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Sunday, 25 May 2014

El Camino - Montamarta to Granja de Moreruela (22.4km)

May God accompany you...

May 8th, 2014

Peregrinos everywhere!  It's just astonishing how different it is now I am past Zamorra.  It was also very interesting to note my own reaction to all these pilgrims (on this day all 8 of them!!)... I had previously had 800km all to myself and now I discovered I felt quite possessive about the camino!  I felt a bit irritated and annoyed that there were so many and where was my solitude?!  On thinking about this I was quite astonished at the amount of emotion I felt over this.  Attached to the solitude I guess?!  Hmmmm - food for thought and "beware"!!  It is amazing how quickly and where we create our comfort zones!  I could fully appreciate why pilgrims talk of walking the more solitary routes and then, if they have decided to head north and join the Camino Frances, they find it a bit of a shock!

Kaishi leads the way as the sun rises
As it happens, over a few days and after meeting and seeing familiar faces at different stages of the route, in different bars and accommodations and befriending and chatting to some of them, I could understand the camaraderie yet everyone understood that this was each individual's camino and did not intrude or link up with another unless that was invited.  I was most impressed and there was a kind of apart but together support - a bit like being on a silent meditation, when a group of people not talking to each other can feel warm and supportive, actually far more than they sometimes do when they are talking!

After a few days, I enjoyed being on the camino with these other peregrinos, although I never did quite get used to them being "behind" me or overtaking.  I preferred to stop and let them pass and go their own pace, otherwise I felt almost as though I was being driven along at a pace that I hadn't set.  This too got easier and was not necessarily a problem if someone was walking fast, caught up and passed - but where there was someone kind of "just a little distance behind" it often felt uncomfortable.  A bit like when driving and someone is just going that speed that means they are a bit too fast to overtake, yet you are going to be too close on their tail to stay behind.

Sign indicating we should go
under the new railway via the
We started the day heading uphill from the Ermita and again witnessing a beautiful sunrise.  It was glorious and a beautiful walk.  In fact, almost every single one of the 10 days had the most stunning walks of the whole camino so far, and to be honest there have been some pretty amazing walks!  The way this time was breathtaking and inspiring, so much so that often I just wanted to keep on walking.  It was addictive and the walking makes one feel so close to the world and its beauty, it seems the most natural thing to do.

Kaishi at the camino marker above the dam
Approaching the dam

On reaching the top of the hill there is an underpass going below the new railway and on this occasion there was a sign, still covered and yet to be fully "unveiled" to mark the way of the camino.  From here we climb a little more through a beautiful woodland path which brings us onto the main road which we cross.  At this point we have to be careful to look for diversion signs and where to go as there are huge lorries and earth moving vehicles working as part of the railway construction.  This section at the time I walked it was easy to follow, but further on peregrinos were again abandoned on the busy and dangerous highway.  Re-crossing the road the track heads across fields and then winds gently upwards taking us past some lovely houses with a view over the dam.  On this section was another of the fabulous camino markers like the one in Montamarta.

Yume exploring near Castrotorafe
Marker and the castle ruins ahead
On meeting the support vehicle I decided to take a lift up the road next to the building works.  Lorries were coming like lunatics and there was little room to walk on the edge of the road.  The day before one had come so close to a peregrino the suction as it past had spun him round.  It was certainly not a place I wanted to walk the dogs and I decided to take the luxury of a lift past this dangerous spot.  On stopping where the Camino should cross the railway again - nothing.  Lots of markers but no indication where to go.  Later on in the walk we discovered these signs indicate that there will be pilgrims on the road, not that there is a Camino crossing at that point - which they generally indicate on other parts of the camino.  We wandered about trying to find the camino again and then discovered a sign right at the point they are about to start digging more works for the railway.  This is not likely to be accessible in the near future - maybe not even as I write this, less than a week since my return.  This will mean that peregrinos will need to continue along the main road - or at least until the railway is finished and hopefully they will then be diverted onto nicer tracks.  A little further along, toward the ruins of a magnificent castle - Castrotorafe, which was the seat of the knights of Santiago and a very important settlement in the Middle Ages - there was another left turn off the main road and I took this one.  At the end of this track we again pick up the markers, a large one shown in the photo above.  Here I passed a pilgrim walking in the opposite direction - much to my confusion, but I thought she must be choosing to walk on the road for some strange reason.  I was to meet her and pass her and she me, leapfrogging each other, on several occasions the following day.  On this stretch I took little Yume who was delighted to have a go "on her own" and have quality time with me.

Peregrinos in the distance!
From here it was a straight open route to our next meeting point, just outside the small village of Riego del Camino.  Here there are signs in three directions - one onwards, towards Granja de Moreruela, one into town and one to the albergue.  This is mentioned in the guide as a basic refugio with beds and hot water so it's possible, should they wish, for pilgrims to stop at this point.  At our meeting point there were two large mastins guarding a field next to some horses - they were roaming loose on the other side of a fence and Yume was at first keen to say hello.  However, their barks and my warning returned her to my side and she was then excellent at ignoring them even though she was off leash.  As hoped, she was learning a lot from this daily and extended walking.  The mastins, seeing we were no trouble, also just silently watched us pass and followed on their side of the fence at a distance - keeping a watchful but unworried eye.

