I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Burgos Or Bust

I woke early next morning feeling a little crazy, slightly mad. Was it a by-product of the previous night's wine? Had Juan Antonio slipped something into those omelettes? I felt completely rested and ready to walk. My head felt light. My knee seemed in pretty good shape. My feet were singing. I had an energy rush. All long distance walkers have days like this now and again. You just want to walk, walk, walk. Fast and far. It would all be effortless, I thought. Oh dear, how deluded can you be...

Fernando, Tere, Irene and I all left the albergue togther but I soon forged ahead. The path flirted with the noisy N-120 once more. Just before Villafranca there's a nasty bit - 2 bends and a bridge - where you have to walk along the edge of the road. Trucks growled past too close for comfort. In Villafranca I stocked up with provisions.

Then it was up, up, up through the oak and pine forests of the Montes de Oca. This is a lovely area, but that morning was very misty and I couldn't see much. It didn't matter. I simply concentrated on what was close at hand. It was like a secret, subterranean world under those ancient, mossed oak trees. I climbed to the highest point at 1,100 metres. And raced on - now mainly through pines - along the sandy trail. Some parts were quite difficult to walk - soggy sand and cloying mud. I saw no one at all except for one lone cyclist who had to dismount and push his bike on this challenging terrain. After what seemed a very long time the path descended and I reached the Augustinian monastery of San Juan de Ortega. I stopped at the bar next door for a rest and a beer.

San Juan, like his mentor Santo Domingo, dedicated himself to serving the Santiago pilgrims and built churches, hospitals, bridges and hostels along the Camino. This remote and beautiful place used to be dangerous for the medieval pilgrim. You were a very long way from anywhere and there were bandits in the woods. The 1st glimpse of this monastery through the trees must have been very welcome. Fortified by a beer or two, my thoughts became even madder and more crazily ambitious. Perhaps I could walk all the way to Burgos and catch up with my pilgrim friends who'd left me behind at Santo Domingo? I'd already walked 25 km. Burgos was a further 28 km away. Could I walk 53 km - 2 stages in 1 day?

I passed through Agés - with its simple medieval stone bridge built by San Juan de Ortega - and Atapuerca, where a curious village dog followed me for a kilometre or so along the stony path up to the Sierra Atapuerca. No doubt the views from the cross at the summit are breathtaking on a clear day. But the mist still hung around so I pressed on, noticing again the little nearby things - like a circular maze constructed by pilgrims out of stones and pebbles.

It was now downhill all the way to Burgos. As I lost height the mist cleared and the views opened up. You could see the city in a blurry haze on the farthest horizon. Though the open-cast mine on the right was not so edifying. All I remember now is that I stumbled painfully through lots and lots of villages, ducked and dived among many busy arterial roads on the outskirts of Burgos, then steeled myself for the dead straight 7 km stretch from Villafria along the hellish N-1 into the city's historic centre. I more or less crawled into one of the 1st hostales I saw. I was totally exhausted and my knee was a nest of vipers. My feet were lead weights of pain and suffering. I thought of the words Thierry had sagely expressed all that time ago on the French section of the Way: Il faut souffrir un peu pour devenir de plus en plus pèlerin!

My photo is of the splendid Gothic cathedral in Burgos.

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