|Medieval port of Castro Urdiales|
Thursday 30 August: After walking a bit of the camino Frances, yes again, I finally find my way to Irun, the trailhead for the camino norte, a scenic but strenuous coastal route to Santiago. It's less popular than the camino Frances with fewer albergues and was only used by Christian pilgrims when Muslim domination of Spain extended northwards making the camino Frances difficult and dangerous. I'm looking forward to the challenge.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€9), friendly association albergue in Irun.
Friday 31: Irun to San Sebastian - 15 miles (25km). It's a steeper climb than I'm used to but there are fine views back over Irun and beyond. A short ferry ride across an estuary and it's a flattish afternoon stroll to the dual beaches of San Sebastian with a hilltop statue of the saint between the two. The sprawling town is noted for it's pinchos, or 'tapas' in Spanish, and I dine on several variations washed down, of course, with vino tinto.
Albergue de la Association (€10), bunks in local school hall.
Saturday 1 September: San Sebastian to Zarautz - 13 miles (23km). A pleasant coastal stretch to Zarautz where I meet Welland, an American English teacher living in Madrid, and Gary, a German Frieslander, who represents his minority group internationally.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5), comfortable beds in an old shuttered building near the lively sea front.
Sunday 2: Zarautz to Deba - 13 miles (21km). I meet Gary and Welland again in the albergue in Deba, a work-a-day town in a steep-sided valley with outdoor lifts linking the various levels.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5), converted school classrooms with communal showers.
Monday 3: Deba to Markina - 19 miles (30km). Climbing above Markina I reach the Monastery of Zenarruza and stay at the expensive private albergue nearby. Gary, Welland and a Lithuanian couple we've met opt to stay free in the monastery. This involves mass, so I'm glad to give it a miss.
Albergue de Ziortza Beitia (€15), B&B and dorm to myself.
Tuesday 4: Markina to Gernika Lumo - 11 miles (17km). Walking for a while today with Gary and Wellend we reach Gernika where there are no albergues just an expensive youth hostel. We take a simple room in a pension, drink too much wine and oversleep the next day.
Pension Gernika (€17), shared triple room.
Wednesday 5: Gernika to Lesama - 13 miles (20km). Late start and short day. Gary has left his walking poles behind so I try to catch up but they are moving fairly quickly.
Association albergue (€5).
Thursday 6: Lesama to Posena - 27 miles (43km). Today I carry on through Bilbao, the others take a bus, so I arrive fairly late in the day and I become part of the overflow group, sleeping in a tent in the garden. This is fine - better than bunk-beds which I've grown to hate. Gary, Welland and the Lithuanians are here and we adjourn for a beer. Gary is overjoyed to get his poles back and I also meet Liverpudlian, Peter, a musician who lives in Malaga.
Association albergue (€5), large tent in garden.
Friday 7: Posena to Castro Urdiales -12 miles (20km). I'm impressed by the beach resort and old fortified seaport of Castro Urdules. It's church and castle lighthouse linked to the harbour by a fine Medieval bridge. The little orange albergue is cute too as are the two Czech girls we meet in the garden here.
Albergue Municipal (€5), small and a little cramped but with a spacious garden.
Saturday 8: Urdiales to Laredo - 16 miles (25km). Another day of cliff-top walking and I arrive in the streets of Laredo. Wellend is in the monastic albergue with the Czech girls but it's full and I stay in a quirky but friendly little albergue nearby.
El Buen Pastor (€13), room with beds.
Sunday 9: Laredo to Guemes - 15 miles (24km). A morning stroll along the promenade takes me to the ferry to Santona and onto the sweeping beach and a steep headland climb at Berria. I don't want to carry on as far as Santander so I stop in the joyous albergue at Guemes. I'm sharing a room with Wellend and a stunningly beautiful Spanish girl who Welland can't stop talking about. After a very good communal dinner Welland is still talking about the girl so just before bedtime I start a brief conversation:
Me: "Welland, the cute Spanish girl in our room has just asked me what your name is."
Welland: (jumping up and down and punching the air) "Yes, yes, yes!"
Me: "Yea, in your dreams."
Laughter all round.
El Cagigal (€20), dinner, B&B friendly and homely with good facilities.
Monday 10: Guemes to Quevada - 27 miles (44km). Down to the coast again and a ferry from Somo to Santander. Others take the bus but I continue walking out of town through dreary suburbs and onto the next albergue where Gary and the Lithuanians are staying. It's full, so I have little option but to continue to the larger one in Quevada, long day.
Albergue Arco Iris (€20), dinner B&B.
Tuesday 11: Quevada to Comillas - 16 miles (25km). This morning takes me downhill to the tourist hot spot and crumbling religious buildings of Santillana del Mar but the pink and white church, a little further on, in Cobreces is far more impressive.
La Penna albergue (€5), converted prison with comfortable beds above an open central courtyard.
Wednesday 12: Comillas to San Vincente de la Barquera - 8 miles (12km). It's raining today and I don't have any wet weather gear so I stop early. St Vincent's a pleasant castellated town perched on a headland above twin estuaries. The basic albergue seems expensive until I realise the price includes afternoon tea, dinner and breakfast.
Albergue de Peregrinos - El Galeon (€13), dinner, B&B.
Thursday 13: St Vincente to Llanes - 25 miles (40km). A rocky coastline once again and Llanes appears in the far distance but the ridge and path veer southwest away from the town, eventually I get there but it seems to take an age.
Albergue La Portilla (€15), dorm to myself in hotel complex.
Friday 14: Llanes to San Esteban - 24 miles (38km). Following under an impressive limestone cliff most of the morning I then cross the Rio Beddon which is teeming with fish before going up again and onto San Esteban.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5).
Saturday 15: San Estaban to La Isla -10 miles (16km). There's an long beach walk-in to La Isla so I slip off my boots and enjoy a gentle paddle into town.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5).
Sunday 16: La Isla to Villaviclose - 11 miles (16km). The path now turns inland and I ignore a basic albergue to reach pilgrim friendly hotel in the centre of town, luxury.
Hotel Carlos I (€20), comfortable en-suite B&B.
Monday 17: Villaviclose to Pola de Siero - 18 miles (29km). More inland walking. It's getting colder here now and I have little in the way of cold weather gear.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5), liked this one.
Pola to Oviedo - 11 miles (17km). Stupidly I miss the turning to Gijon and arrive in Oveido on the remote and mountainous camino primitivo. I really don't have suitable gear for this route. I'll sleep on it.
Albergue de Peregrinos (€5). As it's so cold now on the coast I decide to get the train to Leon and continue to Santiago on the warmer more southern camino Frances, yes that one again.
Wednesday 19: Leon to Villar de Mazerife - 15 miles (22km). An early start and it's warm and sunny when my train arrives in Leon. I stride out once again on the camino Frances exactly where I left off earlier this summer.
Saturday 22: Three days walking and I'm in the comfortable twin-bedroom municipal albergue (€5). Don't know how I missed this one last time.
Monday 24: It's raining again so I stay two nights in Sarria. This will make it difficult for me to reach Santiago by Friday when I've agreed to meet Gary and Peter for a final celebratory drink.
Friday 28: Following two long 30 mile days I book into the comfortable pilgrim friendly Hospederia Seminairo Mayor in Santiago with it's church-like dinning room, en-suite B&B (€23). Washed and brushed up I join Gary and Peter for a few beers. We are surprised we all made it. I'll stay here for a few days before deciding where my travels will take me next.
Photos of the Camino Norte.