One last trek before I take my pack to Spain…

So the weekend gone, I met my two friends Jimmy and Christine and took in one stage of the Lough Derg Way. I met them first between Azofra and Santo Domingo in 2013 and have kept in touch since. It was great meeting them again as it gave us another excuse to discuss anything Camino-related! They return to walk the Camino Finisterre at the end of May. I will be home by the time they leave.

The Lough Derg Way (more information here) is one of many many trails and looped walks in Ireland. It starts in Limerick City and makes it’s way northwards to a town called Dromineer which is in Tipperary. The whole walk encompasses Lough Derg and is very near to the River Shannon. It is 69km in total to Dromineer but on Saturday we walked 30km to a town called Killaloe. It is a heritage town in Co Clare and is always buzzing, especially when the weather is fine.

We were based outside of Limerick City on Friday night so after a bus ride, we started off close to 9am. The trail makes its way alongside the River Shannon for the first few kilometres until we make our way out of the city, but it isn’t long before you hit the countryside. It certainly reminded me of Galicia but there were stages where I felt I was walking down into Zubiri. We stopped off a number of times for tea breaks (no cafe con leche unfortunately :) ) before arriving in Killaloe close to 4pm.

There is a real issue with signage with this trail however and we needed to ask directions from a few locals, some who had never heard of the trail itself!! This can only be viewed as a minor negative however, as I found the day really enjoyable. I’d like to walk the full 70km in one go in the near future.

But first, I have a certain trail in Spain to prepare for…

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And like that, we’re down to 20…

Time flies when you’re having fun eh? I surely hope my time in Spain doesn’t go by fast when I get there! Like the title says, I am 20 days before I start my 5th stint on the Camino Frances. I can’t believe I have been caught by this bug since June 2011. There is no sign of it letting me go also, judging my eagerness to return to Spain.

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I have just over 2 weeks of walking ahead of me so if all goes well I should get to the Templar city of Ponferrada. Although I may reach Villafranca if I put in a few long days. My flight touches down in Bilbao on the 5th of May and I catch a bus from the city’s main bus station afterwards. It will bring me to Belorado where I plan to start the next morning. I have emailed Jana in Cuatro Cantones (I encourage you all to stay there – a fab albergue) and she will save a bunk for me there! Should my flight be delayed, I have option of catching a later bus to Burgos which is 50km westwards from Belorado.

I walked from Belorado to Atapuerca in 2013 , a 30km day, but I may stop short in Ages this year. It is a challenging first day with a good climb at Villafranca Montes de Oca and a long slog of 12km through woods before arriving at the barren San Juan de Ortega. I have good memories of devouring lunch and a cerveza at the bar there before moving on to the next town.

I’ve also learnt that some friends of mine are walking different sections in or around the same week. Unfortunately, we won’t meet but we will good stories to tell when we all return. I travel to Tipperary this weekend to walk two longish days (around 20km) and hopefully to have some tapas and vino.

I had a random thought of throwing on my backpack in work today and a big smile appeared on my face. It is strange what makes people happy. I can’t wait to get back out there.

Buen Camino!

Nearly time…

40 days left…. For those who have not walked the Camino de Santiago, these final 40 days should be spent scouring over packing lists, forums, blogs while taking every available opportunity to get out walking. For me, having had the joy of walking the Camino Frances a number of times before, that excitement is not as intense. However, It’s easy to put myself in some people’s shoes when I read blogs or posts on forums. I remember counting down the days eagerly. I remember making sure each and every item was checked to make sure I hadn’t forgotten something before I left. Back in 2011, I had little knowledge of the Camino as it was “a long walk for charity” in my mind. In 2012 and after a year of constant reading, my interest in the Camino and Spain in general grew. It has got to a point that at this stage, I have grown very fond of that part of Spain. I go back to the Camino Frances on May 5th, walking through parts that I have seen before. Does it bother me? Not in the slightest. Will I do things differently? I hope so. I wanted to do things a little different last September but that didn’t happen as much. Will I come back again? Absolutely. The Camino has become part of me and as long as I’m physically able to walk it, I will come back. I only wish I had longer to walk but it is what it is. I am planning to meet some Camino friends before I leave in May for a few long walks and some glasses of vino. I can’t wait for that weekend. More updates to follow.

