Follow by Email

Monday, 31 October 2016

Our last Annascaul walk.

Today was the last day of the 10th Annual Annascaul Walking Festival so it was with a sense of sorrow that local and visiting walkers converged on Hanafins Bar for the final walk, a marked loop walk, around the upper perimeter of the village to Meelin  Hill with views of the bay and the surrounding area. Mary and I had decided that we wanted to do a slightly longer walk that would take us to the Annascaul Lake we had heard so much about. When most left for the local walk we headed out past the South Pole Inn and took the small country farm road towards the lake. The first few miles in the bright clear morning took us through a series of farms where we observed the local farmers tending to the needs of their animals. Life was busy for these people whilst the rest of us enjoyed our leisure pursuits on a Bank Holiday morning. There was a much cooler temperature to the morning with a feeling that Autumn had finally started but with the clear skies above, the visibility was excellent and walking conditions perfect. The hedgerows still had a sprinkling of colour with bright yellow flowers intertwining dark blues of blackberries, reds of  fuschia, as they all cling on before the cold of winter finish their display for another year. The famous Kerry hedgerows of fuschia which, from the Irish, is translated as " the tears of Christ " must be a truly spectacular sight and a reason, if a reason is needed, for Mary and I to make a return to this wonderful and magical place. After a few miles we came to a crossroads where we left Gurteen and started to climb up into the hills that would take us through Counduff and then the lake. The landscape was changing and the colours soon changed to the soft browns and purple of the heathers covering the surrounding hills. The scenery and beauty of nature was breathtaking with an almost religious atmosphere and reverence that was so silent and calming that you felt the sound of your own breathing would interrupt this peacefulness. When we passed through an agricultural gate we started the descent that would lead us to the lake. Rounding a bend on the path there was a real wow factor as the lake in all its sparkling beauty was revealed in front of us. What a place to sit on a rock drinking a cup of coffee being mesmerised by the calm lake with nature painting a replica of the mountains on the still water. Life doesn't get any better but all too soon it had to end so finally we grudgingly got up and started the long walk back leaving the beauty and peaceful countryside to its permanent inhabitants, the flocks of sheep grazing lazily on the heather covered slopes. Back at our beautiful cottage we vowed that we will soon return to this paradise of walking. We really have only scratched  the surface and there are hundreds of hikes and walks to be planned for as well as joining the local walkers on their Sunday morning walks from Hanafins Bar. Tonight we are heading down to the village to join the Halloween festivities. Drink will be taken.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Exercise with learning. Perfect.

This morning we met at Hanafins Bar for the third day's walking in the 2016 Annascaul Walking Festival. Yesterday's climb along the Doorah Range was at times difficult and demanding whereas todays promised to be more informative with less climbing. The official brochure described today's walk as an archeological walk that would retrace 4000 years of settlement from the Bronze Age cairn at Dromavally through the Christian Ogham stones at Rathduf and seeing the development of 21st Century farm life. At around 10.30 on a bright sunny morning, John Hanafin, the owner and proprietor of Hanafins Bar led us along the Main Street for what would become a very entertaining and enjoyable walk. John is an expert on local history and geography but it was his communication style that included local stories and folklore that made this a truly remarkable ramble. First we walked along the old military road that was constructed to link the British military garrison in Killarney to the naval base at Dingle. In the 1830s this became the Royal Mail road and was also part of the butter route to Cork. The pace of the walk was relaxed and casual with John continually pointing out interesting sights. Our first rest was at Ballintarmon where we had the opportunity to study a large stone sculpture by the renowned Irish American artist, Jerome Connor. In the bright sunshine we walked along the country lanes to Glantane where we were treated to an intensity of green that has made Ireland known as the Emerald Isle. The intense green interspersed with splashes of red from the fuschia, white from the lambs, browns and blacks of the cows, grey of stone walls and all topped with a pale blue sky that had traces of white fluffy clouds was a masterpiece we were privileged to pass through. Soon we were making the gentle climb from Rathduff up to the townland  of Flemingstown where we could see down the hidden valley. John pointed out the outline of a square fort and regaled us with local stories and superstitions associated with these formations. Back down through Rathduff and then on to the old graveyard at Ballintaggart. This was a real highlight of the walk as we walked around the large tombs. I've never seen anything like this. Because the ground is impossible to dig then large rectangular family tombs are constructed firstly from local stone and then in later years from concrete blocks. On the way down the hill to Ballyandreen we passed a Kerry Camino sign with yellow arrow and shell. Over the small bridge at Ballyandreen,where in past times the areas milk was collected, we had a thirty minute walk to the edge of Annascaul ending at Hanafins Bar where we were again treated to soup and sandwiches. It is nice to finish the day's walk socialising with fellow hikers as we sat outside in the bright sunshine.
Later in the afternoon Mary and I went for a stroll along Inch beach and were really impressed with the beauty of the whole area. Large breakers crashing on to a sandy beach that is surrounded on three sides with imposing mountains. We stood mesmerised at the skills of the surfers as they travelled along the giant waves but soon it was time to visit a local hostelry where we enjoyed Irish coffees.
Sad to say that tomorrow is the last day of the festival so we are heading down tonight to the South Pole Bar to meet up with fellow walkers.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Doorah Range Walk

Today Mary and I met up with a group of about fifty walkers outside Hanafins bar in Annascaul for the start of the second of four walks in the Festival of Walking. Today's walk was described in the brochure as a moderate rated walk that would go over three modest peaks forming the Doorah Range which stands on the edge of Dingle Bay. I don't know who does the grading for hill walks but if that walk was " moderate " then I'm bloody glad I haven't been subjected to a rating of difficult or even strenuous proportions. We started at the stunningly beautiful Minard beach where the ocean has thrown up rocks that are now arranged as an effective storm break which protects the small country road and surrounding countryside from the anger and violence of the winter seas. Above us and overlooking the sandy beach was the ruin of the building where Tom Crean signed up to join the British navy which was the starting point for his future heroic adventures. A small country road guided our merry group toward the start of the climb that would eventually see us at the summit of Acres which would be our highest climb of the three peaks making up the Doorah Range. As we made our jolly way in the bright morning sunshine I was surprised to come across a sign displaying the Kerry Camino along with a yellow arrow and scallop shell. It seems I can never get away from this symbolism and my life is now intrinsically entwined with all things Camino. The country was awash with colour and looked like an artists landscape overlooked by a bright cloudless sky. Things were going too well but this all changed when we made a right turn off the road and started climbing the hills using the sheep tracks as paths. The colour of the landscape had changed from the bright green of fields sectioned of with brown hedges that gave a quilt affect to a sea of brownish purple heathers that were just starting to show yellow, white and red flowers, that shone like precious stones in the bright sunlight. Underfoot the going was tough as we stumbled through the prickly heather being ever vigilant not to trip on stones or holes in the soft black peaty soil always concentrating on the path and not allowing our minds to wander on the beautiful sights of hills, cliffs, sea and sky that were unfurling all around us. This was hard going and you could hear the loud beating of your heart synchronised with the aches of your legs as you pushed through the sponge undergrowth towards the summit towering vertically above. Two hours of climbing took us to the summit of today's highest peak where we enjoyed the best cup of coffee, ever, and a slice of fruit bread. Lying on the heather, drinking and eating, was a time to reflect and take in the beauty of creation and surely this has to be one of the most beautiful scenes in the world. All too soon our rest was over and the return to Annascaul was as pleasant a walk as you could ever imagine and in stark contrast to the earlier climbing. Walking along the ridge of Doorah we could see the small trawling boats down below in the sparkling waters of Dingle Bay and overshadowed by the grey almost mystical mountains whilst to our left the beautiful green landscape unfolding like an artists painting. The walk ended back at Hanafins Bar where we were treated to soup and sandwiches and where miracleously the aches and pains disappeared in the company of good friends.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Annascaul Walking Festival

