Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Camino Espiritual special

COMBARRO TO THE MONASTERY AT ARMENTEIRA

Today I walked this bit of the so-called Spiritual Camino. Or El Camino Espiritual. And then back down to Combarro after lunch in Armenteira. A round trip of about 18-19km in all. This camino variante deviates west from the main Portuguese Camino after Pontevedra, wending its hilly and bosky war to Cambados on the coast. Whence you can walk or take a boat to Pontecesuras and re-join the main camino. It's a new route, having been initiated only in 2012. Back then, it was called the Camino of Padre Sarmiento but this name seems to have been dropped*. Anyway, it begins a few kilometres north of Pontevedra, shortly after the village of San Caetano.  Heading west, north west and then south west, it arrives, after passing the fine monastery of Poio, in the picturesque (i. e. tourist-ridden) fishing port of Combarro. Which is famous for its hórreos, or small granaries on stilts. Normally of granite but sometimes of wood. See fotos below.

I'd been wanting to do this walk for a while but we've experienced a very sunny and hot November and December and I'd waited until the forecast suggested things would get cooler and the seasonal rain would resume. This was a good decision, as though the day was sunny throughout, it was cool in the shade of the houses and then the trees.

So . . .

10.00: I park my car in Rua Pedaporta, on the edge of Combarro, but there are no yellow arrows where I thought they'd be. I enquire of a local chap where the camino might go from but he knows nothing about it. So, I then ask him how to get to Xuviño, which is the only village on the poor map which is all Google could give me. He points out a route which he says is a short cut and, at 10.05, I embark on it. He might have been right.

10.14: After 9 minutes on Camiño do Souto and then Camiño A Longariña, I meet the real camino route, coming up from the main road via (I think) Camino Torre. There's a sign at the junction advising that the albergue at Armenteira is 8km away, all of it uphill.

It's a fine day but coldish out of the sun. The initial scenery is classic Galicia – attractive granite houses and ugly granite houses cheek by jowl:-



And the occasional awful ultra-modern dwelling:-


Plus citrus fruit trees



Tiny plots of cultivated land:-


Men doing dangerous things without any regard to their safety:-


And, of course, views of the ría(estuary) of the river Lerez:-




Following the plentiful yellow arrows, I wind upwards through narrow, cobbled streets, taking the occasional foto of old houses, some of them still in use and some derelict:-








And of the modern places next door to them:-


And the occasional rural feature:-


10.29: I come to the end of the village – which later turns out to have been Xuviño - and hit a tarmac road. I turn right, onto Rua Amada. I wonder whether it wouldn't have been quicker to come up from my car via this road and resolve to find out on my return trek. [Yes, it would have been].

10.32: I pass a track on my left which – given the gradient - I'm glad I don't have to take.


There are plenty of albariño vines up here - on the traditional Galician trellises - but, of course, it's 3 months since the harvest and they're all dessicated now:-


10.39: I reach a cruceiro and turn left into Camiño Esperón:-


10.42: : I reach a second cruceiro and ask this lady(Boelia??) where I am.


She says I'm in Esperón and I've already passed through Xuviño. I ask her about the 6 villages which I've read somewhere are on my route but she's only familiar with the last one - Caroi – and tells me it's at the top of the climb, in the forest. I bid her a pleasant day, and take a foto of these vegetables:-


That done, I immediately hit a T-junction, where the signs seem to conflict a little. 


But I turn left, upwards, onto a better quality tarmac road.

10.49: Only a few minutes after being told Esperón was the last one I'd meet, I arrive at a sign for the village of Vilar. I continue upwards and chat to a guy in his own little workshop about he's doing. Painting strips of wood apparently.

The quality road stops and reverts to cracked tarmac.


10.54: I arrive at a bus shelter, where there's a collection of wood and another of good quality granite. On the way down later, I see two old men piling the latter onto a cart but I have no idea if it's theirs or not. 


11.00: I arrive at this sign for a dog and cat kennels which I know belongs to the daughter of an English friend.


It's deathly quiet, except for the occasional cockerel. Not even birdsong. Just the sound of my trouser legs brushing together, my feet on the tarmac and, of course, my heavy breathing.

Very few trees other than the boring eucalyptus. Just the occasional pine.

I note piles of horse dung, almost certainly from the semi-wild ones that populate this mountain and which are rounded up in summer during the rapas das bestas.

Have done an hour now but haven't seen another 'pilgrim' and don't expect to do so for the rest of the climb. So far - maybe 3km - all on cobbles or tarmac.

11.06: I'm passed by a tractor, naturally being driven by an old guy who's not protected by a cab. Another potential fatal accident.

11.09: I emerge into bright sunshine and feel I'm getting towards the top. Probably an illusion. [It was.]

