Walking your own way on the Camino from Leon to Foncebadon.
We are trying to set a new format for the post and so its a double dose today!
It is fairly easy to lose the Camino leaving Leon, most of the way marks are on the ground so care has to be taken not to miss any arrows especially in first light. We had walked this route while sight seeing yesterday and so did not have trouble. Fortunately the locals are great with pilgrims and will stop you and point you in the right direction if they see you walking in the wrong direction.
The way out of Leon is fairly uninspiring though industrial areas, but not as long and tough as the route into Burgos. After Virgen del Camino, (about 7km), the route is less industrial and becomes rural countryside once again. We walked here, but noted that many cabs coming from Leon let other pilgrims out here to start their day.
There is a choice of two routes after Virgen del Camino. The older traditional route hugs the N120, the other route is more secluded across countryside and is not as well marked. At the end of this day the routes finish about 3km apart and meet tomorrow at Hospital de Orbigo.
We chose the more traditional route that is 24.8 km and over a better surface to San Martin del Camino and Emmanuel the secondary route to Villar de Mazarife. We had heard that his choice of route was a lot of loose stones that are very hard on the feet for that many km. It was an easy day for us underfoot, but a lot along the roadway.
We arrived to the Albergue in San Martin, where we had booked 2 private rooms on line. We were also joined by our friends Gig harbor Teresa and Australian Daniella. This is really a dead town with one small store and 2 bars. The Municipal Albergue is very small and right on the road as well. Our place was in truth quite sketchy. It is starting to get chilly at night here too. The village dates from the early 13th century, however the oldest pilgrim’s hopice only dates from the 17th century, it no longer exists.
Today we planned 25.9 km to arrive at Astorga where we had booked a triple room in a real hotel. We managed to get a coffee and a dreaded “bagged” croissant for breakfast at the bar before leaving, but got some lunch item in Puenta de Orbigo.
Poor Gillian started to have a nose bleed just after leaving this morning and had to spend several hours with a Kleenex in her nose!
“Puente de Orbigo is only a few houses along the side of the River Orbigo, however it is the best place to take photos of the Gothic bridge into Hospital de Orbigo. The bridge is one of the most famous along the Camino Frances and in the past was of strategic importance. The oldest arches are 13th century, numbers 3 to 6 from the east; the other arches date mostly from the 17th century: over the years they have been swept away by floods and General Moore while fighting Napoleon blew two up while retreating. However the reconstructions have maintained the medieval aspect of the bridge. The area around the bridge has been the scene of many battles over the centuries – it may be one of the most bloodied places you are ever likely to stand on. The Swabians fought the Visogoths in 452, the Moors and Alfonso the Great also battled here, and before these the Romans had established a town on the edge of the river.”
One of the many Pilgrim “shrines”
At the top of a long climb was this oasis. Here they offered food and plenty of refreshments as a gift to the Pilgrims. There was also some shaded areas to rest from the heat.
The view from the top of the hill of Astorga. Here we were accosted by an elderly gentleman. He spoke English perfectly and called at us to stop. He came over and grasped all of our hands with such strength is was a bit distressing. He would not let go and talked at us for a good 5 minutes. It was actually physically painful and very intrusive. We did show respect and did not do what we wanted to, which was to yell ” let go of me”! He finally gave way to our great relief.
“Astorga has been an important cross road and city since Roman times. It sat at the junction of two main Roman roads the Via Traiana from Bordeaux and the Via de la Plata from Merida. Astorga has a long tradition of aiding pilgrims, at one time there were twenty one hospices here, second only to Burgos. Unlike other towns and cities Astorga provided shelter in their albergues to the homeless and indigent. There was a problem along the Camino Frances of the homeless continually walking the route and staying in pilgrim hospices.”
Walking into the main square we ran into Emmanuel who was enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine. We did visit the Cathedral to have lunch in its park and then later to see inside.
One of this towns other attractions is the Gaudy castle.
We waited until just before the mass to enter the Cathedral. They usually have a free visiting time about 30 minutes before the mass starts.
The traditional route today takes you only 20.2 km to Rabalal del Camino at the bottom of the “mountain”, but we decided to try for another 5,6 km to Foncebadon, which is almost at the top. For one reason 20 km is not really far enough at this point if we want Gillian to get to Santiago by Oct 17, and this also puts us almost all the way up the mountain to start the day tomorrow. We hoped to see the sun rise at the Iron cross or Cruz de Ferro, which is an iron cross on top of a 5 metre wooden pole. Many pilgrims bring a stone from home to leave with the many thousands of stones already there. Leaving a stone is the sign of leaving behind a burden, or letting go of something in your life.
It is only 20.2km to Rabanal; however it is 20.2km uphill all day. Make sure you have money to last two days until Ponferrada. Underfoot the route is easy walking mostly along an old rarely used asphalt road. There is lots of tree cover during the day as you walk up into the Leon Mountains.
In Rabanal in the 12th century the Knights Templar protected the village and are thought to have provided protection for pilgrims over Mount Irago. It is also thought that the Templars built the 12th century Romanesque Church Santa Maria de la Asuncion.
Now for the final push up hill 5.6 km more to Foncebadon.
Foncebadon was abandoned many years, however due to the Camino there are now a few residents, a restaurant, and four pilgrim hostels. Our Albergue was pretty new and had a nice view over the valley.
Saffron flowers were everywhere.
This deserted village actually has a crazy medieval restaurant.