A spot of Camino Francés

Burgos, León, and a few days trundling west on the Camino Francés.

Apparently León is the city in Spain with the highest ratio of bars to people, I don’t know if true or not but to walk around town on a Friday evening it would very much seem to be. It’s been a good place to stop and work for a few days, and enjoy some excellent company for exploring those bars. The social life feels very Spanish… people are drinking but not drunk, all generations are out enjoying each other’s company, and the atmosphere is lovely.

there is always a bar or cafe every 10 or 20km or so; it feels like a very civilised way to travel

My friend, Rubén, rode with me for a couple of hours on my way out of Vitoria, after a leisurely second breakfast at his friend’s excellent cycling cafe. It was a super way to leave the city and a prelude to a baking hot day on empty trails heading south to meet the Camino Francés, one of the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela…. and the most popular; the sheer numbers of people walking the trail this post-Covid season has been mind-boggling. Happily most are really friendly, and it’s been a terrific opportunity to meet some interesting folk, although as I turn my wheels south to Salamanca in a day or so, I won’t miss the crowded albergues with their night-time soundtrack of snoring, farty people (it’s been too busy, and with an absence of convenient cover, to think about stealthy camping).

The Camino Francés has been a mix of fine gravel roads, steep, rocky climbs and forest single track. The early mornings are busy as the waves of walkers leave their overnight villages but most seem to stop around midday, so the afternoon trails are all but empty.

As I write, after a few oven-like days on the trail, the weather is cold and rainy. Work is much busier than I’ve been able to arrange on previous journeys so mentally I’ve scaled back my plans in favour of staying on top of that as best I can, but I can’t complain and it feels a fair price to pay just to be on the road for a bit with all the opportunities for exploring and socialising that go with that… not to mention enjoying some street photography in interesting places again after the hiatus of the ‘plague years’.

Early morning walkers in the Camino, heading west from Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the moon just setting over the hill.
The trail passes through a multitude of tiny pueblos….
… but the camino is big business so there is always a bar or cafe every 10 or 20km or so; it feels like a very civilised way to travel.
I stopped briefly in Burgos for a poke around…
The cathedral is a vast, monolithic structure… super impressive but difficult to photograph well so I didn’t bother… you can always google it.
The trail is easy to follow… sometimes the markers are little brass shells set into the pavement, sometimes something more elaborate, but more often than not just a dash of yellow paint slapped on a tree, a rock, or a building.
Every village has it’s church…
I don’t explore all of them, but it’s always worth poking one’s head in from time to time.. the area is rich in history, frequently bloody history. This one dated from the 13th century.
Camino Francés, the villages are often colourful.
Camino Francés
Camino Francés
The weather broke with a series of spectacular thunderstorms… it’s always hard not to just push on when on my bike and the legs are good… I’d been aiming for a particular town.. 20km out the skies began to darken, 10km out it was looking really nasty… 5km out I made a snap decision to find shelter in a convenient village… I congratulated myself heartily on my decision when the storm broke 5 minutes later. It was spectacularly violent..
The following morning dawned cold but dry.. it didn’t last, I rode the last 110km to León in the cold, rain, and mud. It was alright, the parched countryside is in dire need.
León is a colourful town, it feels grittier but more accessible and lively than Burgos, whose centre feels very much more dominated by tourism. I like it very much.
León also has a fabulous cathedral – all spires and flying buttresses, again I don’t have a lens wide enough to do it justice, but google will sort you out.
León… “War of Peace”.. or possibly just intended as “Peace War”, my grasp of the subtleties is insufficient to be anything more than literal in this case…

6 thoughts on “A spot of Camino Francés

  • Fabulous images and storyline as always Mike. Thank you. I don’t know this part of Spain at all, but I’m inspired to get to know it one day.

    Picked up the X100V yesterday :) I’ll be out playing with it tomorrow!

    Safe travels

    • cheers for the kind words Dave. I’d previously only explored southern Spain, I have to say I do love it up here in the north.
      Enjoy the X100v, it’s just such a great concept. People are great fans of the Leica Q2, but aside from the cost, for me a 28mm lens is just too wide for this kind of general purpose picture taking, 35mm (equivalent) is a great sweet spot.

    • cheers! too kind! so many people this year, the albergues have people sleeping on the floors even. I’m turning south for Salamanca tomorrow and should be able to find some quiet places to camp….

  • Mike, these are among the best travel pictures I’ve seen. The composition of the street scenes with people perfectly placed to add context and personality are beautiful and inspiring. Writing ain’t bad either :-)
    Enjoy the rest of the trip, hopefully more bar-hopping to come.
    Happy and safe trails.

    • hey Jean, lovely to hear from you and thanks for the overwhelmingly generous feedback! I’m working today but will start trundling towards Salamanca tomorrow, probably 3 days away… stay tuned!

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