Stage 4 - Puenta la Riena to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

29 August - 3 September

Roman Bridge, Ciraqui The road from Puenta la Riena eventually picks up the line of an old roman road, and in fact the bridge in the picture (near Ciraqui)is Roman. The road largely winds through countryside (in fact it was winding more than usual as there were a number of rather circuitous detours caused by the building of a new road). I met my first English pilgrim about here - though as he lives and works in Spain he hardly counts! I only met twelve English pilgrims on the whole of my journey (and one Welsh, five Irish and no Scottish).

Bodegas Irache wine fountain Eventually, after passing through the town of Estella, I reached the Monastery of Irache. Right next door is a large local wine producer, which provides a particular form of pilgrim sustenance. There are, of course, many water fountains along the Camino, but this is the only wine fountain. The wine a perfectly drinkable, if a little young.

At this point the camino is passing through Navarre, which is one of the more important wine producing regions of Spain. There were many Bodegas (literally wine cellars, but the term is also used for wine producers) and of course plenty of opportunity to sample their wares of an evening. Unfortunately it is not such a good idea to pick up bottles of wine to take home!

Villamayor de Monjardin

From Irache it is only a couple of kilometers to Villamayor de Monjardin. Being called Villamayor (large town) is not really accurate, though it is a very pleasant little village on the side of a hill capped by the ruins of a fort. The view of the town in the picture is taken from a little way up the hill. The Hostel here, though newly open, was one of the most basic I stayed in. It was friendly though, and as it was connected with the church the drying facilities es were provided by a number of racks in the churchyard!

Out of Villamayor it is quite a long walk to the next village of Torres. Occasionally on the Camino there will be long stretches between towns - in this case about 15 kilometers. This is not so bad early in the morning but can be hard work as the day gets hotter. This is where having some food and drink in the pack becomes important. I continued through to Viana, where I stayed overnight in another small, basic, parish run hostel, then on next morning into the region of Rioja and the city of Logroņo, a city I found a little disappointing.

Being Rioja there was even more evidence of wine making than Navarre. The grapes in the picture look appetising but in fact are not quite ripe and so a bit sharp. A better bet for wayside food were the blackberries. Others had seen figs but I never found any ripe ones. Finding food along the way is fairly easy. The route goes from village to village and most villages have a shop which stocks all sorts of bits and pieces - though the shops can be a bit concealed at times.

One of my favourite 'snacks' was a Bocadillo - basically half a baguette filled with something. For me that was often Jamon - the cured Serrano ham. I would ask for three or four slices and the shopkeeper would cut good thick pieces. It would have been very expensive in England, but there it usually set me back a Euro or so, with another 30c for the bread. This particular bocadillo was being eaten in the ruins of a medieval hostel in Navarette, where I had caught up with several people I had got to know along the way. Of course one could not always depend on fining a shop, and I always carried a bottle of water and some high energy food - muesli bars suited me best.

While on the subject of food, one of my most memorable meals was in the next village along, Ventosa. This was another typical village perched on a hill, with some rather ramshackle buildings as seen in this picture. I had managed to get myself invited to join a meal being provided by a Spanish group, as had two Dutch guys whom I had met several times before. During the meal they raised their glasses to celebrate 100 days on the road, having walked all the way from Friesland in NE Holland. Later that evening they entertained us with a sing-song, consisting mainly of numbers such as The Wild Rover and Molly Malone. However Ventosa was memorable for another reason. It was there my right knee started playing up.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada

The next day the knee seemed OK, and I continued on. But by the time I reached Azfora, some 15 kilometers further on, it was playing up again, so I decided to halt for the day at the rather nice new hostel. The next day was one of those days with a long gap between towns, and after 10 kilometers my knee was quite painful. By the time I reached Santo Domingo de a Calzada their was no question of going any further that day.

Santo Domingo (pictured) is a pleasant little city, which is quite fortunate as I was to stay their nearly 48 hours. Having ascertained that my knee was not in too bad a shape, and just needed a couple of days rest and some anti-inflamatories, I settled in for a long stay. So followed the strange experience of not walking on the Camino. This meant leaving friends to continue on, though in fact I had already lost a few because I had slowed down significantly. I shared this fate with a German woman who had a similar problem with her left knee as I recall. We ended up walking together on and off as far as Leon. Once again an experience of farewells and hellos.

Santo Domingo grew up largely as a pilgrim place after the benedictine monk Dominic, after which it is named, built a causeway (calzada) for pilgrims to cross the river at that point. The Cathedral in the picture above is dedicated to him. There remains a strong 'pilgrim' flavour to the city, and the large hostel (pictured) is very friendly. It is also unusual in not having bunk beds. The illustrations around the walls are maps of the Camino.