Well it is certainly a road less travelled and for all that, it is certainly no less enjoyable. Each of the Caminos has its own character and the Camino de Madrid is no different in that respect, although to be able to enjoy your own company is a definite advantage on this one. Everyone seemed to be well aware of the route and its purpose and also seemed aware of the placement of hostals. The hostals themselves, though often small, were frequent in location, mostly very comfortable (some even brand new), absurdly reasonable in cost and staffed with dedicated hospitaleros/as.
The degree of difficulty is medium with one or two stiff climbs – the first, on the Fuenfria Pass to Segovia and the second, a small double ravine on the outskirts of Penaflor de Hornija. I arrived in Madrid via Heathrow and stayed at Hostal Persal near Puerta del Sol. Madrid has very interesting grand archictecture, wide safe boulevards and the route starts at the Parish Church of Santiago and San Juan Bautisto near the Royal Palace. The well-marked path to Tres Cantos winds through wasteground, parks, housing estates industrial areas, a busy motorway and cycle tracks.
Accommodation in the basement of the Town Hall and administrative offices (ayuntamiento) of Tres Cantos provided excellent facilities and a marvellous restaurant at the rear. No charge was accepted and staff went out of their way to be helpful. I found my way out of town but at the edge had to wait until sunrise to make sure of the yellow arrows. The way now becomes a constant stream of wildflowers, which feature the whole 320km length of the Camino. The very pretty hill-top town of Colmenar Viejo leads on to lovely Manzanares el Real, famous for its fantastic castle and for the recreational facilities . The albergue is no longer functional but the ayuntamiento will be very helpful in providing accommodation at inexpensive rates. From the Plaza I heard the first cuckoo and the clattering of storks nestbuilding.
The climb out of Manzanares is quite steep and it gets steeper out of Mataelpino where the way winds through pine woods and eventually descends into Cercedilla. The albergue is located in the polydeportivo but I stayed at Villa Castorea marvellously comfortable – and they will pack a picnic breakfast for you. A bonus is that the Villa is on your path out towards Fuenfria in a very exclusive part of town. The road ends at the beginning of the National Park and a good path takes over and gradually morphs into the old Roman Road which rises, steeper and steeper still and very rocky. Oak, birch and ash give way to pines and conifers and the sound of water cascading and gurgling fills the air.
The descent was pleasant with pine needles and grass carpeting the soft path and little rivulets of clear, cold water crossing the way every 100m or so. The conifers thin eventually and the path becomes an even grassy slope of seemingly common grazing pasture with occasional mobs of cattle and horses. Segovia, visible in the distance seemed only a few ks away yet it was nearly 3 hours later before I was walking into this gem of a city.
verything was booked out because of a combination of a children’s football carnival and the local Saint’s Day but the Tourist Centre near the Roman Aqueduct was able to put me on the path to Zamarramala some 3 km from Segovia. What a find this was! A spotless, brand new Hostal, a charming and most helpful hospitaliera, a tiny, friendly village with the most amazing view of Segovia – and they wouldn’t accept a cent for accommodation.
Valseca, Los Huertos and Ane: the way follows the lightly wooded valley of a small river and eventually a small church 2km from Ane, another saint’s day and the population of Ane were all at the church for folk dancing, music, singing and Mass. After Mass it was all back to the only bar in the village for a fiesta. Unfortunately, a couple of km from Ane I missed a yellow arrow to the left and marched straight on. Lovely, undulating country of the Meseta, all big sky and wheat. Two hours later expecting to be marching into Pinilla Ambroz 4 km from SMLRDN I was more than confused to see that the village was Armuna and… they were also celebrating their saint’s day with a communal lunch in the plaza – all 247 of the Armunanians. Fortunately they made my welcome, and wined and dined me and were on the point of driving me to SMLRDN when one true believer said “No, he is a pilgrim, he must walk, he won’t take a lift” He turned to me, “You must walk, mustn’t you?” Foolishly I nodded and immediately turned a 29km hike into a 42km marathon.
