Here is part two of my 2017 camino round-up. I won’t give too much detail as these are much more travelled routes and there is a lot of easily available information around.
Setting out from Oviedo Marilyn and I bumped into Dave who we had met earlier on the Camino de Madrid. We were soon out of the city and onto quiet country roads accompanied by low cloud. There was some woodland and farm track, but a fair amount of hard surface walking on this first stage. Marilyn and I walked our own walk on this stage and by the time I reached Grado I didn’t know if she was ahead or behind me. As the posh new albergue in Grado was not open when I passed through I continued to San Juan de Villapañada, 5 km further and 1 km off the camino, where I found a little gem of an albergue, although I didn’t find Marilyn – she had stopped at Grado, where the sixteen paces soon filled. The albergue at San Juan has twenty places and most of them were taken. I met some lovely pilgrims at here, some of whom I would cross paths with from time to time all the way to Muxía. Stage length 31.7 km
Stage two, 27.7 km, involved lots of woodland tracks and walking through the dawn chorus – what a treat. And the prize at the end of the day was to stay with hospitalero David at his donativo albergue in Bodenaya. There are sixteen places, and the first eight or ten can be reserved. A true camino bonding experience will be found here, with a huge welcome, good facilities and communal dinner. David gives a talk about the coming days’ walk and there was a long group discussion to decide the time we would communally rise the next morning – a compromise of 06:15 (which I suspect might be the same every day with a bit of manipulation from David!). I concluded that David liked the sound of his own voice, but so did I so it was no hardship to listen to him.
Stage three, 25.9 km, was another fabulous day of walking through woodland (a bit muddy in places) with beautiful views to the mountains that we would be crossing tomorrow. I stopped at the village of Campiello and stayed at the excellent Albergue Ricardo, top notch facilities, fully equipped kitchen, modern bathrooms, good sturdy beds, comfortable communal areas indoors and out, with private rooms in addition to the dorms, and all very well run by caring people who operate the bar and shop across the road. There is also another well reviewed albergue in the village.
So far on the Camino Primitivo there were a lot more pilgrims than I anticipated, but for the most part I managed to walk alone and enjoy the company of others at the end of the day.
Stage four, 27.4 km, was the ‘biggie’. Up and over the Hospitales route, although there is an option to take a route through the valley with facilities half way where you can stop for the night. Marilyn and I opted to go up and over, and there certainly was a lot of ‘up’, (841m up and 530m down) and when we thought we had reached the top, there was still more ‘up’. There are no facilities for 20 km on this mountain pass so it is necessary to take food and water for the day, with the added weight making a hard day a little harder. But it was worth every effort, once again the mountain scenery was absolutely stunning in every direction. We stopped for the night at Berducedo and stayed at the private albergue ‘Camino Primitivo’ which was very pleasant. There is a municipal albergue here but it didn’t look very appealing.
Stage five, 27 km, was another day of severe ups and downs. First a short (2+ km) and very sharp up, and then through a recently burnt out pine forrest with a drop of 580m in the first 4km, then another 240m in next 4km all the way down to the dam on the Rio Navia, and then a steady prolonged climb back up the other side of the valley, mostly on asphalt. But there was another prize at the end of this knee-shattering stage in the shape of the very lovely albergue at Castro. Beds not great, but the ambience, the communal spaces and particularly the food were an absolute treat. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to eat their own food here, but there is a microwave if wanted and laundry facilities.
The start of stage six, 21 km, was another prolonged climb rising 450 metres to the summit where Asturias meets Galicia. A very pleasant day’s walking through woodland and rugged moorland, very little on the road. I stayed the night at Albergue Cantábrico in A Fonsagrada, another superb facility with sturdy beds and cotton sheets & duvet, well equipped kitchen, laundry facilities – really good value at 10€, with private rooms if required.
Stage seven, 35 km, involved a bit of road walking and a lot of woodland and countryside tracks. Another day of considerable elevation – accumulated uphill 611m, downhill 980m. I opted to walk a long stage of 35 km into Castroverde where there is a very nice new and modern municipal albergue. In my planning I had guessed that I would be late arriving after 35km and that maybe the albergue would be full, so I took the precaution of booking into a pension. I was a bit peeved to discover that in fact there were loads of beds available at the muni but I had already committed to Pension Cortés – a bit expensive at 38€ for a twin room, but Marilyn and I thought we were worth it and the private bathroom was a real treat.
