Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Wrong Sort of Pilgrim - Type 3

This is really beginning to annoy me. What is it about me?

In Leon, the woman running the albergue accused me of all sorts of things. Street bum, alcoholic and worst of all; a tourist.

Where are all these new rules coming from and why do the cheating pilgrims get allowed in when I don't? It's all very strange. Last night (with flu) I ended up sleeping in a sheltered corner outside the cathedral. Obviously, I'm feeling a bit fucked now, but I'm OK. Could have been much worse. Bitterly cold wind. I 'slept' with 2 x T-shirts, 1 x shirt, 1 x body warmer, 2 x weather prooh coats and a sleeping bag. I was still fucking freezing. Not doing that again. Lesson learned: don't rely on albergues for accommodation. They can be a power crazed, choosy bunch of twats thinking they're going one step higher on the church hierachy. Fuck off! If you truly believe then you will be going to hell :D

Anyway, Leon ended a bit badly, but I enjoyed my stay and paid for half my hostal fees with sketches. I met some very nice people despite the albergue experience. A very BIG thank you to whoever it was that gave me the pilgrim souvenir T-shirt and Ibuprofen. Both greatly appreciated. In a half hallucinatory flu state, you appeared and vanished like a vision of an angel. If I wasn't wearing the T-shirt now I would believe I had imagined it all. Lovelly person :)

I'm back in Astorga. I'm going to have another try at getting a bed in the pilgrims albergue. Nothing has changed with me and my credentials, so I guess I'll get refused again, but I might get a better explanation as to what is going on.

Back on the hiking trail tomorrow afternoon. It's very windy and snowy up here in the mountains of the north! At least I have a very unique umbrella to take with me. Sketched brollies don't sell. Shame, because they're great fun to sketch on. Lesson number 2 learned: don't go investing all your cash in an unproven sales idea. Expensive mistake that. Still, I've recovered and I'm back on track. Sort of.

Friday, 28 November 2008

The Hidden Village of Villarbon and a Secret Albergue.

A post for a later date!

Took me a bit longer than expected to source umbrellas suitable for sketching on and the shop I eventually found doesn't open again until Five, so I'm spending the afternoon transcribing notepad notes to blogs before I lose my notepad. Lost my dictionary somewhere and had to do Two interviews yesterday. Totally lost without a dictionary. This post will have photographs and video clips added at a later date. It will no doubt be edited heavily also, but anyway...

High in the mountains on the borders of Leon and Galicia you'll find some of the most stunning views in the whole of Spain. An area of outrageously breathtaking natural beauty. Rich in diversity and packed with thriving wildlife, plants and forest of pine and deciduous tress. Snow capped peaks rising above the clouds below in the deep limestone gorges. Thundering waterfalls and lush green valleys. A natural park in the region of Bierzo known as Anceres. A circular range of mountains with exceptional hiking trails, hunting and fishing, or a simple country getaway.

If you know where and howyou be may be lucky enough to find the hidden village of Villarbon. A small cluster of derelict buildings (houses, a chapel, a tavern, dry stores) nestled amongst a forest of chestnut, apple, pear and cherry. Just Two houses remain in use. One, a weekend retreat for a local retired couple. The other is home and studio to an English artist and his Spanish actress partner.

Many factors make this village unique. As well as the fabulous views and´'other wordly' beauty, there is electricity, drainage, running water and street lighting! A very surreal thing in such a remote and seemingly forgotten location. There is also a fully functioning 40 bed albergue with hot showers and huge wood burning stoves offering basic accommodation to hikers, hunters, fishing folk and anyone who enjoys time in remote wilderness.

Accessible by car via a very steep 3KM dirt track. You really do need very specific instructions to find it. The nearest bar of any description is about 6KM. If you plan to spend time here you need to come prepared and fully stocked. A beautiful place, a very hard and permanent beauty tat can sometimes be very harsh. Not an easy place to live in, but a very, very nice place to visit for a few days.

Home to wolves, wild boar and some of Europes only real wild bears, pastures that were once the best wheat and potato growing fields are now dense thickets of wild rose and some spindly shrub named 'jester' (not sure I heard right). Gentle slopes below the village roll away into deep gorges. The horizon is one distant mountain after the next. Valley rivers offer some of the very best and most picturesque trout fishing anywhere. Ponies and cows graze the lush valley meadows with alder and birch lining the river banks.

