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Walking the Camino de Santiago

camino start

The famous Camino de Santiago (the way of St James) walking trail is something we’ve been aware of and talked about for a long time. Following two years of uncertainty and dreaming of new adventures, we decided that now was the time to take action.  We had a look at various routes and decided to follow the Portuguese camino as we were really interested in exploring more of northern Portugal and Galicia in Spain.

Having done more reading than walking, we plan to set off from one of our favourite cities, Porto and complete the trail in 12 stages finishing in Santiago de Compostela.  We’re enthusiastic (for now), not experience walkers and we are hoping that the Portuguese route will not push us beyond our some what limited capabilities.

We set up a planning HQ at home, got some white boards, read some Shackleton as inspiration and came up with some form of a plan.

If you’re interested in seeing what we’re up to each day, you can check in with us here.

Day 1 Porto to Mindelo

Circa 26km

Our first day started at Porto Cathedral getting our Camino passports stamped, suddenly making it feel very real. We headed out along the banks of the Douro river towards the Atlantic where we walked along board walks and esplanades. We passed the port of Matosinhos, through the fishermans quarter which had numerous restaurants with outside grills. We tried to ignore the enticing smell of grilled fish and not let it slow us down.   We walked across beautiful beaches, spotting many interesting sculptures along our way.

Everyone was super friendly, wishing us ‘Bom Caminho!’ when we passed and helped us with our directions when we looked a little lost.

Other than a brief interlude of getting lost in a pine forest we managed to reach our destination for the evening, tired but happy.

Day 2 Mindelo to Arcos

Circa 25km

Todays stage took us partly on the coastal route as far as the beautiful town of Vila De Conde, a famous ship building port. It was a warm but hazy start (we think this may have been due to the Sahara dust storm that had been reported add an orange tint to the skies).

We took some time and lingered a while in Vila De Conde, walking along the banks of the river and heading out to the coast and its beautiful beaches with hardly a soul in sight.

We then headed inland to join the central trail which took us across country, passing through beautifully kept villages brimming with well kept gardens and small holdings.  It warmed up in the afternoon, giving us the perfect opportunity to test out the local hostelries.

Later that afternoon, we arrived at the fabulous Vila D’Arcos hotel in the tiny hamlet of Arcos. Our charming host provided us with a beautiful home cooked meal and all the home comforts we could have hoped for.

Day 3 Arcos to Barcelos 

Circa 20km

Fortified by an indulgent breakfast at the cosy Vila d’Arcos, we set out on the central camino route to our destination for the night, Barcelos.  The weather was cloudy and cool to start, which was ideal for walking and spirits were high.

Much of today’s route passed through green fields and forests. We marvelled at the beautiful peace lilies that grew wild along the side of the roads.  We crossed stone bridges across babbling streams and walked along the cobbled streets of small hamlets, often welcomed by a friendly small dog, or two…

Before finally heading downhill and crossing the impressive bridge into the handsome town of Barcelos, home of the legend of Portugal’s iconic cockerel, where we booked into the superfriendly Art’Otel and a great dinner at Babette.

Day 4 Barcelos to Ponte da Lima

Circa 33.5km

Mindful of our capabilities at this early stage of the camino, on leaving the friendly Art’Otel, we took a taxi for the first 9km, thus commencing our walk at the train station in Tamel.

The day was already warm and sunny at 9am and we were full of anticipation (and a substantial breakfast) for the day ahead. We were not disappointed as this was a very picturesque stage; winding through country lanes, past numerous vineyards and green fields. The road was peppered with shrines, chapels and stone crosses draped with purple fabric. Again, local people would call out to us “Bom caminho”, or give us the universal thumbs up sign.

One particular highlight was stumbling upon a cheerful elderly lady with an impromptu shop, selling cakes and beer. So, of course we stopped for a beer using her tractor as a bar and the shed, a shade from the midday sun!

Once more we crossed medieval stone bridges and forested areas. The cobbles seemed larger today and sometimes a little uncomfortable underfoot, but the day was very warm, also perhaps fatigue was setting in?