Memories of 2012’s blisters…

Picture the scene.

I had walked 25km on a super-hot day from O Cebreiro to Triacastela. It was June 2012 and it was my penultimate day before I made my way home. Myself and my German friend, Sabine, arrived in Triacastela pretty late and most of the albergues were full up. We were walking in busy season. I managed to find a great albergue that I continue to recommend to future pilgrims, Albergue A Horta de Abel (information here). That day’s walking was mostly downhill…the type of walking I am least fond of. Ask me to walk uphill for 35km and I can do that all day, but downhill and I will have problems. And I did.

After I slowly took off my shoes, I was greeted by:

“Oh…that looks nasty”

“Here, I have what you need for that!”

“Why don’t you take the day off tomorrow and not walk?”

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Two almighty blisters had formed on the base of my right foot and I was reaching for the ibuprofen before I even had a chance to breathe. It was painful. I don’t have many good memories from that day. I didn’t write about it and I didn’t take many photos that day. But I did enjoy my stay in the albergue and the pilgrims I met there. They were instantly helpful and kind.

It is also a good thing that I did get some blisters that year. The socks I brought along were far from adequate. They were cotton and were actually not yet dry from washing the evening before. A recipe for disaster. I would never consider bringing those kind of socks now. However, if I did not get those same blisters, would I have changed my gear? I have no way of knowing. I use technical socks now and it’s been a while since I got a blister. If you are first-timer, make sure the sock is double layered. Brands like 1000 Mile are recommended, If blisters break out, they have the potential to curtail or even cancel someone’s trip.

I am a little over 100 days away from returning to Spain and while I won’t be walking this same stage, I will have that day etched into my mind.

A random act of kindness…

This will be a quick post but one I felt I needed to make. I don’t know many people who have the same interest in the Camino de Santiago. I know a lot through the Camino forum who talk about it on a daily basis; I also have a number of friends on twitter who have walked it and of course I have my two good friends whom I met in 2013 between Azofra and Santo Domingo. We meet when we can and discuss the Camino over Spanish food and wine.

Until last year, I didn’t realise I have a family friend who is a Camino veteran. Whenever she paid a visit to the family house, we ended up talking about her plans or if she has any hints. She has walked the Camino Frances a number of times, and is currently walking the Le Puy route in France, in stages. The hope is there for her to walk from Austria to France in the near future and this really intrigues me. This is something I hope to do in the future. The Camino Frances is getting a little too crowded for my liking, but that is another story for another day!!

Anyway…before Christmas, she dropped over to the house and asked for a favour. A friend of hers is walking the Camino Frances and has no reading material. At that point I gave her my Brierley and Michelin guides leaving me with little to read up on for my forthcoming Camino. She thanked me and off she went.

Fast forward to last Friday..I return home from a busy day at the office and find the books in a package. Along with the books is a card and a €20 gift voucher for The Great Outdoors. This was totally unexpected and shows that generosity is alive and well. Her friend had a ball and the reading material helped. I was just glad to be of assistance.

New Year…and some news for my next Camino

Well 2015 is only a few days old but I’m well into my preparation for my 2015 Camino Frances. On Monday last, I booked my flights to and from Spain for May 5th to May 19th, while today I bought a new backpack after a quick visit to the city centre.

I paid a visit to Great Outdoors again (great store!!) in Chatham Street in Dublin. I chose Lowe Alpine this time around after a few tips from the store staff. First impressions are positive but I need to take it out for some test walks in the coming months. The video below gives you a little information about it.

Just to remind you, I am starting from Belorado on May 6th and walking for just shy of two weeks. I hope to reach Ponferrada, which is around 320km. No Compostela for me this time but that doesn’t worry me one bit! I will then catch a bus to Santiago and fly home the next day. I have walked much of this section in 2013 and enjoyed it thoroughly. I met some great people also. I hope to stay in towns I passed last time. That’s the plan anyway. :)