In July 2017 our family consisting of 3 people: mother, father and a 10-year old son, set off on a hike upon the ancient pilgrimage way of St James in Spain. We chose the Northern Way, Camino del Norte, which lays on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, for its picturesque views and less heat, very usual for midsummer in central parts of Spain.
We didn’t have a goal to reach the destination of pilgrimage in two weeks – town of Santiago de Compostela. We decided to walk only part of the Way from Bilbao to Gijón. During the next 15 days we have walked the distance of 328 km. And those 15 days have turned out to be an unforgettable trip. Camino doesn’t let go and calls for you to come back. It’s a good thing then that we owe it 300 km still. And somewhere ahead, in Santiago de Compostela, each of us will get a cherished certificate of a pilgrim
Below are the short notes of every day, that I wrote in the road, in hot pursuit. It’s only upgraded with the full names of albergues and guesthouses, where we stayed overnight, with active links to the official web-page of Camino del Norte.
The shoulders already hurt of backpack straps. Although we carried them mainly from train station to taxi and through the terminals of airports (it’s going to get much worse…). It was raining in Prague and we were forced to rummage in our backpacks for some warm clothes, packed in case it was cold on the Way. But Bilbao pleased us with everything. The weather was perfect. The accommodation was lovely. The city itself – beautiful. I envy Bilbaines (translator’s note: people who live in Bilbao ). The architecture was stunning. Modern and historical buildings go together organically. Everything is vast and colorful.
Gigantic bronze-steal spider MAMAN is situated on the embankment of Rio de Bilbao, futuristic ensemble in the backdrop is the building of Guggenheim Museum of modern art.
A million of cozy places you want to enter, sit in or just look at. The people around are bright. With sparks in their eyes, something childish and immediate is present in everybody (or maybe it’s just my euphoria ).
We received the official status of pilgrims, filled out a questionnaire, were issued with passports of pilgrims, bought a shell for a souvenir.
In the evening we ate a simple supper on a little balcony, whereas underneath the street is full of life. The noise won’t cease until late night. We go to sleep. Tomorrow is the Way.
Stay: Pension Serantes . Booked ahead, so we don’t have to look anxiously for a hotel upon arrival. On the first day we felt more like tourists, not pilgrims. A good clean guesthouse with two common showers and a toilet, kitchen for everybody to use. It is situated in the center, 500 m away from St James’s Way headquarters (so to say), where one can get a cherished credential (pilgrim passport), useful info, advice and a pleasant communication.
In the morning we said goodbye to Bilbao. The farewell was long – the city stretched seemingly forever. Through the suburbs at first, then through the industrial area. What does save every city? The river. The cities on the river stay forever in my heart. We were walking along the river and unnoticeably got to Portugalete. Just over 10 km, not very difficult. The weather was pleasant, sun in the clouds. No heat.
We crossed the river by the Vizcaya Bridge (suspended ferry over the waters of the Rio de Bilbao) and decided to walk farther to Pobeña (another 10 km).
The second 10K was more difficult. Backpack straps is the awful test. Painful spot #1. We finally regulated all the fastenings on backpacks, only when the shoulders had become the most sensitive place in whole body. The town of Playa La Arena is the reward for today’s stretch.
The first overnight stay is not far away – a town of Pobeña is on the horizon.
We walked out to the vast empty beach. Ocean was sharing its energy with us. Breathed in new energy. A lot of water dust is in the air. Waves roll on the coast…
It’s only a kilometer from here to the place of our stay, to the first albergue. A happy place, really cool. There are many different people here, all resting.
The town of Pobeña isn’t a town at all, but a village. We are waiting for supper – the food is served only after 7 pm. The don’t dine early in Spain.
Simple things give us the most happiness. A shower, fresh T-shirt, a glass of red wine, a piece of fresh bread. One full dinner a day – it’s not a lot.
Stay: Albergue de Pobeña . The first albergue on the Way. We all wanted to dump our backpacks, freshen up and have a bite. The reality turned out to be not worse than expectations and it was great! Albergue in Pobeña is conditionally free – the price is “donativo”, as Spanish say. One can leave a sum appropriate for your wallet. There are two bedrooms with a lot of bunk beds, male and female shower, washing machine, little kitchen. “Menu of pilgrim” is offered in the neighboring bar for €10 (two courses + wine and dessert). A good albergue. We were not sleeping well in the company of strangers, unaccustomed.