We headed on over some wide, flat country and near some pines I put the leash on Yume as there were still a few processionary caterpillar nests about - although dirty and grey and on their way out.  There were two peregrinos on my tail, a distance but gaining on me and I stopped to take off my long sleeved shirt and put on sunglasses and nip behind a bush.  I set off again and they were closer but somehow never catching me up.  I felt like I was in a Monty Python movie - The Holy Grail, where the knights are advancing on the castle and yelling and never getting any closer and then suddenly there they are!!  I kept expecting to turn around and they would suddenly be right behind me!  However, I got into Riego del Camino where we hoped to have a coffee break and pick up a bocadillo.  As I neared the town I reached into my camelbak for my phone to let Michael know that I was nearing the meeting point... and it wasn't there!  Sudden panic.  I knew exactly where it was!  Where I had stopped.  I had been in such a rush to put my pack back on and move off before the other peregrinos descended on me that it had slipped off the pack and onto the grass.  Now I almost ran the last km to the meeting point, and when I arrived - no vehicle!  I wandered the town - which was almost completely dead and which was so in the Middle Ages still that they had the goats living under the houses in the middle of the town.  I hurried back to the meeting point - poor Yume now thirsty and hot as the sun's intensity increased and still no vehicle.  I couldn't even ask to borrow a phone from someone as of course I hadn't got Michael's numbers written down - a huge flaw in the back up plans and one I intended to rectify immediately assuming I got my phone back.  Finally - there was the car!  Late as there hadn't been any cafes or bars anywhere selling food and so Michael had been driving to find provisions.      I bundled in Yume and we set off back down the road and turned onto a track that would take us onto a drivable part of the camino.

As we got to my stopping point - there it was!  The relief was unbelievable.

The AVE railway construction runs along the camino.
These blue signs with yellow arrows are very
confusing as they are for the construction vehicles, yet
are identical to some used to mark diversion on the
We drove back to the meeting point as various peregrinos (including my Monty Python cast extras) passed by - I'm sure they must have thought I was leap frogging!  Much relieved and grateful for food and a refill of water, I set off again - having let the others get a good distance ahead - maybe a km or more up the slight hill ahead of me.  Akina accompanied me as she copes with the heat much better and we strode out for Granja.  Over the rise, yet still with a good view into the distance, there wasn't a peregrino in sight - and not a sign to be had!  The new railway now cut right across our path and continued into the distance right over the top of the camino.  I saw fresh footprints in the sand and dust and followed them.  Finally we found an arrow here and there and eventually the camino turned from under the railway workings and found its way across the countryside again, the little concrete pillars marking the way.  It was beautiful again - thankfully, as the heat had been even more intense and tiring on the deep sandy railway construction surface and that kind of walking drains the energy.  Fortunately there were some deep puddles which had collected from where the tractors and their bowsers constantly dowse the surface and so Akina could get an extra drink.

Finally the Camino reappears from under the railway
As we reached the top of another rise, the nice track again got overtaken and diverted by the railway.  And then - no more signs and in addition to this, still no sign of any pilgrims!  Suddenly they were walking fast!!  Having not wanted to be with anyone else yesterday and trying to avoid them earlier today, I would now have given anything to know we were all on the track together!  I scouted around for the footprints I had been following earlier - I knew the tread well, and there they were.  So off we went... into nowhere and into what seemed like an impassable area where the railway vehicles were really working intensely.  We were not on the right track.  I could see the town way to my right and this route was taking us away.

I conferred with my back up vehicle which was already in town and had located a pilgrim's bar and Albergue.  I wanted Akina picked up and new water brought for her as we had now run out as we had been ambling around for ages.  The only thing to do was head back as scrambling down vertical banks was not going to be possible.  The moment I got back to a bridge - which ran right across the railway and which was crossed by speeding trucks with construction material, there was a marker!!  It would have been SO easy for them to have marked the way.  If I had known or thought of it then, I would have built one of the wonderful arrows to help others... and I know more would make this mistake, because as I entered the town, the two Python peregrinos who had been behind me all morning and overtaken me in Riego... were suddenly behind me again!  They must have gone a long way wrong and turned round and walked all the way back, to be in this position!  Yet nearer still to the town, more pilgrims were coming from all directions, I guessed they had also gone wrong and somehow negotiated the building works to get back on track.  In fact the next day the track went to where we would have come out and I guess that some of those I met had got onto this part of the camino and back-tracked.

I struck gold with Hostal Galicia 
The kitchen!!
We were all delighted to get to the bar and order an ice cold beer.  Many of them sat with the peregrino menu and were tucking into platefuls of delicious looking thick lentils.  Mmmmmm!!  We only hoped we would get the same later!!  Our booking for the night was a little ahead of where we finished, and where I would be walking the following day, so I had booked two nights.  As it happened, although the numbers I had called were seemed to be redundant, as I was to find throughout this trip, there is a lot of accommodation and many people arriving to take rooms without booking.  I struck gold with this one though.  Coming into Tábara, the check in is at Hostal Galicia II (980 590 136) on the edge of town.  They are happy to drive you to the accommodation which is pretty much central but lovely and quiet.  At 15 Euros per night it is amazing - I had a kitchen, bathroom and a suite of rooms (!) all to myself.  If I had needed it I could have done a good wash with the machine and in the perfect weather, the little washing I did have dried quickly on the courtyard line outside my room.  The owners and the bar staff were delightful - so helpful, friendly, welcoming and willing to chat.  I heard voices in broken Spanish through the evening as other peregrinos also discovered the delights of the hostal and in communication with the host.  As with every accommodation I have stayed at in Spain so far, however basic, it was spotless.

