28th Sept Santo Domingo and surrounds

We are all tired and today was a rest day. Andy outlined the walk up to Sad Hill Cemetery, the last scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly filmed near here. It was only as we were trudging up the hill that I realised it wasn’t 4.5 kms all up but to and from! I did say to him , ‘What part of rest day didn’t he get?” We should have driven because once we got to the top of the hill it was a long winding road down to the cemetery. We all decided the view from the top was probably the best aspect anyway! We returned, thankfully downhill.

On the walk up to Sad Hill and subsequently as we drove to the gorge we could see the ravages of the recent forest fires this past summer. Santo Domingo was almost surrounded so it must have been extremely worrying for the locals and the Monastery.

Sad Hill Cemetery
Fire damage

Next stop was the Yecla gorge (by car!). Wow! How dramatic it was after our gentle undulating country walking. We could understand why they chose this part of Spain to make the film. This country is so surprising with such contrasting landscapes.

To get to the gorge you drive through two tunnels cut in the mountains. Then we walked into the gorge on a well built path. Above circled many vultures. We have seen them many times and I think we occasionally thought they were eagles. On this occasion there was no doubt. I could photograph them on the cliff edges and they flew low.

After the gorge we drove to Lerma an interesting town with a Duke’s palace, now a Parador with a gorgeous courtyard lounge area. There was a poet’s walk outside the St Teresa’s convent with Poems by Jose Zorrilla, whose sculpture was sitting on a seat. I love these little things about Spain. We missed the market but a pulse and spice stall was still open. The produce was displayed so attractively in white bags. We wandered around and found a little place for lunch. I have been craving a bit of meat- I think it is why I was tired. So I had pork chops and Morçilla sausage with salad. A very happy girl after!

Pulse and Spice stall

Another successful day. Only a week left of our trip.

We headed home but saw a supermarket and got excited. At home we are blasé about supermarkets but in Spain many of these places only have a little shop and they have to travel to bigger places to see a supermarket and they aren’t as big as ours. We have really appreciated them when we find one! We stocked up on basics and wine and fruit. We still have a few days to go. I was able to get some gluten free bread and gluten free muesli bars for walking. Then it was home for a light dinner and off to the church to hear the monks sing vespers. They ask you not to photograph and it felt intrusive to do so but I did video the sound of singing. It was very harmonious and gentle. We were surprised by the number of younger monks. There were some who were also very old. They must live a peaceful life.

Peter has developed a severe tooth ache which is getting worse. The most likely opportunity for a dentist will be Burgos. He was trying to wait till he returned to England but it is getting too painful. We are trying to organise a dentist through the Airbnb host.

27th Sept. San Estaban to Santo Domingo de Silos

Walked in two stages today from San Estaban. The first 8kms was through wheat fields. Not a soul around. If you got injured you would be hard pressed to get help if you were solo!

Our first town was just a workers hamlet where someone liked to sculpt wooden characters.we saw pretty kittens in a ruin. People feed the cats and you often see trays of kibble and bowls of water outside in the street. Karen met us here and we drove to our next staging point. Along the way we had our third deer scare. They are like kangaroos and jump across in front at the last minute! We expect it so no problem but you need to be aware. Later we saw four or five grazing mid wheat field. I have never seen so many deer on a trip before.

Alcubilla de Avellaneda is a wine town on the wine route in Riberia with an oenology museum. Needless to say it was all closed as was the Cafe! Only Andy and I walked this stage as it was hilly and Peter doesn’t like hills!

Rolling hills, oak forest and quite isolated. We are crisscrossing the El Cid route again and there have been big signs up. It is a shorter walk which might be popular with hikers though not at this time of year! Still haven’t seen any other walkers except the one guy a few days ago.

This time Peter and Karen met us for the last two kms. We had a rest outside some bodegas where there was a communal fire and tables and benches. No matter how small a place is there is always a communal square with a bench at the least, or a few meeting places. It is an aspect of Spanish culture I find very attractive.

Our destination town was a bit more substantial and I was delighted to see a magnificent black horse walking untethered and unaccompanied behind a car that it was following. I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture, but it was being taken somewhere. That image just stuck in my brain all day. it was glossy black and well groomed with a yellow face halter. Gorgeous.

