The Camino next follows the river out of Burgos. So, a snap of the cathedral from the south:
We’re now on the Ruta del Cid, though not for much. It’s the long tourist trail connecting his birthplace just north of Burgos to the lands of his destierro, and to Valencia, where he finally ruled and died.
It’s not long till I’m in countryside, with mainly level walking now. I’m on my own again: Agostino and Manu, lacking the dawdler gene, have bolted ahead at the rate of thirty to forty per day.
Tardajos was my first resting spot. It’s been Celt, it’s been Roman. It was part of the defensive line established by early counts of Castile. I loved it because it was one of the first truly antique villages I’d come to since France. Tardajos wasn’t a mix of old and new, it was old.
Here at the well where I paused to drink, an elderly gentleman insisted on attaching a little Marian medal to my Kathmandu pack. When I told him that a tiny plastic medal held by just a thread would just fall off, he disagreed and insisted that it would hold.
He was right. The little medal is still in place, as I write from the Australian bush.
And by the end of that day, I would need whatever good influences it could invoke.
So it’s on to the meseta, that huge plateau of north-central Spain whose monotony and climatic challenges have always been an indispensable ingredient of the Camino. For a while that day, the meseta merely charmed.
Further along, an eerie experience. The day was windless, the insects had gone for the winter, and there were no people or vehicles to be heard. Just one bird singing, in the perfectly still weather.
The bird stopped singing. I stopped moving. For the first time in my life, or as well as I can remember, I could hear no sound in the daytime. Nothing.
That was the meseta’s first trick. There would be more.
Destination for the day was Hornillos del Camino, which gave me a solid twenty plus kilometres. On reaching the town, which is advertised as having a couple of albergues and other options as well, I found nothing open.
There was a bar for enquiries…closed. A couple of guys chucking roof tiles on to the street were too happy to bark that nothing was open. An older gentleman I met in the street sent me to a place where I could obtain keys and information. It was a demolition site.
I asked a couple more people about accommodation in the town, they seemed impatient, even a touch hostile, as if they’d been asked all this before.
I looked at my watch. It was 4:30 and this was the winter. I could go on enquiring and searching. Or I could head for the next town, more than ten kilometres away…
So I shook the dust of Hornillos from my garments, salted its fields, burnt its houses, slaughtered its first-born, laid a millennial curse on all its generations, and headed off for Hontanas.
Or part of the above.
The weather is holding, the windmills are still, but the air is getting more and more icy. I start to look across the fields for little stands of trees, in case I have to camp out the night. But that means a long tramp across mud, only to find that the trees are too scraggly and small.
After ten kilometres, I know I’m on the right track, but there’s no sign of a town in the distance. I take comfort from the name of the town, Hontanas. Maybe it’s in a sudden dip or hollow. But how do you hide a whole town?
The sun withdrew its warmth an hour ago. Now the light is fading. And how do you hide a whole town in a dip or hollow? The sun…
And suddenly, in its dip or hollow, like Brigadoon from the mist, Hontanas appears.
In no time at all I’m quaffing sopa de ajo in a warm bar.
And the little plastic medal – o clemens, o pia! – is still dangling pluckily from my pack.