Archive for Walking

Camino Inglés – the English Route

Traditionally English pilgrims (when England was still Catholic) or other northern European pilgrims (ditto) sailed to the ports of El Ferrol or La Coruña and journeyed south from those points on what we now call the Camino Inglés (English Route). It’s a north-south route straight into Santiago without coinciding with the French route.

Nowadays the Camino Inglés is a lot less travelled than the other historical routes like the French, Portuguese or coastal routes. If you’ve done other Camino routes, or have not (yet) but want a shorter or less travelled option the Camino Inglés is a good choice.

Guidebook: John Brierley’s book on Sarria – Santiago – Finisterre, including the Muxia circuit and the Camino Inglés.

When walked: July 7-11, 2017

Route: Ferrol – Santiago, about 123 kilometers. Another branch starts in La Coruña, about 76 kilometers so does not qualify for the Compostela certificate (if that is important for you), though La Coruña is a nicer city than Ferrol.

What’s good and less good: I really liked the mixture of sea and mountains first three days, then the transition to countryside. Lots of varied forests, including chestnut trees at a low altitude. Less good: walking Ferrol – Fene (about 20 kilometers) has a fair amount of industry (old shipyards) and warehouses. Part of that is unavoidable but I can’t help wondering if they could have routed around instead of through some of the warehouse areas.

Usual stages and other ideas: Brierley’s suggested six stages are probably the best for distances and infrastucture: Ferrol – Neda (15.5k), Neda – Pontedeume (16k), Pontedeume – Betanzos (20.7k), Betanzos – Hospital de Bruma 28.4k, big hill), Hospital de Bruma – Sigüeiro (25.2k), Sigüeiro – Santiago (17.2k), all distances as per Brierley. I did it in five stages (Ferrol – Pontedeume first day), and it’s also possible to break Betanzos – Hospital just short of the halfway point.

Important note: route changes in near future: if you are planning to do this route soon: some routing changes are planned and will be marked this fall, so be aware that current guidebooks will not be 100% accurate. New route will hit all the major towns and many of the smaller ones; in some places changes will be minor and in other places more important (one local woman says the new route from their town into Sigüeiro is much better than current route). At least one change has already been made: shortly before Hospital de Bruma (well after Casa Julia): the official signage seems to disappear, replaced by handmade yellow arrows nailed to trees and newly painted arrows with slightly different color of yellow. Fear not, the apparent improvisation is the real route (for now) and re-connects with official signage.

Signage: Better than expected but not perfect. There are lots of crossroads and you have to watch carefully, sometimes signage is there but not immediately visible from your angle or covered by vegetation. Lots of arrows painted on the asphalt.  Going through industrial / warehouse areas can be tricky, especially just outside Santiago, where there is almost no signage (basic idea for Santiago warehouse area: after turning left into warehouse area stay straight ahead through two rotundas, walking on left side of the road, warehouses are on the right side of the road. Signage reappears shortly after last warehouses).

Infrastructure: Fewer supermarkets, albergues, pensiones, hotels, bars than on the Camino Francés, Camino Norte or Camino to Finisterre. Not a deal-breaker, but you do need to be more aware of your supply places.

Places to sleep: Most of these places are listed in Brierley book. Ferrol: I stayed at Hostal La Frontera, good location but a little minimalist and bar doesn’t open until 8am. Nearby Hostal Zahara (not in Brierley) looks nicer and bar opens at 6am for breakfast (excellent tomato toast). Camino friends recommended La Almendra. Pontedeume: I stayed at Hostal Norte and wouldn’t repeat, no elevator, very minimalist, bar opens at 8.30am. Nicest hotel Eumesa is at a very busy intersection, Pension Luis is well located but looks very small. My pick here would for a repeat visit probably be Hostal Allegue. Betanzos: I had a reservation at Posada Cheiño, but switched to Hospedaje Betanzos, where a little more money got me a huge room with bathroom (other place didn’t have bathroom) and access to a full kitchen. Camino friends say the municipal albergue here is excellent. Hospital de Bruma: I stayed two kilometers up the hill at Hotel Canaima (Alto do Viento), nice room with full bathtub to soak your weary body after long day and big uphill – though neither dinner nor breakfast at the hotel was memorable, and price was a little high. Almost right across the highway from the hotel: Pension o Meson Novo, less expensive though no idea on what it’s like (you do not have to return to the albergue to continue the Camino, there’s a paved road that does a diagonal to join the Camino several kilometers beyond the albergue). Same Camino friend who recommended Betanzos albergue says the Hospital de Bruma albergue is very good, but there are only 22 spaces so the hotel / pension are good to know about. Sigüeiro: Stayed at Sigüeiro hostal and really liked it, this was my favorite accommodation on this trip. New with modern design, nice bed and interesting bathroom setup (shower and toilet in one space, sink outside in the room, much more efficient for sharing a room), very good dinner and good breakfast.

