Stage 5 - Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Burgos

4 - 6 September

Looking at the map

The next day, fortified by a tubular bandage donated by a couple I had met earlier, and dosed up with Ibuprofen as recommended by the doctor, I got back on the Road with my German companion (pictured, along with a guy we met on the way) Both of us wanted to take it easy at this stage so we made easy progress as far as Belorado (about 24 kilometers). This involves crossing into the region of Castille y Léon, leaving Rioja and its wine behind. Generally maps and guides are not much needed on the route, one just follows the yellow arrows. But it is nice to have a sense of where you are and what is to come. Also in the picture are a water fountain and pool (great for cooling the feet!) and a concrete table. A great deal of effort has been put into providing facilities for pilgrims in most areas, and Castille y Leon is particularly good in this respect.

Church at Belorado Belorado was memorable for a number of reasons. Firstly although the church, as seen here, was rather attractive, the liturgy was the worst I experienced. In general I was not particularly impressed by the quality of liturgy in Spanish churches, though I acknowledge that I generally went to the Saturday evening 'vigil' mass for Sundays as that was the most convenient, and such masses are often rather low-key here in England. Also it would be unreasonable to expect the masses to be geared towards pilgrims given that the locals hardly want a daily pilgrim mass. But starting a gabbled rosary at 7:55 when mass is due to start at 8pm, so delaying the start of mass to about 8:15, and then racing through a Sunday mass in about 25 minutes seems a rather poor show. Having said all this, there were exceptions, and some places, such as Santo Domingo, made a real effort to show a welcome to pilgrims and help them participate.

Secondly, in the private refuge in the centre of town there is a spring with round pebbles in it which is superb for cooling and massaging tired feet. Thirdly the place was in fiesta, and this included a noisy procession through the town at 5am. When we left at about 7am the revelry was still going on.

Sarcophagus at San Juan de Ortega Leaving Belorado, which is at 760m above sea level the Camino passes through a couple more, gradually gaining height to about 950m at Villafranca Montes de Orca. before climbing up to a long level stretch through a forest at an altitude of 1140m. I had been traveling alone to that point but I met up with my German companion on the way up through the forest. Later we also encountered a Spanish guy and later still and Italian guy I had met earlier. The Path eventually drops town again to the monastery of San Juan de Ortega. The rather fine sarcophagus pictured, with the image of Christ in glory surrounded by the apostles, is to be found in the church. There is also a very pleasant foot cooling fountain here, and a large hostel, but we wanted to get a bit closer to Burgos.

518 km to go The village of Ages is really only notable for the signpost seen in this picture, but it does indicate that about one third of the journey from St Jean is complete (arguably the sign is slightly pessimistic at 518 kilometers. The guidebooks suggest 514 is nearer the mark). It also gives me the opportunity to stick in another picture of myself! Another few kilometers brought us to Atapuerca. The village is nothing special, but it is near a very important archaeological site - basically a cave structure which has been used by both animals and our human ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years, so providing a very good guide to the prehistory of the area. One of the most notable finds was of a number of fossils of Homo Antecessor (click here for more details with loads of pictures). Pilgrims can have the guided tour for free.

Wall cartoon of a pilgrim The route into Burgos is something of a trudge, and this cartoon, seen on a wall in a village just outside the city, illustrates it well. Essentially there is an 8 kilometer slog along hard pavements through the industrial area to the east of the city. The best approach is just to keep plodding on. During this 'plod'. I was walking the German and Spanish companions from further back, which relieved some of the monotony.

Burgos Cathedral
The walk is worth it though, for the centre of the city is very attractive and the cathedral itself spectacular. The interior is, if anything, more impressive than the exterior, and well worth time spent there, even though it is arranged more like a museum than a church.

There are a number of options for accommodation in Burgos. We went to the large municipal refuge about a kilometer out of town to the west. Here I met up again with the German group from the beginning of the journey, as well as a number of others I had not seen for a while. There was also a free 'tourist train' ride through the town, which included this panoramic view over the city with a rather threatening sky (it did rain later!)

View of Burgos Burgos is really quite a significant point along the journey. At 488 kilometers from Santiago it represents about 40 percent of the total journey from St Jean, and it is at this point the pilgrim moves out of the vine growing hilly country and on to the high flat wheat growing plain of the Meseta. It was now two weeks since I had left England and I certainly felt a sense of achievement at having got this far.