Camino del Norte 2010

   Two years ago I bought equipment for my first pilgrimage and most of it is still in good condition. I had already arranged a pilgrim passport and again a guidebook by Cordula Rabe.
   I come to Girona on Monday, September 26th. The next day, I travel by train, first to Barcelona and then to San Sebastian. On Tuesday night, in San Sebastian, heavy rain clouds are growing up in the sky. It does not bode well for tomorrow.

Parts from my diary.
   28 Sept, Wednesday. From Donostia San Sebastian to Zarautz. The weather has changed and is lovely with beautiful views. San Sebastian is one of Spain’s top tourist destinations. The area is also known for its big waves and good surfing possibilities. I stop for the night in Zarautz on the Albergue Igerain.
   30 Sept, Thursday. From Deba to Irurok. After Deba begins 12 tough kilometres upwards while it starts to rain. The coast is no longer visible. It gets really muddy where I walk. I continue up into a fairly mountainous area. Then the route goes steeply downhill. Very tired, I stop for the night at a small hotel in Irurok-Ziortza. The appearance reminds me of a hotel in the Alps.
   1 Oct, Friday. From Irurok to Guernica. It’s cloudy and nice to walk in the beautiful and hilly landscape. On a farm, there are kiwi-fruits on the trees. Would like to take a few, but someone is coming out from a house, and I do not want to ask. A track near the church in Elexalde-Arratzu leads down to a stone bridge Puente Arzubi. It is an old roman bridge, almost completely overgrown, over the small river Rio Golako. In the afternoon, I come to the beautiful and holy town of Guernica, in the Basque region. Of course, I visit the ceramic replica of the painting “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso, which one can see near the town centre. I watch the dramatic work of art for a long time and maybe I understand it a little better now.
   The Basque people were strongly against Francisco Franco and the right-wing phalange. During the Spanish Civil War, Franco took the initiative to a brutal punishment and devastating attack for the people in Guernica. The city was flight-bombed in April 1937 by Mussolini and Hitler’s Luftwaffe. A large number of people were killed and badly injured. Already four days later, Pablo Picasso in Paris began with his famous painting “Guernica”, which is expressing abhorrence of war, violence and brutality.
   2 Oct, Saturday. To Bilbao. The town Bilbao became early a commercial centre and had great importance in Spain, mainly due to its harbour activity and steel export. From the 1800s Bilbao was heavily industrialized, and became the second largest industrial region in Spain after Barcelona. Today Bilbao is a city that has grown, evolved socially, economically and culturally. Such as the Guggenheim Museum, and many other works of art.
   3 Oct, Sunday. To Pobeña. I leave the city core and I am not observant enough, in which direction the route leads. Eventually, I am on a kind of sharp promontory, where the road ends in the river Ria de Bilbao. Thus, a detour of about 5 km. Later, just before Pobeña, I come to the sea again and the beautiful playa and village of La Arena. I walk further on to the village Pobeña. There, it is no open Albergue, only the hotel Muggari Erretegia. Anyway, It is a nice hotel, in addition it is a festival in the village. The music flows out from a dance orchestra and the evening is getting both nice and late. I hang out with several Spaniards until the small hours and fatigue takes its toll.
   4 Oct, Monday. To Castro Urdiales. Shortly after Pobeña I come into the autonomous region of Cantabria. The coast is rocky. The waves passing into holes in the rocks and create amazing cascades. Small beaches can also be seen, here and there. The route branches off and leaves the coast in Ontón. However, I choose to continue along the beautiful coastal road N 634. Castro Urdiales is a city with a modern port. There is also a castle and a Gothic church, named Santa Maria de la Asuncion, from medieval times. The city is popular because of its beaches and the scenic harbour. Today’s commercial fishing is less than before, and may soon be gone.
   6 Oct, Wednesday. From Laredo to San Julián. The private Albergue in San Julián runs by the owner Ernesto Bustio. For staying over the night, it is “donativo”. You then pay what you want for lodging, dinner and breakfast. An amount of 30 Euro is decent, I think. Ernesto works extensively with the pilgrim route in this area. In the evening he informs, all of us, about his activities. It’s very interesting but time runs. When the clock is nine, nearly three hours have passed, and we twist ourselves. After a full day of walking, all stomachs now rumbles of hunger. The food taste anyway great, hunger is of course the best spice.
   7 Oct, Thursday. To Santander. The route runs half the day, on nice grassy cliffs high above the sea. There are long sandy beaches at some places below the cliffs, such as Playa de Langre. Some people, down there, are running in the foam of the waves. They are like small dots. The ferryboat to Santander leaves from Las Ventas. When I pass the Albergue in Santander near the Cathedral a woman shouts “señor… señor, aquí es”, here it is. Which nice reception, to the municipal Albergue. The choice to stay here is easy.
   8 Oct, Friday. To Santillana del Mar. In the morning, I leave Santander and continue inland near the Cantabrian coast. First, one cannot see the small town Santillana del Mar, because it lies in a valley. It is a charming city and one of the most important tourist destinations in the region.