Places to eat / have coffee: Surprisingly, I did not see any “menu del día” deals. This fixed price menu idea is all over Spain, not just on the Camino, and not seeing any at all was strange. That has price implications, since the fixed price menu is usually a much better deal than ordering off the menu, so you will need to pick and choose both your places and what you eat. Places to stop on the trail: The Brierley book is pretty accurate though not 100%, due to scarcity of stopping places it’s good to plan ahead to be sure you have water and food. Places I stopped showing my stage breakdown, either memorable or not in Brierley or not well described in Brierley, other bars exist most days: Day 1: Neda-Santa Maria, no bar at Neda pedestrian bridge by the albergue, continue another 15 minutes to find a bar just beyond Santa Maria church (not in Brierley), Vilar de Colo bar is in the warehouse area, not in the town. Day 2: Miño: bar Green (memorable), turn right down short flight of stairs when you see the basketball court-square, bar is under arcades on left side of the square. He gave me a chunk of homemade poundcake (bizcocho) and slices of melon and watermelon for free, plus some tourism pamphlets (supermarket in same square). Day 3 ( Killer Day Betanzos – Hospital de Bruma): Only two bars on a long and challenging day, first in Presedo,  Xente do Camiño (memorable) which is well after the sign for the local albergue, good place with food and big outdoor sitting area and second in Vilacoba, Casa Julia which is small place right on the highway, easy to walk past but a stop is highly recommended since (for now) this is last stop before Hospital de Bruma. Casa Julia is also the place they count pilgrims, see below, if you speak Spanish chat with the young man. He was making filloas (local version of crepes) when I went by on a Sunday, handing them out to all customers. Day 4: Centro/Calle, bar Cruceiro, friendly with good potato omelette, empanada and poundcake, a classic Camino stop. Day 5: Hotel Castro (not in Brierley), about 2-2.5 hours from Sigüeiro. Places in towns (mostly dinners), I ate at these places: Ferrol: bar-restaurant near main square, right in front of Pescaderia fish market, excellent seafood, big outdoor sitting area. Pontedeume and Betanzos both dinner spots were forgettable, both towns have a lot of options. Breakfasts in those towns: Pontedeume, Café Martinho is right in front of the bridge, opens 6am. Betanzos, Churreria-cafeteria just to the left of calle Rollo (Camino street), near though not on calle Venezuela, opens 6.30am except Sundays when 7am or in fiestas when 8am. Hospital de Bruma, there’s a restaurant right by the albergue that my Camino friend likes, I didn’t stop since I was going on to the hotel, where dinner was forgettable. Sigüeiro: cruised town and did not find many options, perhaps because of Monday closings, ended back and Sigüeiro hostel and had a yummy dinner of mushrooms and potatoes, good food at a good price AND they have a secret back terrace that you do not see from the front, very good choice for dinner.

Beaches: Weather was not cooperating during my walk so I didn’t even dabble my toes in the sea but here are my observations: several beaches on the way out of Ferrol, excellent La Magdalena beach in Cabanas just before Pontedeume, and just after Miño near Ponte do Porco.

Fiesta Betanzos: My trip coincided with the Medieval Market in the medieval town of Betanzos. Market was cute and had nice things – but backpacking you have to think at least twice before buying anything. If you are planning for the future and want to see this or avoid it (town was packed to the rafters), check the dates: it’s probably the second weekend in July.

