Thursday, 27 June 2013

Almost Groundhog Day: Cromford to Turnditch again – Approx 15.25 miles

Sunday 23rd June 2013

Map: OS Explorer OL24 – The Peak District – White Peak Area
Map: OS Explorer 259 – Derby, Uttoxeter, Ashbourne & Cheadle

Cromford Hill – Cromford Wharf – Derwent Valley Heritage Way (S) – High Peak Junction – High Peak Trail – Black Rocks – Middleton Top – Hopton – Carsington Water (East Shore) – Oldfield Lane – Kirk Ireton – Field Lane – Broad Way – Gorses – Ireton Wood – Jenny Well – Cross o’ th’ Hands – Turnditch – Cowers Lane

Arrive Turnditch at 9.00am: check. Catch bus from Cowers Lane around 9.20am: check. Alight in Cromford about quarter to ten, as the rain started in earnest, ready to walk back to Turnditch: check. This was yesterday, right?

Well, yes.

And no.

That’s because it’s today as well.

I originally thought I’d walk somewhere else today, but last evening was busy and I’d done no further preparation. Instead, there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that yesterday’s excursion hadn’t quite worked out as well as I’d hoped, so I thought I’d have a go at my other Cromford to Turnditch route. If nothing else, it would provide an interesting “side-by-side” comparison of two routes that share a start and end point but vary significantly in the middle.

Looking over rainy Cromford
Once again, I picked up the Cromford Canal for the first part of the walk. And, once again, it was raining – but this time harder and with much more intent than yesterday.

High Peak Junction
Today’s route was the more high-profile western option I mentioned yesterday, taking in the High Peak Trail and Carsington Water. So, instead of continuing along the canal at High Peak Junction, I picked up the High Peak Trail and began the long, steady climb towards Black Rocks.

1 in 8 Gradient: steep for trains - and people 
For those that aren’t aware, the High Peak Trail follows the bed of the former Cromford and High Peak Railway (built to connect the Cromford Canal with the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge, and closed after the Beeching Report) and meets with the Tissington Trail at Parsley Hay. Along this stretch it climbs via a series of inclines by around 250m at a gradient of 1 in 8, quite a feat of engineering when it was built in 1831.

Middleton Top Engine House
At Middleton Top, the Engine House built to haul wagons up the Middleton Incline is still in existence, and the massive steam engine still operates on certain days for visitors to see (it’s an impressive sight!). Nowadays, it marks the beginning of the Pennine Bridleway: there is also a visitor center, snack bar, gift shop and cycle hire center for your enjoyment, if impressive relics of the Industrial Revolution don’t suffice.

A little further on, I left the High Peak Trail and stuck off across the fields towards Hopton. I must admit that at this point I was giving some thought to cutting the walk short. It had been raining quite heavily all morning, was cold, dull and gloomy, and the initial enthusiasm seemed to be waning a bit – perhaps understandable, given it was the 23rd of June and it should be summer by now!

Anyway, I decided to carry on, and picked up the path that circumnavigates Carsington Water, keeping to the eastern side of the lake. This is the quieter side, and although no Ladybower or Thirlmere or Lake Vrynwy, its a good place for birdwatching and can be walked without meeting the hordes that congeal around the car parks and hot spots on the north and west shores.

First glimpse of Carsington Water: cold, wet and windy
I stopped briefly for a bite of lunch, but it was cold and windy, so I didn’t linger. Instead, I carried on, leaving the lakeside to head across the fields towards Kirk Ireton.

Near Kirk Ireton
As villages go, Kirk Ireton is a bit of a bugger to get to. It requires careful navigation of the car through a network of narrow, winding lanes, and would be off most peoples’ radar if it weren’t for one thing: it has a great pub! As a youngster, I remember The Barley Mow being spoken of in reverential tones. It is a tiny place – more like a house, really – and one of the apocryphal stories is that back in the 1970s, shortly after decimalisation, the elderly landlady operated a system whereby you got your beer at the bar, took it to a nearby table to pay where she converted the price and the money you proffered into old money (pounds, shillings and pence) calculated your change on that basis, then converted it back before giving you your change.

The Barley Mow
The good thing is its still going, but there’s not a single hand pump in sight! Fear not, real ale fans, for things are different here: all the beers are dispensed directly from the barrel, without the need for any of those mucky pipes! My pint of Derbyshire Pale Ale came and went in no time at all.

