exactly a year ago….really

https://charitywalking.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/20140512-170543.jpg?w=687&h=920GrandpaBear might have a dozen screws in his back, but there are none loose in his head! He kindly pointed out that June 2014 is not exactly a year before May 2015….which, pedantically-speaking, means yesterday’s post was NOT a year ago, but eleven months!

So I went back to see what we *were* doing a year ago and was delighted to discover one of our most momentous days. It is a day which still – a year later! – feels hard and desperate and unbelievably rich.

You can read about it by clicking here.


12 May: Olague to Pamplona


Very soon into today’s walk the hum of traffic accompanied us, even though we were still in rural surroundings – a main road wound beneath us, a reminder that we were heading towards “civilization”. After a week of seeing only four other pilgrims, we arrived in the big city bustling with people and at least a hundred at the albergue.

We only did a short stint by this road – thankfully. Then we were back to the hills.20140512-173123.jpg




A largely wordless post tonight, because we still need to get dinner and find out where the train station is in relation to where we are so we can meet Rob and the girls there tomorrow (yippee yay), and although the boys have showered and scouted round looking for food, I have spent every moment since we arrived at the albergue catching up the blog…..so I desperately need to shower and clean some shoes!!

Destination: Pamplona
Distance: 28.1km
Cumulative Total: 303km, but we’ll call it 300, so we start the next hundred with the others!
700km to go
Weather: first thing Micaiah said he liked walking behind someone in the cold because they look like a steam engine….but it warmed up to a beautifully warm day – maybe 20*C

Kebabs to celebrate first two stages completed, a 1002m elevation gain on one day, 303km walked.

11 May: Berroeta to Olague


Today was a day that I wish everyone could experience! It wasn’t a great day (we started by having to go back to the albergue after we’d already gone down the first steep descent and started the 10km climb, because we had left the phone behind…..it was raining and colder than we realised……a dog got too friendly and bit Micaiah’s poncho…..we had a hard climb), but we end the day with a sense of accomplishment and having experienced some surreal movie sets – except that they were real life!

Walking up the mountain through misty forests that went on and on and on was quite simply eerie.

(please excuse the photo of picture on the camera!)
Moss covered boulders shone electric green under the canopy of shimmering spring green leaves, and even more moss hugged the trunks of trees that stretched down to the ground seemingly miles beneath us and stretched up so high above us that we could not see their tops. After hours of climbing through this surreal environment we reached a plateau at 911m. Wind stole away the words from our mouths (Micaiah’s line as I tried to talk to him whilst walking along the wide grassy ridge) and blew away a good portion of the mist revealing sun shining on distant mountains, a road far below us in the valley and stone houses dotting nearer hills.

Underfoot, leaf litter swallowed our ankles at times and there was no actual path – just yellow arrows on trees for guidance. One portion was along an ancient Roman road. Boulders, rocks, stones, mown grass, compacted dirt; there was a bit of everything. Other paths were actually trickling streams or mud rivers. Overall it was demanding walking.
Demanding and solitary.

Life lesson: there is power in habit. Until this morning we had charged the phone in the evening and so it had been safe in my bumbag when we set out each morning. Additionally, we have usually been getting to bed early, but last night stayed out talking with the village kids until late.

Destination: Olague
Distance: 25km
Cumulative Total: 275km
725km to go
Weather: surely no more than 10*C, drizzle, rain, wind
Dinner: emergency soup ration, emergency peanuts…..shop which was supposed to be open was not. Fellow pilgrims had only six pieces of chocolate so we invited them to join us…..with half a bag of macaroni and a can of asparagus discovered in the kitchen we made a delicious soup, Stone Soup. One of the pilgrims went to the panaderia (bakery) and knocked and knocked until he opened and sold him two loaves of bread! Despite being closed.

Just this morning we had read about sharing with those in need and the kids were very challenged to share our meagre offering (much less than we ate last night – and we had not had any lunch so they were ravenous), but they agreed that we should….and in the end we had a veritable feast!

10 May: Amaiur-Maya to Berroeta


Looking back to where we started the day.

Progress was initially very slow due to the boys’ obsession with trying to catch these quick little critters.