11.11: I arrive at the Mirador de Loureiro, or viewpoint:- 


A sign says there's another one 600m off the road but I decline the opportunity to see that one as well. The wooden platform has seen better days and I decide it'd be unwise to lean on what's left of the decaying top bar. Certainly, the information board could be a lot more informative:-


But the views are pretty spectacular. I can certainly see Pontevedra and possibly even my house. But my small birdwatching bins are not good enough for me to be sure of this:-



11.16: As I leave this place, I see a large sign indicating the stages on the this particular route to Padrón, and advising that it's another 5km of uphill slog to the monastery at Armenteira. Maybe a bit less than 2 hours more:-


I take a look at my Google print-out and note that they laughably suggest the 9km walk from Combarro will take 2 hours and 2 minutes. More than 4.5kph(2.8mph) up these inclines! Not possible unless you're an Olympics athlete.

11.24: I arrive at a sign which, for the first time, takes me off tarmac and onto an earth track. [Coming down later, I accidentally find you can continue past this for another 5 minutes or so and then take a left into the forest. This option takes you - unmistakably - past the Poio dog-pound.]


I note that none of the villages I'd seen mentioned as being between Combarro and Armenteira has yet appeared. No wonder the advice is to take plenty of water and sustenance for this 2-3 hour trek to the top. 

Walking now along a forest track, I find myself concluding that not many medieval pilgrims will have trodden this path. Indeed, no pilgrims at all until 3 or 4 years ago. It's all about tourism and money, of course.

A lot more pines now. Quite Christmassy. Plus lots of broom(xesta).

11.37: I arrive at a small reservoir tank:-


I hear a helicopter over to the far left. Over Pontevedra. I wonder if someone is trying to throw themself off one of the city's bridges again.

It's very foresty now. And there are plenty of the little objects which owners use to mark off their microscopic plots. Check out Galicia' infamous minifundos. Bits of plastic, ribbons, bottles, granite blocks, etc.:-



As you can (possibly) see in this foto, there can be only a few metres between the borders so marked:-


Not many local folk up here. Perhaps the occasional chap cutting wood and piling it into a small cart.

But there is 4G phone coverage. Which means I'm constantly at risk from twisting my ankle as I read and send messages . . . 

Although all uphill, this is not really comparable to the challenge of the Primitivo in Asturias. No endless steep inclines. No mud. No narrow gullies. No paths strewn with slippy rocks/boulders. No Dutch companions to desert me. It's not an easy climb but I'm not having to stop every 1-200m in order to rest my leg muscles and get my breath back. Really quite pleasant. But it's certainly the toughest section I can recall on the Portuguese Way, at least from the border at Tui. There are serious climbs in North Portugal but I've only done them 'backwards' to Pontedelima - which were certainly harder than this one - but I can't yet say how tough they are going the right way. Probably worse.

11.55: An unconfusing sign, advising the albergue is only 2k away. Half an hour?:-


11.55: A confusing sign at the start of a track off to the right.:-


Not being an Indian tracker, I can't determine whether there are bootprints on this path. But I decide this has nowt to do with the camino and ignore it

Still very bosky. And still mostly eucalyptus trees:-

11.57: Blimey! I see a figure in the distance coming towards me. It turns out to be an old chap carrying a couple of medieval-looking farm tools on his shoulder. We greet each other and I move onward.


I'm now on a long, strait stretch which is gravelly underfoot.

12.26: I reach a junction where the camino seems to go off to the left. And downwards! There's a second sign which might be taken to indicate the right fork but I ignore this. Again this turns out to be the correct decision. I'm really motoring today, decision-wise.



12.29: I see a sign suggesting I can veer left off the track and down a narrow 'lane':-


But there's a confusing sign at the start of it:-


I take it anyway and it turns out to be a short short-cut. Another correct decision!

I rejoin the main path but almost immediately leave it for another narrow track that winds down to a lovely rivulet. Reminiscent of the new option for the final 3km of the Arcade-Pontevedra leg of the camino.


12.36: I emerge from the woods just before these gates and note a building in the distance. The Albergue?


No, just some farm buildings:-


And suddenly things get very Asturian. A muddy, rock-strewn path heading steeply downwards. Leaving me grateful I decided to bring walking poles:-



But it doesn't last long and I shortly emerge onto a main road - the PO10126 - and find myself in the village of Caroi. 




