Distance, 24 km
Elevation gain, 266 m
Elevation loss, 386 m
Total distance, 624 km
Daily average, 28.4 km
We are informed by my notes that the first 12 km of this stage are on the road. But I am also informed that it is possible to follow the GR86 route to the same town and walk off road. We leave Retortilla via an archway and soon come to a small chapel.
At this point the yellow arrow directs a right turn onto the road, whereas we turned left for the GR route. I forgot to start recording on Wikiloc until we had covered around 1.5 km. Even on this route we are still on the road for around 3 km before following the red and white stripes to the right over barely discernible dirt tracks, through scrubby woodland, over great slabs of rock and past towering cliffs. A couple of vultures take off barely a couple of metres above our heads, their huge wings making a loud swishing noise. An incredible sight and sound.
At 5 km we reach the first village, Castro, and at 8 km Valvenedizo, where all the inhabitants (two men and a dog) greeted us in the town square. Inhabitant number one was extremely kind and showed us the way back onto the GR86, and accompanied us for 15 minutes.
A lot of the cliffs are deep red and there are many ruins that were built into the rock face. It’s an absolutely fabulous walk over all types of ground. But the red and white stripes indicating the way are not always easy to see and we do get a bit lost, but can see from maps.me that we are heading in the right direction. Eventually we cross a small crop field to reach the road and immediately see the stripes. We should have got onto the road some time sooner, but no harm done.
We bypass the third village on this route, Losana and are back on track for the final leg of the GR86 into Tarancueña at 16 km, 4 km further than taking the road, but immeasurable pleasure in that extra distance. We have been walking through raw nature, virtually no cultivation, birds singing all the way, vultures and eagles circling overhead, streams rushing along, and no mud.
After Tarancueña we are back on the camino, and on equally beautiful track. Mostly narrow goat track winding up and down the hillsides, lots of climbing up rocky cliff faces, wading rivers and hopping over stepping stones, all the while surrounded by towering cliffs.
Finally we can see the church of our destination, but it is on the other side of the gorge high up above us. The last climb into Carancena is a bit of a challenge. We find the bar, which is just below the church at the top of the hill, very subtly and simply called ‘bar’ on a wooden plaque above the door. We walked straight past without noticing it, but when we finally pushed open the door we were welcomed by María Angeles. I had heard that her son allowed pilgrims to stay in his house. She confirmed this was so but that the house was rather old and primitive. Fine by us, I told her. It is indeed primitive but much more welcoming that many albergues we have stayed in. There are three beds, two rather larger than single, so the four of us were easily able to fit in. A decent bathroom and kitchen, calor gas heater and hot water for the shower. Everything a pilgrim needs. Donativo. Thank you María Angeles. You can reach her in advance 975 183 560 / 690 248 472 / 692 311 393. There was no mobile signal in the village, so it is best to try the landline first. And she serves good food.
We left our stuff at the bar whilst we walked up to see the castle. It’s huge and open for exploration. Nina was outside waiting for me to exit and thought she would take a photo of my smiling face as I emerged through the low doorway. Little did she know that I had decided the best way to avoid bashing my head was to exit rear end first. Result, a rather unexpected and silly photo.
I’ve just learned that we have more than doubled the population today. There are just three permanent inhabitants of Caracena, swelling to 90 during the summer.
This stage was not long in distance but we all felt exhausted when we arrived. It was hard work walking on uneven surfaces and climbing rock-faces. One of the most stunning camino walks.