“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey the matters in the end” Ernest Hemingway
Walking one step after another and crossing the vast and seemingly endless open plains of Cuesta de Matamulos also known as the Meseta, the city landscape of Burgos has passed and the powers of materialism are nowhere in sight. One sees the working sheep dog and the shepherd herding sheep in the open plains and the occasional fellow pilgrim.
Many miles of hot dusty open earth path with very few fountains grace the external landscape of endless crop fields as one passes through a number of small villages, some in semi ruin being revived to their past beauty, and a tiny hamlet nestled in an unseen valley, until you are upon it. There is little to occupy the passing pilgrims, other than the priceless peace and quiet that is all around.
Stopping overnight and time to spend an afternoon roaming the lanes and enjoying the historical sites and semi ruin village of Castrojeriz, an historic fortified town with Roman and Visigothic remains. Castrojeriz was once a major stopping point on the medieval camino housing no less than eight pilgrim hospitals.
I have become very comfortable and appreciating the experience of my days unfolding with minimal knowing of what the day brings.
Magical moments are plentiful.
A restful and relaxing night brings solace and comfort before walking the 3.5 km stretch and strenuous 900 metre morning climb, after leaving Castrojeriz. Taking in the expansive outer landscape at the top of Alto de Mostelares as the sun is rising.
While sighting a lone pilgrim walking ahead; before I begin to walk down the steep descent that opens to the Meseta. There is little shade from the sun and no fountains for the next 5 kms, as I cross the Meseta.
Frómista is somewhere in the distance.
Before stopping for the day, a much welcome change in scenery presented along the tree lined Rio Pisuegra, marking the crossing from Burgos to Palencia province. Starting in Boadilla del Camino, ‘the way’ follows a flat earth path along the Canal de Castilla.
Construction of the canal began in the mid-1750s, taking close to fifty years to complete and is one of Spain’s few canals. Built to distribute excess grain. Today the water is used to irrigate the fields and provide recreation for a lone fisherman out enjoying an early afternoon.
More expansive open fields present as you cross Tierra de Campos, before approaching the outskirts of Frómista.
The outer lying village of Frómista is just beyond the Canal de Castilla and a system of lock gates, know as Esclusa.
Arriving during siesta and finding my choice of accommodation to be fully booked. My gracious host advised they had an injured pilgrim who needed to extend their stay. But, she could offer alternative accommodation a short walk away. Home for the night… a two bedroom house, complete with a fully equipped kitchen, T.V, bath, private courtyard and of cause a bed. I am forever grateful for the kindness of strangers.
Rural village life… my heart is full!
I am aware of a change in the inner landscape. What am I being shown? For now, I need the basics and I indulge in a long hot bath before preparing to head out and explore the village and find some nourishing food.
As I settle into the comforts of a home, I heard an unfamiliar sound outside. Stepping out into the rear of the host home, I see a shepherd and his dog followed by his flock of sheep passing through a back lane.
A rapid decline has seen the village of Frómista’s population dwindle to less than 900 inhabitants. Having walked through the vast open plains of wheat, I learn that the village’s name was derived from the Latin word for cereal frumentum, as the area had provided copious supplies of wheat during the period of Roman occupation.
Once an important stopping point along ‘the way’, with several pilgrim hospitals during medieval times. Whilst little remains of it’s former importance, the simple design yet beautifully restored Romanesque soft mellow shade stone of Iglesia de San Martin, once part of a Benedictine convent that was consecrated in 1066, stands proudly in the centre of the village.
As you walk ‘the way’, you continue to re-connect with other pilgrims. That night I enjoyed an evening meal and shared experiences with a couple from South Africa who I had dined with on previous occasions. They had told me about a transfer service provider – ‘Jacotrans’, who provided backpack transfers, for a small fee. Using this service meant you had to book the following night’s accommodation, which also guaranteed a bed and connection with the local host.
When checking out the following morning, I asked my gracious host; where, what and how do I use this service? …I started that day. It’s always interesting and insightful what presents and comes to mind. Writing my journal that evening, I found a beautiful quote that resonated with my experience that morning.
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve” – Albert Schweitzer.
I sensed my humble experience with the lovely host was a message.
Leaving Frómista soon after dawn with only a small pack and a lighter load, I found – that I walked alone in quiet reflection, acknowledging and honouring those who had passed long before me. To others who spoke in another language and other cultures, yet together we found understanding. There is much to be grateful for.