The last few miles linked field paths with some of those narrow lanes to strike a line in a roughly southeasterly direction towards Turnditch. The land in these parts consists of a series of vales and ridges, and there were some fine views to be had from the higher reaches of this undulating route.

Waterproofs watch out: one of several unfriendly stiles
Apart from a couple of fields of thigh-high weeds (that required one to lift one’s knees to one’s armpits every step, or were flattened by the wind in such a way as to be a trip hazzard) all was going well. Until, that is, I decided to walk the penultimate mile across the fields rather than along the lane. A couple of fields shy of the road, I got into a right tangle of unmarked path, awkward routing, overgrown hedges, nettles, thistles, bog, barbed wire, impassable undergrowth and impenetrable trees whose navigational challenges defeated me. In the end I beat my own path to the road, and, having sneaked through a few gates that felt suspiciously like trespassing, rather surprised myself when I arrived at the fingerpost.

Church at Turnditch (taken yesterday)
A final stretch along the road brought me to the end of the walk. I think it safe to say that apart from the weather and the short difficult stretch near the end, today’s route had been the more enjoyable, although the easterly route did have its merits. The real problem in both cases was finding a satisfactory route across the valley of the Sherbourne Brook, which has to be crossed to get to Turnditch from either Kirk Ireton or Idridgehay (unless a lengthy diversion is made) and which is seeming full of boggy, badly marked and generally uncared for footpaths.

It may be that there is a decent route struggling to get out of the two completed this weekend, or it may be that an entirely new route needs developing – I’ll have to give it some thought. Either way, it made good use of a dodgy weekend weather forecast, and was an interesting experiment in route planning in off-the-beaten-track countryside.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Cromford to Turnditch – Approx 14.75 miles

Saturday 22nd June 2013

Map: OS Explorer OL24 – The Peak District – White Peak Area
Map: OS Explorer 259 – Derby, Uttoxeter, Ashbourne & Cheadle

Cromford Hill – Cromford Wharf – Derwent Valley Heritage Way (S) – High Peak Junction – Whatstandwell – Hankin Farm – Midshires Way (S) – Alderwasley – Typeclose Plantation – Netherpark Farm – Palerow Lane – Chequer Lane – Hilltop – Jebb’s Lane – Idridgehay Green – Idridgehay – Ecclesbourne House – Brook Farm – Holme Hurst – Turnditch – Cowers Lane

For the first time in some time, a whole weekend loomed ahead with no daytime obligations to intrude and nothing other than walking with which to fill the time. So I decided to head for the Peak District to see what she could offer.

Cromford Wharf
Long term readers might remember that a couple of years ago I undertook a series of walks roughly following the Derwent Valley, heading southwards from the Ladybower area, with the eventual idea of describing a circuit around the Peak District. I’d got as far as Cromford when time / inclination / opportunity / certainty of route rather ran out, but a continuation now seemed like an enticing prospect.

I’d been dithering over possible routes for the next section, and never really come to a satisfactory decision. As I alighted the bus in Cromford I was still in two minds about which way to go, but faced with the choice of a potentially quieter easterly option or a busier, more high-profile westerly route, I eventually plumped for the former.

Clear path by the Cromford Canal
The path beside the Cromford Canal is unambiguous. As I left Cromford Wharf light rain began to fall: in fact the weather proved something of an irritation for much of the day in a kind of jacket on / jacket off, hood up / hood down kind of way, as it flip-flopped regularly between sunshine and showers, brighter spells and rain.

Leawood Pumping Station
The Derwent Valley has long been a conduit for transport of all kinds. Here road, canal, footpath, railway and river sit so closely side by side it would almost be possible to lob a stone across them all in a single throw.

Coot: bald as a blogger
At times the canal ran clear; at others, it was overgrown: green and lush with recent growth that gave it an almost primaeval feel. Which is odd, considering the canal is a man made structure: it just goes to show how well it has subsumed into the landscape.

Crich Stand
I crossed the Derwent by the road bridge at Whatstandwell and climbed to meet the Midshires way near Alderwasley, following it in a southerly direction for the next few miles. I stopped for lunch above Shining Cliff Woods, and then took an attractive but incorrect path for a short way before spotting my mistake.

Nice wall
Back on track, I continued to follow the Midshires Way for a while before parting company with it just shy of Crowtrees Farm. A series of poorly-waymarked paths through fields tall with crops and meadow flowers followed, and indication that these ways were infrequently walked.

