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Friday, 29 July 2016

Saints and Cynics Day 7: Zubiri to Pamplona

Zubiri to Pamplona 25km (182km cumulative)

At times, during the winter and spring of 2015/16, my student warden cell - I mean bedsit - resembled a World War Two operations room. So many maps and guides, to the casual observer it might have seemed like I was planning an assault on norther Spain.
Which isn't so very far from the truth.
I sat, I planned, I drank gin and tonic. I walked the Camino Frances - and several others - time and time again, in my imagination, on the map. I drank too much, I planned too much; it was always going to go arse over elbow when I finally got my feet on the ground. 
Like many pilgrims, I overestimated the first stage of the Camino Frances and thought that, once I'd gone up and over, the rest would be plain sailing. Somehow, perhaps after a night of particularly fine gin, I'd reckoned I could walk the 38km from Burguete to Pamplona.
No effing way!
That much became apparent with the first few kilometres of yesterday's walk so I quickly hopped on to the internet and booked a room at a very pleasant pension in Zubiri. Couldn't do that in 2012; in 2012 I'd spent an unpleasant night at the municipal albergue in Zubirir which had crammed in far too many pilgrims for the limited facilities. Nowadays, Zubiri, like many towns on the Camino Frances, has three or four albergues plus pensions, hostales and hotels. Spoilt for choice, I don't know what the purists would say. Not that I really care. 

Back to life, back to reality. First up out of Zubiri is the Magnesium fabrica, which sprawls alongside the Camino for a couple of kilometres. Many moan, but over breakfast mine hosts at the pension told me the plant employs over 250 people, without it the area would be reliant on tourism and that, as any decent geography student will tell you, is not a good thing.

I was walking on my own for the first part of this stage so I didn't overhear any comments about incursions on and ruinations of nature; I guess there are many pilgrims who think the plant should be shut down and nature be allowed to reclaim the landscape. I'd have had to remind them, of course, that all human activity is nature and that the magnesium processing plant was as much part of the landscape as the churches, abbeys and cute little Roman bridges.

The magnesium process plant kept me entertained for a good half hour; I was fascinated the by the both the geometrical patterns of these slag heaps but also the mechanics that kept them stable. Many, many years ago I worked in a soil laboratory and then, in a period of my past that really ought to be consigned to history, attempted to study for an MSc in Geotechnical Engineering at what was then the Bolton Institute of Higher Education. Needless to say, I failed spectacularly but 26 years later the filthy lure of soil hasn't lost its attraction.

'Circles in the sand/'Round and 'round'

Shortly after the fabrica I came across a right little gem in the shape of the Abbey of Eskirotz and its Church of St Lucy. The church, its adjacent house and grounds are currently being restored by Neil from South Africa. More details on the Abbey's Facebook page: suffice to say that the place is a veritable web of intrigue with enough occult spirituality to make The Da Vinci Code look like a Janet and John narrative. Buried moors, parish politics, repressed Virgin Mary and Templars (obvs); they're all here. Well worth more than a cursory visit if you're passing by.

Santa Lucia. The church appears to have been originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Why was she demoted?

The door - not the original - had once been painted with stars but these have, in turn, been painted over. Is somebody trying to hide something? I feel a Holy Grail plot narrative coming on ...

The church of Santa Lucia from the outside. Much restoration still to be done inside but it's an exciting project.

Path of the Day. Nice, easy walking down to Pamplona.

Altarpiece, Church of San Esteban, Zabaldika, overseen by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Pilgrims are allowed to climb the tower and ring the bell tower once. A deeply moving experience, the hospitaleros at the adjacent albergue were also very, very friendly. It's just ten minutes up the hill from the Camino, worth the effort of the short climb.

And what's this? Not a Virgin and Child but a stepfather and son (17th century)

Looking back up the valley before the Camino enters the outskirts of Pamplona

 Trinidad de Arre, outskirts of Pamplona. Close to here the Camino Baztan joins the Camino Frances.


  1. Following your journey across twitter and blog. Not sure if you are taking comments or questions? Good walking and great blog, well done. Solidarity!

    1. I'm always open to questions and comments, thank you very much for yours. I think I enjoyed my first hike along the Camino Frances back in 2012, I'm certainly enjoying walking it again in 2016, for reasons I'm still trying to understand, the landscape feels even more 'alive'. It's not easy to keep up with the blog but I'm trying to incorporate the recordings I've been making as I walk to try to describe how I - and others - are responding to the Camino and its landscapes.