The hostal in SMLRDN, a private one, is run on donations. It is small, comfortable and clean. The village is quite charming with a fine 14thC Church of Nuestra Senora de la Soterrana and a nice arcaded central plaza which doubles as a very lively outdoor bar.
Nieva, Nava de la Asuncion, then Coca. We are now in the Tierra de los Pinares, the land of the pine trees. There is a huge industry in collecting pinesap for the production of resin and pine scent. All day, the path, very sandy and loose at this stage, passes through pine forests which are grown for the production of pinesap. Millions of trees are tapped – much as rubber trees were tapped in Malaysia and Brazil, the trees scored and the sap leaking down into collecting buckets – originally terra-cotta but mostly plastic or tin these days. Probably every air-freshener and toilet cleanser has its pine fragrance from here, not to mention the rosin used by ballet dancers, gymnasts and violinists. The species is Pinus pinaster and the amount collected from around here is in excess of 12,000 tons.
Coca is home to arguably one of the most fantastic castles in Spain, the 15thC Gothic-Mudejar, red-brick creation built by the Moors for Bishop Alonso de Fonseca. Coca also retains some of the original medieval walls and the city gates. A lively town with a Refugio Municipal in an older style two storey house with a very creaky bannister (but comfortable nevertheless). Pick up the key from Charo, who lives nearby: she’s quite talkative and everybody knows her.
From Coca to Villeguillo to Alcazaren the route passes through more dense pine forests then alongside heavily irrigated newly planted strawberries and huge fields of leeks being harvested, which perfumed the air for many a kilometre. Alcazaren boasts another fine, new comfortable albergue, the key of which is kept at the Bar Real (which seemed to be the only place to eat). Two Mudejar churches and a pensioners club provided the only excitement, but the albergue is good.
The mid-way point between Madrid and Sahagun is reached at ‘Brazuelas’, 5km the other side of Alcazaren, a large family farming concern, walled and closed to outsiders but looks interesting. The final 9km to Puente Duero is along a main road which is at odds with the general experience of this particular route but the town and especially the albergue makes up for that. Puente Duero is a very neat and tidy town, plenty of facilities and a delight of an albergue at Calle Aniago, just at the bridge, with an excellent bar/restaurant is close by. The approach to the town by way of the Canada de Valdestillas is lined with small artisan workshops. The albergue, run by Arturo, is a wooden hut with a pleasant garden,
homely atmosphere, clean with a lived-in feel is a ‘must see’.
From Puente Duero to Simancas (6km) I found it easier to walk on the cycle track next to the walking track beside the main road, as there were only occasional cyclists who all seemed very friendly. Simancas, a hilltop town situated above the Duero, is very prosperous and picture-postcard pretty but a nice steep pull up a short sharp slope to the Plaza Mayor where there is a huge Romanesque church and a rebuilt ‘Chateau-style castle’. The river flats of the Duero are home to lots of irrigated market gardens. 7km further along is Wamba, a pretty limestone village with a beautifully restored Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion (928), a mixture of Mozarabe, Romanesque and late classical… and closed. Wamba is named after the Visigothic King Wamba (672) and there is an image, in chunky limestone, of what he may have looked like at the entrance to the village.
A further 7km to Penaflor de Hornija, which can be seen from a long way off. What you don’t see are the two ravines to cross just before the pueblo… It took two beers at the Bar Hornija in the Plaza just to get my breath back. The hostal, which I mistook at first for the Town Hall, is spacious and comfortable with excellent bathroom facilities. The largish Plaza Mayor is well furnished with attractive limestone buildings and rather less well furnished with people.
Wide fields and big sky, little shade on the road to Castromonte, where a line of trees in the distance indicate a large piggery. Not a modern piggery, factory-like with indoor inhabitants unable to move but the most weird concoction of odd paddocks with the most eclectic collection of ‘fencing materials’ with sows and piglets everywhere. Little gangs of piglets roaming at will in and out of the fencing. They all looked far happier in the dust and mud than in a factory farm and judging by the volume of plastic bread wrappers floating around the countryside they seemed to exist mainly on sliced white bread.