Shortly after that we were distracted by the loud horn of a truck. It was the fruit and vegetable man. People come out and buy what they need. The bread van comes to the villages too. No internet accounts needed. I was eager to get some fruit and delighted to see an avocado! You don’t pick the fruit yourself. That is bad manners. But the man was so kind , he picked an avocado that was soft for eating but as it was a bit softer at the top he didn’t charge, nor for the nectarine that was a slight bit crinkled. Both pieces turned out to be perfect inside (despite my scepticism).

We collected the car and headed through amazing rugged, rocky canyon country to Santo Domingo de Silos. What a contrast to our walking terrain!

26 th Sept. Fresno de Caracena to San Estaban de Gomaz

We are travelling through El Cid country so there are many signs around with a knight on horseback like on the wood heater in our Airbnb.

Today was a delightful walk. Not such a cold start and lovely sunshine all day. It was a steady climb up so we soon got warm. We passed through two towns, neither of which had a bar open so it was muesli bars to keep us going and water for the 19 kms.

One of the towns had pretty street signs with poems under each sign and some one was immortalising some local cats. Some of these little towns surprise you.

This area has an enormous number of botegas- cellars dug into the hill sides that look like hobbit houses. They are used for storing grain or produce because of the even temperature. In San Estaban where we are staying overnight, the hill side has about 300! Some look like they might even be lived in.

We passed through wheat fields, vineyards, vegetable farms and apple orchards. The onions could be smelt from the road. They were huge white ones. Most of the pickers were Africans.

When we finally arrived at San Estaban we couldn’t get into our place till after 4 and it was only 2pm. Karen had already explored the town and Peter was tired so it was only Andy and I who wanted to wander. Looking for a bar or restaurant on the way, only to find once again they were closed from the date we arrived! We keep missing out but we manage to get enough groceries to keep our selves going. I had my first pork ribs and pinchos (olives, chilli, beans and anchovies). I was craving something different.

We checked out the Romanesque churches which had unique covered porticos. They were the original source of the style copied later by other churches.

After waiting to get in we were tired and I went up for a nap. Karen set to making dinner, a rice with curried chickpea and vegetables and a mixed green salad. I had been craving salad for a couple of days. Then it was a couple of games of cards and off to bed. I was very happy to snuggle into bed and slept immediately.

25 th Sept Retortilla de Soria to Caracena

It was 2C when we walked out this morning for the next leg of our walk. Frost on the soccer field. I was freezing! I wish I had not sent my fleece home!! We walked briskly but my hands just wouldn’t thaw. Tomorrow I will wear my spare socks as gloves and my thermals under my shorts. The day warmed and soon it was really perfect walking weather. Once we entered the gorge it was wonderful. Really a hike in the wilderness with eagles soaring, deer leaping up the hillside and rocks to clamber over. We loved it all. Three river crossings but with stepping stones this time. This walk/Camino is much more of a nature walk then any others. So far only one pilgrim has been met. The car has enabled us to see other aspects of the country and shorten our days walking so it is not a pure pilgrims walk. We would be hard pressed getting stamps as many churches are closed and we are not using Albergues because we have the car, but also the distances between are much longer than we want to walk.

Karen greeted us at a natural arch making bubbles! It was lovely to walk the rest of the way with her. After a quick look at Caracena we headed for El Burgos de Osma.

On the way we passed the largest espaliered netted apple orchard I have ever seen. It was kilometres long and wide. The processing plant had hundreds of plastic and wooden cartons stacked metres high.

Our first stop in town was a cool bar with great music and a modern menu. Mushroom Canoloni (yum, but not gluten free) Hummus with beetroot and hummus with spices , veggie sticks and corn chips (what I should have had!). Fortified, we wandered through the town and stumbled on a concert (singer and good music) plus the Cathedral, Bishop’s Palace and medieval street scape. As everything shut down for siesta we wandered up to the castle that stood above the town. ( This area is graced with Castles everywhere. It was a frontier between the Christians and the Moors for centuries)

We took a left turn when we entered the Castle ramparts and found our way into the castle by breaching the roped area and literally climbing the wall! Only after we had scrambled over did we see the path in was from the other side.

The view was spectacular over the town. While we wandered around we heard fabulous music wafting up which I was sure was flamenco or gypsy music. Must have been loud if you were next door!