However, we made it to the end and nothing had quite prepared us for our arrival, along a majestic tree lined embankment into Ponte de Lima, Portugal’s oldest (and perhaps, most beautiful?) village; with its eponymous roman bridge, immaculate streets and historic stone buildings.

We were equally bowled over by our hotel; the extremely handsome Merceraria da Vila which turned out to be a perfectly restored grocery shop. Beautifully modernised with all its original features retained. Simply lovely.

Day 5 Ponte de Lima to Rubiaes

Circa 18km

We reluctantly bid farewell to the beautiful town of Ponte de Lima after a well earned rest day which we spent taking in all the sights and sounds, including; several marching bands, a market stall run by local teenagers raising funds for a trip, an atmospheric bar run by a twinkly eyed elderly lady, several great tasquinhas and of course our fabulous hotel, Merceraria da Vila.

We were accompanied by birdsong, the smell of wood smoke and the ocassional cockerel crowing in the distance. Today’s route was very scenic and the sound of flowing water, a constant backdrop. It led us through forested areas, peppered with water cascades, before our biggest challenge thus far, the rocky ascent of the Portela Grande (575m), which had been looming large in the distance.

Carrying plenty of water from the final tres bicas fountain we proceeded slowly to the summit, grateful for the cloud cover and the dry conditions, which made it easier underfoot. We chatted to a young local man at the top who had carried his bike on his shoulders…

After a steep descent we came across the charming Roulotte bar (a caravan in someone’s garden) where we stopped for a much needed beer with a sense of relief and achievement in equal measure!

Day 6 Rubiaes to Tui

Circa 20km

After our first experience of albergue style accommodation (and our first “pilgrims” meal) we said goodbye to the small village of Rubiaes, stopping in a super friendly cafe/mini market for coffee and toast, on our way.

The weather was fine and we were soon greeted by a beautiful river with cascading falls. We passed through forested areas and the smell of woodsmoke hung in the air.

After some time, we happened upon the beautifully restored Albergue Quinta Estrada Romana, where we stopped for a refreshing beer. The charming Portuguese/German owners took the time to show us their lovely rooms and the smell of good cooking was in the air…

We had to steel ourselves to continue which we did. On entering a less rural setting, we encountered sheep grazing in a village square  and a few friendly but watchful dogs on roofs, gates etc.

We had our final lunch in Portugal in a great, traditional road stop, opting for what has become our standard; soup and roll combo (the Portugese, like us being great soup eaters!)

The road climbed a little, up to the stunning fortress town of Valenca. You enter the walls to find the most beautiful, pristine town which looked like it had been bleached by the sun; with tall balconied buildings, some tiled – all charming and literally sparkling.

Passing through the legion of linen shops and out of town we came to the international Bridge. Personally, for me this was a hair raising experience; walking outside the bridge on a narrow walk way, across what seems to be a very wide river, fairly high above the water. Adding to this anxiety, was a real reticence about leaving Portugal….

However, having survived the “crossing” we were elated to see the EU “Spain” signs and knowing we were well over half way, was an achievement in itself.

We made our way along the river, through the ancient stone streets to the somewhat austere looking cathedral and our lodgings at Cabalo Furado, just as the notorious Galician rain started to fall…

Day 7 – Tui to O Porriño

Circa 18km

This morning started misty after some rain in the night. Still girded by our tasty and plentiful dinner at Taperia O Albergue, directly outside our lodgings at O cabalo furado, we were able to make an early start (even allowing for the +1 hour, spanish time).

We headed out of town, soon becoming aware of more walkers around us (Tui to Santiago, being the last 100km), but still it seemed quiet enough.

Again we passed through leafy forest areas, across ancient bridges, remarking upon the wild primroses and the smell of jasmine on the air.

We saw a young woman riding a pony and trap through the forest and some cyclists called out to us “Bon camino, chicos!”

