My brother Phil and friend Bob and I set out to walk from Granada to Santiago on 22 March. Both Bob and I walked the Camino Francés in 2013 from St Jean- Pied-de-Port to Santiago, while for Phil it was his first Camino. We realised from the start that the walk from Granada to Merida would be lonely as the statis- tics indicated that just over 50 pilgrims commenced a Camino from Granada in 2012, so we suspected there would probably be less than 100 walking over 2014.
For a reference we took the CSJ guide for the Camino Mozárabe and maps provided by Kevin Burrows. Over- all the route from Granada to Merida was surprisingly well marked although we found that 3 pairs of eyes was definitely an advantage because at times two of us would pass a mark, only to be told by the third person that we were headed in the wrong direction.
Overall we found that the CSJ guide plus some commonsense navigating was able to keep us on the correct path and only on one occasion we took a wrong turn and had to retrace our route. Commonsense navigation was necessary to navigate through new road works which at times parallel the Camino route and crossed over the path on several occasions.
After a rest day to see Cordoba, we arrived in Merida on 6 April without meeting another pilgrim in our 400km walk. If you are going to walk the Camino Mozárabe, either take a friend or be prepared for solitude. Taking a friend is probably the best option as it provides both company and an extra set of eyes for spotting waymarks.
From Merida we headed north on the Via de la Plata intending to walk into Santiago via Ourense. For this section we did not have the benefit of the CSJ guide, as Bob had inadvertently packed it with his excess gear and posted it on to Santiago. In its place we obtained a Spanish cycling map book, an excellent reference. While the Spanish maps were much superior to the maps in the CSJ guide, the book did not provide the details of the route, so as a consequence it is likely that we missed many points of interest along the way. As far as guide- books go, it would appear that the German guides are the most comprehensive but, unfortunately, you have to be able to read German to use them properly.
Holy Week parade, Salamanca
Leaving Merida, Phil was having problems walking, initially with blisters and shin splints followed by an Achilles tendon issue. As a result Bob headed off on his own from Embalse de Alcantara while Phil and I continued on at a slower pace. It was a pleasure being on the Via de la Plata and meeting other pilgrims after the lonely first 400km from Granada to Merida. We estimated there were between 20 and 30 pilgrims a day walking the VDLP, many of which were German, although we did run into the usual mix of nationalities (Canadians, Dutch, English, Spanish, Italian, Swiss etc) – it was great to be able to walk with them.
Bells, Santiago Cathedral museum
Interestingly, most of the pilgrims on the Via de la Plata had done at least one Camino previously and it was good to be able to get to know some of the Spanish walkers, which does not seem to happen on the Camino Francés. At La Calzada de Bejar we decided it was not in Phil’s best interest to continue walking and arranged for him to take a bus to Salamanca, leaving me to walk through.
By the time that I reached Salamanca, Bob had headed off again, while I had a couple of rest days with Phil hoping that his leg would come good. Unfortunately this did not happen in the available time so it was on a bus for Phil to Zamora while I walked. Bob was well ahead at this time and walked through to Astorga on the Camino Francés, prior to returning to Granja de Moreruela by bus to walk the Camino Sanabrés through Ourense to Santiago.
After a rest day in Zamora, we made another decision – that, because of Phil’s walking difficulties, the best option would be for him to take a bus to Astorga on the Camino Francés, where he could easily take buses by stages into Santiago if necessary while I walked. The walk north from Granja de Moreruela to Astorga was very quiet (only four pilgrims) as most pilgrims turn off here onto the Camino Sanabrés and walk into Santiago via Ourense. Arriving in Astorga, I found Phil much recovered and determined to walk. Walking the Camino Francés provided Phil with an opportunity to experience a busy Camino route – very different from the Camino Mozárabe.
The variable C Invierno signage
Bob walked into Santiago on 7 May and we arrived three days later on 10 May. Overall it appeared that numbers of pilgrims arriving in Santiago were greater than at the same time in 2013 and talking to the pilgrim office I was told that the number of pilgrims that had arrived to date in 2014 was double the number that had arrived during the same period in 2013. Attending the pilgrim mass on Sunday 11 May, we were surprised to find that it was being officiated by Cardinal Pell from Australia (see photo, right) – Phil was able to shake his hand as he filed out of the Cathedral).
Overall I covered in excess of 1150km, while Bob walked 1300km and Phil nearly 900km. It was a great walk and I will definitely be going back again.
John and discarded building materials!
Phil & Bob
Statue of Hercules, A Corunna (a day bus trip from Santiago)