Smoky Mountains Hiking Map

I’m informed that they have run out of Earl Grey but will English Breakfast suffice?

“Of course, ” I reply, laughing at the sheer preposterousness of drinking tea with the English in the middle of the Spanish mountains. I enjoy a good stay and leave early in the morning, happy to have good memories rekindled.

I climb to the Cruz de Ferro, the highest point of the Camino Francais in Spain at 1,528m This tall, wooden pole topped with an iron cross is a renowned landmark on the trail. Pilgrims leave a memento here, usually a small stone carried from their home as a symbol. It signifies their worries, and leaving them behind at the cross.

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I leave nothing, but somewhere under the pile of stones is a silver pendant from the cathedral in Le Puy en Velay, France, which I left during my first walk on the Camino ten years ago. I smile as I leave, thinking the tradition may well have worked for me.

A long stretch of ten miles bobbles up and down with wonderful views before I reach Molinaseca. Children play in the Rio Meruelo under the bridge, cooling off in the heat – although I’m not overheating as the mountains have cooled me. Ponferrada is only four miles away but takes ages to arrive. The Camino skirts this large town to the south before emerging to the surreal sight of the Templars’ castle, the Castillo del Temple – beautifully preserved with turrets and stonework, and the Spanish flag hangs motionless, taking my breath away.

I revisit the little cafe opposite for a hot chocolate and churros (small donut rings). The albergue lies half a mile away but when I reach it, a queue of walkers stretches out the door. I glance in one window to see a small room, one of several, brimming with pilgrims. It looks stifling in there so I relent, check the bank balance and succumb to a reasonable hotel for the night.

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