Walking the original path from Población de Campos to Villovieco and passing a field of sunflowers yet to fully rise and meet the Suns gaze. I also meet Pepe waiting at the bridge crossing of Río Ucieza on the outskirts of Villovieco. Pepe is a local villager who gifts a lolly and writes a message in each pilgrim’s passport, thanking them for taking the original path.
Further on I arrive in Villacázar de Sirga, a town that has been welcoming pilgrims since the 12th century, when it became a commandery of the Knights Templar.
Stopping for a short while to appreciate time to be and admire the stronghold Templar Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca – Santa Maria la Blanca XIII Templar church.
I had arrived during siesta and unfortunately was closed.
Continuing onto Carrión de los Condes approx. 5 km walk along the senda that runs parallel to the main road.
My accommodation host in Frómista recommended the Hostal le Corte, in the historic centre of town. The host was awaiting my arrival and my backpack was in the room waiting for me. My balcony room facing the 12th century Romanesque Iglesia de Santa María del Camino (Church of Santa María del Camino). Renovation during the 16th century brought a Baroque style. Of particular note is the highly ornate façade, around and above the heavy wooden entrance door.
A notable medieval town named after Alonso Carreño who adopted the name Carrión, having conquered the Moors in the early 9th century. The town has been witness to a tumultuous past with countless battles, conquests, re-conquests, shameful violations, betrayals and even shame killings.
Whilst wandering the town and learning its past, I found an interesting curio shop that sold traditional pilgrims’ coats, made and sold locally in the town. €180, a great find.
Leaving behind the relative un-intrusive quiet of modern day Carrión I cross the peaceful slow moving Río Carrión the next morning, that gives a sense of the town’s former richness.
The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Belén – Church of Our Lady of Bethlehem, a temple of Catholic worship that dates back to various construction periods between the 16-17th centuries prominently stands overlooking the town from the top of the river bank. Passing the 10th century Monasterio de Santa Clara, that had retained its prominence in the town until the 14th century and the façade of the Monasterio de San Zoilo.
The outer landscape then opens to rural simplicity with expansive plains of wheat fields and the soul connecting earth path with no shade and no fountains.
One foot following the other for close on 18km… and a heart open wide. I reached the typical pilgrim village of Caldadilla de la Cueza, where the main street through the village forms ‘the way’ and overnight accommodation at the Hostal Camino Real, a three storey building out in the middle of the open plans: that housed a ‘very’ flash modern lift.
A lazy afternoon; there is little to see or do other than rest.
The following days walk to Sahagún along the senda runs parallel with the busy national road. A 15 km walk became a 15 min taxi ride, bypassing the small towns and villages of Ledigos; Terradillos de los Templarios, once a former strong hold of the Knights Templar. I had read that no structures, nor buildings remain of the once noble Order. The taxi then bypassed two other smaller villages, Moratinos and San Nicolás del Real Camino, before arriving mid morning in the historic town of Sahagún, and more time to wander and explore at a leisurely pace.
The streets of Sahagún are quiet and my first view of this once great ecclesiastical town was the stately 19th century clock tower.
I soon learn that the clock tower forms part of the ruins, of an important monastery during the Middle Ages. The Benedictine Monasterio Real de San Benito – Royal Monastery of San Benito, dedicated to Saints Facundud and Primitivus.
Founded in 1099 with further work completed during the early 13th century, little remains of this once enormous monastery. Much of the original structures were destroyed by wars, unrest and a series of fires.
Whilst the greatness of the clock tower, the Arch of San Benito and the chapel of San Mancio is all that is still standing, a gruesome account of the two honoured saints who were venerated as Christian martyrs left little to the imagination. Both were tortured before being beheaded on the banks of the Río Cea that runs a short distance from the monastery’s location.
Sahagún is also noteworthy for having some of the earliest examples of Mudéjar style of architecture; referring to the Muslims who stayed in Christian territory after the reconquest but didn’t convert to Christianity. The Mudéjar architecture was a result of the symbiosis of both Christian and Muslim cultures.
The chapel of San Mancio forming part of the monastery site, provides a wonderful example of Mudéjar architecture: using brick as the main material. The monastery has a long association with ‘the way’, and was once a University during the 14th century. The site now stands as a National Monument.