We probably went longer without coffee than we would have normally liked, but when we eventually came to a cafe we were rewarded with some super tasty “tostada con tomate” which had more than a hint of garlic – yum!

At the village of Orbenlle, faced with arrows pointing in opposite directions, we opted for the “complementario” camino route which although slightly longer, was a good choice as it led us along the river, rather than through an industrial estate.

We loved seeing people working on their small holdings and tried to figure out what crops they might be growing. We continued to be intrigued by the wood/grain stores on stilts which seem to be becoming more commonplace, the further north we travelled.

Sooner than we thought, we arrived in O Porriño; a small industrial and mining town, known for its pink granite. We took a quick look at the covered market before it started to rain (on cue, as had been forecast) and then went for a great lunch where I had a tuna lasagne of comedy proportions (having been previously warned about the portion sizes in Galicia)!

We then hailed our host for the night to collect us to take us to the village of Mosende. We were given a massive room and directed to the local bar across the road as our bags had yet to arrive. We ordered a drink, then the complimentary tapas started to arrive; one after the other….

Daily Shackleton Inspiration

When things get a bit tough out here, such as the hotel tumble dryer not working properly and having to wear soggy socks, Brian gets us back on track with a little Ernest Shackleton inspo to put things in perspective.

Day 8 O Porriño to Redondela

Circa 16km

After a good night’s sleep in a friendly rural pension, our attentive host dropped us back to yesterday’s finishing point in O Porriño. The weather was cool and after several “cafe solos” each, (having learnt from yesterday), we were keen to get underway.

The first waymarker told us we were under 100km from Santiago, which further spurred us onwards towards Redondela.

Today saw some fairly steep climbs followed by similar descents and some great views of the surrounding hills and villages.

There were fewer wild flowers today, rather, more moss and fern varieties under the tall forest canopy. At times, the smell of the pines was quite intoxicating. We passed through the perfectly formed (and aptly named), village of Mos…the owner of a local hostelry explained that the national truckers strike is now in its 10th day, to the point now that beer supplies are also under threat…

We are really enjoy walking through the villages and towns, seeing how people live  and find we are becoming quite the experts in the critique of housebuilding styles (some corkers and others, just plain odd) .

So much so that we are now referring to each other as Kevin (“grand designs”) & George (“small spaces”) – you get to work out who is who….However, this could also be a sign that we are going a little “Camino crazy”…

On arrival into Redondela, a small but charming town, famous for it’s 2 viaducts, we were permitted an early check in at the fabulous Rua do Medio pension. Swiflty, and after several recommendations, we headed out for a great fish lunch at Casa Mucha which included first, of what i’m sure will be many,  traditional Tarta de Santiago.

We can both feel fatigue of foot (and possibly mind) starting to set in, so a post lunch siesta seemed the order of the day and what better than a room with a view of an historic square and arriving walkers….

Day 9 – Redondela to Pontevedra

Circa 21km

After a minor, early morning detour to the launderette (oh, the glamour of life on the road), we headed out of Redondela, still slightly mystified as to how we had been unable to find any of the cuttlefish that the town is famed for. In fact, we had struggled to find anywhere to eat the previous evening, but we are very far from wasting away….

Today was Brian’s birthday and spirits in the camp were high. We were blessed with wonderful sunny weather, starting cool and rising to the early 20s, which was not at all the type of weather we had expected in Galicia, known for mist and rain.

The sound of birdsong filled the morning air and we watched large birds (possibly kites?) circling way above the tree tops.

We made our way up the first of today’s two substantial climbs, through forested areas, using the waymarkers to count down our kilometres. This was our 5th consecutive day of walking and we were starting to experience a few minor aches and pains.

We are still surprised that there are so few walkers on this route; we seem to come across the same 4 or 5 people,  one of whom is an 80 year old Swedish woman who has walked alone, from Lisbon! With most people we just exchange a friendly greeting, or a “Buen camino”,  each time.

