… things don’t always turn out as expected

Family: noisy, sometimes exasperating, always wonderful.

Enough Class A meds to just get me home 🙂

I wasn’t completely upfront in yesterday’s blog because I didn’t want to spook Pete, but the kids knew what was going on. I spent an extremely unpleasant night with two donkeys taking turns at kicking my back. Thank god albergues rise early, I knew I needed to get to hospital I just didn’t want to wake up the others and disturb their calm snoring. At 5.30am I rang the Mapfre hospital in the Burgos area. “No,” she said, “emergency isn’t covered. Do you have national health insurance?” “Yes, but I haven’t brought the card with me,” (brain dead or what!) “Shouldn’t matter, if you’ve got Spanish ID and empadronamiento.”

I phoned a taxi and asked to be taken to Hospital Hubu, but by the time it arrived I had got nervous and thought I should just head for home. The taxi driver checked his sites: “The first train to either Madrid or Barcelona is after 12, if you get lucky that gives the doctors six hours to work on you and prepare you for the journey, you look like you need that!” He pointed the station out to me as we drove to the hospital, it was about a 2km walk away.”

At the national health hospital I barely waited ten minutes. They sorted the problem out with the card and said they would be sending the bill to me, all I had to do was take it into health admin in Palma and they would be paid. Nurses took bloods and urine samples and let me lie down in a quiet room until the doctor was ready to interview me. “From what you’ve said, I don’t think it has anything to do with a sudden large consumption of anti-inflamattories, I’d like to do an X-ray.”

While waiting for that I was being introvenously pumped full of anti-nauseas and pain meds. I drifted into sleep. I was a very happy bunny. The doctor came back, “there’s definitely one kidney stone but, see this shadow, I think that’s another one behind it.”

“Obviously it’s not for me to tell you to stop your Camino, but you may take some time to pass these and you’re going to need medical support while you do it.” For me there was no question. The albergues and the Camino itself is not the place to be when you are too nauseous to eat. Carrying a 9kg pack strapped at exactly kidney height wasn’t going to be fun either. “I’m going home, there’s a train to Barcelona at 12 which arrives at 6, giving me plenty of time to get the overnight ferry.”

“OK, I can give you sufficient strong painkillers for 24 hours. I’ll also give you a prescription for anti-biotics but if you don’t find a chemist on a Sunday before you get on the train you’ll have to get a new prescription when you get home as you’re not then in the Castillia and Leon province.” I really love our national health service!

I walked to the station and bought a ticket. Three US guys living in Barcelona struck up conversation on the platform. They’d done 5 days on the Camino. “I didn’t think it would be so tough!” The most talkative one said. “The lack of nutricious food left me week as a kitten.” Would they come back? “I don’t reckon so, there’s lovely walking in other parts of Spain and in France and Austria.” However, they, like me, had discovered The Alchemist in Ages. In fact that place was exactly what they had expected from the Camino. They’d stopped there so long they were even on first name terms with the owners!

The first train was cancelled. Something to do with a car being on the track. Another train from Madrid would take us on somewhere random and then we’d have to change onto a slow train. The Madrid train was due at 14.20, the next direct train to Barcelona was at 15.00. “I’d like to change my ticket onto the next direct train please, what time should it get in?” “2100, 2130 maximum.” That would still give me half an hour to get to the ferry terminal and get a ticket.

The train pulled in at 1520. It didn’t seem to pick up much speed. We arrived in Barcelona at 2215. The lovely hospital meds had worn off and I couldn’t face eating. Anyway, there was nothing to eat. I sprinted (ish) to the taxi rank and explained the situation. She drove like an ambulance and I dashed inside wearing my most winning smile.

“Computer says no …”

“I don’t care what it is, it doesn’t have to be a bed or a chair.”

“Computer says no …”

I explained the situation and asked if she could think of any way around the problem.”


Her colleague came forward. You can try Transmediterrenea, they may not have closed yet. It’s 100 metres down the street.”

I legged it.

“OK, but we’ve only got a bar stall left for the night.”

“No problem, I love spending 8 hours on a bar stall! Thank you so much!”

The ferry was totally full. There were some sofas in the bar so I sat in the middle of one and refused to move. Once we had started I unrolled my sleeping bag and lay down, beneath a sign that showed a person lying with a big red line through it. I was sharing the area with a number of Gypsy men who were all doing the same as me, only without the sleeping bag. Ten minutes later the young steward arrived. “You can’t lie here Senora.”

“As you can see from the scallop shells on my bag, I’ve been on the Camino fror the last three weeks. I’m trying to get home because I have extremely painful kidney stones. If I were your mama, how might you rephrase your statement?” I said with one eye cracked open. He looked at me for 30 seconds.

“Have you got enough medication to get you through the night?” He said. “That’s so kind of you,” I said, smiling while I closed my one eye “I’ll be fine”.

I heard him busily chucking the Gipsy guys off the sofas. “What about her! You’re just being racist! It’s always the same with you lot!”

Each time I heard the words “Camino”, “piedras de rinon” and “Mama”. To a lad, they put their feet down and promised the steward they would look after me throughout the night! I felt a little guilty about playing on their deeply Catholic, Matriarchal society set up … but not too much!

I have to apologise to Krista and the other brilliant volunteers at Cancer Support Group Mallorca for cutting this blog short by at least two weeks. I hope the adventure raised a little towards getting them a permanent room, if not the full amount. 

It is said that the Camino never gives pilgrims what they expect. It gives them what they need. In that case my walk across the bridge that led straight back to where I had been, which I wrote about yesterday, may have been more significant than I realised. What has the Camino given to me? At the risk of sounding almost criminally traditional, it made me know to the deepest marrow of my bones, that I am most happy caring for my large, noisy, sometimes exasperating, family and garden. For me, that is pure heaven x


… and then things get better, and slightly weird!

A large cross surrounded by the stones carried by other pilgrims.

The rather cute stone bridge that led absolutely nowhere!

I followed a shepherd, sheep and sheepdog over these hills for miles.

A ruined church, but at the time, I had no clue where I was 🙂

The rather magical bus advertising the new albergue. It was wacky in the way the place itself turned out to be!

