“Come here”, she said, “I’ll give you, Shelter from the Storm”…Bob Dylan.

Day 12- Sobrado to Arzua- 22km

Arriving in Arzúa, we have joined the Camino Frances for the last two days into Santiago. I was here with my “Frances family” in 2014 staying in the Albergue Don Quixote at the start of town. I remember it being such a hot day and we settled on one of the first Albergues on the way in to town. Today the approach was from the North, landing us half way along the very long main road in town. So I missed passing The Don and instead Michael and I opted for the two star luxury of the Pensión Begoña near the main Plaza.

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The weather in the past twenty-four hours would put Melbourne’s reputation to shame. As we were packing last night, we looked out the window to witness thick snowflakes falling onto the road. The temperature plumetted from eight degrees to freezing in a matter of hours. Overnight the snow turned into drizzling rain. By dawn it was a patchy blue sky that greeted us on our walk to the cafe for breakfast.

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Hard to see the fluffy white stuff.

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The sun just coming up behind the Sobrado Monasterio.

Today we walked through so many rain showers followed by brilliant sunshine, that I lost count of the amount of times Michael changed in and out of his wet weather gear. Easily six or seven times I would walk past him in a state of undress. We saw glimpses of snow patches on fields not too far from us. Otherwise the wet road  kept our feet in a permanent state of cold dampness through to sloggy slushiness but still we soldiered on.

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Passing snow on our way out of Sobrado.

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A shower to come.

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Just keep walking.

We knew we were at the back of the pack when leaving Sobrado, having guessed that there were around twenty- five pilgrims in the vicinity. However I think they all must have walked along the more direct main road to expedite as little time as possible in the annoying conditions. We faithfully stuck by the Camino shells and saw no one until the last hill into Arzúa. Three Spanish boys, one with a pronounced limp, were staggering (and singing) their way up the road. They said that they had walked one hundred kilometres in the last four days and were planning to push on for another fifteen kilometres.  We later saw them hooking up with a couple of the Catholic college girls presumably being directed down to their Albergue. Fun times ahead for them.

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Tiring times for the oldies.

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River deep Mountain high…Tina Turner.

Day 11- Miraz to Sobrado dos Monxes- 25.5km

Today we reached the highest point on the Camino del Norte. Unfortunately there isn’t a climactic pinnacle or spectacular monument to mark the occasional but the knowledge that we have walked from sea level to 710m was a Nestlé chocolate moment for us.

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Give yourself a chocolate whilst admiring this view.

The day started with all nine of us enjoying an English breakfast at the Albergue in Muriz. The group of six  Catholic college girls (aged between 20 – 25) were first to leave. It was their second day and they were keen for adventure.  The French student who had wondered into the Albergue late yesterday afternoon, left before us but spent some time in the church before proceeding on his way. He eventually passed us around five kilometres later. Even though I had nicknamed him Jesus, due to his beard, sandals and long staff, he told us that his name was Xavier and he had started his pilgrimage in Paris, two and a half months ago. He had left his studies to walk this religious pilgrimage with hardly no money and very little belongings. I asked him what he would do after arriving in Santiago de Compostella, as at his pace he would surely get there in two days. He said that he will continue down to Fatima in Portugal, a distance of around 420km, and then he didn’t know where after that. He had a sadness in his eyes that I hope will be lifted as he redeems his soul to the saints.

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Xavier.

The Way was again marred by mud for the first 4km but after this, we mostly walked on road base. We have since found out that there is serious flooding in Galicia between us and A Coruna, just 80km away. Television footage shows people being rescued from their houses in motorboats and water up to the rooftops of cars. No wonder it is so soggy underfoot.

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The heavy mist at the top of the mountain almost froze Michael to his sticks!

Enough doom and gloom.

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A glimpse of the morning sun.

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..and there's a bit of blue sky beside the brambles.

We made it into Sobrado by 2.15pm and  are staying in the 28 bed private Albergue Lecer with the three Spanish boys we met yesterday. The girls are staying in the 120 bed Albergue de Perigrinos in the Monasterio de Santa Marìa de Sobrado. This magnificent building, founded in 952, dominates the town and has a stunning Baroque facade. Unfortunately no wifi, so Lecer won for me. We have filled up on our Menu de Perigrinos- three courses for nine euros each, and are rugged up against the plummeting temperature- currently hovering around six degrees celsius. I hope there is heating for the girls.

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Raindrops keep falling on my head…Burt Bacharach.

Day 10- Vilalba to Baamonde  (bus)
Baamonde to Miraz- 14.6km

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We woke to rain. Galicia is a green region for a reason. It rains most of the time here, although oddly, they have water restrictions. A decision needed to be made- walk 20km to Baamonde (and still be a day behind schedule); walk 35km to Miraz (and be on schedule); or catch a bus to Baamonde, then walk to Miraz. It was time for an easy day.