This place has also seen better days, in some parts at least:-


But has a nice roadside fountain:-


And then, at 12.55, an almighty shock. Emerging from the other side of the village, I clock not only the monastery lying in a fold to the left:-


But also a monstrous modern building straight ahead of me:-



Reeling in shock, I assume this is a rather posh pilgrims' albergue but am later informed it's the 4-star Pousada de Armenteira. The road to it is clearly new, as is the roundabout just below it:-


But not the cemetery to the left of this, towards the monastery:-


12.50: After 2 hours and 45 minutes of walking, I arrive at a bar-restaurant - O Fonte - just before the monastery and order a large shandy. I've heard that the food up here is poor but decide, nonetheless, to take the menú of the day. At 13.00, I'm the only person in the comedor but by 14.00 it's packed and I'm enjoying a lunch of fried fish and then a decent beef stew:-


And some local red wine, in the traditional cup:-


I conclude later that, as this place is new, it must be the (closed) café on the other side of the road which has the bad reputation. So, yet another good decision!

As I leave the bar, I'm astonished by the number of cars up here. Especially the large Porsche saloon. Who on earth do they belong to? Surely not the monks. If, indeed, there are any.


After lunch, I set off back down without bothering to see the monastery. I have an appointment at 5.30 and I calculate I might just make it back in time. In the full knowledge that my Spanish friend will be at least 15 minutes late. Or 'On time. What are you complaining about?'.

Next week, weather permitting, I'll park in Combados and walk up the Route of Water and Rocks and visit the monastery then. After another lunch in O Fonte. I'll probably try the lamb or the kid goat I didn't want to risk before knowing the quality of the kitchen.

The way down was quicker, of course. If only because I hardly stopped to take fotos. Here are the ones I did take:-

These 2 are of the inside of the awful Pousada. Although it's closed for the winter, I found it easy to walk in and to take a quick tour. To me it's reminscent of everything that's bad about the 1950s. Their web page suggests its a wonderful example of modern Galician design. Which, sadly, might well be true.

The Reception:



Bedrooms:



If you think you can bear it, there are more fotos on their web page, here. Strangely, there are no Reviews posted . . .

Back on track . . .

The hollow in a bank at the roadside, where I took a 30 minute post-prandial siesta:-



A tractore-ette plus load:-



An odd sign in the road which you briefly join before returning to the woods - the CF102. Anyone got any ideas?



 By the way, it's not safe to assume - when crossing this road - that the silence means no cars are coming. I lived to tell this tale but the toot and the wave of the driver might not have been a friendly greeting . . .

A footbridge I missed across a river below the level of the road. Presumably for the benefit of the owners of forest plots:-



The guys loading up the granite by the bus shelter:-



Another dangerous tractor-ette:-


Finally . . . A decent modern house, just back of Combarro:-




Serious Notes:
  • Take poles unless you're very young and strong. They help a lot both climbing and descending.
  • Take water and food. Nowt en route.
  • The 3 routes which meet in Caroi are the camino and 2 pre-existing walks, PR-G 172: Ruta do Rio Chanca, and PR-G 171: Ruta do Rio San Martiño.
  • There's been some debate on line as to whether this route can be included in the 100km you have to do as a minimum before you get a Compostela. Especially if you hop on a boat from Vilanova de Arousa to Pontecesuras. This is even though it's longer and tougher than if you just walked north from Pontevedra. I think this has been resolved in favour of the pilgrims but this merits checking out if you're wanting a Compostela.
Trivial Note:

Not for the first time, my phone battery suddenly went from 35% to zilch. And refused to come back on. But, connected to the charger in my car, it showed 40%. And a message that said its data was erroneous. Anyone know why this happens?

* Footnote: I've checked and it seems that the Camino de Padre Sarmiento is another - money oriented - variant of the Espiritual variant. It seems to deviate from the latter in Combarro and then pass west along the coast through Sanxenxo, O Grove, Cambados, Vilanova de Arousa, and A Illa de Arousa Vilagarcía. I assume one then either continues to walk or boards the boat to Pontecesuras. Frankly, I wouldn't go anywhere near it in summer, when these places are clogged with tourists. To be totally honest, I wouldn't go near it any time of the year.

4 comments:

Geoff said...

Maybe you could add these routes to Open street Map. If you use the Go Map! app it's really easy and you can add the village names too :-)

Colin Davies said...

Many thanks, Geoff. Will take a look.

Ferrolano said...

Colin, is your phone an IPhone? Reason I ask is that here in Singapore, I use an IPhone 5, about 2 1/2 years old and for the past couple of months, since installing software version IOS 10, it has been doing the same as you describe and I'm not sure if it is a SW glitch or a dying battery. As I write this, I am downloading a further SW update to my phone and it will be interesting to see if there is any change. If there is no change, I will suspect the battery or charger / monitoring circuit. I will let you know

And BTW, I enjoyed your extra to the original blog.

Colin Davies said...

Ta. Wait to hear. No, I have a Samsung Core Prime.

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