Pilgrim’s Progress

757 nights : 28,768 miles travelled : countries visited: 27

‘(A) journey becomes a pilgrimage as we discover, day by day, that the distance traveled  is less important than the experience gained.’     Ernest Kurtz

We first saw them as we drove north out of Portugal. Usually in ones and twos, often with a stick and always with a backpack. In rain and sun, heads were down looking at the path directly ahead. We were confused, as we thought the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela was one path across northern Spain from the Pyrenees.  But the promise of a sunny weekend by the sea distracted us from seeking an answer straight away.


There is nothing so relaxing as watching azure waves foam white against rocks. Listening to the same would have been nice, but for us that was drowned out by the wimpering and whining of a spoiled bratdog nagging for yet another game on the beach. Yes life is hard!


The Costa de Morte is punctuated by crosses marking the scenes of shipwrecks but on a more positive note is known for the regular sightings of dolphins. Well not so regular; it took many hours of gazing to see three. As I say….a hard life!

There is a good reason why Spain’s north western corner is so green and the blue skies soon gave way to the threat of rain. So we retraced our trail and headed to the destination of the pilgrims that we had passed.  The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela houses the tomb of whom many believe to be St James the Apostle and while the scaffolding disguised the splendour, it could not hide the sheer scale of the facade.


Many believers queue to embrace the statue of the Apostle behind the altar
Pilgrims arrive in the Plaza del  Obradoiro
The fabulous Hostal  de los Reyes Catolicos is now a fabulously expensive hotel!

Neither of us have a religious faith but it does not take much to imagine the joy felt when arriving here after walking hundreds of kilometres and when you multiply that emotion countless times over many centuries you can’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere of the old streets.

It would seem that the Camino de Santiago or ‘The Way’ is not one path but a network of pilgrim routes. What we knew of was the Camino Francés or the French Way. Others include Camino Portugues from Oporto  which explains the pilgrims we saw, and Camino Ingles from A Coruna and Ferrol on the north western tip of Galicia. This English way is one of the shorter routes (less than 100 kilometres) and dates back to the 12th century when thousands of pilgrims from England and the Nordic countries began their walk from the ports they disembarked at.

The scallop shell has long been a symbol of the Camino de Santiago

Our walk from the camperstop into the city was lined with hairdressers and barbers. This was too good an opportunity to miss so I dived in to find one with availability. We have had several fun experiences trying to communicate what we need with a mixture of sign language, photographs and google translate in salons in Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal and Italy and this was no different. Smiles and nods reflected in a mirror saw me leave happy, more Judy Dench than Clare Balding once again!

Lugo has the finest Roman walls in Western Europe and it is possible to walk the two kilometres encircling the old town. We didn’t, as we seemed to get even wetter on top than in the streets below, which goes to show that we probably aren’t cut out for any pilgrimage routes!

Going up!
The wall is up to 7 metres wide and had 85 towers
The town has encased the wall as it has grown over the centuries

As we drove around Galicia we noticed that many properties had strange little buildings in the garden. These grain stores, or horreos vary in  age, size and construction but all were of the same basic design and are a real feature of this part of Spain.


The trail hugged the coast heading east and we enjoyed spectacular scenery as we drove between mountains and sea. The somewhat hairy La Hermida gorge drive took us up to Potes on the edge of the beautiful Picos de Europa National Park with dramatic peaks and crisp air.  They may not be the highest mountains in Europe but they were our favourite.

The walk back to the campsite
Fiat 600s making their own pilgrimage!

The landscape levelled as we headed further inland but was no less cinematic. Ancient villages and twisting roads slowed us to a crawl, perfect conditions for our snail. We took a break and stood in awe at the transition before us, from castle topped hills  behind to a vast plain ahead.


The ochre earth of La Rioja made this wine growing region distinctive from other areas we had driven through.


With more time we could have followed a pilgrimage trail of a different kind, as wine makers seem intent on outdoing each other in the quirky architecture of their bodegas. We made it to Ysios near Laguardia where the bodega sits so perfectly with the mountains, which gave us the desire to come back to see (and taste) more!