Getting up in albergue was if we were in a summer camp. The plan was to reach Castro Urdiales. The guidebook says 22 km. In fact, it was 15. Came there early. We explored the town a little bit, ate at the seaside.
There were no vacancies in albergue. We decided to go farther, a little more than 8 km. In fact, far more than that. Albergue in Islares was closed. A couple kilometers remained to El Pontarrón.
At the end of the day the body turned into a ringing substance, moving automatically. The brain was resting and didn’t produce any thoughts. Ivan (our little son) was walking with us surprisingly patiently. He was met as a hero in the only bar of El Pontarrón by the pilgrims who finally made it here. People in different languages express their utter amazement to our little pilgrim.
Stunning views – compensation for being tired on the Way. Spanish towns and villages give aesthetic enjoyment. It’s a very beautiful country.
Somewhere on the stretch of the St. Jacob’s Way between Castro Urdiales and Islares.
Stay: El Pontarrón . The second albergue on the Way and for the second time for donativo. We weren’t so lucky afterwards. This was worse than the previous, small – only 9 bunk beds. Although after 28 km it didn’t matter. We just wanted to eat and to rest.
After yesterday’s marathon we planned to make a simple stretch of 14 km, to rest ourselves and to reduce the load for Ivan. But there were no vacancies in Liendo’s albergue. We were forwarded to Laredo. It’s 5 km more on the motorway (official Camino offers 7 km along the picturesque marine cliffs). Having sacrificed the beauties of the seaside we made it to Laredo.
The beach here is amazing! Big as in Brazil. But deserted for a Brazilian, probably. We let the younger pilgrim to enjoy the waves. He honestly deserved it. All day long we were enjoying the landscapes of Spain and its diversity. And for the night settled in albergue in the church. Very comfortable and unique. Not as cheap as previous two. But clergymen fetched a dinner for all pilgrims. And it was something! Not taking food in consideration, but experiences for we didn’t ever dine in the company of people from all over the world and receive food from monks. Today at the table we met almost a countryman – the pilgrim from Dnepr.
Indeed, marvelous Way of Santiago!!!
Stay: Residencia Albergue Casa de la Trinidad . As chic as it can get! Albergue in the church. Very comfortable rooms with normal beds. 5-7 people in each room, a separate lavatory. Manual laundry in the yard. It is talking about amenities. The atmosphere is beautiful. To reach it tired and use the hospitality of clergymen is expensive (€10 per head).
In the morning we long didn’t decide where to go. It’s close to Santoña – only 6 km, and 5 minutes on the boat across the bay. It’s far to Güemes – more than 30 km. There’s no albergue in the middle. At least in our guidebook that we got in Bilbao. Lucky the fellow travelers directed us to Helgueras. Here we settled for the night. We didn’t walk much, but couldn’t stop taking pictures of beaches. There were 3 of them today. Immense sandy beaches with emerald waters decorated with rocky cliffs.
Red roofs in the far – resort city Noja, our place of stay is a small cluster of red roofs in the left of the frame.
Half a day we walked barefoot on sand and tide. Perfect massage for tired feet. It’s early bed and rest today. A stretch longer planned for tomorrow.
Stay: Albergue Noja Aventura . A private albergue. Price is 10 euros per person + disposable bed linen. Manual laundry and washing machine (extra price). Level of comfort is very medium. But there’s a coffee shop/bar on the ground floor (with traditional supper after 8pm) and city of Noja just a kilometer away from albergue (it has supermarkets).
Beginning of the day was optimistic and promising. A good pace, weather, regularity of signs on the Way. Breakfast in a pleasant place, in a small village, coffee and never-changing tortilla (fried potatoes and egg). Also peeked in the local flee market. The mess began after 20 km. It seemed we didn’t have to go a lot and we can enjoy the rest and the sea. But yellow arrows disappeared from the Way, the road was going through resort villages, where nobody heard about albergues. Plus, the sun was in zenith and roasted mercilessly.
As a result, we spend the night in an economical hotel for amateur surfers. We didn’t have energy to look for albergue and the morale of a younger pilgrim was approaching zero. The advantages were full-blown bathtub and the bed with bedlinen. No sleeping bags, common showers and toilets. And, a full dinner (very simple to be honest) in a local bar. It’s a pity, but we hopelessly fell behind our fellow travelers, who we occasionally met during these days. But in the end, everybody has their own Camino. We learn to feel joy of life in every little thing. We will return onto the Way.
Stay: Wolf House Surfe Camp .Room for two with additional bed and a separate bathroom cost us €60. Very expensive for pilgrims. Spanish breakfast included. Although breakfast in Spain is a convention.
