out, literally the wrong side) of the tracks, and started a steep climb along a nice and newly-surfaced road parallel to and just south of the line. For a while it continued to head west, so I wasn't particularly concerned. But at the top it began to curl round to the right and lead downhill, almost reversing my course. I wasn't more than a couple of kilometres from my last known position so I wasn't greatly concerned. I did have a vague notion of where the N-120 was to be found, having seen it below me half an hour previously, though I wasn't keen on retracing my steps that far. Nor did I look with approbation on the notion of returning to Montefurado and searching for more arrows, which might have been the most sensible thing to do regardless.

Instead I flagged down a car, the first one I'd seen in the past twenty minutes, and enquired of the genial locals therein as to my best course of action. They declared me unhinged for wanting to walk to Quiroga in the first place, but confirmed that the N-120 was my best bet and pointed me in that direction. A few minutes later a second car appeared, and stopped beside me. Ironically enough, the inhabitants—a nice couple from Brittany—were seeking directions from me, rather than vice versa. They'd conceived the odd notion of driving from Cape Finistère near their home in Quimper to another Land's End, Fisterra west of SdC, where they'd purchased a little reproduction of the iconic "Km. 0,00" waymarker to put on their mantelpiece. (This was removed from the glove compartment, unwrapped, and shown to me with immense pride; I expressed due admiration.) They were sightseeing on the way home, and wanted to look in at the Roman tunnel of Montefurado, a marvel of classical engineering. By an odd coincidence I'd passed and noted the sign for it a few kilometres previously, and was able to tell them in which direction to head. But they were also in possession of a magnificently comprehensive Michelin road atlas with the aid of which I was able to pinpoint my own position. If I didn't want a wearisome recapitulation of ground already covered, the N-120 was indeed the way to go.

So the N-120 it was. A narrow and precipitous path, down which I slithered as much as walked, deposited me at the side of the road—unfortunately at the wrong end of a tunnel running through the hill standing in my way. In the normal course of events, Eiuropean road tunnels and pedestrians don't mix: one standes a fairly decent chance of being scraped off the walls before reaching the other end. This one, though, featured a wide pedestrian walkway on both sides. No sign prohibited foot traffic: nor, I regret to say, in the mood in which I was, would I have paid much attention to one had it been there. Affecting a nonchalant air, then, and trying as hard to look like a highway engineer as one can while wearing a backpack and hiking shoes, I strode briskly through.

The nice thing about the tunnel was that it kept the rain off me for a couple of minutes. Out the other end the precipitation was now coming down so hard that I seemed to be breathing nearly as much water as air. But at least I didn't have to mix it with the traffic for long. After about 4 km, mostly gently uphill, the regular trail joined me from the right, a little past the turn-off for Bendilló, and from that point onward I was back on track. Irritatingly, after passing through Soldón, the arrows soon bounced me back onto the N-120, so other than the charms of seeing the main road from underneath for a while, I need never have left.

Soldón's quite a pretty little place, and if I'd arrived there earlier I might have paused, the rain notwithstanding. But the clock was now becoming a definite factor. Even leaving aside my time-consuming antics in the hills south-west of Montefurado, this was going to be my longest day on the Invierno. I had no accommodation arranged at Quiroga, and the thought of finishing a strenuous hike by having to seek a sheltered doorway for the night while the rain bucketed down and the temperature plummeted didn't appeal. Lastly, my left heel, which had hung in fairly well to this point, was sending out vociferous and increasingly importunate distress signals. Accordingly I pushed my pace as fast as I could, though tbe descent off Novais, which was turning into a skid pan, had to be taken at a most sedate and deliberate pace regardless if a pilgrimate-ending injury was to be avoided.

I got into Quiroga a bit after 19:00, after more than twelve continuous hours on the trail and probably something around 45 km in distance, including my off-piste blunderings. Still, it's been my favourite day thus far. I'll exchange rain for relentless heat any day of the week; I had little traffic with which to contend; and the views were delightful. Having to polish off three hard sectors in a row right at the beginning of the pilgrimage is a little challenging, but, intense exhaustion aside, my body's standing up to it better than I've a right to expect. Another such day, to Monforte de Lemos, will get me over the hump of this entire trip.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
Whoever described the albergue at Quiroga as a zoo hit the nail on the head. The good news is that it's enormous, so the chances of losing the bed race are minimal even for such a one as I who was showing up close to eight o'clock at night. It's also well located, slap in the centre of town on the main street. But physically it's a kind of brutalist concrete mausoleum, more depressingly institutional than the majority of these places tend to be, with sound echoing down the long corridors. And sound there is aplenty. Just four of the residents were pilgrims: myself and a trio of engaging Spanish college students who were back-walking the Invierno from SdC. Everybody else there—and there had to be well over fifty of them—were persons of both sexes in their early teens, conducting themselves with the decorum for which that age group is renowned, while their adult minders huddled together and chain-smoked in the square outside. Presiding over this scene was a small number of young women acting as staff, with frazzled expressions on their faces. I don't know how they preserved as much good humour as they did: had I their job, there would have been murder done before the night was out. Those visiting Quiroga would do well to look into the possibility of private-sector accommodation.

I don't want to sound too ungrateful. I got a dry and economical place to stay at an hour when I had no business demanding one. Coming so soon after Burgos, though, I was beginning to feel distinctly down on my sleep. Moreover, the dinnertime options at Quiroga on a Wednesday night turned out to be identical to O Barco's on a Tuesday: finger food or nothing. I opted for the latter.

The result was that when I set out for Monforte de Lemos, some 35 km away, I had nothing in my stomach and no more than a full bottle of water in my backpack—nor had I eaten an actual meal since Monday evening in As Médulas. This was to a considerable degree the product of mismanagement on my part, and to some extent a function of the level of facilities on the Invierno at this time of year. The lack of food wasn't a source of immediate concern to me. My appetite was still minimal, and I've gone through spells elsewhere in my life when I have eaten as little. But given the amount of energy I was expending on the daily walks, it was obvious that this couldn't be allowed to go on much longer. Even if it was only the contents of a railway-station vending machine, once I reached Monforte I was going to have to consume something.

I'd been wakened a couple of times by the sound of rain at Quiroga. It had stopped by the time I dressed, but this was to prove only a temporary interruption. Daylight broke when I was a short distance west of the town, revealing a leaden sky. I braced myself for an even heavier downpour than the previous day, but that wasn't what happened. Instead the whole of the next ten hours consisted of sharp showers with occasional dryish spells. Misled by this, I put on and then removed my rainclothes twice (a tedious process, because it also involves attaching the rain-cover to my backpack and making sure that my straw hat is protected from the weather) before deciding that it was pointless, and that I'd have to spend the entire day in waterproofs.

And so it proved. I may have raised a few eyebrows when I squelched into the lobby of the Restaurant-Hotel Las Vegas in nearby San Clodio, clad in streaming yellow-and-green all-weather gear, but they gave me coffee while I quietly dripped in a corner, examining a sepia photograph that at first sight looked like the members of a Civil War militia on parade but on closer inspection turned out to be merely the local hunt club.

Warmed by the hot drink, I set out on what would be a long walk, interspersed with very few landmarks, to Pobra do Brollón, the next habitation. This has the repute—accurate, I'd say—of being the loneliest part of the entire Invierno. As with yesterday, it began on paved roads, but very soon branched off to the right along an uphill track through the woods. I imagine that this is mainly used by members of the forestry commission: I saw plenty of tyre-marks, but no footprints other than my own. Admittedly, after all the recent rain, I wouldn't expect those to have survived too long in any event.

The immediate surroundings in what was to be a moderate but very long uphill climb, somewhere around 6 km by my estimate, weren't too visually arresting. These are cultivated pines, which are probably better thought of as being an especially tall crop rather than a forest properly so called. Later on in the day, I did encounter the inevitable eucalyptus and a very few old-growth hardwood trees: chestnuts and oaks, mainly. But the attraction of the day comes when one is approaching the summits and can survey great stretches of the country. If one ignores the fact that one is looking at slopes covered with still more non-native pines, it's easy to imagine oneself out in the wilderness. Other than the occasional high-tension electricity cable and the track along which one is walking, there's nothing to suggest that humans were ever here. In densely-populated Western Europe, one doesn't realise that places like this still exist.

The trail tops out at the small and bunker-like Ermita de los Remedios, which at first sight I mistook for a logger's cabin, and then heads downhill again into the micro-village of Carballo de Lor, perhaps 14 km from San Clodio. This was the longest stretch between two fuentes that I've encountered thus far. As I say, the one thing on the Invierno of which the wayfarer will never go short is water. I wonder to what extent this may indicate that many of the habitations in these parts still don't have indoor plumbing. The sight of an elderly woman carefully emptying out a basin of waste-water into the drain beside one of these fountains led me to think that this may still be the case for quite a lot of the local inhabitants.

One crosses the River Lor at the village of Trampilla, with its picturesque old-stone bridge (which nonetheless needs care in traversing when wet: twisting an ankle or even falling is very easy on its rutted and slippery surface), and then heads uphill again after Barxa de Lor. The climb that ensues is shorter—4 km, perhaps—and steeper than the first one of the day, but offers not much variation visually on what one has already seen beyond occasional glimpses of the N-120 off to the left.

One thing this section, and indeed the entirety of the rest of the journey into Monforte, does offer in abundance is flies. I had been bothered by them the first day heading to As Médulas; today they were a positive plague. The wet weather followed by the warmth had brought them out in Biblical numbers, and a cloud of the creatures whizzed around my head for the last 20 km or so of today's leg. Occasionally the more aggressive made abrupt kamikaze attacks on ears or nostrils (I was sensible enough to keep my mouth firmly closed, no matter how vigorously I was breathing). The malodorous insect repellent in which I had practically bathed myself had no apparent effect upon them. Altogether they made my life a complete misery to me. The only thing that could have provided relief was a good strong wind. But though the clouds were scudding along at quite a clip, there was hardly a zephyr at ground level. I heartily wished for something like the veils that Victorian widows in mourning wore, extending from the brim of their hats to their throats, and, however ludicrous such a thing may appear on me, it's likely that the next time I undertake a warm-weather pilgrimage something of the kind will be stowed in my backpack.

The town of Pobra itself is not short of the odd fly or two, either. I drank coffee at the Avenida, morbidly located almost across the street from the town tanatorio, which transpired to be one of those places where the visitor is well advised to keep his hat pulled well down on his head, even indoors. It had taken the guts of six hours to get there, which caused me to regard the official distance of 22.9 km from Quiroga with a degree of scepticism. I'm not the fastest walker in the world, but except when I've been dragging a limb behind me, I haven't yet turned in an average as low as that. According to the same authorities, I'd about thirteen more kilometres to do before reaching Monforte.

