The English way

The English way

I was determined to enjoy this camino. I wasn’t looking for the suffering and misery I sought last time, I was looking for beautiful Galician countryside and as much vino tinto as they’d give me.

The plan was Ferrol - Pontdeume - Betanzos - Hospital de Bruma - Siguiero - Santiago de Compostela. About 119km over five days of fairly leisurely walking.

It wasn’t a promising start, we stayed in La Coruna the night before so had an early train to catch to Ferrol. The very friendly receptionist at Hotel La Poetisa took us to the station in his car, dropping us at a pastry shop he was raving about — but bleary eyed we entered the cafe next-door instead, it didn’t seem as impressive as he made out but didn’t question it. It was only as we left and saw the delicious pastries in the window next door that we realised our mistake.

After a short wait in the dark eating my disappointing croissant and cafe con leche we were on the train heading to Ferrol. Not knowing where to start we found the town hall and figured that was as good a place as any to start looking for some yellow arrows. It was an odd feeling walking back on ourselves, the train had come this way so it was hard not to focus on the waste of effort, the two bridges over the river offering tempting shortcuts but we wanted to stick to the original path as much as possible.

This first day was physically harder than I thought and wanting a little privacy we booked the Hotel Montebreamo in Pontedeume, sold on the photos of the beautiful interior, I hadn’t noticed it was up a very steep hill on the other side of the town. This was great for the morning as it saved a steep climb but not great for exploring the town in flip flops. Mind you, the way down was probably easier than getting back up in the dark after two jugs of wine…

 I love the doorways in Spain. Even a bit of 70s aluminium looks good here.

I love the doorways in Spain. Even a bit of 70s aluminium looks good here.

I actually had very little vino tinto on the Ingles, rather it was the local Ribeiro that became my fuel of choice, traditionally served in a jug and drunk from bowls. I love a new wine discovery and can’t believe this had eluded me before. The jug version is a bit sour but very drinkable. 

Although a very varied camino considering the short distance, I was a little disappointed with the scenery. I guess I’d expected more coast, especially for the first couple of days but there’s not much and what there is feels quite industrial. It’s unfair to compare with the Frances really given the distances involved but I know Finisterre was more scenic. Another disappointment were the cats — they weren’t very friendly, in fact they were completely disinterested in me. It’s not easy squatting down and standing up again when you fail to get a cat’s attention — well not when your legs are on fire.

After another hilly day we arrived in Betanzos at 1pm and went straight to the albergue. There were already 20 people ahead of us checking in and it wasn’t long before all 32 beds were taken. Having only done a winter camino before and having entire albergues to myself this was a strange experience.

What it may have lacked in scenic wonders it more than made up for with the food, in particular the best tomatoes I’ve ever had in Betanzos. And excellent tortilla, the style in Betanzos is to not fully cook the eggs through so they stay nice and soft and runny. It’s very good. Tomatoes, tortilla, padron peppers and Ribeiro, that’s all you need.

We ate at both Taberna 1931 and La Taberna Escondida which are actually owned by the same people but very different in atmosphere. Taberna 1931 is a classic Spanish bar full of locals where you’ll get to experience some excellent tapas with your drinks. Taberna Escondida was a more modern affair and clearly geared more towards dining, I thought it was more expensive at first but the portions are larger so it’s not. They do seem to specialise in expensive Cantabrian anchovies, I wasn’t aware this was even a thing — the humble anchovy attaining gourmet status — and at over €20 for a tin with some bread and cheese they were good but I’m not sure I’ll be rushing back for more.

 There’s a fair bit of graffiti around but some of it’s pretty good.

There’s a fair bit of graffiti around but some of it’s pretty good.

My first full albergue experience wasn’t a great one, a group of Spanish laughing well into the night, a symphony of snoring which I’m sure included all 32 people in the albergue, the same group of Spanish noisily leaving at 5am and turning the lights on. I try not to judge, perhaps I’m doing things that annoy them. I mean, I doubt it, but maybe…

Leaving Betanzos, I’d heard there were issues with limited accommodation around Hospital de Bruma so I’d already tried to see if we could book somewhere in advance but there was nothing available nearby. I wasn’t keen on another noisy night in an albergue either — that’s assuming there was even space for us. So we decided to book the closest place available to Bruma. Unfortunately that was in the village of A Rua and an extra 7km to an already long day. Sure enough, as we walked past the albergue in Bruma a mere 7 minutes after they opened their doors, they were turning away a group of four pilgrims. I felt sorry for them as I knew there was nothing available nearby, it’s a long hard walk especially in the afternoon sun. We arrived at Casa Rural Dona Maria, it was a nice place where we spent the afternoon sunbathing in the garden drinking wine, so worth the extra push. This wasn’t the camino I was used to but I wasn’t about to complain.

