Some of the folks who follow my blog will already know that as well as walking my own Caminos, I also organise workshops and escorted small group walks along the Camino. I’m taking a group in September 2021 from St Jean Pied de Port to Logrono and after this another group from Logrono onto Burgos. And… I’m also looking forward to 2022 and planning other group walks.
My current thinking is that I’ll take a group from St Jean Pied de Port to Logrono (along the Camino Frances) on 19-28 April 2022 and another group from Oviedo to Santiago (along the Camino Primitivo) on 14-29 May 2022.
I’m also pondering another group between 29 April and 13 May but I’ve not yet decided which route to plan … but I am collecting names for anyone who might interested in walking with me. So – Drop me a line if you think this might be of interest in any of my group walks!
I pinched that line from a friend who set up a business during the first COVID lockdown (she’s been really successful too… if you’re in the UK and need cakes ). We kind of stayed hot all evening yesterday; Gerry felt it more than me but it was really hard to cool down after walking in the sun. Last night we decided not to repeat the exercise today but to be more cautious about the time we spent under this hot Spanish sun! We also decided that we’ll not come walking again in July (or August) because it’s just too hot. We said the same last year when we walked the Lebaniego and yet here we are again… but in our defence both times it’s been because of lockdowns and changes in restrictions and the simple desire to come walk as soon as possible… but regardless… in future we’re staying put at home! I think we both agreed that we’d rather walk in the cold or even the rain than really hot sunshine… and at home we know how to keep the house cool and the garden is growing and productive and we should make the most of the French sunshine.
It was because of that Gerry said he didn’t want to walk for too far today and to limit the time outside and be done before mid-day. So we found a spot just after Olcoz that would give us an hour or so to walk before turning around and heading back to the car. The drive from our apartment was over an hour this morning… we were up early again (tractors this time) and I caught another sunrise. We decided there was no need for picnics as we would be on the Camino Frances and there were bound to be options!
Before I start I’ve added a little bit of music. We heard it drifting out of a bar today. Maybe give it a play whilst you read; it kind of fits our mood.
So we knew that today would be hot. In all honesty it’s too hot to be out walking and yet these two English folk were out in the mid day sun! We woke with the village but unlike other days, today we rose early as we knew if we wanted to do any walking it had to be done early! It was the first time that I was able to catch the sunrise coming over the mountains!
I think we have rented the noisiest little casa in Berdun! We think that the residents must be so used to the noise that they don’t hear it anymore. Or maybe we live in such a quiet corner of rural France and we’re not used to the noise of the metropolis? (bearing in mind there are only around 200 residents in this little hilltop village) Every night we’re ready for bed around 10:00pm but that’s when the village is coming to life. Old ladies gather under our apartment window and chatter and laugh and no doubt share the village news. Children seem to enjoy kicking a football around in the church park above the house and last night we were sure they must have been walking a sheep up the lane? The dog across the road gets very excited about all the passing traffic and barks and as the house is on a bend at the top of steep hill, cars need to rev their engines to make it to the top… and if that wasn’t enough the lady who lives on the floor above us seems to move her furniture around every night… we kid you not it really does sound like someone is dragging a bed or a wardrobe across the floor. Anyway… it’s noisy. But do you know what? We kind of love the noise. It’s full of character. It’s Spain.
Before going to bed last night we sat out on the terrace and watched a light show in the distance on the hills beyond Pena Monastery. Flashes of lightning flew across the sky and dark clouds passed in front of the moon. We expected a storm but for us nothing happened.
The guide says that today we face a dilemma; do we take the road via Rocaforte or by the Foz de Lumbier. It goes on to say that whilst recognizing the attractiveness of crossing the Foz de Lumbier (a natural gorge that has great reviews), they actually suggest that pilgrims take the official path from Sangüesa via the little village of Rocaforte as it passes through the Aibar and Loiti valleys, in a beautiful natural, environment.
Fortunately we don’t have to make that choice as we decided to walk part of one option today and part of the second option tomorrow. We know we can’t walk every step of this stage, Sangüesa to Izca is over 18km and we’d then have to walk back making it 36km… and of course Gerry is still not 100% on his feet AND the weather forecast for today was 38c. So we decided to put a time limit on our walking; where ever we were at 10:30 we’d turn around. This meant we’d be back to the car before midday.
