Camino – Viveda to Santillana del Mar

Wednesday -Viveda to Santillana del Mar

We’re up and raring to go with un-dried laundry swinging from the sticks attached to my rucksack. It’s a 3-star hotel and looks like it has a clientele that is generated from the senior managers and visitors to the local manufacturing company and it looks big so seeing a couple of peregrinos emerge with their (well my) damp knickers and socks swinging from safety pins might not be the image that they’re trying to project; however, we have no complaints.

We’re on the road and the first few kilometres are ‘up’ but easy. The sun is casting long shadows across the fields and woods and the Picos mountains stand in very stark relief in the distance. There is mist drifting in the valleys and smoke from a leaf fire in a nearby village. The scenery is sublime and we take turns to stop and admire the views. The sunshine helps and we make reference to it as we follow the track or road into the next valley.

We’re walking down into the village and take in the pastures and meadows. They remind me of childhood when Miss Wise, our junior school teacher would look out of the window and at the drop of a hat take us on a nature walk. There was no necessity for a risk assessment or permission from the hierarchy; today, they’d need to cover their own backsides, she’d make the decision based on the weather and time of year.

It was inevitably around Castle Hills which was my childhood stamping ground and involved the identification of clovers, buttercups, elderberries and numerous other plant species that she would reference in later lessons when she mentioned their importance in the bigger theme of things. I was ten and loved Miss Wise, she was the epitome of a good teacher but I wouldn’t know that until well into adult life when I became a teacher myself and realised that the odd one of my colleagues was not really cut out for the role.

I return to present tense and notice some smoke rising from a tiny village nestled in the woods. The smoke turns out to be burning leaves and we’ll witness this numerous times as we walk over the hills and through the valleys.

The sun is getting a little stronger and we meet an old man in the village so I ask if there is a cafe near by. His reply is at 200 miles an hour then he realises that we’re struggling and reverts to what he calls ‘poco ingles’ it is eminently better than my Spanish but I do try. It means a 2 kilometres detour but we’re OK with that.

As it turns out the breakfast is only average but it gives us time to reassess the route and decide on a track that takes us away from the road and back into rolling countryside that’s very much how I would imagine the Alps.

We’ve covered about 10 km (6 miles) when we walk into what looks like a Medieval village with cobbled streets and buildings that are several hundred years old. The whole place has been designated a World Heritage site and deservedly so. It’s called Santillana del Mar and is referred to as the town of three lies since it’s not a saint (Sant), it’s not flat (llana) and it’s certainly not near the sea (Mar). What I can tell you is that it is immaculate.

We take some time to wander around the old church and cloisters then make our way past a water splash that feeds the sandstone washing area that would traditionally be occupied by women chatting whilst they beat the clothes on the stones as they washed them in running water. There’s none of that now but the facilities are as they would have been over the centuries.

At the corner is a cafe with a courtyard bathed in sun and one of the tables has a seat in the sun for the Pilgrim and a seat in the shade for me, that’ll do nicely!

The next forty minutes are spent drinking Clara which is a kind of shandy made with draught beer and cloudy lemonade. We’ve also quietly removed our boots so that our feet can breath and the socks will dry, it may not sound like it but it is heaven and no other peregrinos were hurt or offended by this as they are doing the same.

I mention my delight at being in this wonderful place and the Pilgrim has a look in one of the Camino brochures to discover an albergue in the town and as we walk the cobbled streets we discover it. A quick discussion later and we decide to stay and continue the walk tomorrow so into the Albergue we go.

Now, this is an interesting place! It’s not the albergue mentioned in the book, it’s a private one and the owner is a portly gentleman who is currently snoring behind a barely lit desk with an anglepoise lamp casting a ghostly pool on his twitching fingers that are holding a broken pencil with tooth marks in the wood but, strangely, they’re in the middle not the end. The door bangs behind us obviating the need for a polite cough but simultaneously reminding me of my need for the toilet. He’s instantly awake and mutters some words which become clearer as his consciousness improves. He offers us a bed for 10 euros each which we accept. The corridor is like a scene from the Adams Family but with the added benefit of smell. The  whole building has a musty odour with old pianos, antique bookcases and sideboards with ancient photographs and paintings all covered in dust. It’s very long and he leads us towards an open door at the other end. The light from the door is the only light in the corridor so we’re both picking our way along it and avoiding any obvious pieces of priceless art whilst bumping into a standard lamp and breaking into a funny little run as we experience an unexpected downward ramp that is anything but obvious.