This morning Mary and I packed the car and set off for the village of Annascaul  which lies among the mountains, lakes, rivers and valleys in the heart of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. We were making the 400 mile drive in order to take part in the 2016 Annascaul Walking Festival which starts on the Friday night and finishes on Monday. The village is famous as an Irish Mecca for hiking and hillwalking and has been described as a walker's paradise where hill and dale, river, lake, sea, conjure up an ever changing tapestry,vividly coloured with the richness of the wild Kerry flora and fauna. Annascaul is also famous as the home of the famous adventurer and explorer, Tom Crean, who was a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica: 1901-04 Scott's Discovery Expedition, 1911-13 Terra Nova Expedition and Shackletons Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Crean was a remarkably brave explorer made famous by his 56K solo walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans and also as a member of a small crew who volunteered to make an open boat journey of  1,500 K from Elephant Island to South Georgia to get help for Shackletons Endurance crew who were stranded. In 1920 Crean retired back to Annascaul where along with his wife Ellen he opened a pub named, the South Pole, where he lived until his death in 1938.
What an experience we had this afternoon visiting this famous pub where we enjoyed not only a drink and lunch, but also the opportunity to pursue the many original  framed photographs from Toms Expeditions and newspaper cuttings.
The walking festival organised by the Annascaul Walking group from Hanafins bar started this evening with a torch lit Tom Crean Walk. We didn't know what to expect so it was a pleasant surprise to find over 100 people ready to do the walk from the front of Hanafins. This was a three hour walk on the quiet rural roads that undulated around the surrounding countryside and included a visit to Crean birthplace and final resting place. It really was a Halloween experience as we walked around the dark country graveyard lit only by the flickering and dancing beams of torch light. We enjoyed the company of locals, people from all over Ireland and even a couple from Cornwall. Tomorrow we start the serious hiking with the Acres Hill walk over the Doorah Range where sheep paths will lead us to the edge of Dingle Bay.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Ups and downs on the last day

Friday morning was an exceptional time at the Sanctuary of Our Lady on top of Montserrat. I got there at 8.00am, well before the visitors started to arrive, but by midday sitting with a cup of coffee just people watching, I had a decision to make. I would have liked to stay all day but I also wanted to finish this journey before my feet gave up on me and I still had the walk to Manresa. With a reluctant heart but I hoped sensible head I used the Cremallera to take me back to the beautiful little village nestling below in the shadow of the mountain. The weird and wonderful rock formations look like figures and on my walk up the previous day they reminded me of a simple or primitive form of Mount Rushmere but then I learned that it is called the ridge of angels and that seemed much more appropriate as they guard the village below. The walk along the ancient, twisting village streets was as if I had gone back in time but then too soon I was on the modern sun drenched road that would eventually, about three hours later, lead me to my journeys end, Manresa. Feet in a total mess, due to the heat, the outskirts of the city was a welcome yet daunting sight. Far away perched on a hill stood the vast gothic structure that is the Basilica of La Seu which had been one of the principal sources of  inspiration for Saint Ignatius during his eleven month stay between 1522 and 1523, but there was a lot of ground to be walked on before I got there. I crossed the River Cardener on the eleventh century medieval bridge with its eight semicircular arches and suddenly realised that I was actually following his footsteps over the same bridge into the old town, it was a very sobering thought. Parts of the city and its historical significance, not only in European but in World history, cannot be denied and as you walk along Balc street in the medieval quarter the atmosphere can still be felt with its maze of narrow, irregular, poorly lit even on the brightest of days, and so badly ventilated it is almost airless. Narrow arches and overhanging balconies add to the dark sinister feeling that had formed in my mind.  I found the Chapel of the Rapture where Ignatius tended the sick and where one of the best known mystical episodes happened. Around the corner and there was my finishing line. The former college of St Ignatius, the second school formed by the Jesuits, which is now a Regional Museum, also houses the pilgrims office where the final stamp is added to your passbook and you are awarded the Ignatian Way Certificate. Several important places to visit, the Basilica and the cave where Ignatius lived and started to write the Spiritual Exercises. The Gothic Basilica of Santa Maria de la Seu built on a hill is the principal architectural and artistic icon of the city and I walked round and round but couldn't find a way in it was locked. There was a group of people looking to get in and one of them asked me and then we chatted. He was a retired archaeologist and had stayed and done work on Carrickfergus Castle, small world. Anyway the Basilica was closed and wouldn't open until 7 and the same news greated me at the cave. It might seem like a disappointing end to a tough journey but it didn't feel that way. I had reached the end and I was ready to go home.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Montserrat

This morning after a refreshing breakfast I walked about 6k to the Cremallera or Rack railway that climbs vertically from the village of Monistrol de Montserrat, after being told by my hosts last night that no one now walks up to the monastery perched high on the holy mountain, Monserrat. After using the Cremallera I now agree with them,when they told me, I was mad for having done the climb. The Cremallera is a fantastic experience and affords you the opportunity to not only enjoy a great feat of engineering but to wonder and marvel at the amazing scenery with sheer rock formations to your right and a plunging view down into the plains below, on your left. I saw more during the fifteen minute journey today than I saw in the near four hour climb yesterday. You don't see much looking at your feet and with sweat blinding you. At the top and it took me awhile to fully grasp the beauty, magnitude, history, peacefulness and special atmosphere that is the Sanctuary of Monserrat. I have always been inspired by the square and basilica at Santiago along with the special atmosphere created by pilgrims, well today, I experienced something that rivals if not betters Santiago as the finishing point for a walk. I was the only person there who was doing the Ignatian Way and the place was packed with people but such is the peaceful, spiritual surroundings, people show respect  thus creating a silent devotional aura, perhaps because everyone , myself included, is so captivated by the  beauty of mans creation which enhances the setting nature has spectacularly provided. I wondered around, mouth open, just soaking in wonderful sights. I stood admiring the outside of the monastery  and was further taken back when entering through the door that I wasn't inside the church but had entered a large square with cloisters down each side and the door to the church in front of me. I joined the silent queue that had formed to walk past the large, beautifully ornate, 12th Century carved image of Our Lady of Montserrat, the Black Madonna, La Morenta, perched high above the main altar, Santiago style. You would need several days to fully explore the Sanctuary and the beautiful grounds but I did make sure to find, in the Basilica, the sculpture of St. Ignatius which recalls how he knelt before " Our Lady of Montserrat" on 24th March 1522 and offered up his knights sword before dressing in a pilgrims sackcloth. Well I didn't have a sword, not even walking poles to offer up, and sackcloth doesn't really appeal, so I did things the modern way and presented myself at the pilgrim office to get the official stamp on my passbook. I felt sad leaving Montserrat but I still had to finish the walk at Manresa. Taking the train down meant that the walk would be only about 7k but I'll finish now and keep Manresa for tomorrow's blog.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Getting harder near the end.

It was an early 6 am start in order to get some serious miles in before the heat of the sun. Starting in La Panadella this was a long and at times quite boring walk along the side of the N11. It struck me,that all the traffic is now thundering down motorways, in this case the A2, and the wide national roads are relatively empty of traffic except, that is, for cyclists who now have these excellent roads almost to themselves. My walk was mostly downhill and the miles fairly flew by as I first approached  the village of Santa Magadalina del Cami where I was fortunate to find a small cafe and had the pleasure of enjoying a coffee, sitting outside, and watching the village awaken. The next town to pass through would be Jorba, about 8K away so you can imagine my surprise when after an hour of walking I came upon the service station, Jorba, and couldn't believe that that I had travelled so quickly. The answer came about 3K later as I walked into the delightful and picturesque village of Jorba. Service stations are traditionally some distance from where they are called after, silly me. The sun was up so it was time for a cold drink before leaving Jorba and making the final stretch that would lead me to the city of Igualada. Walking down a tree lined avenue that led towards the centre of this city, which according to the large welcoming sign, was the capital for Spanish leather work, I was yet again amazed at the beauty and indeed cosmopolitan atmosphere of a sizeable city that honestly I'd never heard of. Maybe that's just a sign of my ignorance and everyone who reads this already knew Igualada is the capital of the Spanish leather industry. Walking through Igualada further strengthened my belief that our thinking that we are advanced and everyone else isn't, is so wrong. A city that treasures its historic buildings whilst at the same time embracing modern concepts was evident to my eyes. All to soon I was leaving the outskirts of the city to follow the road leading to the famous monastery, sitting above the Spanish landscape, on top of the holy mountain of Montserrat. The advice is that you should use the road, " for pilgrims it is not at all advisable to take the mountain trails". I therefore walked along the N11 until St. Paul de la Guardia where I branched off on the road to Monserrat that stated the distance as being 12K. Three hours of uphill walking and I would be there at around 5pm.  It was definitely uphill, in very high temperatures, on a corkscrewing road, with no space allocated for walkers and large coaches and cars swinging around the bends to and from Montserrat. The scenery was stunning but fear of being hit by a coach or car, concentrating on the climb and enduring the heat, meant that appreciating the beauty of the surroundings was well down my priority list. Imagine my anger and frustration when, after two hours of hard graft, I encounter a sign informing me that Montserrat was now 3 hours and 15 minutes walking time away. What could I do but keep walking. Forty minutes later and on rounding a bend, there it was, the magnificence that is Montserrat, my final destination. These signs need sorted. Honestly, I was to tired and hot to spend time at the monastery and went down to the beautiful little village, Monistrol de Montserrat, where I am staying at Hotel Restaurant Guillaimes. This evening, fully recovered after a shower and dry clothes, I enjoyed an exceptional meal created by Joan and Jordi, in the company of Michael from Belgium and Peter from Germany. Tomorrow I will explore Montserrat followed by Manresa and then the adventure will be over.







Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Where are your walking companions when you need them to vote stay?

Last night the three of us had our last meal, sitting outside in the central square, in Tarrega. Since Aisling has to finalise return to work arrangements, go to a wedding, and see family and friends before returning to Liverpool it had been prearranged that, with Mary, she would fly back on the 6th July. I felt quite emotional this morning at 6.30am as they left for their bus to Gerona airport. I was losing not just my family, but more importantly, my two walking companions. When the arrows disappear and there are several roads to choose from, when you have walked past a town instead of staying and the sun is up, it is at times like these that your true walking companions call you a "dick" or indeed worse, and you have to agree. It was a solo walker, in sombre mood, who tried to leave Tarrega and find the trail to Cervera. No arrows to be seen, no signs and any locals I stopped were not interested in an Irish man, mad enough to walk in this heat. A decision was made when I saw in the distance the A2 motorway and the N11 running almost parallel to it. I would walk the N11. Since most traffic is on the motorway I had quite a pleasant walk along the side of the National road and very soon passed the towns of El Talladell and then Fonolleres on my way to Cervera and the end of today's walk. Arriving in Cervera before midday created a moment for thought. Should I stay and explore this amazingly beautiful old university city or should I keep going and take some of the kilometres out off tomorrow's long 40+K? The decision was taken when I found out that there was hotel accommodation at the highest point of tomorrow's walk, La Panadella, and it would shorten tomorrow by 15K. The walk from Cervera, although through some outstanding countryside, was more remarkable for the heat than the large golden carpet of wheat that covered  the landscape as it seemed to move over the small hills before disappearing into the horizon. The path dropped down to the infamous N11 and after another two kilometres I topped a hill and there was La Panadella. Was someone having a joke? With the multitude of beautiful towns and villages we have encountered during this trip I am stuck at a petrol filling station. Yes a petrol filling station, on top of a hill, with a cafe and a very basic hotel. It is a service station for truckers and yes I did spell it right, before the comments start. On a positive note I'll see the match tonight and tomorrow will take me even closer to Barcelona.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Shaken not stirred but soldiers on

Today started pleasantly with an early morning breakfast in the Sant Antoni pension where I must add we had the best meal ever last night cooked by our hosts consisting of about eight courses with lots of  red and white wine, beer, coffees and Bacardi costing the princely sum of 32 euros. Waving farewell, we walked through the small hamlet onto a path that quickly took us into agricultural countryside and with low temperature and a slightly refreshing breeze we made good timing as we passed orchards of various fruits with the predominant smell being that of pears. Well in front of our scheduled time we had covered the 8K that brought us to the small sleepy village of Castellnou de Seana and there experienced the continuing mystery of disappearing signage in towns and villages. We thought we were on the right road as we walked downhill past a children's play park, Mary and I together and Aisling close behind. Suddenly we heard a cry, a shout, and on turning found Aisling lying face down in the road. Coming off the footpath onto the road there was a double lip which caused her to lose balance and the momentum of her backpack did the rest. The girl ,who this year had climbed Everest, cycled the Bolivian road of death, explored Machu Picchu, trekked jungles, to mention just some of her achievements was face down with blood pouring from knees and nose, looking as if she might have broken her nose. We got her to a bench in the park and with her professional directions along with her protests proclaiming that she was fine she was patched up with antiseptic ointments, gauze and plasters. Shaken but not stirred and with a cut but unbroken nose she decided to soldier on. The final medical treatment was a Twister ice lolly out of a tabac in the town square. It was a quiet and sombre threesome that did the next 5K, again along quiet country roads to the sizeable town of Bellpuig which would appear to get a fair amount of its wealth from the rearing of pigs. The country surrounding this town was dotted with large farms with huge, factory sheds of pigs whose squealing we could hear as we passed. A quick Coke stop and a walk through a colourful market in the old town under the shadow of the impressive church tower and we were back on our dusty, stony, path making its way through the heart of the Catalan farming area. With an ever soaring temperature and very little shade the walk today was beginning to get tough. We stopped for our now customary lunch of baps, cheese, ham and crisps, all washed down with water in the shadow of the National Catalan Motorcross Centre before starting the long hot, dusty push towards our final destination at Verdu. There was little of interest on this section, the usual orchards, vines, birds of prey, several grottos, and of course the occasional abandoned historic house. What did make it interesting was the increasingly rising temperature that soon turned what might have been a lovely 28K walk into an extreme endurance event. It was with relief that after making the tough climb into Verdu we spied a cafe with outside red chairs and brightly coloured red umbrellas. The first drink on finishing a walk is a real lifesaver but it is the second drink that you real appreciate and enjoy. This afternoon we had several drinks each. An eventful day but thankfully we are safe and well

Monday, 4 July 2016

Early day and we are in Catalan

Yesterday's final comment became a reality today as we awoke, or at least I did, with the aches and soreness after yesterday's long hot walk. Today's 23K stretch from Lleide to El Palau d' Anglesola started at 7.00am when we left our hotel and started the customary long journey through yet another awakening city. This can be the boring section as you make your way along traffic filled roads and go through industrial zones.  After approximately 6K we had made the small town of Alcoletge and encountered a common problem on this Camino. The directional arrows stop at the edge of towns and will start again somewhere at the opposite side of the town and this happened here. We found it difficult to pick up the arrows and ended up on the wrong path but walking in the right general direction. Breakfast was a croissant with a bottle of water walking along pleasant country lanes and life doesn't get any better than this. Walking in the direction of the rising sun our path soon crossed the official one and we were back on track following the orange arrows. The orange arrows led us along paths that ran parallel to the motorway but yet surrounded by fruit trees of apples and pears. We crossed the railway tracks and entered the town of Bell-local d' Urgell where we found a pleasant little cafe. We had reached the half way point in today's walk and relaxed as we enjoyed a refreshing drink but all to soon it was time to pick up the backpack and find our way out of town and on to the right path. On our way out of the town we were entertained by a local information system that broadcast through loud speakers set high up on walls and told the local inhabitants what was going to happen that day. The second half of today's walk was warm and hot as we travelled along stone paths with the now frequent abundant fruit trees but little shade from the burning sun. Sheltering under a bridge in order to get reprieve from the sun whilst at the same time enjoying a bottle of water soon became something to look forward to as we strode closer to our finish. Passing the hamlet of Sidamon we knew that we were in the last 5k which as usual seemed to stretch to about 8K. The church spire of our destination, El Palau d' Anglesola , appeared to be quite close but again as in Camino tradition it took us about an hour to get there. The first cafe got our custom as we plunked down for refreshing drinks and slices of pizza. We are staying tonight in the Pension, Sant Antoni, which is excellent and we are looking forward to our first night in Catalonia and sampling some local food and drink.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

A hot 40K on a Sunday

Sorry that there was no blog yesterday but I was unable to get any wifi signal either in the hotel or anywhere else in Fraga. Suffice to say that yesterday was very hot and we finished in Fraga. Today, because of the heat, we left our hotel at 6.30am and started on the long 40k walk to Lleida. The first four kilometres from the town was a murderous climb out of the valley that not only tested legs and lungs but also mental strength and even though it was early morning it sure did bring the colour to your cheeks. Once over the top we had a pleasant country lane walk for several kilometres and were able to enjoy watching the early morning wildlife come awake. The wall of a small stream was the setting for our breakfast of crusty baps with dry cured ham and cheese, all washed down with bottled water. This was perfect as we enjoyed the birdsong, the gushing waters of the stream, the scampering of nearby rabbits and the general country environment. Breakfast over we set of on our way and were soon out of the rural setting and walking through an industrial estate. This might give a grimmer image than it was in reality. With it being Sunday everything was closed and we almost had the wide tree lined roads to ourselves except that is for the hundreds of rabbits that had come out to play. Leaving the industrial zone behind we were on a dusty path walking through orchards of peaches, nectarines and pears. This really is the fruit basket of Spain and it was a pity that none were ripe enough to pluck and eat. The only disappointment was that the planned coffee break in Cami Real didn't happen because there was nothing there so we continued amongst the ladened fruit trees until we arrived at the quite sizeable town of Alcarras. The town had the customary large church so we entered to get our Camino stamp and were greated by a very large, friendly priest who was extremely proud of their quite elaborate stamp. A bottle of coke, an iced lolly, and we were walking again. The next part to Butsenit was a colourful tree lined path which ran parallel to the river and we were entertained by the antics of storks and other birds as they spent their Sunday afternoon playing on the river. We then had the pleasurable experience of walking through apple orchards with green and red fruit dangling from the branches but again to small and unripe to eat. Even though it was extremely hot there was a pleasant breeze coming off the river and some cover from the trees that made walking  bearable and our pace was such that we seemed to be eating up the kilometres, that is until we saw our final destination, Lleida, in the distance and were informed on a sign that we had 7K to go. That 7K and the rest of the distance it took to walk through the city to our hotel could not be described in print. I will just say that it was exhausted, tired, frustrated and yes angry walkers who arrived at the door of the Zenith Hotel. Why do these paths go round in circles at the finish? This is the ongoing saga of Camino towns that seem to get further away as you walk towards them. Anyway after showering, changing into dry clothes we were ready to explore the town. It amazing after such a hard physical ordeal how quickly you recover. Mind you stiffness and soreness could be another story tomorrow.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Hot, hot and even hotter.