Dinner was at the Roble (Oak) bar just off the town square and with a big scallop shell proclaiming pilgrims welcome and over the two nights we were certainly surrounded by them!  Germans, French, English and American with a couple of Spanish.  Most were older - 50's and over - and not the 20-30 yo demographic I had expected.  We got the lentils we had craved - although a little thin I have to say and not as chunky and heart warming as those we had spied at the Albergue in Granja (!)...  The service was friendly and warm and actually, what more can one want?  If you want to stay in the Albergue in Granja, it is actually welcoming and looks very nice and the room fee from what I could overhear seemed to be 5 Euros.  I do believer however that it is "floor" showers and toilets and not beds - so if you have a back, hip or other physical challenge then it might not be for you.  Floors sadly no longer suit my back and also I did not want to carry the extra weight of carry mats on these trips even if I could cope, but it's not worth locking up so that I would not be able to walk at all.

If you decide on the Galicia and arrive on foot into Tábara, then as you get near the town there are two arrows.  One seems to take you into a field (which is correct if you are continuing on the Camino or going to the town centre) but if you wish to check in and go to the Galicia II check in point - you need to follow the arrow where there is also an "A" painted.  I do not know if this refers to the Albergue, as I did not see it, but it will take you to the right point.  The Albergue here is apparently very basic - floor and showers only.  I recommend the Galicia if you have the funds!



Wednesday, 21 May 2014

El Camino - Zamora to the Galician Border: With VERY important route info!

Arriving in Montamarta on the first leg of our Zamora to the Galician border
camino trip - the Robertson Mala is in my right hand and fits well with this
fantastic Camino marker

Zamora to Montamarta (17km) May 7th 2014

I hope that my latest wanderings along the Camino will help others who are setting out on any of the routes that head through and out of Zamora - these include the Via de la Plata, The Levante, The Sanabres and Mozarabe.  My Camino Levante route has now crossed or joined these routes since leaving Zamora and it was amazing to find so many Peregrinos walking them!  Having completed my first 800km and met no one - and I mean "no one" on route (although I did see that others had signed into various hostels and albergues ahead of me) - I now met dozens!  On my first day there were 9 of us including me, but on others I counted upwards of 16 or 20 on route with yet more ahead or behind me. I don't know if this is because these routes are more popular from the area around Zamora onwards (making it easier for most pilgrims to reach Santiago in one go) or because we are in the main walking season - May to June seems very popular on most Caminos.

During this trip I met one German lady who had started in Seville on the Via de la Plata and was planning to walk the whole route in around 7 weeks.  None were walking the Levante and at one albergue they confirmed that those coming from Valencia were very few and far between and they too said they rarely met another peregrino until past Zamora.  At the end of our trip and on the drive home we followed the Via de la Plata route and crossed the Camino in a few places.  There were yet more pilgrims heading north and even at this time of the year, the sun was beating down on them relentlessly and with little shade to be found in some places.  I had great admiration for them walking this route at this time, as I had chosen to do most of my Levante route during the months of September to November and even in December and January, in order to avoid the heat on the stretches through open La Mancha countryside.  Many of the blogs and info sites suggest that these routes can be very dry and some stretches are many kilometres without the opportunity for water - they rightly advise that walking them should not be done later than June.  As we hit Seville the temperatures were 36C - and yet we are only in May.

Sunrise out of Roales as we set off toward Montamarta
The first part of the Camino out of Zamora is all busy tar road and not pleasant, in excess of 5km.  However, from Roales to Montamarta, it's a lovely open walk (although tiring and not easy due to the rubbly surface!) and due to the lack of signs it is easy to make a mistake in the route!  Many (and I mean many) peregrinos end up walking another 10km or so on the busy and dangerous main road!  It was only after I got lost here and seeing how others had built helpful arrows in ambiguous spots for those who followed that I thought of doing the same.  I was lucky enough to do this on the way home as the drive back passed by the exact spot.  Already there were many peregrinos on the road and on tracks through fields on the opposite and wrong side of the road.  I have no idea how they got on or if they walked km's out of their way, but hopefully we saved some.  We certainly saved three Japanese peregrinos, directing them over a bridge that crosses the new railway line (still being built) and then right toward Montamarta.
The railway comes from our left and eventually meets
and crosses the camino - this bridge is to my left and
behind me as I stand on the camino

This is the bridge we need to cross
it is on my left and is the position
from which I took the other
I was fortunate to have access to the back up vehicle for the dogs, so I could get collected off the main road and delivered back to the camino, but most pilgrims do not have this luxury.  What happens is that the new railway is on our left as we walk, it gradually sweeps towards us and then cuts across the camino.  At this point there is a bridge, but there are no markers here.  Many, like myself, go straight on but this meets another bridge and squeezes you onto the main road.  Other pilgrims turn right and then immediately left onto the main road right next to the bridge and still others cross the road and think the camino continues on the tracks on the opposite side of the main road.  None of these options are correct.  We need to cross the bridge and immediately turn right after it - shortly along this track we will pick up the camino markers.  In fact from the top of the bridge it is easy to work out where the camino goes, but from below, it is just not possible to tell because of the high banks of the railway.

One of the camino markers common in this area and which
will be picked up again after crossing the bridge.  The markers
are superb and easy to spot - it's just that so often
there are no signs that indicate to the peregrino (when there has
been a diversion) where he or she should go in order to get onto the
track where these markers will be found!  
North of Zamora this new high speed AVE railway route crosses the caminos many times - and where they are working on it, the routes can be a nightmare to find.  On a number of occasions there have been diversions, some of these taking pilgrims on tar roads for many kilometres - one section from Puebla de Sanabria being around 20km almost all in one stretch.  Many times where work or roads have been made I have found that diversions try to take peregrinos onto other tracks and get them back on the camino as often as possible, but here, diversions just took us onto the tar and left us there.  On these roads, trucks and cars thunder past at great speeds and some come very close to walking peregrinos.  I saw one narrowly miss a man heading towards Montamarta.  Some of these trucks are those carrying gravels and sand etc to the railways and they come thick and fast with much dust and are so huge they are very intimidating and quite frightening.  There are signs up warning that the Camino de Santiago is following the road and to beware of those traveling it, but they do not always make much difference and some are very few and far between, so it's easy for drivers to forget to still look out for those on the road.

