Follow on Twitter

Friday, 16 October 2015

That was the summer that was: TransCantabrica - Stage Three, Elorrio to Areatza

One day soon I'll learn how to draw the route on the map

She's got legs
And she knows how to use them
Thus sang the bearded wonders ZZ Top back in their homage to the shapely limbs possessed by some members of the female sex. I could never work out whether the trio's 1983 hit was tongue in cheek or not, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and agree that their lyrics are laden with postmodern irony. Let's imagine that when they composed those lines they had in mind my lacerated, sunburnt limbs beginning to accrue sinew and muscle. And let's suppose that they eschew the white stiletto for a chunky Vibram sole.

Always a Virgin Mary, obvs. But Urkiola is a sensuous syncretism of paganism and Catholicism

The Santuario de Urkiola, an enchanted oasis of green amongst the stark whitewashed lustre of the Basque Mountains

It's all very well singing the praises of our chunky calves and thighs but what happens when they, like the water in Mallorca, don't do what they ought to? Tuesday's plan couldn't have been clearer, to join the GR123 and follow this around 'the back' of Anboto into Urkiola Natural Park where I'd reserved a room at the Hotel Santuario (which I highly recommend, though you won't find it on any internet hotel booking site). I thought I'd left early enough to avoid the worst of the heat but by the time I'd located the track out of Elorrio it was already 31 degrees and it wasn't yet nine o'clock.

I more or less knew right then that it wasn't going to work but I felt I should persist a little longer. It wasn't just the heat, of course. Picture, if you will, a three-way Venn diagram in which each of the circles represents (i) inclement weather (including excessive heat) (ii) weight of rucksack (mine is just about tolerable for thru-hiking purposes) and (iii) corporeal harmony (or lack thereof; turns out I walked the whole of the #TransCantabrica with a very slight limp): that morning I found myself slap-bang in the intersection of all three.
After an hour’s toil I capitulated, returned to Elorrio and took the bus to Durango and then the Puerto de Urkiola. Call me a cheat if you will, if I hadn’t resorted to public transport I might have melted on the mountain and trickled into the clints and grykes of the limestone like a sliver of molten lava returning to earth. 

The cave of Mari, the Lady of Anboto has her main dwelling. Legend says that it is usual to see her in the mouth of the cave, on days of good weather, combing her pretty blond hair with a comb of gold in the sunshine. It is not rare either to see her spend nights as a great ball of fire in the sky above Anboto or toward other places of the Basque Country where she possesses dwellings like the nearby Oiz or Aizkorri. Depending on where she is found there will be good or bad weather.

Now, several months later, when I think back to my brief sojourn in Urkiola, the memories are shot through with images of lustrous white rock, shimmering under a hot sun. And against this almost overpowering backdrop lay the sylvan folds of the Sanctuario de Urkiola, a Tolkienesque refuge of bucolic sanctity surrounded by the bombastic piety of these cathedrals of rock. I say ‘almost overpowering’, but not quite wholly; it didn’t intimidate or send me into paroxysms of faux deferential ‘I-am-not-worthy-ness’. I am the land, the land is me; we are one and the same thing. I don’t fear the liminal immensity of the mountains for they are a reflection of myself.


Blood on the rocks: it's mine, almost an Aztec-like offering to Mari (see below)

And in Urkiola I don’t just become the landscape, I become the Basque landscape; with every step along the trail the earth beneath my feet oozes into me, dripping with the fricatives and palatal glides of Euskara, the Basque tongue. I want to say Euskara is a thing of great beauty but that would run the risk of you misunderstanding what I mean by ‘beauty’ because it’s nothing like your orthodox notion of prettiness, nor do hackneyed clichés like ‘rugged splendour’ do it justice, rather its sensual appeal lies its idiosyncrasies, a language full of nooks and crannies. They’re like the dimple in your lover’s cheek, the part of her/him that really turns you on. Listen as I run these place-names past you: Unzillaitz, Udalaitz, Elgoin, Anboto, Aitz Txiki, the language charges the landscape with erotic energy and when I climb Anboto the next day, with only a light daysack on my back, it’s like electricity sparking of the rocks as I scamper up the mountain’s steep slopes of whitewashed limestone.  

View from a ridge

Climbing Anboto

Then the next morning it all falls to pieces. Through the grey light of a drizzly dawn an SMS conveys unbelievably bad news and I spend the next day shrouded in a gloom that’s darker than the dank fog which surrounds me; I think about quitting and going home, what use I am here, alone on the hill? 