Yesterday we left our hotel in  the beautiful city of Zaragoza, with a feeling of reluctance in our hearts, and started on the 28K walk to Fuentas de Ebro. As you leave the beautiful inner city behind, you go through the outer residential sector before coming to the vast industrial zone which like all industrial zones is drab and boring, but the only consolation  being that perhaps the industrial zones revenue allows the inner city be be so well preserved. The first stop was a small village, come suburb called La Cartuja where we had some difficulty finding the right path. Once the path was found and we were back following the orange arrows it was finally time to enjoy the walk. This was a flat pleasant dusty path that followed the river Ebro on one side and the N11 on the other. The highlight of this section was the multitude of storks nests perched high on top of the electricity pylons,  groups of buzzards circling above us and the orchestral arrangement of feathered wildlife in the skies and bushes. Pleasant, relaxed walking indeed that brought us to the small village of Burgo de Ebro which was to be our half way mark and about fourty minutes in front of schedule. It was in high spirits that we entered a small cafe where we enjoyed toasted ham and cheese sandwiches with a cold drink. It never ceases to amaze me how everything can change so quickly during a hike. The second part of the walk, even though the path passed through open countryside, became memorable by the raising temperatures that soared into the 40's, yes, it was that warm. This part of Aragon has vast areas of arable lands that stretch into the far horizon. Farmers were out in force harvesting as we ploughed through the haze of heat that was fast draining us of all energy. The church tower of our destination, Fuentes de Elbro, appeared in the distance and momentarily raised our spirits until we realised that it was to be one of those Camino towns that get further away with each step taken. It was three, hot, weary walkers who made the final uphill road to the edge of Fuentes where the first bar became a paradise, a saving oasis. That cold beer, from an iced glass, will always be etched into my memory bank as one of the best drinks ever. It is remarkable even after such physical hardship how quickly you recover after a shower and a change of clothes. The village was small but there was a friendly atmosphere as we sat, with the locals, outside in the local plaza, enjoying a pre dinner drink. Dinner in the hotel restaurant that evening will be remembered by the food and watching Wales play great football.

Friday, 1 July 2016

A day of mixed emotions

Today was a mixed day on our journey and by mixed I mean a day of mixed feelings towards the people and organisations responsible for the information and planning of the route. Forgive my rant but if you are planning a route then it should be organised, like Camino Frances or Camino Portuguese , where accommodation is located at the end of each stage. Yesterday the walk took us to Logrono so you would expect today's walk to start there but no it started in Agoncilla and finished at Alcanadre where you then had to find transport to Calahorra for accommodation. The same was to happen tomorrow and at the end of the days walking you were to travel to Zarazoga. As is often said about these walks you do it your own way,so today, we took personal control, and after our walk we travelled to Zaragosa and have planned tomorrow to go to a village where we could get accommodation, . Having said all that, the journey out of Logrono, after you had escaped the residential and then industrial areas, was similar to yesterday with flat dusty paths winding their way through endless rows of vines. I honestly didn't know that Rioja was such a large supplier of wine. The route passes through several small towns on its way to Alcanadre but Agoncilla with its fully restored and majestic Castillo de las Aguas and wide plaza deserves special mention. We did look out for the famous, hugh vultures that nest in the Penas de Aradon cliffs but unfortunately at over thirty degrees maybe it was too warm even for them.
We used public transport to finish the day in Zaragosa which was indeed the next place on our journey where we could find accommodation. Staying in Zaragosa was a good move because as soon as we arrived the beauty and culture of the city lifted our spirits. The old historical city has a Basilica that must have been modelled on St. Peter's in Rome. The plaza has to be at least a hundred meters wide with a large church at each end. At one end we have preserved Roman ruins whilst at the other a large museum and works celebrating the life of Goya. As you walk around, going from plaza to plaza, you are drawn to the sculptures, works of art, ornate architecture and of course fountains that are abundant in this rich setting.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Reliving old memories

Well today's walk from Navarrete to Logrono was in sharp contrast to any days walking we have so far experienced on the Camino Ignatian. After breakfast in a little cafe beside the old church we walked through the still sleeping town and soon found the orange arrows that symbolise this walk. The orange arrow was in directional opposition to the familiar yellow arrow of the Camino Santiago going from Logrono through Navarrete to Najera. We were retracing past familiar ground. The scenery was bright, colourful and of course Rioja was celebrated in the abundance of vines and bodegas. Whereas we have become accustomed to having the way to ourselves today there was a constant stream of other pilgrims but they were walking in the opposite direction to us. The once familiar sounds of Buen Camino echoed along our progress and several times kindly pilgrims stopped us to point us in the direction of Santiago. No we are not lost, we might be mad, but our Camino goes to Barcelona. Soon after passing the San Juan de Acre pilgrims hospital, established in 1185 we entered the Parc de la Grajera and we could see down below us the famous and picturesque lakes of Logrono. Rounding a bend and there he was, the long haired, grey bearded hermit looking man who sits in a wooden shelter selling Camino trinkets and stamping your passbooks. Memories flooded back, was it really only three years ago that Mary and I stopped here with our friends, Austin and Pauline Patterson, on our way to Santiago from SJPDP, and here we are again getting the same stamp only walking in the opposite direction and with our daughter, Aisling. We had a very pleasant and easy walk through the park paths until we arrived at the lakeside cafe where we sat and chatted with three other pilgrims.  Micky Ravins from Tipperary had teamed up with Jocelyn Muscarelband and Misty Vogtritter, both from Arizona, and all three were making their way to Santiago.. After a lengthy stop, talking and then watching the swans and their cygnets we made the final 4 or 5K into Logrono and our accommodation. Because we had made such good time today we were able to spend time exploring the city. It seems that Logrono in common with many Spanish cities has a vibrant cafe culture and numerous parks where people can just sit and watch the world pass by. Today we took the opportunity to join them and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon sitting in a park just watching people. A visit to the cathedral was a must and dinner in the old part of the city was equally relaxing before we enjoyed an open air jazz concert. Well tomorrow is another day.
Well today's walk from Navarrete to Logrono was in sharp contrast to any days walking we have so far experienced on the Camino Ignatian. After breakfast in a little cafe beside the old church we walked through the still sleeping town and soon found the orange arrows that symbolise this walk. The orange arrow was in directional opposition to the familiar yellow arrow of the Camino Santiago going from Logrono through Navarrete to Najera. We were retracing past familiar ground. The scenery was bright, colourful and of course Rioja was celebrated in the abundance of vines and bodegas. Whereas we have become accustomed to having the way to ourselves today there was a constant stream of other pilgrims but they were walking in the opposite direction to us. The once familiar sounds of Buen Camino echoed along our progress and several times kindly pilgrims stopped us to point us in the direction of Santiago. No we are not lost, we might be mad, but our Camino goes to Barcelona. Soon after passing the San Juan de Acre pilgrims hospital, established in 1185 we entered the Parc de la Grajera and we could see down below us the famous and picturesque lakes of Logrono. Rounding a bend and there he was, the long haired, grey bearded hermit looking man who sits in a wooden shelter selling Camino trinkets and stamping your passbooks. Memories flooded back, was it really only three years ago that Mary and I stopped here with our friends, Austin and Pauline Patterson, on our way to Santiago from SJPDP, and here we are again getting the same stamp only walking in the opposite direction and with our daughter, Aisling. We had a very pleasant and easy walk through the park paths until we arrived at the lakeside cafe where we sat and chatted with three other pilgrims.  Micky Ravins from Tipp had teamed up with Jocelyn Muscarelband and Misty Vogtritter, both from Arizona, and all three were making their way to Santiago.. After a lengthy stop, talking and then watching the swans and their cygnets we made the final 4 or 5K into Logrono and our accommodation. Because we had made such good time today we were able to spend time exploring the city. It seems that Logrono in common with many Spanish cities has a vibrant cafe culture and numerous parks where people can just sit and watch the world pass by. Today we took the opportunity to join them and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon sitting in a park just watching people. A visit to the cathedral was a must and dinner in the old part of the city was equally relaxing before we enjoyed an open air jazz concert. Well tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A great days walking which finished with good company

