A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Rain In Spain


So my Camino is done. I'd like to have walked the whole way, but in A Gudiña (which lies just inside Galicia and is fourth-fifths the distance between Seville and Santiago) I decided to battle with the elements no longer. I'd had snow which had completely blocked the Camino for a day. I'd had rain - persistent rain bucketing down day and night - which meant swollen streams had to be crossed. The stepping stones - if there were any stepping stones - were often deeply submerged. So much of the time I had wet feet - not a good combination with the extreme cold. I don't mind too much wet weather if it's warm, or cold weather if its all sun and blue skies. But the cold and wet together, often with a head wind too? No, thanks! (My gear had generally been OK, but my boots were deteriorating - and letting in water - and my overtrousers were also letting in water. I'd bought the trousers far too cheaply, and they weren't adequately rainproofed - a lesson to be learnt there!)

The weather forecast for this whole last week was uniformly awful for much of Spain. The country is in the grips of one of its worst winters for years. It had been deluged with rain in December and much of January - particularly in the south - and now this was continuing throughout February. Snowfall had been unusually heavy in the north, and it had even snowed in parts of the south which never normally see any snow. There had been bad storms and flooding in places like Cádiz, Jerez and the Canaries. Bridges had collapsed. Motorways had been shut for a while. Homes had been destroyed. The mighty Guadalquiver river had burst its banks east of Seville.

It was through such saturated countryside that I walked, so it was never easy from the start. Twice early on I had to turn back from rivers which were unfordable and seek an alternative route by road. I would spend a large part of each day just concentrating on the path before me - avoiding the deep, muddy bits where I'd sink in up to my ankles, skirting huge pools by clinging precariously onto the barbed wire fences or stone walls which edged the track. (Read Rebekah Scott on the Spanish weather here and here.)

So, in A Gudiña, I took a train to Ourense, and looked out over the lovely Galician countryside from the railway carriage window - little bright green fields enclosed by stone walls, densely forested hills. And rain. Lots of it! I spent a night in Ourense...


... and the next day took another train to Santiago. (In Santiago I heard there'd been a landslide in Ourense and that the river there was now dangerously high.) Though not even the rain could dampen my spirits on seeing Santiago Cathedral again. It's magnificent. One of my favourite buildings anywhere. Its Baroque western facade is one of great religious and architectural sights of Europe. Some cathedrals leave one feeling cold and unemotional - the interiors are so vast and ornate. Yet despite its hugh dimensions - inside it's high but narrow - this cathedral has a feeling of intimacy.


Here's my last scallop shell - set in a stone slab in the Plaza del Obradoiro, the impressive square which lies at the foot of the cathedral steps. I'd walked 800 km from Seville to A Gudiña over 40 days. That's an average of 20 km a day (though 7 of these days were for rest and exploration - when I'd stayed an extra day or 2 in historic cities such as Mérida or Cáceres, Salamanca or Zamora. I'm very glad I did this. It's not good to rush on all the time.) So my actual walking average - over 33 proper walking days - was just over 24 km a day. My walking speed averaged out at about 4 km an hour (5 km an hour if the going was good and I felt like pushing on; 3 km an hour if I was taking lots of photographs and felt like sauntering and stopping to look at things.)

13 comments:

Lorenzo said...

Hi, SW. I've enjoyed your intermittent poetic posts along the way. I live in Spain and can attest to how horrible the weather has been. I thought about you often as we slosh through this rainy winter. Congratulations for your fortitude and determination. A true 'peregrino'.

By the way, the last time I was in Santiago I did something I had not even known was possible --- a visit to the roof of the cathedral. It was originally built as a fortress so the roof is for the most part basically flat granite slabs. The visits are by appointment only and are guided.

Needless to say the views are outstanding and the history told by the guide is fascinating. Right up until the 1960s there was actually a house built on top of the cathedral by the 'campaneiro' (the bell ringer). He lived there with his family and actually raised chickens and pigs (even slaughtered them up there).

Well, anyway, I won't go on, but I heartily recommend it to you and your readers next time you are in Santiago.

The Solitary Walker said...

The slaughtering of livestock atop Santiago Cathedral is one of the best mental images I shall take away from this difficult, but rewarding, Camino, Lorenzo!

So many thanks for all your encouraging comments along the Way...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

You can no more always plan the end of an adventure than you can always plan their start. Adventures happen, often between their own parameters; we just play our part.

You didn't fail your walk, any more than the walk failed you. You set out seeking something other than the usual beginning and ending of a particular pathway. Only you know whether or not that goal was reached—though I suspect it was, at least in part. I hope so. And even if you don't think so at the moment, I urge you to give it time; not all magic or healing or enlightenment comes instantly. Think of each footstep along that cold, wet, muddy, slippery trail as the planting of a seed. Seeds take time to sprout and grow. Who can say how lush the garden after a season of rest and sunshine?

I'm proud of you, my friend.

The Solitary Walker said...

That was a true example of synchronicity - I just posted a comment on your blog, Grizzled, for the first time in many a long week, and I found you'd posted one on mine at exactly the same time!

Thanks for your words...

Rebrites@yahoo.com said...

If you´re still kicking around, come on over on the 9 a.m. train to Sahagun. We´ll pick you up and bring you home for a Peaceable end to your hair-raising camino!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much, Rebekah, but I'm back in England already... I may be drinking instant coffee, and soup out of a can, but there ain't no rain!

gleaner said...

Enlarging the photo of the cathedral gives a wonderful view - my mind can't help but marvel at the craftsmanship and to transport myself back to the times and the minds of the people who made such structures without the advancements we have today.

Ann said...

An adventure complete - there to reflect on forever. Memories of bad weather days are far easier to endure than the real thing. I completely understand. Congrats!

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, Gleaner, it's an extraordinary edifice. In a funny way, and I know this might seem a trifle odd, but it reminds me slightly of some Far Eastern religious temples like Angkor Wat...

Thanks Grizzled and Ann for your comments!

verena said...

great peregrino!

Johnnie Walker said...

What a journey fought through these elements. The Via has testing parts at any time. In those conditions what you achieved was magnificent. Hasta la proxima!

Dominic Rivron said...

Must have been a demoralizing experience. (Sounds a bit like some parts of the Pennine Way before they turned it into a pavement).

The Solitary Walker said...

At times demoralizing, but at times uplifting, Dominic!

(Pennine Way not all pavement - what about the Cheviots?!)