Saturday, 1 July 2017

Camino Day 20: Ledigos – Sahagún Part II (29/03/17)

After a rest, David and I set off to examine Sahagún in more detail. The town has Roman origins and it was here that Saints Facundo and Primitivo were martyred. The name of the town is a corruption of Sanctum Facundum” which became “”Safagún” and finally “Sahagún” A monastery to the two saints was founded in the 9th century and destroyed by the Moors in 873 before being refounded. But Sahagún’s golden age began in 1068 when king Alfonso VI made it his ecclesiastical and cultural centre.
San Lorenzo
We have already come across Alfonso VI (pictured above from a medieval manuscript) at many places along the Camino – he was a great promoter of the Camino route and to encourage pilgrimage and the social and economic development of his kingdom built bridges and encouraged holy men like Santo Domingo de la Calzada to build up the road. 

It had seemed unlikely that Alfonso VI would ever become king of Castille – he was the second son of Ferdinand I and shouldn’t have inherited the throne, but his father decided to split his kingdom into three parts; one kingdom for each of his three sons; Castille, León and Galicia and give the patronage of the monasteries to his daughters Urraca and Elvira. Alfonso’s older brother, Sancho, didn’t like this arrangement as he felt that he should have inherited everything and so on their father’s death, a Game of Thrones type war broke out between the brothers with Alfonso VI at times having to flee León to the Muslim principalities to the South and at other times being a refugee in the monastery at Sahagún. Eventually however Alfonso triumphed, as his younger brother was killed and his older brother unexpectedly died. Alfonso inherited the lot and went on to capture Toledo from the Muslims styling himself as “Emperor of All Spain”.
La Virgen Peregrina
Alfonso was resonsible for opening up Spain to the rest of Europe and instigated major reforms of the church and his kingdom, inviting the Benedictine monastery of Cluny in Burgundy to guide these changes and re-establish the monastery in Sahagún which became a major cultural centre and had a university faculty up to the 18th century. The town was also granted a charter by the king who often held court there and it flourished from the influx of pilgrims. 
Mudejar pargetting
Sahagún however, began to decline in the 16th century as it fell out of favour with the monarchy and a devastating fire in the 19th century caused enormous damage. Because many of the buildings were built in brick because there is no stone locally many of the buildings have not survived, but enough does to hint at the town’s former importance.
David and I went first to the former 13th century Franciscan Convent of La Virgen Peregrina, which is on a hill above the town. The convent has recently been restored as a museum and gallery and had fine surviving Mudéjar polychromatic plasterwork or pargetting that is really worth seeing in the 15th century chapel of Los Sandoval. The pargetting features beautifully elaborate geometric and vegetal motifs. Another significant feature of a visit to the convent is that you can pick up a certificate stating that you have reached the half way point of the Camino. I think this is a great idea by Sahagún town council and I will certainly be proudly framing mine and hanging it on the wall back home in my study!
Halfway to Santiago
& certified!
We moved on to the Museum of the Benedictine Convent of Madres Benedictinas de la Santa Cruz. We went into the entrance hall and rang a bell following the instructions in Spanish on a handwritten note pinned to the doorframe. Suddenly a hatch in the wall slid back and we were scrutinised by a fierce looking nun, who for €2 each, gave us tickets before sliding the hatch back. Just when we had given up, another door opened and we were ushered in where the nun started a recorded narration in English, demonstrated that we should let ourselves out at the end and disappeared. 
Tomb of Alfonso VI
The narration was rather monotonous - "...in case two,  number one is a 16th century relic of St. Bernard, number two is a 17th century monstrance" etc etc etc! However, there was an interesting Roman bathtub, an incredibly ornate 1711 Baroque altarpiece in a style known as “Chirruguesque” and the thing I really wanted to see - the tomb of Alfonso VI who was originally buried in the Monastery of Santos Facundo y Primitivo, but when that was destroyed, now lies here in a plain 20th century sarcophagus with four of his six wives. I was taking too long standing in front of the tomb at the end of the narration and a nun appeared from a side door and looked at me, so I dutifully thanked her and quickly scuttled off, letting myself out, suitably rebuked!
San Lorenzo
After this, David and I wandered through the town. We took in the lovely San Benito Arch, built by Felipe Berrojo in 1662. We examined the nearby 13th century church of San Lorenzo with it’s triple Mudéjar apses and pyramid -shaped tower, which somehow still manages to look light despite its great dimensions. We walked across town and examined the ornate Mudéjar brickwork on the 12th Century church of San Tirso, which is apparently considered one of the finest examples of Mudéjar architecture on the Iberian Peninsula. The brickwork glowed in the late afternoon sunshine which accentuated the geometric designs and threw them into relief.
Arco San Benito
As well as the tomb of Alfonso VI, I had hoped to see the chest containing the remains of Saints Facundo and Primitivo in the 17th Century church of San Juan, however it was closed, so David and I made our way down to the Plaza Mayor, where we had a drink and a snack and watched young children playing in the square as their parents chatted amongst themselves.
San Tirso
Matthew and Heather joined us, refreshed from their rest in the hotel and we walked over to our albergue for dinner, stopping for quite a while at the 19th century clock tower of the Monastery of Saints Primitivo and Facundo to watch two kestrels wheeling around the tower, where they were obviously nesting. We agreed that some of those reclining metal couches from the Virgen del Puente would have been ideal, so we could lie back and watch the kestrels more comfortably!
San Juan
Dinner at the albergue was excellent and included a starter of Pardina (brown) lentil stew; the lentils are widely grown locally. After Matthew and Heather had gone, the hospitalero returned with our laundry which he had tumble dried but was still very damp. We pointed this out and he took it away and put it in the tumble drier again. It was returned just as damp! We gave up and took it back to our cold dormitory – you must learn to accept all things on the Camino! 
Monastery of Saints Facundo & Primitivo

