We are now in Astorga - about 11kms ahead of our schedule - having passed through the little village of Santabinaz at about 11am, which is where we had planned to stay. The path followed the road again for a while until we reached Hospital de Orbigo. This little village boasts one of the oldest (and longest) bridges in Spain. It is a low stone bridge with 20 arches spanning the Orbigo River. In 2002 when Georgie, Clare and I arrived there we had been walking all day and suddenly heard music and pipes, saw horses attired in full medieval costume, men in armour and ladies in long flowing medieval dresses. As we approached the bridge we could see hundreds of colourful tents with flags flying and a jousting field on one side of the river where horsemen were charging each other. We thought that we were hallucinating but it was the day of the fiesta commemorating the legend of a knight who was challenged for the hand of his lady and offered to defend the bridge against all comers - which he did, successfully, for a whole month - thereby winning the hand of his lady. This morning all was quiet and we stopped for a coffee and toast at the Cafe-Bar next to the bridge.
On leaving Hospital de Orbigo one can take a 15km road route or 17km walker's route to Astorga. The road route is along the original way between the two towns and the walker's route is a fairly modern path over the hills and through some unspoilt shrub land. We were tired of the road so took the walker's route. It was through truly beautiful countryside but, as Anneliese commented, she thinks God took all the rocks in the world and scattered them across the camino because the paths were, at times, like walking through dry river beds. Marion didn't mind them but Anneliese and I rocked and rolled our way along the paths trying to find the route of least pebbles and rocks. At times the path became sandy and you would not believe what our socks look like when we arrive at a refuge at the end of a walk!
Astorga is a charming little town with a beautiful cathedral right next to a Gaudi Palace. It is all circular corners, with Walt Disney like towers ending in pointed clown hat tops, turrets, crenulated walls and pretty little windows. People either love it or hate it! Everything in Astirga is closed until 5pm so we will visit the cathedral and, perhaps the chocolate museum just now. Whilst Annaliese rested we went looking for a post office (closed at 2h30pm) then we looked for an Information office (also closed) then we looked for a supermarket to buy food and, hey presto! we found a little general dealer still open! On our way back to the refuge we came down a side road and in front of us was a schoolyard. Joy-belle, I'm sure it was where we had lunch three years ago! I can remember us sitting watching the grannies coming to fetch the little children from school.
Now that we are a bit ahead of our planned schedule, we will do shorter distances the next two days. This is OK because we are now heading into the mountains of Leon. The guide says: As you leave Astorga you are heading into the mountains, a welcome relief from the Meseta. The stretch between Astorga and Ponferrada is one of the most interesting and beautiful of the whole camino. It is a long hard 50km across the mountains and the route goes up to 1500m. It is virtually uphill for 30km and then steeply downhill thereafter.
So, we will be spending the next two nights in very basic albergues (no WC and no water) and, I am sure, no internet. We will let you know how that all went when we come back to civilisation. Tomorrow night we will stay in El Ganso and then on Sunday night we stay with Tomas the Templar of Manjarin. I will give him Sandi's painting and the brag book of photos collected from the internet.
Love to all,
S A M