41. Testing the Mettle

Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea,
Thy tribute wave deliver:
No more by thee my steps shall be,
For ever and for ever.

Flow, softly flow, by lawn and lea,
A rivulet then a river:
Nowhere by thee my steps shall be
For ever and for ever.

But here will sigh thine alder tree
And here thine aspen shiver;
And here by thee will hum the bee,
For ever and for ever.

A thousand suns will stream on thee,
A thousand moons will quiver;
But not by thee my steps shall be,
For ever and for ever

We ate simply last night.  Maggie had eaten her fill at lunchtime and couldn’t face another morsel.  Instead we found a little shop and like kids in a sweetshop we bought fruit and yogurt and cheese and bread.  I made myself a cheese sandwhich and we had fruit and yoghurt for breakfast… and I made a banana sandwhich for lunch… Maggie opted for a cheese… preferring to eat her banana on its own.

We set off just after 8.30 this morning… it was going to be a very tough day.  One of the problems of not really looking ahead is that we weren’t quite prepared for the elevations that we’ve been  climbing each day.  I’d  thought that the Alto de Canda was the pinnacle… it was actually the start.  But as with all our challenges,  we can’t turn back so it’s one foot in front of the other until we reach the end.

Speaking of ends… today is one of sorts. Gerry left home this morning and arrived in Burgos at about the same time that we arrived at our albergue.  He’ll join us tomorrow and once again our duo will be a trio. I have loved walking with my Aussie friend but I’m sure she’ll understand that I’m more than a little excited  at the prospect of Mr. S walking with us.  Both Maggie and i are feeling homesick…  its been too long since I saw his smile.  Drive safely my dear… just a few more hours.

But back to today.  There wasn’t much of a sunrise this morning.  Instead we were treated to a glorious misty morning. Mist coated the fields and the trees and hung over the houses of Laza.  A heavy dew settled on everything it touched and whilst it was cold it wasn’t frozen.  As we left town we could see the sky changing colour and we knew that somewhere behind those hills the sun was waking.

On we walked and as we reached the first village we turned to see the sun rising in the sky and feel her warmth on our backs.

We were diverted briefly off course by a naughty bar that placed arrows for tired pilgrims to follow… we checked our book and retraced our steps and carried on through the village and up the hill… our turning was a little further along on the righthand side of the road.

We stopped to remove our hats and coats… and looked ahead at the hills rising above us… we were pretty sure that this was where we were heading.

we stopped to watch a gardener prepare his plot for winter. As he worked a few cows came trotting by… directed by an old fellow on a bicycle.  It was as if they had been placed just in that spot just for us to watch…it was the perfect  bucolic scene… it was hard to stop looking and pull ourselves away but that mountain wasn’t going to walk itself.

On we walked through another tiny village.  Higher and higher we went following the path.  We left the village and walked back into the pines and up and up we walked until even the pines stopped.

We climbed hundreds of metres… up and up until our cows and the valley below were lost.  We looked up… the trail looked like it had been cut out of the edge of the mountain .  There was just a drop… nothing to stop our fall… nothing to comfort a poor pilgrim scared of heights. I clung to the other side of the path and refused to look up… not even a glance.  Maggie asked if I was ok… it was so severe that even she was nervous… although she later told me that she had fallen off a cliff as a child and only a tree saved her by breaking her fall… I guess she has a right to be fearful!

For a kilometre or more we climbed up along this edge… I never squealed and I never quickened my pace… Crikey this path has tested me but I think I did rather well today.

On we went… kilometre after kilometre of up.  We’d think …. oh thank goodness this is the top… and turn a corner and see more up.  I said to maggie…you know those majestic mountains I loved so much… I’ve  gone off them today.  I know I’m fickle but crikey my legs hurt.

More ups… we passed a few Nepalese trekkers going  down and asked them if we were still on the right path… ok we didn’t really but it felt like we were going to climb everest or certainly hit snow.

On and on some more… so high that the views had gone and we were back in forest… thank heaven for small mercys because at least the ledge was gone. We sat on the path and had half a sandwhich and a biscuit before moving on again.

We were on the ridge.  a big ridge… wide enough for a road and pastures on either side and then finally a small village… with a bar… Yeah!

We had a coke and I bought a hard boiled egg… there was a bowl of them for sale on the bar. This bar has its walls and ceilings covered in scallop shells. .. and every shell has been written on and dated by a pilgrim.   We were handed our shells but I made a mess of mine as the pen slipped so for years and years folks will see Colleen Sims… Englisl woman living in France… hey ho.

We sat and drank our cokes in the company of three old chaps who smiled whenever we looked their way … I munched on my egg and all the while Frank Sinatra crooned away with Fly Me To The Moon and That’s Life… such a surreal experience.

Time was pressing and the hill called us… only a little more up before a lot of down.  The sun was high and I was hot… There’s no pleasing some pilgrims is there?

These hills are made from granite and the path sparkled beneath our feet… I hummed Rihanna as I walked… Shines bright like a diamond… Shines bright like a diamond.

Then finally no more up.  it was just down…. and pretty steep it was too.  I thought of the fench priest I met near Zubiri on my first camino… he told me it’s easier to run than walk… today i decided to give it a try.  I started jogging but momentum took over so it quickly that it became a run.  I’ll admit it was more than a little scary at times but crikey that was the fastest kilometre I’ve done for  a while.

Down and down and down we jogged… we stopped halfway for the second half of our sandwhiches before the last few kilometres into town.

We’re washed and changed and the only pilgrims in the municipal albergue… it’s very swish and I’m sure we’ll be very comfortable and sleep well .. better still it’s on the camino and the bar is opposite.  I’m not sure I could walk much further today.

This time next week we could be in Santiago… We’re both feeling very quiet… this amazing adventure is drawing to its end.

I’d also like to say how totally heartbroken I am to hear the news that the heart of Exeter was burning.

Thats home… Thats where I was born and where I grew up.   I have so many memories from Cathedral Green and Friday nights in the Well House and posh teas in the Clarence….eating pasties on the wall outside the hotel. The Ship in too if we wanted to have one for the road on the way home . Me and Jan very very nearly took offices above The Wool Mill once upon a time.

Beautiful, ancient, historic Exeter… so very very sad.

I’ve been thinking too of the firefighters and gas engineers and friends and loved ones caught up in this… stay safe everyone xx

4 thoughts on “41. Testing the Mettle

  1. Well! the relief is palpable – you made THE HIGHEST PEAK without hesitation!
    Enjoy the rest of the walk and take it easy now – you don’t want to wear Gerry out – poor old guy!.


  2. Well done girls, I should think by now you are both truly pilgrims, you have certainly earnt your title…. Well done both of you.
    Not much further now!!🙏🏼 take care…..xxx


  3. This walk is testing you that’s for sure but you are almost there. I too thought about the offices we so nearly took all those years ago. Such a sad day for Exeter yesterday and I think parts of it are still burning.


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