At some point, a man approached us and asked us if we had found a hat in the forest several days before….yes, we had! Unsure what to do with it,  I had resolved to take it to Santiago,  figuring there would be some type of Lost Property office. The man, from Seville, explained the hat belonged to his wife – a gift from their daughter and as such, had sentimental value. We were so happy that we would be able to reunite it with its owner and swapped numbers with a view to meeting later that evening, to do so.

Shortly after this happy interlude, we started our descent into the beautiful small town of Arcade, famed for it’s oysters. This waterside settlement, divided by an ancient stone bridge, made my heart leap; it was exactly as I had imagined Galicia all these years (only without the rain; rather bathed in glorious sunshine!)

We stopped awhile at the friendly bar A Romana with fabulous views. The owner told us of his time living in Hammersmith and we toasted him and his good fortune in coming from such a beautiful place. He gave us some tasty lentil stew to accompany our morning beer, which was probably wise…

We were truly reluctant to leave this beautiful spot, but are certain that we will return one day (and hopefully get to try some of those famous oysters, which seemed curiously absent…)

We headed back into the forest and another ascent, and inevitable descent we noted another of the ancient stone laundry houses, which pop up in most settlements along the way. I noted from the information board next to it, that apparently women used to gather there so they could talk freely without the presence of men – though I suspect it was mainly to do the washing…

Once more, we opted for the complimentary route (rather than walking along the road) and this turned out to be a bewitching, winding river walk through a fairy tale setting of ferns and sandy paths that sparkled, in the sunlight. The burbling river water so clear it failed to come out in photos!

After some kilometres we we were delighted to be heading into Pontevedra, which was a lot larger than we had imagined. We stopped at the train station for a quick beer and a tuna empanada, for which this town is famed, before making our way into the impressive stone built, medieval centre, where our hotel, Hotel Ruas was located. The evening seemed full of promise, as did our rest day the following day….

Rest day in Pontevedra

After 5 consecutive days walking, we were probably overdue a rest day. Also it was Brian’s birthday, so we opted for a 2 night stay in the handsome town of Pontevedra at the solid, family run Hotel Ruas, which was everything we like about traditional, Spanish hotels.

On arrival in Pontevedra we were greeted by a display (or possibly contest) of local music in the main square. The celtic roots so obvious in the music made Brian feel very comfortable on his birthday.

We had a brief meet up with the couple from Seville whose hat we had found along the way. We didn’t ask how they knew we had found it, preferring to put it down to the legendary Camino serendipity we had heard so much about.

Later that night we dined on some great prawns and octopus (pulpo a feira) – perhaps Galicia’s best known dish, accompanied by good wine from Ourense, at A Taberna de Felix and a compulsory chat about football with the friendly owner.

The next day we awoke with a few aches and pains, following the previous days’ exertions. We made it downstairs to the cafeteria in our hotel, where were amused to find that a free “tapa” of churros and orange juice, then a pastry and juice was served with our cafe solos – no need to buy breakfast, at this rate!!!

We set off with good intentions to walk the length of the river to find the beach, but soon discovered we were just too tired and aborted the mission. Instead we mooched around the fabulous market and beautiful plazas before opting for a long, lazy lunch at A casa de Leña which was helpfully located on a beautiful square next door to our hotel.

The menu del dia was excellent value and my salad, then squid with caramelized onions and potatoes, both good choices.  Brian was equally impressed with his creamy scrambled egg (revuelto) with bacalao and confit garlic, followed by chargrilled poussin.

Needless to say, we rolled up to our hotel for a siesta after this.

The evening was a suitably relaxed affair with a vermouth at the bustling Bar Toro and a spot of people watching from the bar of our hotel.

We were very impressed with Pontevedra; what a difference it makes to the atmosphere having the whole town pedestrianised. The streets were alive and the bars were brimming with people and I suspect as we turned in, just as the whole place was starting to get going. We opted to keep the windows closed as the buzz of people started to rise… Ho hum, such is the routine of the walker…

Day 10 Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis

Circa 18km

Today, we made an early start, skipping breakfast and opting for a cafe solo (with the OJ & churros tapa!) in our hotel cafeteria.

