The countdown begins

We often reflect back on our wonderful Camino experiences, especially our first Camino Francés in 2017. We had always hoped to do this again one day, but then any thoughts of travelling were put on hold by the COVID outbreak and moving house. However, a few weeks ago Mandy started thinking about options and timing, incorporating our favourite places and shortening some of the longer/more difficult stages – not a bad idea given that neither of us is getting any younger and in fact Ken will celebrate his 70th birthday on this Camino!

Slowly ideas began to germinate into a plan and our excitement started to build when we identified affordable flight options. Our outlook on life has always been to do things while we can, so we’ve taken the plunge and booked our tickets. We start with two nights in Paris before catching a train to Saint Jean Pied de Port and after leaving Santiago we will fly to Munich to stay with friends before heading home.

We’re allowing ourselves plenty of time, aiming for 36 walking days, plus rest days in Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and Leon. Our adventure starts on 6 May and we’re already very excited.

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we set off from St Jean Pied de Port

Day 26 – to Santiago de Compostela

  • Distance – 16.72km (658.5km total)
  • Walking time – 3 hours 25 minutes (4 hours including breaks)

Today was the day we reached Santiago de Compostela to complete our Camino Portugués. It was also our earliest start; we left our hotel at 6.15am and it was still pretty dark. We walked down the N550 for a couple of kilometres before picking up the Camino again. Our plan was to stop for breakfast after 10km or so and arrive in Santiago around 10am. The air was wonderfully cool and refreshing after our warm and stuffy hotel room. We made a brisk start and clocked up some fast kilometres, but there was still time for Ken to stop and take a photo!

We saw very few other pilgrims and began to wonder whether we were behind, or in front of the pack. When we stopped for breakfast the bread to make toast had not yet arrived and we had to make do with a pain au chocolate. The freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee were excellent and just to rub salt into the wound, the bread arrived just as we were leaving!

The short walk we had left into Santiago passed very easily and quickly. At 9.30am we’d left our rucksacks with the Post Office’s left luggage service and were walking towards the cathedral. Ken took a couple of quick photos, but the recently renovated facade was still in deep shadow so we continued on to the Pilgrims’ Office. There was no-one in the queue and we both had our compostelas a few minutes later. Walking back through Santiago to the cathedral we realised that everywhere was strangely quiet. We entered the cathedral and took our turn in the small queue waiting to embrace the bust of Saint James. After thanking him for our safe Camino we sat in the cathedral to collect our thoughts.

Ken wanted a beer, of course, to celebrate and to cool down (the day was quickly becoming oppressively hot) so we went to a nearby bar. We were back in the cathedral in plenty of time for the mass at noon, easily found a seat and waited for the service to begin. The same nun as we heard last September sang as beautifully as she did then. It brought back many happy memories. Unfortunately the botafumeiro was not swung, but we didn’t really care as we’d finally attended a Pilgrims’ Mass!

We browsed the shops, had lunch and ice-cream, bought a t-shirt for Ken then returned to the cathedral for some photos and a little more contemplation before catching our 5.30pm coach back to Porto.

We became so engrossed in our thoughts that we didn’t realise how much time had passed. In a rush, we collected our rucksacks from the Post Office and walked quickly to the bus station.

We’re writing this while on the coach and have realised that what took us twelve days to complete on foot will only take four and a half hours (including stops) this evening. Just as well that a Camino is much more than simply going from point A to point B!

Thank you to those of who have made the journey with us through our daily blog posts – you may be relieved to know that this is the last of them (but only for a while if Mandy has her way). Thanks also to Mike and Cathy whose company on the road made the long and uncomfortable stretches between Lisbon and Porto more fun than they would otherwise have been.

Finally, just to prove that we made it, here’s a photo of us in front of the cathedral.

Day 25 – to A Angueira de Suso

  • Distance – 22.01km (641.78km so far)
  • Walking time – 4 hours 55 minutes (7 hours 10 minutes including breaks)

We made another early start as we wanted to spend some time exploring Padrón which was about 11km away. The sun wasn’t anywhere near up and the local church was still illuminated by its external lights.

We decided to cover the first few kilometres quickly by walking along the N550 rather than sticking to the Camino which meanders back and forth across it. This brought us to Valga where Ken just couldn’t resist posing next to a piece of art outside its albergue. It seems that he’s not the only pilgrim with sore feet😂.

We arrived in Padrón in time for breakfast and ate at a local café which was full of locals and market stall holders. Service was a little slow (even by Spanish standards) so Mandy went and bought some churros from a nearby stall to keep us going. They were crispy and delicious!

Padrón is known for its small spicy green peppers often sold as tapas. They are griddled and sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt before serving. We’ve enjoyed them a few times on this Camino and this morning it was nice to visit the large local market selling the raw ingredient.

We’ve commented on more than one occasion how we’ve felt that this Camino has lacked a sense of history compared with the Camino Francés. However, this morning more than made up for it. Padrón plays a significant role in the history of the Camino and Saint James. Legend claims that the town got its name from a large stone (Pedrón) that the boat transporting the dead body of Saint James was tied to. The actual stone is in Padrón’s Church of Santiago, directly under the altar and illuminated by lights above. The position it occupies is said to be exactly as it was at the time of the boat’s arrival. There is also a belief that if you give a coin to Saint James in the church, it will bring you luck and the realization of a wish. So, naturally we threw our coins at the stone and made our wishes.