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It was 10.30am before we were ejected from the bus into the rain at Baamonde, the disputed 100km mark on the Norte. This is the minimum amount of kilometres that pilgrims need to walk to gather their Compostella in Santiago.  We had hoped to see a few more walkers from here. By the first five kilometres, we were passed by a trio of Spanish men (who had started from Navia, about 140km back). We also met a group of six Catholic college girls (from Peru, Mexico and Spain) staying at the Albergue de Perigrinos here in Miraz, who started today at Baamonde.

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The Spanish trio ready to pass us.

The walk took us four hours to complete as the rain made the conditions tough. Some of the paths were barely passable due to the quagmire of mud and silage to traverse. We did pass a 14th century church, the Chapel of San Alberte, that looked heavenly in these atmospheric conditions. A few of the very small villages could have easily made it on the Hobbit- town movie lot.

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The 14th century Chapel of San Alberte.

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Michael wanting another pair of shoes.

Miraz was a place that was on our wish list. Our guidebook had said that the Albergue is run by volunteers from the British Confraternity of St James. English speaking hospitaleros. What a joy to be understood. Ted and Avril are a retired couple from the Midlands who donate a few weeks a year to run this donativo Albergue. They are a lovely couple who have made us, and the six college girls, very welcoming. They are into their eighth year of volunteering and the stories they tell of past pilgrims, could easily fill a book. Four thousand passed through their door last year.

So as the rain eases, and our clothes dry by the fire, it is time to walk up to the town for a bite before bed. Buenos noches everybody.

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At the 92km marker.

When the going gets tough…Billy Ocean

Day 9- Mondoñedo to Vilalba- 36km.

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A friendly reminder of things to come.

Let me just clarify, I am in no way what you would call a masochist, but today was another tough day. However please try and stick to the end of this post as it gets a whole lot better.

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Beautiful spot but a bit chilly.

We knew that we would need a lot of coffee and carbs to get us up the first eleven kilometre climb, so we had done some reconnaissance work the day before and found the El Perigrino Bar just around the corner.  The bar owner opens early for the pilgrims, and in this case, it was just us two and a few crusty locals waiting outside the door at 7.45am. Fuelled up, we headed up, up, and up the range, only stopping four hours later in Gontàn. The predicted weather was for rain. Even the locals in the bar thought that we would get drenched. However, even though the road was wet, the rain stayed away and eventually we saw a little sunshine.

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The only way is up, baby!

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Our kindly bar keeper.

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On the first turn, looking down at Mondoñedo.

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An impressive arrangement of wood.

By the time we reached the summit, a familiar foe awaited us. The Galician wind that was flying over the roof of the passing forest, met us face first at the top of the climb and continued to be a driving deterrent for the rest of the day. As such, my face is the colour of a tomato as I, again, couldn’t walk five paces without losing my hat.

At Gontàn we made the decision to push on and try to make it Vilalba, twenty kilometres further along. The guidebook said that (time)” passes quickly as the camino meanders easily along rural roads through forested paths and farming villages”. The forested paths were still wet and muddy, slowing us down, and when we were out in the open, the wind would drive us nearly backwards. We eventually got into Vilalba at 5.45pm, (this is were it improves), and headed straight for the Parador.

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A beautiful forested path.

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..with this just a short time later.

We have lashed out and shouted ourselves to a night of luxury in the Parador de Vilalba, which has a fifteenth century medieval tower attached to its annex. Feeling more human after our hour long soaking in the bathtub, we are now heading into the Tower for dinner. 
Life is good at the top.

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Taken from our bedroom window.

Oh Holy Night…

Day 8- Ribadeo to Mondoñedo- 36km.

Happy Easter to all.

Unbeknown to us, we must be getting fitter, as we smashed out another long day. Spain converted to daylight savings time overnight, so we were out the door at our usual early starting time, anywhere after seven am, however the sun still had another ninety minutes to show itself. So we walked by moonlight for a while as we started heading inland and up into the mountains. 

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As cold as it was, Michael still wore his shorts but kept his jumper on all day.

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Hello shadows.

The temperature was hovering around nine degrees celsius but those pesky Galician winds still had the intensity to blow you all over the path and freeze you to the core. Luckily the steady climb kept the sweat factor up and it was only when you stopped that you’d freeze. Ergo- don’t stop. In fact we walked solidly for five and a half hours before we got to our first open bar at San Xusto at the twenty-three kilometre mark.

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A celebratory selfie as we made it up a monster of a climb.

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We had just twenty minutes to wait before the attached restaurant opened and then we feasted on a spicy chickpea soup and beef so tender that at the sight of the fork, it fell off the bone. We were feeling recharged for almost anything and with Michael all liquored up, we made the decision to walk beyond the recommended stage ending at Lourenzà which was a mere 4.5km away, and aim for Mondoñedo, a 13km post-lunch stroll with two hill climbs to tackle. Such gusto. Such stupidity.

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The band were playing in the town square as we passed through Lourenzà.

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Hallelujah only 2km to go.

