Ponferrada Stories and Tips

Moving on from Cacabelos on the camino

I headed before 7am this morning and walked along the side of the road until reaching the hamlet of Pieros. There was a pilgrim bar open already, and most of the pilgrims I started off with stopped but I decided to go on. The dawn was painting the sky and as I looked back the horizon was marked with the mountains I had crossed, and reminded me there were more mountains to cross. My ankle was still giving me problems but it was strapped up, so today’s plan was to see how far I could go on my ankle as there were plenty of options of places to stop for the night.
Then came a choice of camino routes- one veered onto a lane, but I continued on the road as shorter and early Sunday morning traffic was non-existent, knowing it also veered onto a lane later. The road had decent curves with crash barriers, and sometimes it meant walking behind the barriers but other times between the road and barrier, and if the traffic had been busier I think the other route would have been better. The camino then was on a lane through fields and vineyards, and I kept trying to figure out where Villafranca was ahead, but as in a valley it couldn’t be seen. Come closer to town I could hear church bells being rung for mass. But the first church -Iglesia de Santiago, was locked up tight. It was 11th century romanesque and fairly simple in design but had the privilege of a Puerta del Pardon, a door for pilgrims too ill to reach Santiago, that allowed them to be be absolved as if it were they had.
Being Sunday morning, there was little sign of life, and I didn't find anywhere to have coffee. The wind was whipping through the valley, and after crossing the bridge I found shelter in a doorway to put on my raincoat. Too cold to explore the interesting looking town and with my ankle in mind I decided to keep walking.
From Villafranca there are three route options- a hill route, a valley route and the Dragonate route which is hardest as remote, not well way marked, longer and tougher. I had planned the hill route but my ankle meant I was forced to take the valley. This started on a quiet road, with an interesting view back along the narrow v-shaped valley to Villafranca and its castle. But then the camino joins a main road N-VI, which had come through a tunnel, and I was walking on tarmac separated from the road by a concrete barrier. Sunday morning meant little traffic, and a newer motorway also took some of the traffic off this road. The steep valley sides meant the sun’s rays only reached the valley later on so it was in shadow. The camino veered into the village of Pereje, and I was so glad to find an open bar for a cafe con leche and packaged pastry. I sat on their sheltered terrace and I sat down, and put my ankle up.
But onwards. Walking beside the road was not the best but the river was running at the bottom of this valley made it more bearable. I knew it was 5km to the next village, which was my first option of stopping for the day, so veering off the road, I walked on a narrow road through beech trees into Trabadelo, I stopped at a bar and thought things through- I was making good time on the flat, and my ankle was okay so I decided to keep going.I walked through the village, but before the camino rejoined the main road, I realised I was flagging, and figured out I had eaten very little. I struggled to find a spot that was in shade as it was now hot...and ended up sitting against a pillar of a motorway bridge that towered above and ate from my supplies. I just had finished when 3 pilgrims I knew came past, coming down from the hill route, and I decided to walk with them for a while. The next few kilometres flew by as we chatted- but I was jealous when they described their route but surprised other pilgrims I had met had decided to do the difficult Dragonate route
At La Portela de Valcarce, we got a surprise, the small church there was actually open, and it was nice to get inside a village church. The other three were moving at quite a pace, but I knew my ankle needed a rest so I enjoyed the cool of the church for a few more minutes and let them continue.
The camino moved onto a quieter road through villages that ran into each other. Having struggled to find a water fountain to refill my bottle, at Ambasements I was glad to see the village had developed a little rest area, and even a stall set up to sell to pilgrims. What seemed so strange as I walked through along was just how high the motorway was above the valley floor, with huge tall bridges supported by pillars that carried traffic high in the sky, I had never seen such road design at home in Ireland. In Vega de valcarce I spied a pastry shop and someone sitting at an outside table, so I decided to see if it was open. I walked over, and found myself with a delicious moist chocolate muffin, yum! It was getting hotter, and passing an albergue with tables with parsols on the lawn I was tempted.
Then I left the villages into fields and woods and I noticed the three others who I had split from a few kilometres back at La portela sitting on a bridge over the river, and decided to stop as well as I was in no hurry now. It was a lovely spot, dangling legs over the edge of the bridge, with dappled shade from tall trees above our heads and fast flowing water beneath our feet. They had stopped for their picnic lunch, and it was definitely a much better option than my picnic under a motorway bridge. They were planning to reach O'Cebreiro, while I knew my ankle was not up to a climb so I was stopping at some of the albergues in the next two villages.
After a rest I limped on. It was strange to start hearing bells, the cows in the pastures were wearing cowbells I realised, which seemed more in keeping with Switzerland than northern Spain, but provided an interesting part to the soundtrack that day.
I reached a rest area at Ruitelan, and filled my water up. And pulled out my guide notes-the albergue here got good reviews so having walked over 27km on a bad ankle this seemed a good place to stop. The outside of the albergue looked rough, and I nearly rethought staying but checked in. Turns out the place was fine, the guy running it was into Buddhism and there were Tibetan prayer flags and things. The bathroom was clean but it seemed for some reason that one of the bathrooms was closed off which left only one toilet which was a little too few. The garden was small but having wandered across to the small bar to get ice-cream, I was happy to sit and put my foot up for a while.
Later I went for a little wander, but it was a small village so there was little to feel that I had to see, and knew I could just sit and rest my ankle for the climb tomorrow.However I was glad as I found the village church open and that they had a stamp to put into the pilgrim passport. It really was a very plain and simple village church, with white limed exterior walls and overgrown grass and inside there was none of the usual golden "bling" but it felt very welcoming to passing pilgrims. There was also another small chapel to San Frolian just above the village, but I didn't walk up there with my ankle, but Frolian had been a hermit in these mountains before he became bishop of Leon.
I was so tired and it seemed a long time to dinner, but when we got dinner, there was plenty of food with a soup, salad, pasta dish and dessert, but I nearly fell asleep at the table, and so it was the night I was earliest in bed of everyone and also the earliest I was in bed the whole trip. One of the rules of the albergue was that no-one was allowed to get up before 7am, so it was nice to get a lie -in, and when the music came on at 7am I felt rested. Thought the musical selection was definitely ecletic. I ate breakfast and settled my bill and set out.

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