Today's walk didn't have a great start. We, quite literally, couldn't find our way out of the old, walled, town of Laguardia. Did I mention yesterday that a glass lift takes you from Laguardia down to the plains below? Well it does, quite scarily, and at the bottom we found that the start of today's walk coincided with the walk of the three Lagoons and then the Route de Vino. This will give you a clue about the walk.  Walking around the lagoons on a dusty path was to experience the bright, colourful, flora and fauna that is so characteristic of this region.The sun was shining as we then made our way through row after row of Riojan grapes with colourful roses at the head of each row. The bodegas were plentiful as we got a crash course on Riojan wine. Our first coffee stop on this idillic way was the small town of lapuebla, with its lovely, flowered plaza just down from the large, customary, baroque church. The scenic route, mostly along dusty paths, intertwining its way through vineyards, under a cloudless sky was a real joy. Crossing a railway line and following the equilivant of a senda we were directed to Feunmayor which we were expecting to be a small hamlet but turned out to be a vibrant town with a colourful square where coffee culture must have been invented. Hundreds of people, of all ages, sat around tables, under the shade of olive trees and enjoyed a lunchtime drink and the company of friends. For us it was a pleasure to watch this community spirit as we also enjoyed a cool refreshing drink. The last part of today's walk was about 5K along a dusty senda that ran flat and parallel to a main road before the customary climb into the town. After showering and changing into dry clothes we went to explore the town of Navarrete and found, by accident, what could claim to be the best Albergue on any of the Caminos. We first stopped to have a chat with a friendly Aussie, Matt, and when Aussies meet the Irish, yes, we sat and talked over a pint. Matt Marshall works in the Albergue Pilgrims, for his friend, Michael, the owner. Later in the evening we enjoyed our best pilgrim meal ever, washed down of course by some delicious wine. If anyone is ever in Navarrete, wants good food, good company and excellent accommodation then go to this Albergue. Did I mention that Matt has a painted a series of frescos, showing the religious figures in Camino history inside the Albergue and it is a must see.

Monday, 27 June 2016

A compromise that finished well

This morning we were all fit to resume our journey. Today would be different from any other walk we have done before since we would have to catch up on yesterday's stopover. After waving goodbye to our hostess we started the steep 10K downhill on a winding corkscrew road that would eventually take us to the delightfully beautiful old university town of Ornate. The University, Santi Spiritus, founded by the Bishop Rodrigo Mercado de Zuazola, has taught Theology, Law, and Medicine since 1542 and still plays an import role today. Clean, beautifully preserved, historic, a town you felt guilty leaving before you could explore it.  Our plan was to get to Victoria before lunch and then bus the rest of the way to Laguardia thus catching up on our schedule. The countryside to Vitoria was lush and fertile as it lay along the valley bed. Dusty paths crisscrossed through the crops and vines and the blue cloudless sky above was in stark contrast to the previous couple of days. On this side of the mountain range, in the Parque National De Aizkorri-Aratz, the summer had definitely arrived and we could feel the heat of the sun on our backs. What a contrast, four layers on when we left our mountain sanctuary, this morning, and now just a tee shirt. By lunchtime we had arrived at the outskirts of Vitoria-Gasteiz only to find that the village or small town we expected to see was indeed a vibrant and colourful city. I always marvel at my own ignorance. An ultra modern city tram ride brought us into a centre where old and modern had created a perfect marriage. The old, tan coloured sandstone buildings had become, with patience, kindness and love an environment where modern city life could live and flourish. Again it was with regret that we left and took our bus trip to the end of today's stage,Laguardia. Even without yesterdays problems this would have been a murderous stretch of the walk. Climbing vertically out of one valley, crossing a mountain, before descending on to the plains below. The bus struggled up the mountain road but fifty minutes later we were outside Laguardia. Now you must be getting fed up with me waxing lyrically about these towns but, honestly, Laguardia , is in a class of its own. A completely walled town with a maze of twisting stone streets and a wow factor at every stride. Because of the bad start to the walk we have splashed out on tonight's accommodation. When Laguardia describes this place as a castle they mean a real castle and all the luxury of five star including a Michelin star. We even have a sauna cabin, if that is the proper name, in our room. I could get used to this, pity about the walking.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Tummy bug in an interesting village.

This is now our seventh Camino type walk and we had always been blessed with injury free and illness free walking but our luck has deserted us on this one. We have been attacked by a very severe tummy bug which meant that today's walk had to be cancelled. I will not go into any details but suffice to say a toilet always had to be near. On the bright side if you have to be stuck anywhere remote then Arantzazu with its famous Sanctuary and the eagles soaring overhead isn't a bad place to be. I spent some time today discovering the basilica, the culture centre, the seminary and the surrounding village. I found out that Arantzazu has a special place on the Camino Ignatian since it is a fact that St. Ignatius of Loyola came to the Santuary of Arantzazu in 1522 where he thought a vigil would be beneficial for his pilgrimage to Montserrat. So if a rest or pit stop was good enough for the Saint, after climbing the Basque mountains, then it's good enough for us. The sanctuary over the centuries has been ravaged by three major fires with the last one in 1834 burning it to the ground so what now stands proudly on the steep cliff face was started in 1950 and is an example of Basque architecture and design. To someone like our Camino friend Shane this all might have significant meaning and symbolism but for me it was all very grey and dark. I actually found it to be quite maudlin. Later in the afternoon I stood on the terrace of the hotel and gazed transfixed as six large eagles gave an impressive display of grace and agility as they circled above. The small village, apart from the religious attraction of the Bascilia, is also a meeting place for ramblers and walkers who spend their weekends walking the hundreds of marked trails and then finish at one of the three tabernas for a relaxing drink. The name of the village, Arantzazu, comes from the Basque meaning a place surrounded by hawthorn bushes and this afternoon we watched as an elderly man sat on a bench for hours whittling hawthorn sticks into walking canes with intrigedly carved heads. Whatever we feel like tomorrow we have to move on and restart our journey where we should have been today. Because of time constraints we have to be in Laguardia. So here's hoping and praying.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The hardest Camino walk we have ever done and on my birthday.

This morning we left our hotel in Zumarrage in good spirits and looked forward to a nice 22k walk that would take us through some interesting towns and villages before summiting Arriurdin at 1273mts. The first section went as planned as we followed along the Calle Ipanarrieta towards Lepazpi and was indeed an interesting history of the areas deep tradition of steel works and engineering. Lepazpi was a beautiful small town but after a quick coffee stop we continued into the picturesque Mirandaola Park where surrounded by distant hills we followed small streams to the village of Telleriarte. Through the village and with darkening rain clouds overhead we started a steep climb on a small tarmac road to the beautifully tranquil Barrendiola reservoir. At the reservoir we marvelled at the scenic views across the still water and down into the valley below. The walk on the muddy path around the reservoir should have warned us of what might lie ahead.  This is where things got extreme as we cut up a narrow stone and mud path that would lead, 5K  later to a wet, cold, and very foggy summit. Climbing 1273 mts on slippy, muddy, stoney and very dangerous paths is no joke and indeed very dangerous. On any other Camino, in this condition, the path would have been closed. Since we were so close to the top and indeed past the point of return, when the thick fog rolled in, it would have been more dangerous to turn back, so our only option was to continue.. At the top visibility was down to about 50 mts as we looked for marker signs that would lead us to the downward path. Eventually, tired, cold and damp we came out of the fog on a steeply descending rocky path and felt that at least the worst was over but on a day like this anything can happen, and it did. The path had turned to a sea of mud which in turn had created a mud slide that was slithering its way down the mountain. Slipping, sliding and falling we continued down and eventually arrived at the Santuary of Arantzazu almost three hours after our scheduled arrival time. Wet, cold, covered in mud and totally exhausted we had finally arrived. The worst days hiking, ever, and on my birthday, what a bummer. One high point of the day was being able to witness, just after the summit, at least 12    enormous eagles fly up in front of us after having feasted on a dead deer. The sound of the beating wings was frightening but to watch them glide in circles above us was special. My advice to anyone doing this walk would be to skip stage 2. I could have said more about these extreme conditions but quite honestly the old body and mind are exhausted tonight so tomorrow is another day and hopefully better than today

Friday, 24 June 2016

candmcamino: Day 1 Camino Ignaciano. Loyola to Zumarraga.

candmcamino: Day 1 Camino Ignaciano. Loyola to Zumarraga.: It was an early start this morning to day one of the Camino Ignaciano which starts at the Basilica in Loyola and finishes about 20K later in...