Padrón also played a key role in the life of Saint James as an apostle. He was instructed by the Holy Spirit to travel to Galicia to preach, arriving there in 45AD. He regularly preached at a rocky area above Padrón called Santiaguino del Monte. This elevated preaching point survives today and we reached it by climbing up a steep path and steps from the town.

In order to help convince sceptics, Saint James is said to have caused a spring to spout water by banging his staff on nearby solid rock as a demonstration of God’s power. The spring exists to this day. We refilled our water bottles from it and regardless of the story of the miracle itself, we were glad of its cool and refreshing water. We had the site to ourselves and we both revelled in its historical significance.

When we left Padrón, it was a relatively short walk to our overnight accommodation (Pensión HK), where we enjoyed yet another enormous menú del día. Tomorrow is our final stretch into Santiago de Compostela (only 15km) and we have sufficient clean clothes, so there was no need to do our laundry – hooray😁!

Day 24 – to Carracedo

  • Distance – 26.87km (619.77km so far)
  • Walking time – 5 hours 20 minutes (6 hours 35 minutes including breaks)

We’re rapidly approaching the end of our Camino Portugués and thought that this might be a good time to share our thoughts on the experience, especially as the walking today was very similar to the past few days and Ken took very few photos. He was keen to try out his James Brown impression, singing “I feel good……” as we crossed the bridge leaving Pontevedra and that was very much how the day went. It got even better when England beat Sweden in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Ken’s only other photograph today was this donkey just outside of Caldas de Reis.

The walking conditions were perfect and after two hours we stopped for a coffee before continuing on to Caldas de Reis. The town was disappointing, but we enjoyed a cold beer in the bar next to the church. While we were sat there, we saw lots of musicians arriving and later talked to pilgrims who couldn’t get accommodation and had to continue to Padrón, some 20km further on. Apparently there is a large music festival in the town and everything is fully booked. Luckily Mandy had booked a room at Pensión Sevi 5km outside of Caldas de Reis, so we only had an hour or so to go. We checked in at the bar, but as our room wasn’t ready the owner gave us a couple of beers while we waited. After a quick shower we went for a late lunch at Café-Bar Esperon. Our €8.50 menú del día was a huge feast, finished off with coffee and homemade grappa.

We are now less than 40km from Santiago de Compostela and will arrive there on Monday. The $64,000 question is “have we enjoyed our Camino Portugués?” and the answer is a definite “yes”. It has, however, been different to our experience on the Camino Francés, in some ways better and in other ways not.

The better parts have been the friendliness and generosity of both the Portuguese and Spanish people, walking by the coast, the opportunity to see historic cities such as Coimbra, Tomar and Santarém and the awesome pastéis de nata we’ve enjoyed (😉). The less enjoyable parts were the long hard sections on the Lisbon to Porto section, the lack of other pilgrims and the absence of any tangible links with history on those sections. Although we’re not religious, we’ve also missed the opportunity to attend a pilgrim mass along the way.

We probably will not walk the Camino Francés again, having completed it last year and re-walked a part earlier this year. We might, however, revisit the Camino Portugués from Porto at some future time, once Ken has sorted out his sore feet🤣.

Day 23 – to Pontevedra

  • Distance – 20.5km (592.9km so far)
  • Walking time – 4 hours 30 minutes (5 hours 15 minutes including breaks)

Including today, we have only four more days walking ahead of us before we reach Santiago de Compostela – fortunately Ken’s sore foot seemed to have improved overnight. One of the things we really enjoy about staying in an apartment for a night is the freedom to make our own breakfast. After fruit, coffee, bread and jam we were on our way for a relatively short stretch to Pontevedra. We both decided to walk in sandals as the terrain didn’t seem too challenging. As we left Redondela we passed this dog lying peacefully on top of a wall. The reason for mentioning this is that we’ve had a number of encounters with barking and snarling dogs, especially in the Lisbon to Porto stretch. A relaxed one made a pleasant change!

The early morning clouds on the top of the nearby hills and the climb out of Redondela reminded us that we are now very definitely in Galicia. The long flat stretches of the Coastal Route are a distant memory.

We came to a wall as we left Cesantes where it has become a tradition for pilgrims to leave shells, some with messages, others with the date and some without any inscription. We’re not sure why this happened here, but it was something a little different.

The undoubted highlight of the morning was the old Roman bridge at Pontesampaio and the café/bar on the other side. The earliest references to the bridge are from the 10th century and it later played a strategic role in 1809 in the war between Spanish and French forces.

The café/bar on the far side offered breakfast comprising freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and cheese on toast for only €3. It was too good an opportunity to miss so we happily indulged. It turned out to be the best value breakfast we’ve enjoyed on any of our Caminos.

As we expected, it was a steep climb on an old Roman road out of Pontesampaio and up into the surrounding hills. This again gave us the feeling of connecting with history and is one of the things that makes the Camino experience so enjoyable. We passed a route marker showing that we now had less than 80 kilometres to go; Ken said that his feet were pleased to hear it😂.

After a while we entered a forest of oak trees where the path widened and made for great walking as well as nice photo!

Before too much longer and without any further stops along the way, we descended down towards Pontevedra and the small villages on its outskirts. The centre of the city is full of beautifully preserved old stone buildings. It also has impressive churches, including the unusual round church of the Virgin of the Camino (photo below) and the impressive gothic Basilica of Santa Maria.

We were early enough to enjoy an excellent menú del día lunch at local restaurant and then watch the France v Uruguay World Cup game in a bar on the way back to our hostel. Now we’ll give Ken’s feet a rest before the 25km walk waiting for us tomorrow😴.