The waitress in the cafeteria was concerned we weren’t wearing enough clothes, but we explained that we are “acostumbrado”, or used to the weather (which was actually quite pleasant!).

On leaving Pontevedra, we crossed the roman bridge embellished with the scallop shell motif of the camino and headed out of town, through some curious looking houses, spotting the first “sentry” dog of the road,  a rather downbeat looking alsatian.

Again, we headed through forested areas with the sound of woodcutting somewhere in the distance. Mountain water was flowing all around us and the vibrant green moss grew right up to the top of the trees. Random pockets of peace lillies seemed to spring up from nowehere.

We crossed a railtrack in the middle of the forest. Very shortly afterwards to be followed by the hypnotic sound of a freight train rattling by.

Some kilometres later, we stopped at the positively sparkling A Pousada do Peregrino for a coffee, only to be accosted by a twinkly eyed elderly fella with a nice line in patter, selling his camino jewellery.  On asking Brian’s nationality, he declared that the Irish were his favourite customers….Obviously Brian was powerless to resist and is now sporting a necklace, complete with steel scallop shell charm….

We saw a total of 3 fellow walkers today and stopped for a quick chat with a french lady who had left town 3 hours before us, but was walking very slowly, with a massive pack. We felt guiltly passing her on the road, knowing that our luggage was being transported for us. Wishing her a hasty “buen camino”, we scurried on…

We passed along a dry stretch of vineyards and dusty track which was signposted as a roman road. The several bars we passed were closed, which only served to spur us on to our destination, the small spa town of Caldas de Reis.

Happily we arrived in perfect time for lunch. After 5 hours walking on little other than coffee (and no beer!), we happened upon the very pleasant O Encontro, where we had a good lunch. Before making our way to our accommodation for the night; the immaculate (and ludicrously cheap), Villa Galicia.

Day 11 Caldas de Reis to Padron

Circa 19.6 km

Today felt like it started exceptionally early;  the hour having changed overnight (we’re now down 2 hours in the last few days, since we left Portugal).

The morning was cool and we were glad of a quick coffee at a local bar. We joked with the waiter that it was “gasolina” for our journey.

A few minutes later, whilst debating whether or not the water from the fountain in the town square was drinkable (we decided to err on the side of caution), we came across the French lady from yesterday. She told us that drink/food might be hard to come by on today’s section and that she had been unable to buy a loaf small enough for her to carry. So we said goodbye and headed off to find a bakery so that we could at least buy some bread for her, as we knew she would be on the road much longer than us.

Mission accomplished, we headed out of town to the sound of birdsong and bells ringing; calling people to mass on Sunday morning. We soon passed the lady and gave her the demi baguette, for which she was very grateful. Any feelings of guilt now assuaged, we strode off along track, noting the dew on cabbages as we passed people’s well tended veg plots.

At one stage we were passed by the Guardia Civil van and thought it strange to see them on the forest route. A little further on, we came across the officers who explained they were here on the route to support all walkers, whatever their needs might be; physical, or psychological.  One of the officers wanted a photo of us for his boss, whilst the other showed us a rare oak tree, with a pine tree growing out of it (see the photos). Due to our prior experiences with the Guardia Civil, we thought it best to be friendly and compliant…

We continued to walk on for quite a stretch,  on what had now become a beautiful warm spring morning, until we came across the welcome sight of Bar Buen Camino with its Abba soundtrack blaring out across the peaceful morning. Initially sceptical about the choice of music, we soon found ourselves humming along as we sipped our first cold beer of the day.

After tearing ourselves away from this sunny spot, we continued along the track,  passing by well tended gardens with their vibrant citrus trees and colourful wisteria, before crossing a final bridge and the last couple of kilometres to Padron, home to those spicy (or not!) green peppers and the Pedron, or stone, that forms an important part of the Saint James legend.