Camino Day 20: Ledigos – Sahagún Part I (29/03/17)

We left the albergue at 7.50. Only a short walk of 16.5km was planned for the day as I was keen to stay overnight in Sahagún and explore the historic remnants of the town which was once the most important centre of ecclesiastical power and culture in 11th century Spain.
It was extremely chilly as we made our way out of Ledigos and alongside the N-120, but the sun was rising and we soon came to Terradillos de los Templarios; once a stronghold of the Knights Templar, where we had an excellent breakfast in the Jacques de Molay albergue (named after the last Grand Master of the Templars). The bar in the albergue was surprisingly busy with pilgrims of different nationalities and was decorated with rustic farm implements from times gone by. I bought myself a small handmade wooden Templar cross to hang on my rucksack, alongside my shells and Tau cross.
Matthew approaching Terradillos
After Terradillos, the path left the main road for a while and we enjoyed a welcome period walking through fields on gravel tracks. We said Morning Prayer together and Heather pointed out some wild Muscari (Grape Hyacinths) growing beside the path. These were the first wildflowers I had seen on the trip, which surprised me as my previous experience of walking the Camino had been of encountering a variety of wildflowers; the landscape on this second half of the Meseta seemed strangely barren.
Wild Muscari
The weather by now was warming up and it was turning into a pleasant day, but I felt a bit miserable and unhappy with my own company and so spent a lot of the time walking by myself. Why exactly I was feeling miserable was hard to say – probably all sorts of complex issues which, although normally buried deep inside were rising to the surface. I find walking the Camino does that – you are challenged not only physically, but also emotionally, and spiritually, as the prolonged walking and silence causes things to rise to the surface to be confronted and examined. I was starting to feel I should like to have a period of walking away from myself and have a rest from my own company, but of course you can’t do that and instead, you are forced with God’s help to work through the baggage you accumulate as you go through life.
David refreshed after second breakfast!
By the time I approached San Nicholás del Real Camino I was feeling a little better from the time spent in solitude. The outskirts of the village were punctuated with the mounds and little doorways of Bodegas; traditional underground wine cellars from the days before refrigeration. Many of them are still used by locals to store their vintage and I noted as we walked, that some had even been turned into houses. I imagine they would make a cosy home with the underground rooms being warm in winter and cool in summer. Looking at them always makes me feel I am in the Shire looking at the dwellings of Hobbits – perhaps Tolkien got his idea from seeing Bodegas in Spain?
The others caught up with me and we had second breakfast (potato tortilla with a medicinal glass of Rioja to revive the spirits!). Then from San Nicholás onwards it was a warm and slightly uninteresting slow climb up a gradual incline shadowing the busy N-120 on our right. Near the summit we came upon the traditional marker stone delineating the border between the Provinces of Palencia and León. It seemed a long time ago and many kilometres back when we had entered Palencia back at Itero de Vega on 09/10/15 and here we were finally leaving it!
Provincial boundary stone
At the summit of the hill, we had to walk around an interchange slip road, which seemed to have only recently been built; we paused to watch a Red Kite hunting along the side of the dual carriageway and then we set off downhill towards Sahagún, which we could now see in the distance.
Roman bridge and Ermita Virgen del Puente