Ages made up for the trials of the monastery – which I later discovered had been built in 1120, and it looked as though little maintenance had been done on it since! Not only was The Alchemist a wonderful old fashioned bar, but the albergue I was at was owned by a great couple. I suspect he was a very talented carpenter as the whole place was fitted out in meticulously carved pine, even down to carving the numbers on the ends of the bunks which corresponded to the numbers carved in the locker doors. When the lady of the house saw me limping, she said “I know what you’ve done!” “Really?”. “You didn’t take a full day of rest during your first week!”. I thought back, she was completely correct … now why wasn’t that little gem in any of the books I read beforehand?

Before the albergue opened I walked round the town and looked in at the church, but I was feeling a bit odd. I think I may have ODed on the anti-inflamatories as I’m nauseous, shakey and feel like an angry donkey has kicked me in the back. My fault. I’m not taking anything any more and the ankle is holding up. Unfortunately, it did mean that I couldn’t do justice to the lady’s wonderful dinner, but instead of ignoring it she brought me a large cup of camomille tea without being asked – how amazing is that when she had probably 50 other pilgrims she was seeing to!

When I spoke to other pilgrims as we all stumbled out into the street the next morning, it seemed that all the albergues in that little town were pretty special, even the Muni.

As we got out into the countryside there was a yellow arrow pointing over a quaint stone bridge. It appeared that the pilgrims in front of me hadn’t taken that route, but then at this part of the Camino there are several different paths. So I trotted happily across the bridge … only to find it led me back to exactly where I was before. There was probably a lesson in that somewhere but I couldn’t fathom it at the time.

Atapuerca hove into view, it’s a small village with a big history, mainly of ancient homo sapiens, and they’ve errected their own mini Stonehenge outside it, a new stone being dragged into place by the sweat of the locals each time. Unfortunately I managed to put my glove over most of that photo and I didn’t check it because my hands were too cold! On the verge I found a very unhappy German, about the same age as me. He too had walked all the way from St Jean and had been doing great until 5km before the end on the previous day. “Something in my shin just seemed to snap,” he said “I thought it might be OK but after 1.5km I can’t move any more. I’ve managed to book a hotel for two nights in Burgos and I hope it will heal as I’ve taken my whole year’s holiday to do this.”

I helped him hobble into Atapuerca – it must have looked hilarious! – sat him in a cafe and called him a taxi seeing as he spoke no Spanish. I felt a bit bad leaving him there while I walked on. It could have been any of us.

My ankle was doing remarkably well but I was beginning to flag slightly, when the most fantastic bus hove into view. It was beautifully painted and claimed that my albergue was a mere 250m away. This was highly inaccurate and I think they must have missed a nought off … or it was another of the younger brother’s pranks.

I arrived and was very warmly greeted by the younger brother. He was in the process of putting a caged Magpie with roughly chopped tail-feathers on top of the concrete pillar of a fountain on the verge. Then he went back inside and put a cage of snails to graze on the grass at the roadside. He was small with a pronounced hairlip and he tended to dance like an excited pixie rather than walk. His elder brother came out of the house and began the usual registration details. He showed me to a pleasant room with just two sets of bunk beds and it’s own bathroom. Elder brother did a bit of serious huffing and puffing over the fact that the pillow cases hadn’t been changed and there was no loo roll, which made younger brother roll about laughing – literally – before skipping off to get them.

“Senora,” elder brother said gracefully when little brother returned, “we are full tonight and there will be all women in here, no big man snores tonight!” It sounded good to me.

Although I was early, the water was stone cold so I went to explore the village instead. When I returned there was a lady from Quebec on the other lower bunk and two guys from the Check Republic on the top bunks. It didn’t bother me, but elder brother was having a total fit on younger brother, which had absolutely no effect except on elder brother’s blood pressure. These episodes went on throughout the whole afternoon.

Although dinner wasn’t until 7, everyone bar gathered in the dining room/bar to try and find some heat. A couple of ladies from Bonn asked younger brother if it was possible to put on some kind of heating. “Of course!” He said, with a deep – and worrying – bow to them. He returned with an enormous contraption which he plugged in with glee and then left the room as we all praised him.

Ten minutes later elder brother came storming out of the kitchen, saw the heater and attempted to rein in his anger in front of the crowd of guests. “I’m so sorry, my brother knows that plugging a heater in here knocks out all the electric in the kitchen. It’s either the heater, or dinner,” he said taking it away with a florish.

We could see through the windows that many pilgrims were still being told to walk on. The next place with beds was Burgos, 14.6kms away. On the forum last night there was a piece saying that 1,000 pilgrim credentials had been handed out everyday last week! Over 7,000 fresh pilgrims in a week! The only time this had happened for one straight week before was for a single week in July 2016.

My donkey was still kicking my back and I was feeling pretty nauseous. I managed the soup but refused the chicken and chips. “Aha” younger brother piped up, “you’re a vegetarian, I will make my brother cook you an omelette.” 

“Please don’t I would prefer to just have the salad.”

“No, you don’t understand, I WANT to tell him to do it…” and off he skipped.

I tried soooo hard with that blasted omelette and chips but there was no way it was going down and I gave up after a third.

“Look!” Said younger brother to elder brother, “I told you your cooking was shit!” I was quietly dying and trying to explain diplomatically how exquisite the uneaten omelette was. Elder brother was being the perfect gentleman and asking if there was anything else he could get me, while younger brother was dancing about the dining room inviting everyone else to tell his brother what shite his cooking was! Manic, but afterwards, hilarious, although the cooking was excellent.

The other thing that made it a “dying” meal was when a miner from Lancashire got onto the subject of Brexit. He hadn’t lived in the UK for 13 years and was working in the gold mines in Australia. He was already telling the pleasant ladies from Bonn, with manicured smiles, how dangerous his job was and how much money he made. He also ranted against the Australian government for making his visa increasingly difficult so that he might not be able to stay on there. 

Then the lovely ladies from Bonn turned their angelic faces towards me. We had already talked about Mallorca’s beautiful Tramuntana mountains where they had also hiked.

“The Brexit vote, is difficult for you?”

“It’s certainly highly embarrassing, I feel as if people must view anyone with a British passport whom they don’t know as a probably racist.”

“What a load of fucking horseshit,” came from my left side, as the Bonn smiles began to slip a bit.

“My county voted 90 per cent in favor, and they’re totally right! In all this time, what ‘as the EU done for Lancashire mining …_”

I was stuffing the words to Monty Python’s “What ‘ave the Romans ever done for us …” as hard as I could. I couldn’t be the cause of a fresh incident!