Once again, colour me unconvinced. As with the whole of today's leg, the waymarking was more than adequate, and led me quickly through the village of Cereixa uphill to a point from which I could see the rooftops of my destination, possibly around 8 km away as the crow flies. But from then on, Monforte seemed to retreat from me as fast as I approached it. Again I was walking along logging trails, occasionally crossing paved roads at right angles. The flies were as much in abundance as ever. This last section from Pobra to Monforte took me three solid hours, and I was not dawdling in the slightest.

The immediate approach to the town is enlivened by a young river that cascades down from the right-hand side and completely saturates the trail for a distance of about 75m. There was absolutely no possibility of getting through this stretch with dry feet, so I did what I have often had occasion to do in Iberia: tie my shoes around my neck; roll up my trouser-legs to my knees; wade through; and dry off using my roll of paper towels at the other end. It was less unpleasant than I expected, much of the bottom being clean sand rather than mud. But one could easily swim trout in this stream as it stands, and I would think that something will have to be done either to drain this area or to route the official trail elsewhere.

I'd made a booking in Monforte at the Hostal Galicia, there being, to the best of my knowledge no official albergue in town. Having deposited my backpack there, I went on the forage for dinner. The owner of the nearby parrillada, La Ronda, looked at me as though I had sprouted a second head when I broached the topic of a cooked meal. A churrasqueria for a moment looked promising, but proved even more fly-blown than the Café Avenida in Pobra. La Gloria, on the Rúa Morlín, was way out of my league. The answer, oddly enough, presented itself in the form of an establishment with the unprepossessing name of Mini Burger in the centre of town. On examination it turned out to be hiding its light under a bushel, and offering a variety of pratos combinados several of which bore a close resemblance to the familiar menú peregrino. These, as I can attest, are served up hot, quickly and at very moderate cost. An hour later, stuffed full of salad, protein and carbohydrates, I rolled back to the Galicia, my fast finally and comprehensively broken.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances 2005,2008,2010,2015.camino Portuguese 2007 .primativo2012.camino Norte 2009.sjpdp to finisterre and muxia 2007. Le Puy to jpdp 2006. Via francigena vercelli to Lucca 2014. Lucca to Rome 2016.
Whoever described the albergue at Quiroga as a zoo hit the nail on the head. The good news is that it's enormous, so the chances of losing the bed race are minimal even for such a one as I who was showing up close to eight o'clock at night. It's also well located, slap in the centre of town on the main street. But physically it's a kind of brutalist concrete mausoleum, more depressingly institutional than the majority of these places tend to be, with sound echoing down the long corridors. And sound there is aplenty. Just four of the residents were pilgrims: myself and a trio of engaging Spanish college students who were back-walking the Invierno from SdC. Everybody else there—and there had to be well over fifty of them—were persons of both sexes in their early teens, conducting themselves with the decorum for which that age group is renowned, while their adult minders huddled together and chain-smoked in the square outside. Presiding over this scene was a small number of young women acting as staff, with frazzled expressions on their faces. I don't know how they preserved as much good humour as they did: had I their job, there would have been murder done before the night was out. Those visiting Quiroga would do well to look into the possibility of private-sector accommodation.

I don't want to sound too ungrateful. I got a dry and economical place to stay at an hour when I had no business demanding one. Coming so soon after Burgos, though, I was beginning to feel distinctly down on my sleep. Moreover, the dinnertime options at Quiroga on a Wednesday night turned out to be identical to O Barco's on a Tuesday: finger food or nothing. I opted for the latter.

The result was that when I set out for Monforte de Lemos, some 35 km away, I had nothing in my stomach and no more than a full bottle of water in my backpack—nor had I eaten an actual meal since Monday evening in As Médulas. This was to a considerable degree the product of mismanagement on my part, and to some extent a function of the level of facilities on the Invierno at this time of year. The lack of food wasn't a source of immediate concern to me. My appetite was still minimal, and I've gone through spells elsewhere in my life when I have eaten as little. But given the amount of energy I was expending on the daily walks, it was obvious that this couldn't be allowed to go on much longer. Even if it was only the contents of a railway-station vending machine, once I reached Monforte I was going to have to consume something.

I'd been wakened a couple of times by the sound of rain at Quiroga. It had stopped by the time I dressed, but this was to prove only a temporary interruption. Daylight broke when I was a short distance west of the town, revealing a leaden sky. I braced myself for an even heavier downpour than the previous day, but that wasn't what happened. Instead the whole of the next ten hours consisted of sharp showers with occasional dryish spells. Misled by this, I put on and then removed my rainclothes twice (a tedious process, because it also involves attaching the rain-cover to my backpack and making sure that my straw hat is protected from the weather) before deciding that it was pointless, and that I'd have to spend the entire day in waterproofs.

And so it proved. I may have raised a few eyebrows when I squelched into the lobby of the Restaurant-Hotel Las Vegas in nearby San Clodio, clad in streaming yellow-and-green all-weather gear, but they gave me coffee while I quietly dripped in a corner, examining a sepia photograph that at first sight looked like the members of a Civil War militia on parade but on closer inspection turned out to be merely the local hunt club.

Warmed by the hot drink, I set out on what would be a long walk, interspersed with very few landmarks, to Pobra do Brollón, the next habitation. This has the repute—accurate, I'd say—of being the loneliest part of the entire Invierno. As with yesterday, it began on paved roads, but very soon branched off to the right along an uphill track through the woods. I imagine that this is mainly used by members of the forestry commission: I saw plenty of tyre-marks, but no footprints other than my own. Admittedly, after all the recent rain, I wouldn't expect those to have survived too long in any event.

The immediate surroundings in what was to be a moderate but very long uphill climb, somewhere around 6 km by my estimate, weren't too visually arresting. These are cultivated pines, which are probably better thought of as being an especially tall crop rather than a forest properly so called. Later on in the day, I did encounter the inevitable eucalyptus and a very few old-growth hardwood trees: chestnuts and oaks, mainly. But the attraction of the day comes when one is approaching the summits and can survey great stretches of the country. If one ignores the fact that one is looking at slopes covered with still more non-native pines, it's easy to imagine oneself out in the wilderness. Other than the occasional high-tension electricity cable and the track along which one is walking, there's nothing to suggest that humans were ever here. In densely-populated Western Europe, one doesn't realise that places like this still exist.

The trail tops out at the small and bunker-like Ermita de los Remedios, which at first sight I mistook for a logger's cabin, and then heads downhill again into the micro-village of Carballo de Lor, perhaps 14 km from San Clodio. This was the longest stretch between two fuentes that I've encountered thus far. As I say, the one thing on the Invierno of which the wayfarer will never go short is water. I wonder to what extent this may indicate that many of the habitations in these parts still don't have indoor plumbing. The sight of an elderly woman carefully emptying out a basin of waste-water into the drain beside one of these fountains led me to think that this may still be the case for quite a lot of the local inhabitants.

One crosses the River Lor at the village of Trampilla, with its picturesque old-stone bridge (which nonetheless needs care in traversing when wet: twisting an ankle or even falling is very easy on its rutted and slippery surface), and then heads uphill again after Barxa de Lor. The climb that ensues is shorter—4 km, perhaps—and steeper than the first one of the day, but offers not much variation visually on what one has already seen beyond occasional glimpses of the N-120 off to the left.

One thing this section, and indeed the entirety of the rest of the journey into Monforte, does offer in abundance is flies. I had been bothered by them the first day heading to As Médulas; today they were a positive plague. The wet weather followed by the warmth had brought them out in Biblical numbers, and a cloud of the creatures whizzed around my head for the last 20 km or so of today's leg. Occasionally the more aggressive made abrupt kamikaze attacks on ears or nostrils (I was sensible enough to keep my mouth firmly closed, no matter how vigorously I was breathing). The malodorous insect repellent in which I had practically bathed myself had no apparent effect upon them. Altogether they made my life a complete misery to me. The only thing that could have provided relief was a good strong wind. But though the clouds were scudding along at quite a clip, there was hardly a zephyr at ground level. I heartily wished for something like the veils that Victorian widows in mourning wore, extending from the brim of their hats to their throats, and, however ludicrous such a thing may appear on me, it's likely that the next time I undertake a warm-weather pilgrimage something of the kind will be stowed in my backpack.

The town of Pobra itself is not short of the odd fly or two, either. I drank coffee at the Avenida, morbidly located almost across the street from the town tanatorio, which transpired to be one of those places where the visitor is well advised to keep his hat pulled well down on his head, even indoors. It had taken the guts of six hours to get there, which caused me to regard the official distance of 22.9 km from Quiroga with a degree of scepticism. I'm not the fastest walker in the world, but except when I've been dragging a limb behind me, I haven't yet turned in an average as low as that. According to the same authorities, I'd about thirteen more kilometres to do before reaching Monforte.

Once again, colour me unconvinced. As with the whole of today's leg, the waymarking was more than adequate, and led me quickly through the village of Cereixa uphill to a point from which I could see the rooftops of my destination, possibly around 8 km away as the crow flies. But from then on, Monforte seemed to retreat from me as fast as I approached it. Again I was walking along logging trails, occasionally crossing paved roads at right angles. The flies were as much in abundance as ever. This last section from Pobra to Monforte took me three solid hours, and I was not dawdling in the slightest.

The immediate approach to the town is enlivened by a young river that cascades down from the right-hand side and completely saturates the trail for a distance of about 75m. There was absolutely no possibility of getting through this stretch with dry feet, so I did what I have often had occasion to do in Iberia: tie my shoes around my neck; roll up my trouser-legs to my knees; wade through; and dry off using my roll of paper towels at the other end. It was less unpleasant than I expected, much of the bottom being clean sand rather than mud. But one could easily swim trout in this stream as it stands, and I would think that something will have to be done either to drain this area or to route the official trail elsewhere.

I'd made a booking in Monforte at the Hostal Galicia, there being, to the best of my knowledge no official albergue in town. Having deposited my backpack there, I went on the forage for dinner. The owner of the nearby parrillada, La Ronda, looked at me as though I had sprouted a second head when I broached the topic of a cooked meal. A churrasqueria for a moment looked promising, but proved even more fly-blown than the Café Avenida in Pobra. La Gloria, on the Rúa Morlín, was way out of my league. The answer, oddly enough, presented itself in the form of an establishment with the unprepossessing name of Mini Burger in the centre of town. On examination it turned out to be hiding its light under a bushel, and offering a variety of pratos combinados several of which bore a close resemblance to the familiar menú peregrino. These, as I can attest, are served up hot, quickly and at very moderate cost. An hour later, stuffed full of salad, protein and carbohydrates, I rolled back to the Galicia, my fast finally and comprehensively broken.
You have a wonderful style of writing......so descriptive.
I look foreword to your posts whilst remembering our own Invierno journey in June
And yes......we do remember the flies too!!
However it seems that you must have richer blood than us!!!
Best wishes
Annette
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
So fun to read your posts and see the Invierno through your eyes @Aurigny. I had absolutely no flies on that stretch after Barxa de Lor this year, and remember rejoicing for that reason! But in the past I have been besieged by them on that same part of the Invierno. So much so that I have wondered whether it would be worth it to bring a hat that has one of those drop down little veils that covers your face to keep them at bay. I didn’t do it this year, and didn’t regret it, but I was just lucky it seems. Maybe next time just to be sure.