After about another kilometre we crossed the N-120 down a track to the right and followed the rio Valderaduey to the Ermita Virgen del Puente. The hermitage sits in a small grove of Poplar trees and is reached across a picturesque little Roman bridge (although the river has moved and no longer flows under the bridge). The area around the hermitage has been made into a picnic site and there were sculpted metal benches to sit or recline on. The place was cool and refreshing after our hot, dusty walk beside the N-120 and we enjoyed shedding our bags, having a drink, and relaxing on the benches which were surprisingly comfortable; the metal being pleasantly cool. It was now so warm and sunny that Matthew even decided to peel his top off and blind everyone with his very Irish blizzard-like untanned whiteness!
Get your sunglasses on to combat the
blinding whiteness!
The hermitage itself, although it has Romanesque foundations, was built in the 12th century and it’s most interesting feature is that it has a Mudéjar style brickwork apse. I mentioned the Mudéjars back in Burgos when we were discussing the monastery of Santa Maria la Real de Huelgas. The term means “tamed or domesticated” and refers to the Muslims of Al-Andalus who remained in Spain after the Christian Reconquista. In architectural terms, the Mudéjar style resulted from a fusion of Muslim and Christian medieval architectural techniques, as the two cultures lived side by side during this period. Elements of Islamic art and architecture were applied to Christian architecture, especially in the building of Bell Towers. It is characterised by elaborate geometric designs in brick, tile, wood, carving and plasterwork and it is generally agreed that it first developed in 12th century Sahagún and then spread to the rest of León and beyond – notably to the 16th century Alcázar Palace in Seville and even to Latin America. 
Heather relaxing 
As the source of this important architectural style, it was essential for me that we should stay overnight in Sahagún so that I could see the surviving examples of the early Mudéjar style. Matthew and Heather were of course rolling their eyes at the mere mention of the word and had planned an overnight escape to a local hotel to relax whilst I was doing my geeky sightseeing!
Mudejar apse
The other important feature of the Ermita Virgen del Puente site is that it marks the half way point between St. Jean Pied de Port and Santiago de Compostela! A modern brickwork monument has been erected featuring sculptures of king Alfonso VI and the Cluniac priest Bernard de Sédirac facing each other. It was amazing to think that I had reached the half way point of the Camino Francés! I was excited and yet also extremely humbled and grateful to have already got so far and enjoyed so many experiences along the way. We posed for photographs between the sculptures which strangely, had Spanish Police tape tied in front of them, though I have no idea why!
Mudejar apse viewed from inside
We walked on into town through a small industrial area and past a large, modern hotel. Then Matthew and Heather took their leave for the moment and turned right to go up the road to stay at the Viatoris Albergue, while David and I wandered on into town, over the sizeable railway sidings and down the narrow streets into the town centre. We had hoped to stay at the Benedictine Convent on Calle Nicholás, but the door seemed firmly closed and we didn’t like to ring the bell, so walked on to the El Labriego albergue across the road from the Convent and signed in there instead.
Half way to Santiago!
The hospitalero in the albergue was very welcoming and pleasant and stamped our credencials in a pleasant and inviting bar, whilst serving us a welcome glass of lager accompanied by some tapas. He then led us through to a courtyard where there was an adjoining modern dormitory which, whilst modern and clean was, like the previous two albergues, extremely cold! There were electric heaters on the walls but these were apparently of symbolic value and e never got them to work!