“Fuck all!” He said, as the room went silent. After a couple of minutes of diligent eating by everyone else he piped up again. “Isn’t it awful when you’re sat round a table and nobody’s got anything to say for themselves, let me tell you about the Greek chick I picked up…”
If anyone enjoys reading this blog and feels they would like to give to an organisation that does a fantastic job 24/7, please either donate through the CSG Mallorca website or make a transfer marked “Because I can” to their bank account at La Caixa, ISBN: ES82 2100 1042 6602 0025 6818, or go to the Paypal button on the Cancer Support Group Mallorca website: 

The Way and The Truth

Off again.

The monastery at San Juan de Ortega, by far the worst albergue so far, and expensive!

Even on a dull day it was far warmer, and dryer, outside the monastery to inside!

The wooded track that 3 individual women were sent down in the dark when the monastery refused to allow them to sleep on the floor last night. There was no guarantee that they would find a bed at the end.

The church at Ages, topped by the ubiquitous stork’s nest.

The Alchemist bar in Ages which proves me wrong, there are still very occasional places on the Camino where you can get traditional Spanish fare and a warm welcome.

So, how does the film The Way compare with reality on the Camino at the moment? There is hardly any comparison between the two. Those scenes of Martin Sheen sipping Rioja and eating freshly prepared tapas … not going to happen. Imagine sleepy little villages where the sole bar used to serve about 20 people a day, and then imagine what happens when batches of up to 100 people suddenly arrive every hour or so. There’s still only 1 or 2 people working in the bar, but they are inundated with pilgrims wanting their credentials stamped, using the loo and wanting food and drink. The only way they can cope with it is to pre-make bocadillos – hard bread with a slice of ham or chicken in it. Even in the bigger places, on the Camino itself, that is all you can find to eat. No problem for a day or so, but after a few weeks your body starts to react against eating one more! Proper supermarkets are very few and far between, in fact I have only seen one and that was a Carrefour Express. The local supermarkets are similarly overwhelmed and if you find a crisp apple or a carrot that doesn’t bend, it’s your lucky day! The scenes of Martin Sheen eating evening meals of paella and other Spanish delicacies which the mama of the albergue had made, are similarly no longer possible. The nightly pilgrim’s menu is horribly the same every night: first course either a plate of lettuce with a few slices of tomato, or pasta with tomato frito, second course either pork or chicken with chips, third course either a natural yogurt, ice cream or a piece of fruit. Nothing wrong with any of it, except if that’s all you’re eating for over a month whilst taking significant amounts of exercise. But there’s no way to cope with the numbers otherwise. It’s easy to understand why some of the villages around the Pyrenees give out the Marie Celeste look, they don’t want their peace disturbed by hoards of pilgrims and they are close enough to the beginning of the route to be able to stay closed until they’ve passed through each day.

Accommodation is also completely different to the film. It’s not possible to just rock up somewhere at the end of the day and get a bed. Until last night I believed that the monasteries had a different attitude and that, even if they were full, they would allow you to sleep on the floor rather than turn pilgrims away. However, they too are overwhelmed and last night I saw three individual women (two of them in their 60s) who were weary and footsore refused shelter and told to walk on, even though there was no guarantee they would find a bed, or floor space, in the next village 5kms away. It was getting dark, freezing cold, the other people I was with who watched the refusals happen, felt that it was a disaster waiting to happen.

I was relieved that Pete saw what a bun fight the Camino had become whilst he was here, seeing as it’s his opinion I value the most. He left vowing not to eat another bocadillo for weeks! At Madrid airport he met a 25 year old German who was leaving the Camino due to a strained hamstring. He too comfirmed that the Camino was over crowded and not what he expected.

The good news is that it’s a UNESCO world herritage site, so they will have to sort it out soon-ish. The action of the Roncesvalles monastery last week of closing 100 beds seems weird but actually makes some sense. Roncesvalles is the large reformed monastery at the top of the Pyrenees where Martin Sheen is seen sleeping on the first night. After they built they new 300 bed dormitary, they kept the old 100 bed one available for overspill in high summer, but this year from Easter onwards it became full all the time and the food, staff and water infrastructure couldn’t cope. So now it’s permanently shut.

In my humble opinion they simplest way to get The Way back to what it used to be is for Santiago diocese to take back control over the credentials that are issued, perhaps only issuing 150,000 per year. At the moment you can get a credential for 2 euros from hundreds of places and no doubt the tour operators have boxes of them. You cannot stay in any albergue without a credential. You cannot obtain the Compostella at the end of the walk without a credential which has been stamped twice a day during the last 100kms for walkers and 200kms for cyclists and donkey riders.

I have given myself two more light days of walking to Burgos and then I will make a decision. If my ankle needs more treatment and is not improving, I’m coming home. Maybe I’ll return later to complete the walk, as many people do. If my ankle is getting better then I’m going to Decathlon to buy a cheap bike. I’m not here to get hurt or frightened if I can’t find a bed at night. If that floats other people’s boats, no worries, they’re welcome to come to the Camino and do that to themselves, but it’s not for me. With a bike I will be able to get off the Camino quickly if I feel I’m getting into a problem, and once off the route I’m fairly sure there will be no difficulty in finding shelter. So that’s the plan, and if anyone is thinking of walking the Camino it might be wise to wait a year or so. I’m sure the over-crowding will be sorted out, but this year’s influx has taken everyone by surprise.

Why do they keep live chickens in the cathedral?

Working on ankle recovery 🙂

The most important ingredient in Pete’s backpack.

The holy hen pen, right in the heart of Santo Domingo cathedral. Above it is part of the gallows.

The hermitage of Santa Barbara at the top of a mountain by the ski resort whose snowy peak I have been walking alongside for a while.

Very exotic butterflies swooping all round the hermitage.

Not walking today, but I got to see some beautiful parts of La Rioja.

Loads of flowering broom and heather.

A drummer started playing outside our window at 5am. It was quite a doleful sound so we decided that after the celebrations of the 2nd May about the insurgents rising up against Napoleon’s forces, this was commemorating the time they were all executed. Unfortunately we were wrong.

“No the drumming is in preparation for the fiestas of Santo Domingo which will be held on the 10th May,” the receptionist told us. “Every morning between the 1st and the 10th of May the drummers go through our streets at 5am and 7pm in memory of our great saint,” she said proudly, as we groaned a little inwardly. “When he was a child, Saint Domingo ran through the city’s streets banging his toy drum at 5am every day to get the pilgrims out of bed and on their way. Then he ran through the streets again at 7pm banging his drum to remind the pilgrims to go to mass.” Personally, I think his mum was a bit lax on discipline and I bet he wasn’t too popular with the neighbours.