I have never stayed in the albergue in Quiroga — your description matches Bad Pilgrim’s pretty closely! The Quiper nearby is reasonable, but this year i went on to San Clodio and stayed in the Las Vegas. Good menú del día, clean rooms, and a very lovely garden out back. It also cuts a few km off the next day to Monforte.

Did you avoid the mad dog encounter on the way down to the bridge at Barxa de Lor? I was prepared because of @Theatregal’s warning, but it was pretty harrowing nonetheless. And the young farmer who owns the dogs was there with them but it didn’t calm them down much!

Thanks for the posts, I am sort of surprised that you aren’t meeting more peregrinos! Buen camino, Laurie
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
Nothing much in the way of dog trouble, L. For my money, the Portugues Central is far more heavily populated with canine lunatics than is the Invierno. Outside Quereño I did meet the slavering beast (at least, I believe it was he: a large Alsatian, anyway) that has often been described on these boards. But he was all too obviously doing it for show. I chuckled at him; expressed my admiration of his conspicuous bravery; and he meandered off back to his barn, honour satisfied. Nothing barked at me in Barxa (sorry; couldn't resist).

I too am surprised at the lack of company out here. Not that I'm complaining: it's been very agreeable having so much of Spain all to myself. I did ask one of the hospitaleras at Quiroga how many others she had seen recently. She said that the number was steadily growing each year, but that right now, there weren't many.
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
. Outside Quereño I did meet the slavering beast (at least, I believe it was he: a large Alsatian, anyway) that has often been described on these boards.
The dog I have seen every time after Quereño is, I think, a German Shepherd. He’s on a long chain right at the point where you have to make a sharp right to go up over the tracks. But this past July when I walked by he gave a few half-hearted barks, no lunging, followed by an air of total indifference. I think maybe this dog has decided that life is too short to spend it pulling its neck against a steel chain and getting nowhere.
 

Charrito

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés
Portugués
Portugués Var. Esp.
Port. Cost
Fisterra
Inglés
Invierno
Norte
Sanabrés
Primitivo
Sorry, but I'm not particularly impressed with all your posts. It seems to me that you need to organise your camino a bit more, and not complain about turning up at crazy hours with nowhere booked.

There is so much information in this forum that you can't possibly go wrong.
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
It's amazing to read your post from this stage, @Aurigny, because it may have well been from a different camino than I experienced: The Quiroga albergue had only 5 of us and was a quiet joy; there were plenty of places to eat there; and (very best of all) I missed all those flies! Oh, and the food at Barxa do Lor was really delicious, though you would have missed it as Pension Pacita is definitely off piste.
I have to say I like having missed the flies best. ;)
(And I draw a total blank on the hound in Quereño. I must have walked past him but have absolutely no memory of it! Funny.)

It just goes to show that we all move through the same landscape seeing and noticing and experiencing different things. So thanks for your reports, @Aurigny - I'm really enjoying them. Vive la difference!

It seems to me that you need to organise your camino a bit more, and not complain about turning up at crazy hours with nowhere booked.
@Charrito, here is some respectful disagreement: a big part of the joy and freedom of walking the camino is just stopping where you want to stop, and being able to be spontaneous about it. What in the world is wrong with that?
Of course on the Invierno that means you're probably going to be out of luck if you want to eat at times that aren't in sync with everyone who actually lives along the way. Oh, well. I had some relatively hungry days along the Invierno too, but would not change that for anything.
 
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CaroleH

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
VdlP 2006, Portugues 2007;Madrid 2009, Finisterre 2009; Sur and VdlP 2011,2013; Manchego and Madrid 2014; VdlP (parts) 2016; Hospitalero plan 2017.
Whoever described the albergue at Quiroga as a zoo hit the nail on the head. The good news is that it's enormous, so the chances of losing the bed race are minimal even for such a one as I who was showing up close to eight o'clock at night. It's also well located, slap in the centre of town on the main street. But physically it's a kind of brutalist concrete mausoleum,
I loved the albergue in Quiroga, a room of my own with a private bathroom, inc a bath, clean and quiet. Yes its huge, an echo-ey, ex high school... but no youth group that night, just about 5 pilgrims, so we were lucky. Really recommend. I'm sorry it wasn't a good experience for you @Aurigny. Buen camino.
 

CaroleH

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
VdlP 2006, Portugues 2007;Madrid 2009, Finisterre 2009; Sur and VdlP 2011,2013; Manchego and Madrid 2014; VdlP (parts) 2016; Hospitalero plan 2017.
Always amazes me how different people can have such differing responses and experiences in the same town, village or albergue. I'm enjoying your story and sense of humour, @Aurigny and reliving my Invierno. Buen camino. Carole
 

MikeJS

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francis (2011), Norte (2012), VdlP (Apr 2016). Sureste/Invierno (Apr/May 2017).
Always amazes me how different people can have such differing responses and experiences in the same town, village or albergue. I'm enjoying your story and sense of humour, @Aurigny and reliving my Invierno. Buen camino. Carole
True, I wrote in my blog from just over 2 years ago - The albergue in Quiroga is massive and as others have mentioned can be busy with lots of school visits. That was true today, a Saturday, but the lady at the check in desk was aware of the problem and gave me a dormitory well away from the children. I was in a room with 16 beds all to myself! Limited hot water and the water is rust coloured but otherwise fine. No food apparently to be had this evening in what is quite a large town! La Dia picnic again!
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
Sorry, but I'm not particularly impressed with all your posts. It seems to me that you need to organise your camino a bit more, and not complain about turning up at crazy hours with nowhere booked.

There is so much information in this forum that you can't possibly go wrong.
I think this is a bit harsh — I haven’t sensed any complaints about anything, just a report back filled with unexpected twists and turns. Like you, @Charrito, i’m not one of those who “turn up at crazy hours with nowhere booked”, but I love reading about the adventures of those who do! And I also love to see that the “winging it” approach is not as risky as I always think it is.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
Some people may recall the comedy My Cousin Vinny, in which Joe Pesci plays a New York city-slicker attorney who travels to a small town in rural Alabama to defend a pair of young relatives on trial for murder. One of the running gags is the highly urbanised Pesci's desperate efforts to get a night's uninterrupted sleep. He is awakened firstly by the sound of the pigs at a nearby farm; secondly by a freight train thundering through town; and lastly by the cries of a screech owl. Not until he is sent to jail for contempt of court does he finally drift off in the arms of Morpheus, lulled to sleep by the familiar and comforting sounds of a full-scale prison riot in progress, complete with shotgun blasts and wailing sirens.

The scene was much on my mind during my night's stay at the Hostal Galicia, a modestly-priced and hygiene-challenged establishment on the same street as Monforte's railway station. The upper-storey rooms directly overlook a large marshalling yard in which trains are assembled and broken up into their constituent parts. While I was able to sleep through some of the din, the reverberant crashes as one piece of rolling stock collided especially forcefully with another, accompanied by shrieking locomotive whistles, left me feeling almost as shattered by daybreak as Pesci's character was.

In another respect, though, the proximity of the railway was convenient. Because of the state of my foot, I had held off on booking a return trip, not knowing how long it was going to take me to get to SdC. It has hung in much better than I expected, however, so I felt confident this morning of finishing the Invierno in the original nine days at which I had aimed. Accordingly, I dropped in at the booking office and obtained a ticket four days from now from SdC to Madrid, whence I would be able to fly home.

Monforte possessing all the amenities for which anyone could wish, I made a hearty breakfast at the station hotel before pointing myself in the direction of Chantada. This involves heading along the river to the Puente Romano, an easy enough task, after which the arrows ran out and I was once again lost. The Rúa Ourense, according to my compass, pointed due west, so I elected to follow it for a while and mend my course once I was past the confusion of city streets. It soon turned into the N-120a, and I saw from my map that if I took the first back-road heading north, I ought to pop out on the regular trail after a kilometre or two. So it proved, and I rejoined yellow-arrow-land a little outside A Vide.

Most of the route from then on was once again along untrafficked single-lane country roads. The character of the landscape through which I was passing, though, changed dramatically from what I'd traversed to this point. In the Bierzo, such cultivated land as I saw was given over to small vineyards and orchards of fruit trees: pears especially, but also greengages, apples, and those small yellow plum-like fruits that in France are called mirabelles (I'm afraid I've no idea what they're known as in English). There were also lots of wild damsons, which nobody seemed to be gathering, and what appeared to be a Spanish cousin of the Victoria plum. Though I know about viticulture approximately as much as I do about molecular biology, the grape harvest seems extremely late this year in these parts. All the grapes I saw were small and green, with only a very few bunches on south-facing slopes just beginning to turn black. It was a far cry from what I encountered in the Douro valley a couple of years ago.

I don't believe I'd seen a single farm animal, domestic fowls excepted, until I crossed into Galicia. But now sheep started to put in an appearance, as well as an increasing number of cows. Most of these were Friesians (Holsteins, to Americans), the first I'd come across in northern Spain. The Friesian is the Toyota Corolla of cows: robust, low-maintenance, does most things well without being superlative in any respect. But the ones I was passing lacked the magnificent fitness and glossy sheen of the native breeds to which I'd grown accustomed on other adjacent routes like the Primitivo. Somehow here they appeared awkward, démodée and out of place, like a plastic lawn ornament plonked down in the midst of the gardens at Versailles.

After all the rain of the last couple of days, the weather took an upward bounce. It was bright and warm, with some high broken stratus clouds occasionally providing a bit of relief as the day wore on. Regrettably, the conditions were as congenial to the flies as they were to me, and from the village of Moreda onward they were almost as big a nuisance as they had been on the second half of yesterday's trip. What can't be cured, as the Scots say, must be endured, so I trudged onward, uttering foul imprecations as I went.

Near a little place called Regueiro I found a church with a fountain bearing a placard declaring the water to be suitable for human consumption—as no doubt it would have been had the fountain worked—and, across the road, a small outdoor basketball court with seating for spectators. It was a convenient place at which to demolish some of the road food I'd acquired in Monforte. I didn't have to wait long for good water, though. The adjacent village of Pacios has not one but two spigots that enabled me to tank up in full measure.

After passing the enormous Pazo O Reguengo estate—I don't know what's behind those high walls, but it evidently cost a heck of a lot of money, whatever it is—the paved road ran out and it was time to start climbing again along tracks that were a little rougher (and, because of the two days' rain, squelchier) than usual. It was a reasonably stiff pull between crumbling dry-stone walls overhung with trees as far as Piñeiro, from which fine views can be had all the way back to Monforte and beyond. If it hadn't been for the profusion of flies, this might have been the most pleasant part of the entire trip.

