My Spanish journey is nearly over- I’ve taken roughly 1,900,000 steps so allowing for a 5% poetic license I’m calling it a two million step journey. 

The last four days have been the most intense immersion in art of my life and it’s been both exhausting and life affirming. There are shows everywhere. Not just in the big three galleries but a host of other civic and private buildings display world class art. My campaign to assimilate as much of it as I could continued yesterday morning at the Thyssen Bornemisza gallery containing maybe the best private collection in the world spanning works from the 17th to 20th centuries. The first to really strike me was by a man from Clonakilty in west cork Michael Harnett who painted “Material for a leisure hour”. I think he nailed it. 

I was there for many hours admiring the work of all the finest artists of the last 400 years. Here is a small sample. 

It had been raining all day so when I emerged the streets were awash. 

Nothing for it but to engage in some appreciation of the fine art of drinking in the celebrated bars of this city. 

I ended up in one of Hemingways favourites. 

Of course food and eating are also an art form here and the shops reflect that. 

I ended the night by going to the movies. Many of the films shown here are in the original language with Spanish subtitles so I caught up with Pride, about the gay and lesbian support of the miners strike which had a pretty low attendance in spite of the huge and open gay scene here. I guess it was a bit too English. Great feel good movie though. 

Today, my last, it was time to tackle the big boy. The Prada, with works spanning nearly 900 years but mostly concentrated on the old masters. Incredible stuff, my vocabulary could not possibly do it justice. I stood in front of the huge Bosch’s, fascinating since childhood, till time stood still. Unfortunately no photography was allowed though I did sneak some later. 

I was interested in this scene of the Med coast near Torreminos from 1860 by Carlos de Haes. 

How things have changed! The galleries had quite a few artists working on their own copies of masterpieces. 

I staggered out to the botanical gardens next door in the late afternoon which had the tulips out. 

Into the greenhouses to admire the cactus

and the rainforest complete with jungly soundtrack. 

Up the road to Madrids green heart, El Retiro park, a godsend in summer I’m sure. 

Where I discovered more art in the palace of Velaquez showing modern sculpture by Italian Luciano Fabro. 

And finally, nearly sated, I called in to the Palace de Cibeles for a couple of cutting edge shows of new work by a host of artists. On approach I reaLized the cops were out in force again as were the demonstrators. 

Inside there were 4 floors of this huge building given over to art displays and a restaurant and bar above.

One show was strictly no photos another was not ??

While I’d been passively looking at art some of Madrid had been gathering for more democratic demonstrations. 

And I have to hand it to the civic authorities because they know how to deal with it in a organised fashion. The police controlled the movement of the crowd that was followed by ambulances and civic defence vehicles and bringing up the rear were the clean up crew in formation. 

So that was Madrid for me. A vibrant stylish city that loves it’s food and drink and its art and culture. It loves to party. It’s in your face but not brash. 

Gort has its work cut out to follow that. 

MADRID POST MOZARABE: 21st/ 22nd March

i guess all my regular readers are no longer checking in believing that I have no longer anything to say. However, I’m still on my journey and will continue to report from the front line. The walking can become a bit of an addiction and so it seems can the blogging. 

A soft misty start to Saturday. 

It looked like they had run the train track through the Roman viaduct. 

The track followed the route of the Camino north until  Caceres so noted with interest that the countryside changed back to Holm oak and granite before long and became hilly again. Then cork oaks became predominant as well as wild areas of scrub. I was just thinking that it was a great area to walk through when it changed again and a long , long stretch of flat, treeless grassland from horizon to horizon made the going look tough. The clouds had built up and it was grey and gloomy and I was glad I was on my way to the bright lights of the city. 

The old terminus building has been transformed into a botanical garden and still manages to deal with the high speed trains. 

Just across the street from the station is the National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia where my cultural tour of Madrid began with a 5 hour session with a massive collection of the worlds greatest artists of the last 150 years or so. I cannot begin to list my favourites that I can as able to get up close and personal with but I made some new ones. It’s a rush for me to come upon a painting in real life that I’ve loved from books especially if the scale is impressive. Like Guernica for instance which has a huge room constantly full of admirers. 

It fact it was great to see how much time and effort the human race wants to put into an interaction with artwork. Especially if it’s free. This is the queue to get in at 7 when it’s free till 9

The galleries are so many and large that the numbers were accommodated without crowding. Mostly paintings there was also sculpture and some video, film and photography. In fact there was a temporary show about the reinvention of Documentary Photography which included a load of counter culture stuff from the seventies squatting scene which took me back. But mostly I just soaked up the visuals of work like



and so many more

At 8 o’clock hunger and a need to find my hostel drove me out into the throbbing city streets. They were actually pulsing a little more than usual because there was a demonstration going on which by the time I got to the hostel had got out of hand and the riot cops were out in numbers. 