Labastida is a perfect example of our favourite kind of stop on the trail. The camperstop is free and next to the leisure centre. A historic little town is within easy wandering distance with shops and bars where we can buy local produce to repay our free stay!

Many properties in Calle Mayor  have an aristocratic heritage 
Old fortifications now form part of a town garden

We snaked around the Camino de Santiago and crossed it’s path several times.

Waymarkers guide pilgrims along the whole route

This made us wonder why journeys feels different when they have a purpose and appreciate the time we have enjoyed travelling with none. Nevertheless we were delighted to meet Lorraine who was walking the camino, with Larry in the support vehicle at the camperstop in Ayegui. We were drawn here by the stories of a wine fountain for pilgrims on The Way. Amazingly it was true, but having only walked about 500m  we felt it would be wrong to help ourselves and bought ours from the winery!

Exhausted in less than a kilometre!
Kipper had a sly taste while Graham was still trying to believe his dream was true!
The Monasterio de Irache was one of the first hospitals on the Camino de Santiago

Puente la Reina is a beautiful Romanesque bridge and the medieval town has a constant stream of pilgrims passing through as it is where two main routes meet.


The Church of the Crucifixion was founded by the Knights Templars
The stillness and simplicity of the chapel felt more spiritual than all the grand cathedrals

It felt appropriate that we spent our last night in Spain in Sos del Rey Católico.


This is the birthplace of Ferdinand II of Aragon, one of the Catholic Monarchs and we had crossed their paths many times. Not deliberately however. We have not made any plans beyond the following week on our trail. It is less of a pilgrimage more of a coddiwomple, travelling purposefully towards an unknown destination, but no less meaningful for that.

M & G xx


Treat of the week: We left Spain with some nice chocolate and delicious aniseed biscuits which we’ll be trying to recreate when we get home!

Allez Allez Allez…

632 nights: 24,148 miles travelled : countries visited: 25

” A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving”   Lao Tzu

Here we go again…snail trails part trois!

We left the UK under grey skies and drizzle and drove the first few hundred miles south under the same. The difference was that we’re now on quiet D roads  carving straight lines through long villages oozing French rustic charm. There’s more wooden shutters, twisted ironwork and faded paint on gable ends (advertising Dubonnet or Michelin), than you can shake a baguette at. The mood inside our snail  lifted. The winter months at home saw us become happily enmeshed in the life of family and friends and the temptation to hibernate next to a log burner was almost overwhelming. But the return to familiar routines enforced by motorhome life is comforting, and constantly changing scenery distracts us from any home sickness.


Fog and rain deterred us from lingering too long among all the Gallic gorgeousness but we did enjoy revisiting old haunts and some wonderful free stopovers on France’s network of aires.

Early morning  alarm bells from the lovely church at Cubnezais, Aquitaine

Many villages have at least an overnight parking place for motorhomes or a service point for fresh water and disposing of waste. They are often provided free in the hope that local businesses will benefit and we always enjoy visiting local cafés or the boulangerie.

Emptying the toilet and living the dream!

The internet allows us to benefit from other traveller’s experience and we found a leisurely but direct route , largely avoiding toll roads, down to the Spanish border. We were still being chased by wet weather so we sat out a stormy weekend and did the laundry at a friendly campsite ,which hosted campers from all over Europe, on their way to or from sunnier skies.

Our first miles in Spain were masked by a net of mist so we didn’t see much of the Basque region on either side of the border but the light was more promising by the time we reached our first overnight stop in Olite. This modest town was once home to the royal families of Navarra and the castle is thought to have housed giraffes and lions as well as Kings. The turrets, church spires and narrow streets were an atmospheric introduction to Spanish old towns.


Olite Town Hall

Fixing dried thistles to doors is believed to keep bad spirits away. As some only operate at night, these flowers would lead the devils to assume that the sun is shining on this dwelling. As if the doors weren’t characterful enough.

We parked in the Area Municipal behind the beautiful  Church of San Pedro, with the bell tower topped by ‘Torre de Aguja’ (needle spire) and another early morning call!

