Camino – San Vicente de la Barquera to Pésues

Today we learn that walking alone isn’t lonely, little people are affected hugely by big decisions and even at 80, you’re never too old to walk 500 miles.

The morning sees blue skies and a sunny day but not too warm, perfect for walking. I walk to the cafe where Carlos is doing a wonderful job welcoming all for breakfast or just a drink. All of the pastries that have been carefully baked since four o’clock this morning are on display as people entering the lovely dining area have to walk past them. They’re still putting the chairs out on the pavement which overlooks the bay. It’s still a bit chilly for sitting out so only the smokers are there most with a coffee although it’s entirely proper in Spain to start the day with brandy or a large glass of white, after all, it’s gone five!

A coffee and a couple of stashed bananas later I’m looking for the shell and the yellow arrow that designates the Camino and with a little bit of GPS help, I find it.  The first one is embedded into the pavement with an unambiguous arrow pointing the route.

I thought I’d managed to avoid a return to the castle and cathedral by walking that part of the route last night but this takes me there once more and I accept it but it does get the heart rate up as it’s a fairly vicious climb about 200 feet but better early and it does brace me for the numerous ups and downs that follow.

Out of San Vicente and another ‘up’ but then I have a view of the Picos Mountains still with snow on the peaks and looking back I have the whole of the bay area and mud flats festooned with birds. It’s early morning with a blue sky above and verdant green all around. This part of Spain does get a prevailing wind off the Bay of Biscay so the weather can be exciting at times and does include a fair amount of rain but the result is stunning when it’s sunny, as it is today.

At the top there is a seat carefully surrounded by a low hedge, it’s looking back towards the bay and I take off the rucksack and sit for a while, it’s wonderful. After a few minutes and a drink from the bottle I’d acquired from the fruit shop I reassemble my bags and set off again refreshed but this time it’s down. Gentle down is kind and enjoyable, this is gentle down and I take my time to walk into the valley, over the bridge that enables a safe crossing of the motorway into La Acebosa. This is a beautiful little village with all kinds of things for the family and I stop at the sports ground to readjust and decide on the route as it split between the woods and the original route which is a little longer, I decide on the original and take the extra 3 km on the chin. They’re both well signed so if you come this way either is going to be good.

The next kilometre is quite seriously up and I have to step aside to allow a very smelly Discovery to crawl up the hill in a cloud of diesel smoke. The up-side is that it’s the only vehicle I see and at the top, there’s a wonderful steady down that enables me to take in the priceless view of the Picos Mountain Range complete with snow.

 The only person that I pass smiles and says, “Buenos, que tal”. 

It seems the way of the Northern Spanish, they only utter the first word of what is normally a two word greeting, at this time of the day it would be ‘Buenos Dias’ and I answer “Bien, gracias” (Good, thanks) and only then realise that it’s the first time that I’ve uttered any Spanish without having to either think it through or write it down – I’m really chuffed and begin to think I’ve cracked it. As the days progress I’ll realise that this was a one off and I’ll be back to normal but I bathe in glory for the moment.

The track takes me along relatively flat contours at about two or three hundred feet and the land below me is rolling meadows and woods with the odd stream. The flowers at this time of year are exquisite.

I pass through farms and small hamlets some with antique farm machinery discarded at the side of the road and looking like one-off’s designed by the farmer and knocked together by the local blacksmith. They’re ingenious and often simple and I sit on one for my banana break to the delight of some children playing in a tiny playground. 

“Hey, perigrino”, they call, initially I don’t pick up the words then one of them, very hesitatingly, said, “Are – you – having – a – nice – day?”, she pronounces the words slowly with a gap between each one and the others laugh.

“A very good day, thank you, gracias”, I reply then add, “Bien dia, Gracias”.

Their mums are sitting on a bench seat smiling. One of them said something in Spanish to the little girl that had spoken to me and she says, “I – am…”, then broke off and looks at her mum who says something that I can’t hear.

The little girl picks up again, she’d clearly been given a bit of coaching from her mum, “ Soy Anna, I – am – going – to – Leeds, mi papá esté alli.”, she’s excited and adopts her native tongue; I recognise the first two words as “I’m Anna” and the last bit as, “…my dad is there”. 

So, in full, “I’m Anna, I am going to Leeds, my dad is there”

I tell her that’s wonderful and mum quickly translates and Anna goes back to her friends.