Leaving the village of A Rua well rested and well fed we were welcomed by the golden glow of the low sun lighting everything around. I was feeling much stronger this morning — perhaps it was the 9.5 hours sleep I had. As we rounded the corner I saw a coach by the side of the road and a stream of 50 pilgrims ahead. My heart sank but my legs sped up, overtaking groups, individuals, couples, the old and the young. I’d never seen so many pilgrims in my life. Eventually we were free again, the way ahead unencumbered by people. 

 Even some of the industrial areas had a beauty to them.

Even some of the industrial areas had a beauty to them.

The plan was to stay in Siguiero that night but for some reason beyond me we were considering pushing through to Santiago in one go. It wasn’t my idea but we agreed to see how we felt at Siguiero which was now our lunch stop. After a very good menu del dia at Restaurante Miras, we decided to push on through the afternoon and do the extra 17km to arrive in Santiago that afternoon. My thinking was at least there would be fewer pilgrims arriving then. Plus I had nothing else planned other than getting drunk on vino Ribeiro and stuffing my face with tapas. 

I’d been a bit disappointed by the lack of sun so far, the weather had mainly been overcast with some light rain but there were clear skies now. I very quickly changed my mind about the sun, it was too hot, I missed the cool damp mist we’d been complaining about previously. It did however allow for some better photos so swings and roundabouts really.

It was nice arriving in Santiago late in the day, the sun sets facing the cathedral so the light in the main square is beautiful. Whilst there weren’t many pilgrims arriving at this time, they’d all had a chance to shower, get changed and queue at the pilgrims office for their compostela. The queue was massive leading around all three sides of the building and starting back on itself. Needing desperately to sit or lie down we gave up and headed to our hotel.

Santiago was pretty busy, lots of pilgrims, tourists and a lot of weirdos dressed in traditional Galician costumes. I feel I earnt the right to call them weirdos when I was sat having a much deserved foot massage in a little spa and one of them ran in and started molesting me. By itself, no big deal, I’m often molested by strangers for various reasons. This one however was wearing a skinned badger on his face. It was a whole skinned badger with little holes cut out on its back for his eyes. Like something out of a horror film. Anyway,  it’s not an everyday occurrence and I think worthy of the weirdo title. I was impressed that the woman in the spa remembered me, I’d assumed it was my natural good looks and charm but wondered if it was my missing big toenail that still hadn’t grown back in the 18 months since I was last there… thinking about it, it was probably the toenail…

 There’s a lot of corn in Galicia.

There’s a lot of corn in Galicia.

The next morning we headed back to the pilgrims office thinking we’d get there before everyone else. Unfortunately a few hundred other people had the same idea but we stuck with it and after an hour I had another certificate I couldn’t read in Latin.

I’d wanted to stay at the Parador in Santiago after my previous experience in Leon but rooms were obscenely expensive. Breakfast however was a bargain considering the quality, all the pain of the last few days was taken away by the fried eggs and jamon. It sounds expensive at €21 but you’re going to be hungry after walking that far and I think I ate more than that in jamon by myself.

It was nice to be able to take the time to explore Santiago properly or more specifically the bars and restaurants. Of particular note were Casa Marcelo and O Curro da Parra. I’d highly recommend both. Casa Marcelo is a fusion of Asian and Galician cuisine and works really well, it’s a beautiful and surprisingly unpretentious place considering it has a Michelin star. O Curro da Parra served more traditional dishes but with a modern twist, the dining room upstairs is beautiful (but small) so get a table up there if you can. These were the highlights but even in the more touristy establishments it’s hard to get a bad meal, they care about food here.

Most of my camino was marked by flashbacks. Flashbacks of walking the Frances in winter about 18 months ago. These were quite emotional for me as the experience was a mental (and physical) challenge. A small lane, open field or cobbled street casting my mind back to similar, albeit bleaker, views. We took a day trip to Finisterre and Muxia which really brought everything flooding back for me. Finisterre was my destination last time from St Jean Pied de Port, and those last three days after Santiago had definitely been the hardest for me. It felt like cheating to be driven up that final hill to the lighthouse in Finisterre, for me this will always be the end of the earth regardless of modern maps or whatever Google Earth says. You can prove anything with facts. 

 Santiago’s a beautiful place, there’s always an interesting view to be had.

Santiago’s a beautiful place, there’s always an interesting view to be had.

I didn’t really want to leave Galicia but wasn’t keen on walking anymore so we booked a flight out of La Coruna. The train from Santiago takes a mere 28 minutes. Although we didn’t start walking from La Coruna, it was quite depressing to think that all the hardship we’d endured over the last few days could be done in just a few minutes.

Did I enjoy this camino? I think so. I certainly enjoyed the tomatoes and wine. And that one friendly cat I found. It was physically harder than I expected but that’s my fault for not preparing as usual. But, as painful as it was, I didn’t suffer — they’re very different things. Life is full of pain, the suffering is optional. 

I walked the Camino Ingles in September 2018 from A Coruna to Santiago de Compostela. In an effort to pack as light as possible I left my camera at home so all photos were taken with my iPhone 6.