It was much the same thereafter. Old country lanes; high hedgerows; tunnels of trees; slippery and muddy stretches; and waymarking that was either superlative or not there at all. To be sure, as long as one proceeded in the last indicated direction, after a gap of a kilometre or so another arrow would pop up, but there were certain points of ambiguity where an indication of the right direction would have provided reassurance. On this stretch, moreover, some of the waymarkings have faded to the point that it requires a fairly meticulous inspection to differentiate what was once an actual arrow from a vaguely arrow-shaped splotch of yellow moss. A glance at one's compass, though, ought to keep the wayfarer on the right track with little difficulty.

The trail rejoins the hard surface at Camiño Grande. Shortly beyond it at a crossroads, I saw a sign to the left alerting me to the existence of the Torre de Vilariño restaurant, supposedly 400m off-piste. I wouldn't have bothered to go there in the ordinary course of events, but because I was now inside the 100-km radius from SdC, it was necessary for me to collect two daily sellos instead of one. I couldn't imagine where else I'd obtain the first of the two if it wasn't there, so I headed off in that direction, resentfully. As a rule, I've found that it's best to double, if not treble, the purported distance that commercial establishments in Europe claim to be, so I was resigned to adding a total of two unnecessary kilometres to my journey. It is, I must admit, a curious thing how I do not boggle at the prospect of walking across an entire country, but am annoyed at being required to add even a few hundred superfluous meters while I'm doing so.

In fact I did the good people of theTorre de Vilariño an injustice. Four hundred meters, at the outside, was all it was, and soon I was drinking a cup of coffee strong enough to strip paint while admiring their new and large car-park. Having obtained my stamp, I returned to the main trail and continued on, through Fión, Cirdeiro and Outeiro, to the 100-km marker at Diomondi. A man and his dog were sitting in the shelter beside it, so I forewent the selfie I would otherwise have taken, not wanting to show myself up before the locals.

The final stage of today's leg was the most difficult I've encountered since beginning at Ponferrada, although the fact that it's coming at the end of five pretty long days probably has a lot to do with that. From Diomondi, one commences a long, winding descent off a steep hill, accompanied by swarming hordes of persistent black flies. The surface is rough and, in bad weather or its aftermath, exceedingly slick. It simply must be taken deliberately and slowly: if one is going to fall heavily or pick up an injury on the Invierno, this is where it's going to happen. After more than 2 km that put a lot of strain on knees and calves, one finally emerges at the village of Belesar and crosses the Rio Miño, quite a significant body of water. There are a couple of stone benches there, and it's a very good idea to stop, have some water and catch one's breath, because after that one will be climbing a no less steep hill on the other side.

Curiously enough, I found the subsequent ascent easier to deal with than what had preceded it. It's the steepest climb of the entire trip, but the past few days have done a reasonable amount to improve my cardiovascular fitness. The only tricky bit was the cart-track section between A Ermida and San Pedro de Lincora. This is a waterlogged morass, and a worse one, being both wetter and more vertical, than the approach to Monforte. I don't know if it's possible to stay on the paved road for this section—from a look at the map, I believe it is—but having one's journey extended by a kilometre or so is a lot better, in my book, than playing ducks-and-drakes across mud-covered stepping-stones in fading light.

In any event, once one reaches the summit at San Pedro, it's a straight downhill run into the centre of Chantada. Neither of the principal hotels in town, the Mogay and the Gamallo, accepts internet bookings, and I don't own a mobile 'phone, so I was reduced to the old-fashioned method of making personal applications. The receptionist at the Mogay produced a low liquid whistle of incredulity when I asked her for a room—everybody in Spain seems to be able to do that; I wish I could—but the barman at the Gamallo matter-of-factly tossed me a key and took twenty euro off me for it. The Gamallo has a mixed reputation, but personally I'm a fan. It was a darn sight cleaner, as well as quieter, than where I spent last night, and I was perfectly happy with the quality of the accommodation I received.

Chantada is one place where the traditional Spanish cena has not become extinct. The Bohemia café was doing a roaring trade as I passed, waiters rushing to and fro and new diners arriving even though ten o'clock had long since struck. Had I been hungrier or less tired, I'd have joined them. But I'd had plenty to eat in the previous twenty-four hours; all I wanted now was a shower and a sleep.
 
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MikeJS

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francis (2011), Norte (2012), VdlP (Apr 2016). Sureste/Invierno (Apr/May 2017).
Not sure why you think the Mogay and Gamallo cannot be booked online as the Mogay is on booking.com and the Gamallo have their own web site. That said, it is much cheaper to go to them direct as when I was there the Mogay was 44 euros on booking.com but 26 in person.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
I didn't see either when I looked for them on that very website, MJS. But it's quite possible that I made a mistake with my search terms. If they'd popped up, I'd definitely have tried to snag one or the other. I wasn't interested in going any further than Chantada.
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
Hi, @Aurigny, This is now the second first hand report from the Gamallo that suggests that they have cleaned up their act quite a bit from when I was there before. Last month, I met a pilgrim outside Chantada, and he had just slept in the Gamallo. Said the room was clean. That is a HUGE improvement from what I saw years ago. In fact, I would say the Gamallo was the dirtiest private accommodation I have slept in during any of my caminos. But with you and he saying otherwise, it seems that things might have changed. They are pretty well positioned to capture a huge share of the peregrino market as the cheapest option in town. But I have heard rumors that some young entrepreneur in Chantada is about to start the process to open a private albergue there. That would be marvelous!
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
Not having the (whatevers) that you do, @Aurigny , I broke this stage into two. I doff my hat to you - that's a big day of walking! I hope by now you're getting that well-deserved rest. (In Monforte, I stayed at the pension right by the bridge - it was quiet and the view was superb. And no trains.;) )
I don't know if it's possible to stay on the paved road for this section—from a look at the map, I believe it is—but having one's journey extended by a kilometre or so is a lot better, in my book, than playing ducks-and-drakes across mud-covered stepping-stones in fading light.
Yes, it is, at least for the bottom part - I did that by mistake. There was a lovely fuente along the way, and it wasn't much longer. But the top part right before San Pedro may be unavoidable.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
This is now the second first hand report from the Gamallo that suggests that they have cleaned up their act quite a bit from when I was there before.
I was very satisfied with them, L. When I opened the cupboard where they kept the spare blanket, I found it expedient to close it quickly again. But that aside, I thought they were fine. The bedlinen was unstained; the little private bathroom—which features one of those half-size sitz baths—was spotless. If any dirt had existed, it would certainly have been visible there. The wireless internet, unfortunately, isn't strong enough to reach the rooms. If you want to send e-mail, you have to go to the bar downstairs. But for a cheap'n'cheerful place to snooze, and, moreover one which is located slap on the trail itself, even down to possessing its own yellow arrow on the lamp-post outside, the footsore pilgrim is unlikely to do better.

The Galicia in Monforte, on the other hand...while the management is charming, the place itself is best described as a flophouse of the kind that one sees in Hollywood 'B' movies of the late 1940s. That's truly an establishment where they ought to be handing out broad-spectrum antibiotics at the front desk.
 

KinkyOne

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
I'am not perfect, but I'm always myself!!!
...I don't know if it's possible to stay on the paved road for this section—from a look at the map, I believe it is—but having one's journey extended by a kilometre or so is a lot better, in my book, than playing ducks-and-drakes across mud-covered stepping-stones in fading light.
...
It is possible. I did just a hundred meters of that killer Roman road uphill (I had a feeling I'd die right there) and then switched to the asphalt winding road because of the scorching heat. It's longer for couple of kilometers but much easier.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
It's an odd thing that one should regard a 26-km trip incorporating a climb up a peak of nearly 1,200 metres as the nearest thing to a rest day. But such is the Invierno, and such was today's hike from Chantada to Rodeiro.

Getting out of Chantada is simplicity itself, especially if one is leaving from the Gamallo. The road proceeds steadily uphill before diverging on the left-hand side onto a track abutting a long series of farms. People were mainly engaged in making hay; later on, maize was much in evidence. One covers the ground at a swift pace along this particular stretch. It wasn't much more than ninety minutes after leaving Chantada that I found myself in the pleasant little village of Penasillás. This features a small bar, O Peto, which fixed me up with caffeine and a sello. Here it was that, on my sixth day, I finally encountered the first pilgrims I'd come across out on the trail. This was a couple in their early fifties who seemed to have done every Camino route in creation and whose backpacks, covered in sewn patches, attested to the fact. They giggled at my Spanish—most people do, for every understandable reason in the world—and remained behind for a second cup of coffee as I was leaving. Without question, though, they were professionals at this business. About twenty minutes later they whistled effortlessly past me on a steep uphill section and quickly left me in their dust. I was to catch one more glimpse of them, far on the horizon, much later in the day, and they must have rested a long time at some stage to permit me to get even that close.

A serious climb, the last one of the Invierno, begins after Penasillás, much of it along a nice newly-laid concrete path. I had been promised magnificent views from the upper slopes, but the morning weather, unfortunately, refused to co-operate. The top of the mountain was shrouded in low stratus cloud, even though quite a brisk wind was blowing. Above me and to my right I could see the masts of a long line of wind turbines. Every ten seconds or so the lower half of each blade swept into view as it descended out of the clag. The upper portions of the turbines were invisible. It was a little disappointing, but I was consoled by the fact that the wind was at all events keeping the flies at bay. After the last couple of days it was sheerest bliss to be able to stride along bare-headed, breathing as energetically as I pleased.

The trail continues up Monte Faro, passing a curious monument to a mid-century Galician poet that looks a little like the Rosetta Stone and, despite its relative recency, is about as badly worn. Closer to the summit, stone steps on the left lead up to a set of Stations of the Cross. These are quite simple—plain wooden crosses, at about 25m intervals—but local people tend them regularly, as evidenced by the small garland of fresh flowers that each bore. For those who are intimidated by the prospect of yet a further climb, it's possible to do what I did and stash one's backpack out of sight in the dense ferns at the bottom for subsequent retrieval. (Should you do this, make a good mental note of where you left it, or you might never see it again.)

Unfortunately, the density of the cloud didn't allow me to see much beyond the crosses themselves. Some building work seemed to be taking place on the hermitage at the top, so I retraced my steps after a short circumnavigation of the building and the adjacent altar, picked up my backpack, and began the long descent on the far side of the mountain. I say "descent" because the trend was generally downhill, but in practice one proceeds along the ridge-line by a series of undulations, passing directly under many of the turbines. Each is enormous—I've no idea just how high they are, but I'd say around a hundred feet, with each of the blades being perhaps half that length. Some of them were in the feathered position; the others were slowly rotating at around 6 rpm. Each of the ones in motion emitted its own particular sound. Some were almost silent; some buzzed; some sounded for all the world like a chainsaw busily sawing down a small tree. Staring up at them from directly beneath induced quite a vertiginous sensation, especially as the cloud was finally beginning to lift and I was able to see the entire thing for the first time.