A police car window had been smashed outside and it took a few hours for quiet to return. 

Well when I say quiet its relative. Saturday night in the centre of Madrid is not quiet and we were one floor above the street. The cries of the revellers continued till after the sounds of the daytime activities started up around 7. In fact when I got to Puerta del Sol the runners warming up for big event shared the space with many not in such good shape. 

Then off for walking tour to the Plaza Mayor where stalls were being set up by the purveyors of collectables. Coins,stamps,postcards and all sorts of assorted medals,keys and bric-à-brac were keenly scrutinised by those in the know. Down to the Sunday flea market area of El Rasto, a huge space of everything from secondhand clothes to antiques. 

After a bit of shopping it was back through Puerta del Sol again which had by now become the venue for a dog show with policemen on ?

After moving rooms to somewhere I didn’t have people coming and going all night and didn’t proudly display letters of complaint I returned to the art orgy. 

Two of Spain’s biggest companies Telefonica and Mapre both have fundacion a to support and display art and both were running shows I wanted to see. 

Telefonicas was housed in what was considered Europe’s first skyscraper and was a very impressive mixed group show called Big Bang Data, concerned with the exponential growth of data production and storage we are all complicit in and the uses/ misuses and the art created from it. 

Real time flights over USA   

Amount of photographs uploaded to Flickr everyday. 

A huge wall of babbling video diaries. 

Different globes different data

And a good interpretation of the data world. 

Coupled with a big show of Instagramer’s photos it gave me food for thought after my recent entry into the blogging world. 

Then off to the Mapfre foundation show of an old favorite. 

Where a notice on the comment board was from someone who had completely by surprise came upon a picture from 1964 of his mother and brother! 

More at the Circulo de Bellas Artes. The one I liked was a show about the cabins, sheds , huts and cottages used by writers, poets and philosophers. Photos, little scale models, plans and dried plants from around the sites were included. And a slide show of artistic representation of the  cabana. It made me keen to get to the cabana of my own. 

Finally a visit to the roof terrace there and a much needed dinner in the posh surroundings of their cafe. 

And so to bed. 

CAMINO MOZARABE: Merida to Merida 20th March

14km (without getting anywhere)

It’s just as well I’m heading home. My boots are finished. The soles are so worn that there are loads of holes that little stones keep getting in. More strap fixings on my rucksack have given up and it’s held together with baler twine. On the techie side of things my data allowance is running out and my charging lead has got very iffy. 

I’ve been exploring the ancient Roman city of Emerita Augusta, capital of Lusitania, one of the three provinces of Hispania and now, as Merida, the capital city of Extremadura. Big areas are fenced off and semi excavated- other architectural remains have had office blocks built on pillars above them. It’s a bit of a culture/ history clash at times but the modern city does its thing while accommodating layers of the past. 

It’s not just a Roman past on show either. Visigoths, Moors and then Catholic Spanish have all left their mark here and you buy replicas of all of it. 

There’s so much stuff here it’s left lying around on roundabouts. 

I started my sightseeing with the Acueducto de Los Milagros

before moving on to the Museo de arts Romano, a building that incorporates a 2000 year old housing estate in its basement. 

Just around the corner was the Ampiteatro with ahead of its time street lighting

past some baths

and the Portico del Foro

to the temple of Diana

The Puente Romano, spanning the Rio Guadiana,

is pretty impressive

The entrance to the Moorish citadel Alcazabe not quite so

Next door government offices are built over Edificio Multiple

So that has saved you the bother of visiting Merida. 

It felt strange to be walking about without a rucksack and I can hardly manage without my poles now. It felt very wrong to be going on the opposite direction to the yellow arrows- but I’m still watching out for them. 

CAMINO MOZARABE: Torrefresneda to Merida 19th March


There was a miscalculation in the remaining kms so it took a bit longer than expected today. I crawled out of my bunker to a clear sky and I could see my breath on the air. My new sleeping bag ( not a Lidle product) had done well to keep me cosy. It was a few km to Torrefresneda and a cafe con leche in the bar with the boyos. It’s such an early morning hang out in every city, town and village for the lads. Nowhere like it in Ireland. This was a real one mulo place. Basically one road through a new village to accommodate agricultural workers. But they still had the civic pride to design and build an  amenity that no one will ever use.