Heavy cloud caught up with us again and we headed hopefully towards a region of semi-desert; surely it won’t rain there? The Parque National de las Bárdenas Reales covers the south-east of Navarre and was initially created by deforestation and shaped by wind and water erosion.We wondered what all the fuss was about as we drove into the park area, with vegetation getting a little more scarce but no sand visible.


It was only as we set off on foot that we felt that we were walking onto the set of a spaghetti western and realised that the landscape was becoming more and more bizarre.

Where did the field go?




The lack of rain made Mr Kips a bit giddy!


There was another wonderful Area Autocaravanas nearby in Arguedas. We were next to some troglodyte homes, some of which appeared to have been inhabited until relatively recently. An excellent footpath led up to explore them and gave a good view of the town below.

Our third day of driving in Spain was the most eventful. For one thing, we were travelling through what looked like the Wild West with steep sided, flat topped rocky plateaus marking the horizons on either side of us. Then we had to get our sunglasses out….for the first time in months! We sat back and smiled from the inside out. This is the best of snailing, when the journey is as much fun as arriving.

Just before lunchtime, we were pulled over by the Civil Guard as we cruised along a dual carriageway and after anxious minutes waiting, while mentally checking that we were complying with all the Spanish road regulations, we were waved through the road block. Being a pair of grey headed wrinklies has some benefits. We had decided to push a long way south and towards the end of our long drive, we were  confronted by a man in the middle of the road with a red lollipop board. Having looked at our number plates, he approached the van and did what any sensible person (read we) would do when confronted with someone who isn’t fluent in your language. He spoke his own, very fast and very loud! Having just reached episode 2 of our free conversational Spanish course (given away in the Independent in 2007!),  we only knew how to count to 10 and ask which boarding gate our aircraft leaves from!! Luckily this meant that I heard the Spanish word for eight in the midst of the diatribe. So I pointed to my watch, ocho? ‘Si si, ocho’. He then enthusiastically repeated everything again, faster and louder so this time the only word we could make out was dynamita! Tempted as we were to see what he was going to do with explosives, eight o’clock was another four hours away, so we turned around and found an alternative route to Morella.

The sky was still clear when we arrived at the motorhome stop just out of town, which meant we got to enjoy the magnificent view of the Castell de Morella.


However it also meant that we experienced a really cold night…Kipper had to be tucked back into his sleeping bag twice!  The sun on the town next morning made this all worthwhile and we had wonderful time exploring the steep streets and the castle ruins.

Natural fortifications
Cloister ruins in the 13th century Franciscan convent

The Church of Santa Maria la Major has not one but two beautiful doorways, the door of the Disciples and the door of the Virgins, and a blue tiled dome.

As we climbed higher we could see snow capped hills in the distance and the town, with it’s mile long wall, sixteen towers and bullring below us.

Morella celebrates several fiestas, the most famous being Sexenni, held every six years to thank the Virgin of Vallivani for saving those who survived a plague in the 17th century. The giants are paraded at all the festivals and represent the two cultures of Christianity and Islam and their coexistence which characterised the town for much of it’s history.


The boys also made friends with the smaller representation of a civic leader, who did much to promote the town’s textile production and wore his stripey blanket with pride (he was still cold to the touch though!)

Local products include sausage and ham and oodles of truffles but we were most tempted to try the flaon, a pastry stuffed with almonds and cottage cheese. And how could we resist the meringues? They reminded us of the  castle we had just climbed so surely we had earned one….each! And with them being advertised on wood and what with them blending so naturally into their surroundings surely they’re actually good for us?!

We were only a couple of hours inland from the unfortunately named Peniscola, a coastal town with another magnificent castle.


However there are also tower blocks and no entry to the beach signs for Kipper, (torture!) so after a few days of housekeeping on a quiet but busy site, we are ready to explore more of what Spain has to offer.

M & G xx

Treat of the week: In true snail trail style, it has been less of a dash for the sun than a shuffle for the shadows, but then you don’t get those without the sun!