People on the trail: This route is a lot less travelled than other routes – my “bubble” (people more or less in same space on same day) was about 25-30 people. The young man in Casa Julia (see above) says he counts pilgrims and that day (a Sunday) he had seen 21 so far – he counted 2000 pilgrims last August (about that many daily arrive in Santiago early July). Obviously 25 people a day is not a lot – but several albergues are about that size so good to plan accordingly and know your options.

Going alone? I saw two other women walking alone, and two other Italian women who were sort of together and sort of not together. I felt completely safe, but it must be said that women alone are still a little unusual here so if you are a woman and go alone you might get some comments (like I did). For that reason, if you have never walked alone and are feeling a little uneasy about it, perhaps a more-travelled route would be better for a first solo experience.

Want more walking? Before your Camino Inglés: San Andres de Teixido is about 50 kilometers from Ferrol, according to the Ferrol tourism office marked all the way with stone pillars with a red fish (see photo). Actually, if you want to put together a longer route, part Camino de Santiago and part local custom, start here: https://caminoasanandres.com/ (Spanish only, sorry), scroll down a tiny bit and click on Caminos de San Andrés: if you know your Camino de Santiago routes you’ll see Ribadeo (north route) and Ourense (Via de la Plata / Sanabres route), as well as other towns on the Camino Ingles as starting places to walk to San Andres, so you could put together a longer combo route in this area. Galician lore says that if you don’t visit San Andrés while living, you must visit after death, so locals often make pilgrimage to this site, more important for them than going to Santiago. Learn more about the San Andrés route: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Andr%C3%A9s_de_Teixido     After your Camino Inglés: what better choice than Santiago – Finisterre – Muxia? The journey to Muxia for Virgen de la Barca / Virgin of the Boat is again more important for locals than Santiago – celebration date is the first Sunday after September 8. For more about this shrine go to http://concellomuxia.com/en/item/santuario-da-virxe-da-barca/

Hike Like a Girl

Hike in a skirt? Really? The same thing you wear for dress-up days at the office, to church, out on a special night on the town?

Yes. Oh my yes. I’m a total convert.

Hiking skirts came across my screen many years ago and I sort of laughed off the idea, but it stuck in the back of my hiking-brain. Last year I did my first serious forays into the world of skirt-hiking. It only took a few days on the trail to realize what I’d been missing all along.

And we’re talking skirts, not skorts. Skorts are fine for many things, excellent for travel or if skirts just feel too airy for you in some situations. Skorts also let you go with a shorter length, if that’s what you want. But when it comes to hiking, skirts have some real advantages over skorts, shorts and long trousers.

 

So why hike in a skirt?

–   Ease of pee: it’s a lot easier to flip up a skirt and drop the undies than to unsnap, unzip and drop trousers or shorts as well as the undies. It’s also faster and more discrete – less likely you’ll get caught showing the unshowable if you’re wearing a skirt.  And wedgies? Less likely in a skirt, less noticeable and easier to fix.  Ummm.  Some women even talk about going commando (no undies). I’m not ready for that, at least not yet and maybe never, especially in a knee-length skirt.  But it’s an idea.

–   Temperature regulation: in the summer skirts are much cooler than shorts. In cool weather, wear with leggings, and if it gets warm, just pull off the leggings without having to change everything.

–   Less washing: Since skirts are less in contact with your body (especially the sweaty part of lower body) they stay cleaner for longer.

–   Go everywhere. If you are on a multi-day hike / cultural trip and trying to pack light, a skirt goes more places than shorts or even trousers. Yes, you can wear trousers or shorts many places, but not in all countries or all situations. And even if there are no cultural issues, skirts are nicer and you might feel better at a restaurant or cultural sight wearing a skirt, especially if your other option is shorts (because skirts are almost always cuter than shorts, right?)

 

Making your trail skirt selection:

–   Length: Best is between just above the knee and about mid-calf: shorter and you need to be careful about sitting down or legging up on the trail, longer and you might trip over it – unless there’s an easy way to shorten temporarily like the Macabi skirt.