Looking over the Ecclesbourne Valley with Hilltop in the middle ground
From the end of Palerow Lane, the map showed an interesting-looking path curving southwards over Hilltop into the Ecclesbourne Valley towards Jebb’s Lane. I had high hopes for this part of the route, but was slightly disappointed in the end: the views were nice, but lack of traffic meant a struggle through thigh-high meadow grasses, and some sections were steep and muddy and difficult to negotiate – something that was to become more noticeable now I had left the more popular areas – a consequence, no doubt, of the fact that these quieter routes are of lesser priority when it comes to waymarking and upkeep.

Err ....... where?
Jebb’s Lane led to Idridgehay Green led to Idridgehay. The sun had finally decided to put in an appearance, so I stopped at the shop for an ice cream. Beyond Ecclesbourne House, I entered a series of paths across the fields that were little more than marshland, where a calf-deep mix of water-filled hoof prints and soft, clay-y mud awaited if you happened to misjudge the next reedy tussock, and which was especially concentrated in the vicinity of gateways and stiles.

Needless to say, what with marshes, mud and indistinct paths, it all took a fair while to negotiate. But eventually I made the road, glad of a solid surface at last, and walked down to Hillclifflane to pick up the last field paths of the day – these, thankfully, much cleaner and easier to follow – for the climb up to Turnditch.

Approaching Turnditch on cleaner paths
An easy stroll down the road to the bus stop gave the opportunity for reflection on the days’ events: events which, perhaps, hadn’t quite lived up to initial expectations. The first half of the walk had been fine; the second half slightly less so, although I think the ground conditions had as much to do with that as the scenery. Mind you, if it is this difficult to pass in June, I dread to think what it might be like February or November!

Overall, I’d enjoyed my walk, covered a bit of distance and appreciated being able to keep myself to myself for a while. But was it a worthy continuation of the round-Derbyshire route? Well, let’s just say it wasn’t an unqualified success: I think I might need to ponder things a bit more before making a decision one way or the other.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Review: Peter Storm Energy S/S Crew T-Shirt

Peter Storm Energy S/S Crew T-Shirt

On the face of it, acquiring a good value, hard wearing walking T-Shirt should be a doddle. There are loads to choose from: almost too many, in fact, and with varying degrees of ‘technology’ involved. But if you winnow out those that are too clingy, too ‘athletic’ in fit or made from fabric that snags too easily, the field quickly narrows.

Having extolled the virtues of the more traditionally styled walking shirt elsewhere, the simple T-Shirt still has a useful role in the wardrobe: with its simpler cut and no collar, it can be worn more comfortably as part of a layering system right through the year, so is a versatile piece of clothing.

Anyway, I came across the Energy S/S T on a recent plod round Blacks. Here are some details:

For a fairly low cost item, I found it worked pretty well: comfortable, with a decent fit, (not too clingy) and good wicking properties (it dried very quickly) aided by side and back panels in a more open weave version of the fabric for added ventilation.

The anti-odour properties were a bit lacking – not unexpected from a 100% Polyester fabric – but it did a couple of days at a pinch, and I dare say it could be rinsed and dried easily enough overnight.

At 170g, it’s not the lightest shirt around (I have a Rab Aeon S/S that weighs in at nearly half that weight, and it’s heavier than the Jack Wolfskin Tumbleweed) but it does the job – and it seems well made! It’s styled as much for running as anything else, with reflective slashes on the back, so not so good as an off the hill garment if you’re in polite company, but is no worse than many other equivalents.

Again, I had occasion to wear it for lengthy periods under a rucksack, and – so far – it has stood up to the rigours without snagging or pulling beneath straps or buckles, something which I think is aided by the relatively tight weave and not-so-obviously waffled texture of the fabric used in the majority of the panels.

It was also comfortable as a baselayer when rain or cool dictated additional layers on top, and I really liked the fact that the neck wasn’t too tight.

RRP is £15, but as Peter Storm products are mostly sold through the Blacks/Millets group, members of various organizations (eg: YHA) can get discounts off that. So it’s quite good value, too.

