The decision to have a few shorter walking days, and the rest day in Burgos has proved to be a great one. Mick takes off like a bullet from Hornillos and I can’t keep up with him for most of the day. I tell him not to wait for me, I know the joy of getting into the zone.
We have now commenced a section of the Camino Frances, between Burgos and Astorga called the Meseta. It is the name for the flat plains in the central plateau of Spain. It is a high, dry plain with an average altitude of 800 meters. It is often spoken of as the most mentally challenging part of the Camino. Largely treeless and windblown, the stark and arid landscape is a potential challenge for the pilgrim.
We awake earlier than anyone else in the hotel and have a nice breakfast at 6:30am sitting in front of a movie poster for ‘The Way’ that was autographed by Martin Sheen. We leave the hotel soon after breakfast walking up the major street of the town with the sun still beneath the horizon to our left throwing fire across the eastern sky.
The Meseta landscape has a completely different feel compared to the regions we have previously walked through. Hilltops are poorly covered in low bushes and grass leaving the white limestone beneath exposed in patches. The crops, especially nitrogen hungry crops such as sunflowers, struggle to grow and look tired and stunted.
Villages are not built on these barren hills but lie hidden in wait in the valleys in between. Now the journeys into towns lie at the end of knee grinding steep descents and the journeys out lead into long gentle uphills rising to the plateaus between.
Everywhere that might catch the wind is occupied by gigantic wind turbines.
We make the edge of Hornillos del Camino and begin the gentle climb to the long plateau. For some these flat lands may seem featureless and empty however both Pam and I find it full of contrast, simultaneously stark and beautiful.
There are many other pilgrims walking with us today. I have woken feeling pain free and strong and for once I am overtaking other people. I keep turning and waiting for Pam who is in the grip of a head cold, she shoo’s me ahead and tells me to keep my own pace.
We descend from the plateau, pass the turnoff to the little village San Bol and move on without pausing. We climb once again to the Meseta flatlands.
Kilometers later we turn a corner and without warning the village Hontanas appears below us. We descend to the town and stop for a coffee and sandwich for Pam. I have decided to stick with fruit while I am walking from now on as eating bread drains the energy level I need to keep walking.
For a short while out of Hontanas we follow bitumen road then turn off to our right towards what looks like a steep rise ahead. At the beginning of the climb we turn left and follow a rough single person wide track along the side of the hill.
We come across the hand-holding French couple. Love must be practical as well as passionate to endure and sensibly they walk single file here, with the lady using poles.
We see them later that day holding hands again. Practical and passionate.
The Camino offers many silent lessons.
Coming down from the side of the hill we turn right and rejoin the bitumen road leading to San Anton. There is no village at San Anton, just an Albergue and the ruins of a medieval monastery, the Convento de San Anton. These ruins are impossible to miss as the road turns sharply right and follows under a stone arch that forms part of the ruined building.
From San Anton the bitumen road heads straight towards the monastery and outskirts of Castrojeriz which lie in the shadows of a bare hill topped by a massive ruined castle.
I cannot keep my early morning pace on the bitumen road which tears up pilgrim’s feet like no other surface and Pam has taken the lead again as we near Castrojeriz. We pass the monastery and stop at a nearby bar where I make the mistake of eating a large ham and cheese sandwich and having a cervesa grande in a glass the proprietor pulls from the ice cream fridge. Both the sandwich and beer are delicious however the after effect is that I do not want to move again and we still have a couple of kilometers to go to make our hotel.
Pam takes me by the ear and drags me away ignoring my protests. We have walked 500 meters by the time I realise I have forgotten my hat. It is not at all to my surprise that no other pilgrim has absconded with my sweaty stinky fashion statement however it is another unnecessary kilometer added to the burden of my tired and burning feet.
By the time we make our hotel Pam is feeling run down with her cold and I am tired and grumpy so other than doing our laundry and imbibing a few ‘medicinals’ we do little other than rest until we eat.
Tomorrow according to our guide book we face the steepest climb of the Camino and we plan to set off early.
Early to bed, early to rise…….yadda yadda yadda……
Pam and Mick