Day 1 Camino Ignaciano. Loyola to Zumarraga.

It was an early start this morning to day one of the Camino Ignaciano which starts at the Basilica in Loyola and finishes about 20K later in the small town of Zumarraga. Before we even got to Loyola we had an hour bus journey from San Sebastián. After a breakfast in a cafe near the Basilicia, at 9.30 am, we shouldered our backpacks and took our first steps along the way that will eventually end at Montserrat. On this our first morning the weather was kind to us. The previous couple of days were very warm, sunny and with cloudless blue skies,weather for sunbathing, but not for walking, whereas today it was cloudy with a slight breeze and the threat of rain. The walk had a gentle start as we walked along a path following a river for about three kilometres and then it started to gently climb. This was a path that was covered on both sides by dense vegetation. The first town we passed through was Azkoitia, only about 4K from Loyola, which was an old historic market town with some very beautiful stone buildings and an impressive Basque Romanesque Church. Through the town we trudged and on the outskirts joined the Urola Greenway which is a disused and converted railway line  that climbs its way up the mountain towards Zumarraga. During this journey we walked through at least twelve old railway tunnels that had been hewn out of the rocks and in one marvelled at a large mural dedicated to the railway. The first three days of this walk is also known as the Route of the Three Temples starting with the Basilica in Loyola and the second one being the 14th century Basque Hermitage of La Antigua where the beautiful wooden ceiling gives it the name, the cathedral of shrines. When we eventually arrived at the beautiful hotel Etxeberri, with its famous restaurant, I had begun to reflect that this could be, for me, a very hard and fast walk. During today's walk Mary and Aisling kept disappearing into the distance and I walked slowly in their wake. You see, they don't realise how fast they are walking because it is non stop talking all the time. The walk today was outstanding for its beauty and if this is a sign of things to come then the Camino Ignaciano will be a real treat. The accommodation tonight is one of the best we have experienced on any of the walks. This is old charm, Spanish style and tonight's meal in the famous award winning restaurant should be worth all the effort used getting here.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

San Sebastián and Loyola.

Today we explored the truly beautiful city of San Sebastián and decided that we must return in the near future. This is a fantastic place and if it's not on your bucket list then add it quickly. It is a classy city with a vibrant cafe culture and an abundance of Michelin starred restaurants. I could live on the tapas that are plentiful. The beaches and the promenades are the best and a stroll along the Ramblas is an experience.
During the afternoon we got a bus to Loyola where we visited the Basilica and obtained our passbooks for the walk. The whole atmosphere in Loyola was quiet and serene and there was a feeling that you were somewhere special. Since Loyola is a one hour trip from San Sebastián then we will have an early start tomorrow.
From all the formation we got today the first three days will be tough climbing and there will be few other walkers on the trail. Well this is only a short blog and the walking will start tomorrow.

Starting another walk. The Ignatian Way or Camino Ignaciano.

This morning Mary and I set out on a days travelling that would get us to San Sebastián and the start of another walk, the Ignatian Way. This walk will take us in the footsteps of St Ignatius of Loyola who in 1522 walked from his hometown to Montserrat overlooking the fabulous city of Barcelona. This is a walk that joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean crossing the mountainous Basque Country and then through deserts and plains  in Navarra, La Rioja, Aragon and Catalunya before finishing in Manresa. During the walk we will be joined by our daughter, Aisling, who is nearing the end of her one year world adventure. This will seem very tame to a girl who in the past twelve months has travelled through South America, Australia, India, and the Far East. To someone who has climbed Machu Picu, climbed Mount Everest, cycled down the Road of Death in Bolivia, trekked in jungles  and salt deserts to name just a few. Will walking with a slow pensioner like me ,who used his senior citizen card in order to get free transport to Dublin Airport, be a real bore? I have been told, purely for journalistic integrity, to point out that Mary had to pay for her bus journey to the airport since she does not possess a Senior Citizen card. On the bus I received an email from Karen Robinson our Portuguese Camino friend from Tasmania who at present in nearing the end of the extremely difficult St Olavs walk in Norway. Compared to the challenges this hiking legend has overcome, in wilderness conditions, our walk will be relatively tame. Mary and I would like to congratulate Karen on this wonderful achievement. It's getting to become quite boring sitting in the plane so I'm going to share with you a song that has been in my head all morning.
From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean we are going for a walk. This should be sung to the tune of Candystore by Dickie Rock. This will mean nothing to most of you reading this blog unless , like me, you have a Senior Citizen Travel card and of course a weird sense of humour. This last piece won't appear on the blog because Mary will veto it.

Starting another walk. The Ignatian Way or Camino Ignaciano.

This morning Mary and I set out on a days travelling that would get us to San Sebastián and the start of another walk, the Ignatian Way. This walk will take us in the footsteps of St Ignatius of Loyola who in 1522 walked from his hometown to Montserrat overlooking the fabulous city of Barcelona. This is a walk that joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean crossing the mountainous Basque Country and then through deserts and plains  in Navarra, La Rioja, Aragon and Catalunya before finishing in Manresa. During the walk we will be joined by our daughter, Aisling, who is nearing the end of her one year world adventure. This will seem very tame to a girl who in the past twelve months has travelled through South America, Australia, India, and the Far East. To someone who has climbed Machu Picu, climbed Mount Everest, cycled down the Road of Death in Bolivia, trekked in jungles  and salt deserts to name just a few. Will walking with a slow pensioner like me ,who used his senior citizen card in order to get free transport to Dublin Airport, be a real bore? I have been told, purely for journalistic integrity, to point out that Mary had to pay for her bus journey to the airport since she does not possess a Senior Citizen card. On the bus I received an email from Karen Robinson our Portuguese Camino friend from Tasmania who at present in nearing the end of the extremely difficult St Olavs walk in Norway. Compared to the challenges this hiking legend has overcome, in wilderness conditions, our walk will be relatively tame. Mary and I would like to congratulate Karen on this wonderful achievement. It's getting to become quite boring sitting in the plane so I'm going to share with you a song that has been in my head all morning.
From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean we are going for a walk. This should be sung to the tune of Candystore by Dickie Rock. This will mean nothing to most of you reading this blog unless , like me, you have a Senior Citizen Travel card and of course a weird sense of humour. This last piece won't appear on the blog because Mary will veto it.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

A birthday and another walk finished.

Well folks we left the beautiful alpine village of Buching early this morning and started on the last leg of our journey on the King Ludwig Way and believe me it was a day that had everything, beautiful scenery, magnificent castles, terrifying mountain paths, diversions due to landslides and then the joy and ecstasy of finally making the finishing line in Fussen. The early morning walk through a succession of small sleepy hamlets culminated with us walking into a village to be confronted with mothers and children getting ready for first communion. The girls in their snow white dresses, the boys in Bavarian costume along with mothers in colourful Bavarian dresses was a colourful and unexpected sight. Not wanting to intrude in their celebrations, but feeling honoured to have seen it, we walked on towards the Pollathscanyon. The walk this morning was remarkable by its beauty with the snow covered peaks to the front and side of us and the waters of the lakes on the other. This seemed to be a perfect end, not only to the walk, but also a fitting way to celebrate Marys birthday. Blue sky, shining sun, rolling countryside, birdsong and easy walking paths. We could see the first of Ludwigs castles sitting proudly on the mountainside in front of us and knew that when we reached Schwangau our finish would be in sight. We hadn't realised that the castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, were so close together and that a small tourist industry had developed in the valley between them. During this walk the predominant factor has been the silence from human noise, allowing us to really appreciate the beautiful sounds of nature, but upon arriving at the castles we were bombarded with human noise as we encountered hundreds of tourists pouring out of buses and cars. It actually felt strange and we were, at first, glad that the KLW directed us away from the crowds and towards the Alproseway that seemed to go over the mountain and into Fussen. This mountain path was the scariest journey we have ever encountered. One hour on a foot wide path with at times a sheer 500 mt drop down into the lake below and cliff rocks to the right. I can't describe how terrifying that path was but when we finally made it to the famous Lech falls we were too emotionally drained to appreciate the beauty. The saving sight of a small cafe allowed us to restore our shattered nerves with a large drink. Suitably fortified we walked along the river side and then crossed the bridge to enter the stunningly beautiful town of Fussen where multitudes of people are sitting out eating and drinking in the bright sunshine. After getting showered and now changed we are going to join them and find somewhere to celebrate a birthday and another walk finished.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Out of the mists appeared dead frogs, a cart load of singing women and the Edelweiss.