We let ourselves sleep in. But nevertheless, we woke up before the alarm. Consequences of going to bed early. We decided to go along the coast in the morning as a compensation for hanging around yesterday in the sun. Beaches of the north of Spain don’t cease to surprise with their vastness and beauty. The one around Somo, that we saw in the morning, was gigantic and almost deserted.
If you have an opportunity – go to the sea to these places. Maybe you won’t have a chance to swim around a lot (ocean waters are rarely warmed to high temperatures), but it’s guaranteed you’ll enjoy secluded rest and the power of elements. And, you’ll learn basics of surfing. Groups of people who like this leisure activity look as colonies of seals in the water.
We bathed in the ocean too. To resist such a temptation was impossible. It’s impossible to go deep, so we waited for every incoming wave and screaming dipped into its foam. The best part of the day. To walk along the ocean is pleasant and not hot. The time and kilometers are passing unnoticeably. Then we sailed to Santander. The capital of Cantabria region. There’s a lot in here: a lot of people, noise and air pollution…
The embankment of Santander – building of the center of modern art Centro Botin
We were getting out of the city for a long time. Finally, we found the yellow arrows of the Way. Two more hours through villages.
It’s difficult not to notice such arrow
Closer to 3 pm we got to the place of stay. The village of Boo de Piélagos. A beautiful private albergue. One more night on fresh bedlinen. Also, there was a dinner here. We still didn’t adjust to the scheme of meals here in Spain, especially in the province. They don’t cook according to the menu, but serve a lunch and a dinner. The latter is to be expected after 7 pm in the best case.
During the break between them in cafes and restaurants one can buy only alcohol and a sandwich. Not much of a satisfaction for a hungry traveler. Local shop with a loud name “supermarcado” reminded me of the former times of shortages. Empty shelves in the shops of Europe is something new.
We met acquaintances from Pobeña, El Pontarrón and Liendo. Seems like we didn’t fall that much behind. Tomorrow is a new day on the marvelous way of Santiago.
Stay: Albergue Piedad . A very good private albergue. Fresh sheets, cleanness and comfort. Dinner is available here. Breakfast is included. There’s a kitchen – one is free to cook something on your own. €12 per person.
It was very foggy in the morning. It wasn’t cold, but damp and sticky. We had breakfast at albergue (coffee, tea, cocoa, toasts with butter and jam, sweet pastry). Not much, but good that there was a chance to eat something hot. And then practically a run through industrial suburbs. Railway junctions, wastelands, traffic, career, a plant. Boring, melancholic, joyless. Sky is full of clouds and sometimes it starts drizzling.
The last 6 km we walked through the picturesque countryside. And even the smell of silage is pleasing, not repulsive. It turned completely overcast. We had to pull out the raincoats, they dangled in the backpacks for a reason. We didn’t notice how we got to Santillana del Mar.
By the cobbled street we descended into the city and every hundred meters as if returned a hundred years back in time. Absolutely unique place. We are visited by the feeling of being on the set of the movie about the Middle Ages. If there had been people going out of shops and restaurants wearing historic costumes, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
And there are a lot of people here. The place, apparently, is very popular. We found an albergue, settled in. The atmosphere is very much like the city – ascetically Middle Ages. But with all the comforts of civilization. But again, we find ourselves in the period of time when it’s impossible to eat. It’s bewildering really. There are a lot of atmospheric places around, but no food until 8 pm. Found out what’s “pincho” – a sandwich with the variety of fillings. But you’re not going to be full just of pincho. So the sponsor of our dinner is supermarket Coviran. Coviran – no one’s going to bed hungry! We are dreaming of a soulful local soup. Who knows what time of day is good for soup in Spanish restaurants? And what to try? Lost in translation, too. A few people speak English here. Locals produce entire speeches in Spanish, even if they understand that it’s just sounds for us. But overall everything is wonderful. The feeling we walked our entire life. All anxiety and vanity of recent months dissolved and got lost on the way.
Stay: Albergue El Convento .A beautiful albergue in the fairy-tale town. Especially recommended to esthetes and interior enthusiasts. We liked it very much. €12 per person. 50% discount for Ivan, very kind. Breakfast is available for extra charge. There’s everything in the living room to make hot tea. We were allocated in the room with 2 bunk beds and nobody stayed in that room apart from us. Through the window-loophole we were looking at the ancient cobbled street.
To be continued about our Way.