If only ...

If Anboto was the zenith, the dripping, cloud-wrapped slopes of Gorbeia were the nadir: of the whole #TransCantabrica and possibly any walk I’ve ever done. Neither the mood nor the mist lifts; the intention was not to climb to the summit but to spend the night at a refugio close by. It’s a steep, hard climb; the rain comes down harder and there’s a constant drip-drip-drip from the pine trees. The forest tracks crumble, the woodland paths mosey through dense undergrowth then traverse a rock pavement – slippery when wet. 

A dreich and dismal day

 But I have a map – more on the theme of Spanish maps in the next episode - and even in the thick mist I know where I am. Trouble is, I don’t know where the refugio is, or rather, as I reach the location where I expected it to be, the refugio isn’t there. My insistence that the refugio should be here confounds two Basques who, even though they know the mountain well, are also, briefly, under the impression that its contours have shifted. Until we ring the refugio and find out it’s 1 km away, another 200m up the slope. It would be wrong to blame the map, away from the camino and without its ubiquitous yellow arrows I have to learn to navigate again; let’s just say that the map didn’t really facilitate effective interpretation.
Fortunately my saviours from nearby Bilbao, have come by car and they offer me a lift to the nearest hotel, all the way to Bilbao if necessary. The road uncoils around the mountainside and now I really don’t know where I am. Later that evening I text my friend to tell her I’ve been given a lift off the hill by two men and she expresses some concern. The truth is it never occurred to me that fellow hikers might be anything other than Good Samaritans; we share the outward symbols of our tribe: boots, rucksacks, cagoules. Maybe I should qualify that by saying high-quality boots, rucksacks and cagoules; we recognise each other by the nature of our apparel, the connection and acknowledgement is immediate, my trust in them is absolute. But they have names, of course: Iker and Joseba, I still remember you.
Only later, in a relatively expensive but deliciously warm and dry hotel room do I unfurl the now damp and tattered map and work out my location, the spa town of Areazta. The latest news from Wells is still bad but a little less stark; the consensus is unanimous, there is nothing I can do. The hike must go on.

Bliss. And maps. Again

The day’s story in Tweets
ramblanista I was meant to be in a bunkbed in refugio/albergue up on Gorbeia (1600m), not this posh hotel room #TransCantabrica

ramblanista In fact, apart from the knowledge that I'm in this (relatively) expensive hotel room, I haven't got a clue where I am! #TransCantabrica

ramblanista Mil gracias a Iker y Joseba, que me rescataron de la lluvia y niebla en Pagomakurre, Gorbeia y me llevaron a Areatza #TransCantabrica

ramblanista Many thanks to Iker & Joseba who rescued me from mist & rain at Pagomakurre, Gorbeia and gave me a lift to nearest hotel #TransCantabrica

NotThatMrsBrown @ramblanista Is there any complimentary writing paper, sure to be a clue on there ���� #lostinspain

ramblanista @ClaireBrown2008 I'm a geography tutor and student now, the only things I can read are maps! (And I DID read the map correctly!)

ramblanista Tengo que decir que no estaba perdida, sabia exactamente donde estaba. Pero el refugio no esta donde creia estaba! #TransCantabrica

ramblanista I have to say that I wasn't lost, I knew exactly where I was but the albergue wasn't where I thought it was. #TransCantabrica

ramblanista @Graeme_SoW Turns out Albergue I was looking for was 2km south & 200m higher but not marked on the map. I'm having issues with Spanish maps