The 17th century arch now one of the town’s main thoroughfares, was once the front façade of the San Benito Monastery and proudly displays two prestigious crowned lions and coat of arms.
As I roam the streets of Sahagún evidence of its past importance is shown in the various buildings whilst their proud heritage with the camino is shown in many and varied monuments and street lamps.
An early afternoon lunch and then time watching the afternoon go by in Plaza Major; there is still much to see and learn in this town. Checking the guide book I find that the next three days walking is along the senda. The slower pace of life and golden sound of silence has been welcomed and greatly appreciated, so I make the decision to stay another night and then travel by train to León and stay two nights.
Walking through town to the train station, I passed a very interesting curio shop; no business hours shown on the door. Grateful, I have another day. I’ll be back tomorrow.
Train ticket sorted and I decided to walk back through the town along the original path of ‘the way’, before continuing west to the outskirts of the town.
Passing a crucerio then crossing the historic Roman stone bridge, reconstructed during the 11th and 16th centuries over the Río Cea, before returning back into the town to see the sun setting behind the clock tower.
Sitting for a while to witness the early evening sky scattered with light grey clouds mixed with the suns rays to create a soft pastel orange light.
It’s quiet… Silence is golden.
The darkness of night is met with gladness, for at the end of the day I knew the comfort of resting and rejuvenating my body was enough.
A relaxing start … it’s a new day!
… and again the streets are quiet as I retrace my steps back along ‘the way’ through the historic centre of Sahagún past a mix of old and new buildings, back to the curio shop.
Passing the distinctive 12th century tower of Iglesia de San Tirso – San Tirso, the first church constructed entirely in the Mudéjar style of architecture and is the most symbolic building of this style in Spain.
Additional alterations were completed during the 16th and 18th centuries.
The red brick tower, columns and arches were reconstructed in 1945 after collapsing.
Behind San Tirso, stands the clock tower and the rest of the Monasterio Real de San Benito which does not belong to the Church of San Tirso.
Walking along Calle del Arco and past the 12th – 13th centuries Iglesia de San Lorenzo – Parish church of San Lorenzo.
Unlike San Tirso built entirely of brick, San Lorenzo is a mix structure consisting of Romanesque, Gothic and Mudéjar styles. Next to the church stands the Capilla de Jesús – Chapel of Jesus.
I continue along Calle del Arco to Iglesia de la Trinidad – Church of la Trinidad, built during the 13th and 16th-17th centuries. The church is no longer a place of worship. The building is now a helpful tourist office, the Carmelo Gomez Cultural Centre and the Albergue de Pregrinos. While the buildings roof is home to a number of stocks.
The curio shop was again closed, however when I tried asking a local – when does the shop open, the hand guested reply was to ‘push the buzzer’ near the door. Nearly two hours passed spending time talking with the local store owner, learning first hand knowledge and history of the towns past. The store owner had everything tucked away somewhere in every corner of his store; from original pistols, first style cigarette lighters and old matches boxes, replica furniture and even a beautifully restored vintage car. In a hopeful manner, I asked if by chance did he have any original Spanish Pesetas? He has everything! What a find, and… an amazing man to share an interesting conversation. For me this experience was well worth staying an extra night.
A detour to the towns once infamous bull ring (closed), that was inaugurated in 1909 in honour of the town’s patron Saint San Juan de Sahagún, before walking back to the old town. The bull ring is now a symbolic place for holiday dates.
Taking a turn down Av. De la Constitucion I passed an interesting art mural showing how far I have come… and how far I am yet to go before reaching the fabled city of Santiago.
I am again filled with wonder as to what awaits and deeply grateful to those who have crossed my path and shared the journey thus far.
When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. And as you see them you will see yourself. A Course in Miracles.
The 16th century Neo-classical style Church of San Juan de Sahagún, dedicated to the towns patron Saint.
Its been an enriching and rewarding day and I am thankful a choice of local cafes are still open during the late afternoon in Plaza Major. An early dinner of local Sahagún jamon (a mix of cured beef and Iberian ham), served with bread and fresh tomato puree, along with a glass or two of tinto vino. Followed by a delightful serving of fresh berries and cream.
A relaxing evening is needed as the stirring of the inner landscape is blended with reflective moments… and seeing yourself in others. Seeing a more simple life, seeing the magic connecting with others.
Tomorrow… exploring more of the outer landscape in the majestic and vibrant historic city and capital of the Province of León.