After physio, we decided to take a good look at the cathedral and see if the tales of live chickens being kept in there were true. Sure enough, there was a white rooster and hen in residence, as they have been every day since the Pope ordained it in 1350. They seem perfectly happy and plump. The hens are in situ due to Saint Domingo’s most famous miracle. The story goes that a German pilgrim family arrived in the town and stayed at the local inn. The inn-keeper’s daughter fell passionately in love with the 18-year-old son named Hugonell, but he wasn’t at all interested. She became so miffed with him that she planted a silver cup in his luggage and then told the authorities he was a thief. This was a crime punishable by hanging, so they strung up Hugonell, which thoroughly upset his folks.  However, they were good catholics and continued on to Santiago. On the way back they decided to visit their son’s grave but when they arrived at Santo Domingo they discovered him still hanging. And alive. “Mum! Dad! Saint Domingo has brought me back to life, could you run to the Mayor’s house and ask him to cut me down.”

“No probs son,” they replied in delight and dashed off to the Mayor’s pad. The Mayor was about to have dinner with his friends, so he wasn’t well chuffed at being interrupted by a couple of delusional pilgrims. “Your lad is as alive as these two roast chickens we are about to eat!” He scoffed. Suddenly the chickens came to life, sprouted feathers and beaks and began clucking about the dinner table. Which led the Pope to decree that there should always be a rooster and hen kept in the cathedral in memory of the miracle. It also  led to the saying “Santo Domingo of the Way, where the roosters crow after being roasted.” Which rhymes in Spanish but sounds pretty weird in any other language. There is a piece of the orignal wooden gallows kept above the chicken cage.

The rest of the cathedral is curious. There are some very ornately carved choir stalls with the organ above them set behind a grill in the very centre of the building and, while most of the cathedral is old, the altar area is modern in an almost Ikea-like way.

Pete and I drove up to Ezcaray (so that my leg could have a rest day and because our friend Julien, who used to live here, had recommended it) where there is a ski resort and a steep road across the mountains. 

Tomorrow we go our separate ways again. I have already had no luck booking accommodation for tomorrow night and the Camino forums are full of stories of this getting worse and worse the closer a person gets to Santiago with the last 100km already being swamped (you only need to “walk” the last 100 km to get the certificate, and it appears bus loads of people are stopping at the villages along this part of the way, getting their passports stamped and then hopping back on the bus to the next village, one forum writer compared the early morning exit from the albergues, hotels and hostals being like rats flowing out into the streets to follow the Pied Piper). The albergue owners who in the 1980s had to cope with “a handful” of pilgrims each year, were struggling when in 2014 (after the 2010 film The Way) numbers swelled to 200,000. This year, that number looks set to double and the infrastructure is not in place to cope with it. Every time the problem is mentioned the albergue owners look deeply worried. “I don’t know how we’ll cope in June and July if this carries on,” one said to me, “it’s complete madness.” I think I’ll put it on record now, if I have to start sleeping rough I’ll be coming home. Maybe I’ll come back in the winter and finish what I started, but I have limits and that’s definitely it!

The irony of “can”

I spent the night in Ciruena which is a ghost town apart from the albergue. The government built a beautiful golf course, acres of luxury housing, children’s play grounds, basketball and tennis courts, but nobody wanted to live there so it’s all up for sale!

No more vines 🙂

The cathedral of Santo Domingo.

Surprise! Look who I found on the Camino!

The Albergue Victoria in Ciruena is very clean and friendly, it’s also open all year round for pilgrims who opt to come at the least crowded times. I had dinner with three American ladies, two of whom were from Missouri and were travelling together, plus a piercing expert from Minneapolis. Trump and Brexit were top topics. None of the ladies had voted for the current President, a fact that they wanted everyone to be quite clear about! The three of them were genuinely worried that someone with a serious mental illness had been handed power over the red button and that they might not survive the next four years.

Breakfast was less politically charged as I ate with some lovely Irish ladies and their adult children. Then I was off to follow the yellow arrows to Santo Domingo a mere 6km away. I had originally booked to stay in Redecilla del Camino 17km away, but common sense from a variety of friends and, especially, from Pete made me see that I should find another physio and bed down in Santo Domingo for a day with a good book in the hope that I could coax my ankle back to normal.

Leaving Ciruena was as weird as arriving in it. It is a complete ghost town of rather lovely luxury housing … all for sale. Apparently the government thought that if they built a beautiful new town people would go and live there. Wrong. The whole place feels eerie. It’s a pity nobody mentioned the excess homes to all the poor people who were thrown out of their houses during the crisis, although I suspect that wasn’t the clientele the builders were looking for.

Once out in the countryside there were fields of peas, wheat and a huge area of runner beans. As usual I was soon being overtaken on all sides and singing out “Buen Camino” to a selection of disappearing back views. A young man whistled past me without a word and about five minutes later a very large American drew level. I gave my usual “Buen Camino” but he didn’t sally onwards like the rest so after a while I gave him a glance. At nearly 2 metres tall and with a mop of white hair, he carried a huge backpack. He was sweating although the morning was still chilly. His left leg was encased from mid-thigh to mid-shin in a black contraption, which made the one France wore look like a small plaster.

“That looks serious,” I said, waving one of my poles at his leg.

“Oh, it’s not so bad. I’m having a knee replacement when I get home …”

“And you decided to walk the Camino before having the replacement?”

“Yeah, it’s like with an old car, you want to get the most mileage out of it before you get a new one!”

… and I was wondering if I would make Santiago with a pulled ligament?!

We continued to walk together and it became obvious he was going to be by my side for the next 6km. 

“Are you retired?” I asked

“Yes, I had to retire, I used to be in banking.”

“Do you like it?”

“No. I’m hoping this Camino will give me some ideas of what work I can still do.”

I kept quiet. You soon discover on the Camino that people tell you the most amazing stories if you just keep quiet. I think it’s a bit like going to Confession, or what I used to find happened with children if I kept cooking in the kitchen so that they thought I wasn’t really listening when I knew they wanted to off load about something. It just all comes tumbling out.

“I can’t do anything where people rely on me to always be available. I have thyroid cancer and every time I have an operation I’m out of action for a month or so.”

The young man who had steamed past without a word had stopped to do energetic stretching exercises in the middle of the road.

