Leon Stories and Tips

Towards Astorga

After some breakfast I picked up my rucksack and headed out. I had scouted out the evening before were the camino headed through the village and the road on which it left. It was a cool morning. We were heading out through flat farmland on a quiet country road. Ahead I could see the mountains, and as the sun rose the snow capped peaks took on a pink hue. I knew in two days I would have to cross over these mountains, so for the moment I was enjoying the flat and the speed I could keep up walking. As it was flat you could see quite a distance and make out various villages in the distance, and all the water towers.

As I walked this morning I crossed two canals and walked past many ditches which form part of an irrigation system, later on near Villares de Orbigo I saw a farmer using his tractor as a pump to spray the field with water, and it was pretty to see the rainbows that were cast in the watersprays. Then we left the road and moved onto a track, with deep ruts were tractors had sunk into mud earlier in the season, now everything was dry, but the tractors were still busy in the fields as we watched several sowing and fertilizing crops.

The next village Villavante could be seen ahead were I knew there was a bar, so I kept going in hope of a cafe con leche. There were a few number of other pilgrims already there but after ordering coffee, most of them were ready to get going again. So I sat and had a short rest. It was still early but the heat was already starting to build so I wanted to keep going if I was going to make 30 kilometres to Astorga before I was exhausted by the heat. So on through the village and then down onto a track by the railway line which was another section of pleasant walking as no trains went by. But then a major road could be seen ahead, so over a bridge and then past some industry into Puente de Orbigo. Stopped for some orange juice and then on over the bridge into Hospital de Orbigo, and at the edge of town again more choice- a shorter route to Astorga alongside the main road or a longer route mainly on paths. I decided on the alternative route on the paths so veered off right towards the village of Villares de Orbigo, and again here the fields were a hive of spring agricultural activity.

I reached the village. There was a nice monument at the water fountain of a cut out cross. But I really needed the toilet so headed to the local bar which also meant I needed to order a drink. I encountered many different atmospheres in bars- this was more a dirty old men type bar with picture of naked woman behind the bar and dirty magazines (which when a male pilgrim came in behind me, two of the men at the bar decided to give him a glimpse of some of the magazines) definitely not somewhere I was going to hang round and eat.

So off I set, after the village was a lovely path up the first hill of the day through pasture land. Then near the top of the hill it joined a quiet road down into the next village. I passed by my first 'tourist pilgrims' who were supported by a minibus and their guide had just brought them lunch. I walked closer to the village were there was a row of trees by a stream, and found a spot to sit and picnic. This turned out a little more exciting as catkins kept falling from the tree above and it was a really skill to keep them out of my food. I headed on into the village, filled by water bottle up at a little underground fountain, as I knew this was my last chance for a long stretch. I saw the village church and decided to see if it was open, but I missed the yellow arrows that pointed right as I was too interested in the church, but a lovely lady stopped me just past the church, which I discovered was locked, and was redirected. And I think if I had any sense on such a hot day I should have stopped at the albergue in this village but I was determined to reach Astorga.

So the camino continued on a path, first past a dairy farm, and then on through bits of farmland and through groves of holm oaks. Past a clay quarry which had been used to make bricks. I found a nice shady spot to get out of the sun for a few minutes under a holm oak tree, and a few other pilgrims caught up. This section was up and down lots of little hills, and I kept hoping that this was the last hill. Then in the middle of nowhere a barn appears with a stand outside offering drinks, fruit and food for donations, it run by a guy called David. Several pilgrims stopped and enjoyed but as I still had water and food I continued, and just beyond was a big and tall concrete pillar which provided enough shade to stop and enjoy a refreshing orange. At this point we had climbed the last of the series of hills and were heading to a cross looking out towards Astorga. It was a huge relief to see Astorga ahead.

The cross is called Crucero de Santo Toribio, and is supposed to mark where the 5th century bishop of Astorga fell to his knees to pray after he was banished from Astorga. So for him it was the last glimpse of the city, while for me and other pilgrims it is the first. You could see the towers of the cathedral. There were lots of benches at the top of the hill and on the track down the hill towards the road, which meant lots of pilgrims were stopped to rest and enjoy the view. It was also the last of the tourist pilgrims I saw, as their minibus drove up the hill to the cross to pick up one woman who was unable to carry on down the hill to the road.

It was a short walk down the hill and into San Justo de la Vega. Again, I needed a toilet stop and the first bar I came to provided a welcome sight and a chance to get out of the heat and strong afternoon sun with a cold drink. It was a few short kilometres actually into the city, but I was so tired and was really struggling. I stopped twice more- first in shade by the church and then after crossing the river and down onto a track I found a shady spot. But I was glad I did as I had not seen any pilgrims for a while, and I stopped and a Hungarian guy who had stayed at the same albergue caught up, and another guy not far behind, so I started walking again, and the camino goes behind an old factory- but there was an alley and a lovely dirty old man decided to flash me. I was glad to have two male pilgrims so closeby though neither of them realised what had happened until I told them later. Then onto the most evil bridge- a railway bridge that is ramped up and down so bikes can also go over it, but at the end of a long day it was tough. Then a short steep climb into Astorga. Others thought that last bit was tough but I knew that it was all that stood between me and a shower and bed. The municipal albergue was just at the top of that hill, so that was were I stayed. I checked in- here the beds are in 4 bed dorms, which was nice in theory but my reality was slightly different thanks to one very annoying and rude pilgrim, but she could not ruin a wonderful city like Astorga. So dumped rucksack, had a hot shower and handwashed and hung out my clothes on the line at the back. It was a pretty decent albergue- free internet, nice kitchen, lounge and terrace. But I felt refreshed enough to head out and enjoy the city.

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