I woke and gathered together my things together and enjoyed some breakfast provided by the albergue- tea, bread and delicious apple jelly made by the monks next door. It was cool and dim when I left. At the top of Rabanal village is an area developed for pilgrims with benches. The path from Rabanal got a little wilder, and no longer followed the road, but was rocky, narrow and really mud in places with some huge puddles that were unavoidable. This morning I met a Spanish pilgrim, whose friend was taxiing to hospital in Ponferrada, so she had set out early to get there as quickly as possible. So we kept quite a pace as we climbed up this rough path. Though my strong boots were definitely better given the water lying on the path and mud than my Spanish companion who was in light trainers and spent a lot of time trying to avoid getting her feet wet. However, we stopped once or twice just to enjoy the views as the sun was rising in the sky, but I was glad to have company and conversation. As we neared Foncebadon, we came across a horse that was wandering along the path, he was skitterish and we took our time getting passing in case we spooked him.
Foncebadon had been a crumbling village with a tiny handful of residents, but with the increase of pilgrims on the Camino Frances, this hamlet has new life in it. However, it is still atmospheric as the houses are scattered , with ruined stone walls and with the rough mountain terrain it has a feeling of abandonment, and I thought it was creepy. Knowing options for coffee after this was down the other side of the mountain, we stopped at an albergue for coffee. Just beyond the village are ruins of an old monastry and pilgrim hospital that was set up by Gaulcemo, who was also responsible for placing a cross at the next alto up the hill, known as Cruz de Ferro.
We ran into the last of the pilgrims who had stayed in Foncebadon at Cruz de Ferro, and we started to overtake them from this point. The path followed the road for quite a while, sometimes rough but never really steep. We went past Manjarin, a famed spot on the camino due to the eccentric character who came to this ruined village and set up a albergue. Outside there are painted wooden signs pointing to many different cities with the kilometres given. Tomas who runs this place, claims to be a modern day Templar, and has some rather odd rituals apparently if you stay, they only one we saw was ringing a bell for an arriving pilgrim. We had to walk on the road for a little bit, but it was narrow and windy and not so pleasant when a large RV came past but then we were back on a dirt path. Just below Manjarin, someone had a donation stall with some goodies for pilgrims like bananas and water. The scenery here is into green valleys, and across the valley you could see abandoned villages. The path continued until we wound round a hilltop with a communication tower, and we climbed to the high point of the whole camino at 1508m. I decided that I wanted to stop and enjoy the scenery, but the Spanish pilgrim I had been walking with wanted to keep moving so we parted company. I found a comfy spot in the pink heather and sat enjoying the scenery with green hillsides and snow-capped mountains. I could see the industrial city of Ponferrada below in the valley and the next range of mountains that would be crossed in a few days. In the valley below I could spot the cooling towers that were part of a nuclear power station that had replaced the coal-powered ones that had been with the coal mines in the area.
The rest was for two reason. Firstly to enjoy the view, but secondly as I knew the descent that was just ahead was really steep and rocky with loose stones. I had found a stick that was useful to lean on. The descent took some focus to look were you wer putting your feet, and I spotted a few pilgrim that abandoned the path for the longer road route.
I was glad to see the next town of El Acebo just ahead, and as I coming in there are two bars one on either side of the street, and there were pilgrims I knew at both. Now being a good Irish girl I plumped for the one in the shade. But one of the girls had fallen on the steep stoney path and had a nasty gash on her knee and had also hit her head. Now she was a nurse and got herself bandaged up but I think it was a shock too. I chose the bar on the right - La Posada del peregrino which had a nice terrace area. A coffee and chatting to other pilgrims was good.
I started down the main street of the road, the town is basically a main street and a few squares off it. But it was a very pretty village, with stone houses and wooden balconies- a small mountain town. Apparently that in the middle ages, the residents of this village had the responsiblity to maintain 800 posts to help pilgrims find their way across the mountians in poor weather and snow, which meant they got a tax exemption. Suggesting how important pilgrims were in that period, while modern pilgrims are catered for by this village with coffee, food and accomodation.To be honest, it looked like a really nice place to have stopped for the night. I refilled my water bottle at the water fountain. But both of the chapels in the town were locked. As I was leaving the town, I bumped into two pilgrims I had been talking to coming down into El Acebo, they were heading back up the hill into the village. They were carrying a small golden labrador puppy- it had apparently followed another pilgrim, but it was such a small thing it got exhausted quickly, and they rescued it taking it up to the village so someone could help it get home- it was a very cute little puppy.
From here we walked mainly along the road, and then one fairly broad path that shortcutted a huge bend in the road. Though downhill it wasn't steep. Then we reached Riego De Ambros, which was a really sleepy village in comparison to El Acebo, as more pilgrims had stopped for refreshment at El Acebo just slightly further up the mountain. The path here were down a really steep and rocky section at this village down to picking a path over a stream. I thought from my guide that the descent from here was fairly straightforward, and at first it was gently enough but then after crossing the road again the path got steeper again. I knew it was not that far to Molineseca, but it was hot and sunny and I found the few spots of shade to take a rest. I really wish I had done what some of the other pilgrims did when they decided to follow the road instead. Finally we came down onto the road just above Molineseca, but even this last few hundred metres past the chapel, and down to the bridge seemed like punishment. But as I crossed the medieval stone bridge into the main part of the town, I spotted a huge group of pilgrims I had met sitting at a bar beside the river. Perfect! I knew I was finished for the day, a a tinto verrano and a salad later I was feeling much better.
Most of the rest had decided to walk on, even in the baking afternoon heat to Ponferrada as they had started that morning in Foncebadon, however as I had started in Rabanal and the heat was too much for me, I decided to stay here, and the nurse who had fallen decided to join me. So we went to find the albergue, which was at the far end of the town, the first one we saw was Santa Maria. But it was over several floors with dorms in the attic and bathrooms in the basement. It quickly made us plan how often we wanted to climb up and down the stairs. Also it was warm in the attic, and the large window did not stay open with the wind that was blowing, though the skylights were fine. But the treat was single beds, no bunks in sight, and plenty of floor space, even between the beds. But it seemed quite an achievement that night to have crossed the mountains that day, but only a handful of pilgrims stopped here, so we had quite a mellow evening, good after a tough day!