“That’s my son, he’s not capable of speech before noon but don’t take it as a slight, he’s a good guy once he’s awake!” We walked passed with a nod and soon after he galloped in front of us again.

“Coffee and breakfast at the next town please!” His dad hollered at his back. “Yesterday he had me do 33km. I have to remind him I need sustanance breaks!”

Thirty-three kilometers with a leg contraption that looked more suited to Hannibal Lector’s head?! Every time I begin to think “I can’t” and kick myself roundly for the name of this blog, someone comes along and reinvents the meaning of “Can”. If I were at home and someone said to me “can you come for a bit of a trek in the Tramuntana tomorrow”, I would have no hesitation in saying, “sorry, I’ve got a busted ankle there’s no way I can do that for a week or two.” Here, however, you see countless people walking with bleeding feet and many others limping onwards day after day.

“So when you say you ‘have’ thyroid cancer, it’s an ongoing problem?”

“Yes, it can’t be cured but I’m at the Mayo Clinic which gives excellent care. It doesn’t respond to chemo or radio therapy so they just have to keep chopping now and again. I was meant to have another operation in May but I said I wanted to go and walk the Camino first.”

So, in fact, the knee replacement was the more minor of his problems! 

“How many operations have you had so far?”

He rolled down his collar to reveal a long scar and wasted tissue around his neck which would have done Frankenstein proud. His breastbone also bore a scar  disappearing beneath his shirt buttons. “This will be my third. They’ve said they’ll have to open my breastbone again and then I’ll be laid up for a month, but I’ll get a new knee at the same time. If I’m honest I don’t want to have it done again, but there’s really no option, unless the Camino gets me,” he said with a wry grin.

“At least you’re trying to work out what would fulfill you after this one’s over …” I offered gingerly.

“Yeah, and even if I don’t work that out, I’m going to lie back and think of these Spanish skies and my time out in the open roaming over all these fields with my son …”

… And I had even considered the words, “I can’t”? People out here humble me, so deeply, every day, just by being their incredible selves.

We walked into Santo Domingo together where his son was doing some more impressive stretches, and left each other with a cheerful “Buen Camino” as I went in search of a physio and the post office.

I got an appointment with sports physio Maria at 11am, and managed to book a second night in another hotel a little further out of town. Santo Domingo looked interesting, I was going to be fine here for a rest day. Things were looking up. When I left Maria’s I Whatsapped Pete to tell him I was heading for that day’s albergue along the Camino.

“Send me a location so I can see where you are …”

Ten minutes later a man wearing my straw hat with a plastic red rose accosted me and the day got even better. 🙂

“Thank god you didn’t keep on walking like you said you were going to last night, I’ve had this booked since last weekend and you’d have hated to go backwards!”

Prejudice, sense and Sook

The river at Najera looked far more beautiful once the sun came out this morning.

More vines, plus plenty of snow on the mountains.

Finally, a place to rest after 10km uphill walking and talking with Sook.

Not feeling good. Tried to book 2 nights in Santo Domingo to have a rest day, but on Wednesday there is no room, again.

It was a beautiful morning walk to Azofra in search of breakfast. Nothing was open in Najera but there was evidence of a forth-coming fiesta involving goats or rams skulls and medieval banners. I was a little worried that Azofra, which was 6km uphill, would be as dead as Najera and I could be destined to have a coffee-less day, but there was a little bar open where a group of about 8 deaf and mute Irish were already enjoying the terrace. Their group leader appeared to be a large bearded man who made everyone laugh, regularly, even those of us who couldn’t understand sign language. I suppose being able to arrange everything through bookings.com makes organisation far easier. As they left the village, each with an Irish flag pinned to their backpacks, you couldn’t have imagined a more merry band of pilgrims.

As I left Azofra I nearly missed the turning after being distracted by a very angry South Korean gentleman who was annoyed when his companion decided to get back onto their bus and not walk with him. This led to him hawking back and spitting incredibly loudly before galloping past me in disgust. The rest of the group followed in the wake of his onward dash and it was only when I was almost following them past a wall that I saw a faded yellow arrow to the left out of the corner of my eye.

There weren’t any other arrows for quite a while so I wasn’t at all sure I was on the right track for about a kilometer, but I could see other walkers behind me so I decided to carry on. I had seen many Koreans along the way but few of them in the albergues, so I just assumed that they were staying in a different one to me. Also I had been fantastically impressed at how small their packs were, I was convinced that they had the art of small packing, rather like making minute pieces for mobile phones etc. Now I knew that they had as much luggage as me, but it went by bus and, for much of the time, so did they.

As I limped along I wondered what they got out of it. I began to feel a little smug about how hard this Camino was, but that arrogance instantly dissolved with the first mind-flash of refugees in their thousands walking through Europe. The similarities are too obvious to miss, but so are the differences, namely one of choice and having a bed and a meal at the end of each day. Certainly none of the women fleeing with their children would be overly concerned by a duff ankle. 

Just as I was getting out of that bit of musing, the mass of South Koreans began overtaking me again having discovered their mistake. After most of them had passed, a soft voice said: “are you OK? It looks as if you are in a lot of pain”

She was dressed in a bright orange top with a cap and sunglasses, and despite telling her I was fine, she didn’t steam onwards but began to walk beside me. Well, you can’t have someone walking beside you for a while and not make some kind of conversation, so I said the usual things.

Her name was Sook. It turned out that she was a nurse who had spent her career mainly nursing leukemia patients, until her mother became ill and didn’t like being in hospital, so Sook retired and converted her lounge into an equipped nursing environment for her mother. By the time her mother died her father was 96, so she nursed him until he died as well. Her sister was married with children, so the care package had fallen to Sook.

I asked her about the group she was with. They had begun from St Jean in France 3 days ago. Sook had done the 25km up the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles but then their coach had taken them to an hotel in Pamplona for the night. I gently questioned her about what she was getting out of the trip.

“I am getting everything I need. I came here to do long walks and think. I have many things I need to sort out in my head. I don’t believe I would sort them out better if I was in pain like you are, or if I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep because of all the snoring people in a dormitory.”

She definitely had a point. I certainly wasn’t gaining great flashes of enlightenment from either of those things!