I ask Mum if she is going to live in Leeds or just visiting and tell her I live in Yorkshire. She tells me that everything is up-in-the-air because of Brexit, she is a Biology teacher and he is a specialist nurse, for the first time on any of these walks I am seriously pissed-off that we’re putting up artificial barriers to valuable and skilful people but try not to show it and wish them all well.

“Have a nice day with your friends Anna”. She’s gone back to playing some kind of skipping game and she stops and gives me a lovely vigorous girly wave and combines it with a smile that would stop traffic. I wish Anna’s mum lots of luck and walk back on the track slightly misty-eyed at the thought of all of the innocent families caught up in this senseless debacle.

I walk another hour under-a-cloud but this slowly resolves itself as the challenges of the trail push me a little bit. There had been a couple of serious ‘ups’ followed by walking on loose shale then back to summer meadows and I begin to think of my wonderful childhood in pastures like these.

I’d lingered in Hortigal and Grave, both tiny hamlets of half-a-dozen houses and just a farm but always a smile and a “Buen Camino” as I pass.  Sergio is a little bit bigger and I look for a coffee shop where I’m rewarded by La Gloria. There’s a rack of four rucksacks sitting on a bench outside and I marvel at the thought of leaving all of my worldly goods sitting outside a cafe but this is the Camino and whilst it would be ludicrous to say there is no theft it remains that there is significant trust so I put mine on the end and go in. 

*Just for clarity – there is a huge difference between trust and recklessness, my passport, insurance and money is in a bumbag on my belt

It’s good to get the boots off and spend some time with a tortilla, baguette and orange drink. It’s a powerful combination of energy without bloating and the tortilla especially is composed of little more than egg and potato with some seasoning and when coupled with a banana it can and does keep me going all day.

There’s the usual banter between the peregrinos, ‘Where have you been?’, ‘Where’d you start?’, ‘How far are you going today?’  It’s usually conducted in broken English which tends to be the intermediate language of the Camino. Some have finished their day and stopping here, others like me, have another hour or two to go and then we get a couple who’re real athletes, they’ve been doing 35 to 45km per day and this is no exception. They have my admiration but it’s not the way I do it, I like to stop from time-to-time, make a photo and write this stuff at the end-of-the-day so I need a bit of headroom for that. When I see them leave; however, they’re travelling light i.e. someone has been hired to take their stuff to the next hostel or albergue and then I see them set off and understand why – they’re running – wow!

I leave Serdio and within a couple of hundred metres bump into Ignatius and he tells me that his friends and family pronounce it the Basque way ‘Inyaki’. He’s spent a year in Australia learning English and he’s certainly been successful. We walk about five kilometres together then bump into a wonderful bunch of multi-national retired folks in a loop road off a byway. There’s a Vietnamese/Canadian; a Japanese/American; a guy from the UK (I’ll come to him), and others but I don’t have enough time on this leg to talk to them all. 

We stop for a while and share a few jokes. There’s a tiny guy from Japan called Akida with good English and he proudly tells me he’s eighty years old and he’s doing this particular Camino, (The Norte) ‘because it is 800km and it is the hard one’, well I hope I’m still walking at eighty, that really will do me! The natural dynamics of a walking group apply to this one and within five minutes I’m walking with someone else when I tell him I’m from Northallerton he looks surprised and asks me if I know Bailey Place. I tell him it’s been fifty years since I saw him and he responds with the fact that he’d been his boss in Leeds. 

I’ve travelled all over the world to conduct seminars and lectures and never been tempted to ‘play away from home!’. I was once in a nightclub after some work in Klang, a port town in Malaysia to which tourists would never dream of going. I leaned across the bar to ask for a beer and got a tap on my shoulder, “Get me a beer too”, said a familiar voice. It was a friend from Hartlepool. These events just prove I wouldn’t have got away with it anyway!!

My new found friends are stopping at various points along the way and my hostel is here in Pésues so I take my leave. I’ve only known them five minutes but there’s still a slight regret when we part and I make my way up the steep hill to the Hostel Baviera and it turns out it’s not bad.

I’m up on the hill looking across the valley, I’m with some lovely people and the restaurant is sporting some tasty meals for tonight so, yet again, I’m smiling.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

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