We showered in the good bathroom facilities and gave the hospitalero our laundry. It cost extra to have our clothes tumble dried. While David took the opportunity to sit in the courtyard in the sunshine and catch up on his journal, I had a look around. There was an aviary with beautiful multicoloured finches, a cat and a partly grown kitten, which the Hospitalero eventually put into a second large cage which was very spacious but which the cats complained about vociferously. 
Albergue chapel
Off the courtyard there was also an old stable which had been converted into a chapel for the use of pilgrims and I would have liked to have sat there for a while to pray, except that there was an extremely strong smell of cat urine which drove me out! Clearly the cats weren’t always in their cage! Also in the courtyard was a medieval sarcophagus! Every courtyard should have one!

David relaxing in the sunshine

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Camino Day 19: Carrión de los Condes – Ledigos (28/03/17)

We left Santa Clara at 8.50 and made our way to a nearby café which was just to the left of the ruined town gate, where we enjoyed a good breakfast. We nearly left without paying, but luckily when we got outside and were sorting through our bags, David remembered and quickly ran back in to settle the bill!

David and Heather had done a good job the night before of stocking up on snacks and supplies for lunch, because we knew that we were heading out onto the Calzada Romana – the Via Aquitana – the Roman road which originally ran from Bordeaux to Astorga and which for us would mean a 17.1km stretch of the Camino across the remote Meseta, with no shops or cafes between Carrión and Calzadilla de la Cueza.

We followed the attractive small bronze scallop shell plaques that were set into the pavement, through Carrión town centre and then walked across the fine sloping stone bridge over the rio Carrión, out of town.
Bridge over rio Carrion
On the far side of the river we passed the former monastery of San Zoilo. Dating from the 11th – 16th centuries, it has fine Plateresque cloisters and is the burial place of the Leónese Beni- Gómez family who were Counts of Carrión and ruled most of the tierra de campos. I was keen to see the cloisters and the Counts’ tombs and I knew that San Zoilo was no longer a monastery, but now a luxury hotel. I called in at the hotel reception, presuming I could visit the cloisters, only to find to my dismay, that the part of the monastery with the church, tombs and cloisters had been turned into a museum and was open from 10.00 – 16.00. I had miscalculated – I should have visited San Zoilo the previous afternoon; paying my respects to the Counts would have to wait to another time! I made do with photographing the fine Renaissance main entrance to the monastery and we passed on; crossing the N-120  and walking out along an increasingly quiet country road, until we came to an intersection with another equally quiet road at which point a modern stone marker announced the start of the surviving stretch of the Via Aquitana.
San Zoilo
The gravel covered road stretched to the horizon across a wide empty landscape of large fields, with only the occasional farm building interrupting the flatness. There were hardly any trees or even wild flowers. Only drainage ditches and irrigation channels divided the fields. My friend Matt, who walked the same stretch of the Camino a couple of months after us, described it as “nothingness, just empty fields”. Heather would have agreed with Matt and was not enjoying the monotony of the landscape. She said that she had grown up in a family culture where mountains and the sea were to be preferred and where “flat” was considered boring and to be avoided. I would have some sympathy with that view myself, but somehow though, I enjoyed the “nothingness”; the scrunch of gravel underfoot, the whisper of the wind in the grass and contemplating the convergence of the straight road and sky at that distant vanishing point.
Me at the Via Aquitana marker stone
And the colossal engineering achievement that the Romans had achieved by running this road across this remote landscape, also provided me with much to think about and this kept me from being bored. It is amazing to think that the road is 2,000 years old and yet is still intact and capable of carrying modern vehicles. It is built up above the surrounding landscape and goes through and area that was originally bogland. There is no natural stone locally and it is calculated that the Romans had to bring in 100,000 tons of rock from elsewhere, just to build the causeway, never mind the materials needed for the road surface itself!
Matthew & Heather on the Via Aquitana
As a by-product of the road construction, trade and urban settlements developed in northern Iberia and of course in Medieval times, pilgrims travelling to Santiago used it as we were doing, but we shouldn’t deceive ourselves – the Romans didn’t build this road to stimulate trade; no, it was built so they could move their legions quickly and efficiently from one area to another and quell any uprisings amongst the Iberian tribes. This colossal engineering achievement spoke of the ruthless imperial might of Rome, a military might that would expend seemingly limitless resources to maintain its iron rule.