On arriving in Padron, we soon happened upon a massive and lively market, where in the midst we found a mass of pop up Pulperia “restaurant” tents – alive with colour and noise. A woman hurriedly called us in. We had no real clue what was going on as there was so much noise and intense activity, but soon found ourselves seated at a bench eating super fresh octopus, prepared in front of us, with beer and a bucket of bread. Well, you know the saying, “when in Rome….”

Shortly afterwards we checked into our hotel for the night Hotel Chef Rivera which oozed old school glamour and our elegant host Mrs Rivera made us feel right at home.

Day 12 Padron to Santiago de Compostela

Circa 24km

After a fruitless search for the legendary peppers of Padron the previous night (apparently the season starts next month…), we headed out of town via an avenue of impressive trees, along the not so picturesque, N550, for our final day’s walking.

We passed our French friend, Dominique once more and chatted to a guy from Washington, in a bar over breakfast. He told us that he had lost his wife the previous year and we were reminded of the myriad of reasons that people are called to walk the camino.

Our route today meandered on and off the busy road, via some charming stone built hamlets and some leafy, wooded sections. The smell of cut grass and freshly ploughed fields was in the morning air, as people tended to their land.

Perhaps a little light on natural beauty,  this section included some impressive man made structures; some great sculptures, charming stone bridges and more of the raised “horreos”,  used to store animal feed and/or firewood – a little research shows these are the unofficial symbol of Galicia.

Also noteworthy was the emergence of vending machines, often in people’s gardens, which we thought very enterprising….

All along this route we have been impressed by the lack of commercialism. But today, we were truly surprised to find so few bars/cafes. We had promised ourselves a beer when we hit the 10km left mark, but as luck would have it, there was no bar to be found.

We practically fell gasping into the great find that was O Xantar, just on the way into the city and decided to stay for a much needed 9.50 lunch, which  included a simple bean and wild mushrooms dish, the type I had been hoping for, for many kilometres. This turned out to be a great decision as Santiago was super busy with about a million choices and we were way passed that stage!

So we arrived fed and watered, into the Cathedral square. The emotions of fellow walkers and pilgrims was palpable; many people excitedly calling their loved ones and trying to get a good selfie in front of the massive spires.  As Brian put down his trusty stick, an elderly man insisted on taking our photo in front of the cathedral, whilst his wife looked on smiling, holding his walking sticks.

We sat on the ground for some minutes in the afternoon sunshine, looking up at the masterpiece of a cathedral, trying to take everything in. Our emotions were complex; glad to have arrived, but sad that our journey was over.


The morning after finishing our camino, we duly took our stamped “passports” to the Camino office to obtain our completion certificates, replete with our roman names; “Oliviam” and “Brennum”…so it was now official, we had “done” the camino and now joined the leagues of millions, who have completed the various routes over the last millennia.

As is the tradition, we attended the “Pilgrims” Mass at the cathedral (briefly), somewhat overwhelmed by the surroundings and the volume of people after our tranquil life, surrounded by nature, “on the road”.

Unsure of quite what to do next, we crossed the square for a coffee in the rarified atmosphere of the Parador and reflected on our experiences.

Already, we found ourselves missing the rhythm and simplicity of camino life; the peace and quiet away from the demands of “real” life and the unexpected joy of making it to our daily destination (in one piece), all seemed to belong to yesterday.

It is often said that walking the camino changes a person and it is true that we both feel, that somewhere deep inside, something intangible has shifted, but perhaps it is too early to put a finger on what this might be….

We have certainly both decided that we will not limit ourselves by our own self belief (or lack of) in future. We are fitter than we realised and are capable of more than we had ever imagined.

In the absence of any great revelations or resolutions (at this stage), we agreed to return in the not too distant future, to do the Portuguese coastal route as it really was so beautiful.

And then, of course in our customary style, our thoughts turned to lunch…we headed to the fabulous village like market (Plaza de Abastos), where we pushed the boat out for a celebratory meal at A Ostreri

Dining at communal benches in the heart of this fabulous city, famed for its wonderful seafood, seemed a fitting end…

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