I suddenly felt very emotional when I went into school today for the first time since my return. The Year 6 children have been following my blog and doing some work based on the Camino. In addition to this they have produced some ‘Welcome Back’ cards for me and you can see pictures of them below. Some of the comments inside the cards seemed to have a watering effect on my eyes. Thank you children for such lovely cards and I will see you all again soon – Friday, to be precise, for the Macmillan Coffee Morning!
In planning our Camino we allowed thirty three days for walking in accordance with John Brierley’s guide. In addition to this we also included four extra flexi days to give us some leeway just in case we had any illnesses or injuries or perhaps just wanted a rest day to be a tourist for a change. We also planned to stay for a few days in Santiago de Compostela at the end of our pilgrimage with Sidonie and Esther. Not only would this give us time to recover and rest before flying home but it would also give us some added flexibility should our arrival in Santiago de Compostela be delayed further for whatever reason.
At a very early stage in planning the trip I also researched the Camino apps available for my smartphone. One of the apps I came across was simply called ‘Hotels Santiago’. Not only does it have a simple name but it’s also a very simple app as it only has details and links for a handful of hotels on three of the Camino routes. However, whilst browsing through this app, I spotted what looked like my kind of hotel – small, full of character, and with a nice looking garden! After consulting Karen and a couple of emails later we were booked in to the Hotel Costa Vella. Even during these very early days the friendly ethos of the hotel shone through as they didn’t require a deposit, they wished us well on our Camino, and confirmed that we could amend our arrival day if circumstances changed. As you can imagine this was very reassuring for Karen and I and removed any pressure to complete the pilgrimage by a set date.
As it turned out, we didn’t need to exercise this additional flexibility as we all arrived safely in Santiago de Compostela on Thursday 14th August as planned. Sidonie and Esther were the first to arrive, very early in the morning, and they were offered storage for their suitcases until our rooms were ready and breakfast if they needed it. Karen and I arrived much later in mid afternoon and then we all checked in to our rooms. Both rooms were very comfortable and tastefully furnished with Karen and I having the additional facility of a balcony sitting room overlooking the beautiful garden and city.
The hotel doesn’t have a dining room but breakfast is served in the bar area, the garden, or a first floor breakfast room. The breakfast itself is very generous with a wide choice. Because it doesn’t have a dining room we were able to go out into the city each evening to explore the different restaurants on offer.
The staff were very helpful in making suggestions for our days in the city or perhaps making trips further afield. There was an excellent guide book produced by the hotel with recommendations for just about anything a visitor might want to do or see! The hotel itself is located in the old part of the city and not very far from all the main attractions – very handy! Although it is arguably tucked away in a quieter area, it obviously has a good reputation as its bar and garden were always very popular while we were there.
All in all, this was the perfect place for us to call home for a few days as we relaxed and recovered from the Camino. I’ve called it home because that’s what it felt like as their friendly staff welcomed us and looked after us for the duration of our stay. A huge thank you to them all, the room maids, the bar staff, and especially Robert, Javier and Antonio. Highly recommended and one day we will be back!
After a morning doing admin tasks in readiness for our return to the UK on Thursday we went out into the old city to explore further the history of the pilgrims.
The five star Parador hotel is a huge building on the north side of the square in front of the cathedral. Originally it was Santiago’s royal hospital built to give aid and shelter to pilgrims. For €3 we were able to do a self guided tour of this impressive building where they still carry on the tradition of feeding the first ten pilgrims each day to present themselves at the door.
Later we also did the cathedral’s roof tour. As well as the expected wonderful views over the rooftops of Santiago and beyond our guide also gave a very interesting history of the cathedral and in particular the roof. It was amazing how the roof had played such an important role apart from keeping the rain out! Pilgrims used to ascend to the roof to burn their clothes and shoes in a symbolic act to mark the end of their pilgrimage before starting a new life. They didn’t descend totally naked because the cathedral re-clothed them. Of the two main towers one has bells and the other has a rattle! We were shown the rattle which was like a giant version of an old fashioned football rattle. I would love to have heard it but apparently it is only used in Holy Week.
Today was another fairly early start as we set off on the day trip recommended by our friend Robert at the hotel. This would take us to Finisterre and Muxia and complete our whole Camino experience.
Cape Finisterre is the Spanish equivalent of our Land’s End and in Roman times it was believed to be the end of the known world. It was probably this status that made it a popular extension to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. A more recent tradition is to burn your clothes or shoes there as a symbolic act to finish your Camino. There was some evidence of this but it must be a minority of pilgrims who do it because the pile of ashes was quite small.
Muxia has also become another finishing point for some peoples Camino. Legend has it that one of the apostles was trying to Christianize the local inhabitants and was having no luck and was discouraged. The Virgin Mary appeared to the apostle to comfort him and encouraged him to continue his work. Three Celtic stones between the church and the sea are now said to be remains of the Virgin Mary’s stone boat. The one in the photo is said to be the sail!!!