Review: Karrimor Tech Checked Shirt S/S

Karrimor Tech Checked S/S Shirt
The Karrimor shirt is a much simpler affair, and the first obvious reflection of that is in the price. Although the RRP is about £35, it can usually be found for quite a bit less with a quick internet search (often in the teens of pounds). At 279g it’s quite a bit heavier than the Tumbleweed (and feels it when you pick it up) yet it is quite comfortable when worn. Manufacturers details are:

The material is a mix of 56% Nylon and 44% Polyester with a checked design and a slight seersucker texture that insects would struggle to bite through. It feels a little less flexible than the material used in the Tumbleweed, but it seems pretty robust and is comfortable to wear. To compensate for the heavier weight, added ventilation is provided by a mesh panel in the yoke and by small holes under the arms: a simple solution, but one that works quite well. To complete the package, there is an extra turn up to the collar to further protect against the sun, and a zipped chest pocket.

The two colours (blue and grey) are a bit more muted than the Jack Wolfskin shirt, which may not be a bad thing, as not everyone wants bright. In use, it resisted creases well, didn’t snag or deform after a full day under a rucksack, wicked moisture reasonably well, and proved neat and smelled sweet after a couple of days and nights on the trail.

More seasoned walkers may well go starry-eyed at the memory of the Karrimor of old, whilst the younger generation wonders what all the fuss is about. Without doubt, the brand does not represent the quality it once used to, but this is a fair effort at the price you will likely pay for it (please, don’t pay the RRP!). Although clearly not as sophisticated as the Tumbleweed in terms of performance or build, the Tech Checked shirt is a good option and worth a look if you are looking for a traditionally styled shirt on a tight budget.

Review: Jack Wolfskin Tumbleweed S/S Shirt

Jack Wolfskin Tumbleweed S/S Shirt

First off is the Jack Wolfskin Tumbleweed, a very lightweight (162g) traditionally styled short sleeve shirt made from 100% polyester. Manufacturer details are:

The fabric is light but tough, and can definitely handle bring worn all day under a rucksack with ease. The material wicks well, dries quickly and, although it has no stretch, the shirt very comfortable to wear (even under a jacket, not always the case with a collared shirt).

Creases are few and far between, but those there are drop out easily, and the whole thing is smart enough to wear for dinner in the evening even if recently pulled out of a pack. It will even do a couple of nights in the pub then a couple of days on the trail with out smelling too badly as well. And, should you need it to, it will wash and dry overnight, and requires no ironing.

As an added bonus, the weave of the material is quite tight which means it snags less easily, absorbs less moisture (so reducing the possibility of over-cooling), affords some protection against the sun and keeps biting insects at bay. It also comes in a wide range of colours, too.

RRP is £40, which is not a bad price at all compared to similar quality (and in many cases, more expensive) garments from other manufacturers, and I managed to get a bit of discount without too much trouble, so even better value.

All in all the Tumbleweed is quite an impressive piece of kit, and well worth a look if you are considering a shirt of this type.

Getting Shirty

Sooner or later the realisation hits: we are no longer as young as we used to be. It's hard to accept, but there we are. The slim, fit youth that used to fill these shoes has become lost, and the chances of bowling the Aussies out at Lord’s have diminished as the waistline has expanded.

All of which can lead to problems when searching for walking shirts. The trouble is that many of the available T-shirts are rather clingy or designed more as a baselayer (ie: close-fitting, and without any discernable style. Either way, it’s not very easy on the eye.

But despite the fact that I have grown older and wider over the years (and, in truth, I was never much of a Greyhound) I still need an element of performance from my walking shirts. Ideally they will wick moisture well, smell sweet after a day or several on the trail, be tough enough to wear all day under a rucksack and not snag or deform, wash easily and dry overnight, require no ironing, and look good enough to be presentable in the pub or restaurant at night.

Besides the technical aspects, I also prefer them to be reasonably flattering in cut and styled with a man of my age in mind: there’s nothing worse than a beer-bellied old man trying to carry off a young look with the mistaken idea he looks trendy (actually, that’s not true: tucking a slogan-ed T-shirt into jeans with a brown leather belt is a truly heinous fashion crime, and one that should be avoided at all costs).

Anyway, with all the above in mind, I have been trying out a number of different walking shirts to see how they measure up, most recently on our Camino trip. It’s a tough ask: can it be done?

The products are:

Jack Wolfskin Tumbleweed S/S (TUMBLEWEED)

Jack Wolfskin Tumbleweed S/S

 Karrimor Tech Checked Shirt S/S (KARRIMOR)

Karrimor Tech Checked Shirt S/S

Peter Storm Energy S/S Crew T-Shirt (ENERGY)
Peter Storm Energy S/S Crew T-Shirt

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Camino de Santiago: A Week On The Way – Day 8

Saturday 18/5/13 – Los Arcos to Logroño

29.18km / 680m Ascent / 783m Descent

And so to our final day for this trip, a lengthy stretch of some 18 miles from Los Arcos to the sizeable city of Logroño on the edge of the Rioja region.

