Path for CAFOD – Blog 2

So Yvonne and I took the OK train from Santander and arrived at Fromista. For those of you unfamiliar with the Camino route in northern Spain, Fromista is about 100 km from Leon, in the wrong direction!

“What are you doing there instead of taking a train to Leon?” I hear you ask. Well, that was it.

My assumption that it would be easy to take a train from Santander to Leon turned out to be incorrect. The only way to get to Leon was to take a train to Palencia and change there. Two trains a day went to Palencia, it seemed. One left around 7am, about an hour before we were due to dock, so we couldn’t catch that one. The other left around noon. Awesome. He arrived in Palencia after 4 p.m., about 20 minutes AFTER the last train for Leon left.

A reflection was necessary. There was a small town called Fromista on the Camino and on a direct train line from Santander, the train leaving around 9.30am and arriving just after noon. We could stay there or walk to a small village just 3km along the Camino. It seemed like a good alternative choice. I replanned the route to Leon and combined it with the original plan, but still stopping in time to return to the UK for my family vacation. I would walk less far, 165 km instead of 176 and my point of arrival would be Astorga.

In fact, the hiccups in route planning turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Fromista lies about halfway along the Meseta, a 220 km long plateau several hundred meters above sea level, starting after Burgos and ending at Astorga. The thing is, it’s flat. I already knew that I found even the gentler inclines a bit difficult, so spending time on flat ground would be ideal for my Camino. My previous plan had me climbing the two highest points of the Camino, Alto de Cerezales at 1508 meters and Alto do Poio at 1333 meters. The problem with the Meseta is the weather. If you are unlucky, you can have a howling wind to which there is no escape and there is no shelter other than in villages and towns. Or you can have pouring rain that there is no escaping either. I prayed for good weather!

So back to the Camino.

Arrived as planned at Fromista, our first task was to obtain a stamp to indicate our starting point. Also, I didn’t have a guide, so we had to find the real Camino. We headed into town from the train station and Yvonne spotted a large Camino information board showing us which direction to go. We went to investigate and I spotted the main church which was open. I went in to pray and lit a candle for anyone who needed it. There was an open door that I had assumed led to a chapel but no, it was a small museum and there was someone in attendance. I thought “I bet we can get a stamp there” and we could. It was now coffee time. Long story short, we had a coffee, got some info from the local tourist office, and by 1:30 p.m. we were on the Camino with only two miles to go.

We reached our destination earlier than expected, although only 3 km was enough for me. Yvonne had generously agreed to offer us both a hotel room, which was all the more suitable since the municipal albergue where I had planned to stay was closed. The hotel room had a lovely fresh, clean feel with plush towels. After the shower, we explored the village and relaxed at the local bar.

Back at the hotel, we decided to take the “Menu du Jour”, the evening meal. It turned out to be a common affair with all the pilgrims at the same table. Several were a group, from France, doing their Camino a few weeks at a time. At the other end of the table sat two German pilgrims. It was a very convivial affair. And so ended our first day.

The next morning, we leave at 8:30 am to have a coffee at the bar that we had found the day before. The weather was very nice. The weather was nice but there was a slight breeze that kept it from getting too hot. We left after coffee with just over six miles to go. The destination this time was an even smaller village than the day before and we reached it just after 11:00 am. The albergue was very easy to find, right on the Camino. There was also a hotel in the village, but I had planned the pilgrimage based on the availability of cheap, dormitory accommodation for pilgrims.

The albergue was also a bar with a large inviting lawn in front with many tables and some sculptures. I was amazed at the number of pilgrims sitting there. We had only been on the Camino for a short time the day before so had no idea how many people were making this trip. After cooling down a bit with a coffee I walked in and checked there was room for us and also said we would have the ‘menu of the day, the pilgrim’s menu’.

The accommodation for the pilgrims had a bit of a “hippie” feel to it with a very unusual decoration on the ceiling! Also it was very rural, there were donkeys, sheep and geese in the field next to the bar. In fact, the geese were able to roam freely and we had a game with them outside the dormitory. Yvonne was trying to help them drink water from a bowl and one of them hissed and bit her. It didn’t harm the skin, but I had an antiseptic wipe in my medical kit, so we cleaned the bite area with it, just in case.

The evening meal was served in the kitchen/common room of the albergue. Again, this was common with all the pilgrims chatting amiably around a long table. It was a private albergue and they are not as strict with the lights off as the municipal albergues. Therefore, I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. to check photos etc. It was not really very wise given that I had more than 10 km to do the next day. Also, I would be on my own as Yvonne had to take a taxi back to Fromista where she could catch a train to connect with another in Madrid for her flight home on Saturday.

So ended our second (and last for Yvonne) day on the Camino.

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Ann Milner is an active member of Hitchin Parish of Our Lady Immaculate and St Andrew in the Diocese of Westminster. As a member of the parish’s One World/Livesimply group, she has supported CAFOD in both fundraising projects such as the Virtual Village as well as participating in campaigns such as the Walk for Water Challenge of the Year last. She decided to walk the Camino after completing her treatment for lung cancer earlier this year.