Postcard 4 – Back on the Camino Norte – The Electric Storms Tour

The more I wander around this beautiful country and the more I interact with the Spanish people the more I like it. 

Today is a walk through the woods and, whilst not overly testing, it is up and down. I’m up and about before dawn and the twilight sets the mountains and trees in a silhouette. It’s easy to see the ground and the trails. I’m not the only one to have made an early start, I can see a young man about two hundred metres in front of me and I heard two ladies getting ready as I left the hostel. I’m smiling because I had a private room with facilities en-suite so they weren’t exposed to my snoring which, according to my app, is ‘Epic’’. It has been confirmed by friends who were not even sleeping with me but I have bruises from those that have! 

The route through the mountains is soft but not dangerous. I fell a couple of days ago so I am being a little more careful especially with the leaf fronds off the more exotic trees.

I had been stood on a pavement that had been damaged in the storms. Not through lack of maintenance, they seem to be well on top of day to day stuff. However, the damage had been disguised by fronds from one of the beautiful trees that give us such relief from the mid-day sun. My foot disappeared in the debris and I went full length on the pavement, glasses bouncing down the road and hat rolling across the road. Within seconds the traffic had stopped (not that there was much but it stopped) and two people got out of their cars to ensure I was OK. Not only did they do a visible check, they also asked me where I was staying and did I need a lift. The reason that I mention this is that they asked me in English. I’m not wearing a Union Flag t-shirt (nor would I) and, at that point I hadn’t uttered a word so how they do this is a mystery. The only damage sustained was to my pride and once I showed them I could walk they were satisfied, wished me ‘buen Camino’ and went on their way with a final wave and a smile. I am OK, there is no damage done but had there been I’m completely convinced that I would have been well looked after by these lovely people. I must add that I’m in a more remote area and the people are probably more ‘village orientated’ but the bottom line is that the traffic stopped, there was no use of horns and only ‘thumbs-up’ and smiles from the people who had been held up albeit for only a very few minutes as they set off to have, what I hope, would be a wonderful day. Thank you Asturias, you’re in my heart.

The smell reminds me of the lane where I grew up. It’s very pleasant and fresh although there are the first signs of autumn as the leaves on some of the deciduous trees are beginning to change colour.

I’m disappointed and pleased in equal measure. I love the seasons and their traits. Autumn can be beautiful but we’ve found ourselves in very heavy rain and vicious winds as the first storms of the season rake across the north. Provided there’s no lightning we usually turn out. To paraphrase Billy Connolly, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, it’s poor preparation”.

As I walk through the valley I smell some pipe smoke. I haven’t smelt that for many years and it focuses my mind on my dad. He died when I was eleven and it had a marked effect on both me personally and my family life generally. He would sit quietly in his chair. It was always respected as ‘his chair’ and was  not the sign of a domineering or controlling person, he was gentle and kind beyond measure. I think it was just how it was in the 1950s, if he was in the house then it was assumed that he would be coming for a sit down and a smoke and he would be in ‘his’ chair. 

He smoked a pipe and would sit with his stick of tobacco and small pen-knife that had two jobs. Its primary function was to cut a piece of tobacco from the stick which would then be carefully rewrapped and placed in a draw away from the fire. He’d then spend several minutes gently rolling the tobacco in his hands until it unraveled into long strands that tied themselves together in a very loose bail, he’d then put this loose mass into a tin with a piece of apple or potato to keep it moist. The tin had been the previous repository of extra strong mints and smelt of a mixture of mint and tobacco. Many years later, when I had my first menthol cigarette I was in heaven and I think I even cried but told my mates that it was the smoke in my eyes – it wasn’t! The knife’s secondary function was to peel apples. My dad always peeled his apples as he had false teeth and the apple-skin would get trapped underneath which would necessitate the removal of them followed by a wash under the running water of the tap. He’d then replace them and smile to emphasise their return.  All of this would be done surreptitiously with cupped hands and care so it would not be obvious or offensive – I was intrigued. On the odd occasion, he would peel an apple for me then cut it into segments that had their core removed. I’d sit in front of the fire with him and eat them whilst staring at the flames dancing in the grate. I’m sitting at a pavement cafe of a small town La Isla watching the families with their children playing together and remember our community was like this in Castle Hills. We were brought up by the community, everyone knew everyone else and supported each other and as I look out across the street I see a reflection of my childhood and hope that this can continue. When you walk, you see all this and have time to think, sometimes nostalgically, sometimes joyfully and sometimes with sadness.

I’m on my way again and cover a few kilometres when I stop in a glade. The sun is up but not shining into the valley yet so the mountain tops are lit up like flames atop of candles with the trees and rocks casting long shadows and the ravines dark and inscrutable. I’m being hugged by the aroma from the moist vegetation and the mysterious tobacco smell that triggered all of these thoughts. A little further and slightly off the track is a wooden trailer. The shafts don’t currently have a horse attached so it’s being balanced on a stump. There’s a small pony in the field being given a bag full of something and a sign on the fence “No alimentes al caballo”. I guess it’s don’t feed the horse and confirm it later. The pipe is smoking itself on a gate post but the horse feeder picks it up as he comes back out of the field. Clearly, he’s the owner of the horse and the sign does not apply to him. He catches my eye and smiles then says something in Spanish at a speed that left me baffled and pointed to the horse. I smiled back and said, “Buenos días”. 

With the aid of Google translate (I’m glad I’d downloaded the Spanish language file) we manage to establish that he lives here and collects fallen wood for fuel through the winter. He even sells some but mostly he lives off his savings and his needs are “pequeña” (tiny). Here’s the astonishing bit, he spent nearly 30 years in the banking industry and bailed out due to the pressure to sell.  

I enjoyed the ‘talk’ and I even understood some and he helped me with my pronunciation and word order when I stumbled through some of the Spanish that I have ‘nearly’ learned.

I’d been with him about fifteen minutes and now I’m on my way again and I forgot to ask him about the tobacco – bugger!

The early start was well worth it. It’s still only 18°. The sun is managing to reach the lower parts of the valley but I’m on my way up and it’s quite steep and still slightly damp from last night‘s rain.

At the top I realise I haven’t taken any snaps and I’m conflicted between not doing it and enjoying the moment. It only takes a heartbeat to decide ‘the moment’ is more important than the snaps and I take a few up here to celebrate. 

My fitness has improved and the last incline, although steep and slow, didn’t need any stops which has a marked effect on my confidence but I still intend to rework my rucksack weight before I return. It’s at 10kg at the moment and could be lighter. 

Most of this leg is through beautiful valleys and along old trails but does finish with a few kilometres of tarmac path so the walk into Villaviciosa is less interesting but I’m looking forward to a snack and a drink at a pavement cafe in the centre so it goes unnoticed. 

I’m booked at Hotel España which was a chocolate factory and right in the old town centre. After I book in I immediately return to reception to book a second night. I’m in a double room with shower and bath overlooking a small attractive square and it £32 a night.  Happy days ?

Tonight will be a celebratory meal in the square and maybe some cerveza. 

Enjoy the snaps. 

Love G x

Please feel free to share for the armchair ramblers no longer able to get about. x

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