   10 Oct, Sunday. From San Vicente de la Barquera to Llanes. I deviate from the route now and then and walk on asphalt almost all day. Soon, I come to the provincial border of Asturias. The area is part of the “Costa Verde” and known for its distinctive coastal landscape with mountains and beautiful beaches. In the south, I see Picos de Europa, which is a mountain range, as highest about 2500 meters above sea level. It rains during the whole day and also during the following days. No Albergue is open in Llanes. I’m choosing a hotel and can dry my clothes properly.
   12-13 Oct, Tuesday-Wednesday. From Ribadesella to Gijón. On Tuesday it rains again. Spain’s national day is today, October 12th. Most people, are not working today they are celebrating. In the afternoon, I stop in Colunga in a very hospitable and affordable hotel Las Vegas. On Wednesday I pass Villaviciosa. From there, one can travel south to Oviedo and connect to the Camino Primitivo.
   15 Oct, Friday. From San Esteban to Santa Marina. Now, the route goes further inland, both on gravel and asphalt. I deviate from the route again and walk towards Cudillero and El Rellayo near the coast. I continue in the afternoon on the route, as basically goes along highway A-8. In the evening, I stop at the Pension Prada in Santa Marina. I feel really welcome and get a nice and clean room. The hostess of the pension deserves a special praise. Many have come and we eat a good dinner. The evening becomes really nice. 

   18 Oct, Monday. From La Carridad to Ribadeo. In the morning, I follow the route to the beautiful cliffs of Cabo Blanco, with fantastic view out over the Atlantic Ocean. Just before, there is a Celtic fort “Castro de Cabo Blanco”, built perhaps before the Roman era. The fort protected settlements, which stretched across the peninsula and into a wide area on the mainland. The fort had a powerful defence system with five main lines, moats and walls.
   On the way down towards Playa de Porcia, I meet a Spaniard who has just bathed in the sea. He says it’s really cold in the water, but refreshing. It doesn’t sound appealing for me, so I continue to walk along the coast. The weather is beautiful and I pass the large and shallow Playa de Penarredonda. From the village Figurera, the 600 m long bridge Puente de los Santos over the river Rio Eo, leads to the city Ribadeo in Galicia. I do not think that, the Albergue in Ribadeo looks particularly nice. Therefore, I continue to Praca de Espana and find a hotel Rose Mary, with a nice room and a good price.

   23-24 Oct, Saturday-Sunday. From Sobrado dos Monxes to Monte do Gozo. It is foggy when I leave Sobrado dos Monxes. Camino del Norte leads down to Arzúa and connects to the popular French Route. In Arzúa, I stop for the night at the Albergue Via Lactea. On Sunday morning it is a persistent rain, actually all day long. Have not thought to walk very far in the rain but the proximity to the end goal gives me extra power. Anyway, I stop at the Albergue Monte do Gozo. It is the largest in Spain with over 500 beds. From the monument outside the Albergue, one can see the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela which is just 6 km away.
   25 Oct, Monday. It is now the last stretch left to Santiago de Compostela. At my arrival, I visit the pilgrim centre near the Cathedral. Many pilgrims are already there and I get my fifth pilgrimage diploma.
   The five-star deluxe hotel ”Hostal dos Reis Catolicos”, is also called Parador. It is situated close to the Cathedral and was already built during 1400’s. The hotel was previously an Albergue and hospital for pilgrims. The Parador hotel offers discount for pilgrims. When I ask, an overnight cost about 260 Euro. It might perhaps be something for those of you who particularly want to celebrate the arrival in Santiago in a landmark hotel, with several hundred years of traditions. Check special offers.
   Upon presentation of the pilgrim diploma, also called “Compostela”, the hotel serves 10 pilgrims per day; breakfast, lunch or dinner, every day for free. I get a delicious dinner there, my last evening in the hotel’s special dining room for pilgrims, “Comedor de Peregrinos”.

   I have often been asked which route is the “best and most beautiful” to wander. The answer is difficult, but as always it is a matter of taste and interest. I’ve walked some more routes after the Atlantic route. I wandered Camino Primitivo twice. It is here and there a bit desolate but incredibly beautiful. I mention this here because the route from Oviedo is a variant to the end of the Atlantic route. You can walk or take the bus from Villaviciosa to Oviedo. Travelling by bus in Spain is comfortable and cheap.

One more thing, don’t forget the weather forecast– Buen Camino