We parked just off the main road beside a huge factory (Smurfit Kappa) – Gerry says they make packaging. It was a reminder that not all of the camino can be glorious and modern life makes it mark too. We walked between the factory and a field of sunflowers on a short steep little track taking us up to the village of Rocaforte. Gerry wondered if they made cheese like their French namesake but I knew that there weren’t any services here… just a lot of very nice modernised houses. The markings were a little confusing because as well as camino markings, there are markings for village walks. We were distracted when Gerry asked me about a scarecrow in one of the gardens at the bottom of the village… what scarecrow I asked? to which he replied…That one… there… can’t you see? I couldn’t see and he thought I must be mad. We shuffled a few feet along to give me a better view point (totally missing the yellow arrows)… see now? he asked… then his scarecrow moved and started talking to an old chap on the other side of the garden… oh said Gerry… well in my defence, she did stand still for a very long time – mmm I thought, I only saw a lady in the garden!
Surprisingly the larks were quiet today, or I was just really tired! It was the alarm that woke us at 6:45 this morning. We were prepared today. Picnic in the fridge, bottles of water chilling, bags packed and flasks ready to be filled. Today was the day that we were heading back to France to walk the final stage of the Arles Camino (also called the Via Tolosana – with it’s name taken from it’s starting point of Toulouse in SW France). Bad weather had prevented us making this stage last week, today the weather looked good and it was the right time for us to return.
We had wanted to pick up the path at Urdos, making a round trip of around 18km but as were still not sure how Gerry’s ankle will hold up we started a little further along the trail. Our thinking was that if he was feeling good we could always return to the village and walk some more. As it happened he was limping when we returned to the car so we made a good choice.
One of the problems with our ‘there and back’ camino is that we always need to find a spot where the camino is near a road and where we can park. In the mountains and in these rural areas that’s never easy and today was no exception but we did find a small layby on the main road just off of the Somport Tunnel. We parked and set off, hoping that we’d find the arrows. It actually took us longer than we expected but we were hampered by having no phone signal so I wasn’t able to check on the Gronze map. But we decided it didn’t matter, we’d just keep walking until we found the trail. We started at around 1000m elevation so we knew we had about 650m to climb today and we figured we had around 7km of up before facing 7km of down.
Today we were up with the lark. Well actually I was up with the tractors and combine-harvesters which left the village at around 5:07am… and left barking dogs in their wake. The larks started around 6:00am… as did the swallows, sparrows, pigeons and blackbirds. Our little house is directly under the walls and garden of the church above. In the garden of the church are many many trees and I suspect they are home to many many different species of birds; including larks.
I tried to get back to sleep but I was really cold. I searched in the dark for my blanket (we have separate covers on the bed). In the end I got up and searched and realised that Gerry was snuggled up with my blanket whilst his lay abandoned on the floor beside the bed. I tried to gently retrieve my blanket and replace it with Gerry’s… but he woke up… but only for about 10 seconds before returning to sleep… obviously larks don’t bother Gerry!
When we first drove along the road from Jaca, a few days ago, I was pretty surprised to see Puenta la Reina on the same signpost as Pamplona and I wondered if we’d been transported across country to the Camino Frances. To avoid confusion this village is actually named Puente la Reina de Jaca… but they can’t fit all of that on the road signs!
It was here that we decided to test out Gerry’s ankle. There was a 4km stretch to Arres which we felt he would manage and from there we could decide to go on or return. The thermometer is rising and every day will now be over 30c so we wanted to get walking early. We started walking at 8:30 which wasn’t really early but not too late either. We crossed the queens bridge to reach the camino; sadly the original bridge was replaced and this one is nowhere near as grand as it’s namesake further north. It’s also quite narrow so crossing it with cars and lorries passing us was a little unnerving. Once on the other side we had to walk along the road for a while before turning off on to a much quieter smaller country lane; so small in fact that we had a rather hairy moment with a lorry as it had to squeeze past us! Thankfully all that we suffered was a blast of hot air from his engines as he drove by. But dodging tractors and large vehicles would be a bit of a theme today. But not right now as the arrows took us off the road and up into the hills.
Last night as Gerry looked at my blog and photos he said that he felt a but left out because he never saw the things i saw… he never walked with me. Today the plan has been for more of the same, in that I walk a bit and he join me along the trail for a cuppa but whilst that was a great plan for me it wasn’t such fun for my walking buddy. So we needed a Plan B. His ankle is better. Although I have to say he’s not the best patient… but when I tell him that he says I’m a stroppy nurse. But apart from this the ankle is improving, not enough for a day of walking but enough for a day of visiting.
In our schedule we’d allowed 2 days for the walk from Jaca to San Juan de la Pena and onwards but we could make up a day by visiting in the car instead. It would give Gerry a gentle day and we’d have lots of time to explore these two amazing buildings.
We drove for 30 minutes, half of which was on the narrow windy road leading up the site of the new monastery. Work began on a new baroque monastery in the 17th century, and is located in an environment of great beauty which has been declared a Protected Landscape. It’s about 1.5km higher than the older monastery and you can walk between the two.