Last nights stay in the Hotel Post, Wildsteig, was a wonderful experience of friendly hospitality, fabulous food and an overall feeling of relaxation. I had the best bowl of soup ever, wild garlic leaves  with cream and it was to die for. When we said our goodbyes, this morning, with the promise that we would return, last nights dense fog had changed into an early morning thick mist. The mist gave everywhere a quiet, eerie, almost dark dangerous underworld type of feeling as we headed in the direction of  Weis and its UNESCO, world cultural heritage site, the Weischurch. Along a small road that linked several hamlets we came upon a small dainty church, that could only seat about ten people, but never the less it was ornate, clean, full of flowers and lit candles. Amazing. We then walked along a fairly barren, moorland path, with the morning sun trying to burn away the mists and fog, until we entered a forest that would eventually bring us to the imposing church that dominates the landscape and has created a world reputation for pilgrimage and retreat with more than one million visitors each year. The large onion dome towered high above us as we entered the small hamlet, but it was only after climbing up the steps, and entering through the enormous oak carved doors that we were hit by the magnificence, the beauty, the light infused space of this Art Rocco inspired church of the "Scourged Saviour of the Wies". Songs, poems, prayers and books have been written so all I can say is that Mary and I were impressed. There was a special feeling.
We had arrived early and practically had the building to ourselves, but, on leaving almost an hour later, there were several bus loads of tourists arriving so we got the experience without the annoying clicking of cameras. We walked down the hill to the local Gasthof for coffee and hot chocolate to find that they had had another famous visitor. Photos of the Russian President, Gorbachev, when he stayed in the Gasthof, standing with a wide smile and an even bigger glass of beer. Time to leave and find the path through Trauchgau to Halblech and our final destination at Buching. Most of the way was undulating with the path constantly changing from farmland to small forests. On one open stretch of path we were intrigued to find a line, a series, of dead frogs all lying belly up in the middle of the path and the grotesque procession went for almost half a mile. Later as we entered a small forest by a mucky path we could hear singing and then from around a bend appeared a large wooden cart pulled by two enormous horses with a driver, about eight women dressed in alpine gear, and all singing away merrily. Upon reaching Truchgau the landscape dramatically changed and became totally alpine with the snow capped rocky mountains  around you on three sides. We passed several ski lifts as we walked through the group of small hamlets that would take us to our Alpenhotel in Buching. As I'm now sitting on a sun drenched balcony, looking over the snow capped mountains, watching idiots with multicoloured chutes paraglide on the thermals, I can reflect that the most outstanding memory from today's walk, for me was the abundance of brightly coloured flowers that cascaded down from the mountains and through the trees. Bright, bright yellow, deep blues and the sight of streams of beautiful small white flowers which I think were the famous Edelweiss . It matters not, this is Sound of Music country so the sight of these rivers of white, streaming out off the snow line, brought on a song. Tomorrow is our last leg of the walk and takes us past the legendary castles, down a deep ravine and a finish at Fussen. 

Friday, 1 April 2016

Getting lost and re -finding the way before the fog came.

Today's walk didn't get off to a good start. We had decided to have an early start so after we had breakfast we shouldered our backpacks and headed out of Peiting towards the Ammerschlucht and a path that would take us to Rottenbuch. Well the April Fool joke was on us as there were no KLW signs to be found but after stopping locals for direction we finally got on the right path to Rottenbuch but only after having walked an extra two miles circumnavigating an industrial estate. The terrain was flat until we had to make an hour of nearly vertical walking that took us through another forest before it finally broke through the dense foliage and emerged into open countryside. From that point the walking was pleasant as we passed through several farms and then finally saw the familiar onion shape of the church spire of Rottenbuch in the distance. Now Rottenbuch joins that group of Camino towns, like Astorga, that look to be very close but as you walk seem to stay that same distance away and it takes what seems like an eternity to get there. Eventually we passed under a tunnel and the beauty and magical mystique of Rottenbuch surrounded and overpowered us. Rottenbuch is a monastery town that gleams, pure white,emitting an aura of calm and peacefulness that descends down around you as you pass through the arch leading to the church and former cloisters that are now family homes. In 1073 Rottenbuch had a church, the Altenmunster, but after a series of fires it was in 1773 that the work began on the present day frescos and baroque altars which have been restored, in recent years, to show and highlight the beauty and joy of the Southern German baroque era. After the church and before heading on we had a pit stop in a little cafe for cake and drinks. One of the negatives of this walk is that there are usually no stoping points from start to the finish of each day's walk so today we made the most of this unexpected coffee break. After leaving Rottenbuch the KLW was well signposted towards our end of day destination, Wildsteig and the Gasthof Zur Post. This was pleasant walking through beautiful farming country, with unfortunate muck spreading smells, until we had only four kilometres to our lodgings when, like the Camino's, KLW threw in a curved ball. Just as we were congratulating ourselves on having experienced a lovely, fairly easy days walking, apart from the fact that the sun hadn't broken through the cloud cover, we rounded a bend on the path, and the way took itself off in an upward direction. It was two exhausted and breathless walkers who climbed the final series of steps that led to the local church, with the welcoming sight of our Gasthof opposite, and the thought of a long, cool glass of Bavarian beer to revive us. We were lucky to arrive when we did because about fifteen to twenty minutes later a thick misty fog rolled across the mountains giving everywhere a magical, mystical appearance, but you wouldn't want to be out walking.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Garlic to muck spreading but always with views

Last nights stay in Gasthof zur Post in Raisting was highlighted by an absolutely fantastic traditional Bavarian meal with enough steak to feed a whole family. The apple strudel with custard was to die for. This morning we walked through the hamlet of Wessobrunn, passing a wood yard where we watched men preparing large logs with traditional implements. The path took us through several farms before entering a forest with an almost vertical descent to the valley floor below. Even at this early hour the sun was shining in a cloudless blue sky and sending shimmering shafts of light through the trees. Next we had the tough climb out of the forest leading us to a small country lane that gently meandered uphill until it ended and we were directed across mucky fields. A steep stone path took us into our second forest but this time it was the overpowering smell of wild herbs that attacked your senses. Everywhere was covered in carpets of wild garlic that cascaded down the slopes and between the trees. Mary and I reminisced about her Granda Cushnan since he was a devout lover of the medicinal properties of wild garlic. The Granda Vincent would have been in his element with the garlic, thyme, rosemary and mint that was freely growing. After the culinary delight we were brought back to the present with the steepest climb that led to a series of almost vertical steps. These leaf covered steps dragged the life out of us for almost twenty minutes and it was with relief and joy that we collapsed onto a rustic bench at the summit. Out of the forest we had the delight of walking along a path that weaved its way through the rolling countryside and in bright sunshine. The only problem was that the herbal assault on the senses was now substituted by the smell of farmers muck spreading. The little village of Forst gave Mary the opportunity to visit the local church with its memorial to the locals killed in wars. Lunch was sitting on a bench overlooking the mountains watching an eagle swoop down and collect his lunch of mouse. After that we made our way up towards the mountain, Hoher Peissenberg, with its stunning views but the hardship of the climbs were soon forgotten as we drank in the beauty of the snow covered mountains.  The rest of today was pleasant walking through rural countryside until we reached the pretty town of Peiting where we are staying in Apenhotel Pfaffenwinkel.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Large Cathedrals, a tiny church and awesome views.