Friday, 9 October 2015

That was the summer that was: TransCantabrica - Stage Two, Deba to Elorrio

It was always going to be a momentous day, forsaking the camino for the GR121 that would take me to Ermua and towards the mountains. A bit like leaving a long-term lover and taking up with a floozy half your age; talk about a mid-life crisis! But there you go, I’m playing fast and loose with my footpaths, don’t want them to get complacent.
Am I sounding like an ageing rock star already?
In the end the momentous element of the day’s hike was not spurning the camino but negotiating a way down into Ermua, a descent that’s still giving me the heebeegeebees, two on. It wasn’t a lack of signage of the part of the GR121 that did for me, it was my own lack of judgement. All the same, I can’t help thinking that the yellow arrows got their revenge.
In Deba I had a room in a pension that was as comfortable and spacious as anything I’d experienced thus far. It even had – I kid you not – a minibar, from which I did not partake. Anticipating the heat I was away before eight and moved relatively easily up the first cuesta of the day, 245m to the Ermita de Calvario. Not as easily or quickly as the half-a-dozen other pilgrims I came across but I’m not in a race. Not yet, anyway. At the ermita I met a Spanish pilgrim of roughly my age and agreed wholeheartedly with her philosophy of poco a poco – little by little, although I’d shouldered my rucksack and strode on while she was still resting.
Poco a poco. Slowly and steadily, more tortoise than hare. That wasn’t the way I went about it on the Camino Francés back in 2012 but for now I have to bide my time, especially in this heat, which is going to get worse. Another 100m of ascent, another, reciprocal 50m of descent the other side, to the hamlet of Olatz where, contrary to the guidebook, the bar is open. Breakfast was dry so I order a slice of melon, an asparragos pintxo and a ubiquitous Coke with ice.
This is the most mountainous, up-and-down section of the camino as it passes through the Basque Country and one of the guidebooks warns against walking it alone yet is seems to me that compared to the Francés, the Camino del Norte attracts more solitary pilgrims. It’s a more intimate route, though in its later stages, as it approaches the junction with the Francés, there’s a growing sense of trepidation as she or he prepares to do battle with the hordes.
The crux of this stage of the camino is the 300m climb to the Collado de Arnoate. Yes, I know that’s only a thousand of your British – or North American – feet but I’ve been stuck in a classroom since January, I’m not fit. And it’s very, very hot – as if I haven’t reminded you already. On the steeper sections of this ascent I resemble a drunken mountaineer ascending the Death Zone on K2, except that I’m crawling a little slower: poco a poco. Nevertheless, I’ve made the ­collado – the pass – in reasonable time; this stage of the walk had been worrying me, not just the distance but the amount of ascent – just over 1500m. Even in the mountains proper I might not have to climb so much and this was one of the reasons for leaving the camino, I was fed up of being told what to do and where to go, of going up then coming down, over and over again. In the mountains – in theory – there will be just one big ‘up’ followed, after a delightful stroll along a ridge, by just one big ‘down’. That, to me, makes more sense; we’ll see how it pans out in reality.
At the collado the yellow arrow points downhill to Markina, another rompepiernas, apparently. I’m probably just a little too smug as I carry on, gently uphill, now following the already family red-and-white blazes of the gran recorrido number 121. There were no tears at the divorce, just a tender farewell; in any case, both the Camino de Santiago and I know we’ll be back in bed together ere long.
Hasta luego, Camino del Norte
On my IGN 1:50,000 map – not the best map series I’ve come across – the ridge is broad and undulates, more disniveles but this time with a purpose. I had to trace the course of the GR121 on to the map from a webpage and I didn’t do it very well; although I was never in danger of getting lost I never really knew where I was, especially as pines and scrub often obscured the view. Quite suddenly, mid-afternoon, a bank of cloud came in from the sea leaving a fine but not impenetrable mist at about 700m. I was vaguely aiming for Monte Urko, a prominent peak of 790m high above my destination of Ermua (pronounced Erm-wah) but when I finally arrived at the road beneath the summit I found a path which circumnavigated it. It might have been easy to go up-and-over, so to speak, as my desvio ended up with a tricky passage above a steep slope which required a bit of scrambling and had a chain to hold on to – just in case! Not a fatal abyss but you’d end up in A&E if you missed a footing. Back on the ridge and another steep, laborious descent beckoned.