House on arrival in Montamarta with many Camion signs
Tile as found on the house
behind me in the photograph
Sometimes peregrinos were so focused on walking the road and staying safe, keeping their heads down and walking that they missed some of the correct directions onto lovely and breathtakingly beautiful countryside.  Some seemed to "choose" to travel the tar roads, which I found a little strange but maybe they found it easier.  Certainly one man who seemed to be towing his backpack on a trolly would have struggled with some of these tracks unless he could fold up the wheels.

The arrow we built to help
direct pilgrims over the
bridge (we put one the
other side also)
The off road sections were often quite strenuous climbs through rocks and on narrow paths, with muddy streams running along them where mountain streams over flowed or meltwaters were still coming off the mountains, still holding onto a little snow at their tips.  The diversions on the roads were often of course much further to travel so a day's walk of around 20km could easily end up being around 28km.  This is very important to bear in mind when planning your walk - leaving later or without enough water could cause some stress, especially on the sections where there are fewer villages.  Those planning to walk within their abilities might also find that routes are much further than they anticipated, and certainly for me, I find tar work much more tiring and mentally and emotionally far more draining.

The statue of "Zangarrón" in Montamarta
Another frustration that occurred was that I try to book the first part of my accommodation, or as much as possible, in advance of my trip.  It's important when there is more than just myself involved - there are the dogs and Michael supporting me and leaving things to chance is not responsible.  The albergue in Montamarta never answered my calls or messages, even though the numbers rang.  On arrival it seemed as though the original and official albergue had closed, but there were so many options of accommodation.  There were even people out in landrovers driving the camino handing out leaflets to try and encourage peregrinos into their accommodation.  Spanish ladies would approach me in the street and just ask me if I would like a place to stay for the night - yes, yes they said, even with a dog!  I am not sure they would have taken three!!  Anyway, I had booked another night back toward Zamora as it was pet friendly and I had no idea if I would arrive in Montamarta and run the risk of sleeping under the stars (!) but I needn't have worried and so other pilgrims should know that there is accommodation aplenty in this delightful and friendly little town.

Entering Montamarta - as with a few towns in this area there are "stuffed"
figures climbing up lamp posts and tall tree poles (as you might be
able to make out in this photo if you look up by the church tower!)
I have not been able to find out what this is about.  
The leaflet that I received in English, German and Spanish is for "The House" - restored and converted into B&B and hostel for pilgrims.  Two floors with bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom and it is located on Calle Pinilla no. 9, Montamarta.  The phone number is +34 650 405 236.

I got my sello in the ayuntamiento and there is a great little bar next to it with a good cold beer to celebrate arrival.  For the dogs, there is a stunning lake (the reservoir Ricobayo) with the Ermita de la Virgen del Castro perched on a rocky outcrop over it.  It has the most stunning view.  The dogs ran and ran and played - loving the chance to swim in the cool waters after the day had turned hot.

The tradition of Zangarrón (from Wikipedia and with odd translation!) 

According to tradition, this typical character goes out on New Year and Epiphany, in the early hours of the day walking the streets of the town asking for a bonus, which he can then give as donations from his peculiar shirt. During the morning, he runs to catch the unmarried young men and gives them these donations. He also participates in a point of the liturgy of the Mass, bursting at the altar and spiking with his trident, two loaves of bread.
The anthropologist Francisco Zamora Rodríguez Pascual acknowledges that Montamarta is one of the municipalities that has best preserved this ancient tradition in the province of Zamora and so testified Julio Caro Baroja when Zangarrones commented that "still alive".
  • Outfit: the popular character appears as a "devil" wearing a unique dress made of two towels, a brown or red on one leg (depending on the day of event), and yellow on the other leg, which are sewn to each one simulating a trouser and covered with paper flowers.  Carrying a quilt and like a knotted blouse the quilt is sewn with an opening to make it like a bag where the bonus and chorizo is collected and offered to the runners once caught.
  • Accessories: on the shoulder are hung three bells, while the face is covered with a flamboyant mask of quirky cork in black or red, crowned by two hare's ears and colorful paper flowers. In addition, the Zangarrón carries a trident with which he incites and traps single waiters with great cunning.

Ermita de la Virgen del Castro - Montamarta

Friday, 18 April 2014

El Camino Levante - Day 17 Toro to Zamora

The last day of our walk was on the 27th October and although it started misty, turned into a superb and sunny day.  We had originally planned to walk 18 days and had allowed a day or two extra for any necessary rest for blisters or aching limbs, but having driven out to Villalazan and the Aurelia, we realised just how much of this part of the walk was going to be on the tar road - of 34km over 19 in fact and some of that on major highway.  As we approached Zamora, there are so many new roads, we never did find some of the yellow arrows and I only picked them up again when we got into the town and walked from where we left the car to the ayuntamiento.

The yellow tape - used where there
aren't arrows
It is such a shame because it really is hard going and this part of the walk is not at all pleasant on the road, especially the busy highways.  It's certainly not a journey for the dogs along this stretch.  There was also a diversion - spotted as we were driving to the Aurelia the day before - that takes the pilgrim back down to the river.  This is not marked or mentioned in the guidebook, but it does at least take you off the road for a while, I have marked where it goes on the map here, although after the river, we could no longer find the arrows that take you into Villalazan and the the Aurelia itself, which is right on the Camino.  We only found a yellow arrow just before the hostal itself.

