Lovely sunny last day, albeit a bit off piste due to poor map-reading on the way out of town this morning. It was beautiful though, detouring through forest tracks and, later, once we'd hot back on track, lovely old villages. This part of Spain is so varied - on a map you simply have no idea whether a habitation will turn out to be an ancient picturesque town or a completely empty, new, dormitory development.
After the early detour we had top notch bocadillos in a jamon shop and then shortcutted via a road a few times to cut back the distance. The last few k into Comillas were just lovely and I felt (and feel) somewhat sad that this is the end of the road for my northern Camino.
For the sake of a last night on the town with the group of survivors (oh god) I joined them in taking the train back to Santander where I now have 36 hours till my flight early Monday morning.
330k plus or minus a few percent;
many blisters but all toenails intact;
reinvigoration of my love of walking and northern Spain in general;
no thoughts at all of work;
not much spiritual enlightenment;
but most of all just wonderful to catch up with the lovely boys - Niall, who remains one of the most entertaining chaps I know, and Gary who remains a totally unflappable gentleman and just general hero.
Who knows if we shall meet again but I am hugely grateful to have met them twice.
35 slightly painful km today on a long hot day of long winding tarmac. Not unpleasant, and notable for 1) a big scary Alsatian behind a wire fence who ran alongside us menacingly... before poking his stick through the fence for us to throw; 2) men herding a group of young flighty cows down the main road using four pieces of baler cord to hold them in a square as they trotted along; 3) someone saying, as we walked hopelessly up a hot road in the middle of nowhere 'oh I'd love an ice cream...' two seconds before an ice cream sign appeared round the corner.
The goal of the long hot walk is a truly spectacular ancient medieval town. By arriving late we got ourselves a night in a beautiful old house instead of the (full) albergue, and hopefully by the time we make it back out the tourists will have mainly dispersed...
This has been the iconic camino day. Yet it did not start as such. Way too much was drunk by all last night, leading to, among other shenanigans, me getting into a huge row about hurling, not something I know or care anything about, and an unlikely topic for my drunken belligerence. Lessons learnt (for now).
Having spent much of the night awake and hungover I was relieved when day dawned, even though the first act of the day was sending Niall off on the bus to Bilbao (so hungover he nearly missed his flight and had to run across the airport after delaying the flight). Actually the first act of the day was dropping my towel out of the window and having to use walking sticks to pick it up off the roof of the restaurant below... Patrick also decided he was not getting up at all and will meet us in a day or two. So just four set off into the morning which was dawning bright and hot...
The first 20k or so was fast, on flat back roads that looked a lot like Camino Frances territory. Absolutely lovely. The afternoon was the complete treat however. For a very slow but perfect 10k we walked the most glorious coast path with turquoise sea, white sand beaches, and dramatic cliffs all around, surf schools below and also stopped for an enormous and enormously delicious ice cream. Finally Santander arose across the bay and we walked a couple of k of stunning beach to Somo, had a quick swim etc and then took the ferry across to the city. Where we are -finally - back in a real albergue with all the feet, crampedness, falling down shower curtains and kindly geriatric hospitaleros that that implies.
It's late and I'm tired and can't do full justice to how spectacular it all was. But in summary, a gorgeous invigorating day.
Today started with a 5k walk along a perfect white sand beach. After a short ferry ride and breakfast, we trudged through a lovely old town and along the side of a prison complete with many attractive young male runners - we assume prison guards. Up over a beautiful but of cliff and a few more k along the next perfect beach.... And then we get stuck. My feet hurt, Niall can't go any further without missing his plane home tomorrow, others are happily swimming and don't want to get out. And this amazing beachfront bar that we're sitting in is attached to a 3 star hotel that has rooms for 50 euros...
A very happy day with a very lovely walk. But jeez my feet are really suffering now.
I set off ahead of the rest and walked the first two hours alone through gorgeous coastal countryside and small villages. Shortly after a coffee stop the group split to take a longer inland route vs walk the main road - somewhere around 5k shorter. I went long and the scenery was worth it, including a steep stony path up through beautiful eucalyptus forest and then a descent through Dales-like limestone canyons. The final stretch was also stunning, along a very steep coastline with limestone mountains, white sand beaches, rollers coming in, vultures circling, and gorgeous views all around.
We were met in Laredo by the boys who had booked us into an 18-Euro clean, quiet hotel with a bath. A bath! Good job as the compeed levels are reaching critical mass and some, ugh, removal and renewal is required if I am ever to walk again.
Bilbao was a funny old place. Like many Spanish cities, the touristic / historic centre had beautiful architecture and largely seemed thriving, but still a little blighted by what one could charitably call counter-culture, or alternatively just faintly threatening young men with excessive piercings and drinking problems. We had a very nice hostel but it was opposite a falling down building that was definitely either a brothel or a crack house. And there were fights (and dog fights) happening all night.
Come the morning we took the executive decision to take the underground instead of walk 10k out of Bilbao through the suburbs. This was very smooth and landed us in in Portugalete, a medium-sized commuter town. Our first walk was then 10k largely on bike track out of town, swooping over an enormous motorway system and down to the small beach town of Puerto de la Arena, where the major event was the very long queue at the bank, we assume to draw the dole or similar.
The next bit of walking was fantastic: 7k along a beautiful coastline that I would (did) say reminded me of Cornwall. My feet were less nostalgic however and several compeed were applied, all this road walking taking a real toll (when I took my shoes off tonight there were large red raw bits, despite compeed... I may have screamed like a girl when the shower hit them...)
There was a lot of roadwork this afternoon and I had tired legs and feet but all was redeemed by the lovely coast. At a small cove just before Castro Urdiales we each stopped for 2 out of 3 of, beer, ice cream, swim (you can guess that I didn't get wet). The last stomp in over the headland and along the seafront was gorgeous. CU is an astonishing old seaside town, fronted by beautiful houses and with a wonderfully buttressed-church and lighthouse out on the breakwater.
We are staying in a lovely central hotel (hurrah!) and looking forward to an earplug-less sleep that will somewhat miraculously heal my heels.