Along the Way

On this, the last day of our journey, I found an increasing joy in wrong turns, and frequent stops.  Though physically spent, I didn’t want my journey to end…….

Sahagun to Leon

Distance travelled:  approx. 59 km

Total distance travelled:  approx. 404 km

The Camino does not give you wings.  But it can teach you how to fly!

You need a light to follow the Way and to take the right turn.  And at 6.30 am on a semi-rural road, the way not lit by the bouncing light of pilgrims, we took a wrong turn into the darkness.

My life has been like that, floundering in the darkness for the path, finding dead ends and dark alleys, chasing the distant glimmer of hope that, like a flaming candle, snuffs out all too quickly.

And on this, our last day, a wrong turn in the darkness seemed fitting.  We had walked away from the flashing red neon of the roundabout sign and we should have walked towards it.

The desolate landscapes and the rising sun made for a reflective morning on the Camino.
The desolate landscapes and the rising sun made for a reflective morning on the Camino.

Soon, though, we had the path and saw in the slowly emerging shadows of the morning, other pilgrims in the distance who had made the same mistake, too far away now to help.

There were two routes on our map today, one through the roads or one on tracks.  We chose the tracks; the red soil and the sun scorched wheat flamed under a rising sun and there was, in the stillness and the desolate landness, great beauty.

At the end of the track, a welcome albergue in Calzadilla served us breakfast; it was a much needed rest stop after the pummelling of the rocky track.  I only found out later that my partner had locked out my front suspension, hence the extra stress on a body on the edge!  My hands suffered from the constant vibrations to the point I could barely stretch out my fingers.

We may not always get it right but some constructions are simply poetry
We may not always get it right but some constructions are simply poetry

Generally seeking natural and not man-made beauty, I found that not all man-made things are bad: water sweeps through the concrete lined canal after Calzadilla.  There is little in this world more soothing to me than the sound of rushing water, having lived in a seaside town for most of my life.

The trail passes beside sections of the original Roman road, fenced off now to protect it from further erosion; it is interesting but uninspiring!

A life-size visitor’s book

Bar del Elvis
Bar del Elvis

In Religios, (a place not difficult to find but the sudden change to blue arrows caused a bit of debate), we found the Bar del Elvis.  It is a visitors book on a grand scale; artwork and messages from pilgrims adorn the walls.  Grafitti to some but an evolving artefact to others.  It certainly made an interesting coffee stop!

Traditional wine cellars are built into the hillside in Reliegios
Traditional wine cellars are built into the hillside in Reliegios

For the cyclist, Mansilla de Las Mulas is a rolling 6 km with only the road bridge to get in the way of freewheeling.  It was market day and the streets were humming with life.  Some of those vegetables, surely they were GM’d!  I have never seen such enormous onions – but maybe that is the difference here.  UK supermarkets have a regulation size for each of its produce, but markets sell what is grown!  I know where I would rather shop; after all, I really don’t care whether there is a regularity to the shape of my carrots or a standardized colour to my eggs but I do care about taste!  And straight from the farm to the market, how can you beat that?  It is not something that I have regular access to where I live!

The coffee stop in Mansilla, just 6 km from Religios was not a necessity but I found myself increasingly dragging my heels.  We were nearing the end of our journey, Leon our final destination and it was suddenly too close.  I wasn’t ready for an ending or a good-bye.

I was far from working through my past, my unravelling not done.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Arguments and irritability had focused my mind more on the immediate concerns of the day.  Was I cross?  Had I got over it?  Who had displayed the greater insensitivity?  Was I being over-sensitive?

Taking time to look a runner bean tree?
Taking time to look …at a runner bean tree?

Maybe this was the point though, the reason I was taking the Camino now and not two years ago when I had first heard about it.  Maybe it was no longer the past that was a scrambled jigsaw but my present?  I am over the fragility of the past few years,  and now I am flexing the muscles of my future.  My partner and I have been together a while now and the Camino’s beckon has come at the right time.

The river Porma at Puenta de Villarente
The river Porma at Puenta de Villarente

After Mansella, the route takes the peregrino alongside the busy road and even a section on the road in Puenta Villarente.  It is one of the worst parts of the journey so far; although drivers are very aware of the presence of walkers, it is at best uncomfortable.

Another stop for lunch this time at Archahueja.  There was no need to stop; my legs felt fresh enough, many of the aches and pains from day after day of riding had eased or at least, I was able to relieve the pressure enough to keep smiling.

But I was slowing more; it was now only 8 km to Leon and I was beginning to relish the sudden inclines and the industrial landscape.  The nearer we got, the more I slowed, pedals barely turning as we crossed the motorway bridge, the road bridge, as we rose and fell through the Leon suburbs.

Footsteps in the paving in Leon...that means we are at the end of our journey
Footsteps in the paving in Leon…that means we are at the end of our journey

But it came all too soon, the streets shadowed by residential apartment blocks and the slow narrowing of the streets as we approached the historic centre.

At the Cathedral...we have arrived
At the Cathedral…we have arrived

Our prebooked hotel with its aircon and hairdryer should have been a little bit of heaven but it failed to raise a smile.  There were a number of sights worth visiting, the cathedral, the Parador and so many more.  And I wanted to see them all.  We wandered the streets and down to the river but a wave of exhaustion overtook me and I headed back to the room, sleeping like a baby for an hour or more.

It wasn’t enough though; after dinner and a drink or two, to celebrate the end of our Camino for now, my energy was at such a low ebb; I shivered through the warm evening almost wordlessly, slipping happily back into slumber earlier than I should have needed to.