Deb and I left Madrid from the Church of Santiago in Sol on 8 March. A cold and windy morning, soon bloomed into one of those beautiful post-winter days in Spain. Destination was Tre Cantos, and the famed community centre accommodation. As it was our first Camino, we had decided to start with short journeys of around 20kms or less. [Yes, Johnnie Walker, the police do lock you in and throw you out at 6am. And it is genuinely in the basement inside the council offices.] We met Pedro from Portugal and Simona from Romania there.
Next stop was Colmenar Viejo, now a total of 35 kilometres from Madrid. The recommended accommodation by Johnnie proved to be terrible. I do not recommend a stay at Hostal Chabeli. The room stunk of cigarettes to the point where we needed to wash everything at the next stop. Loud noises and partying by locals all night. We have discovered that in this part of Spain, the locals like to let doors slam.
It’s hard to tell when things begin to go awry. Deb’s left foot was a bit tender even before we started in Madrid. Now it was starting to be painful to walk. We stayed with Ray and Rosa, as suggested, in Manzenares el Real. Rosa, a schoolteacher, is lovely and they provided us with great travel information about the path ahead. The next section to Cercedilla is described as an easy walk of 19 kilometres. Possibly so if you do not turn right in Mataelpino and follow the path there. It was ridiculously difficult and totally unnecessary – go through the town. It is here that Deb’s foot has started to hurt. We have the Sierra de Guadarrama in front of us. There was no albergue accommodation in Cercedilla at this time of the year so a hostal it was.
Do not get off the Roman road to Puerto de la Fuenfria. There is a marker (yellow arrow) near the top pointing to the left. This will take you up into the mountain and add 6 kilometres to your trip before you decide to return to the road. This is a tough steep climb over a broken 4-kilometre rocky road with an altitude of 1800 metres at the summit. The gentle path down into Segovia is 23 kilometres through amazing black pines and the odd ruins. The last 10 kilometres are a bit daunting though. You can see Segovia, but it is not close. The yellow arrows and way markers have are becoming my newest best friend.
Segovia is so beautiful we stayed an extra day; hopefully to rest Deb’s foot. The Roman aqueduct is 1500 years old and was still in service until the 1960s. The Cathedral and Castle Alcazar are a must.
We stayed at Don Jaime at €35 between us with breakfast thrown in. Another discovery was that ‘Spain is not flat’. Chinese movie makers were filming a western in Plaza Mayor – hilarious.
Out on to the Meseta. About 213 kilometres to go – all on the windy, cold virtually treeless, rolling plains.
Anyone who says you don’t need poles to walk any of the Caminos is an idiot. A bit of YouTube instruction and a bit more practice to get it right, and the benefits are amazing.
The plan to stay in Ane proved to be folly. Not only does the albergue not open until 15 April, but the whole town seemed to be deserted. Had to continue to Santa Maria la Real de Nieva, a total of 38 kilometres for the day as we got off the trail somehow. First real taste of albergue life in Albergue de Peregrines. 6 beds but the place to ourselves. Javier Gonzala was an excellent host here.
Nava de la Asuncion has a free council albergue, but it was impossible to find someone with keys to the place. Stayed in Santa Christo, a privately run albergue of over 200 beds in dorms of 10. €15 each but nearly new, very clean accommodation. Observations: local beer has changed from Mahou to Galicia. You can buy a brand-new house here for €150,000.
Passing through historic Coca (steep downhill and uphill then pines) our next planned stop was Villeguillo: a village with no English. With Deb’s Spanish we managed a tapas dinner in the only open bar. They also hold the keys to the albergue. 10 beds, 2 showers and an excellent kitchen greet you there. €5 each.
Johnnie Walker describes a Route A and Route B at this point. Valviadero is described as a ghost town but three families live there. The church, hotel and most buildings are in ruins. The path/road to this village is absolutely terrible – take care. Should have taken Route B but wanted to look at the ghost town.
Alcazaren is typical of the villages on the Meseta. Tiendas (shops) shut 12 noon until 4.00pm. No food in the bars until 8.00pm. Albergue here was free, very clean but very basic. It is the Pilgrim way to leave money for your ‘free’ accommodation. We left €10. Here we met our new fellow walker, Henke, from the Netherlands. He had a plethora of Camino stories that he imparted on us with gusto. I got the feeling he was glad of the company.
We have crossed the Rio Eresma for the las time on our way to Puente Duero. The albergue here is a converted barn. 7 beds only – run by volunteer hospitaleros. Lovely lady in charge, but told you which bed you would be sleeping in. Henke cooked pasta for everyone. Red wine of course.
By Simancas we left the last vestiges of the pines. To get into Peneaflor de Hornija you must traverse a ravine to a steep climb into the walled village. The yellow arrows here are confusing and the albergue hard to find. All tiendas were shut as usual so had to dine out again. We have been carrying food since the start as the shopping is unreliable. Motto: Get food and water and local wine when and where you can.
Got food stores at Castromonte for the day ahead. Stayed an extra day in Medina de Rioseca. Albergue was a working convent, the Convento de Santa Clara. Normally closed this time of the year, they opened for us with no hot water and no heating. I cooked a meal for the first time since leaving Madrid. Medina is big enough for a traffic light. Beautiful place but not a city. Lots of Supermercados though. Yay! Here Henke caught up with us. New travellers, Jose’ from Teneriffe, Maria from Madrid, and Victoria from Segovia. This is the first real ‘sharing’ of space for us.
The Camino can make you or break you. Deb has now been walking with a swollen foot for over a week. Maria is tending to her at night. We will make Sahagun in a few days. Then we will see.
We have followed the Canal de Castilla all morning on our way to Tamariz, then our first bit of highway to Cuenca de Campos. The albergue here is fantastic. 30 beds over 4 rooms, with a great kitchen. Jose’ is going to cook a Spanish meal for us tonight. 5 peregrinos together. No Victoria.
The community albergue in Santavas de Campos was closed for renovations and not due to open until mid-April. Maria contacted the village mayor and got them to open it for 5 Caminos with nowhere else to stay. Once again, no hot water and limited lighting, but out of the cold. We all ate at the local (and only) bar. The mayor’s son drove to back to Medina for frozen pizzas for us. The locals chipped in with breads, eggs, fruit and veg. The generosity of these villagers will stay with me always.
Grahal de Campos is no longer on the Camino Madrid but is an absolute must. Only 1 kilometre from the path. Turn right at the bridge. A beautiful town with 2 identical castles. There is a story behind the second castle. Has to do with royalty and jealousy.
Sahagun at last. It is much nicer than Johnnie Walker gives it credit for. Our walking group split up at this time to follow different pursuits. Stayed at the Albergue Peregrine. Very clean with lots of hot showers, a washing machine and dryer.
We are now at the end of the Camino Madrid. There are lots of pilgrims now as Sahagun is on the Camino Frances. Compostela’s all round from the museum here to recognise the 320+ kilometres from Madrid. It is the 23 March 2019. For us, it is the end of the Camino Madrid.
Here is also decision time. Do we continue, with Deb now barely mobile, or call it quits and go to Portugal as we had planned to do after Muxia?
(To be continued next issue)