The buildings were all low rise and the same.

Slap bag In the middle of miles of intensively productive farmland with a motorway running alongside I wasn’t tempted by the for sale signs. Of which there were many.

The landscape might have been a bit grim but the walking felt good and I flew along listening to my favorite tunes of the last 2 1/2 months.

With the motorway one one side and a natural park on the other

and the storks nesting on the pylons between the fruit trees

I carried on to San Pedro de Merida where more civic plans had gone belly up.

and on through more “countryside”

Until I came to the outskirts of Merida

A big city that luckily was well signed for the peregrino.

Past many Roman bits and pieces to the river and a old mill ow serving as an albergue and my home for the next two nights.

After weeks on the Camino Mozarabe with no one about this place is alive with pilgrims on the way to Santiago from Seville. I say alive, of course they’re all in bed by 9.

Bloody pilgrims!

CAMINO MOZARABE:Don Benito to Torrefresneda 18th March


The Camino Mozarabe finishes at Merida, another 26km away and I have decided, after much soul searching, that my Camino will also finish there. 

A feeling has been growing recently that this journey is nearing completion and I have tried to know if it’s real. My head has been telling me otherwise- that I’m only half way there- that I’ve only been on the road 3 weeks- that I can’t stop now. 

My destination was always unsure. Having finished two Caminos in Santiago already I knew I wasn’t fixed on going all the way there. I didn’t want to walk again the 250km Sally and I did last year on the Camino Sanabria, the end of the Via de la Plata. And my schedule meant I’d be doing the last 100km during Semanta Santa when it would be crazy busy. 

I had thought about maybe going due north, backwards up a Camino route from Leon to the north coast, but it seemed a bit artificial, and a long way. So my soul searching told me that I was ready to go home. That the Via de la Plata can wait and should be started in Seville. 

It told me mainly that I would rather be with my loved one than walking on my own. 

To complete the Mozarabe from Malaga to Merida is to start at the beginning and finish at the end and I like neat endings. 

It’s pretty spacey being out there in the empty vastness on your own day after day and I’m looking forward to some grounding work in the garden and woods. 

And I’ll have to walk the dogs!

In the meantime I have another 25km to go and I’ll spend a day or two in Merida before getting a train to Madrid where I will soak up art and culture for two days before my flight home. The rambling and blogging will continue. 

Today the way was through flat industrial farmland, alongside busy roads and amongst a lot of strung out housing- not the prettiest of penultimate days. 

I started being a sightseer as well today in the churches and fortress and Roman theatre of Medellin. 

Here’s the video

and here’s the reality 

and the hilltop fortress from the river

then it was back to intensive farming around Santa Amalia

Here’s where your tomato purée comes from

One good thing about the productive land is that it meant that the poor folk in their tiny simple houses can grow a lot of veg on their tiny plots. 

And the weather picked up in the afternoon and I carried on past the town to bivvy out for the last time in the sunshine. I might be in a kind of underground bunker near a noisy road but it’s by the river, the birds are singing and the sky is blue. 

CAMINO MOZARABE: Monterrubio to Don Benito 16th/17th March 

42km/ 26km

What a difference a day makes.

Yesterday as I walked in the baking heat under a deep blue sky I contemplated how lucky I had been with the weather. More or less cloudless skies the whole trip. I had read reports in the albergue logs from pilgrims who had suffered struggling through muddy tracks and I had wondered when fording the rivers how it would be in the rain. I may find out tomorrow.

The day was grey when I awoke this morning and it got darker and darker. Spots of rain at lunchtime turned into a full on downpour just as I came into Don Benito so I found myself a bed and have been watching it come down all afternoon. There seems to be more forecast for tomorrow so the going could get muddy.

But it was different yesterday as I left Monterrubio.

The olives had returned and been painted white.

But mostly it continued to be a mix of holm oak and granite

before climbing up to a high plain of grain fields dotted with round stone wells.

I stopped at Castuera to have a look in the centre for information on the area of special protection of birds, a huge area of the countryside around here that contains loads of different valuable habitats and is rich in bird life. I know nothing of birds but had noticed lots of different types and heard some lovely song. There is a big drive on to increase tourism in the area and bird watching is one of the ways they are trying to do it by setting up hides and observation platforms and encouraging Casa rurals and places to stay out in the campo.

Unfortunately the museum of nougat was closed ! Apparently the town is famous for it and the building looked unusual.

