The sun is shining here, and indeed it's rather too hot for sight-seeing; so after a mini-wander around (an an excellent lunch), I'm sitting in the cool lobby of Hotel Casa Wagner, in Brasov's main square, away from the Whitsunday crowds, with an equally cool beer to hand. In other words, it's a good life!
My train journey came to an end this morning at 10ish, just under 48 hours after leaving Cheltenham. The best part was the last: I had my 3-person sleeper from Budapest all to myself, and awoke to see hills peeping out of the mist and the sun slanting across the landscape from left to right, rather than from right to left as last evening, illuminating one of the largest wind farms I have ever seen.
The train was not, thankfully, in a hurry, so I was able to enjoy the very attractive and varied landscape - fields much divided up, sheep (with shepherds), hay stooks, woodlands with banks of acacia trees in bloom, lakes and rivers, birdlife (plentiful), and even a couple of horse-drawn carts. They obviously haven't all gone for lasagna.
In the villages, each house with its steeply-raked roof, there was not a lawn to be seen: gardens are intensively cultivated with vegetables - all of course far ahead of ours at home.
The final run into Brasov was across flatter territory, snowy mountains being now the backdrop, a reminder of Brasov's strategic importance in old times. I received an uninvited (but rather welcome) history lesson from a certain Peter, who was unashamedly out to earn a little money: he approached me with a distinctive brand of English (Orwell is his favourite writer) as I stood taking a photograph of three trumpeters in costume high up on the platform of the city centre tower (they perform at 12 each day as a reminder of the role of the human fire alarms of former days, Peter told me). Vlad the Impaler was, he assured me, a goody: having read a full and very gory description of his methods in my Rough Guide, I remain unconvinced.
I really do recommend coming by train if you are thinking of Romania for a holiday: I had a leisurely dinner in Paris; breakfast in Munich, and a walk and dinner again in Budapest. Both German and Hungarian sleeping cars were more than adequate, though, going for a shower this morning, I found it in full use as a broom cupboard. And loo paper is BYO.
Switching between French, German, Hungarian and Romanian may sound interesting, but - though this feels like a contradiction in terms - English is the lingua franca.
The village of Leintwardine, on the River Teme in far North Herefordshire, is where I stayed, in great comfort, last night. Its extremely active History Society asked me to talk about The Diary of a Shropshire Farmer.
Not only did the denizens of Leintwardine turn out in force, but I was given a splendid dinner (and breakfast) for my pains. And my hostess turned out to be a cousin by marriage, her grandmother featuring in one of the Diary's family trees I prepared as an Appendix.
The parish church's chancel hosts a collection of misericords: on the South side, they are ancient but much damaged. On the North, there are a couple of lively present day scenes, recently installed to commemorate the village pub's late landlady, Flossie, and the butcher (still happily with us). Andrew Pearson carved them.
We were invited for Sunday lunch by old friends who live on the Cotswold edge. Walking it off afterwards, I remarked on how indented the escarpment is; and how lyrical sheep look in a Springtime orchard!
We had lunch with the three grandchildren yesterday, on Edmund's barge in Bristol Docks. The Bristol Walking Festival had its base just by the boat, and William and I went on a "plant" walk, down along towards Clifton. We spotted a mouse amongst the vegetation, well planted up and growing happily alongside the river, below the path, and presided over by a statue of the formidable Samuel Plimsoll.
I am still digesting an exceptional talk, given yesterday evening. Here's a link to a soundbite, illustrating Fr. Tom's delightful sense of fun, as well as his seriousness.
In due course I hope to be able to write more about it; but already messages of appreciation have come in. One says, "The evening we had with Fr. Tom... was so nourishing and thoughtful! He is an inspirational speaker and I was reminded... and inspired to think again about what is important and how I live."
This shows the degree to which Fr. Tom has turned his back on the world, in order to live the simple life: we were telling him at breakfast, what each of the children were up to. "Thomas does web design," I said. "Web design?" he replied. "What's that?"
I have been sifting through the photographs I took during my nearly four weeks in Spain. This is one of those I have now put onto my website in a loose collection, which gives a flavour of my pilgrimage. More anon, perhaps...
Gloucestershire Churches Environmental Justice Network arranged a site visit today at the premises of the Commercial Group. Though barely 500 metres from where we live, I had never before ventured down their road, which runs through the site of the former Leckhampton Station. Commercial's sustainability tsar, Simon Graham, gave us generously of both his time and his experience - a most impressive performance!
