I woke refreshed; I had actually slept very well for a change, with no sinus problems or headaches! The walk from Mazarife to Astorga took 8 hours and 40 minutes, but that was partly because we were wandering along and taking our time as usual. Our original plan had been to only walk to Hospital de Órbigo, but we found that when we got there, we still felt fresh and decided to walk on to Astorga.
|Felt arch support|
The first section to Villavante was hard – the path was straight, stony and monotonous and my left foot was still really hurting due to arch strain from the excessive pronation. At Villavante however, we had second breakfast and I constructed a felt arch support that I taped underneath the insole of my walking shoe. This did the trick and the pain in my foot quickly settled down and I no further problems for the rest of the trip.
|David drying his socks near Villavante!|
We had a pleasant walk to Hospital de Órbigo, stopping occasionally, to watch foraging Storks, who were following the tractors ploughing in nearby fields in just the same way that Gulls do in Ireland.
|The bridge at Hospital de Orbigo|
At Hospital we paused to admire the bridge; the longest and best preserved medieval bridge in Spain according to John Brierley. Built in the 13th century on earlier Roman foundations, it is famous as the site of a famous jousting tournament that lasted from July 10th – August 9th1434 and which has given the bridge it’s nickname – el Passo Honroso. A noble knight from León, Don Suero de Quiñones, who had been spurned by a noble lady, declared himself imprisoned by his love for her and calling on St. James as his witness, vowed to break 300 lances as a ransom to escape from his ‘prison’. Knights came from all over Europe to take up his challenge and afterwards Don Suero travelled to Santiago and offered a gold bracelet belonging to the lady in thanksgiving which has become associated with the collar that adorns the reliquary bust of St. James in Santiago cathedral.
|Monument to Don Suero on the bridge|
The bridge was also the site of battles between the Visigoths and Swabians in 452 and later, when Alfonso III ‘The Great’ confronted the Moors in about 900.
Apart from the bridge, the town of Hospital turned out to be smaller than I had expected, so we walked on and had lunch in a bar at Santibanez de Valdeiglesia. On the way, we met two middle aged Belgian ladies who were starting their Camino at Hospital and fell into conversation with them.
The last section to Astorga was very beautiful with gently rolling hills covered in woodland, open fields and vineyards. We saw beautiful yellow butterflies and spotted a large green lizard and the snow-capped Montes de León could be seen in the distance.
|Cruceiro Santo Toribo with Astorga in the background|
Eventually, we reached the hill on which stands the stone Cruceiro Santo Toribo and looked down on the small city of Astorga. The stone cross marks the site where Bishop Toribio of Astorga is said to have shaken the dust from his sandals in the 5th century as he looked back at the city for the last time when he was forced to leave his diocese.
Astorga turned out to be a beautiful little city nestled within it’s ancient city walls. It is the capital of the Maragato region – the Maragatos being a distinct ethnic group with their own customs, language and traditional dress, who in the past made their living by guiding pilgrims through the dangerous Montes de León.
We made our way into the old city through the Puerta Sol and along the narrow streets to Albergue San Javier, close to the cathedral – a evocative converted traditional 3 storey house, with creaky timber floors, stairs and beamed ceilings that had a pervading smell of wood smoke, which was permeating through the house from a wood burning stove on the ground floor. The Fire Officer in David was not impressed with the fire safety aspects of the accommodation, but as usual the Pilgrim in David came to the fore and these concerns were put to one side!
|Cathedral viewed from San Javier|
After showering and laundry we briefly explored the city. We admired the beautifully ornate Baroque façade of the cathedral, its’ features being highlighted in the evening sun and wandered through the old city, stopping to admire some Roman mosaics in an excavated Roman house that is on view near Plaza San Francisco.
Nearby in the building adjoining the church, a religious Confraternity were busy organising their pasos or religious floats for the forthcoming Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions. Each paso was highly ornate with life-size holy statues showing tableaus of scenes such as the crucifixion or the descent from the cross. The organisers kindly invited us in and allowed us to examine the pasos at close quarters.
|One of the pasos|
The day finished off with dinner in a restaurant in the Plaza Mayor, where we met the two English ladies we had talked to at Mazarife and we were also joined by an Austrian female pilgrim. I had pulpo – octopus stew, as a starter. Well we were nearly in Galicia, so it had to be done and I did enjoy it!