After a very substantial breakfast we left the Hotel Seefelderhof and walked up through the Herrnstrasse to the famous Cathedral of Mary, the Marienmuenster. This is the most famous of all churches in Bavaria, and after being mesmerised by its beautiful architecture and frescos, I can understand why. You could stand, transfixed, all day and admire the beauty of the intricate paintings. The ceiling is quite simply stunning. Well Mary did what Mary always does, and lit a candle, then we headed back to the trail where a statue of St James was showing us the way. The first section of today's walk was along pleasant country paths and then it wound its way through fields, always passing dainty, beautiful hamlets that are too small to be included on the map. We walked on lovely lanes and at one point were directed to cross over several fields. After about an hour of walking in the bright morning sunshine we entered into the first of today's forest sections. The path under foot changed dramatically with exposed, wet tree roots and wet stones making progress slow as we climbed out of the valley towards the tree covered ridge. On the climb up we passed several religious grottos but imagine our surprise when we discovered a very small church at the top. It could only hold about twelve people but there were fresh flowers and lit candles. When we left there was another lit candle. Outside they even had a summer seat where you could enjoy the magnificent mountain views. The path then followed the ridge before dropping down into agricultural land that spread out in front of you. It felt like walking through a landscape painting by one of the old masters. The second of today's forest climbs was hard and at times brutal but as we emerged from it the Camino society had placed a bench for you to take in the beauty of the view. The snow covered mountain peaks of the  Zugspitze rose up in the distance as Mary and I watched several eagles hover above. What a place to enjoy a drink and our packed lunch. After the forest climb we were again on the rolling plains and it suddenly struck us what had been different about today's walk. The lack of modern day societies noise, there was no noise pollution. We had been enjoying the beauty of the sounds of nature without any interference from man. The last climb to Wessobrunn was one of those gradual gradients that lasted an hour and drains you of strength and energy so it was a tired couple of walkers who reached a sign proclaiming Santiago 2605 kilometres. That's for someone else, our wonderful day was finished.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Eagles, Monks and Schnapps 2

I'm sure you are wondering why today's first blog was titled Eagles, Monks and Schnapps. I ran out of space on the blog ( restricted to one page) and even though I wrote about the monastery it was cut off and finished with us arriving at Andechs. The climb into the monastery was steep, very steep and by the time we got there we were hot and breathless so it would have been rude not to stop for a drink. The monks of  St. Boniface's Benedictine Abbey have been brewing beer and distilling Schnapps on Bavaria's holy mountain since 1455, so it would have been wrong, and indeed could have caused an international incident, if two Irish visitors did not partake in their kind hospitality. After a few glasses I found my spiritual oasis. These monks had everything, beer, schnapps and food from their organic farms. Sitting on top of a mountain eating and drinking, what a life. After about an hour Mary dragged me away screaming and yelling from my new found soul centre but in the words of Arnie, " I'll be back".
The descent along a wooded mountain path was quite difficult but soon we made the valley floor. It was a pleasant flattish walk that took us to the finish of today's walk in Herrsching on the shore of the Ammersee. Our hotel is in Driessen, on the far shore, so the KLW uses a boat for the trip. After an eventful day we arrived, tired, at our hotel.

Eagles, Monks and Schnapps.

It was with some trepidation that we awoke this morning to the realisation that the walking would start today. After a wonderful breakfast the receptionist, in the Fischerhaus Hotel Starnberg, started to explain the route out of Starnberg and how we could find the King Ludwig Way. This is one of the friendliest places I have ever stayed in and when we arrived down in the reception area she presented us with several maps of today's walk along with bottles of water and apples. A great start to our journey and so it was with heightened spirits and a bounce to our step that we walked up the road that would lead to the Maisinger Schlucht. Soon we were walking through a rural landscape with clusters of Bavarian style houses glistening in the bright sunshine. We entered the Maisinger forest and were guided by a wet, stoney, wood path that meandered in unison with the river that flowed against our direction of walking. I forgot to say that one of the first directional signs we encountered was not the large K for the KLW but rather the yellow scallop shell on the blue background for the Camino that goes from Munich to Santiago. We were on another Camino as we walked the forest path surrounded by the beautiful colours of nature bursting out of her Winter sleep and embracing the the sounds of Spring as young finches, thrushes and other small multicoloured young birds found their singing voices. This all added to the beauty of the first five miles which seemed to fly by but I had to remind Mary that today's walk was going to be about 16 miles and that sprinting pace wouldn't last all day. A sensible paced walk brought us into the Bavarian hamlet of  Aschering where we had hoped to make a pit stop but with it being Easter Tuesday everything was closed so the order of the day was to keep walking. After Aschering the terrain changed from the sheltered fairly flat wooded path with the strong sunlight streaming through the trees to a white gravel road that climbed , at times steeply, through rolling countryside that was broken up by the sight of Bavarian Churches with onion bulb shaped spires dotted in the distance. A lunch of bottled water and apples sitting on a log watching eagles doing graceful gliding, as they looked for their lunch, was a very soothing experience. Suitably refreshed we headed on only this time battling against a strong headwind that had suddenly appeared along with dark angry looking clouds. It was a windswept duo, though thankfully dry, that finally reached the historic monestry at Andechs

Monday, 28 March 2016

Starnberg, the lake and a Camino friend.

Mary and I had a wonderful Easter Monday meeting up with our Portuguese Camino friend, Jasmin, and her boyfriend, Josef. Jasmin had arranged to meet us at the boat terminal in Starnberg, at 1.00pm, so after booking into our hotel Mary and I went to find our rendezvous point. We arrived ten minutes early, sat at an outside cafe to watch the world pass by, when suddenly out of the crowds a familiar smiling face appeared. It was like the scene from an old black and white movie. Jasmin had found us and after smiles, laughter and hugs we were introduced to Josef who had stood silently watching as the three of us embraced and I'm sure silently wondering about our mad antics. It was decided that we would immediately board the cruise boat that did a two hour trip around the Starnberg lake and what a trip it was. The lake and the group of small towns surrounding it is surely one of the most scenic boat trips, ever, and is further enhanced by the majesty and magnificence  of the snow capped Alps that form a backdrop to the still clear water. The weather was clear and bright though cold, if you were out of the sun, but that didn't matter since we had the inner glow of old friendship being renewed and new friendship being kindled. The scenery was stunning and each small town even more beautiful than the previous one As we say at home, the craic was mighty, but all too soon we were back on dry land and our friends had to make the 50 kilometre journey back to their dairy farm where cows needed to be milked. Jasmin has promised to put lots of photos on Facebook next week when she heads off on her adventure to Peru.
As I said earlier it was a wonderful day but it had been an early, 3.00am, start after a very eventful weekend of celebrating the wedding of my niece Nikki. The drive to Dublin, the AerLingus flight to Munich went as planned, and with the super efficient German railways we arrived at Hotel Fischerhaus in the picture postcard town of Starnberg at 12.30pm. Now the lack of sleep is beginning to catch up so an early dinner and a quiet night before starting the walk tomorrow. If the rest of the walk is as beautiful as the buildings and scenery today then we are in for a real treat. It was another Camino friend, Karen Robinson from Tasmania, who had recommended this walk and so far she has been right about its beauty so I'm looking forward to the rest of our journey.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Preparing for The King Ludwig Way.

Today Mary and I started packing our backpacks in preparation for next Monday's walk in Bavaria. Packing has become a ritual that we have perfected since our first Camino in 2012 and quite honestly have now got down to a fine art. Weight is the all important factor and everything is weighed and must be essential before it is packed. The walk this time is the King Ludwig Way from Starnberg in Bavaria to Fussen. This is rated as one of the worlds most scenic walks with spectacular mountain views, fairytale castles, and monasteries. We first heard of the King Ludwig Way during the Portuguese Camino from our Tasmanian friend, Karen Robinson, who as an experienced walker, ranked it as one of the most beautiful hikes she has completed. We are also fortunate that during last years Portuguese Camino we met a lovely girl from Germany, Jasmin Lorenz, who almost lives on the walk. Next Monday Jasmin has arranged to meet up with us at our hotel in Starnberg and it will be lovely to renew our friendship over a glass of local beer and catch up with all the news. Jasmin is heading off next week to Peru and the climb to Machu Picchu so she will not be walking with us but it will be fantastic meeting her.
Our schedule for this walk is quite strict due to the fact that we had to prebook all our accommodation.
Monday( 28th ) : arrive Starnberg. Hotel Fischerhaus.
Tuesday 29th : walk to Diessen. Hotel Gasthof Seefelder Hof.
Wednesday 30th : walk to Raisting. Gasthof Zurich Post.
Thursday 31st : walk to Peiting. Alpenhotel Pfaffenwinkel.
Friday 1st : walk to Wildsteig. Landhotel und Gasthof Zur Post.
Saturday 2nd : walk to Buching. Alpchalet Schwanstein.
Sunday 3rd : walk to Fussen. Hotel Ludwig.
Monday 4th : rest and exploring day in Fussen
Tuesday 5th Munich.
Anyway that is the plan and next Monday I will start writing on candmcamino.blogspot.com and will also post photographs on Facebook.