Day 14 – Castrojeriz to Frómista (25.5 km)
Today was the final day of my adventure. In September I had started the summer walk in Frómista, and now, in February, I was ending my winter walk there. As a result I will have completed the Camino Francés from Roncesvalles at the foot of the Pyrenees, right up to Santiago de Compostela. My guidebook tells me that, without detours to places that especially interested me and that were off the regular Camino, the distance is 773 km. Inclusive of deviations, I probably had walked a nominal distance of 800 km.
When I got out of bed in the large dormitory in Castrojeriz that morning it was still dark, but I could see that new snow had fallen during the night and that the landscape was powdered.
My breakfast consisted of cheese, smoked sausage and a French loaf. I found some coffee in the cupboard, so I added the luxury of a hot drink and finished the last biscuits from the previous day. After strapping my boots and shouldering my backpack, I was off to Fromista.
Outside, the wide stone steps leading from the albergue down to the Plaza Mayor were quite high and long, and it was cold. On reaching the bottom I searched for my gloves, only to find that one was missing – as many times before. I climbed the steps once more to the albergue, but the door was now locked – it had one of those locks that allow exit but no entry. During the day a strategically placed sponge prevented the door from closing and locking. I thought ‘here goes another glove’, and I was again very thankful that I had bought the spare pair in Estella. To conclude this saga; I found the glove when I unpacked my backpack in Cape Town!
San Juan was the last church in this narrow town and I said goodbye to Castrojeriz. I followed the path leading to río Odrilla and then further on to Alto Mostelares, about two and a half kilometre ahead. My guidebook describes the climb up to the Alto Mostelares as steep but by now I was fit enough and did not feel any strain.
Another Roman road brought me over the river, which in this part is more like a wide marshland with rivulets rather than a consolidated riverbed. Consequently the bridge that spans this traverse is low, perhaps less than two metres above water level, but very long and has many small arches. It is more a causeway than a bridge.
Alto Mostelares, about 2.5 km ahead.
As I ascended Alto Mostelares, the view back to the east displayed the mountain with the castle and a portion of the village Castrojeriz with its church spires and uneven old rooftops at the lower slopes of the mountain. The valley beyond consisted of fields and green pastures and the sun was just appearing in the east. After having missed the sun and it’s warmth during the last few days it was an inspiring sight for me, although there was no warmth. Even the sun looked cold and uninviting – no wonder Stickman was nowhere to be seen in this winter weather. It was probably high time to get home, not only for a warmer sun, but more so to see my wife and the family.
Even the sun looked cold.
Although the view back to Castrojeriz was stimulating, my elation about seeing the sun did not last. Long before I reached the top of the plateau, the customary grey clouds had gathered around it. Only a lighter spot marked the position where the sun had been visible just a short while earlier.
As I reached the top of Alto I saw, not too far in the distance, a figure that looked like a cyclist holding a bicycle. Both appeared bluish in colour and I could not distinguish whether I saw a statue or a real person. While walking I had to watch my steps, so I did not keep my eyes on the cyclist, but when I looked again he was not to be seen anywhere. He had vanished, disappeared from the face of the earth. There were no trees or bushes to obstruct the view on this flat plateau but cyclist and cycle were nowhere to be seen. I marched on and when reaching the western escarpment of the plateau I could see into the valley below, but there was no cyclist either. I could not have missed him (or her) as the path to the west gave an uninterrupted view. I was truly puzzled and could not understand how something I had seen so clearly could totally disappear.
There are advantages when it is really cold, as it was on this day. The road further on in the valley was used by farmers with their tractors. It was rutted in places, however, with the ground being frozen, walking was much easier. There was no build-up of clay underfoot, although walking over the rutted ridges had its own challenges.
Just before reaching Itero de la Vega we passed the Ermita de San Nicolás, a 13th century building with a beautifully arched entrance portal but without windows or any other openings. It housed one of a few very special albergues on the Camino ‒ without electricity, just candlelight and cold showers – but then, how else does one stay in a hermitage? I imagined it to have a special atmosphere and that sleeping there would be a night to remember, but when attempting to open the door, it was locked, so I was denied its vibes.
Shortly after passing the hermitage I crossed the río Pisuerga, which demarcates the boundary between the provinces of Burgos and Palencia. The Romanesque bridge over the river with its 11 arches – starting small, and then becoming larger and smaller again on the other side – was a wonderful sight and I spent some time admiring it before continuing to Itero de la Vega. Coffee, scones and a Skype call home refreshed me and renewed my energy for the last push. It led over the 18th century irrigation canal de Pisuerga, through Boadilla del Camino to the Canal de Castilla, which was, like the canal de Pisuerga, also built in the 18th century and was used mainly to ship farm produce through the provinces. Its waters drove the many mills that ground the corn which grew here in abundance.
On entering Frómista I reached the most eastern point from where I had started my September walk; it was now the most western point of my winter walk. This meant that I had completed my Camino Francés pilgrimage through its entire length in Spain.
Certainly for the purpose of socializing, the summer walk is to be preferred. In September the days are longer and the climate allows for a more relaxed journey, with the possibility of a snooze at midday to restore energy levels and enjoy the carefree existence with hardly any restrictive social rules and no obligations to work or family.
But then, can one beat a most magical white landscape with trees and bushes laden with snow?
It was a wonderful and unforgettable adventure and I was blessed to have had the opportunity to experience the Camino both in summer and in winter.
Thank you and Buen Camino