By the time we returned to town the Cathedral was open so we paid our €3 to enter. It had a beautiful cloister and I was surprised that it wasn’t as large inside as we expected. It was built between the 12th and the 16th Centuries.

We were then in search of a restaurant but we were all tired by now and hanging around for restaurants was not so appealing. It was Sunday and nothing open as it turned out. We stumbled on a petrol station which had a few basic groceries as well as petrol, so we opted for home and a clean out the fridge dinner.

It is getting cold in the mornings and at night so I have dragged out the thermals for walking. I will be a tragic sight with thermals under shorts and socks for gloves but it is what I need to do to keep warm!

24 th Sept. Atienza to Miedes de Atienza

Last night at the restaurant attached to our accommodation we met another pilgrim/walker doing the route. Our only one! He only spoke Spanish but we managed to discuss our walking. He was solo and had walked several Caminos and many times back and forth from Alicante where he lived and Bilbao where he was born. He was wiry, fit and 71! The food at the restaurant was not as good as we have had elsewhere though Andy said his pork and ratatouille was really good. We have eaten so much ratatouille I decided to pass and have salmon. It was tasty and fresh but had bones and I found it a bit rich. No green vegetables only potatoes! I will look like a potato when I get home because they are served with everything.

Today Andy Peter and I completed the stage from Atienza to Miedes de Atienza. 15km. Karen took us back to Atienza. Crossing back over the highest point Alto de la Callascosa 1380 metres, the mountain was shrouded in mist. It had a feel of alpine terrain with few trees.

It was a lovely walk past some fancy gates to what looked like nowhere, a melodic mob of sheep and their shepherd, into pine forest and down through farm land again to the little hamlet of Romanillos.

We were charmed by the sheep and their bells though I did get a start when the protector dog barked furiously at us and came charging out of the herd. The shepherd called out and he became friendly coming up for a sniff. Here the shepherds have two sorts of dogs. One like border collies, that work the stock and the other type is bigger and deeper in the bark which is to protect the sheep from wolves etc. There are no fences so the older sheep have bells and act as guides for the rest.

The guard dog

When we arrived at Romanillos we were delighted to see Karen waiting for us. She had walked halfway to meet us and had met a group of women who had been out getting Zucchinis and were going to sell them in Atienza. Karen had arrived and was disappointed to find the bar closed but the owner, who was going somewhere, opened the bar so Karen could use the toilet at least. People are very helpful here. I was impressed by the chair made from pallets at the entrance to the village. After we had rested we set off to finish the distance. Peter and I came into Miedes ahead of Karen and Andy and a jolly fellow asked us where we were going. He realised our Spanish was limited and switched to English. It was excellent English too and he told us where the bar was and it was only open on the weekends. He also recommended pork ribs with beer!

The palette chair

We picked up the car and returned to Retortillo for a lazy afternoon washing and playing cards.

The bar- no side the town hall building.

22nd-23rd Sept. Siguenza to Santamera and Retortillo de Soria

I took a rest day after a completely sleepless night and the beginning of a dribble nose. I remained with Karen and we did some grocery shopping, and later I called Kim for her birthday. It was lovely to talk with her and hear about her celebrations. I had a nap eventually after which I felt refreshed and as if I had managed to forestall my potential cold.

My last tourist visit was to the museum of Guitar and rug weaving. Sigüenza was a big producer of woven and knitted rugs from the 16th Century to the early 19th. Being on the Ruta de la Lana (Wool route) contributed to this development.

The guitar museum told the history of the guitar and its development in Spain . A very interesting exhibition with the accompanying strains of classical guitar music in the background.

Later Karen and I went out to pick up the men from Santamera. Andy had given us detailed instructions which led us to the town off Carabias, quaint with interesting church and tiny streets going in circles. At one point when the road went up and round steeply, with high stone walls and so steep we couldn’t see over the bonnet we decided to abandon the route and go back to the highway. It had been nerve wracking trying to negotiate the place.

The highway took us through Imon which has been a salt producing place since medieval times and still operates. The revenue from the salt funded much of the Cathedral in Siguenza.

Soon we easily found the men in Santamera at a cute bar. The place has the air of an arty enclave.

The next day I joined Andy for the walk from Santamera (Peter took a day off) to Atienza a hilly walk of 15 kms. It was a bit tough uphill but then levelled out into oak forests and heather in flower.

