Walking home

Walked: To my mum’s house

Date: 17-19 July 2018

Distance: 75 miles

Weather: Heatwave!

Despite all the well known long distance trails I’ve walked, there’s a much more random – and personal – one that I’ve been wanting to do for ages… to walk to my mum’s house.

Now, I appreciate that for some people the distance to their parental home would be impossibly long, and for others a short stroll. Mine was a 75 mile, 2.5 day hike through the South London Alps (aka as the hilly bits that start immediately south of where I live in East Dulwich), the Surrey Hills and the South Downs, finally pitching up near Chichester Harbour on the sunny south coast.

It was also a totally new kind of walk for me. Armed with my newly purchased online access to all the OS maps in the UK (£25 a year: total bargain), I made up the route as I went along, checking my phone to ensure I was heading southwest by zigzagging my way out of suburban London, Surrey, West Sussex and – last but not least – a tiny bit of Hampshire. I also tried out wild camping for the first (and then second!) time, and to keep my bag light / because it’s been so darn hot, I had a bivvy bag rather than a tent. Day one ended in the fern-filled woods of Abinger Common, where I learnt that even the smallest of birds make quite a lot of noise when they walk on a bone-dry thick-pile carpet of leaves. I admit that, on my own as I was, it freaked me out a little and I didn’t have the best night’s sleep! Day two found me racing against the dying light of dusk to find a suitably secluded spot to stay, finally nestling myself among a pile of hay bales near Heyshott in the lovely South Downs: super comfortable, and I was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise.

After the longest, hottest spell of weather that the UK has experienced since 1976 (and as I was one at the time, I don’t exactly remember it), England’s countryside is parched; the normally green meadows are yellow, the rivers and ponds are either dry or running low, and the fields have deep cracks running through them, as if there’s been an earthquake. But the sunlight dappled forests were a delight, the hedgerows alive with life, and the air around me was often filled with butterflies. And despite my walk taking me through one of the most densely populated parts of the UK, and the dire warnings from some that our island nation is ‘full’, I walked for hours every day, on (largely) well marked footpaths, without seeing a soul. Reader, it was glorious. As was the much needed shower I had when I got to my mum’s!

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The Portuguese Way – Day 23

Date: 27 April 2018

Walked from: Padrón

Walked to: Santiago de Compostela

Distance: 23 km

Almost exactly six months ago today I arrived at the plaza next to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, having finished my month-long walk west across Spain. Today I was back, 630 km after I set out from the Cathedral in Lisbon and started following the yellow arrow signs (which mark the route) north.

Today’s walk was surprisingly green, considering it was heading into a city. I walked much of it quickly, passing well over 100 ‘Camino Completers’ (I think I may have just made that expression up), many of whom I had actually never seen before. I chatted to a lot of them for a while before hurrying on to catch up with the new friends I’d had dinner with last night – and at a food van, a few kilometres before we finally saw the spires of Santiago’s Cathedral in the distance, I caught up with them. Beers were drunk, and then it was onwards into the main plaza where pilgrims gather to take their photos and hug. It was all rather lovely. As was the impromptu after-party some of us ended up having in gardens of the park post-celebratory meal. The (thankfully mildish) hangover I had the next morning when I flew home was less lovely… but it was worth every penny of the €2 bottles of wine we were drinking out of plastic cups under the streetlight lit blossom trees until 1am!

Scenically, the walk I did in October wins hands down. The route that starts in France got the looks (without question, it trumps the Portuguese Way) and it sure as hell wins in the popularity stakes. But last time I was walking away from home, leaving things behind. I’d left my workplace of over a decade just two days before starting the walk, and I had a lot to think about. This time it felt as if I were walking home – and I did it with a whole series of kind, generous, quirky, interesting and intelligent people who I met or walked with along the way… and who often made me laugh so much my jaw ached and my belly hurt. I couldn’t have had a better – or more enjoyable – end to my seven months of travelling. If you’re reading this, and we walked together, thank you: you ROCK. ¡Buen Camino!