Since their Damascene moment, six years ago, Commercial have achieved in excess of a 75% reduction in carbon, and - as from Friday last - are able to say they do zero waste. The effect on both customers and suppliers must be very considerable.
Simon outlined three drivers for business to move towards sustainability. Seeing the need to be part of the solution, in looking at responsibility to shareholders. Resource constraints: durability necessitates stewardship. And finally the need to be able to look our grandchildren in the eye.
I have probably quoted before the question asked by Sir Toby Belch, "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" Ale was there sadly none, but Simon did produce a packet of chocolate biscuits.
"Why, O Lord, does your existence make atheists so angry?" asks Clifford Longley in his column in this week's edition of The Tablet. The article was of particular interest to me, as its author - a leading Catholic journalist - talks about his atheist father. "I was brought up a thoroughgoing atheist myself, which makes me a victim of what [Richard] Dawkins has labelled child abuse - the raising of children with the same religious beliefs as their parents."
Caroline and I, by contrast, brought up our four children as Christians, but at least one, probably more, are now non-believers, though whether or not they would describe themselves as atheist I know not.
We loved having our granddaughter Ida to stay for four nights (she is today back at school in Bristol), but I forbore to take her to church with me on Sunday.
The author of "God doesn't do waste!", Dave Bookless, was at St Matthew's today, asking "Churches and the environment: are they on the same planet?" "We Christians need to heed and answer the criticism that we separate human beings from the rest of nature," he urged. "Our grandchildren will want to know Why didn't they act?" And care for the poor goes along with, as Pope Francis has been ceaselessly stressing, care for the planet.
Every church congregation, Dave is convinced, should be first measuring its energy consumption, and then seeking to reduce it. To ignore this challenge is "to borrow from other species and from future generations."
A man of conviction, an excellent communicator - someone who walks the talk.
30 or so years ago, Caroline inherited a chair from her Godmother Ena Parkin. It saw good service before that time, and served me well also, when I worked at 25 Rodney Road. But latterly, all the springing had gone. It's an unusual shape, so we weren't eager to consign it to the tip (or offer it on freecycle). Now, it has now come back to life at the skilled hands of a very kind friend who, in retirement, took to upholstery. I collected it from him yesterday: it lifts the tone of our dining-room no end.
Today, I've been planting potatoes - Pink Fir Apple - having collected some bags of manure from a nearby horsiculturalist. Perfect weather for digging! The tulips are still at their best, as is the Magnolia: we were worried they would be over while we were away. With the house empty for much of that time, Mrs. Blackbird has built a nest on the shelf above the gumboots just outside our back door: four eggs so far.
My Wednesday walking colleagues were meeting at The Butcher's Arms in Sheepscombe today. I took this photograph, looking back at the village shortly after we set out, so the shadows are still quite long. Though I know the Painswick area a little, I hadn't done this walk before: some lovely views! And a perfect Spring day for it.
We spent last night in Poitou-Charentes. The bustling Ferme du Puy d'Anche is one of few B&Bs that seem to welcome dogs. It's very much a working farm. This tree was the only thing dead about it. Apart that is from us, after a long journey - with the prospect of a further nearly 500 miles to drive today, before we reach home.
Setting off from the Gers after breakfast, we drove North and in just less than three hours arrived chez old friends for lunch. They live in London during the Winter months, and in Entre-deux-Mers from April to October. Lunch was a little late, but it was good to see them (when eventually they turned up, with both food and a new microwave to cook it). Meanwhile, there being plenty of books to choose from, I enjoyed reading some of Volume 3 of John Ehrman's life of the Younger Pitt. He hadn't long finished writing it when we went to lunch with him and Susan in the garden of their beautiful house halfway up a mountain in Corfu.
My rucksack contained just one light jersey for Spain - a mistake, in view of some of the temperatures in the first fortnight. Arriving at Caroline's temporary home in Castiillon-Debats, I found on the bed a new thick jersey, hand-knitted by her, and put to immediate use. It had been work in progress for a while - she estimates 20 years. Very warm now!
I had visited the ancient capital of the Béarn by myself in April 2009. Caroline and I stopped off there for some lunch today, on our way out of Pau, where Caroline had picked me up from the station. The 12th Century cathedral houses contemporary mosaics and capitals (including a Flight into Egypt), one of the loveliest of carved Annunciations (in the sacristy) as well as later royal tombs and a modern Saint-Jacques with a surprised look. This imp is one of several curious modillions supporting the apse roof: you need to sleuth your way around the outside to find it!
