Day 1 of the walking part was a most memorable day. Starting at 8.20 from St. Jean Port de Pied the 29 strong group headed for The Napoleon Route, the tougher of the two options on a dry cloudy morning. The first 9k stage to Orisson was tough and all were glad to reach the first and last stop with any food and refreshment facilities on this stage. Napoleon Sheehan led from the front and with renewed vigour we headed for the highest point 1400m and the border crossing into Spain. The Pyrenees were spectacularly beautiful – lusciously green not unlike Ireland with a now you see them now you don’t feel due to the fog. Splatters of snow were still to be found near the top. Passing over the cattle grid border point was a special moment. The route was dotted with people of all ages and nationalities and Buon Camino was the order of the day. In beautiful sunshine we reached our destination Roncesvallee a lovely monastery village and needless to say we cleaned the plates.
Day 2 from Roncesvallee to Zubiri in lovely sunshine. Sylvan forests, riverside walks, farmyards, picturesque villages and a bit of Basque handball – pelota. Back to Roncesvallee for the second night and a wild sing song where every song under the sun got a unmerciful battering…Neil Diamond – Cavanstyle….the Supremes were a huge hit and no more I’ll say…
Day 3 – this beginning to sound like Star Trek to Pamplona in 23degrees. Despite Tipp’s loss to the Cats Jim Humphreys was heard to remark “after this I think I’ll go back playing Junior hurling!!!” No bulls in sight but plenty of “bull….”
Day 4 into Puenta La Reina was managed under 23-24 degrees of heat. Poignant reminders along the way of those that have passed on with crosses, little mounds of stones and larger memorials including one to an Irish man. The journey is neatly broken by pit stops in several little villages along the way. The most treasured moment on these trips is the shower on arrival and following the hotest day on the trek, the scrubdown in Puenta La Reina was especially welcome. The appetite was well sharpened and the wine was plentiful and sweet!
Day 5 – a frequent comment on the trek is how seldom one sees any native on the road, out working, in the villages. Maybe they have heard that the Irish are out as many other pilgrims are now well aware of the “Boden 29”. Someone called it the “Curse of Neil Diamond” and that´s a story for another day. Temperatures down at about 18 which is ideal for walking. The magic 100k was passed before the group reached Estella and the beautiful 4* Chapitel.
Day 6 – our accommodation has been excellent – from small guesthouse hotels to 4*. Last nights was probably the best – lovely rooms, centre of Estrella and the friendliest welcome of all. Food has also been fine – with last night’s in a local restaurant where by a majority vote we agreed it was pork. Nuala had Dan plagued for updates from the Lucan match and the services of Conor Doolan were also employed. Conor’s great to keep in touch when he’s away so fair play to him. Needless to say there was muchos celebrations on the streets of Estrella. Today we had our first drop of rain for about 6-7k. No wonder the place is so green. The Camino is first and foremost a pilgrimage despite the many motivations for making the trek. The route is dotted with many churches some of which date from 11 or 12 centuries. All have the same beige/tan colour with interiors characterised by simple styles. Exceptions being some ornate altars. The routes are clearly marked and follow paths laid down over the centuries – cutting through fields even. Ornate fountains still serve to replenish the pilgrim. Tillage is the dominant form of agriculture and a variety of crops are sown including of course serval vineyards. There was even a free wine fountain – can you imagine if we had one of them on the St Patrick’s weekends of old!!!!!
Day 7 – the Church of St Mary of the Arches in Los Arcos contradicts the comment about simplicity with its ornate Gothic and Baroque features in a town of 1300 inhabitants. Last night’s dinner was first class and the sing song wasn’t bad either. Galway Girl went down well. Today was our earliest start as we hit the road at 08.15 for the 27k trail to Logrono in the nearby province of La Rioja famous for its wine – not that any of our gang would be indulging! A bit on the chilly side early on but warmed up to about 16 degrees which was perfect. Again we trotted along through what the Guidebooks call “sleepy” Spanish villages more like “snoring” – not a soul in sight in most cases. A highlight was the magnificent Iglesia de Santa Maria in Viana where a certain Cesare Borgia came a cropper. We didn´t though and marched on the our final destination Logrona and the beautiful Hotel F&G. All are well in body and mind and there’s probably one last cut left in us for tonight. And only 625k more to Santiago le cunamh De. A superb dinner concluded Camino 2013 – well done to Teresa, Therese, Ann and Clarinda for the organisatio; to Conor, Brian, JC, Eamonn the photographer, the sweepers and all who made it a such a memorable event.
Day 8 – the Return. An attempted “kidnap” of the Boden 29 quickly was aborted by our own Miss Marples Teresa when the bus driver tried to take us to Burgos instead of Bilbao. A renegade music society was reckoned to be responsible who were demanding retribution for serious harm done to some of the world’s great songs….and dances…Roll on the McCormack Conga….We shall overcome!!! Adios for now Espana!!