I may have given the impression in previous postings that the route was without charm or attraction. Not so: but what it sometimes lacked in pure scenic beauty it more than made up for in interest and charisma. Over the course of seven days we had crossed the Pyrenees, explored the Basque country, traversed the Navarre region, experienced Pamplona and walked in the world famous wine region of La Rioja. Pretty good value for one week, I’d say.

Setting off in the rain
Yesterday's changeable conditions had solidified overnight into a persistent rain, with the threat of more to come. We exited the main square shrouded in waterproofs, and set off across more open countryside towards Sansol.

Approaching Sansol
In many ways it was an unremarkable morning, as is often the case when it is just you and the rain. We were caught briefly by Heinrich, who bade us “Buen Camino!” before speeding off into the distance, eager to avoid the rain as much as possible. Then, with few other pilgrims in sight either fore or aft, we were left to several kilometres of contemplative walking.

Beyond Sansol, there was a steep descent to the river before a short climb brought us into Torres del Rio. We stopped at a tiny cafe for coffee and cake – and Wi Fi! With a long day ahead, it was good to have the chance to dry out a bit and take a decent break in comfort. But before long we were back out on the trail, and although the rain had stopped the air was damp, and it seemed only a matter of time before we endured another soaking.

However, in some way we have yet to determine, we managed to avoid the worst of the weather, although the distant mountains, shrouded in cloud and capped with newly fallen snow, reminded us that luck was playing it’s part.

New snow on distant mountains
But despite overcast and gloomy skies, we found the eleven-kilometre section between Torres del Rio and Viana to be some of the most enjoyable walking of the whole week: an undulating route (with some quite steep sections) through lovely countryside, culminating in the descent of a gorgeous valley peppered with vineyards and olive groves.

Old house, hedgerows and vines
In contrast, the final few kilometres into Viana were almost all along or beside the road. A few twists and turns soon brought us out on to the main street, and we looked around for a suitable place for a break. We popped into a bar and bought sandwiches and beer. The weather had improved, so we sat outside at a high table watching the world go by.

Part of that world included a guy from Ireland, who was doing the Camino by bicycle. I'm not sure how many days he been on the bike or how many kilometres he cycled per day, but whatever the amount he certainly seemed to be in a hurry. We did see him sometime later, head down against the wind, cycling the long straight road to Logroño.

We travelled along quieter lanes, and caught up with a couple of ladies we had seen a time or two before who had opted for another mode of transport.

Modes of transport
With a population of some 120,000 (similar to that of Blackburn or Cambridge), Logroño is another quite sizeable city. Of course, this means it has quite sizeable outskirts as well, and for much of the remaining distance we were threading a route between major roads, underpasses and flyovers. It wasn’t especially pretty, but the Camino was clear on the ground and well signed – although perhaps not in the conventional way.

We rounded a hillside, and could at last see the buildings of the old centre clearly: not far to go now, which was a good job considering the imminent weather.

Coming soon
A surprisingly pleasant lane brought us out by the Rio Ebro, from where it was but a short walk across the Puente de Piedra to the edge of the old town and our hotel. Although we were tired after around 18 miles of walking, a strange mix of emotions was competing for our attention: relief at having reached the end of a long day, the satisfaction of having completed the week, and melancholy that tomorrow morning we would be heading for the bus station, not the trail.

Thoughts of a quiet evening were put on hold when an e-mail from Emmet revealed he was also in town. By using some of the various means at his disposal (credit card, local bus service) he was now rested and repaired and back on schedule. We arranged to meet for dinner, hit the wine bars and catch up on each other’s news. It has to be said, Logroño is quite a buzzing city on a Saturday night, and we are looking forward to the day we return, to sample some more of the night life before resuming our Camino.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Camino de Santiago: A Week On The Way – Day 7

Friday 17/5/13 – Estella to Los Arcos

23.71km / 571m Ascent / 612m Descent

Another early morning start on the trail, this time accompanied by a dampening drizzle from the beginning. We rejoined the Camino and immediately fell in with a large group on a guided trip with coach support and a couple we recognised from the bar in Villatuerta.