It took the better part of half an hour to reach the end, or nearly the end, of the line of turbines before the trail stopped bearing northward and took a decisive turn back to the west, downhill through Vilanova and into the province of Pontevedra. At least I was now able to get a good view of the countryside to the north on the descent. It's pretty standard rolling Galician farm country, attractive enough but without very much to distinguish it from anything one has seen previously. One follows a series of back-roads and shaded rocky paths until reaching Rodeiro. For the first time this trip, though, I was finishing my daily stint at a decent hour, around 13:30. Rodeiro has a small supermarket, plenty of cafes and restaurants, and a new private albergue at the Hostal Carpinteiras. Other than the smell of drains, which knocked me sideways, it's a comfortable and well-appointed place to stay: the affluent can obtain individual rooms at an extra charge. They also do quite a respectable dinner, cooked by the genial proprietor's mother. I had the braised beef, which wasn't at all bad.

With so much unaccustomed leisure time, and so many amenities, I didn't know what to do with myself. So I washed and dried clothes, which kept me purposefully occupied until evening-time. I felt a little like somebody who had come into a large sum of money but had nowhere to spend it.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
To hell with The Joy of Sex. If God sends me sufficient time and leisure, I'm going to write a book entitled The Joy of Clean, Dry Clothing.

Today was the first day in quite a while that I have enjoyed this particular luxury. Arriving as late as I have done in most of my night-stops, getting a crack at a washing machine hasn't been possible even on the rare occasions when they're obtainable. As a result, I've been hand-washing and trying to dry my few things as best I can while on the road. The weather, to put it mildly, has been unco-operative. If there is one thing more depressing than scraping one's face with a sliver of sharp metal above a cold-water sink in the pre-dawn, it's putting on damp and clammy clothes on a wet day. Today, having thoroughly laundered and dried everything I owned, I left Rodeiro, a town with an admirable selection of cafés that are open even early on a Sunday morning, feeling like a fighting cock.

The short and easy hike to Lalín (a little over 20 km) does not offer much that's notable to the experienced pilgrim. It follows the left bank of the River Arnego in the early stages before turning back uphill along a mixture of unpaved and asphalted thoroughfares. Probably the most remarkable aspect of the entire leg is the bizarre monument to his own serial litigiousness erected by one Ismael Calvo Gutiérrez at the entrance to the village of A Penela. This consists of a life-sized and unintentionally unflattering effigy of himself, and a great many documents preserved under glass that attest both to Señor Calvo's endless land-and-water disputes with his neighbours and the long-suffering Concello de Rodeiro, and to his admiration for the late Caudillo. To judge from the number of panes that have been splintered by flying rocks, these sentiments either do not command the respect of his neighbours or simply make a convenient target upon which the juvenile delinquents of Penela work off their excess energies when they're not attending to their homework.

On the far side of A Eirexe, the wayfarer is confronted with a considerable number of untethered dogs—five, to be precise, when I was there. Not all are disposed to be friendly; fortunately, the most truculent ones are also the smallest, requiring a step-ladder to reach one's ankles. After that, the trail heads in the direction of the only climb worth mentioning, the Coto da Anta, along a combination of wheat and sunflower fields. Near the top, a significant rainstorm, accompanied by small hail, blew from the west, compelling me to clamber once again into my waterproofs. For the rest of the day it was a combination of drizzle and sharp, heavy downpours, leading me to wonder what has happened to the summer around these parts.

Still, one isn't out in it for long. A gentle descent leads into the outskirts of Lalín, where one has a choice between continuing on a country path or taking the road route into the centre of town (the PO-933, I believe). I opted for the latter, not having acquired my first sello of the day and hoping that I might find somewhere that offered it. In this I was unsuccessful, and it seems to me that if the Pilgrims' Office is disposed to be persnickety about this matter, it won't be handing out any compostelles to Invierno veterans.

Lalín is what the Americans would call a tweener: bigger than a country town, and smaller than a city, properly so-called. It does have some attractive districts. The principal church is large and impressive, and there's a street entirely covered with multi-coloured umbrellas, which was handy for a wet day like today. As for the albergue, which I had seen advertised on the back of road signs for the previous forty kilometres, gaining access is a slight challenge. In the first place, it's located not where its official address (Rúa Observatorio 8) says it is, but in a small shopping arcade several doors down the same street, and is marked only by an inconspicuous name-plate. A Spanish pilgrim and I managed to track it down only by calling up its wi-fi signal and noting the extent to which the signal strengthened or weakened as we triangulated the area. In the second, it isn't attended. One has to call out the hospitalera at the number given on the door; she shows up fifteen minutes later to take the money and hand out the keys. Beyond that, it's a good establishment, and it was pleasant, after a week's solitude, to be able to enjoy a sustained conversation once again with others of one's own kind.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) Portugues(2013)
San Salvador (2017) Ingles (2019)
To hell with The Joy of Sex. If God sends me sufficient time and leisure, I'm going to write a book entitled The Joy of Clean, Dry Clothing.

Today was the first day in quite a while that I have enjoyed this particular luxury. Arriving as late as I have done in most of my night-stops, getting a crack at a washing machine hasn't been possible even on the rare occasions when they're obtainable. As a result, I've been hand-washing and trying to dry my few things as best I can while on the road. The weather, to put it mildly, has been unco-operative. If there is one thing more depressing than scraping one's face with a sliver of sharp metal above a cold-water sink in the pre-dawn, it's putting on damp and clammy clothes on a wet day. Today, having thoroughly laundered and dried everything I owned, I left Rodeiro, a town with an admirable selection of cafés that are open even early on a Sunday morning, feeling like a fighting cock.

The short and easy hike to Lalín (a little over 20 km) does not offer much that's notable to the experienced pilgrim. It follows the left bank of the River Arnego in the early stages before turning back uphill along a mixture of unpaved and asphalted thoroughfares. Probably the most remarkable aspect of the entire leg is the bizarre monument to his own serial litigiousness erected by one Ismael Calvo Gutiérrez at the entrance to the village of A Penela. This consists of a life-sized and unintentionally unflattering effigy of himself, and a great many documents preserved under glass that attest both to Señor Calvo's endless land-and-water disputes with his neighbours and the long-suffering Concello de Rodeiro, and to his admiration for the late Caudillo. To judge from the number of panes that have been splintered by flying rocks, these sentiments either do not command the respect of his neighbours or simply make a convenient target upon which the juvenile delinquents of Penela work off their excess energies when they're not attending to their homework.

On the far side of A Eirexe, the wayfarer is confronted with a considerable number of untethered dogs—five, to be precise, when I was there. Not all are disposed to be friendly; fortunately, the most truculent ones are also the smallest, requiring a step-ladder to reach one's ankles. After that, the trail heads in the direction of the only climb worth mentioning, the Coto da Anta, along a combination of wheat and sunflower fields. Near the top, a significant rainstorm, accompanied by small hail, blew from the west, compelling me to clamber once again into my waterproofs. For the rest of the day it was a combination of drizzle and sharp, heavy downpours, leading me to wonder what has happened to the summer around these parts.

Still, one isn't out in it for long. A gentle descent leads into the outskirts of Lalín, where one has a choice between continuing on a country path or taking the road route into the centre of town (the PO-933, I believe). I opted for the latter, not having acquired my first sello of the day and hoping that I might find somewhere that offered it. In this I was unsuccessful, and it seems to me that if the Pilgrims' Office is disposed to be persnickety about this matter, it won't be handing out any compostelles to Invierno veterans.

Lalín is what the Americans would call a tweener: bigger than a country town, and smaller than a city, properly so-called. It does have some attractive districts. The principal church is large and impressive, and there's a street entirely covered with multi-coloured umbrellas, which was handy for a wet day like today. As for the albergue, which I had seen advertised on the back of road signs for the previous forty kilometres, gaining access is a slight challenge. In the first place, it's located not where its official address (Rúa Observatorio 8) says it is, but in a small shopping arcade several doors down the same street, and is marked only by an inconspicuous name-plate. A Spanish pilgrim and I managed to track it down only by calling up its wi-fi signal and noting the extent to which the signal strengthened or weakened as we triangulated the area. In the second, it isn't attended. One has to call out the hospitalera at the number given on the door; she shows up fifteen minutes later to take the money and hand out the keys. Beyond that, it's a good establishment, and it was pleasant, after a week's solitude, to be able to enjoy a sustained conversation once again with others of one's own kind.
I do hope you have at least got dry socks for tomorrow... I am enjoying your posts very much, thanks for giving the time to share.
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
One has to call out the hospitalera at the number given on the door
Better yet go to the pizza place around the corner, where the owner is. After you've eaten a delicious pizza, you'll get the key and and an accompanied tour of thr albergue. ☺
Buen camino, peregrino. May the weather improve!
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
Lalín's a pleasant place for an overnight stay. I heard evening Mass at the church of Nuestra Señora de Dolores—quite a good turn-out, for Spain—and, after paying my respects to the adjacent Pig Monument, headed off for dinner, my appetite having returned. Inspired by the monument I was in the humour for meat, and saw that the Churrasqueria Modesto, on the same street as the albergue, got good reviews. That seemed a convenient solution all round.

I regret to say that this restaurant is well-named, and I ought to have smelled a rat when I found that I was the only patron at dinner-time. Iberian churrasco places can be variable in quality; this one needs to find itself a new supplier as a matter of urgency. The salad was fine; the potatoes well-prepared; the Galician bread—crunchy-chewy, with as many and as large holes as a piece of Emmenthal cheese—magnificent. But the churrasco itself consisted largely of gristle, with bits of fat attached and virtually nothing in the way of actual meat. The waiter is happy to bring out as many of these as one wishes, but they don't, in my experience, get any better. I wound up, then, paying a reasonably substantial sum of money for what was in effect a modest vegetarian meal.

These things happen. At least I'd an agreeable place to spend the rest of the evening. Our hospitalera invited we three residents, inasmuch as we would be a stag establishment for the evening, to make use of the women's bathing facilities which were, she said, much nicer than the men's. Indeed they were: enclosed shower cabinets, endless hot water, abundant free toiletries. An hour later we emerged fragrant, conditioned, and moisturised to a degree that few pilgrims, I daresay, usually are. I began to see why my wife and daughter look forward to their annual spa day with such keen anticipation. The comfortable kitchen-lounge was a fine place to hang out afterwards, brew up endless cups of coffee, and socialise.

My fellow guests were a gentleman who impressed me greatly when he told me he was from Granada and was walking the Sanabrès, and a courteous but reserved individual who had, apparently, arrived along the Invierno from Rodeiro an hour or so after I did. I expressed my admiration of the Granadan's endurance; he hastened to inform me that he'd driven as far as Ourense; dumped the car there; and was just doing the last four days of the VldP so as to qualify for a compostelle. He, it turned out, had never heard of the Invierno: "what, you've been doing this since last winter?" But our mutual misapprehensions once sorted out, we had an enjoyable and convivial evening before finally turning in.

Planning my arrival in SdC, a city in which I prefer to spend as little time as possible, usually requires a bit of forethought. The last time I was along this way, a pensión at Ribadulla served my purposes very well indeed, but now the same establishment was asking EUR 80, which ruled out that option. I'd liked the look of the Xunta albergue at Bandeira when I'd dropped in for a sello, though, so I decided to make it the location of my final night-stop.