It was another very cold day, with an extremely chilly wind blowing across the flat fields, so we were all well wrapped up with hats and several layers of clothing. When we stopped for a break and a snack, we didn’t tend to stay too long, because even in the sunshine it was cold when we were not moving.

Just after the Via Aquitana stone marker we said morning prayer together and read the bible readings for the day from the Church of Ireland Lectionary; passing around my Kindle to enable us do so.

A little while after Fuenta del Hospitalejo we found a concrete picnic table and had a chilly, but enjoyable lunch, warmed by a nice bottle of Rioja, that David had the foresight to purchase the previous evening!
Time for a chilly lunch!
A few kilometres further on, we encountered a rest shelter for pilgrims erected by the local Junta. We became quite familiar with these structures as we walked this final section of the Meseta. The architecture was always the same – a brick or earthen wall from which beams stretched, at an angle, from the top of the wall to the ground. The top of the beams were slated and the bottom half were open and under this lean-to a bench stretched the length of the wall. To my mind, the architecture had a slightly 1970’s feel or maybe it is just because there was a 1970’s housing estate of posh houses near where I grew up, which had fancy roof features of beams that were partially slated and partially open plan like the shelters? The shelters tended to be situated in lovely little grassy clearings with a few trees and there were often interesting information boards telling you about the local wildlife. A word of warning though – the backs of the walls tended to be used as toilets!

We took a few minutes to rest in the shelter, and as we were at least partially shielded from the wind, we enjoyed the sunshine and took communion together.
Matthew providing a weary Heather with husky power!
After several hours, the road finally descended a small hill into the village of Calzadilla de la Cueza, where we found an excellent café in the Camino Real albergue. Once refreshed, we walked the final 5.4km into the village of Ledigos, arriving at the El Palomar albergue at 16.28.
Descending to Calzadill de la Cueza
The albergue turned out to be ok, although rather basic; the owner switched on the heating for us, but the rooms and corridor were very cold and this wasn’t helped by a stable-type door, the top section of which was left open all the time, thus causing any residual heat in the corridor to drain outside!
After a very chilly shower I found an untidy grassy garden at the back of the albergue with some chairs and sat in the sun for a little while. It was decidely warmer outside the albergue than indoors! Clearly cold albergues were becoming a leitmotif on this trip!
Ledigos
Matthew and I then had a walk around the village and found another albergue nearby that looked much more modern (and warm!) and also had a nice looking café. We had thought El Palomar was the only albergue in the village as there was no mention of any others in our guidebook. However, I determined to be content in whatever situation I found myself!
The village itself was picturesque with lots of traditional cottages and farm buildings with adobe or packed earth walls to compensate for the lack of local stone. We climbed up to the Church of Santiago overlooking the village, but it was closed, so we seated ourselves in a spot of sunshine out of the wind to pray together, before returning to the albergue where we had a good pilgrim menu in the bar. It featured a warming soup in the first course, which I greatly appreciated!

I need hardly add that there was another shivering dash to the loo and back during the night, but at least the stars were impressive through the open stable door!