Lovely cool walk along the river Duero - sadly you can't really
see it because of the trees!
The morning walk was lovely along the river - fresh and perfect walking weather.  We followed the camino to just beyond Paleagonzalo which is not on the camino itself but a little to the left of the route and where it joined the main road to Zamora, decided to "hitch a lift on our oxwagon" and be tourists for the rest of the route, only walking the final part into Zamora and its wonderful old town.  Here we had a tasty lunch before the long, almost 7 hour drive home which we split in two, stopping at a pet friendly overnight just south of Madrid.

Breakfast break along the camino toward Villalazán 

On the way into Zamora you pass through Villalazán which apparently comes from the Arabic - Al-az-ar or "horse of reddish colour".  For those who know me - this is entirely appropriate, because when I had my herd, the majority were red horses and of course, now I have the red dogs.  As you can see from our breakfast break photo - the red girls as they get called - are the same colour as my red horses used to be.

Once we hit the main road, we headed to where we had seen the archaeological excavation of El Alba, a Roman villa that gives its name to the next town - Villaralbo (Alba and Villa combined).  We thought that we would visit and read information about it, but sadly it is all fenced off and although there are story boards that give details about the discovery, there is no access to be able to enter and find out more.  I took photos as best I could to give a picture of an impression of it and the signs to read later once I could enlarge the photos!  As you can see, it was once quite a site!

It's hard to believe that Zamora, where we finished this section of the Camino lies only 50km from the Portuguese border if we continued along the Duero.  From Zamora the Levante route jois forces with the Via de la Plata, the Camino route that travels south to north parallel with Portugal from Seville.  It's another Camino that I would love to walk and is perhaps the next Camino I will attempt.  It was the original route I had planned to walk before I realised that the Levante ran practically past my back door in Chella and that I could easily get started without back up and by walking sections from home.

The right turn by the sand/gravel
lorry park which looks to be a diversion to
the river for the Camino - but not marked on
the maps or mentioned in the guidebook
The scene next to where the arrows
suggest to turn right
Zamora is the city with the most Romanesque churches in all of Europe. The most important celebration in Zamora is the Holy Week in Zamora.  Zamora is the city with the most Romanesque churches in all of Europe. The most important celebration in Zamora is Semana Santa (Holy Week) and it is the time we would be due to do our next Camino.  Because Easter falls late in 2014, and due to other work related issues, the plan is to Camino in early May, and hope that the weather has not heated up too much.  It would be lovely to see Semana Santa, but it is a busy time and accommodation is also in shorter supply.

The view as you approach the river from the track that
turns right past the lorries

Marker on the sign (just seen on the
edge of the photo opposite) indicating
to continue along the river bank

Very pretty route along the river - I wish I had known
about it and not changed my plans and bookings.
However, at Villaralbo there was not an arrow to be found
where this route might have come out in the village
and from here to Zamora the roads are so new and busy, we
also did not see any markers.  We only picked them
up again as we entered the older part of the town
and could cross the bridge and head on up to the
main centre.
The bridge that takes you into Zamora (pedestrian only)
and where we pick up the arrows again
Close up of the marker arrow on the tree

If we go, it will be necessary to set off early each day, perhaps our usual torchlight starts, in order to avoid the hotter parts of the day.  Also, now we are further north, I'm hoping that we will experience cooler weather at that time of year, and even in Andalucia, last year it was quite pleasant walking for most of the month and even into June.  According to the info it can range between 8 and 20 degrees (C) in Zamora with the highest rainfall other than December (!)  Interesting!  I have to admit, we did see some wet days in May last year in Andalucia when we moved - pouring and cold on our arrival at Alhama de Granada without any wood for the fire and everything soggy and damp as we tried to offload!  Anyway, we will see!

Zamora - looks lovely from across the Duero

Wonderful palaces and churches line the route into Zamora and it has the old feel of the pilgrim route.  I got my sello in the ayuntamiento, where as we have so often found on the Camino, an office for the police remains open even on a weekend and sometimes even on a Sunday.  I have now completed 800km - 2/3 of the entire Levante route and with the girls.  I should have two more trips to complete the entire journey.

Happy to have my stamp and to have
completed 800km!


According to the history, Zamora is linked to the old history of Spain and to the origin of the Castilian language which gave birth to Spanish language. 

Wikipedia gives this introduction to Zamora:

After the Roman victory over the Lusitanian hero Viriathus the settlement was named by the RomansOccelum Durii or Ocellodurum (literally, "Eye of the Duero"). During Roman rule it was in the hands of the Vaccaei, and was incorporated into the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. It was on the road from Emerita (modern Mérida) to Asturica Augusta (modern Astorga). (Ant. Itin. pp. 434, 439).
Two coins from the reign of theVisigothic king, Sisebuto, show that it was known at the time as "Semure".
During the period of Moorish rule the settlement became known by the names of "Semurah" or "Azemur". After the establishment of the ChristianKingdom of Asturias, the settlement became a strategic frontier post and was the scene of many fierce military engagements between the Muslims and Christians. Control of the town shifted between the two sides a number of times from the early 7th century to the late 11th century. During this period it became heavily fortified.
Henry IV granted Zamora the epithet of "most noble and most loyal city".

The following pictures show the route along the main roads and the possible route that we discovered going back down to the Duero.
Main new road being built - diagonal
straight line from bottom left.  At the
top the Camino joins the road for
many km's
Camino following the tar road and the
possible diversion that is marked with
arrows from the road and by the sand/gravel
pit (but watch carefully for the arrows)
but we do not know where the route comes out
as we did not find arrows at the other end.