The hospitalera at Lalín had given us meticulous instructions as to how to rejoin the trail westward. It was as well that she did so, as I would not like to have relied upon the yellow arrows this morning to find my way. Like most large Spanish towns, Lalín values the visiting pilgrim so well that it's reluctant to see him or her depart, and hence offers no encouragement to do so. For the record, one travels westward by any convenient route to the Avenida Xosé Cuiña, a major north-south thoroughfare on the extreme western edge of town. At the point where the road goes over the little Rio Pontiñas, the wayfarer will see a path leading down to the left to what looks like, and is, a paseo fluvial. Descending there; walking a clockwise semicircular loop across the little bridge and departing westward with the river on one's right will solve the problem. However, if all else fails, the baffled traveller can simply continue north on Av. Cuiña and follow the well-signposted N-525 road out of town, placarded for "Santiago." It's noisier and more boring, but just as certain a way of getting back on track. Whichever way you go, you'll be seeing this road soon, and often, enough.

Dark and somewhat chilly as it was, I was no earlier than the robust Lalinese of both sexes who were pounding along the river-walk in jogging gear in the pre-dawn hours. They kept me company for about 3 km until I came to the end of the park and struck out again into the countryside. I use this term in a relative sense, because from now on, one is definitely back in civilisation. The trail skirts a couple of industrial estates before popping out back on the N-525 at A Laxe, opposite a 24-hour pulperia (they take their octopus seriously in these parts). Just a little further along is Maria José's bar, of which I had pleasant memories and where I stopped for my first coffee of the day. There I was caught up by my Granadan friend, who had left the albergue about half an hour later than me. Being under more time pressure than I was, he was back on the road before I had finished my pain au chocolat.

It was a lovely morning for both of us. Blue skies, clear air, temperature slowly rising into the low twenties. After passing under the motorway to SdC (just 41 km away by that route, according to a distance-marker above my head), I had a few pleasant kilometres along shaded paths and not a fly in sight. Passing the Hoxe cheese-making co-operative just beyond Prado, I was intrigued to see a plaque inviting all pilgrims to drop in to the office for a sello. Cursing my luck—it being well before normal business hours—I had to let the opportunity pass. I can't imagine what a cheese-sello looks like, but I'd love to find out.

The fates soon compensated me, though. Re-emerging onto the road past Ponte Taboada, I found the church I had unavailingly tried to visit two years ago just opening its doors. I dropped in for a short prayer. Outside a couple of stone benches are provided for the worshipper's convenience, and I sat at one of them to re-arrange my backpack. While doing so I heard a couple of somewhat plaintive miaows and saw a small kitten, no more than a couple of months old, crouched underneath the other bench. Liking cats as I do, I made encouraging noises at him. He emerged tentatively, but then decided that I was reasonably trustworthy. Accordingly he climbed up on my lap; arranged himself comfortably there with his tail curled neatly beneath him; and went to sleep. He snoozed for about fifteen minutes and then woke up again; stretched himself; and meandered off to investigate something of interest at the far end of the churchyard. It was as delightful a moment as I've had on any of these trips.

The rest of today's short leg was familiar territory. It's a very easy run along well-shaded paths as far as Silleda, which seems to be doing better economically since the last time I was here. Afterwards, protection from the sun is a little more sparse until one re-crosses the motorway and finishes back on the N-525 on the approach to Bandeira. The town itself is fairly featureless. But the albergue, which has apparently been designed by IKEA, is one of the better Xunta offerings, and a good place to spend one's last night on the trail.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) Portugues(2013)
San Salvador (2017) Ingles (2019)
Lalín's a pleasant place for an overnight stay. I heard evening Mass at the church of Nuestra Señora de Dolores—quite a good turn-out, for Spain—and, after paying my respects to the adjacent Pig Monument, headed off for dinner, my appetite having returned. Inspired by the monument I was in the humour for meat, and saw that the Churrasqueria Modesto, on the same street as the albergue, got good reviews. That seemed a convenient solution all round.

I regret to say that this restaurant is well-named, and I ought to have smelled a rat when I found that I was the only patron at dinner-time. Iberian churrasco places can be variable in quality; this one needs to find itself a new supplier as a matter of urgency. The salad was fine; the potatoes well-prepared; the Galician bread—crunchy-chewy, with as many and as large holes as a piece of Emmenthal cheese—magnificent. But the churrasco itself consisted largely of gristle, with bits of fat attached and virtually nothing in the way of actual meat. The waiter is happy to bring out as many of these as one wishes, but they don't, in my experience, get any better. I wound up, then, paying a reasonably substantial sum of money for what was in effect a modest vegetarian meal.

These things happen. At least I'd an agreeable place to spend the rest of the evening. Our hospitalera invited we three residents, inasmuch as we would be a stag establishment for the evening, to make use of the women's bathing facilities which were, she said, much nicer than the men's. Indeed they were: enclosed shower cabinets, endless hot water, abundant free toiletries. An hour later we emerged fragrant, conditioned, and moisturised to a degree that few pilgrims, I daresay, usually are. I began to see why my wife and daughter look forward to their annual spa day with such keen anticipation. The comfortable kitchen-lounge was a fine place to hang out afterwards, brew up endless cups of coffee, and socialise.

My fellow guests were a gentleman who impressed me greatly when he told me he was from Granada and was walking the Sanabrès, and a courteous but reserved individual who had, apparently, arrived along the Invierno from Rodeiro an hour or so after I did. I expressed my admiration of the Granadan's endurance; he hastened to inform me that he'd driven as far as Ourense; dumped the car there; and was just doing the last four days of the VldP so as to qualify for a compostelle. He, it turned out, had never heard of the Invierno: "what, you've been doing this since last winter?" But our mutual misapprehensions once sorted out, we had an enjoyable and convivial evening before finally turning in.

Planning my arrival in SdC, a city in which I prefer to spend as little time as possible, usually requires a bit of forethought. The last time I was along this way, a pensión at Ribadulla served my purposes very well indeed, but now the same establishment was asking EUR 80, which ruled out that option. I'd liked the look of the Xunta albergue at Bandeira when I'd dropped in for a sello, though, so I decided to make it the location of my final night-stop.

The hospitalera at Lalín had given us meticulous instructions as to how to rejoin the trail westward. It was as well that she did so, as I would not like to have relied upon the yellow arrows this morning to find my way. Like most large Spanish towns, Lalín values the visiting pilgrim so well that it's reluctant to see him or her depart, and hence offers no encouragement to do so. For the record, one travels westward by any convenient route to the Avenida Xosé Cuiña, a major north-south thoroughfare on the extreme western edge of town. At the point where the road goes over the little Rio Pontiñas, the wayfarer will see a path leading down to the left to what looks like, and is, a paseo fluvial. Descending there; walking a clockwise semicircular loop across the little bridge and departing westward with the river on one's right will solve the problem. However, if all else fails, the baffled traveller can simply continue north on Av. Cuiña and follow the well-signposted N-525 road out of town, placarded for "Santiago." It's noisier and more boring, but just as certain a way of getting back on track. Whichever way you go, you'll be seeing this road soon, and often, enough.

Dark and somewhat chilly as it was, I was no earlier than the robust Lalinese of both sexes who were pounding along the river-walk in jogging gear in the pre-dawn hours. They kept me company for about 3 km until I came to the end of the park and struck out again into the countryside. I use this term in a relative sense, because from now on, one is definitely back in civilisation. The trail skirts a couple of industrial estates before popping out back on the N-525 at A Laxe, opposite a 24-hour pulperia (they take their octopus seriously in these parts). Just a little further along is Maria José's bar, of which I had pleasant memories and where I stopped for my first coffee of the day. There I was caught up by my Granadan friend, who had left the albergue about half an hour later than me. Being under more time pressure than I was, he was back on the road before I had finished my pain au chocolat.

It was a lovely morning for both of us. Blue skies, clear air, temperature slowly rising into the low twenties. After passing under the motorway to SdC (just 41 km away by that route, according to a distance-marker above my head), I had a few pleasant kilometres along shaded paths and not a fly in sight. Passing the Hoxe cheese-making co-operative just beyond Prado, I was intrigued to see a plaque inviting all pilgrims to drop in to the office for a sello. Cursing my luck—it being well before normal business hours—I had to let the opportunity pass. I can't imagine what a cheese-sello looks like, but I'd love to find out.

The fates soon compensated me, though. Re-emerging onto the road past Ponte Taboada, I found the church I had unavailingly tried to visit two years ago just opening its doors. I dropped in for a short prayer. Outside a couple of stone benches are provided for the worshipper's convenience, and I sat at one of them to re-arrange my backpack. While doing so I heard a couple of somewhat plaintive miaows and saw a small kitten, no more than a couple of months old, crouched underneath the other bench. Liking cats as I do, I made encouraging noises at him. He emerged tentatively, but then decided that I was reasonably trustworthy. Accordingly he climbed up on my lap; arranged himself comfortably there with his tail curled neatly beneath him; and went to sleep. He snoozed for about fifteen minutes and then woke up again; stretched himself; and meandered off to investigate something of interest at the far end of the churchyard. It was as delightful a moment as I've had on any of these trips.

The rest of today's short leg was familiar territory. It's a very easy run along well-shaded paths as far as Silleda, which seems to be doing better economically since the last time I was here. Afterwards, protection from the sun is a little more sparse until one re-crosses the motorway and finishes back on the N-525 on the approach to Bandeira. The town itself is fairly featureless. But the albergue, which has apparently been designed by IKEA, is one of the better Xunta offerings, and a good place to spend one's last night on the trail.
You are such a treat to read, thanks a million!
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
Every approach-route to SdC is, by definition, well-travelled territory. Of the ones I've seen thus far, though, there's quite a lot to be said for the stretch from Bandeira inbound.

Granted, the town itself doesn't have a tremendous amount to capture the attention of the casual visitor. Beside the albergue, it features a couple of private hostals, the same number of restaurants, some additional bars and cafés, and a small and inconspicuous Dia supermarket down a side street. The lone petrol station on the western approach to Bandeira seems to get more business than all the aforementioned put together. I ate dinner at the Hotel Victorino, which is one of those places where one values the courteous service more than the meal itself (or what one is asked to pay for it afterwards). But having stuck my head in the door of the other hot-food emporia on the main street, it didn't look as though I was missing a better alternative elsewhere.

For my last day there didn't seem to be any pressing reason to get up with the cows. Although I had left myself a longer final leg than is usual for me—somewhere in the 35 km range—I was expecting to make good time along a section of the trail I had covered two years previously. It wasn't until nearly 08:00, with the streets well aired, that I regretfully pushed my coffee-cup back and swung my backpack over my shoulders for the last time. Symmetrically matching the beginning of this trip, the weather was glorious, an overnight cold front having whistled through leaving brilliant blue skies and pleasantly warm temperatures in its wake.