We saw deer leaping across the path on more than one occasion on the walk. We passed through a small village wher there were three large dogs who started towards us and were barking furiously. I scampered closer to Andy and we both picked up rocks to throw if necessary. The farmer whistled and two dogs halted and the third stopped barking but still followed us for a few minutes. We arrived in the next town but once again the bar was still closed at 10.00 am. We gave up waiting and moved on following our arrows. When we crested the hill and saw Atienza we felt eager to get there. It has an impressive castle and is a charming town.

Peter and Karen were waiting for us in the square. Sparkling water, coffee and tortilla revived us enough to walk up to explore the castle. It must have been huge and dominated the countryside. Climbing to the top of the last tower gave us 360 degree views over the surrounding area.

There are archaeological digs below the castle exploring the Muslim era. The area went back and forth between Christian and Moors over the last 100 years of the occupation of Spain by the Moors. We were somewhat disappointed that we will miss the Medieval festival they have here with jousting and other medieval pursuits. It would be quite a spectacle. While the remnants of the castle and the city walls dominate the area, the town of Atienza has a few museums and several restaurants to occupy you for a few days. It is one of Spain’s most beautiful villages.

From here we took the car to Retortillo our next base.

21st Sept. Sigüenza

Slept late- very Spanish! Today was a rest day to explore the town which has been here for 2000 years. Celticiberians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Christian, all have left their mark here. The town has a Castle, now one of Spain’s finest Paradors.

Peter and I explored the Cathedral which is both grand and has some amazing pieces of rare art and artefacts. The self guided tour was really interesting. There is a beautiful altar dedicated to Saint Librada that was quite different and delicate. There was an altar piece that had never been seen in full before on display in the Temporary exhibition. Sigüenza was very important politically and as a seat of Religious power in the 12th Century onwards after the defeat of the Moors.

There were curios too such as the skull from the faculty of science 1489 that had notes written over it and a coffin cart ( hearse) with almost cartoon depictions of death.

We wandered to all the gates of the old wall and round quaint streets. It was a pleasant day and Sigüenza has a lot to offer a visitor.

Looking down the street to the hills we walked over to arrive in Sigüenza.

20th Sept Trillo to Sigüenza

All night there had been thunder and lightening which had not abated in the morning so we decided to delay our departure till the storm abated. We passed the time playing Knock out whist- a game of cards popular with my friends. My card playing has improved over the trip so I am not knocked out as easily now! Eventually we decided to drive part of the way and pick up the Camino closer to the Barranco Rio del Dulce park that had been touted as one of the most beautiful parts of the route. The advantage of the car!

Karen dropped us a few kilometres from the entrance where we picked up the yellow arrows and set off. It was quite chilly but soon we came to the entrance through a little town called Aragosa with a population of about 30. No bar here! It seemed to be undergoing a bit of revitalisation though with a Casa Rural and some humorous art. its Main Street wasn’t all that inspiring but it lead out to a beautiful valley. A secret garden feel I thought.

Only resident!’s cars so this sense of a secret place seemed appropriate. The walk followed the Dulce river and wound through poplar forests and small oaks with fields of golden stubble. All surrounded by high cliffs.

We came across a potato farmer picking some of his crop and a wood cutter. The area is supposed to have wild cats and otters and deer and squirrels etc but we saw only eagles. Too high to photograph. I loved the fishing sign. Fishing ground-only live bait, artificial will capture zero. We didn’t really understand what it meant but sounded humorously wry to me. The wood cutter was a small concern without huge logging trucks and only individual trees marked for cutting. Some hard working ants taking a bit of my chocolate away.

Near the fishing sign was a place where all the interpretive signs had braille as well. We were intrigued by its placement in this secluded valley. We passed another village completely in ruins where there used to be a place making paper money. The history of these places is so tantalisingly mysterious. Eventually we emerged at the base of Pelegrína a small village overshadowed by the ruins (of course) of a small castle. Immediately I thought it was like the castle out of sleeping beauty where the princess lay asleep, her castle surrounded by brambles and forest.

Now our walk turned from sweet to sour. Not really but pilgrims always end the day with an uphill haul and soon we were climbing out of the canyon up a stony zigzag path to reach the top, a weird plateau of flat rocks. It was like walking through a grave yard. The path had been way marked with small standing stones to help guide us.