My strategy for such a long stage into Castroverde was that I could take a short day into Lugo, a beautiful city where I wanted to spend some relaxing time wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere. So a mere 22km, again mostly in woodland and farmland with some stretches on asphalt. I was first to arrive at the municipal albergue at 11:30 – and it didn’t open until 13:00. There was a long line of backpacks by the door when the hospitalera arrived, but I was the first to register and I just dumped my stuff and set off to wander the walled city. So charming and such lovely weather to enjoy it.
At this point I diverged from my plan. I wanted to delay my entry onto the Camino Frances as long as possible, because however busy the Primitivo was, the Frances would be much busier. There is a little used cross-over from the Primitivo to the Camino del Norte involving two stages that I was keen to try. Dave was up for it so we followed the green arrows out of Lugo on the Camino Verde, leaving Marilyn to continue on the Primitivo. The arrows were a bit sporadic and I was pleased to have a track marked on my phone app maps.me. There is some really useful information on this camino forum thread.
The first stage took us on a delightful river walk and then through tiny stone hamlets and between pasture and woodland. There is only one option of accommodation before hitting the Norte and this is at 28 km in Friol at Pension Benigno, a bit dated but good value at 15€. There was approximately 400m accumulated elevation, both up and down.
The second stage of 27 km involved a lot of very muddy(!) tracks which was rather tiresome, and after squelching through deep manure for a lot farther than I would have liked, I eventually took the opportunity to divert onto a road where the going was a great deal easier. At around 18 km at the village of Mesón, the Camino Verde intersects with the Norte and I was once again walking amongst other pilgrims, albeit very few and far between. This last section was almost entirely on asphalt as far as I recall. Accumulated elevation 277 up and 244 down. And another prize was waiting in Sobrado dos Monxes in the form of an albergue situated in a Cistercian monastery originally founded in 952 and rebuilt in 1708. Again we had the freedom to wander around the buildings, mostly disused and in some disrepair but nevertheless a real treat.
I took another diversion on the next stage of my camino so as to delay my entry onto the CF a little longer. It was a walk of over 39km, almost entirely on asphalt. It wasn’t great and I wouldn’t recommend it. Mostly on quiet country roads but I got sidetracked following mojones that were marking a different route into Santiago. After walking beside the major N634 road for six kms on the hottest day of this camino with no shade whatsoever, I consulted my maps.me app again and found a turn-off into my intended destination of O Pedrouzo. I called into the first accommodation I found, the private albergue ‘Otero’ which was excellent, good beds and facilities 10€. I later discovered Dave had walked a slightly different route which landed him on the CF at Santa Irene and included a few kms through woodland, which sounds a better option than mine. But the distance to O Pedrouzo would have been the same.
The next stage took me into Santiago and after setting off in the dark, which was not really advisable when immediately walking through woodland, I soon came across Marilyn. We had plenty to catch up on and walked together for a while. I began to recognise sights from my first camino four years ago (each of my caminos since have entered Santiago via a different route). The distance from O Pedrouzo was only 20 km and I arrived at my accommodation by 10:30. I dumped my pack and went to do the usual stuff on arrival, including visiting the cathedral for the noon pilgrims’ mass. There was a botafumeiro swing, but sadly I missed it because as soon as the mass was over I left. I was quite uncomfortable this year with the attitude of many around me, some would describe it as a bit of a circus. A group of us from the Primitivo met up in the evening for supper, including of course my great friend Marilyn. One more night sharing a room together and a fond farewell the next morning, when she travelled to Madrid for her flight back to South Africa and I continued walking to the coast.
I’ve walked to Finisterre and Muxía twice previously and really like this way of ending my camino. On the past occasions I have walked one short day and two long-ish ones, due to the availability of accommodation. But when planning this year’s walk I discovered there were new options and I split the 90km hike into fairly equal portions, stopping first at the new albergue at Piaxe (A Pena), then at O’Logoso before reaching Finisterre and walking the next day to Muxía. I shan’t prolong this post any further by giving details as they can all be found on my planning spreadsheet and on the gronze.com website. Except to say that I was absolutely delighted to bump into Eli in Finisterre and together with Dave we walked up to the lighthouse to celebrate the sunset. It was a very special and fitting moment.
This has gone on much longer than I intended again. If you have read this far, well done for your perseverance, and I hope it was useful. Of course more detail is given in my daily reports that I posted live from the camino.