As the many people who have finished the VdlP, and the considerably fewer who have done the CPI, will know, if the sector from Bandeira to Ponte Ulla isn't quite billiard-table flat, it's not too far from it. With almost no effort at all I was whistling along at about a 6 km/h average, gazing smugly at the line of windmills atop the ridge far to the east and thinking "I don't have to climb you today." It seemed like no time at all before I was passing Dornelas with its attractive little church—locked as always—and making the gentle descent under the motorway bridge into Ponte Ulla.

This is such a charming village that it seems remarkable that investors haven't yet sunk some serious money into the locality. If I had it in mind to open a five-star hotel catering to the rich and shameless of western Galicia, Ponte Ulla would be high on my short list. Fortunately it retains its old-world atmosphere. I stopped at the tourist office for my first sello of the day, and was intrigued to see two stacks of Xunta de Galicia illustrated brochures, advertising the Invierno in French and German respectively, stacked up on the table in the corridor. I was torn between the rival attractions of the Chemin d'Hiver version and its Winterweg competitor, but on flicking through both, found that their contents were identical with the exception of the language, so helped myself to the former. I'm not sure that this publication is of immense value to the prospective pilgrim, inasmuch as it mainly provides an institutional history of how the route was recently revived. Judging from the professionalism of the production and the lavish full-colour photographs, though, the Xunta is fully committed to the success of the route.

Some very nice houses indeed are to be found on the climb out of Ponte Ulla that somehow escaped my attention the last time I was here. But soon one returns to the logging trails through the forest, which once again were mercifully fly-free. The peacefulness of one's surroundings contrasts with the noise of the commercial air traffic heading into Lavacolla which seems to use this ridge as a landmark for the visual approach on nice days like this one. It's quite impossible to get lost on this stretch, but if one were ever in doubt, looking up and following the aeroplanes will work every bit as well as any other method.

If I'd had any sense, I'd have timed my departure for even later in the day so that I could obtain my second sello at that curious albergue in Outeiro that either was a converted barn or was deliberately designed to resemble one. As things stood, I was a good deal too early, so I pressed on to the bar at A Susana, expecting to be able to remedy the deficiency there. To my considerable surprise, the barmaid told me that they didn't have, and never had, any such thing which, given its strategic location, seemed odd. I drowned my sorrows in cold Coca-Cola and pinned my hopes in the Café Los Cruces, just at the entrance to SdC where the N-525 joins the motorway. As I knew from my previous journey here, this would be my last option before reaching the city limits.

Alas, Los Cruces was closed for its summer holidays. It wasn't, admittedly, a matter of great importance. I've already collected five compostelles, and couldn't tell you where any of them are; my wife probably has them in a drawer somewhere. I have no need of a sixth. The only reason that I continue to go to the Pilgrims' Office is to contribute to the accuracy of their statistics, which I think is the least I can do in view of the gratuitous services they provide to the community as a whole. But this is something for the first-timer to bear in mind: on the last leg of any of these three overlapping routes (VdlP, Invierno and CPI), one should make it a point to obtain stamps as early as one can.

The final few kilometres into SdC off the Primitivo is, in my view, the best of all the approach-routes from the south and east. But this one runs it a close second. While a little twisty-and-turny, the pilgrim is kept along tranquil back roads—a last experience of rus in urbe—until the last possible moment. When one finally arrives at the top of the Rúa de Sar and looks down on the roof of the Cathedral from a range of a kilometre and a half, it's hard to imagine that the whole thing could have been better staged.

It was in a spirit of amused resignation that I stopped in at the Tourist Office, all of the distance of three or four football fields from the Cathedral, to ask if they'd stamp my credencial, which they very agreeably did. To call this a second stamp attesting to the authenticity of one's journey on foot is, of course, to push things beyond reasonable limits, and I have to say that I was more curious to see what the people at the Pilgrims' Office would have to say about this piece of documentary sharp practice than anything else.

Most recent visitors there will know about the new queueing system, reminiscent of what one does when buying cooked ham at the supermarket. It's definitely a world apart in terms of efficiency from what preceded it, and, no doubt, contributes greatly to the comfort of footsore pilgrims and staff alike. Still, the old system, for all its flaws, had a certain charm too. It was enjoyable to be able to exchange war stories and discreetly display one's wounds to the people around one in the queue. Nowadays, everybody hangs out in the tent downstairs, drinking coffee from the machine and staring at their mobile 'phones while politely ignoring everybody else. But such is progress. I was intrigued to see the new machines with which one can make a donation using one's credit card. These would be an excellent idea if they worked. The one I tried rejected my piece of plastic, which had been accepted everywhere else in Spain without cavil, three times. Balked in my endeavour to keep up with the world of technology, I stuffed my banknotes through the slot of the collection-box near the entrance in the old-fashioned manner.

The volunteer at the desk, I was half-gratified, half-disappointed to find, was a trusting sort. He airily brushed aside my explanation for the shameful lateness of my final sello and the complete absence of the second one during Sunday's leg, and started filling out my compostelle. This was the first one for the Invierno, he told me, that he'd ever issued, and asked me how it had been. I answered truthfully: that it had been a delightful route to Santiago, but would probably not become a high-trafficked one in the very near future.

The formalities completed, it remained only to stop in for a final prayer of thanksgiving at the church of San Froitoso—which I greatly prefer to the Cathedral in any event—and then to make my way to the Seminario Menor, where I'd taken a room for the night. I'm not a fan of the heavily-touristed areas of SdC, but the Seminario is growing on me. It has the appearance of an old-fashioned European hospital, the kind where each ward had a couple of dozen beds laid out in neat lines. Patronised as it is almost exclusively by people who have finished their pilgrimage, one's fellow guests, often with lower limbs covered in surgical strapping or even occasionally limping along on crutches, reinforce this impression. Sitting on the exterior steps, watching the sun go down over the Cathedral while those around one quietly and reflectively finish their last cigarettes and swig screw-top wine from the bottle, is a peaceful and appropriate way to mark the close of one of these trips.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) Portugues(2013)
San Salvador (2017) Ingles (2019)
Every approach-route to SdC is, by definition, well-travelled territory. Of the ones I've seen thus far, though, there's quite a lot to be said for the stretch from Bandeira inbound.

Granted, the town itself doesn't have a tremendous amount to capture the attention of the casual visitor. Beside the albergue, it features a couple of private hostals, the same number of restaurants, some additional bars and cafés, and a small and inconspicuous Dia supermarket down a side street. The lone petrol station on the western approach to Bandeira seems to get more business than all the aforementioned put together. I ate dinner at the Hotel Victorino, which is one of those places where one values the courteous service more than the meal itself (or what one is asked to pay for it afterwards). But having stuck my head in the door of the other hot-food emporia on the main street, it didn't look as though I was missing a better alternative elsewhere.

For my last day there didn't seem to be any pressing reason to get up with the cows. Although I had left myself a longer final leg than is usual for me—somewhere in the 35 km range—I was expecting to make good time along a section of the trail I had covered two years previously. It wasn't until nearly 08:00, with the streets well aired, that I regretfully pushed my coffee-cup back and swung my backpack over my shoulders for the last time. Symmetrically matching the beginning of this trip, the weather was glorious, an overnight cold front having whistled through leaving brilliant blue skies and pleasantly warm temperatures in its wake.

As the many people who have finished the VdlP, and the considerably fewer who have done the CPI, will know, if the sector from Bandeira to Ponte Ulla isn't quite billiard-table flat, it's not too far from it. With almost no effort at all I was whistling along at about a 6 km/h average, gazing smugly at the line of windmills atop the ridge far to the east and thinking "I don't have to climb you today." It seemed like no time at all before I was passing Dornelas with its attractive little church—locked as always—and making the gentle descent under the motorway bridge into Ponte Ulla.

This is such a charming village that it seems remarkable that investors haven't yet sunk some serious money into the locality. If I had it in mind to open a five-star hotel catering to the rich and shameless of western Galicia, Ponte Ulla would be high on my short list. Fortunately it retains its old-world atmosphere. I stopped at the tourist office for my first sello of the day, and was intrigued to see two stacks of Xunta de Galicia illustrated brochures, advertising the Invierno in French and German respectively, stacked up on the table in the corridor. I was torn between the rival attractions of the Chemin d'Hiver version and its Winterweg competitor, but on flicking through both, found that their contents were identical with the exception of the language, so helped myself to the former. I'm not sure that this publication is of immense value to the prospective pilgrim, inasmuch as it mainly provides an institutional history of how the route was recently revived. Judging from the professionalism of the production and the lavish full-colour photographs, though, the Xunta is fully committed to the success of the route.

Some very nice houses indeed are to be found on the climb out of Ponte Ulla that somehow escaped my attention the last time I was here. But soon one returns to the logging trails through the forest, which once again were mercifully fly-free. The peacefulness of one's surroundings contrasts with the noise of the commercial air traffic heading into Lavacolla which seems to use this ridge as a landmark for the visual approach on nice days like this one. It's quite impossible to get lost on this stretch, but if one were ever in doubt, looking up and following the aeroplanes will work every bit as well as any other method.

If I'd had any sense, I'd have timed my departure for even later in the day so that I could obtain my second sello at that curious albergue in Outeiro that either was a converted barn or was deliberately designed to resemble one. As things stood, I was a good deal too early, so I pressed on to the bar at A Susana, expecting to be able to remedy the deficiency there. To my considerable surprise, the barmaid told me that they didn't have, and never had, any such thing which, given its strategic location, seemed odd. I drowned my sorrows in cold Coca-Cola and pinned my hopes in the Café Los Cruces, just at the entrance to SdC where the N-525 joins the motorway. As I knew from my previous journey here, this would be my last option before reaching the city limits.

Alas, Los Cruces was closed for its summer holidays. It wasn't, admittedly, a matter of great importance. I've already collected five compostelles, and couldn't tell you where any of them are; my wife probably has them in a drawer somewhere. I have no need of a sixth. The only reason that I continue to go to the Pilgrims' Office is to contribute to the accuracy of their statistics, which I think is the least I can do in view of the gratuitous services they provide to the community as a whole. But this is something for the first-timer to bear in mind: on the last leg of any of these three overlapping routes (VdlP, Invierno and CPI), one should make it a point to obtain stamps as early as one can.

The final few kilometres into SdC off the Primitivo is, in my view, the best of all the approach-routes from the south and east. But this one runs it a close second. While a little twisty-and-turny, the pilgrim is kept along tranquil back roads—a last experience of rus in urbe—until the last possible moment. When one finally arrives at the top of the Rúa de Sar and looks down on the roof of the Cathedral from a range of a kilometre and a half, it's hard to imagine that the whole thing could have been better staged.

It was in a spirit of amused resignation that I stopped in at the Tourist Office, all of the distance of three or four football fields from the Cathedral, to ask if they'd stamp my credencial, which they very agreeably did. To call this a second stamp attesting to the authenticity of one's journey on foot is, of course, to push things beyond reasonable limits, and I have to say that I was more curious to see what the people at the Pilgrims' Office would have to say about this piece of documentary sharp practice than anything else.