Sook needed to decide how to alter her life in order to be happy when she was 60 or 70. “People say to me, you are totally free, you can do whatever you like, but sometimes that’s a problem in itself.” Although all her friends and family told her she had been an amazing daughter to care for her parents as she had, she felt guilty about days when she might not have been as tolerant or kind as she wanted to be. Although her country’s main religion is Budhism, all the group were devout Catholics. She felt her parents wanted her to be happy and that until she found what she needed to do to achieve that, they wouldn’t be at peace. “Do you know where you will always be happy?” She asked.

“At home, on Mallorca, with my family. But being on Camino has deepened that knowledge a hundred times over so I don’t regret a step of it.”

“I know I only want to live in South Korea, it’s all the other parts I’m confused about,” she said, which led on to conversations about North Korea and China. 

She told me how much South Korea was doing to improve sustainability, how much governmental support there was for developing electric cars and renewable energy. When she had been young, she said, the skies over South Korea had been like those we were talking beneath today, but now their air was horribly polluted by China and although the Chinese were trying very hard to sort things out, it was too big a problem to solve quickly. 

I told her about how shocked I had been when I went up in a hot air balloon a few years ago and saw the yellow blanket over Palma which extended about a kilometer out to sea.

“But they have so many wind turbines and solar panels here,” Sook said, “is that not the same throughout Spain?” From which we got onto corruption and governments, which was something she understood all too well seeing as their President is currently in prison and there’s a fresh election next week!

I would like to say that the miles sped by, because she was such a gentle kind person to walk with, but after 10 kilometers without a rest my ankle was killing. We said goodbye at the rest stop just outside of Ciruena as she was going all the way to Santo Domingo, she pressed her card into my hand and told me to come to South Korea; that’s unlikely, but she was a truly special person and I felt so grateful to have met her and heard her story.

Vines, more vines and yet more vines

This plaque was half way up a hill in the middle of nowhere, but I was delighted to see it, I’ve walked more than 200kms.

Lots of blue cornflowers at the side of the path today. They reminded me of my sister as she had a picture of them on her dressing table.

You can end up getting sick of vines, especially when it’s cold and wet!

There really is no end to the vines!

The only time you can advertise in the middle of nowhere and get a response!

The outskirts of Najera are not pretty and you have to walk through some dodgy areas before reaching the old town.

Last night I wound up in an apartment which was an overflow albergue. There were 10 of us, mostly South Americans apart from me and a German guy. Everyone had had the same problem in Logroño and felt a bit miffed about missing the town. Being in an apartment was great as we could cook so I had a veggie feast :).

The walk today was wet, windy and super boring with vines marching across every hillside. As it was blustery I was being attacked by other people’s loo roll which is ultra horrible. In every book and leaflet it tells pilgrims to either bury, or take with them, their used loo roll, but the place is covered in it. I don’t understand it, people have just about become educated about picking up their dog mess and yet they leave shitty loo roll blowing about the countryside. It was something Pete and I noticed on the Cami de Cavalls in Menorca as well.

I walked along with an American lady for a while today, which shows I’m getting a bit speedier, she was saying that she had first heard about the Camino through an advert in a National Geographic magazine which was offering group excursions with all accommodation booked and luggage moved for you from place to place. She decided she preferred to do it alone, but apparently groups are becoming very big business. She too had met the handcart group and I bumped into them so many times today that we’re almost best buddies! The handcarts are great engineering, they weigh under a kilo but have suspension on the wheels and a harness so that they can either be pulled or pushed depending on the terrain.

Pete sent me a lovely Beetles song today which gave me leaky eyes and made me wonder why I was hobbling around a load of muddy vineyards instead of being curled up on the sofa with him doing the crossword. Anyway, I think tomorrow will be Beetles day for head-singing as you could go on for ever with that repertoire. 

Tonight I took off the bandage on my ankle, as it had been on the requisite 4 days. It hurt like hell to begin with but seems to have settled down now so I’m hopeful it will be much better tomorrow. Najera is OK in the centre and the river would be pleasant if the sun was shining, but as it’s a bank holiday weekend everything is closed and the place is a bit dead. Mañana más.

Logroño nightmare

Furry luuuvv … that’s what I’ve been missing, it was worth dropping my poles and kneeling down with a heavy pack to stroke this little chap.

It seems as if every disused piece of land has been turned into allotments and everyone here is avid gardeners. Love it!

Made it into wine country!

Miles and miles of vines!

There are things that are going to take a very long time for Spain to fully heal from.

This is Mia, my second furry friend of the day 🙂

Mia’s Mum had 4 other dogs, all super friendly. She had quite a lot to say about the direction the Camino was taking!

First sight of the great River Ebro.

A stork’s nest with its fastidious occupant in situ.

Crossing the Ebro into Lograno … then things went downhill.

I spent dinner last night chatting to a guy from Buffallo who was doing his second Camino. “This one’s so much better,” he confided, “I’m not crying in pain half as much.” No, that won’t make me come back and do it again! He, like everyone else in the very crowded albergue, felt that the proprietess should jack it in and go on Camino herself, she was soooo miserable! I was quite glad he wasn’t in my dormitory as he was carrying an extra five pound anti-snoring device because without it he caused the buildings to shake. Apparently many people don’t mind it because it puts out “white noise” which masks other people’s snoring, but I usually find white noise just as annoying as any other kind of noise, so I was happy to jam my earplugs in as usual and try for oblivion.

The lights snapped on at 6am, breakfast ended at 7.30am and the last straglers would have had the doors firmly locked behind them by 8am. Given the way the albergues work, the notion of having a lazy day is rather difficult because if you are out on the street with all your belongings at 8 there’s not much to do except walk, seeing as none of the albergues will open their doors again until about 2-3pm.

Apart from meeting a rather nice cat, it was a boring walk to Lograno. Like yesterday I was shuffling along and had soon been passed by everybody else, so I stopped head-singing and decided to give into a proper bellow instead seeing as there was nobody to scare except the local wildlife. I have to say it seemed to make things a lot less painful! Proper singing gave me a much more upright frame and less time to think about saying “ouch”. I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be caught up in belting out a song to the extent that you are oblivious to everything else. In my area of El Terreno we have a totally-round gentleman who walks about every day singing the most beautiful operatic arias, whilst his Heinz 57 dog, whose lead is made out of a piece of string, dutifully stops at curbs where it is not yet safe to cross. The circular gentleman never looks to left or right, nor greets anyone but he seems happy as the day is long. I certainly cannot claim beautiful operatic arias, but the experience of unfettered bellowing was thoroughly liberating!

