Cordoba to Merida 10th-20th March 2015

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

28km

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

25km

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

32km



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 alive..no 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

25km

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

39km

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.