Monday 3 June 2013

Camino de Santiago: A Week On The Way – Day 4

Tuesday 14/5/13 – Zubiri to Pamplona

22.11km / 541m Ascent / 606m Descent

Another promising morning dawned, with blue skies above and what little low cloud there was looking set to burn off pretty quickly.

Once again we were breakfasted and on the trail by 8.15am, looking forward to another reasonably relaxed day and the prospect of a night in one of Spain’s most evocative cities: Pamplona!

However, there was work to be done before we could party.

The way ahead
Today’s route shadowed the River Arga for much of the way, and it was a day for settling into a comfortable routine and beginning to put names to faces. As with most long distance undertakings, life on trail is quite simple, and revolves around the three basic imperatives of “eat; sleep; hike”. A routine soon establishes itself: here, is was usually a case of setting off quite early, getting most of the walking done by lunch time, and arriving at the next overnight around mid-afternoon, with time to rest, relax and enjoy the surroundings before dinner (which was never before 7.00pm earliest, and often as late as 8.30pm before getting started – such is the Spanish way).

Crossing the River Arga
For the first mile or so the views were nothing special. In a scene reminiscent of the Hope Valley in the Peak District, the hulking Magnesite works detracted somewhat from the allure of the surrounding hills. But soon that was behind us, and we were walking along in companionable silence or chatting to fellow pilgrims.

One of the big topics of conversation amongst walkers is “How far are you going?” Quite a large proportion of those we met set out with the intention of through-hiking the whole route over a five or six week stint (lucky devils!). Of course in some cases aspirations were tempered somewhat after the tough first day, but many do indeed do just that. In fact, well over 100,000 people arrive in Santiago to receive their compostelas (official certificates) every year, which means, in the more clement months, about 5,000 people start each week – a number roughly equivalent to the population of Keswick!

Walkers and cyclists on the Camino
However, there’s always room for those who adopt a more unusual approach. Just outside Zubiri, we bumped into the three Israelis again, who had hatched a novel plan: hike to Pamplona, hire a car, drive to near Santiago and walk the final bit!

Rest stop in Irotz
By late morning, we reached the little village of Irotz, where a small bar was doing a big trade in cold drinks and hot pizza. We shared a table with two Germans, a Dutch lady from Amsterdam and Jim and Lynn from Ottawa (she from Canada, he originally from Liverpool). Over a lunch of shared pizza, the conversation flowed in a mixture of languages – one of the great pleasures of a trip like this is meeting people with a huge diversity of nationalities, backgrounds and motivations – and we spent the remainder of the afternoon walking and chatting with Jim and Lynn about everything from healthcare to the Premier League managerial merry-go-round.

Happiness is ......
With a population of around 200,000, modern Pamplona is a reasonably major city – roughly the same size as Newcastle, Northampton or Derby – and is the capital of the Navarre region.

Nearing the Trinidad de Arre
From the outskirts at Villava it is approximately three miles to the city centre. The Camino takes a fairly direct route along tree-lined boulevards, through shop-lined streets and past all the usual houses and businesses one would associate with a suburban area.

Boulevards lined with interconnecting trees
We crossed the river via the Puente de los Peregrinos and stopped briefly in the public gardens beyond to chat to a French couple known to Jim and Lynn. Then it was on, through a gateway in the old city ramparts, and into the narrow streets and wide squares of the historical centre. We checked into our hotel, as did Jim and Lynn (who needed a room for the night) and Emmet (who we had not seen since the morning).

Civic buildings
There is quite a bit to see and do in Pamplona, and many pilgrims choose to take a day off here to look round, rest and recuperate after three days on the trail. Jim, Lynn and Emmet were amongst those opting for a break, but we were off in the morning so we had a stroll out for a couple of hours to get a feel for the city and see a few of the sights.

Hemmingway's statue and the Bullring behind
Of course Pamplona’s big claim to fame is the festival of San Firmin and the “running of the bulls” – an event immortalised in Ernest Hemmingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”. We had a stroll round the outside of the bullring, ambled through the nearby gardens, and sat watching the world go by in the main Plaza del Castillo. We also wandered some of the narrow, labyrinthine streets packed with shops and bars, bought an ice cream, bumped into Jim and Lynn and exchanged farewells and e-mail addresses, and wished them “Buen Camino!” for the days and weeks ahead.

The Plaza del Castillo
It was an evening of farewells, too. We went out for Pintxos and beers with Emmet (you can’t come to Spain and not have tapas, can you?) and had the chance to run the streets of Pamplona for ourselves on the way back – not against the bulls, though, but the heavy rain that had materialised while we ate.

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