After Castromonte, on the track to Valverde de Campos, the instructions at one point became a little confusing, the words ‘a yellow arrow points to the right and then shortly after to the left along a track which descends into Valverde de Campos. “Shortly after” turned out to be over a kilometre! Outside Valverde the path follows abandoned train tracks which leads to Medina de Rioseco, the main city of the Tierra de Campos (the Gothic fields), Ciudad de los Almirantes (the city of the admirals).
The albergue I chose was the Convent of the Poor Clares, at the edge of the city – an austere building surrounded by high limestone walls. The albergue section is a separate, low, stone building just inside the walls, very comfortable, self-enclosed with all facilities. Booking in with the nuns in the main convent I was struck by the eagerness, gentleness and interest they showed towards visitors from the outside world and although conversation with the outside world was not officially encouraged they showed great interest in my Australian credencial. One nun then escorted me back to the albergue section. I surveyed the pleasant room and noticed that there were six or so beds showing signs of having been slept in and left unmade. I concluded that the good nuns perhaps had a relaxed attitude to more worldly things like housework. The beds were still unmade when I left early next morning. Next door was a similar dormitory that appeared to be given over to cyclists only.
Medina is a great city to explore on foot, parks and gardens, two of the best churches on the Camino, two great museums, marvellous restaurants, pleasant plazas and ancient, arcaded streets of great age and charm. I left the convent at 6.30am (after tidying my bed) and found a bar open near the Medina Canal. Fresh orange juice and the genuine chocolate con churros. Then began the nicest early morning walk on the Camino, straight along the Canal de Campos for 8km with the air cool and the sun rising in a cloudless sky, gravel underfoot. Treelined path and that rarest of things in Spain, birdsong. The sound of close fields being irrigated and the quiet gave a sense of timelessness.
Then on over vast fields of potatoes, wheat and peas to the village of Tamariz with the dusty pink tamarisk trees in full bloom, the same quiet, not a soul and on to Cuenca de Campos where I found a nice bar run by a very helpful family. They were in the throes of repainting and redecorating but still managed to find a cold beer and a plateful of crunchy things (otters’ noses or pigs’ ears) for me.
I followed an old train track to Villalon de Campos (5km) where the yellow arrows led me through the charming pueblo until I lost them on the other side. I asked a passing couple about the location of the albergue and was informed that I was standing on the last arrow outside the establishment and that they were the hospitaleros (Louis and Marissa from Madrid). I must say that I kicked another goal with this albergue, very comfortable and spotlessly clean—everything that you could wish for.
Villalon de Campos is a beautiful little pueblo with lots of streets arcaded in the old style with tree trunk pillars supporting upper stories and providing shade for the footpaths. Fine adobe buildings in the Plaza San Juan which also features a famous Gothic/ Renaissance Rollo richly covered in carved scallop shells. This was carved by stonemasons from the Burgos Cathedral.
Next morning after breakfasting well with Louis and Marissa I turned left at the ancient fountain and took the country path across the fields to Fontihoyuelo then on 12km to Santervas de Campos. There, in the Plaza Juan Ponce is the albergue, the bar and the shop – all run very efficiently by Irene, who will provide a menu del dia if asked nicely. The Mudejar-Romanesque church of Saints Gervasio y Protasio is justly famous and has been well restored and the pueblo is also famous as the birthplace of Juan Ponce de Leon discoverer of Florida and whose name is forever associated with the fruitless pursuit of the fabled ‘ Fountain of Youth’.
The final leg to Sahagun follows the arrows to Arenillas via a pleasant grassed path that borders the river to Granjal de Campos. Passing up the chance to see two castle fortresses at Granjal, I found my pace quickening for the last 5km to Sahagun which remained hidden from view until cresting a steep rise I looked down on the Church of The Holy Trinity (now the main Pilgrim hostal).
In the thirteen days that I had walked, I encountered a mere six other walkers who were on the same route. Most nights I had the hostal/albergue to myself. I sat for two hours enjoying a long lunch in Sahagun and counted over a 120 pilgrims walking/ limping past and I thought to myself that sometimes solitude has a lot going for it. At least it forced me to work on my Spanish.