We began regretting our decision with five kilometres to go. It seems to be a barrier on the Camino. The last five kilometres drag, as your feet protest, your back begins to spasm, and your mind plays tricks on you. The wind gusts were gaining in intensity and they made walking in a straight line an impossibility but that could have been the delerium kicking in as well.  We finally reached our destination at 5pm and checked into the 18th century Seminary of Santa Catalina which is just behind the 13th century Cathedral of Asuncion.  Hopefully some devine wisdom will seep into our senses as we sleep.

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The Cathedral.

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The Popes lining the Seminary walls.

Blowin’ in the Wind…Bob Dylan.

Day 7- La Caridad to Ribadeo – 25km.

We have entered Galicia, the final region on the Camino del Norte. It was quite a dramatic entry, as we clung to dear life gripping the fence as we crossed the bridge spanning the Ria de Ribadeo whilst cyclonic wind gusts tried to blow us over the Atlantic to England. At one stage, the wind ripped my backpack cover, hat and raincoat into the fence. I didn’t even know that it had happened. Luckily Michael turned around at just the right time to see my belongings smashed against the fence. It took two of us to extricate them.

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Michael blown into the fence and unable to move until the gust eased. The boat ended up turning around just after this photo was taken.

The day was supposed to be an easy 21.5km into Ribadeo. The sun was shining and there was blue sky aplenty. However as I was Vibering Elly in the shelter of the bar, having my breakfast café con leche and croissant, I could see rubbish flying down the road. The Beaufort scale was just cranking up for the day ahead.

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Good morning shadow.

The walk out of La Caridad was beautiful as we faithfully followed the arrows and the scallop shells. This was to be the last day following the Asturian shell. The shell direction is reversed in Galicia. We were passed by a girl who lives in Santiago but was on her last day of walking after starting five days ago in Aviles. As she passed us we relaxed a little and decided to follow her. It wasn’t until ten kilometres later, as we reached the beach,  that we realised we had now adding 4.5km to our days total. Yeah!

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We walked sideways against the gale into the seaside town of Tapia de Casariego. We were amazed to see a longboard surfing competition in action in these windy conditions. Since 1992 the Goanna Pro Surf Competition has been run in honour of Australian brothers Peter and Robert Gulley who back in 1968 arrived in Tapia with their surfboards in the back of their van and introduced the locals to surfing. The brothers loved it so much here that they married local girls and returned each year to see the sport progress to the thriving business that it is today. Check out their story here.

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Just a tinge of a rainbow ahead at Tapia de Casariego.

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With the wind coming from the land, the conditions were tough out there for the surfers.

Steadily the wind picked up as we walked further around the flat grasslands of the coast. We caught up to the family of seven at one stage but in a moment of desperation, consulted our guidebook and found a small shortcut to ease our aching legs which were struggling to keep us upright let alone walking forward. By the time we struggled into Ribadeo we were absolutely and unequivocally exhausted.

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Only a kilometre to go. Ribadeo.

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The main plaza in Seista time.

And tomorrow we leave the coast and hit the mountains. Can I hear another yeah!

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When will it be easy!

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there….George Harrison

Day 6- Luarca to La Caridad- 31km

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It was a dull and grey Good Friday but on the bright side it didn’t rain, just the occasional “refreshing” sprinkle. We left the gorgeous seaside port of Luarca early as we headed up the very steep climb out of town and back into the countryside.  We knew today was going to be another challenging walk carrying our heavily ladened backpacks the whole way. Although- sidebar – I have just found out that I am missing a shirt and a pair of knickers already on this trip. By the end of the Camino,  I may just be wearing one sock and a hat at this rate, so be warned about that photo.

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On our late afternoon walk around the port of Luarca.

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The cemetery of Luarca has one of the best views of the town.

There were nine pilgrims staying in the Albergue last night. It appears that the Spanish people are using this holiday period to walk some of the Camino. We came across a crowd of seven Spaniards who started out this morning and are hoping to get to Santiago by next Sunday. Mumma and Papa are our age and flanking them are their kids and friends. They had a great pace going for day one. Hopefully we’ll see them along the way.

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Mumma and her two girls.

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There were a few hill climbs today even if the book said it was relatively flat!

Michael is noticing that most days we are generally straddling the N-632 road as we tend to criss-cross it many times each day. It is now becoming increasingly difficult to persuade him to go off-road and follow the Camino Real. Twice today he looked down the slushy path and stood resolute on the N-632 pleading for the God of Reason to keep his shoes dry by sticking to the road for a change. Twice we followed our own blind logic, and further down the road, breathed a sigh of relief when we spied another yellow arrow.  We have been lucky so far and are beginning to see the sodden ground finally starting to dry up. Let’s hope the heavy rain stays away for a little while longer.

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Passed many churches today. All closed.

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Up thr garden path we go.

So it is the end of another exhausting day lying on the bed in our own little room at the Pensiòn Sayene. We looked at staying in the Municipal- a very basic Albergue de Perigrinos – but when tone deaf Michael saw that the singing was to start at 7.30pm before the communal meal AND we’d only get a top bunk AFTER washing our clothes in the creek, it was all just a bit too much for the old man. I’m happy to stay here tonight above the bar, with our own bathroom and the heater on.
Heaven.