Attention was diverted only when we spied a snake coiled on a warm stone bridge pillar – it was at least the size of a dinner plate. Unfortunately, with its forked tongue flicking in and out, it slithered over the edge before we could get the camera out. Snake spotting tally currently stands at Levi 3, the rest of us 0.

Following arrows….


See Levi standing in front of the artisan chocolate shop holding a bar of the special chocolate in his little hot hand?

When I had been looking at the route on googlemaps months ago, I had decided we would make a purchase if the shop happened to be open when we passed. It was! We can tell you now it smells divine, but we can’t tell you what it tastes like – we’ve decided to carry it to Pamplona to share with Rob and the girls when they arrive next week! If you want to see the shop for yourself, go to googlemaps and search for Irurita. Scroll round street view and you’ll see it – as well as the seats under trees around a fountain where sat for lunch with a group of Spanish cyclists.

Pastoral scenes dominated the day.

All the way to Berroeta, where the kids made a whole lot of friends and stayed out playing til way too late for people having to be up at 6am!!

Destination: Berroeta
Distance: 22km
Cumulative Distance: 250km
750km to go
Weather: 13*C at 8am;19*C at 10:30 and the mercury kept climbing as we did – not sure where it stopped
Dinner: vegetable and leftover chorizo soup, brown baguettes, cheese, strawberry paste



9 May: Espelette to Amaiur-Maya


Good-bye France, Hola again Spain!
Leaving France we said goodbye to French men in berets – some stereotypes are real and we have certainly met many black-bereted Frenchmen in this week.
Another stereotype which we thought we had disproved on previous trips to France was brought to life in this Basque region. After our previous encounters we had decided it was quite unfair to say French people expect everyone to speak French. We have since discovered it just might be a matter of location. Almost without exception when we have greeted and excused ourselves in French and then asked – in French – “Do you speak English?” we have been lectured in response something along the lines of, “You are in France, you cannot expect to speak anything else, we speak French here and you should too if you want to communicate with us.” If the lecture has been absent we have been given The Look that says even more than the tellings off. That said, once we drag out a map and even one word of French (ici?), people are most helpful and reply in rapid-fire French as if the lecture must certainly have imparted to us a sudden ability to understand!

France and hiking trails. Our limited experience of the GR8 leads us to conclude that it is incredibly well-marked and can be followed without any other instructions or guide. The camino trails (La Voie de la Nive and the Baztan) on the other hand, could do with more comprehensive marking. We are not alone in losing the way – a French couple sharing the albergue we are in tonight got lost three times yesterday – and they were able to ask for instructions along the way! We haven’t fared so badly in comparison.
The countryside in this region is a dream – pastoral scenes, soaring mountains, trickling rivers….all just delightful. A setting most conducive to walking and thinking.
Today’s main thought was prompted by our morning reading. According to Common Prayer, Columba of Iona said, “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.” What did Columba mean? What *is* joy really?
I wondered whether rejoicing our way up the climb was joy. I’m not sure – I did feel filled with a deep content and peace, but I think that’s different.
By Columba’s definition (the echo of God’s life in us), was it joy to choose to be grateful when we discovered our lodgings to be grotty? How does joy figure when you’re missing your husband, when you want to know how the kids in India are doing but you can’t find out for almost another week, when the kids who are here are missing their siblings more than they realised they would?
Even with the gift of hours to contemplate, I got to the top of the last climb epiphany-less. A cuckoo’s call coming across the valley had accompanied us up the biggest hill. I wondered if there was any lesson in that – if there was, I couldn’t find it! If there were answers in the church we visited first thing this morning we had overlooked them there, too.
Maybe the answer is at the monastery we decided not to stay at tonight – we had been advised it is a fantastic place, and when we reached it we were very tempted to stop for the day; it looked absolutely gorgeous. But we knew if we stopped there tonight, we would not make it to Pamplona at the same time as Rob and the girls so we attacked the hill and ended up in accommodation that feels like a makeshift secondhand furniture store (and smells like it too).
We gave thanks for the beds – and I promptly sat down on one to show the kids that they weren’t *that* bad.
We gave thanks for the showers and I explained to the boys that they didn’t have to touch the mould and that they would come out cleaner than if there wasn’t one (and I ignored their protests and enforced use of the facility!)
We gave thanks that in the absence of a kitchen, there were no dishes to do.
We gave thanks for the light breeze to dry the washing – and for the lines and pegs to hang it up with.
We gave thanks for the awesome views, for the strength to walk, for much-needed muscle cream, for being back in Spain following yellow arrows, for the wonderful memories accumulated in France…..
As for joy…maybe we’ll understand that a little more fully tomorrow.