Amongst the fellow-walkers I managed to track down yesterday were four whom I met up with outside S. Martin Pinario. The Austrian-American couple I mentioned earlier were off to the far West, back home to Nevada, while my young Danish friends would be around Galicia for a little while longer. I meanwhile have travelled 11 hours East, right across the peninsular to Irun. Here I have found excellent fish for supper accompanied by the obligatory football (the result disappointing for the Spaniards).
Not having done my homework, I didn't realise that the train was, during the first three-quarters of an hour, taking me back on my tracks. But I did remark on how mountainous and wooded were the provinces of both Pontevedra and Ourense: no wonder I took six days to walk it!
Having first walked on part of the Camino de Santiago nine years ago this month, I finally arrived here yesterday afternoon, and have duly collected my "Compostela" from the Pilgrim Office. More important, I have given the statue of St James behind the high altar in the cathedral the traditional hug, and heard the priest saying the noon Mass read out beforehand that - amongst many others from different starting points - one pilgrim, British, arrived yesterday from Salamanca.
It was a strange feeling, getting up this morning and not having to pack my rucksack and walk anywhere today, following the yellow arrows and being greeted with Buen Camino as you go along. Instead, there has been the task - not that easy - of finding the others who have been on the same route, to say goodbye and have a final beer with them. Casa Manolo is the place for a last pilgrim menu, and six of us ate well there after Mass (no botofumero alas, today).
Along with a crowd of people who have arrived on other routes, I´m staying in a fine old 19th Century house, nowadays an albergue rejoicing in the name Roots & Boots (one of a small Spanish-owned chain). The window of my second floor dormitory looks out onto the cathedral´s West front, about 500 metres away: a perfect position, and ideal for joining the queue at the garage entrance of the Parador, where free meals are given to the first ten pilgrims: I had dinner there last night, and breakfast this morning.
None of those who have been to Galicia before can believe that we´ve had eleven consecutive days of sunshine: it´s really too hot today for much sightseeing, so I´m enjoying the peace of the albergue garden and preparing for an early departure to the station tomorrow morning, and my long train journey to the French border.
Being in Santiago at last, I read that 1500 years ago the philosopher Boethius wrote, “To see Thee is the end and the beginning. Thou carriest us and Thou dost go before, Thou art the journey and the journey’s end.” Likewise, “In my end is my beginning”: the final sentence of Eliot’s East Coker is echoed on the exterior of the cathedral by alpha and omega appearing in reverse order. And by the palindrome quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways: La ruta nos aportó otro paso natural (the path provides the natural next step).
Today I was meaning to go a bit nearer to my goal than in fact I managed. It´s an easy walk until the last bit, but that involves climbing 200m within 4 kms. As a gang of other walkers were sitting in the sunshine lunching late at the bottom of the hill, I joined them: the lunch was a good one, especially the fish - you can tell we are getting nearer the sea. Generous quantities of wine were thrown in, and that made it an easy decision to stay the night in a room above the restaurant. I´m not the only one to change their plans, and reserve the steep bit for the fresh air of the morning: we should still be in Santiago by early afternoon.
Ponte Ulla is a small town on the North side of quite a sizeable river. I´m sitting not far away from the end of the (local) road bridge, and can see the motorway bridge high above, further upstream. Downstream, the view is dominated by two even more enormous viaducts, one for the original railway (still very much running) and the other for the rare AVE trains that thunder by occasionally between Santiago and Ourense (rarae aves indeed - I haven´t heard one all day).
There´s been plenty of real birdlife on this Camino, especially since entering Galicia. As usual I find I don´t know many of the names, but more often than not I´m woken at cock-crow. The cuckoo is omnipresent. I´ve seen hawks and heard woodpeckers at work, and then of course there are the cranes. So, what with that and all the varieties of animals, trees and flowers, I have enjoyed these three weeks plus as much for being in the natural world as for anything else the pilgrimage has brought me.
Less than 50kms. from here to Santiago! I should be there on Monday therefore, and am very glad not to have given in to the temptation to catch that train last Saturday.
I was staying next to another station last night. What a difference a week of good weather makes! My raincoat has remained unused apart from when every item of clothing was needed in the unheated albergue of the Monastery of Oseira the other day. What an amazing place that is, the Escorial of the North! It makes Ampleforth Abbey´s plant look puny. Five of us visitors were shown round by a diminutive Cistercian artist, Fray Luis. One of a community of only 14 - several of whom are elderly or infirm - he is in the process of illustrating the Bible, book by book. (I must look up the weblinks when I get back.)
