Walking in Spain along the Camino Ignaciano from Loyola to Manresa, and the Camino de Invierno from Ponferrada to Santiago de Compostela

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Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Camino Invierno.

I left Ponferrada late on Thursday morning.  Late, because I had to do some shopping.  I was only two days away from Galicia, and this is a province famous, among other things, for the volume of rain that falls.  My shopping was for a special poncho "just in case" - added protection in addition to my raincoat.  I walked all around the city searching, and in the fourth store had success.  Now I can face all weathers!
I had just got off the train and was headed for my hostal - giving the albergue a miss as I needed to sort all my gear at leisure.
Ponferrada is famous for its Templar castle.

It was easy leaving Ponferrada, following the signs, though one man stopped me to make sure I was going on the right path.  I am on a "road less traveled" as the Camino Invierno heads south briefly before turning and heading to Santiago more or less parallel to the much busier, and known, Camino Frances.
I only followed these mojóns for two days.....
..... as now that I'm in Galicia these are what I follow.

My first night was spent in a lovely little village called Borrenes.  I stayed in a very spacious Casa Rural and crossed the road to the bar for dinner, which my hostess also runs.  The next morning it was her husband who served me breakfast, telling me that the following morning he was walking on the same route as me.  He got me to sign a special pilgrim register which had started in June this year.  I was pilgrim number 232 who had stayed there since then.  After taking my photo he waved me off - only to greet me the next morning at breakfast!  He was one of about 30 Amigos walking about 30 kms together that day.  They departed before me and were going a lot further, so I didn't see them after that.

It has been a lovely few days looking out over panoramic vistas dotted with yellow, and  occasionally red, autumn leaves.  I have at times been walking on carpets of golden leaves.  There has been plenty of places to rest too, as the Xunta has provided, at the most scenic spots, a picnic area with tables and benches.
The path soon after leaving Ponferrada.
Autumn leaves, approaching A Rûa de Valdeorras....
......and the night before along the river park in O Barco de Valdeorras.
A "prickly pear" crop on the approach to O Barco de Valdeorras.

The first day of walking I had a steepish climb, one I had intended to avoid, but, due to a momentary lapse in concentration, was over half way up when the Penny dropped and so it was just as easy to continue.  If I hadn't lost my concentration and climbed the hill on that first day out, I would have seen none of this.
I thought this old cart was no longer in use, but then I saw the tyres.  It looks to me as if it is ready to use.
The rock fall (bottom right) has made this rock face appear like a giant slippery dip.  Just around the corner I met a young Swiss chap.  He was camping, and had been very sick the night before.  He was very nervous because he could hear boar all night and knew he was too weak to run in the event of an attack.  I haven't heard them, but have seen diggings.
 The village of  Villavieja was, in medieval Times the service village for the serfs who worked at the Castillo de Cornatel.
 The Templar Castillo de Cornatel (above & below) on its craggy outcrop.

Two Señora's who quizzed me, and cheered me, as I entered the village of Borrenes.

Accommodation has been interesting on this leg, decreasing in price with each night!  My most expensive night was the first one at €40, then the next night the owner made me cancel my €45 booking so that he could give me my own pilgrim room at €34, then last night I had a room in a pension for €25, and tonight it is €18.  I suspect that is as low as it will get unless I happen to chance on a pilgrim albergue.

The second day, was relatively easy, but quite fascinating.  I had no idea about the history of this region, nor of the formations that kept drawing my eye.  This was Las Médulas - huge red formations thrusting up from the surrounding green.  Tourists flock here, and even though the season has finished there was still a steady stream.
Las Médulas
A view from the village itself
This whole area was mined (Gold) by the Romans.  There are piles of rocks all around the place, and a bit further on I could see a hillside glistening in the afternoon sun.  This wasn't old piles of rock though - it was new works and I think it was slate - the whole hillside.
Looking back at Las Médulas - I couldn't help but keep turning back to admire the view!

I am now in A Rûa de Valdeorras, a small town on the River Sil.  For the past few days I have been following this River, walking past colourful vineyards and through ancient villages.  I have also been walking past a number of slate factories, one today having box upon box of slate tiles wrapped and stacked around its yard.  Piles of broken slate are a common sight too.

Bee keeping is a traditional industry in this area and has been for many centuries.

For days I have been walking past laden chestnut trees.  The "furry" casings surrounding the nuts make a carpet on the ground, sometimes empty if someone has harvested them, otherwise the nuts scatter across the ground too.  I have passed men harvesting the crop, on hands and knees, as they fill plastic bags with the precious crop.  The trees are sometimes planted as if in an orchard, and at other times I come across them in the middle of the scrub, thick bush all around, except for the area surrounding the tree, the ground having been carefully raked.  The size of the trunks of some of these trees is huge, and of course there is a corresponding age to them - one man told me they were "many years old".  Sometimes I have seen people heading out to harvest them.  The other day "mama and papa" were returning on a little tractor doing about 5 kms an hour.  He steered, and she clung on at the back clutching a bucket and a stick of about 3 - 4 metres in length, presumably used to reach the highest fruit.
The guard rail in the corner should help you see the size of this tree - not the biggest I saw either.
A chestnut tree in the scrub, VERY thick, except for the patch surrounding the tree.
Mama & papa returning from the morning harvest.

I trust you find this as interest as I have.  This is truly a beautiful way, and I suspect that the Caminioites out there who haven't though about this way, just might give it some consideration.  You could do worse.  Until next time......


  1. So Janet, I have previously read accounts of people on this way and it seemed like it was easy to get lost. But have they improved the signage etc in recent times?

  2. I have been expecting to lose the waymarks everyday, but so far they have been there in abundance. Of course it is still early days so we will see.