Some of the paving on the outskirts of town looked a bit nougat ish.

Then it was onwards down the long trail again

Passed another granite quarry

until finally after 40km I walked through Campanario only to discover that the Albergue was another couple of km out of town on the converted railway station.

It was worth it though. Lovely building, two bed rooms, loads of sofas, dining room, washing machine etc with a bar next door!

Today the countryside was more open and treeless. More grain fields and fallow land, and wetland for the birds.

And some fields that would keep the stone pockets busy.

At the hilltop village of Magacela, surrounded by granite, there were remains of Neolithic, Roman, moorish pasts.

An unpromising entrance to La Haba a small place out in the plains led to an old town centre with venerable buildings.

And finally, as the rain came down, I was presented with this dilemma on my way into Don Benito.

Happy Paddys Day.

CAMINO MOZARABE: Hinojosa to Monterrubio 15th March


Enjoying my first Spanish “real ale” made in the local area from some of the barley I’ve been walking past all day I guess. It has the Bellota certification of origin as does the celebrated olive oil of the region around Monterrubio. 

Another town no tourist ever ventured into id say. So faroff the beaten track you’d probably be hard pushed to find it on the map. 

Last night I had a look at the cathedral which featured an amazing 3d window 

and vaulted naive 

In the morning,as the police man came in ,I dressed appropriately and headed out. 

Into a western set. 

Out into the campo in the freezing temperature after begging some water from the last house in the town. I still can’t get a fix on shop and bar opening hours especially at the weekend. 

I’ve noticed that they plough around the outside of fenced land- is it to discourage grazing near the fence ?

And so began a long day of walking. It’s a peculiar thing, the long distance walking. When you keep going the distances covered seem huge and yet it seems to take forever to get to the top of the rise. Distance and space contracts and expands at the same time as does time itself. A minute becomes eternity and the hours fly by. There are times when I’m truly in “the zone”, chewing up the kms, the whole body a well oiled walking machine and then without warning its a struggle and I’m tripping over my poles. In general though I’m getting more able to cover ground without too much thought involved. My mind is shutting down, especially when I’m listening to music. Is that a good thing? I don’t know but when my mind is still, my soul is filled with tunes and my legs are pumping it feels good to be passing through the sunny expanses. 

It was so quiet out there today. The track passed very few houses or farms and there was no one around. No chainsaws no tractors no cars, nada. There was sheep. And there was sheepdogs, who are left out with the flock to guard them against …..what?

I came to an abandoned railway station on a line that looked still used and it added to my thoughts that I might be the last man one else seemed to be. 

After a couple of small stream crossings I had a bit of trouble fording this one without getting my feet wet. 

I started to climb again up through the holm oaks to a little cross in the plumb centre of nowhere. 

Eventually I hit a road. Quite a big road but nothing stirred. I crossed into Extremadura. 

And 6km of tarmac later I arrived here. I went up and down the street where the Casa parroquial was supposed to supply a bed for a weary pilgrim but I couldn’t find it. I went passed a hotel with Camino signs many times with a signs advertising special prices for rooms and menu for the peregrino and eventually gave in. So here I am writing this on the outside terrace where the patron has kindly erected a massive football full TV screen and even more massive light for my comfort

CAMINO MOZARABE : Alcaracejos to Hinojosa del Duque. 14th March


It was a bit cloudy for the first time as I set off down the farm track out of town. 

Lots of storks nesting in the church bell towers

Past crosses new and old

arrows leading me to Villanueva Del Duque

where 19th century mining had left it’s mark ( and a white rabbit) 

Lots of granite was also quarried in the area 

and used in door surrounds and lintels

and fencing

and the landscape was dotted with rounded boulders

The open landscape was again given shade and shelter by the holm oaks many of which were obviously centuries old

The sandy track led me through farmland

and I followed the arrows past a stinking goat farm

It’s so dry nothing really rots just dehydrates

A big thing in the area is the devotion to the Virgin de la Guia (?) who has a pilgrimage in her honour and a shrine on the outskirts of Hinojosa 

My last town in Andalusia, tomorrow I’ll be in Extremadura. 

In the Plaza de la Cathedral 

I rang the local police who kindly came and gave me the key to the adjoining albergue which I’m sharing with a policeman stationed here who lives in Córdoba. Well he’s on the night shift so I won’t see much of him. It’s a newly renovated building with all a pilgrim could ask for 

and after showering and doing my washing I studied the poster of all the Caminos still to do 

before retiring to the plaza for lunch. I was here by 1,30 and would have carried on but the next town is 32km away and the bed here is very comfy. I’ve been put off camping by the frosts that greet me every morning and so, with an Albergue to myself for a fiver, why suffer more than need be?

