The following morning, after leaving Santo Domingo, there was thick snow everywhere and the landscape again resembled a fairyland. Some confusion, caused by barrier tapes left in place from previous road construction, had forced us pilgrims to walk an extra three kilometres through a wonderful, quiet and undulating countryside until we reached Grañón.
3 km detour through a wonderful countryside
This is one of the many attractive towns on the Camino with an interesting church dominating the village square. On the side of the church of San Juan Bautista I found the entrance to an albergue which looked inviting. I entered, and what a surprise: the albergue was built into the roof of the church above the right isle, and a blocked-up Gothic window frame, which must have previously been a connection to the nave, was still visible in the wall of the very cozy communal lounge. The friendly hospitaleros offered coffee and biscuits and he then took me into the octagonal church tower, where six bells were hanging in their open arches.
We admired the view, the white rooftops sloping in all directions and the snowed-in countryside beyond. However, after a while my host got restless and wanted to restrict my time in the belfry – almost chasing me out. But I could not take my eyes off the scene and was still dawdling while he had already reached the bottom of the steps. Suddenly the large bell, almost directly above me, rang out. I must have broken the speed record in descending the snow-covered and very steep steps and the hostelleria, seeing this, burst out laughing. It was a spectacle that made his day and I felt rather foolish.
Prior to the spectacle.
When we returned to the lounge Noelia had arrived and warmed herself near the log fire. We discussed the three kilometre detour imposed on us, but agreed that the rolling landscape we had crossed, rather than the uninspiring path adjacent to the tar road, amply made up for the extra distance. We exchanged plans for the day and I was on my way again.
Past midday I reached Viloria de la Rioja, a small village with a Romanesque/Gothic/Baroque church, and the birthplace of Santo Domingo. I tried to fill my water bottle at the central fountain, however, the pipes were frozen solid and did not even offer a splutter. A rather distinguished-looking woman and her daughter came to my rescue and provided water from their kitchen tap. The good lady also mentioned that it would be worth my while visiting the church and pointed out the chaplain amongst a group of people walking down the main road. After my gesticulated request the chaplain was kind enough to return and unlock the church, ‒ just for me.
The interior was delightfully simple and a statue of the pilgrim St James stood in a prominent position next to the altar. The christening font, in which Santo Domingo had most likely been baptized, was located behind a gate, adjacent to the nave. I felt quite humbled in this little place that had produced such a strong and dedicated member of humanity. What also impressed me, and is still vivid in my memory, is the enormous key that unlocked the church door. The beard of the key had a very distinct but elaborately shaped figure-3 which was about 3 cm in height. Even the shaft and grip were impressive: it was hardly a key to hide in one’s pocket. Further on the way, when walking through Vilamayor del Río, I noticed an extra-long trailer parked further down on the main road. It carried a load of three blades for use on windmill turbines, the ones that are so common and dominant on mountain ridges all over Spain and provide about twenty percent of electricity in this country. The Spaniards are certainly on the right track. The three blades were absolutely massive; my guess is that each was over thirty meters long and had a base diameter of about two meters. When we see them in action in the countryside they appear deceivingly small in comparison.