And all would have been mundane and quotidian had I not decided to play the cocky dilettante and follow the road instead of a path which split in two with one route clearly going down to Eibar, the larger of the two towns and a couple of kilometres down the valley. I pressed on, assuming my track, already petering out, would take me to Ermua. I should have got the message when thick gorse and brambles began to obscure the thin trail but I carried on regardless, over-estimating my innate sense of direction. The slope got steeper, the vegetation got thicker, I was wearing shorts: a bit of blood does no harm and the pain gave me a bit of a heady rush. Pretty soon it became clear that this was no path, or least, hadn’t been used as such in years but by then I’d reached the point of no return. To turn back would have been to expose my legs to even more lacerations as well as having to pick my way up a very steep slope through the thick and spiny undergrowth. For a brief moment I was stuck in fit of hopeless despair but I knew I had to keep going; there would be a path, at some point.
And there was. Cue tears of relief; still a good 200m above the rooftops of Ermua but out of the thigh-ripping flowers. But the evening – for it was now well after six – had one more sting in its tail. The path I joined led down to – you guessed it – Eibar. By the time I’d reached level ground blood and lacerations laced my calves and thighs; when I paused to clean them up with cold water for about two minutes the stinging pain was absolutely unbearable. But you know what? As I made along the main road that links the two towns I began not to care.
I suspect I shall carry the trauma of that descent into Ermua till the end of my walking days. The physical scars have all but cleared but the emotional wounds have carved themselves deep into my psyche. Still, a valuable lesson learned, never follow a path that looks like it might deceive, that will tempt and lead you down a dead-end track. But I am always an Eve, my spirit willing but my flesh easily led. In any case, if you don't stray, you'll never know what lies beyond the confines of the straight and narrowĤ. In the words of the legendary Buck's Fizz: 'Something nasty in your garden's waiting/Patiently, till it can have your heart/Try to go but it won't let you/Don't you know it's out to get you/Running/Keep on running'.

Image of Virgin Mary, Ermua
Ermua and Eibar lie deep in a steep, wooded valley that forms the main corridor of communication along the coast between Donostia-San Sebastian and Bilbao. Eibar is much the larger town, Ermua a sort of overspill. There's just too much going on in too small and narrow a space. The road and the railway are hemmed in; horizontal is not an option, there's very little sense of sideways so everything must go up. Apartment blocks, supermarkets, offices, the effect is overwhelmingly claustrophobic and I feel bad about not liking the place though it takes me a good two hours to leave as waste precious time searching, in vain, for gas cannisters - bear with me on this, it will become a major distraction.
Preparing for fiesta, Eitzaga
I'd planned a relatively short hike south out of the valley of the river Ego (I kid you not, if ever there were a geomorphological feature named for me, that is surely it) and into the adjacent comarca of Durangaldea but which your correspondent immediately - and quite predictably - began to refer to as DuranDurangaldea.
I know, there is no hope and there is no cure. I'm more or less condemned to a life of OED (Obsessive Eighties Disorder).

Aixola urtegia
The ola de calor that seemed to have arrived alongside my train in Irun a few days previously was scaling the thermometer and it was another day of sweat and sweary words; even a relatively gentle climb of 250m along the GR121 to a small reservoir elicited a steady flow of both. The reservoir offered a good half hour of respite, level walking in the shade and I eschewed the kind offer of the GR121 to climb a hill (are you kidding?) and followed the pista around the lake. But all good things do come to an end and sure enough the track began to ascend, to the small town of Elgeta, its industrial estates simmering under the heat of the mid-afternoon sun. It was siesta time, the place was shut. A four or five km hike along a main road brought me to my overnight destination: Berrio-Aldape, a small hamlet - if that's not a tautology - in possession of a hotel and bar. Within a few minutes of arrival my overnight stay had extended itself.
The valley of the Rio Ego is deep, steep and narrow, the valley of the Durangaldea is high, wide and handsome, an extensive declivity backed by the fine, ridge-backed mountains of Udalatx and Anboto which, once I'd crossed the watershed, suddenly emerged. I had arrived, here was where the coastal hinterland ended and the Montes Vascos began.

The sublime and magnificent Udalatx
Strange how the smallest of settlements can attract a noisy throng; my rest day, Sunday, coincided with the final of the Campeonato Manomanista between Aimar Olaizola II and Mikel Urrutikoetxea.  Clearly I know absolutely nothing about Basque pelota, aside from the fact that two men - gender equality has not yet reached this sport - strike a squash-sized ball against a wall with their bare hands and fists. On the one hand, it's a bit like squash, on the other, it's nothing like it. But even when the commentary's in a language whose complexity has thus far utterly defeated me, I can tell a fighting comeback when I see one. Urrutikoetxea was cruising towards an easy victory until the veteran Olaizola II (his ninth appearance in thirteen years, having won the title four times - you can see I've done my research) fought back to close to parity. Olaizola had the momentum and the experience but he inexplicably threw it all away with two careless shots which handed victory Urrutikoetxea. And then, impresseive alacrity, the throng dispersed and I went off to listen to Forgotten 80s.