CAMINO MOZARABE : Villaharta to Alcaracejos 13th March


I didn’t stop to camp halfway. The walking was too good. Up in the dawn light and into the empty hills on a good path

With just sheep for company

The path took me over the tree clad hills all day and only crossed one road, only passed about a dozen remote houses and I only heard one chain saw and a couple of cars.

It was the kind of Spanish countryside I love. Rounded hills smothered with trees and scrub and wild flowers. Mixed farmland of holm oak and olive grown in grassland grazed by sheep and cows. The fincas were few and far between and mostly abandoned.

I crossed a few real rivers flowing with clean, clear mountain water and full of loudly mating frogs.

I nearly stepped on a basking snake that jumped as quickly as I did and I saw many many signs of snuffling boars. The markers and signs were plentyful

The vistas changed frequently and the scent of the flowers was heavy on the hot still air.

I’m normally a man who is constantly refering to maps and likes to know where he is in the small, medium and large scale but today I didn’t have a clue. I was in a tiny linear slice of Spain devoid of any relation to the “outside” world.

I could have been anywhere. I could have been in Ireland.

CAMINO MOZARABE : Córdoba to Villaharta 10th/11th/12thMarch


It was midday before I had finished writing in Córdoba and I may be English but I wasn’t about to join the mad dogs out in the sun. It has been getting increasingly hot and I have learnt not to try and exert myself too much or I loose all my body fluids in sweat very quickly. Instead I went for a wander around the city, meandering through the twisting narrow cobbled back streets and peering into the little internal courtyards through any open door. The Cordobans have raised these little spaces to an art form and have associations to support the creation and restoration of “vestibules”. Awards, plaques and prizes are contested. With exquisite tiled floors and walls, lemon or orange trees in huge earthernware pots and a profusion of flowers in every available space they put our hallways to shame. A sideboard, gilt frame mirror and deep pile carpet just doesn’t cut it.

These Spanish towns and cities are so rich in ancient buildings and especially churches I wonder what the Irish urban landscape would have been like given more money and less oppression.

I set off in the early morning as the kids found their way to school down the warren of narrow lanes alongside old men with tiny transistor radios in their top pockets and macho looking men walking little lap dogs. Bars were busy with clusters of talkative smokers outside.

Out of the old city into the suburbs with big blocks of flats, washing hanging from the lines outside their windows, and very soon after passing the old roman bridge, out into the wild.

Here there were men pursuing another popular Spanish pastime, flying remote control planes whilst sheperds herded their flock through the fly tipping zone.

The hills beyond were of uncultivated scrub, holm oak, wild olive, rock rose and cistus, broom and mimosa. And then a familiar smell not enjoyed since the Canaries of pine. The nice rounded tops of the Mediterranean pine. Exposed rock in layers of horizontal strata and yellow arrows everywhere.

I came to an old abandoned railway that was to accompany me ,on and off, for the next few days.

At a little trackside shrine I found some offerings in a tree stump and had a pleasant lunch with the bleating of lambs and the clink clonk of their mothers bells as background music.

The information I’d been given in Malaga included the phone number of a “welcome ” house for pilgrims in the next town Cerro Muriano. This was an unofficial albergue run by a Dutch couple who had been volunteer hospitals row in numerous albergues for a few years and decided to set up on their own. I was given a warm welcome at their rented suburban villa and sat and chatted with them in the outside kitchen. They told me that even North of Córdoba when all three branches of the MOZARABE had joined together there are only about 200 pilgrims a year as opposed to the 2000 a day they were dealing with in the Compostella office in Santiago last summer.

The house, set amongst the pines, is a very relaxing space and after a good sleep I set out armed with Yan’s info on the way ahead. There is a large army camp and firing range to be crossed and then it’s back to the rolling scrubland before coming down to the oak studded grazing land of Guadiato valley.

I was following the old drovers way the Canada Real Soriana and it made for beautiful and easy walking with occasional signs to remind me who I was and where I was going.

The scenery continued wild and pretty all the way into Villaharta where I went to the town hall and organised to stay in the changing room of the sports hall. It’s a 39km stage tomorrow that I may split into two and camp out if I come across somewhere nice.

In the meantime I shall make myself at home on my exercise mat. I just hope there are no late basketball games planned to night.