The guessed route and map showing the tar route
- there are no arrows along this and it is confusing
at the new road junctions outside of Zamora and
the intersections are busy, without the Camino
signs which usually warn drivers that there are pilgrims
on the route
As time was short and the direction was not marked on the maps or written in the guidebook, having changed our plans, it was not possible to walk this section and explore it to see if it is in fact marked and possible to follow all the way to Villaralbo.  It looks to be a very pretty route and of course far preferable to walking on the main road!

My two passports (credentials) the original from Valencia now being full and printed by the Frances route, the second
is the new special "Levante" passport printed with pictures from along the way.  If you are walking the longer routes
such as the Levante or Via de la Plata, you will need to request two credentials as there are not enough places
for the stamps (sellos) in the whole passport.  Even the ones produced for the longer routes, do not have additional
places for stamps provided automatically.  

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

El Camino Levante - Day 15 & 16 Castronuño to Toro

Morning visibility!  Or rather lack
of it!
Well the morning started off darker than ever with rain clouds gathered about us and the water falling from the skies.  I kitted myself up with waterproofs and Kaishi in her jacket and we set off into the deluge.  The street lights took us to the edge of town and I crossed via the gas station.  I could see a car, lights off, at one of the pumps and as I approached one of the doors opened and someone leant out while sounding the horn.  I continued through the forecourt and on toward the Camino, thinking that this must have been someone thinking that I was an attendant arriving for work - and the poor chap in the car must have been wanting to fill up before heading off for work!  

We followed the guidebook instructions and headed down a steep (very steep) muddy hill in the direction of one of the arrows we had located the day before.  We had done this as on entering the town, all markers disappear and I wanted to be sure I was going to head the right way, especially in the early morning dark!  With the rain, the slope was a little treacherous and I slipped here and there trying to find some grass to walk on rather than slick mud.  Kaishi and I managed to make it and I was much relieved to be at the bottom.  We continued in the direction of the track and came into a small wooded area... but where were the arrows?  Not a marker in sight.  I walked up and down, came out into a clearing, turned around, walked back again... read, reread an read again the guidebook and then studied the map.  I really did NOT want to go back up that hill but as the time ticked on, it seemed more and more likely this would be the case.  I was getting irritated and swore at the book and map - I don't mind rain and love walking in these conditions, but I don't enjoy standing around in them going nowhere!

The view after crossing the river bed area - the arrows are
hard to find before this point and in fact I only
saw them when I had turned around and was on my way
back to the town.
The guide says that the way leaves Castronuño by way of the road to Toro, first passing a cemetery.  That bit was easy.  It mentions that it descends - it then says "At the junction with the road coming from Bóveda, go straight on, coinciding with a GR.  Go straight on, ignoring the roads branching off on both sides.  On passing the large pool formed by a stream, the route passes a house on the left and takes the road to the right, following the waymarking of the GR"... Well, there was NONE of that!!!  

The "house on the left"!
The way to Villafranca Del Duero
I never did see any GR route marking and I never found a road coming from Bóveda.  There were no roads branching off (or maybe it was just too dark but even as the light started to appear, there were tracks that led into fields, certainly no roads branching off that could be called roads or specific tracks of any kind!)... and I never did find a pool!  There was an area of gravel/sand that could have been a pool and which seemed to be part of a river bed, but there was no water in it and only as it got a bit lighter and I had resigned myself to the fact that I was likely to have to walk back up the steep hill did I find the yellow arrows (one rather faded and painted on a tree trunk that would have been behind me as I walked!)  These took us "across" the river bed - which to me looked like it might be where the pool would be (this looked a little like a track at first but once crossing it was most definitely a river bed)... and I can only say that in heavy rain or after bad weather, you are likely to need a raft to cross as I doubt very much there would be a way to cross on foot here.

One of the distributor's buildings!  No doubt displaying
his wares
Once on the other side the track heads uphill and past a little fountain (as in the photograph) and where there are yellow arrows.  It is only at this point that you see the house on the left mentioned in the guidebook!  From here the route is easy to follow and crosses rolling hills, up and down, up and down all the way to the village of Villafranca del Duero which is right on the edge of the famous River Duero.  Before arriving in the village Michael met us with the lovely cake and coffee from our previous night's accommodation and a freshly peeled carrot and some cheese... mmmmm.  He and the dogs had headed out towards us along the muddy tracks and they were covered from head to foot and full of joy. 

Camino Yellow Marker Ribbon
Even Ndzilo was to be seen, flat out at the gallop through ploughed feilds, which are hard going at the best of times!  My comment just before this, when she had disappeared, was one of worry that she had been gone too long and she might have had a heart attack... as she came over the rise, legs going nineteen to the dozen (what DOES that mean??) Michael's comment was that she certainly looked like she was on her last legs (!)  We walked back to where they were parked (past some very frisky cattle that I was glad were behind a fence!) and where there were some interesting cave type buildings - but instead of being houses were kind of storage/trading places.  The building shown here with the meaty wares had a "mule train" sign on it which reminded me very much of the monument in Death Valley of the 20 mule strong mule train which used to carry Borax!  As Michael said, it's not quite the logo one would easily fit on a business card!  