After a few twists and turns, we’d left the town behind – which was no real loss, if we’re being honest – but were finding it difficult to shake off the group, which for some reason proved rather annoying. We were later informed that there were over fifty in this group, so no wonder we couldn’t seem to get rid of them!

Before long, though, we’d reached the Bodega at Irache, home to an unusual feature – a wine fountain! The inscription encourages pilgrims to drink a glass to fortify themselves for the long journey ahead. I could just imagine the carnage this might cause back home, strewn around each morning with a detritus of overly “fortified” winos and binge-drinkers – a very unappealing thought, but probably accurate.

Unnervingly for so early in the morning, the fountain was practically empty, and the tiny drop we managed to squeeze from it was rather unpalatable. But we were later assured by those who passed through early doors that it was in full flow at the time. They’re a thirsty lot, these pilgrims …

By now the drizzle had also fortified itself into a steady rain. We battened down the hatches, and trundled off again. The route threaded its way via woodland paths and field tracks through another string of small villages – Azqueta, Villamayor, Los Arcos – names that sound more like the midfield of a La Liga side than the route of a world-famous long distance path.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bunch of stationary pilgrims in possession of a good thirst must be in want of a bar. This proved to be the case in Azqueta, where the little café was doing a roaring trade thanks to a let-up in the rain, and we were horribly forced to consume coffee and chocolate crêpes.

Looking back to Azqueta
Just as we were setting off again, we bumped into Denise and walked together for the next few kilometres, catching up on each other’s news. Beyond the next village, Villamayor de Monjardin, began a stretch that passed virtually no signs of habitation until reaching Los Arcos some twelve kilometres later. Instead, the route wends its way through an undulating countryside of vineyards, crops and wooded hillsides. Occasionally, when we veered close to the main road, our passage was cheered on by the wail of a truck siren, but otherwise this proved to be a peaceful few miles.

Undulating countryside
Eventually, the clock ticked round to midday, and we began to look out for a lunch stop. And who should we run into? Our regular lunchtime companions, of course – the French couple. Communication presented no problems: amused surprise is pretty much the same in any language. We took our break a little further on, and were soon joined by Jo who was running a few minutes behind Denise.

"I want it said of me by those who knew me best,
that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower
where I thought a flower would grow" (Abraham Lincoln)

At a junction of paths, we caught up with Hereford Girl and friends. Atop the concrete waymarker was a pair of boots and a note inviting anyone who was in need to use them in an emergency. Nobody took them up on the offer.

The ripening harvest
Leaving the others behind, we crested a low hill and there was Los Arcos in front of us. We briefly crossed paths with an Irish couple who were carrying on to Torres del Rio, but it was drizzling again, and we had done our stint for the day, so were happy to go in search of our digs instead.

Calle Mayor
We followed the narrow street into town. On either side, the doorways were barricaded against … something. It could have been floods or it could have been bulls – we never did find out. Chances are, though, it wasn’t this fellow.

Alarm clock in Los Arcos
By the time we’d dropped our stuff at the hotel, the sun was out again. So we popped back out to the main square for a drink, where many of today's familiar faces had the same idea (including Heinrich, who we had last seen the day before).

The hotel was simple but nice, as was the dinner. In the main, we seemed to be sharing the hotel with French groups: on nearby tables were the group of six we had met a few times through the week, a foursome we had seen once or twice, and a couple who had walked all the way from Le Puy en Velay in central France, and who were 35 days on the road so far.

The heavy rain seemed to burn itself out over dinner, so we went out for a quick stroll. It seemed as though the whole town was out celebrating something or other. We didn't really find out what, but a group of kids being chased by another lad pushing a stuffed half a bull on wheels might have been a clue. Maybe bull running was coming to town: perhaps it was just Friday night high spirits, Los Arcos style. Who knows?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Camino de Santiago: A Week On The Way – Day 6

Thursday 16/5/13 – Puente la Reina to Estella

25.84km / 690m Ascent / 578m Descent

Stork! That'll be good luck and happiness guaranteed then ...
A cool but much brighter morning greeted us today, fresh and invigorating and with much more promise than yesterday’s gloomy rain.

Peregrino in Puente la Reina
As usual, we were underway by 8.15am. With another 16 miles to go today, it was good to be out on the trail so early, and there were plenty of pilgrims about already, although few we immediately recognised.

The bridge in morning sunlight
We made our way along the long narrow “Calle Mayor” crossed the bridge once again, and picked up a lane that soon gave way to a good, stony track edged with flower-filled hedgerows leading off into the countryside.