Most recent visitors there will know about the new queueing system, reminiscent of what one does when buying cooked ham at the supermarket. It's definitely a world apart in terms of efficiency from what preceded it, and, no doubt, contributes greatly to the comfort of footsore pilgrims and staff alike. Still, the old system, for all its flaws, had a certain charm too. It was enjoyable to be able to exchange war stories and discreetly display one's wounds to the people around one in the queue. Nowadays, everybody hangs out in the tent downstairs, drinking coffee from the machine and staring at their mobile 'phones while politely ignoring everybody else. But such is progress. I was intrigued to see the new machines with which one can make a donation using one's credit card. These would be an excellent idea if they worked. The one I tried rejected my piece of plastic, which had been accepted everywhere else in Spain without cavil, three times. Balked in my endeavour to keep up with the world of technology, I stuffed my banknotes through the slot of the collection-box near the entrance in the old-fashioned manner.

The volunteer at the desk, I was half-gratified, half-disappointed to find, was a trusting sort. He airily brushed aside my explanation for the shameful lateness of my final sello and the complete absence of the second one during Sunday's leg, and started filling out my compostelle. This was the first one for the Invierno, he told me, that he'd ever issued, and asked me how it had been. I answered truthfully: that it had been a delightful route to Santiago, but would probably not become a high-trafficked one in the very near future.

The formalities completed, it remained only to stop in for a final prayer of thanksgiving at the church of San Froitoso—which I greatly prefer to the Cathedral in any event—and then to make my way to the Seminario Menor, where I'd taken a room for the night. I'm not a fan of the heavily-touristed areas of SdC, but the Seminario is growing on me. It has the appearance of an old-fashioned European hospital, the kind where each ward had a couple of dozen beds laid out in neat lines. Patronised as it is almost exclusively by people who have finished their pilgrimage, one's fellow guests, often with lower limbs covered in surgical strapping or even occasionally limping along on crutches, reinforce this impression. Sitting on the exterior steps, watching the sun go down over the Cathedral while those around one quietly and reflectively finish their last cigarettes and swig screw-top wine from the bottle, is a peaceful and appropriate way to mark the close of one of these trips.
Please start another camino, tomorrow! Ah no, go home, and re-read everything and be delighted with yourself for the lovely way you helped folk like me to get as near to the Invierno as might ever be the case!
Thanks so much.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno
Some closing thoughts:-

* The Invierno isn't for everybody, but there's a tremendous amount to like about it, and I grew extremely fond of it. Of the six different routes I've taken to SdC, it's very nearly my favourite of the lot. I think I'd still put the Primitivo just a whisker ahead in my personal ranking, but if the Invierno were, say, a hundred kilometres longer, it would win that contest going away. For me its chief shortcoming was that I was just beginning to get into a very pleasant rhythm when I pitched up in Lalín and found myself back in civilisation. My impression, though I've no basis for making the comparison other than what I've read here and elsewhere, is that it must be a lot like what the Francés once was, before the world and his wife showed up on that particular route.

* It is, however, a pilgrimage for those who are either wholly at ease with their own company or, if they're travelling as a couple or in a party, with that of their companions. One does encounter other human beings at the night-stops, of course, but other than those, the only persons I came across on the trail itself were the inhabitants of the micro-villages through which it passes. As mentioned above, I didn't see another pilgrim out there until day six.

* So far as staging is concerned, I think the nine-day schedule I followed may very well have been optimal, at least for people who aren't afraid of putting in a few long legs. Had I tried to do it more slowly, the logistics would have become distinctly more complicated. I'd have needed to stay at casas rurales for some nights, and those tend to come and go much more unpredictably than albergues or hostals. Their prices can also be variable. Lastly, I'm not a mobile 'phone user, which makes communicating with the CRs tricky. As things stood, everywhere I overnighted with the exception of As Médulas offered me a selection of accommodation options, making things quite easy.

* If you can do the Invierno in nine days, it should be noted, you can do it in eight. The inflexible element consists of the first five sectors as far as Chantada. From that point on I was merely ambling to SdC, with some very short legs in the 20-25 km range. I could easily have covered the Chantada-to-SdC part in three days, and the only reason I didn't was that with my return flight already booked, I could see no advantage in finishing the pilgrimage a day early and having to spend a second night in the expensive and overcrowded precincts of Santiago.

* The waymarking on the whole was excellent, and for most of the trip I didn't even bother looking at a map. Obviously it wasn't so idiot-proof at Montefurado as to prevent me from going astray, and there were a few other points—e.g. on that long uphill stretch past Piñeiro where you're basically following an endless moss-covered dry stone wall on your right—at which an arrow or two would have provided a degree of welcome confirmation to the nervous pilgrim. But even there one is unlikely to wander off track if one takes a glance at one's compass and consistently selects the most westerly option available. I know that previous Invierno walkers have run into navigational difficulties. Based on my recent experience, I'd say that along the entire route this is no longer a factor that need be worried about, or warned against.

* None of this, of course, applies to getting out of the larger towns like Monforte or Lalín. But with the exceptions of Lugo, Ourense and Pamplona, getting out of any large Spanish town using arrows or shell-markers to navigate is a nightmare. The Invierno is certainly no worse off than any other route in that regard.

* So far as infrastructure is concerned, there's not the slightest problem about water. It need never be bought, and no great quantities need be carried. Ample supplies are available at regular intervals along the entire route. Food can be a little more difficult, especially as some of the longer stages will have the pilgrim arriving at an hour when such vendors as exist may be putting up the shutters for the evening. Fortunately I don't need much as a rule, but those for whom regular meals each day are important will need to do more advance planning than I did.

* As for accommodation, it's adequate, more or less, for the numbers the Invierno is currently getting. If the Xunta de Galicia is serious about getting more pilgrims to come this way, a couple of municipal albergues, especially at As Médulas and O Barco, would, I believe, yield significant dividends. Having to pay EUR 45 for a single room on one's very first night will dampen the spirits of quite a lot of people: better to suck them in with cheap digs for the first couple of stages and then, if necessary, leave them to their own devices with the private sector later on. I'm not sure, though, that the route can find bed-space for many more pilgrims without expanding its existing facilities in a few critical places further along. If I hadn't got a room at the Gamallo in Chantada, for example, a comfortable-looking wooden bench outside the Correos in the middle of town had my name on it. I'm not sure that a better alternative existed.

* The terrain was a good deal more manageable than I expected, and in fact I don't believe the Invierno to be a particularly hard route. What makes it seem so is that for people doing the nine-day plan, one has to reel off five pretty long legs immediately, without a couple of easy lead-in days such as one finds on the Primitivo. But there are no really killing climbs. The ascents one must complete are often long, but agreeably gradual, and the highest of them doesn't even reach 1,200m. I concede that the Belesar-to-San Pedro section will undoubtedly get one's heart-rate soaring. My impression, though, is that what makes it seem so hard is that it's coming at the end of a very strenuous day. Likewise, while there are definitely some muddy stretches to be negotiated, I encountered worse on the Português Central in January. In general the going underfoot is good, and I came across no seriously overgrown stretches, though the time of year at which I walked may have had something to do with that. All in all, if I were grading various routes for difficulty on a five-point scale with five being the hardest, I'd put the Francés and the shorter Portuguese routes at 1, the Primitivo at 3.5 and the CPI at 4. I'd assign the Invierno an even 3.

* The future of the Invierno, it seems to me, lies with drawing off those people doing the Francés who know what awaits them at or near Sarría and, for every good reason, are dreading it. For a variety of reasons, I'm not sure it will attract huge numbers of people wanting to do it as a stand-alone pilgrimage. One of those reasons is that getting to Ponferrada is something of a pain. VNwalking suggested above that in future I should take the train instead of the 'bus to reach the starting-point. I did in fact look into that possibility when making my original plans, but found that the services were sold out well in advance (or so the RENFE web-site assured me, anyway). On the Sunday of my arrival, moreover, the 0525 'bus on which I travelled was the only one that day with any seats at all, and few enough of those. Had I missed it, I'd have been cooling my heels until Monday morning.

* Similarly, I don't see the Invierno as a first-time pilgrim's route. It's not tremendously difficult, but it's strenuous enough from the very beginning, and goes on being so for several days in succession. It can be pretty lonely, though that's not a problem for me. And it requires a certain degree of logistical savoir-faire on the part of the wayfarer, including a willingness to speak at least some Spanish. The insults, or atrocities, I daily inflict upon that language are indescribable: consistently mixing up ser and estar are the very least among them. That has never stood in the way of my getting my point across, nor have I had much difficulty in understanding my Spanish interlocutors. With patience, goodwill, and a forgiving attitude on their part, all things are possible. The shy or timid visitor, however, who may feel inhibited about engaging with the locals, will search a long time before finding someone who can interact with him or her in something other than Spanish (or gallego).

* If I were the Xunta, then, I would be promoting the Invierno heavily among veteran pilgrims, looking to bleed enough of them off the Francés to relieve the pressure along that route in its busiest final stages and share the wealth more widely. Unfortunately, to the extent that that strategy is successful, the more quickly will the Invierno lose its considerable off-the-beaten-track charm, and its status as a little time capsule of a Spain and a Europe that elsewhere no longer exists. But those of us who have had the good fortune to experience it in its current unspoiled state will cherish the memories all the more if that should happen.
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
* The future of the Invierno, it seems to me, lies with drawing off those people doing the Francés who know what awaits them at or near Sarría and, for every good reason, are dreading it. For a variety of reasons, I'm not sure it will attract huge numbers of people wanting to do it as a stand-alone pilgrimage.
Hi, Aurigny,
Great post, thanks for all these helpful comments.

I agree with you that the typical Invierno pilgrim probably enjoys a longer camino, though I have met a number of Spaniards who find it to be the perfect length for a short jaunt. But for those of us who travel thousands of kms to get there, it may just be too short standing alone.

But there is a perfect solution — combine it with the Olvidado from Bilbao. The Olvidado is also just breaking into prime time, and it is being promoted far more effectively and aggressively than the Invierno. It has glorious mountain stages, goes through a lot of nice places, and has a better albergue infrastructure than the Invierno.

The Olvidado officially goes from near the Bárcena Reservoir at Congosto to join the Francés at Cacabelos, but there is a well marked diversion about 14 km north of Ponferrada that will take you straight into Columbrianos, where you walk the Francés “backwards” for a few kms and then find yourself in front of the castle and on the way to the Ponferrada albergue.

I think it is a match made in heaven. Buen camino, Laurie
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
The terrain was a good deal more manageable than I expected, and in fact I don't believe the Invierno to be a particularly hard route
Wow, that stretch going up to Villavieja didn't raise your heart rate? I'm impressed...but of course, you're Swiss. ;)
And obviously a heck of a lot fitter than I. My difficulty vote is only 3.5, but it took days longer than yours.

Thanks for the wonderful wrap-up, @Aurigny . You have a real way with words.
 

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