My newer walking shoes have some good tread!
The guidebook had at times warned the pilgrim to look out for the marker ribbons.  I had no idea to what it was referring until we got to this stretch, and from there, on a couple of other occasions on this stretch and past Toro to Zamora, I found these ribbons.  They are yellow plastic tape tied onto trees and when you see one, you of course immediately know that it is what the guidebook is talking about.  The ribbon guided us down into the village of Villafranca del Duero and onto the path that runs alongside it.  Sadly, it is not really close enough to get many good views of the river, and the arrows again take us on a different route from that marked on the map or described in the guide.  It is also very hard going and so today's 22.5km seemed much further - why - because it was once again "tar road" and as always, this is the most tiring to walk on.  Even 5km seemed like 10 and I was glad of meeting up with the vehicle regularly for short breaks and some morale boosting.  One thing that did lift our spirits was the amazing road in Villafranco del Duero that takes you onto the road along the river (a Camino Rural) and which has a new surface that "squeaks"... yes seriously, it is a squeaky road.  I filmed it as it really made me laugh and you can get an idea of what I mean although the squeaking is far more obvious when you walk on it yourself.  No doubt it was also due to the perfect conditions - the new tar, the rain on it and my new (well new ish by now) walking shoes!  

The Roman road as it appears just before entering Toro
Akina admiring the Duero
The way is easy to follow, although the map shows the path crossing the land part of an oxbow between the two points that make the top of the bow, but in fact the path (which is on the map) is one that more follows the oxbow of the river itself.  This makes the journey a bit longer too and it is quite hard gravel.  The drizzle was constant but not unpleasant and the river appeared from time to time.  

Kaishi checking out "which" arrow we follow - notice the
one on the pylon behind!
At one point, there was an amazing weir with an electricity generating station (you could tell the power of the river here) and as we neared the town of Toro I admit I was starting to flag.  However, as you get closer (and again just before the town there are yellow arrows heading in two different directions which is a bit confusing but I stayed next to the river) you find yourself once again walking on large Roman road flags.  It is an amazing feeling and each time I walk along them I always feel that joy of connecting with the past - it never fails.  The road at one point had been concreted over and then later tarred over and much to my amusement, these were crumbling away, only to reveal "perfect" Roman road beneath - bravely resisting time and making itself known 2000 years after it was originally laid.  

Roman milestone marker
Roman road standing the test of time
against the modern tar and concrete layers
The road heads into Toro via the restored Roman bridge and what a sight this is.  It is magnificent and the perfect way to end the day's journey.  It is stunning and awe inspiring.  The views from Toro itself, looking down onto the Duero and the bridge are the famous ones, but it is well worth crossing the bridge as the way into the town and you can imagine pilgrims having done this for hundreds of years.  The town posesses many historic buildings and we had decided that this would be another good place to be tourists for an extra day before our last walk and journey home.  Wow, home, I could not believe that we were nearing the end of this section of the Camino.  Almost 18 days away had seemed daunting at the beginning, yet step by step we had arrived - and in one piece, feet still going strong!

The sugar factory - you can't miss
Hostal Estación - 18 Euros per night
As we approached the bridge it was spectacular and everything I had hoped for - and Kaishi and I had it all to ourselves!  The view however and the way to see how truly impressive it is (a feat of engineering from Roman times considering the power of the Duero) can be seen from the top of the town looking back.  Here one really appreciates the distance walked as on a clear day, in the far, far distance, the peaks toward Cebreros can be seen.  Had we really come that far - on foot?!

Arriving in Toro on the Medieval cobbled road
My room in the hostal
We met the support vehicle on the other side and headed to the accommodation - Hostal Estación, a converted station with each room individually decorated.  It was very friendly and welcoming and the lady who ran it was very excited when we had booked on the phone to have someone walking the Camino.  It is just off the route, only a few hundred metres, and is very welcome if you don't want to walk up the steep hill into town, although it has to be some time of course!  As you come from the bridge, you follow the road to the town, but on a steep left bend, there is a road to the right that takes you to the sugar factory, signed, and just before it, there is the hostal.  I have to say, it was comfortable and clean enough and welcoming, but at night, it was a scary and noisy place with many of the "young" meeting to have drunken arguments with boyfriends or girlfriends!  I'm not sure that everyone would feel comfortable staying alone.
The Roman bridge from the viewing point
at the top of the town

The road that leads to the town is also old and still with its original cobbles!  The place is amazing and even with modern vehicles driving over them, they are wearing well!

Wikipedia's History and information on Toro: 

Kaishi crossing the old
Roman bridge into Toro
The Roman bridge from the Toro side - it has been well
restored but it now only a walking bridge
Toro is an ancient town, possibly the Arbukala of the Vaccai tribe which was conquered by Hannibal in 220 BC but survived to trouble the Romans. The Roman town was called Albucella. The modern name may derive from the bull totem of that Celtiberian people. In the 8th century it was conquered by the Moors. After the Muslims had been partially rolled back, Alfonso III repopulated the town in about 910.  

Arch that takes you to
a picnic area and viewing
place to see the bridge

Ferninand III was crowned King of León in Toro in 1230 and his wife Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen (Beatriz) died here.Enrique II, first of the Trastámara line, summoned his first Cortes here in 1369. Juan II of Castile was born here in 1404, but the town was to have greater significance for his daughter Isabella I of Castile.
The clock tower as
you enter the main part
of town toward the
Isabella (married with Ferdinand) had a rival for the succession in Juana la Beltraneja, supposedly the daughter of her half-brother Enrique IV, but allegedly the daughter of the queen's lover, the courtier Beltrán de la Cueva. La Beltraneja's supporters arranged her betrothal to Alfonso V of Portugal who was feeling upset over his earlier rejection by Isabella.
Alfonso invaded Castile in May 1475, backed by a number of dissident Castilian nobles. Isabella made Tordesillas her headquarters, while Ferdinand moved to secure the loyalty of Salamanca, Toro, and Zamora. Alfonso reached Arévalo in July and both Zamora and Toro went over to him, a serious blow for the young monarchs.
Intrigue seethed as troops marched. Zamora swung back to Isabella's cause. The Portuguese crown prince arrived with reinforcements and in March 1, 1476 the rival armies met at Peleagonzalo, a few kilometres southwest of Toro. Ferdinand was victorious in this battle decided by light cavalry.The Portuguese under Alfonso broke and the king took refuge in Castronuño. However the result was uncertain [1][2] since the forces under the Portuguese crown prince defeated the Castilian right wing and remained in possession of the battle field - and thus both sides claimed victory. But the fortress of Zamora surrendered to Ferdinand soon thereafter (Mars 19, 1476) while Toro remained in Portuguese hands during more than half a year (until September 19, 1476). After that Alfonso gave up the fight and la Beltraneja retired to a Lisbon convent where she died in 1530, aged sixty-eight.
The main church worth visiting 