He’s chattering away in a mix of Spanish and English (Spanglish) when he gestures to his left with a theatrical and dramatic wave and says, “Dos Los Servicios”, we follow the general direction of his gesture and see two open doors just about distinguishable in the gloom. I’m a three pees a night sort of person so I memorise the geography as I think about the last ensuite and begin to miss it already. We’re still walking towards the open door that’s framed by a fruit tree that has a number of bright orange globes dangling like Christmas decorations and restating that we’re not in Britain. I continue to memorise the corridor and the various obstacles especially the ones that could damage a toe in the middle of the night. I’ve got the general layout but we need to negotiate our way past two grandfather clocks, a huge dresser and a raft of ornate peg thingies for hanging up your outdoor clothes; Steptoe would have loved this.

I’m just wondering where we turn off for our dorm when mine host walks outside into the sun-filled garden. There’s an enormous semi-circular thing covering, well I’m not sure what it’s covering but it’s definitely there along with a lawn, clothesline (that’ll be handy) and a vine along with three quad bikes covered with tarpaulin and a grass cutter. In the corner is a garden shed, it’s a nice looking garden shed and it’s quite big but I’m thinking I’m not happy having to trot across the lawn and into the main building for a pee, in the middle of the night. Some of these shrubs may be in for an unexpected nocturnal watering so I check for security cameras and make alternative plans for if my navigation fails.   

Our proprietor opens the door of the shed and we look inside. There are 5 bunk beds scattered around the room so there’s the possibility that we’ll be with eight others but we’ve been in more populous ones last year with the two Dave’s. I’ll not go into detail but one of them involved me flooding the ground floor due to a malfunction with the shower regulator and minor burns to my genitals and the other involved the guy above me relocating his mattress in the kitchen because, apparently, I snored; but they’re both another story!

He switches on the main light and shows us the rest of the unit which has a large bathroom with a serious-looking shower, toilet and washbasin so I’m more than happy; my nocturnal peeing can be done without recourse to garden adventures. We’re double lucky too, there are no more peregrinos allocated to our garden shed so, yet again, we’re smiling.

We unpack and hang our smalls on the line in the sun then close the shed door and make our way back down the corridor staggering up the ramp this time (must memorise that) and walk past the reception where our hostaleer is gently snoring with a pair of huge headphones making look like a dog with floppy ears. His upper body is, like his ears, flopped forward and his head is moving in time to the snores; we leave quietly hoping that the door will still be open when we return as we haven’t been given a key.

The town is astonishing and fully deserves its world heritage status. The streets are cobbled and the cottages built of stone with wonderful doors and shuttered windows. We walk to the Plaza Major and admire the old government buildings whilst we sit in the sun with a beer. People watching is the name of the game and we make up our own stories about the people we see then the Pilgrim giggles and gestures to a man entering the cafe area; he’s the spit of one of our friends and we take a number of surreptitious photos and post them with ribald comments on FaceBook and smile at the response.

In the evening, we return to a restaurant that we spotted in the afternoon where a great meal is had and more new friends made as we pass the time with a couple of guys who’re peregrinos too.


John and Chris are both retired, from Lancashire and doing a week on the Norte, they’re also full of fun and whilst we don’t know it yet, we’ll meet them again in a bizarre coincidence.

This is a wonderful little town and I would encourage you to call off here whether you’re a Peregrino or just on a road trip.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

Please share as some folks are less able and can’t do these walks. They also enjoy the banter and photos.

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This is life after an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm open repair. Don’t be afraid of the operation, it set me free. Please be encouraged and inspired to walk, it’s liberating.
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