–   Style: too straight / tight will restrict movement, extremely loose may get tangled on trailside vegetation. Some of the straight designs have kick pleats or shaped hem that gives a little more freedom of movement, but generally speaking flared, gathered or with gores are a better choice. Especially good: a style that is not too obviously for the trail – or at least something you feel ok about off-trail if you will be doing any multi-faceted trips.

–   Waistband: many skirts are designed to ride on the hips instead of the waist – is that ok for you? Some skirts have fold over knit waistbands instead of woven waistband – that probably means pull-on style and adjustable length by folding over the waistband – is that ok with you? If the skirt has a waistband and zipper, look at zipper placement: zippers and buttons in the back or side might not be comfortable wearing a big pack and hunky waist belt. Personally I prefer a real waistband with belt loops, letting me adjust the waist size with a tug on the belt -on long hikes my waist measurement can vary somewhat, so having a real waistband and a belt (just one tug to change size) is better for me – but a waistband and belt is just a bother for other women.

–   Fabric: As for any trail clothes, all cotton is not the best because when it gets wet (sweat, rain, washing) it takes forever to dry. Better to look for blends of some cotton but more synthetic , or a technical textile like supplex nylon – feels almost like cotton but zap dries (technical textiles are not as cool as natural textiles, but zap-dry is a real advantage). Some trail skirts are wool, which I’ve never used but people who have absolutely rave about wool (cool, warm, doesn’t get stinky, etc) . Some trail skirts are knit, which I probably would avoid because knits usually take a little longer to dry, snag more easily (brambles, oh dear), and get stretched out or baggy more quickly than woven fabrics.

–   Pockets: Yes, yes and yes. It’s especially nice to have at least one security pocket closing with a zipper or snaps. Check pocket design and location – will the pockets interfere with a big pack? Are the cargo pockets nicely designed and in a place where they don’t emphasize the widest part of the anatomy?

 

Try skirt hiking before you buy: If this is starting to sound like a good idea but you’re still not sure, check your closet. Maybe you have a skirt to test the idea on a few day hikes: pick something you already have that is more or less right for the job and go for a hike, maybe with shorts or trousers in your pack in case it really doesn’t work. And if it really doesn’t work, ask yourself why. Are trail skirts just not for you, or was your skirt not the right thing? If it was the skirt, what wasn’t right?

What I’ve used: Macabi original skirt and Kuhl Splash skirt. For me, the first is better for spring and fall, it’s a little hot for summer in Spain (though I love it for general travel in the summer). For summer hiking my favorite is the Kuhl Splash skirt (thanks to the person who clued me in, you know who you are). It’s cool, cute and the right shape for my body – only negative aspect is that it has a little too much cotton so it takes a little longer to dry. Alas, this skirt has been discontinued, you still might find on dealers like Campmor, Sierra Trading Post or Zappos.

Some brand names for hiking skirts: Some of these are general sportswear manufacturers so you may need to filter a little to find the skirts (no websites, sorry, but a quick google will turn up any of these, perhaps adding the word skirt if you don’t find on the first try): Purple Rain / Macabi / Sierra Designs / Mountain Hardware / Patagonia / Exofficio / Kühl / Columbia / Marmot / Royal Robbins

Can’t find what you want on these sites, or looking for deals? Look on end-of-line places like Campmor, Sierra Trading Post, Zappos, Moosejaw, Shoebuy.

Not thrilled with the style of the hiking skirts you see, though you really like the idea of hiking in a skirt? Look at the more general sites for travel or urban leisure clothing like Travelsmith, Lands End, LL Bean. Especially if you end up on one of these sites, before deciding what to get think how you’ll use your skirt. Fabric content and pockets (for example) are less important on a skirt for day hikes than for long, self-contained through hikes.

Not just for girls: Some secure and forward thinking men have posted their skirt-hiking experience on websites and gear reviews. Ease of pee is not an issue; most have tried and liked skirt hiking because it’s so much cooler –avoiding what some call “crotch rot”

Counting Sheep (and Cows and Goats)

Sheep in Navarra just before starting  five-day migration to winter pastures

Sheep in Navarra just before starting five-day migration to winter pastures

Sheep have the legal right-of-way on two of Madrid’s busiest streets. What? Sheep on the streets of a major European city?