Then we crossed the road and saw Siqüenza in the valley below. What a welcome sight. Still there was a steep rocky path down to negotiate but we knew there was an open bar, cold beers and lemon Fanta waiting. Karen had negotiated the streets to park near our lodgings and was waiting in the Plaza Mayor. Another great day, 26C and 24kms completed.

We are here for three nights and will use it as a base for the next stage. After a reviving rest and lunch we got settled in our Airbnb which is really well set up and charming. We headed out for dinner about 7.30 to see what places are open ( holiday time for restaurants!). Along with many other tourists or locals we had little to choose from. The one Michelin starred place was not suitable. We really were too tired to appreciate such a place even if we were keen. €180 per person was a bit more than we felt up to paying. We stumbled into a little place that was cheerful and it turned out to be owned by an Argentinian who specialised in empanadas. We had the most delicious empanadas and fresh salad with potato’s bravos and drinks and dessert for €64. We returned home happy, full and sleepy.

19th Sept Trillo to Cifuentes

Andy and I set off from Trillo early. Peter opted for a recovery day. He was exhausted from yesterday’s gruelling hills. It was briskly cool and we followed the river which had many cascades. The walk was through gardens and vegetable plots. I startled a deer but still didn’t see one! Again the villages were all asleep and coffee break just a dream.

As we walked to our first village we hoped for a bar but not only was it barless, the yellow signs disappeared and the direction towards a fountain were confusing in a town with 4!

Eventually we found the path and powered up to a small chapel on the hill from which we could see our next destination. Cufuentes was a large town with several historic buildings and a ruined castle and a bar! If this we were assured because Peter and Karen were already there shopping at the market.

We were so glad to arrive at Cifuentes. I was starving! We ordered toasts with tomato and cafe con leche. Karen and Peter had scoped out the town and so took us on a leisurely stroll to all the significant places.

We had only walked 13 kms today and I decided I would have a masssge and swim in the thermal pool at the Carlos111 spa hotel across the river in the afternoon. After yesterday’s massive walk I was a bit stiff.

18 th Sept Salmerón to Trillo-a tough 28 kms day!

We drove back to Salmerón to pick up the Camino to continue the route into Trillo. This involved a 4.5 km steady but scrambling climb up to a wide road atop a range. It was rough and tough but once on the range it was quite flat through oak forests and low spiky shrubs. This part of Spain has many spiky plants similar to Australia which survive in the hot dry conditions. The rivers, when we see them are incredibly clear and fast flowing. Doing this walk in spring would be hard too for reasons other than heat, like muddy, clay paths and swollen rivers.

The flies were horrendous and eventually I resorted to a switch to keep my face clear. Along the top was quite easy until we reached a village that required a steep descent through a narrow stream bed bordered by spiky plants that tore at our legs, scratching and drawing blood. Our reward was at the bottom before entering town. An abandoned house had a flourishing grapevine laden with sweet purple grapes. We ate handfuls and just as well because the village we were entering had no bar open. Today was a bring your own lunch day( which we had) but a cafe con leche or aqua con gas would have been so welcome. It had warmed up and I was running low on water.

We passed through the village and Peter was starting to tire. He always struggles on hills and what faced us was a rough, stony constant climb up and around the Tetras Viana, glowingly described as a natural wild place with ‘savage’ animals. It was probably the roughest path I have walked for some time. It was interesting but you had to constantly watch your feet and the path. It was full of ruts and round stones that slipped and rolled underfoot. Andy was impressed with some of my balletic moves required to keep my footing. It wasn’t long before Peter started to fall behind. We kept stopping to wait and eventually we stopped for a break. Andy had gone back to help carry Peter’s pack up the last part of the hill. We were very concerned about him and rang Karen to see if she could meet us at the end of the walk. I was almost out of water but travelling okay. Andy had more with hydrolytes so he was able to share with Peter. I walked on hoping to intercept Karen.

Nuclear cooling towers at Trillo

I never thought I would be glad to see a nuclear power station but the sight of those towers really spurred me on!

Karen had driven up beyond the village to the start of the walk from Trillo. Eventually we all met her and were grateful to get the last km home in the car. It was a tough 28km. On the way we stopped for ice creams, beer and a bottle opener as our accommodation hasn’t got one!