Our day also included a fabulous lunch and a visit to the Ezaro waterfall which falls directly into the sea. Unfortunately the photo is quite dark because the sun was behind the waterfall during our visit. We stopped off at other viewpoints as well and although our day was long and quite tiring it was well worth it.
The busy bank holiday yesterday signalled the end of the Spanish holidays and today has been significantly quieter.
Karen and I started the day by visiting the cathedral again before breakfast. Because of the busyness yesterday we had postponed our visit to the tomb of St James and our embracing of the statue of St James as it presides over the cathedral above the altar in the chancel.
A young lady from Liverpool volunteering for the Camino Chaplaincy supplied us with this prayer as we entered the cathedral:
Santiago Pilgrims’ Blessing
Father God we ask your blessing on us, pilgrims who have come to venerate the tomb of your Apostle Santiago.
As you kept us safe on our Camino way, may you keep us safe on our journey home. And, inspired by our experience here, may we live out the values of the Gospel as our pilgrimage through life continues.
We ask Saint James to intercede for us as we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son and our Redeemer. Amen.
After a very late breakfast we went for a walk around the city market, a colourful and fascinating place. We then stopped for a drink and yet again we were entertained by musicians performing outside a bar. This time it was more like R&B rather than folk and excellent they were too.
After a bit of shopping we went for a walk to a nearby park, as recommended by Robert at our hotel. Robert is lovely and talks very fast and very enthusiastically about the city. He is also a great scribbler on maps! The park had a good view of the cathedral over the rooftops and had formerly housed the city cemetery which was no longer used but obviously still well maintained.
Tomorrow Robert has booked us a day trip to Finisterre which for some pilgrims is an extra three or four days of walking to complete their Camino experience.
Well, the euphoria of finishing is over, we collected our ‘Compostela’ from the Pilgrims Office and have started to relax a little with Sidonie and Esther.
The view from our room looks over the hotel garden towards the San Francisco convent and church. We visited the church and obtained another special ‘Compostela’ commemorating the 800th anniversary of St Francis’ pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
We were then typical tourists for an hour as we took the ‘train’ guided tour of the city. Today was a bank holiday in Spain so this was a brilliant way of getting a quick overview of what the city was like.
Karen and I went to mass at the cathedral when the famous botafumeiro is swung incredibly high through the cathedral – an amazing spectacle and a packed cathedral.
We then had an enormous pilgrims meal in a very modern restaurant. It was excellent value with a wide choice for a €9 menu. Believe it or not, I couldn’t persuade the others to join me in trying the squid chowder which was very good.
WE’VE DONE IT!!!!
An emotional final day as we walked into Santiago de Compostela.
Sidonie and Esther had patiently waited for us near the cathedral and greeted us with grins and hugs.
Since then we have been to the pilgrims office to obtain our ‘Compostela’ and catching up with news and relaxing and eating and drinking.
Tomorrow I will update you further 😊.
Our penultimate day!
Today has been very similar to the previous few days in nearly all respects except for one. Today has felt very casual, like a stroll in the countryside after Sunday lunch, with everyone seemingly preparing themselves for the finale tomorrow when we arrive in Santiago de Compostela at last.
We could perhaps have gone even further but we don’t want to spoil our final day. We have left ourselves with about 21kms to do which will bring us to the cathedral by about 1pm. No doubt this will be quite an emotional moment especially as Sidonie and Esther should be there to greet us. My eyes are watering just thinking about it as I write.
Tonight we have stopped off in the countryside at a lovely place, a sort of Country B&B, and hopefully we will get a good night’s sleep 💤 in our rather strange offset bunk beds before the last leg of our pilgrimage.
It’s Tuesday and we’ve got a bit ahead of ourselves today by doing 28.9kms and reaching Arzua.
Conditions were good for walking with a cloudy sky, an occasional drizzle, and gently undulating terrain through varied woodland.
We thought the crowds had thinned a bit today but we’re not quite sure why. One theory is that all the newcomers in recent days are beginning to suffer with blisters and strains after their early enthusiasm. They’ve definitely been quieter and we’ve seen more people limping along.
I forgot to mention yesterday that there was an exciting occasion which was my first taste of a local speciality ‘pulpo’ or octopus. It was on a pilgrims menu and it was very nice too 😋.
Nothing exciting to report today as we continue to get swept along in this tidal wave of people destined for Santiago de Compostela. Apparently 2,700 pilgrims arrived on the 8th August, that’s just one day, so perhaps you can imagine what it is now like for us on the way.
We’re both well but with the finishing line not far away now our bodies seem to think they are already there because it’s hard work to get started and keep on going.
We have been greatly encouraged by your prayers, your comments, and your ‘likes’. They are much appreciated so please keep them coming as we head into the final three days.
68 kilometers to go!