As I arrived at the outskirts of Logrono there was an elderly lady with a ricketty table outside her house from which she was selling handmade Camino bracelets and other bits and pieces. She had five dogs whom she clearly adored, she was also keen to chat. Apparently I was an OK pilgrim to chat to because I was on my own. She said the Camino was on the brink of being ruined for those who “were doing it from their heart”, as she put it. I could see what she meant. Yesterday I kept bumping into a group of about 15 pilgrims who had a guide with a handcart pulling some of the luggage. Even though I was going so slowly they kept stopping for photos and drinks so I kept over taking them and then being over taken by them again. They were extremely loud.

“Those people don’t even have to find the route,” my elderly lady said with a toss of her head, “they just follow the leader like a group of sheep. They’re not thinking about anything except when to have the next glass of wine! It’s just a cheap holiday for them.” She was perhaps a little harsh, but I could see where she was coming from and I imagine the Camino has far more of these groups as the summer wears on.

By the time I got into Logrono my ankle wasn’t a happy bunny, but I wasn’t worried as I was early and quite certain I would find a bed without problem. Luckily I stopped at the pilgrim’s office before crossing the bridge into the city and picked up one of their information sheets. I aimed to stay in an albergue on the far side of the city so that I would have less walking tomorrow so I went to the furthest point and began to ask. No beds, the first one said. I back tracked towards town a bit. No beds, no beds, no beds.

“Why?” I asked at the third one.

“It’s a holiday weekend and we’ve had many group bookings.”

I was beginning to have even more sympathy with the elderly lady’s prediction that groups were going to be the downfall of the Camino. Eventually I stopped walking and sat down on a bench. I rang every single one of the albergues and hostals listed on the sheet I had picked up. No beds. Then I tried the hotels. No beds. This time it was because it was a bank holiday weekend and apparently there were loads of weddings taking place. To say I was getting panicked was a bit of an understatement even though it was only midday.

I started to call albergues and hostals in Navarette, 12km walk further along the Camino and the next place with any accomodation. “No problem, we have beds.”

“Please, please, please keep it for me! I’ll be there, but it may take a while!”

I completely lost any sense of humour. Head down, sticks going, no frigging singing (although it would probably have helped!), one foot in front of the other, cursing the fact that my one pair of 1000 mile socks were pinned to the outside of my pack, drying. Yes I made it, but my feet are wrecked and it worries me what would have happened if I had left later or taken more time before looking for a place to stay. Peace, love and the universe taking care of things didn’t seem to do too well today. I’ve already booked a place in Najera for tomorrow. Control freak? Who cares!

If anyone who enjoys reading this blog fancies donating to Mallorca’s Cancer Support Group, that would be awesome. The IBAN number is ES82 2100 1042 6602 0025 6818 or have a look at their website and use the Paypal option 🙂

Adios comfort zone

Leaving Los Arcos where even the cars were adorned with feathered friends.

7am with the road stretching ahead.

The first of many stops with my leg up.

Samsol was the first of two lovely villages.

Poppies everywhere, plus honeysuckle, thyme, fennel, rosemary, wild roses and many others.

A wild plum trees laden with baby fruit. The trail is also lined with many almond, apple, pear and blackcurrents.

Why this tree was made into a place of remembrance etc is anyone’s guess.

One of the two churches where I caught up with the rather marvellous singing French women.

There are many of these low stone buildings along the route, I eyed a few of them just in case I didn’t find a bed.

Stone statues just before the peace camp.

Info on the peace march.

The peace camp were giving out free fruit, biscuits and water.

It might be the top bunk in a crowded dormitory on the fourth floor without a lift, but it’s a BED!

I got up at 6.30 not at all sure how far I would get but determined to leave Los Arcos. Sansol was the nearest village, 7 kms away. Then there was Torros del Rio a mere half a kilometer further on. If I didn’t stop there, the next place was Viana a further 11.3kms on. I had no illusions I could make it to Logroño which would be 9.3km further than Viana.

My walking speed was worse than the average person with a zimmer, but at least I was moving, and passing the odd yellow arrow now and again. It took a while to accept that everyone else on the Camino was going to steam past me, but I really had no option but to lump it. The poppies along the route were as abundant as ever and I head-sung Auld Lang Syne in the hope that it might awaken the sympathy of the Scottish Sage and result in a helpful spell being sent in the direction of my ankle.

To be honest it didn’t seem to be working, but I eventually limped into Sansol where a group of French women were singing rather pleasantly outside the village church. There was a tiny shop which also served coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and croissants, so I was pretty happy to spend 20 minutes sitting there in the company of someone called Graham from Melbourne.

I had no problem making it the extra half kilometer to Torros del Rio, but then I had a problem. I know I said I wasn’t going to be a control freak and phone ahead any more, but what if there were no beds left in Viana? It was going to be dodgy enough getting there without finding no room at the inn. I started phoning. Nobody picked up.

It was only 10am so I decided to go for it. Worst case senario would surely be that the church albergue would have to let me sleep on the floor. Surely they wouldn’t leave me on the street with my pilgrim’s credential and all that. I was stopping every 30 minutes to rest my ankle, and each time I tried phoning again. No result.

At a small church in the middle of absolutely nowhere I caught up with the 7 French singers again. Although they were as scruffy and dusty as me, with the usual array of Decathlon gear, the sound they were making was simply serene. It’s purity reminded me of the girl in the film of Phantom of the Opera (the Charles Dance one, not Andrew Lloyd Webber) and I stayed to listen to them until they packed up and hurried on to the next church. I’d given up with Auld Lang Syne and had tried to give Beatrix Potter a try just in case that was the way to the white witch’s heart, but the only tune I could remember was the one Squirrel Nutkin sang, which was highly irritating – even the small pieces I could remember. So it was good to be distracted by ideas of Phantom of the Opera instead, and I crawled along head-singing that for quite a while. Every so often I rang all the albergue numbers again, but still nobody picked up.

If you’ve ever read Laurie Lee’s “As I walked out one summer morning” you may remember he seemed to walk the length of Spain eating plums, now I understand how. The number of wild plum trees is phenomenal and they are laden with young fruit. There are also innumerable almonds, apples and other fruit trees, in fact even today it feels as if it would still be possible to survive as Laurie Lee did back in the 1930s. I passed regular round stone huts, a couple of meters across at most. We are almost in Rioja country and I’m told they are something to do with the wine process, but I took note of where they were just in case I needed them for the night!