The hike was supposed to resume the following day - Monday, day 7. The intention was - note how often those two words, 'intention' and 'was', appear alongside one another - to purchase a gas canister in the town of Elorrio, about four kilometres away down in the valley, then head up into the mountains. There was a sports/hiking shop in Elorrio, just as there had been in Eibar, but as in Eibar they didn't sell gas for camping. I was directed to the nearby town of Durango - whence Durangaldea - so I checked in to a hotel and hopped on a bus. The heatwave had scaled another notch on the thermometer and the sky was cloudless, if the streets had been any busier we'd have been fighting for the shade. Eventually, the elusive gas cannister located in an out-of-town hyperstore. It was too late and far too hot to do anything else than return to Elorrio and plan a route for the following day.

The Basilica de la Purisima

I fell in love, quite unexpectedly, with Elorrio and would gladly have stayed another day or two. It's a pleasant town of some 7,000 inhabitants with a casco antiguo and old streets. Had I arrived the day before I'd have been able to partake in its dia de orgullo - Pride. For a town of its size that's pretty impressive but as it was over and done I had to console myself with the stunning interior of the Basilica de la Purisima Conception; I've no doubt the Virgin Mary was as present in the Pride festivities as she was in the church
The elusive gas cannister

That was the summer that was: TransCantabrica - Stage One, Irun to Deba

Time, I think, for an account of this summer’s six-week hike before I start to focus on this winter’s #FireintheBlood volcano hiking project; someday I’ll get into the habit of writing up the day’s events at the time of walking, as opposed to two-and-half months later. What was intended as a ‘guerrilla’ camino from Irun on the French/Spanish border to Santiago, loosely following the Camino del Norte, the GR121/123 and then Mike Salazar’s Alta Ruta Cantabrica ended up a bit of a curate’s egg as the customary gravitation towards the yellow arrows of the camino de Santiago network set in. Even so, I might have made a compromise by following the Viejo Camino from the Basque Country all the way through to the Camino Francés at Villafranca del Bierzo then on to Santiago until I allowed myself to become distracted by inconsistent waymarking, a lack of maps and the lure of the Picos de Europa. And whilst I’m rummaging around for excuses I might as well bung in the weather and a crucial faux pas vis-à-vis preparation. But on to the nitty-gritty of the trail, here divided into stages.

1. Irun to Deba – Camino del Norte
The first cut is the deepest, the first stage is the cruellest; especially if, like me, you’ve been sitting on your fat arse for the past four months, filling the heads of your ‘A’ level students full of geography and willing them to pass so hard the veins in your forehead bulge with blood. 
All roads lead to Santiago
For the uninitiated – which’ll be most of you not as obsessed with the Camino de Santiago as I am - the Camino del Norte follows the Atlantic Coast of Spain as far as the Galicia/Cantabria border from where it deviates inland towards the Holy Grail that is Santiago de Compostela. I say follow, sometimes it wanders inland and on several stretches one can lose sight of the sea for hours on end. And because it’s a coast path the Camino del Norte, like the British South West Coast Path, goes up and down in a seemingly infinite series of disniveles. On day one, from Irun to Donostia/San Sebastián, I fell victim to the trail’s first trick – lulling the hiker into a false sense of security. After an initial sharp 200m ascent the going is good and I’m trundling along like a Weeble on speed only to realise later that energy generated from jouissance isn’t sustainable; after 14 ‘easy’ kilometres the camino plunges almost vertiginously back down to sea level at Passai Donibane. Here, a purist such as Nick Crane would be faced with their first ambulatory dilemma, either take the ferry to cross the short (about 100m) stretch of water and continue hiking from Passai San Pedro on the other side or make the landlubber’s diversion which, according to my calculations, would add a further three or four kilometres of bleak industrial walking to the day’s total. Fortunately, the pilgrim is permitted to take the boat though my inner psychogeographer did have cast a lascivious eye over the frontages of post-industrial porn.
Ermita de Santiago, Irun

'Alpinist' pilgrims up and onto the ridge, the rest of them along the 'easy route'. It was day one, I took the latter

Passai Donibane

As I was serenaded, on the ferry, by a group of retired Basque doctors – I kid you not – I had visions of an effortless passage to Santiago with enough time remaining for a quick hop-and-skip hike onwards to Finisterre. At my time of life, with half-a-dozen caminos under my belt, you’d have thought I’d have known better but I was walking with the eyes-wide open of an innocent child, the silver sands and faded glory of Donostia/San Sebastián were just around the corner.