A surprisingly steep climb warmed us up as we neared the next village (Mañeru). Apart from the first day over the mountains, the Camino is often considered to be a fairly easy undertaking. In general terms it is, as the paths are clear and the infrastructure good, but that belies the fact that the terrain is undulating and the accumulated figures for distance, ascent and descent (for the week: 174.78km with 5,567m of ascent and 5,392m of descent) reveal a slightly different story: an average 15½ miles and a biggish Lake District summit every day.

Darkening clouds over Cirauqui
Beyond Mañeru, an undulating path led through olive groves and vineyards to the hilltop village of Cirauqui, which was all very lovely except for the thickening cloud looming overhead.

Typical waymarker
The route through the village was clearly signed, but complex in a higgledy-piggledy, up and down sort of way. In our experience, navigation along the Camino is pretty straightforward, and there is a huge variety of ways in which the route is waymarked. Some are official, some less so, but in reality you are never far from a scallop shell or a yellow arrow, and you soon get used to spotting them on walls, road signs, posts, trees, rocks or even set into the ground.

Sentinels on the skyline watching over us
The reward for successful navigation, though, was a self-administered stamp for the Pilgrim Passport, bread and coke bought from the nearby shop, and a short break on a handy bench.

Roman bridge at Cirauqui
Beyond the village, we crossed an old Roman bridge and hooked up with Heinrich, a German chap from Dresden we had first met a couple of days previously at the café in Irotz. A careful blend of German, English and Sign Language worked well enough for the half-hour stroll, during which time we passed through more countryside, beneath a main road, past an aqueduct and over the bridge spanning the River Salado. Here we parted company, and headed off up the hill into the village of Lorca.

Flower-filled hedgerow
The stone steps of the church tower were catching a few rays of sunshine, and made an ideal spot for a rest stop. No sooner had we opened our sandwiches than the French couple we had lunched with yesterday arrived.

One of the fascinations about the trail is that you can be on the same schedule as another walker and either bump into them frequently or not see them at all for several days. As everyone is heading west at roughly the same rate, it is perfectly possible to be five minutes behind or ahead of someone you know and to chat with others who have caught up with them, but to never actually see them for yourself.

Living la vida Lorca
Passing through the village, we swerved the busy Albergue and joined the main road for a short distance before taking to the fields once more. The sun was trying it’s best to hold forth, but away to the north dark skies and heavy rain were bearing inexorably down on us. We pushed on quickly towards the next village – Villatuerta – in the hope we could find a bar before the heavens opened. We did, eventually, but not before catching the first showers and being re-directed from the Albergue.

A couple of coffees and a change of clothes later, we were back outside in full waterproofs – and full sunshine! Quite how we managed to elude the deluge we’ll never know, as it looked as though it might rain for a week. But no: barely half an hour later and we were getting stuck into the remaining few kilometres to Estella.

"Good bread, excellent water and wine, meat and fish, brings much happiness"
I'll drink (and eat) to that!
If we’re being completely honest, the outskirts of Estella are not particularly beautiful. The old centre was quite nice, but the rest left a lot to be desired. Our hotel was about a mile off the Camino, so we picked a route through some of the better streets in an effort to make the most of the situation. Most of the buildings would best be described as “interesting” rather than “attractive”, although these very narrow properties were intriguing enough.

Narrow minded outlook
The hotel itself was a match for the town: fairly basic and non-descript, comfortable enough but nothing special. It was about 4.00pm when we checked in, leaving plenty of time before dinner – which didn’t start until 8.30pm! So we took the opportunity for a rest and a shower, phoning home and messing about on the free Wi Fi beforehand.

The most notable aspect of dinner was our inability to correctly identify red wine: a trick of the light, not the palate, I hasten to add – we just assumed the dark looking liquid with the greenish hue in the unlabelled square bottle served with bread was olive oil. Thankfully, we realised our mistake before making fools of ourselves, and it was left to a group of half a dozen lads on a neighbouring table to reinforce the boorish reputation of Brits abroad. Perhaps it is no surprise that the waitress was a bit grumpy with us.

We had a quick walk out afterwards, but turned in as soon as possible as we both felt quite tired. We’d had another good day on the trail, and we’re finding life on the Camino is suiting us very well. We’ve been enjoying the routine, and even the weather hasn’t been able to dampen our enthusiasm.

Having said that, tomorrow’s forecast is for heavy rain …