Distance: 26.8km
Cumulative Distance: 228km
772km to go
Weather: mostly overcast
Dinner: leftover dry muesli, half a packet of chips, donut, bread and butter with a hunk of chorizo – very nutritious! (the best we could do with no kitchen, nowhere to purchase anything, and our dehydrated food that we had made at home and sent ahead, lost somewhere in the French postal system)

8 May: Bayonne to Espelette

The car turned on to a small side road and then, somewhat strangely, reversed back and came towards us. It slowed to a stop beside us while the passenger wound down her window and asked us something.
“Espelette,” I answered. Hardly surprisingly, she figured we don’t speak French and offered with the help of mime to take us there.
Mrs Strava, our pet name for the lady in my phone, who (sometimes annoyingly) keeps telling us how far we’ve walked, how long it has taken and how slow the previous kilometre was, had just told us we had completed 29km, so we didn’t mind getting ourselves out of this lost pickle in a vehicle. Plus, we had to be at the Town Hall to pay for our beds by 6pm and we had only a few minutes, so this offer seemed like a divine apppointment! In we clambered and the car took off in the direction from which we had just walked!
“Did we look that lost?” I enquired.
“Yes,” the lady gently smiled back.
We know the exact moment that it happened. We had just crossed a little bridge and our instructions said to turn left. There was even a photo with an arrow. A marker on a post by the path pointed somewhere between where we thought we should be going and a path straight ahead. Having been following the markers successfully all day, we hesitated at this apparent ambiguity. Fortuitously, a couple out walking crested the ridge just at the moment we were deciding to go left, and so I decided to ask them. Espelette was on the path straight ahead they insisted. They didn’t know the Voie du Baztan, but Espelette was definitely where they had just come from. So we ignored our gut instincts and decided locals must surely know better than we would. There was a lesson for us on that path (other than don’t always listen to the natives!!) Huge puddles of stagnant water blocked the way and Micki observed, “People would be drinking this in some places. This is what we’re walking for.” It was a sobering thought.

Not long after Levi had expressed his view that we might actually be on the wrong path after all, a mountain biker passed us at an intersection. He confirmed Espelette was “ah gosh”! Almost immediately a farmer appeared from the right, followed by his flock of sheep so we asked again – no harm in making sure. Straight on up the winding road.

At the next inevitable intersection we had no idea where to go. A hay-making-farmer driving a huge tractor soon happened to finish his day’s work and drove to the edge of the field. That was invitation enough for me to stride on over, map in hand. Unfortunately he could not pinpoint our position, but he did point us towards Espelette and we took off up the hill, pretty certain we didn’t have a hope of arriving on time. That was when the miracle car appeared.

Until then it had actually been an uneventful walk. Leaving the cathedral, we joined half of Bayonne walking, running, cycling or rollerblading along the riverside path on this national holiday (celebrating/commemorating French victory over Germans). A signposted “deviation” had added a couple of kilometres, but the path was easy to follow, even if it was less interesting than the previous days. Or maybe it was just that it was hot and our bodies felt tired despite the flat walking. Various aches accompanied us for portions of the path, appearing without warning, and vanishing again just as unexpectedly. The river, a slow-moving thick-looking affair, sat beside us most of the way. According to our guide, there was a wide range of vegetation – all sorts of hedges and maples and alders and elms and ash – but to our tired eyes, there were just trees. That said, the poplars were a pretty picture:

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – we are so aware that every step we are able to take is a blessing, we experienced precious conversation over breakfast this morning with our hosts, the sun shone down on us, and organ and bells sent us on our way – it has been a good day. But it is valid to acknowledge that our bodies are tired, they felt sluggish today, they ached on and off (nothing major, just little niggles), the sun sapped what energy we had and at the end of the day, we probably won’t remember this as one of the favourite walking days, even though we did make the 200km mark!


Destination: Espelette
Distance: 30km
Cumulative Distance: 201km
799km to go
Weather: sunny
Dinner: bolognese pasties, potato salad, couscous salad, cherry tomatoes and Italian mozarella