Madrid streets Alcalá (east-west) and the Castellana (north-south) are part of Spain’s nation-wide system of livestock routes, used for centuries to take animals between summer and winter pastures until it became easier to move them by truck or stay year-round in containment lots.

The traditional calendar called for two migrations every year: down from the high summer pastures in the early fall before the first snows, back up to those pastures in the late spring. Some of the original migrations took weeks and crossed half the country, between summer pastures in the mountains well north of Madrid to winter pastures in southern or western Spain.

Today most of the longest migrations are no longer necessary, but even now some four – six day migrations take place. Walking these traditional routes with the flocks is sometimes the best way to reach isolated grazing areas.

A bit of history: Created in the middle ages for the powerful sheep-owners organization (the “Mesta”), these routes are a highway system for migratory livestock, an incredible network of primary, seconday, terciary routes and rest areas.

Depending on category and location, route width varies from 82 to 20 yards, reach a total length of about 125,530 kilometers (78,000 miles) in Spain and cover about 1% of Spain’s total area. This sounds unbelievable, but the routes are the animals’ road and dining room, so they need to be wide enough to sustain large herds during long migrations.

The full network of livestock routes is public land with public right-of-way, but as the routes fell into disuse in the middle of the twentieth century, local governments and private individuals began using the land for farms, private homes, highways, streets, golf courses, soccer fields and other uses, often cutting off the legal right-of-way for animals and people.

Protests by ecologists and the remaining migrating herders forced some protective legislation in the eighties and nineties. There are still infractions against the routes, but now there is a legal structure in place to protect this part of Spain’s rural heritage, varying in effectiveness depending on the region.

And now? With the growing popularity of active tourism in rural areas, walkers, bikers and horseback riders are finding new uses for these old routes. Even without four-footed companions, these routes are a great way to see rural Spain.

European Union mandates to protect traditional lifestyles also help. Originally with EU funding, Spain funded partial recovery of a few migrations, using different routes and stopping in towns and cities along the way to educate the young (and remind the old) about a way of life from Spain’s not-too-distant past.

Spain. Madrid. Calle Mayor

Madrid’s calle Mayor with people in traditional dress waiting for the sheep

In Madrid, this is a sight to behold. As part of the traditional ceremony, the head shepherd, in full regalia, pays the traditional tax to the mayor of Madrid. And for a Sunday morning each year, Madrid’s streets belong to the sheep and to their keepers.

The streets are crowded with people, the sheep endure excited children and way too much asphalt, snatching mouthfuls of street-side greenery whenever they can. Elderly men comment on the flock, still knowledgeable of rural ways after forty or fifty years in Madrid. The herds are accompanied by shepherds, musicians, and groups of people from the herds’ home territory, all dressed in traditional costumes for this “sheep fiesta” in Spain’s capital. In the last few years, cell phones and digital cameras have added an amusing touch to this event: imagine a woman in a long skirt and wooden clogs on a rope-haltered donkey talking on a cell phone! A quirky mixture of old and new, modern and traditional, like all of Spain

So during your next trip around Spain, if you see a herd of sheep, cows or goats on the streets of Madrid or rural highways, slow down, stand aside and enjoy the sight. You’re seeing part of a centuries-old tradition.

Baah.

GR PR SL

GR in Soria, a personal favorite

GR in Soria, a personal favorite

What? Is this some kind of code?

Sort of – though most Euro-hikers are already smiling. These cryptic letters are for the network of European walking trails: GR for Gran Recorrido (long distance), PR for Pequeño Recorrido (short distance) and SL for Senda Local (local trail).

This network of trails is mostly in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain and the official trails are certified by the regional or national organization that manages walking and hiking in each country. The signage is the same in all countries, and some of the trails are international.

Theoretically these routes have few if any technical difficulties (no scrambling or extremely steep climbs) so they are accessible for almost everyone. Theoretically the routes access towns or other supply points frequently so there’s no need to carry huge amounts of food on long trails.  And theoretically the signage is so easy to follow that walkers don’t need to worry about getting lost.