Oseira was a detour from the direct Camino, but worth every extra km., not only for Vespers in the Abbey, but also for the wild and remote feel of its neighbourhood. The name comes from the bears (ursa) which the early monks, or their predecessors more likely, frightened off when the valley was first settled.
Today, the route has boxed and coxed with the dual carriageway, but on the whole, there has been little tarmac to tire the feet: more often, there is a sandy (or muddy) track in the woods above or below, and away from, the main road, which you don´t even hear. A track that was in existence long before the 21st Century! A few kms. before here, it led me across a 10th Century bridge, slung high over the Rio Deza, with its original paving stones, an extraordinarily tranquil place.
Caroline and I stayed a night here five years ago, when we were Interrailing - a great city, with boiling water spilling out from hot springs and a long Roman bridge, which I shall walk over tomorrow. Rather different from our hotel room in 2008, I am sleeping tonight in one of the 18-bed dormitories converted out of part of the old St Francis Convent, high above the Cathedral. And it´s a lot fuller than previous albergues, as quite a number of people start their Camino here: you can qualify for a Compostela (certificate) in Santiago so long as you walk at least 100 kms., and there´s just over that to walk from Ourense.
I remember many phrases often repeated by my late headmaster Fr. William Price when he taught us European history, one being that the climate in North Spain was nine months Winter and three months Hell. We seem to have just crossed the threshold here in Galicia: last Friday was so wet and cold that I was thinking seriously of giving it all up - a thought encouraged by the fact that the albergue in A Gudiña (where I spent that night) was right next to the railway station. But since then the weather has changed completely, the landscape is transformed (you can take in your stride even those bits where you still need to paddle), and today as I walked through the outskirts of the City, I would have done anything for an ice cream.
This is one of those place names we find it imposible to pronounce, as the receptionist at the Parador made clear to me this morning. I had an eerily comfortable night there, a complete contrast to "normal" life on the Camino. The breakfast buffet would have been sufficient to feed every pilgrim walking the Via de la Plata from Seville to Santiago at the present time, I´d guess.
As I prepared to launch forth with my rucksack, the rain, which had looked intermittent from my balcony, started to pour down with a vengeance, and there seemed to be no wind to blow the cloud along as in previous days. So, heeding the various health experts I´d consulted about my leg - I always enjoy that phrase you read, "He´s been advised by his doctors..." - I decided to give myself a further rest day, and caught a taxi the 11kms. here this morning. En route, I saw, battling through the rain, the Australian with whom I´ve walked from time to time since Zamora, so we stopped and gave her a lift too. (She thought she was about to be abducted.)
The economy of Requejo must have benefitted considerably from the work on the new Madrid-Vigo AVE line: you can see the enormous tunnel entrance in course of construction over to the left of the village. For lunch, alongside a dozen railway workers in their yellow jackets, I had Caldo Gallego for the first time, a rather delicious soup, followed by trout cooked with bits of ham - as tasty as anything provided yesterday by the Parador, at less than a fifth of the price.
Tomorrow, it´s a total of 19kms. to Lubian, with a climb of 320m over the 10kms. to the (1360m) pass at the Portillo de Padornelo. Because of the AVE works and the rain, we are advised to walk on the road - comparatively boring, but then the scenery is magnificent and there is next to no traffic.
As I am nearing the halfway stage of my walk, and have endured a fair amount of excruciating discomfort during the cold nights along the way - no heating at all the night before last for instance - I have lashed out and taken a room in the Parador here. It´s a particularly welcome break from the routine of albergues as I seem to have picked up an injury to the tendon in my right leg, probably through having had to walk more than 30 kms. yesterday to find somewhere to sleep.
So I haven´t done a lot of sightseeing in this interesting-sounding town, and am not sure how I shall be feeling like walking on tomorrow. The good thing is that there´s a bus if necessary, the Camino running parallel with the main road into Galicia: we are now getting near to it.
Setting off today from Asturianos, the track was the muddiest yet, more like a river in fact. I skirted parts of it by climbing into the field, brushing my way under the trees. After about a km., the rain started, so I went to put the cover on my rucksack - but where was it? I tuck it in as a matter of course behind my shell. Had I been careless enough to leave a bit hanging out, so it had caught on one of those trees? Faced with carrying a wet rucksack for another 10 or more days, there was no alternative but to go back and look for it. No sign though; and my leg was hurting, and the rain looked set in. Time for some hitch-hiking, I thought to myself, but still I had to struggle on to the next village before anyone would stop.
Arriving here eventually, I started to unpack everything from the damp rucksack - and there was the rain cover, safely stowed away into a pocket I didn´t know existed, behind my shell.