In the morning we were the last out of the albergue, for no particular reason beyond the obvious, that everyone else had got up and dressed and breakfasted before us. My boots were still a bit damp, though two pairs of clean, dry, socks disguised that fact.
We were both rather daunted by the prospect of this day. We knew from the book that it was long, it was steep, and that there were very few places to stop. There was nothing; then there was Bar Julia, which might or might not be open; then there was a long, long climb up to the highest point of the Camino Inglés.
Still, there was nothing to do but to set out and start walking. The path went downhill for a little, and then uphill quite a lot. While the day was not particularly warm, the air was humid, and I found it difficult to breathe. From time to time it got its act together sufficiently to become real rain. Once again, we were dodging the motorway – though at least there was a rainbow over it at one point.
After that it was road walking, which was hard on the feet. At Cos, we caught up with the Italian pilgrim from Betanzos; we greeted him with a wave. Then we sat down in a bus shelter, ate a large packet of crisps between us, and he got ahead of us again.
At Presedo, twelve kilometres in, we were both thoroughly fed up with the whole thing, though wouldn’t have admitted it for anything. Presedo had an albergue, according to the guidebook, so we hoped that it might have a bar, too. The book did not mention a bar, but all the same we left the path and went down into the village. No luck. We returned to the path and set our faces to Bar Julia.
Sometimes, when you have resigned yourself to the idea that something is going to be awful and you are just going to have to get through it, something surprising and welcome pops up in the middle of it and makes it all considerably less awful. We’d known that the day was going to be twenty-nine kilometres of horrible gradients. We’d accepted the possibility that Bar Julia would be closed and, now that there had proved to be no bar in Presedo, we were resigned to the fact that we were going to have to go all the way to Hospital de Bruma with only such breaks as we could contrive for ourselves.
And then we saw a sign. Red. Meson O Museo on the right in one hundred metres.
We would have been glad to see it even had it been a fuggy little hole jammed with hostile dogs and more hostile locals. But it was wonderful. A shady courtyard with plenty of chairs and tables, an elegant but friendly cat sniffing her way around our rucksacks, a lovely woman behind the bar, a baby in a highchair, and a charming medieval theme. The Spanish trio had already found it, and seemed just as pleased with it as we were.
We got pop to cool us down, and then coffee to perk us up, and got our credenciales stamped, and I glanced at the contents of a glass case that made a tiny museum. It was a lovely place, all the more so because we hadn’t been expecting it at all, and after a couple of minutes there we were able to admit to each other what a relief it had been to find it.
After that the prospect of the rest of the day seemed less daunting, although the damp was slowly seeping from my boots through the double layer of my socks…
The way led us through a little wooded dip, and out and up again between paddocks. A little row of houses stood on the ridge. One of the inhabitants was waiting for us. What language did we speak? English. No good. She spoke Italian or German, but not English. We went for Spanish, and it was in that language that she offered us our pick from a basket of hard-boiled eggs. It was with some difficulty that we came away with as few as three…
We walked on another hour or so, through farmland and woodland. When we came across a children’s playground with a picnic table, I suggested that we stop for lunch, on the grounds that there might not be another spot as good. John agreed, a little reluctantly. We divvied up bread and cheese, and I took boot and socks off to find that what I thought might be a blister was indeed one. I applied Compeed, ruining a couple before I was satisfied with the way it lay.
After that there wasn’t much to do but push on. So we did.
The rain came once more without warning, sudden and drenching. We hastened to put on waterproofs, but we were already wet.
A few hundred yards further on, we found Bar Julia. Open.
If we’d been only a few minutes earlier we’d have stopped and waited out the rain; as it was, we were already wet, and if we sat down we’d be cold too. We set our faces to the climb and walked on past Bar Julia.
The road was quite new, smooth tarmac, and the water ran down it in sheets. We proceeded up it in a slightly less determined manner. The rain stopped coming down after a few minutes; aside from a halt to take advantage of a church with toilets accessible via the outside wall, we kept going up. The path left the road and dived up into woodland.
After a little while I remarked, ‘Now, Jones had left his new-wed bride to keep his house in order,’ and remembering the rest of the poem took us a fair way up the slope.
We didn’t know any other poems well enough to get us any further, however, and it was a very long way up the hill. (A Code of Morals was pinned up in the kitchen for years.) And the combination of the steepness of the gradient and the humidity of the air meant that I had to stop at almost every hairpin to get my breath back.
That was the worst of the day; the worst of it was, there were still another seven kilometres to go. They were tedious. The most tedious part of it was a stony field. I grumbled all the way across it; John nobly refrained from abandoning me in the middle of it. It gave way to what would ordinarily have been a pleasant woodland path that crossed a couple of pretty little streams. The guidebook had promised us a waymarking at one kilometre to go. We kept not seeing it, so that meant that we still had more than a kilometre to go. Of course, when we came to the albergue, we no longer worried about that…
There’s not such thing as the authentic pilgrim experience; there are only pilgrims, and experiences. What I will say of the albergue at Hospital de Bruma is that it was the one that matched most closely my memories of the Camino Frances a decade previously. And this was largely down to an accident of geography: there was no mobile phone reception. It was also the fact that this was a Galician municipal albergue, and all of these have a similar feel to them, no matter that they are housed in a very diverse variety of buildings. And then there were a lot of pilgrims, some of whom we hadn’t seen before; this sense of shuffling the pack felt much more like the Camino Frances.
The Camino Inglés is short enough, and its logical stopovers far enough apart, that you meet the same people over and over again. On the Camino Frances, with its abundance of accommodation (not that it always felt like that) it’s much easier to lose people just because they’re walking slightly faster or slightly more slowly than you are. But at Betanzos we found everybody from Pontedeume, and then a few more; and at Hospital de Bruma, everybody from Betanzos (except the American woman who’d had to give up and go home) plus a few more who had come from A Coruña.
The kitchen left something to be desired, which also seemed typical of Galician albergues. We dined on instant noodles and the hard-boiled eggs. John’s turned out not to have been cooked thoroughly, so he put it in the microwave.
‘I don’t think you’re meant to put eggs in the microwave,’ I said. ‘I think they explode.’
This greatly amused the one other pilgrim in the kitchen, a man in his sixties with an impressive moustache. I tried to explain in Spanish, but he turned out to be Canadian. We talked quite a lot about pilgrims and pilgrimages.
John and I had bunks on the top floor, and I was on the top bunk. At my elbow I had an opening that looked down onto the kitchen, which had the whole height of the building. This meant, of course, that I could look down on the kitchen table and hear everything that was going on. That evening it happened to be the Japanese and Italian pilgrims discussing (I think) twentieth century history, with the aid of one or more bottles of wine. All very amiable, but a bit loud.
Next time: a flattish stage, at long last, and some very weird sculptures.