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The Portuguese Way – Day 22

Date: 26 April 2018

Walked from: Caldas de Reis

Walked to: Padrón

Distance: 19 km

Imagine going to Munich and finding they had run out of beer. Or Bruges, and discovering the city was all out of chocolate. That’s how I felt about coming to Padrón – home of the type of Spanish food I love above all others (Pimiento de Padrón) – and finding out the delicious grilled green peppers I crave aren’t yet in season: when the Spanish say something is available from May-October, they really mean it. Late April just doesn’t cut it.

Fortunately I was able to overcome the impact of this devastating culinary news thanks to a combination of walking in perfect weather condition (not too hot, not too cold – Goldilocks would surely have approved), some sun-dappled woodland paths that were very easy on the eye, more great conversations… and an impromptu Camino dinner party this evening featuring participants from Portugal, Brazil, Holland and Russia, as well as this lone English representative.

I’m now just 25 kilometres away from completing my trans-Iberian walk from Lisbon to Santiago. Tomorrow it’s time for the Portuguese Way leaving party…

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The Portuguese Way – Day 21

Date: 25 April 2018

Walked from: Pontevedra

Walked to: Caldas de Reis

Distance: 22.5 km

I have no idea why the British think they are such great drinkers. We honestly pale into comparison with the amount that the Spanish and Portuguese can put away – and yet they seem to imbibe alcohol with a panache my countrymen and I can rarely manage. I’m saying this because – PURELY in the interests of being polite / culturally adaptive – I accidentally started drinking wine at about 11am this morning.

Having spent a few a very pleasant couple of hours chatting to some new folk, and talking again with some people I’ve met before over the past few days (all while walking, naturally), I wandered into a tiny impromptu looking cafe (it appeared to be in someone’s large garage) in Briallos for a nice cold lemonade to be greeted by a group of super friendly guys from Lisbon who I’ve met a couple of times in the past few days. ‘Come in, sit down, have a drink’, they said. I noted the large jug of red wine and the white bowls they were drinking it out of in the table. Then I noted that everyone else in the place – all walkers, and almost all Portuguese or Spanish – were drinking booze too. A bowl of the young local red wine was passed to me. We chatted. Then they bought out a jug of the young local white wine, so fizzy that I thought it was lager. New ceramic bowls are handed around. I had a bowl of that too. We chatted some more. Photos were taken of the Iberian drinking gang, complete with the English interloper and then I scarpered, completing the last 5 km or so into town with what may have been a little more spring to my step…

Arriving at my hostel, I showered and headed out for a late-ish lunch in the beautifully situated and very friendly Taberna O’Muiño taverna – on the river as you come into the centre of town. The staff were friendly, the food was absolutely delicious (razor calms – mmmmmmmm)… and the booze kept on coming. I asked for a glass of the local white wine… and got a jug of wine and another white bowl to drink it out of. I asked for the bill and was brought a lovely almond tasting cake instead. I asked for the bill again, and was given a Baileys-like liquor. Eventually I escaped. It’s 5pm, I’m a bit tired, a bit merry, and really quite glad I’ll be home in a few days: my liver couldn’t withstand the hospitality of the locals on a permanent basis, but it’s a really fun way to be ending my trip.

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The Portuguese Way – Day 20

Date: 24 April 2018

Walked from: Padrón

Walked to: Pontevedra

Distance: 23.5km

It was a cracking walk through the verdant hills and riversides of southern Galicia today (with the lovely riverside inlet of Arcade a particular highlight) topped by the excellent – and very funny – company of Vanessa and Dimitri, a Latvian air steward and her sailor boyfriend, from Riga.

I’d seen them both for the first time yesterday, where I stopped to have lunch, and I knew they spoke English. As I went to walk past them today, I noticed the matching toy ducks they both carried (heads sticking out, naturally, lest they suffocate) in their backpacks, and I slowed down for a chat. I was so glad I did; today’s walk was lovely, but it was the company of these two while we walked towards the beautiful old town of Pontevedra that really made my day.

