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A Peak – 22 September


Las Herrerías to O Cebreiro and Alto do Poio

What follows is probably too much information. If so, just skip to the next paragraph! We have both been feeling tired, and so we went to bed early last night. Exactly 1 hour and 45 minutes later my lower gastrointestinal tract decided to reveal, in apocalyptic fashion, why I have not had my customary level of energy for the past couple of days. Not wishing to divulge unnecessary detail, I will simply suggest that had there been an appropriate clinic nearby, I could have gone for a colonoscopy. So much for leaving behind the Camino of the body in the first week or so! Perhaps this is a good reminder that we may have lofty ambitions with regard to mental and spiritual discipline on the Camino, but we still have to take care of our bodies. At least I was able to eat some breakfast this morning, even if it did consist of a couple of bananas and some sweet pastries, and I feel better for (eventually) a good night’s sleep. And ready for the ascent of O Cebreiro.

I devoted today’s walk to the Education for Ministry group at Saint Catherine’s, collectively and individually, as this is the day of the start of a new year of study.

Our route today took us up one of the most challenging sections of the Camino (at least by reputation). Over about 9 km, we had to climb a total of 600 metres. Setting that in the context of the climb we undertook yesterday morning, when we ascended more than 400 metres in about 3 km, it is, overall, a less steep incline. But it does go on for a long time. There are some pretty villages along the way, the first called La Faba, meaning The Bean – not that we saw many beans as we walked through. In the next village, Laguna de Castilla, we stopped for a break and found one of our occasional companions, the Swedish lady from, the Netherlands. It’s become part of the pattern of walking the Camino that we have become used to seeing people and then not seeing them for a while. The further we go, the more our original circle of fellow pilgrims is diluted by people who have started more recently, and the more we become dispersed as we walk different distances each day, and stop at different places.

The remaining few kilometres to O Cebreiro offered amazing views over the eastern side of the mountains and valleys that form the boundary between León and Galicia. We are still blessed with good weather, although it is cooler in the mountains. We noticed that the wild crocuses which we first observed on the hills overlooking Burgos, and which we have encountered again in the last couple of days, have now been replaced by a different kind of crocus, also wild, that more closely resembles the kind that grow in gardens and parks.

Then we came to O Cebreiro, and having noticed even more spectacular views westward as well as eastward (don’t expect photographs, because the haze looks worse in the picture than in reality), we entered the church. What makes a place sacred? Is it the intrinsic presence of the divine, the cumulative spiritual devotion of thousands of worshippers over the ages, a combination of the two, or so,something altogether more mystical? Whatever it is, it is present at O Cebreiro. The church, like most, is not all of one era, but parts of it have been here since the ninth century, and have not only witnessed, but also sheltered many generations of pilgrims since then. It is a simple, Romanesque church, without the gilded trappings of most of the parish churches and cathedrals which we have seen.

This church at O Cebreiro moved me beyond words … and in a side chapel, together with the old baptismal font, is a prayer attributed to Fray Dino of La Faba … (Franciscan) It sums up part of my journey so far, and came at a very meaningful point in our pilgrimage. At the moment, I cannot copy the words, but this is a link that leads to a translation:

And Francis of Assisi was here in 1214 …

We decided to walk on from O Cebreiro until we didn’t want to walk any more. We only walked about 8 km, as it happened, because the morning climb had taken three hours, and we had spent quite a lot of time at O Cebreiro. There is accommodation at Alto do Poio, which means hill of the stone bench (supposedly): there is an old stone bench at the top of the hill, beside a couple of albergues and little else. Staying here seemed like a good idea, but it will be cold when we set out in the morning. This is (according to the guide) the highest point of the Camino in Galicia. It is also a good candidate for the best place to be described as the middle of nowhere: there is nothing here, save for two albergues.

We will sleep tonight, still reflecting in the glow of climbing O Cebreiro, and our time in the church there.


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