Stage 8 - Galicia

18 - 23 September

There are several routes up to O Cebriero, the last major high point on the Camino. Villafranca del Bierzo is at about 500m and the village of O Cebriero is at 1300m so the minimum climb is 800m. However he direct route just follows the road up the valley. A much more attractive option is to take the track that goes high up the south side of the valley. This picture was taken looking back down the valley as the rising sun illuminated it. Unfortunately one has to drop back down into the valley, so losing most of the 400m gained.

In many places the valley is scarred by the new motorway which has been put through it, though one cannot help but be impressed at seeing the carriageway supported on slender columns perhaps 50m high.

The church at La Faba The previous evening I had debated with my German companion whether it was best to press on to the top the next day or to stop 4km short and 400m lower at La Faba where there was a new hostel run by a German group. She was keen to stop there, whereas I planned to continue to O Cebriero. We set off separately that morning. I took the high route, she went through the valley. By the time I got to La Faba it was getting quite warm so I decided it was better to stop there where there was space rather than finish the climb in the heat and risk the probable overcrowding on O Cebriero. When we met again later it turned out she had continued on to the top and it had indeed been overcrowded.

The picture shows the church at La Faba, which has been renovated by the group running the hostel. As it was a Saturday night I was keen to get to mass and so I asked if there was mass that evening. "We don't have a priest" was the reply, to which I responded "you do now". They also didn't have an vessels or vestments, so I ended up using a plate and a wineglass, local bread and wine, and presiding in my normal clothes. It felt a little strange, but it was also quite moving.

The following morning was quite misty, so I saw little of the rather attractive village at the top, and continued through the pass and down the other side into the hilly country of Galicia, to arrive at Triacastella.

The monastery at Samos The next day gave another choice. Either the direct route to Sarria, or the detour via the monastery of Samos. I had met up again with my German companion, and we decided to visit the Monastery, and we also took the guided tour. The monastery is relatively new by Spanish standards, as the original building was almost completely destroyed by fire.

The quickest route from Samos to Sarria is along the road. However we rather blindly followed the arrows, which took us along a very pleasant but rather arduous twisting, turning up and down path through tiny Galician villages to rejoin the more direct route from Triacastella to Sarria. I think it was worth it.

100km milepost
Sarria is itself a pleasant little town with a growing collection of friendly little hostels. Quite a lot of people begin their pilgrimage here, as it is the last town one can start at and still qualify for the Compostela - the certificate saying you have completed the pilgrimage. The minimum distance for a walker is 100 kilometers, which explains the graffiti on the 100km marker stone just outside the tiny village of Morgade illustrated here.

By this stage the route was getting much more crowded. Many Spanish students were joining for the last part of the pilgrimage in the weeks before going to university, and this had the effect of rather 'diluting' the longer distance pilgrims, as well as increasing the pressure on the accommodation. So although the Galician countryside is very attractive, I found the final stage of the journey a bit of an ordeal.

Fortified church, Portomarin The next town along the route was Portomarin. The unusual fortified church in the picture was originally in the valley, but when the valley was to be flooded to make a reservoir the church was moved stone by stone up to the top of the hill. In front of it there is a modern statue of St James.

My destination that day was Gonzar, but it was here that the increased traffic began to cause problems, for the hostel at Gonzar was full, as was the pension at Castromaior 1km further on Fortunately there were still some beds at Hospital De La Cruz, 2.5km further still. I later discovered that the bar near that hostel also had accommodation, and met up with a couple of fellow long distance pilgrims there.

One of the most typical features of the Galician countryside is the Horreo, a distinctive type of storehouse. A particularly fine one is pictured here. Classically they have a little spike at one end and a cross at the other.

The next stop along the journey was Melide. Melide is not particularly notable for its architecture, and so is not pictured here. It is noted for pulpo - octopus, which is served in restaurants known as Pulporia. I loathe octopus, but it is such an institution in Melide that I consented to go to one. However I ate an omelette! Melide has a large hostel, but it was absolutely packed out and so I ended up on a mattress on a rather crowded floor that night.

With its green rolling countryside, little villages and many streams and brooks, Galicia is not unlike many parts of Great Britain, and in some ways reminded me particularly of Wales. Given the celtic connections of both lands, this is perhaps not surprising. This picture shows a typical scene.

The final night before reaching Santiago was to provide even more accommodation problems. The hostels at Santa Irene and Pedruzo were both full, leaving me to fall back onto plan B. Having walked 33km to Pedruozo (and met up with some Spanish pilgrims I had got to know), I settled down for a long leisurely lunch, preparing myself for another 15km to Monte di Gozo, just 5km outside Santiago itself. As there are 800 pilgrim beds there accommodation was not going to be a problem even if I arrived late. So at about 4pm I set off again. However after about 7km I arrived at a bar at San Paio. There another spanish companion greeted me - it turned out that the bar had rooms! Grateful to be spared the last 8km, I joined him for a very pleasant evening meal, and my first sample of Viera - scallops cooked in their shells with a rather nice sauce.

So my final night before entering into Santiago was spent in a comfortable bed in a room I had to myself. Chance for a rest to prepare for the final stage of the journey.