The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Let’s start with the ugly.

I don’t know what you were doing at 7.30 on Sunday morning but if you had any sense, you’d still have been tucked up in bed looking forward to nothing more strenuous than a day with the papers and a roast dinner.

As for me, I was standing on the hard shoulder of a motorway as one of my fellow walkers, a doctor, attended to the driver of a car that had just clipped the central reservation, spun out of control and smashed head on into a lamp-post.

Here’s how it all started:

Stage 22 of The Northern Way from to Aviles Soto de Luiña is renowned for being particularly challenging; it’s partly the distance – 38km is a pretty healthy day’s walking by anyone’s standards – but it’s mostly the nature of the route itself, which is a continuous succession of steeply rising and falling rocky pathways which are extremely poorly signposted.

Or one of the routes anyway. Over the years, walkers have come up with a number of alternative routes to make the stage a little less murderous on the knees, although there seems to be little consensus over which is the best way.

However, given that the route for the first section of the walk shown above was suggested to me by the owner of the restaurant I had eaten at the night before after I’d given him a decent tip, I figured that it was likely to be pretty reliable. What he didn’t tell me was that by the best way, he actually meant the quickest way which, in turn, involved walking down a motorway.

Hence our proximity to the crash scene above, as I had set out bright and early that morning with some fellow walkers who had decided on the same route.

Thankfully the driver of the car was just a little shaken up rather than seriously hurt, but the experience did rather set the tone for the day’s walking, which was unremittingly bad – if I tell you that the shot below was one of its more picturesque moments, you should have some idea of what it was like.

The first 19km or so, apart from the brief stretch of grass above, was all road; thankfully not all motorway, but quite enough to get the blood pumping much faster than it should have done. We weren’t even sure that what we were doing was legal, until the police car that had attended to the crash earlier went past and completely ignored us. Mind you, they run with the bulls over here, so I guess walking down the hard shoulder of a motorway must seem like child’s play.

And I must admit, that by early afternoon, with at least another 16km to go, I’d pretty much had my fill of The Camino; I let the the others walk on ahead of me trudged the rest of the way alone – not so much the Fast Walking Blogger as the Decidedly Moody Plodder.

The road eventually turned off into a hillside pass…

…and I tried to shake my mood by focussing on the natural surroundings again…

…but only in a fairly half-hearted way.

And in the horribly predictable way that there are certain days that things can only go from bad to worse…they did; when I finally dragged myself into Soto de Luiña in the early evening, I thought I’d cheer myself up with that famous Spanish delicacy, sausage, egg and chips, off the peregrino’s menu in the local bar.

Unfortunately, I misunderstood the waitress who took my order, thinking that she was asking me if I wanted a starter, and ended up ordering something completely different instead. Now, I’m as partial to a ham and cheese croquette as the next man, but their appeal does tend to pall a bit after the first dozen…

I guess it would be unrealistic to expect to walk every day for a month over 500 miles or so and not have at least one bad day, so I’m just going to put that one down to experience.

I think there’s also probably a cautionary tale somewhere in there about the perils of trying to take too many shortcuts, and the next day it was a huge relief to be back on the ‘Camino Oficial’ and out in the open country during the much more civilised 24km from Soto de Luiña to Cadavedo, even though it took some serious climbs to get there.

And this is where the good bit finally kicks in.

There’s something hugely satisfying about starting the day off looking up at this….

Then climbing steadily upwards for a couple of hours before looking back down on it from an entirely different perspective.

And if this shot doesn’t quite capture the challenge of getting to the summit of the morning’s steepest ascent…

…this one should hopefully give you some idea of the satisfaction of getting there…

…especially when this is the sight that greets you over the brow of the hill…

Just to pick up briefly on the theme of the last post, talking about the idiosyncrasies of the Camino’s signage system, I thought this was worth including as an example of just how idiosyncratic things can get – not to mention why I manage to get lost quite so often…

Even though I’ve seen a pretty eclectic mix of waymarkers over the last couple of weeks, I think that a yellow arrow painted on a loose pebble (that could easily be removed by anyone with an even slightly mischievous nature), on a path where the eye is naturally drawn to the horizon, is certainly one of the most random.

This is what it looks like up close.

And the Ghandi quote certainly felt quite appropriate as the next couple of hours were spent meandering along a gently curving coastline looking down on a crystal clear turquoise sea.

WiFi seems to be getting distinctly patchy round here as the villages are getting gradually smaller and more rural, hence the slightly more random posts. And apparently tomorrow night’s destination is a monastery, which I’m assuming won’t have an internet cafe. We shall see.

‘Til the next time…

Filed under: On The Road Tagged: Aviles, Camino, Charity, Northern Way, Rethink Mental Illness, Soto de Luina, Walking

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