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Camino Day 18: Frómista – Carrión de Los Condes (27/03/17)

The following morning the other pilgrims in the dormitory were very slow to get up – I suppose unlike us, they had been walking for approximately a fortnight already. Even so, having been awake since 6.30 am and since there was no sign of anyone switching the lights on, I felt that by 7.30 I was justified in doing so myself. 
San Miguel
Personally, I like the albergues where the Hospitalero comes around at 7.00 and switches the lights and roars good morning on as this takes the responsibility off other pilgrims who want to get up but don’t feel they can do so out of politeness. I also don’t like leaving albergues in the dark as I am afraid of leaving stuff behind, and as other people still try and do so, loudly rustling bags and “lamping” those still in bed with their head torches (like our Korean friend back in Belorado), the lights may as well be switched on anyway!
Lancet window, San Miguel
The previous night I had enjoyed talking to Erkan – a pleasant young man from Turkey who now lives in Germany and works in the VW Spare Parts factory. He was being joined on the Camino in León by his brother. Erkan told me that his parents and Uncle thought he was quite mad to be using his holiday to go walking across Spain instead of relaxing by a pool! He was obviously a deep thinker as he was reading a large and weighty tome by Dostoyevsky. The following morning, Erkan was still in bed as we prepared to leave at 8.10, but our gregarious Australian friends (Jim, a Pentecostal pastor, Reuben and Dan) were already loudly up and about.
Heather, Matthew & David leaving Poblacion de Campos
We made our way down the street, past San Martín, to the same bar for breakfast where we had waited for the taxi in October 2015 and then we set off out of town following behind two Italian pilgrims who had a were clearly smoking joints as there was a pungent smell of weed! The day’s walking was dominated by a chilly wind blowing from the South, gravel tracks and wide-open fields, punctuated only very occasionally, by a flowering tree with which I was unacquainted.
Virgen del Rio
We quickly crossed the A67 dual carriageway, which runs west of Frómista, on a flyover bridge and encountered a modern pilgrim sculpture consisting of a flat sheet of rusty steel, out of which a pilgrim seemed to striding. It seemed like the pilgrim was breaking out of the two dimensionality of their flat existence into a new sphere of reality and I thought it a very suitable metaphor of the new horizons and avenues in life that walking the Camino can open up!
David resting at Virgen del Camino
Nearby, was the lovely little hermitage of San Miguel set back from the road amidst some trees with it’s weathered, honey-coloured stone and a bricked up gothic arch that suggested to me that the hermitage was perhaps originally planned as the chancel of a much larger church that was never completed?
Knights Templar Church at Villalcazar de Sirga
When we reached the river at Población de Campos, we took the quieter optional route away from the Senda and main road and passing another interesting medieval chapel, sunk down below the modern street level, struck out along a farm track and then along a gravel path lined by a poplar plantation beside the rather diminutive rio Ucieza.
Portal of Knights Templar Church
Our guidebook had a café symbol at Villovieco, but this was closed and there wasn’t even a shop in the village and as we were now desperate for second breakfast and Heather was feeling tired, we cut across to Revenga de Campos, only to find that the café there too was closed. By now the sun had come out and the temperature had warmed up a little, so we shed a few layers and resigned ourselves to a cereal bar and some fruit, before returning to Villovieco and walking on alongside the river.
Sitting with a pilgrim friend at Villalcazar de Sirga!
Many storks were foraging in the expansive fields or else taking to the air to clatter their beaks in courtship displays. We also saw some type of wild canid running across the fields in the distance; it was probably a fox, but by the time we accessed our binoculars, it had crested the hill and was gone.
David and I walked on ahead and reached the large Baroque hermitage of the Virgen del Rio, which being set on a small hill, allowed us to rest and survey the view from a small bench. By the time Heather and Matthew joined us a few minutes later, Heather was struggling a little due to sore feet, tiredness and a headache and was a little tearful.
Villalcazar de Sirga