1500 to present[edit]

When in 1520 the towns of Castile, the Comuneros, rose against her son Charles I, who had succeeded his Spanish grandfather in 1516, Toro sided with them. Charles defeated the Comuneros at Villalar de los Comuneros, east of Toro, the next year.
During the Peninsular War, in the bitter cold of December 1808, Sir John Moore began his famous retreat from Toro in the face of superior French forces. The ghastly ordeal ended in Moore's death before La Coruña (Galicia) in January. In May 1813, 100,000 British troops gathered in Toro under Wellington's command and from here Wellington launched the final campaign which expelled Napoleon's armies from Spanish soil after five terrible years.
Perfect day for sight seeing -
the skies
and light were lovely
Across the plains where we walked - from the
viewpoint above the town and outside the main church
The town of Toro is built in the shape of a fan, in whose center stands the Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor, dating to the 12th century. Outstanding on the outside is the polychrome western door, called ; and on the inside, the famous Flemish painting La Virgen de la Mosca ("Virgin of the Fly") and an unusual pregnant Virgin.
Next to the collegiate church is the Espolón viewing point, which offers views of a fertile plain known as the "oasis of Castile."
Toro has been long famous for its wine (Toro (DO)). The Toro wines were so prestigious that King Alfonso IX of León conceded privileges for its production in the 12th Century. Columbus took Toro wine with him on the expedition to discover America in 1492, because it could survive large journeys, due to its structure and body. Friar Diego de Deza, from Zamora, one of Isabel the Catholic's confessors, collaborated economically in the expedition, for which he was allowed to name one of the caravels, the Pinta that was half full of Toro wine. The Designation of the Toro Region is recent, beginning in the mid 70s, under the Specific Designation (Denominación Específica), which preceded the attainment of Designated Region (Denominación de Origen) on 29 May 1987. 

Saint's Bones - the ones at the front
were the most delicious!  
It is not hard to find places to sample the wines of the region.  It is famous for its wine and the ones we tried were certainly some of the best we have had since our arrival in Spain.  We also went to a bodega where they had a cellar with the history of their wine and a video running telling its story.  We also had some delicious tapas but for our supper we had the "worst" meal of the entire trip - cold in the middle and microwaved!  Such a shame, but it was one of those weekends where very little was open.  The best place (although we didn't get to try it) seemed to be the Hotel V Centenario - a lovely old building that also offered accommodation - a double room being 40 Euros.  It is central and opposite the ayuntamiento and, as I said, in a lovely old building.  There were many of these old timber framed buildings in Toro and we enjoyed time just wandering around looking at them.  There were also some delicious cake shops and we did treat ourselves to some naughties - one of these were the irresistibly named "Saint's bones"... the most garish of these being the ones with a kind of jam like blood!  Well, we were heading toward Halloween I suppose!

As most of the stonework appears today
Chruch entrance -
in all the original glory!
Inside the bodega museum they had a photo of the polychrome door of the church which has the most amazing colours and is how many of the churches would have been painted years ago.  We think they are just stone colour but actually they would often have been very bright.  Inside there are also some polychrome tombs and statues and here there is a picture of some what is mostly just stone around one of the doors, but with bits of colour peeking out giving a glimpse of what it would once have been.  As an aside, outside this door a Spanish many captured us to earn a few coins - a bit of a "con" game but he recited a poem, and did it beautifully!   

Monasterio Sancti Spiritus
What we think is the
accommodation block - wish
I had stayed here!
Here in Toro is a working convent - still making the traditional sweets as part of their upkeep.  It is the most beautiful and peaceful place, with a wonderful history and a guided tour well worth taking.  Here pilgrims can also stay for the night and on visiting I soooooo wished that I had planned this as my "monastery" stop as opposed to Nava del Rey and it would for sure have been a lot more peaceful!  For anyone walking this way - do take the opportunity to stay at the Monasterio Sancti Spiritus.  Within the cloister stands a 1000 year old olive and I have to say that it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful cloisters I have ever visited.  It made me want to stay.  There is a blog and website for them and also one for their sweets - do take a look and in particular if you want to see photos of the inside (we could not take pictures) and also how large it is from an aerial photograph - check out the "history" page on the blog site.  There is an option to translate to English if you go via Google although it is a tad quirky so if you can read it in Spanish, that's your best bet!
The way to the bodega
cellar museum

Outside the Monasterio

Do visit the bar near the ayuntamiento for some tapas or a breakfast - it was the best and most friendly we found - Noche y Día and with naughty but wonderful fresh bread and delicious coffee, good tapas and wines of Toro.

It was hard to believe that after our day of being tourists we now had only one day of walking left to do!  We headed from Toro to the Hostal Aurelia nearer Zamora as it is pet friendly and I had made the decision to book that for us rather than to stay another night where I was as it was a tad chilly and of course very noisy!  The Aurelia is large and commercial but lovely and warm!  We would take a drive back to Toro the next day in order to start from there on the last part of this leg of our Camino.