Camino starting point in Madrid at the church of Santiago and St John the Baptist
After a two year Covid-19 enforced hiatus, I decided to get the pack out again, put on my pilgrim attire and head back to Spain. Given that I now have a new right knee and are two years further into retirement, the walk this year was to be an interesting experiment.
Usually I travel with company although this year I planned to walk by myself and do the Camino de Madrid. This is a relatively short Camino being only 320 kilometres (13 days) from Madrid through to Sahagún on the Camino Francés. Although it was later in the year (October) I expected to find a number of pilgrims walking the route at the same time.
The walk commences from the Church of Santiago and St John the Baptist in Madrid and the highlight of this route is definitely the old Roman city of Segovia and its magnificent aqueduct.
For navigation I purchased a copy of the CSJ guide by Johnnie Walker and downloaded a GPS track from a Dutch web site that I found on the Camino Forum. As usual I decided against pre-booking accommodation apart from initial nights in Madrid and two nights in Segovia, as my proposed time there corresponded with the Spanish National holiday.
I spent an initial day wandering around Madrid, organising a Spanish SIM for my phone and visiting the starting point for this Camino, the Church of Santiago and John the Baptist. I arrived just before midday, believing it would be easy to get the first stamp on my credential. As the priest was busy, I had to wait until after the 12 o’clock Mass to get the document annotated. The end result was attending the Mass with the typical small congregation (5 elderly women) and a few other pilgrims. After the Mass the priest called the pilgrims forward and we all received the pilgrim blessing.
The cathedral in Segovia
My guide book also mentioned the Cathedral of the Redeemer (part of the Anglican Communion in Madrid) which I visited. While nice, it was rather plain compared with similar Spanish churches and cathedrals. While there I met Father Spencer Reece who stamped my credential and insisted on giving me a blessing.
Before leaving Madrid, I visited the Association of Amigos of the Camino to Santiago from Madrid for the latest information on the route and accommodation. The visit was not a lot of use as they only provided a basic map and a list of accommodation that proved to be out of date.
I decided that I would do the whole C de Madrid and headed onto the streets at around 8am for breakfast and the long 11km walk to the edge of the city (many pilgrims apparently take a train to the city outskirts). This is definitely not the most inspiring way to commence a Camino. Finally after a cup of coffee at Fuencarral, I was on my own in the country heading for my first overnight stop at Tres Cantos.
The Camino passes through a variety of open countryside once you leave Madrid, ranging from gently undulating treed grazing properties, rocky outcrops through to treeless plains used for cereal crops. Apart from some fields of sunflowers, all of the crops had been harvested and were in various stages of preparation for the next year’s crops. Over the first 80 kilometres, the Camino gently rises towards the pine forest-covered foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrma. Many of the pine trees along the way were tapped for the collection of sap/pine resin.
The Alcázar in Segovia
Day 4 crosses the Sierra de Guadarrma and is the hardest day of the Camino requiring a 650 metre climb from Cercedilla to Puerto de la Fuenfria at 1796m over 8 kilometres followed by a gradual decent of 23 kilometres into Segovia.
Unfortunately I was unable to do this stage as on reaching Cercedilla my stomach informed me that something definitely was not right and that walking the following day would be unwise. As accommodation in Segovia was pre-booked, I took a train and avoided what probably would have been a very unpleasant day.
Segovia is a must-see on the C de Madrid. It has an impressive aqueduct constructed by the Romans, a magnificent cathedral and an imposing Alcázar. Moorish influence can be seen throughout the city and a pleasant day was spent wandering around visiting the attractions. Segovia is definitely up there with Toledo and Ávila as a tourist attraction.
After Segovia the walk transitions from pine forests into Meseta-type country with vast fields of cereal crops all the way to Sahagún. It passes through many old and pleasant villages and towns, often with more intensive farming on the outskirts. Outside one town there were acres of carrots being harvested. I am not sure where the carrots go because you seldom see that vegetable included in the usual Spanish menus.
There are many wind turbines on the Meseta. At some point between Wamba and Penaflor de Hornija, I stopped and counted all the turbines that I could identify and reached a total of over 250.
One unexpected section of the Camino was the first 8 kilometres out of Medina de Rioseco which follows a tree-lined canal until 3 kilometres out of Tamariz. It made a great change from walking on the flat treeless Meseta where either towns can be seen kilometres away and never seem to get closer or suddenly appear hidden in a ravine.
The landscape was very dry after a long hot Spanish summer and the weather remained fine until I reached Santervas de Campos where it rained heavily overnight. The following day I used the roads to walk into Sahagún as the tracks through the fields were too wet, sticky and slippery for pleasant walking.
I definitely prefer to walk in the Spring where there are crops in the fields and the storks are in their nests raising their chicks. Walking is not the same without storks in every village and town.
Accommodation was a mixture of hostels and albergues and included a hotel in Villalon de Campos where the municipal albergue was closed for disinfection, which I assume was to remove a bed bug infestation.
Bridge over the canal outside of Medina de Rioseco
The only accommodation issue that I ran into was on the second day in Manzanares which is on a reservoir and appeared to be a holiday destination out of Madrid. The only bed that I could get was in Soto del Real Sloana, 8 kilometres away in the wrong direction. Getting there by bus was OK while the walk back into Manzanares in the dark the following morning was not appreciated.
The other accommodation highlight was the albergue in Santervas de Campos, the birthplace of Juan Ponce de León, who crossed the Atlantic with Christopher Columbus and is credited with discovering Florida. There is a small museum dedicated to Juan Ponce in the basement of the albergue and I was given a personal guided tour. It’s not what you would call a busy or prosperous town, as the only shop is a mobile one (selling out of the back of a truck) and the bar has closed down. The Spanish live-in volunteer hospitalero went out of his way to make me comfortable and drove us to the next town where there we could get a meal.
October is getting towards the end of the Camino season and I only met 4 other pilgrims in the 12 days of walking between Madrid and Sahagún. Unbelievably, the pilgrim I met was on the first day and was another Australian. We stayed together to Santa Maria la Real de Nieva at which point I moved ahead a day.
The other pilgrims were two Spaniards and an Italian. The first Spaniard was in a wheelchair and travelled using a battery-operated scooter modified to support the two front wheelchair wheels (he could cover up to 60ks in a day). I caught up with the second Spaniard on three occasions at albergues and the Italian at the albergue in Santervas de Campos just before Sahagún.
Overall the Camino is well marked and typically goes past every church on the route whether open or not. As usual the vast majority were locked, which I find disappointing. One of the few churches that were open was in Colemanor and I was able to have my credential stamped and watch the local women clean and prepare it for some form of service. Part of the cleaning process involved touching up the worn red carpet in the front of the altar with a red marking pen!
The Madrid is an enjoyable Camino with varied scenery, relatively flat walking (apart from the Stage into Segovia) and embraces a number of lovely town and villages. If you crave a shorter Camino and want to avoid the numbers on the Francés, this is one path that is worth considering.
A definite positive for the Camino was the fact that the new knee was excellent and I can still cover the required distances although I would prefer stages to be no longer than 25 kilometres. Notwithstanding I can still handle the longer ones if necessary.