My regular half hour phoning was still going nowhere and by this time I could feel my foot swelling in my boot and I was well out of my comfort zone. As I staggered up yet another steep hill, I came across a piece of A4 paper weighted down with stones, it said “Amor”. A few meters further on was another, “Paz”, then “Union”, as I crested the hill there were a group of tents between two  fields and a number of young people handing out water and fruit, and a man in his 20s strumming a guitar which was missing a string. A five year old girl (so she told me) offered me a biscuit and a stamp with a heart on it. “We give everything away for free, you don’t have to pay,” she said solemnly. 

“That’s very kind of you,” I replied. “Why are you doing that?”

“Because we love everyone and want peace in the world.”

I thought I’d stepped right back into the 60s. It was wonderful, there were young people from the USA, Germany, Portugal, Brazil and Chilli, to name just the ones I spoke to. As I left, I fought the urge to phone all the albergues again. I had said I was going to trust that everything would be OK, so that’s what I should be doing instead of spending half the walk stressing over where I would sleep. Peace, love and all that, plus a bit of spirituality from the French singers, it had to be worth a try. I walked the final few kilometers surrounded by the most beautiful bright blue butterflies.

When Viana church spire hove into view I remembered a couple of lines from a Spike Milligan poem I’d read as a small child: “He put on a spurt, by god how it hurt, the soles of his feet caught fire …” Admittedly my “spurt” was similar to the difference between a snail and an aggitated slug, but the feet certainly felt firey! Hobbling up the hill there seemed to be a horrible number of pilgrims about and they didn’t look as if they were going on to Logroño.

“Do you have a bed?” I asked the harrassed-looking woman in albergue Izar.

“Si,” she replied, “a party of nine have just said they’re not coming. Honestly! How am I meant to make a living when people do things like that?”

It was on the tip of my tongue to say, “Peace and love bro, the universe has this, tranquilo!” but I didn’t reckon she was quite in the mood.

Wimping out

I´m not going to lie; it was the best 1.75 euros I’ve spent in a long time.

There are rivers and streams everywhere in this region, but Los Arcos seems to attract far more ducks than anywhere else.

Ducks on every lawn and carpark, and even in the school playground.

The church and central square of Los Arcos are pretty, but it was exceedingly cold.

Is it my eyes, or does my albergue for tonight look worryingly like the leaning tower of Piza?

I should have heeded Dra. Anna Pink’s advice at the outset.

As extensive hymn-singing seems to have failed, all hopes are now pinned on Heather’s white witch of the Scottish highlands …

Almost the minute I pressed “post” on my last blog, things started to go a tad pear-shaped. First, the yoga class got cancelled and rescheduled to clash with dinner. Then I spent the princely amount of 3 euros on a dryer for my best socks and a T-shirt, but they remained stubbornly wet. The socks are called 1000 mile socks and you can get your money back if you develop a blister while wearing them, however, they were so expensive (for a pair of socks) that I only bought one pair and reckoned I’d make do on shorter walk days with normal cheapo socks, which isn’t turning out to be my best idea. After the socks, the albergue owner announced that there would be no coffee or breakfast in the morning and we would need to walk the 4km into Estella to find first sustenance. Dinner was good, but my ankle was throbbing so much that I didn’t sleep much and I wasn’t at all bothered when my room-mates (some South Koreans with whom I could communicate using Google translate) started moving about at 5.30.

I should have already learned from the events of the past year that there are some parts of my health that I can’t control by just ¨powering through¨and pretending everything’s dandy. I should also have learned to listen to Dra. Anna Pink who has sufficient brains to treat lots of different species with calm confidence, so, when she said ¨stop, have a rest day …¨what in heaven’s name made me think it would be fine to trot on for another couple of dozen kilometers. Sometimes I make myself exceedingly annoyed!

I staggered out of Casa Magica and  limped the 4km into Estella in search of breakfast. The town, also called Lizarra, is absolutely beautiful, definitely somewhere I would fancy coming back to for a weekend. However, I wasn’t in the mood for much sight seeing, it was freezing cold with a sharp wind and there were no cafes open yet. I carried on, but even I couldn’t pretend to myself I was going to make another 15km today. So far I’ve walked 134km with my 9kg back pack, but when I saw a bus draw up with  Pamplona – Logroño via pueblos on the front, I couldn’t resist.

¨Do you go to Los Arcos?¨

¨Si, 1.75 euros.¨

I know, it was a total wimp out, but my guide book said that Los Arcos had some good albergues where I might be able to rest up for a day, AND it had a health centre.

The 10 minute journey deposited me beside an open cafe, things were looking up. I phoned the albergue Casa de la Abuela and they said I could have a bed for both tonight and tomorrow. Making that reservation straight off was my way of forcing myself to have a rest day even if I felt a bit perkier later on. I could leave my backpack at the albergue but I couldn’t go inside until 2pm so I went off in search of the health centre.

It was closed. ¨When will it be open?¨I asked an elderly gentleman. ¨Mayo, o seguramente Junio.¨

I continued to wander around the small town, looking at the many ducks and wondering what to do to keep warm for the next couple of hours. The air was so cold that it made the inside of my nostrils feel like they were breathing in icicles. I found myself opposite a sign for a physiotherapist with a mobile number to whatsapp for appointments. I didn’t hesitate. She would see me at 13.45, I arrived a bit early as I had nowhere else to go and sat reading all the literature in her waiting room. It informed me she was a specialist in pelvic floor physiotherapy, especially fecal and urinary incontinence and prolapses. Apart from pregnancy physiotherapy there didn’t seem to be anything else she was advertising, so I was praying she didn’t have a foot phobia.

She asked me how many babies I’d had, raised an eyebrow, and eventually agreed to deal with the bit of my anatomy I felt needed most attention. She worked on my ankle for quite a while, diagnosed an over-stretched ligament, strapped it up and instructed rest for at least a day and then, ¨poco a poco¨ but to keep the dressing dry and in situ for 4 to 5 days.

As the hymn singing doesn’t seem to be producing much needed divine intervention at the moment, I fished out my Peter Rabbit 50 pence piece given to me by the very wonderful Heather Whitehouse before I left. Peter Rabbit 50 pences are rare enough (Google it if you don’t believe me), but before this one left Scotland, Heather had it  sent to a white witch of the Highlands to give it luck for my journey – how incredibly cool is that?! So, Sage of Scotland, wherever you are, please activate that spell right now as I can hack resting for one day, but after that I need to get on to Logroño which is another 27.9kms with a few pesky mountains in the way.