Ferry 'cross the Portua de Pasaia with industrial porn background. Sadly no retired Basque doctors present
Not. The lack of fitness told already; Donostia/San Sebastián was another eleven kilometres away, up and over the cliffs, access to which was via a 120 metre staircase, direct from sea-level. Shouldn’t have come as a surprise, should it? You pays yer money and you takes yer choice; if you opt to hike the Basque littoral you really ought to come at it with the understanding that the coastline can and will bite back. 
Donostia/San Sebastian: plenty of siver sands but not its glory still unfaded

Which is exactly what it did for the next two days, from Donostia/San Sebastián to Zarautz and Deba. The ‘kneebreaker’ disniveles never quite crippled me physically but on more than one occasion they filled my soul with the wrath and ire of hiker who thinks the path has wronged her, even though she knows, deep down inside, she’s the one to blame.  
Don't ask!
I walked, as intended, alone; for reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere I didn’t want to get socially or emotionally involved with a path I was only going to follow for three days although I’ve subsequently realised I might be seeking an intellectual excuse for my inherent commitment-phobia. This policy was put to the test on only the second day when I fell in step with Manuel on the descent into Orio and spent the remainder of the day walking alongside him. 
Last rites for a walking pole

Manuel and his Venezuelan flag; now so full of signatures one can barely make out the colours and stars
Manuel, a Madrileño from Venezuela was – still is – walking the camino in what many would consider its ‘true spirit’: with minimum funds, trusting himself to the kindness of strangers and the whimsies of fate – or God, as the case may be. He was - still is - carrying with him a Venezuelan flag which he asked fellow pilgrims to sign in the cause of peace in his homeland. When he arrived in a town he would seek to engage with local politicians and any fellow venezelano emigres to draw attention to his cause which was, in a nutshell, a protest against the growing militarisation and authoritarianism of Venezuelan politics. As a student of Latin American politics, an afternoon spend in discussion with Manuel represented, in many respects, the ideal camino day in which the landscape and the trail come second and third to social – and in this case political – interaction and in this instance our talk of Venezuelan politics took me back to the hallowed halls of my alma mater, the Institute for Latin American Studies in London, some fifteen years ago. 

From Donostia to Zumaia

You know what’s coming. Is it possible to speak of Venezuela and not immediately follow it up with mention of the late Hugo Chavez? I’d finished my MSc in Latin American Politics before Chavez and Bolviarismo had really made their mark on South and North America and it was Causa R – the Radical Cause – that caught my attention at the end of the 1990s as a possible future for the Latin American left. I think Manuel and I must have exchanged only a couple of sentences before the ‘Ch’ word was mentioned and it immediately occurred to me that Manuel was out and about to tarnish the image of the former leader in particular and Chavismo in general and make a case for a return of the right.

The Basque coastline at its most sublime. It's only day two and already I'm thinking about changing my plans and following the Camino del Norte all the way to Santiago. I mean, how does one tear oneself away from this?

Well, he was and he wasn’t; in espousing the cause of Causa R he was certainly disparaging current president Nicolas Maduro as a thug and a criminal but Manuel was equally calling for the return of a more democratic leftism which, he argues, has been tarnished by the current regime, if not Chavez, too. I was stuck in no-pilgrims-land, like many on the European left, I’d taken a shine to Chavez, been taken in by his charisma, some might say, but I’d been out of Latin American politics for so long I waded in carefully and with an unusual amount of thoughtful consideration.



My big fat Basque diet

The mountains already

But we talked about the camino, too; about the reasons why we were drawn to it and, after telling him I was technically homeless, Manuel memorably summed up my situation in one pithy phase: tu casa es el camino – your home is the camino.
Out of the mouths of Venezuelan Madrileños! 

The wonder that is Donostia

Manuel and I parted ways in Zaruatz; me to sleep in a hotel, him to crash out on the beach after taking his flag around the seaside town but it would be wrong to say we never met again as we followed each other’s trajectories on the Book of Face, he’s just finished the Camino de San Salvador which I walked in late July – and we’ve just decided to hike together from Rome to Santiago in the next few years. 

If this doesn't get your geological lovejuices flowing, nothing will

In many respects, that afternoon’s hiking with Manuel reaffirmed my resolve to walk alone but it also reminded me, quite intensely, of what I was renouncing. For the next day I could fall back on that familiar cliché of having the sea as company to counter any melancholy solitude might – would – bring on but on Day 4 I’d turn inland and head for the mountains, leaving the pilgrims behind.