Sunday, September 7, 2014

Camino – Nine – The Road Less Travelled

A very long climb up to Alto de Mostelares, nearly 1000 metres, over the river and out of Castrojeriz (population 853, I note) and down down a steep descent to 350 metres and a Y decision.  At the high point two more crosses mark the deaths of two pilgrims, I wonder what they died of?  The dates show them to be decades younger than me.  We come to a fork in the road with two signs, one faded pointing straight on and one, much newer and more prominent, pointing to the left.  

A Frenchman, with whom we had dined in Hornillos, prominent in a cheery red jacket, sat in the wheat by the straight track.  My feet turn themselves on to the small track, dotted on the sign, saying Itero del Castillo.  Every other pilgrim takes the Camino trail left without so much as a glance at another possibility.  Vanessa follows me, calls to John who is fast disappearing left along the main track.  He climbs bank up the bank to join us, swears he will throttle me if ...

We walk the track in silence.  Underfoot is soft and dry rather like powder, gentle on the feet.  After a Very Long Walk we come to a tiny, rather desolate, hamlet with a vast square tower high above the houses, an attractive standing stone and cross, a fuente and a church – but no bar, no café, no shop. Things are looking bleak – we have been walking many hours and need breakfast.  I am not looking forward to being throttled ...   

Exactly as I reach the last house in the village the front door springs open and a handsome man with the manners and elegance of a Spanish grandee appears. 

He smiles at us and I asked if he knows of a bar  or café where we could have coffee.  He looked, well, slightly concerned I thought, as if he didn’t want to burden such a lovely morning with bad news – there is no bar in Itero del Castillo; in fact there are no longer any pilgrims passing through Itero del Castillo because there is no longer any bridge linking Itero del Castillo with Itero de la Vega – it was washed away years ago.  But he holds all this to himself for the time being and calls up to the upper window where appears his attractive wife.  A few words exchanged and: you are welcome in our home for coffee, he smiles looking back at us. 

And what a delightful home it is.  Lovingly restored, fascinating old pieces everywhere, a landing whose floor has been removed to reveal the charming parlour below, that room was adjacent to the room we were led to.  

And the bathroom – filled with exquisitely embroidered linens, drawn threadwork and old hand lace curtains – oh so pretty. 

We spend two memorable hours with Fernandeo and Rosa, reluctant to leave this charming interlude of elegant and cultured company, good coffee, toast, butter, apricot jam and their last three almond biscuits.  Today was their day to shop and stock up.  Fernandeo is a retired lecturer in agriculture, cereals as I understand it, from the University of Valladolid. 

The name launched me into the remarkable account of my obtaining a  Spanish credencial form Valladolid before I even set foot in Spain and drew many questions from the two of them of the Glastonbury legends and the church of St Mary which conversation then led on to Philip of Spain and the writing on the wall for English Catholics during the horrors of the Reformation in the 1530’s.  This led to the invitation of Philip to found an English seminary in Valladolid – which is alive and well today. 

 Ah, said Fernandeo, this Camino is Zoé’s holy camino and I agree and say: and meeting you and Rosa fill it with magic!  He offers us walnuts, from California.  Cracking one for himself he said solemnly: my breakfast is very defined; one walnut, two toasts with olive oil, three toasts with jam, no coffee, chocolate with milk and honey.

I burst out laughing and pull out my notebook to quote this delightful discipline as Fernandeo looks up with a twinkle in his eye to ask if I will write this.  When I say oh yes he replies:  then I must break with tradition and crack a second walnut!

Rosa tells us how unusually cold the weather is this year, and then they both break the news that the bridge between the villages had been swept away years before – but there is a pretty path along the river to the main road which then becomes the Camino.  Cross the river there and we are in Palencia.  It proved a lovely walk, our encounter was pure serendipity and John decides not to throttle me.

to be continued ...

Z xx

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