In practice, here in Spain the trails range from fabulously laid out and marvelously signed to anything but: challenging mountain trails suitable only for fit and experienced hikers, or virtually unmarked trails are not unusual in Spain.

Part of that problem is specifically Spanish: recreational walking is relatively new in Spain, while other European countries have been walking for fun for much longer.  (The flip side of that: due to underdevelopment and relative isolation, many traditional footpaths and cart roads were in regular use in Spain until the 1960’s, so right-of-ways still in place and walking trails easy to re-create.)

Another possible issue:  in Spain the walking trails are under the mountaineering federation, often more interested in high-adrenaline sports like technical climbing and peak-bagging, while in France there’s a specific federation for walking.  Also, on long-distance trails different regional federations or organizations must coordinate marking trails, not always easy to manage.

And last but of course not least, part of the problem is money – it’s expensive to lay out and mark a trail, and sometimes there is no money left over to maintain signage once a trail is created.

But in spite of the issues, these trails are a wonderful option for walkers, a great way to discover rural Spain.  Just do your research ahead of time, take maps and any additional information you can, and of course follow all the usual safety procedures for walking and hiking.

Read on to learn more

PR blaze in upper Manzanares valley (Madrid)

PR blaze in upper Manzanares valley (Madrid)

Where to go:  see list at the end for information on these trails. There is a huge difference in the number of trails and how they’re managed between Spanish regions:  Catalunya is where it all started (1974, no less) and they still have more trails and more fondness for walking than most regions.  Most of Spain’s north has good trails, and there are some excellent trail systems in central Spain, most notably provinces of Soria, Burgos and Valladolid, possibly due to specific, forward-thinking individual or local development groups.

Signage:  All three trails use the same kind of signage painted on trees, rocks or sometimes vertical signposts:  two horizontal stripes, the top one white and underneath color for the trail system.  Turnoffs or changes in direction should be signed with white right-angle marker next to the stripes, or by right-angling the stripes themselves. At crossroads, the wrong direction should be signed with an X, one arm white and the other arm the color for the trail system. Altogether this painted signage can be called flashes, waymarks or blazes.

GR / Gran Recorrido (long distance).  Blazes: Red and white. Distance: usually over 50 kilometers (31 miles), though might be a little shorter if there are some challenging parts.  Spain has more than 120 long distance trails: the longest is the GR7 from Andorra to Tarifa, 2,699 kilometers (1,677 miles), part of a trans-European trail that continues to Athens.  The GR10 crosses northern Madrid on its way between Valencia and  Lisbon; at 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) it’s one of the country’s longest. Other long trails follow the Ebro or Duero river, but most of the GR trails are 80 – 300 kilometers  (50 – 186 miles) long.

PR / Pequeño Recorrido (short distance). Blazes: yellow and white. Distance:  usually 10-50 kilometers (6-31 miles).  Sometimes these routes are loops off the longer GR trails, sometimes traditional routes between villages and sometimes more hiking than walking. A quick look at the list of PR in Madrid (see below) was a bit of a shock: I know the mountains quite well and signage for some of the trails listed is not in place, or just barely.  (eeek!)

SL/ Senda Local (local trail).  Blazes: green and white. Distance: usually under 10 kilometers. This kind of trail is less frequent, probably because the requirements for certifying a short trail are more trouble than most local organizations can manage, when they have the option of creating their own trail system outside the European network.

More information

GR / Gran Recorrido (Long distance), list of trails sorted by number. Many have links for additional information, though initially no information on region, easy to find by clicking on link for trails.  http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gran_Recorrido

PR / Pequeño Recorrido (Short distance), list of trails sorted by region.  Most trails do not have links for additional information, but knowing where trails are located you can find more on internet or at regional mountaineering federation.   http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peque%C3%B1o_Recorrido

More info, though irregular in quantity and quality:  Google Federacion de Montaña together with the name of the province or region that interests you most.

Hiking safety, basic tips at www.apinderinspain.com  Mouseover Travel Tips to find Hiking Smarts