After checking that Heather was ok, David and I felt it would be good to give Matthew and Heather a few minutes of privacy to rest and recuperate and so we walked on to Villalcázar de Sirga. I was really looking forward to seeing the Knights Templar church; the transitional Romanesque 13th century church of Santa María la Blanca. It is famous for the seated statue of the Virgen Blanca to which the poet-king Alfonso X “the wise” attributed 12 miracles, the polychrome reliefs on the high altar and the gothic tombs of Don Pedro, fifth son of Fernando III “the holy” and his wife. However, all these treasures were denied to me as the owner of the local bar informed us that the church is only open on Sundays! One day too late!! I consoled myself by examining the enormously tall porch which frames a richly carved portal and by enjoying watching a resident Kestrel which was wheeling around the church and plaza.
We entered the bar and had two very large bocadillos and a glass of Rioja followed by a slice of flan and a café con leche. Matthew and Heather soon joined us and after lunch I used a rather fun statue-cum-seat installation of a medieval pilgrim to get out my podiatry supplies and do some first aid on Heather’s feet.
Doorway Villalcazar de Sirga
Heather was by now feeling much better and fortified by food and fellowship we marched on Carrión de los Condes, checking into the albergue at the convent of Santa Clara on the outskirts of the town. We had walked 20.5km in 6 hours and 35 minutes.
Matthew & Heather approaching Carrion de los Condes
St. Francis of Assisi supposedly stayed in Santa Clara on his pilgrimage to Santiago and it had a lovely courtyard that I liked with a stone cross in the middle, a loggia and a small well. The hospitalero was a friendly but an extremely lugubrious character, who gave the impression of having the weight of the world upon his shoulders. He provided us with two twin rooms which were quite comfortable, except for the fact that they were extremely cold. Luckily, I had my three seasons sleeping bag and there were plenty of blankets. Matthew and Heather complained that the shower upstairs was also freezing, but this may have been because I enjoyed a delightfully warm shower downstairs and perhaps this diverted all the warm water!
Convent of Santa Clara
After showering we went to investigate the town centre. The remains of a ruined gateway topped by a Spanish flag mark the entrance to the town centre. Heather and David went off to find a supermarket to buy some supplies and Matthew and I spent a few minutes sitting in the 12th century church of Santa María del Camino. The south door has a porch which frames a very worn portal which is hard to interpret and is supposed to represent a miracle in which Carrión was freed from a tribute of 100 virgins which Christian Spain had to provide to the Muslims during the period of the Muslim conquests of the Iberian peninsula.
Courtyard of Santa Clara
The main enjoyment for me however, was just to sit quietly with Matthew, meditate and just watch the comings and goings of people entering the church for prayer and worship. Sister Mary Coombes from the Leb Shomea (a listening heart) Community in Texas has said that ‘Silence is not “me and God” but a way of being present to each other in God’ and that is certainly how I feel when I spend time praying and meditating with Matthew. I don’t have many friends like that and it is something for which I am very grateful and value immensely.
Remains of town walls, Carrion de los Condes
After about half an hour we met Heather and David outside the church and walked around town. I admired the 12th century west façade of the Church of Santiago. The church itself was sacked and burned at the beginning of the 19th century by Napoleonic troops, but the façade survives and has a finely carved frieze well worth examination. Christ sublimely sits in majesty in the centre of the composition, flanked by the symbols of the Evangelists and the figures of the disciples. In the archivolts of the portal 24 figures represent “trades, skills, games and battle scenes” according to Lozano.
Portal of Santa Maria del Camino
In the Plaza Generalisimo we bumped into the Australians once more and then walked down to the rio Carrión, observing how the old town is well situated on a rocky bluff above the river – a very defendable site well chosen by the Counts of Carrión, the rulers of the area in the Medieval period.
Christ in Majesty, Church of Santiago
We really enjoyed our walk and liked the town and rounded off the evening with an excellent pilgrim menu in a local restaurant near Plaza Santillana. Matthew complained that I was taking too long to decide which restaurant to go into, but I do start to dither when I am hungry (whereas he becomes fractious 😉)and we did make the right choice in the end. We also enjoyed talking to another pilgrim – Denis from Cork, who it turned out, recognised David’s face from his years in the Fire Service and was walking approximately 50km a day!
Pillar on portal of Chruch of Santiago
After dinner we returned to Santa Clara, where we prayed before bed and then were glad to retreat to the insulation of our sleeping bags due to the freezing tempertures. In the early hours of the morning I got up to use the toilet and within a couple of minutes I was literally shaking with the bone numbing cold and was glad to run down the corridor and dive back into my sleeping bag as quickly as possible! 
Matthew & Heather enjoying dinner