Vanessa’s English is particularly excellent, so I asked her where she learnt it. Surely not just from school. ‘Carton Network’ came the straight-faced reply, possibly with a side of wry smile thrown in for good measure. As is usually the case when you get the chance to really talk to someone from another country, you learn that many of us share the same outlooks, values and senses of humour – it’s just those damn language barriers that get in our way. Nationalism can go do one. As they may or may not say on the Cartoon Network…

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The Portuguese Way – Day 19

Date: 23 April 2018

Walked from: Tui

Walked to: Padrón (not THE Padrón, just a Padrón)

Distance: 30.4 km

After a couple of days of feeling a little over this walk, I’ve had a really fun day. Maybe it was the churros with the thick, ultra sweet dunking chocolate that I had for my breakfast (which made for a late start today, but hell, the cost was included with last night’s room). Maybe it was the fact that it was a ‘proper’ walk again – it’s felt odd to walk relatively short distances for the past few days when I’ve become accustomed to hoofing it 20 miles most days. Maybe it was the hot weather (although, when the locals start complaining about the heat to me, as they did today, you’ve got to start thinking it may be a tad too scorchio). But I think it was probably the people I’ve met today that have made me smile so much.

Essentially, I strongly suspect that I’ve now embarked on the part of the trip where I’m (largely) a spectator to the Portuguese and Spanish versions of a religiously-sanctioned pub crawl. The walk was very quiet from Lisbon to Porto. It’s been a lot busier since, but today it’s kind of gone mad – there are people everywhere, and most of the new ones seem to hail from the Iberian Peninsula. They aren’t bothered about getting up at the crack of dawn and walking all day. Like me, they don’t give a religious damn about completing their so-called pilgrimage in Santiago (although the certificate that absolves them of their sins might be of some interest), but they are determined to be friendly, to enjoy their food, to imbibe booze at every bar along the way, and to generally party – often covering distances at a slow-mo speed which seems almost painful.

I opted to stay in the tiny village of Padrón tonight, 3km outside of Redondela, mainly because no one I met on the trail today said they were staying here. I was the first to book into the dorm room at what I thought was the relatively late time of 4pm, and after a (very) late lunch/early dinner, I sat on the wisteria-shaded patio outside the hostel/cafe Corisco, chatting in my terrible Spanish to a rowdy (aka mildly drunk) but really friendly group of Spanish walkers who went on to walk the final 3 km into the nearby town. I also watched as a series of exhausted looking ‘pilgrims’, many of whom started the walk today, gradually showed up and began to fill the hostel… including some who got picked up from the village 4km back that had run out of beds for the night and so were delivered here. I asked if they were getting dropped back off at their end point tomorrow. They aren’t. I don’t know the word for ‘cheating’ in German, but if I did…

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The Portuguese Way – Day 18

Date: 22 April 2018

Walked from: Rubiães

Walked to: Tui (España)

Distance: 19 km

I’m in Spain! I’m so damn close to Portugal that I am looking out at it, sitting there just across the river from my hotel room (yup, no hostel for me tonight) but nonetheless, I have crossed the border into Galicia, the land of paprika-coated octopus and grilled, salted (and, allegedly, occasionally spicy) green peppers, which makes me one happy woman.

I did the decent thing before I hot-footed it into España for lunch though; Portugal and I shared a farewell breakfast of my beloved custard tarts in a friendly cafe in São Bento da Porta Aberta, practically the high point of the day. And then it was just 15 km or so on to what I am choosing to describe as the twin towns of Valença and Tui, the former Portuguese, the latter Spanish, both fortress citadels facing off against one another for centuries across the river Minho, which separates the two counties. It’s a lovely setting, especially on a hot sunny day like today.

It’s great to be back in Spain. Just 75 miles to go. ¡Viva España!

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