Fat, unfit and fifty on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino francés

Leon to Astorga: across the Paramo

Saturday June 3 - Thursday June 5

Leon - La Virgen del Camino - Villadangos - Puente Orbigo - Santibañez de Valdeiglesias - Astorga

Monday May 30 Leon - Villadangos

Sello Leon
I´m beginning to lose count of how many installments I´ve sent.

As I am stopping at a hostel with internet access, thought I´d take advantage briefly. It´s curious that in all other respects pilgrims get a special deal, except internet access where the hostels tend to charge twice as much as commercial internet cafes.

Since yesterday´s instalment (which went astray), I left Leon late about 2 pm and only intended walking a short distance and staying in one of the cheap hotels on the outskirts of the city. As it turned out I ended up doing about 20 km to the next albergue, which was really too far after a weekend of inactivity. The Camino crosses the river by the Puente San Marco and you pass from the city to the suburb of Trobajo del Camino, which has little to recomend it, though I did spend a few minutes in the Chapel of Santiago here.

The church of San Isidoro, Leon
After leaving Trobajo you pass through Hobbiton and the local bar has even changed its named to Tierra Media having spotted the similarity of these traditional dwellings, which clearly predate the screening of El Señor de los Anillos in Spain. In fact I saw several of these little enclaves of earth dwellings over the next few kms between here and Villadangos, where I stopped last night. They appear to be dug into the ground which is gravel, sands and pebble beds (which doesn´t seem an ideal geological stratum) and the spoil dug out piled up on top to form a rounded mound like a Bronze Age barrow. In one sectioned by the main road I could see that the entrance corridor was lined with mud bricks but unfortunately there wasn´t a section through the middle of one of these to see what the main dwelling area was like, but most had chimneys poking up through the middle of the mound and some had extensive brick facades, though it was the ones with a simple rounded arched entrance that looked most like hobbit houses. I´m surprised they´re not being promoted as a tourist attraction.

On a more recent trip to Spain I returned to Trobajo to take a closer look and talked to a little old lady, who explained they were used as bodegas for storing wine made by the local families from their vineyards and that fifty years this suburb of Leon had been vineyards. She saw one of the owners arriving and we were invited in to see the inside and given a glass of his wine. They are constructed as a long corridor with recessed store areas to the sides and ending in a larger space where the family could congregate. The one I saw had been renovated with modern bricks, but the old ones were built of mud brick.

Sello La Virgen del Camino
I passed through the town of La Virgen del Camino, where the main feature is the modern church, which houses the statue of La Virgen, who apparently appeared to a priest here c. 1500, who constructed the church in her honour and presumably commissioned the little statue, which dates from shortly after 1500. The church dates from the 1960s and I didn´t expect to like it, but it´s simple lines were quite pleasing and I liked the bronze statues of the apostles on the entrance facade. The little Medieval statue of the Virgin in her fine silk robes was a real contrast as was the huge baroque altar piece rescued from the old church. The Virgin is in fact the patron of Leon and there is an annual procession and important celebration, when the statue is carried to the Cathedral.

Hobbiton (Trobajo del Camino)

La Virgen del Camino

Bodega half-sectioned
by the road en route to Villadangos

I´m not sure why I didn´t stay in La Virgen, but I suppose athough it was sunny there was a breeze and it wasn´t too hot, so I decided to go on. It was too far really in spite of the array of brightly coloured flowers to encourage me. Apart from the yellow broom, there are lots of bright purple - magenta flowers, which includes the lavender over here. I feel it vindicates me painting the hall and stairs of my house out here magenta (even if by accident!) as it seems to be the colour of the area. Flowers that are pale blue or mauve or delicate pink in England are all larger and brighter over here.

Well I made it to the hostel in Villadangos and virtually went straight to bed as by the time I had showered it was 9 pm. There was the battle of the open window again - having deliberately selected a bed away from everyone else by a window, a Spanish woman came and closed it when she thought I had fallen asleep, but I wasn´t so when everyone started snoring I opened it again - and they all appeared to survive the night without ill effect!


Tuesday May 31 Villadangos to Puente Orbigo

Sello Villadangos
Today I have walked only aboaut 12 km. My feet were quite tired after yesterday, with a different set of blisters, so I thought it more sensible to stop here where there were decent facilities rather than force myself on to the next hostel, where there wasn´t even a bar for a coffee any more. So I have had a lazy afternoon in Puente/Hospital de Orbigo. The walk today was across El Paramo, an area of really flat land like the Fens or the Somerset Levels criss-crossed with dykes. Although the soil is the usual gravel sands and clays, with no sign of peat formation I gather that the area was originally a marshland and so the dykes were presumably for drainage, though today they are used for irrigation for tobacco, sugar beet and vegetables and little of the original permanent pasture survives.

Going through one of the villages today I noticed the traditional building material was adobe mixed with alot of pebbles. You could see the joins as the walls were constructed a bit at a time with the holes for floor or roof timbers projecting through. Sometimes later repairs or windows were filled in with mud brick. (Did I mention the mud brick fabric in Castrojeriz - full of potsherds - Lisa would have had no difficulty dating it - probably late 19-20th century I suspect). Anyway back to the adobe walls - most on view were being left to erode away (one interesting example of decay with the mud washing down and building up as wedges either side of the stone cobble foundations - the sort of thing archaeology students should be observing over here). I presume that the adobe should be plastered to protect it from weathering and there was one grandiose example with an immitation stone facade with Ionic style pilasters at either side - all moulded in adobe and then painted. There was a very timely article in today´s newspaper (in an extensive supplement on Construccion) about local arquitectura de barro - doesn't sound as good in English - ´mud architecture´ and a couple of articles about extensive excavations in Leon, which the hostel has given me permission to tear out tonight and take with me.

Sello Hospital de Orbigo

A French statue of St Antony (not the one at Puente Orbigo)
Here at Hosital de Orbigo I have had plenty of time to admire the long Roman bridge which crosses the river Orbigo and its adjacent flood plain, but it´s hard to judge just which bits are Roman and how much later medieval additions/repairs. After a leisurely lunch in a shaded patio (the days where you arrive early and can lounge around for much of the day feel like a very relaxed holiday), I heard the sounds of the organ coming from the church which was now open, so went in to find the choir starting a practice, so sat and listened to them being berated by the organist/choirmaster for almost an hour whilst perusing all the baroque altar pieces. The first piece they rehearsed they repeated the first couple of bars over and over but there was a phrase of a few notes that I kept wanting to break into Judas Maccabaeus and sure enough when they moved on they did precisely that (the tune we sing 'Thine be the Glory' to in church in England). They spent quite a lot of time on this (probably a special anthem for next Sunday) and I sang along quietly with them (I don´t think they noticed) and then they move onto the Kyrie, then an Alleluia (which we sang at a church music day I went to in England), then the Sanctus, an Ave Maria and they were still going when I finally left. There was an interesting statue in the church, which looked more Medieval, rather than later in date, of a priest/saint with two pigs at his feet. I couldn´t find out who it was - has anyone any ideas?

(My friend Mel emailed me back and after quizzing her mother, suggested it might be the hermit St Antony, who is associated with the sick.)

Well tomorrow I expect to reach Astorga and then it will be up over the Montes de Leon to Ponferrada, which will probably be the next internet stop.

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