40 years ago this was a thriving community. Often the case with many deserted villages in Spain, when franco expanded towns and cities with plans of industrilisation villages were simply abandoned. Faced with the choice between a very hard mountain life, or a warm appartment with all mod cons and regular work in the city, people fled. Those opposed to the Franco regime emmigrated to Argentina, Switzerland, Holland and other countries. Most simply took the new work in the nearest town, or city. Entire villages left to go to wreck and ruin. Climate change is also a factor in some villages. With rivers suddenly running dry and no summer supply of fresh drinking water.

I visited a week ago, or so and enjoyed wild mushrooms (Lepiotas are the local speciality) apples and pears with fresh baked bread and as many sweet chestnuts as you like.

I fried finely chopped chestnuts in pork fat with garlic beore adding the mushrooms and serving on fresh bread. A bit delicious.


Much more to come to this post at a later date...

More Snow :(

It's all going wrong in Leon. I have man-flu, or even real flu, it's snowing again. I have to make money and I really wish I hadn't just Googled the weather :(

I need a wet weather plan quickly.

There's a shop here that sells umbrellas. When it's sunny they're €6. When it rains they're €12. Bit to late to take advantage of such supply and demand situations, unless...

Sketching on umbrellas! Why the fuck not? I'm going to spend the afternoon customising an umbrella to sell in tomorrows rain. One watreproof permanent marker €2. One umbrella €6 (I can negotiate). Sell signed, original and practical work of art tomorrow for €50+. It's possible.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Oh Noes! Illness Strikes.


Shitty cold has turned into something crappier. To much working on freezing cold streets. Should have been more careful. I've been keeping myself fired up on coffees and brandies all day. Possibly not a good idea. On the plus side, I was treated to a very nice (and healthy) Chinese lunch today. Thanks for that :)

I'm off to seek sanctuary in a cosy hotel room with 22 Tonnes of Satsumas. Thankfully they're in season and good and cheap at the moment otherwise that may have been very expensive.

Hopefully up for a full on selling and sketching session for Saturday, but expect most of tomorrow to be spent in bed and within spitting distance of a bathroom :(

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Papeleria Heaven!

Beautiful day here. Very little wind and bright sunshine. Just spent about an hour trying to source more paper. Getting increasingly frustrated until someone pointed me in the direction of a paper warehouse. I now have 50 Meters x 1 Meter of parcel wrapping paper bought at the bargain price of €5. Three new pens. Mission: Turn 50 Meters of paper into €500 by Saturday evening. Rapido sketching. Weather and Policia Local permitting I honestly believe Leon can deliver. A nice big drop to a local charity and me comfortably sorted until Ourense. A BIG ask! We'll see what happens. Forecast doesn't look to good. I may have to find a wet weather pitch somewhere.

Can't remember if I've already posted this, but...

Imaginary Conversations.

Early on in my hiking I found myself turning to my backpack after each small break and asking in my head if he was ready to move before remembering that I was alone. That soon stopped. But, quite often when I reach an albergue after a long lone trek I find myself recollecting over the days events and recalling conversations with people that never happened. Very strange. One evening, after getting sorted and finished for the day in a small albergue, I sat down with a bottle of wine and thought about the very long conversation I had earlier with Two beautiful woman. A conversation remebered in great detail and the women were recalled in very specific and unique character, but they didn't exist. They were never there. The entire day had passed without me meeting a single other person, yet my head was full of memories of people!

If I wasn't totally fucking bonkers before I set off there can be little doubt that I am now :D

My pilgrimage is a very extreme contrast of social awarness. Four, or Five days in remote wilderness often meeting nobody followed by Four, or Five days working the streets of a city where It's not unusual to speak to over 100 different people a day.

Pretty sure I've been talking to my feet lots. They seem to argue amongst themselves frequently also. It's not just me!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Freezing My Fucking Bollocks Off.

Christ! It's getting cold. A bit of sunshine though and a couple of sales sees me safe in a new bed for a few more nights. €17 for own room with shared bathroom. It's very cheap here.

Managed to sketch for just Two hours this morning. Little by little. So cold I had to break to warm up every 10 minutes. Policia Local intervened, and to be perfectly honest I was simply glad for an excuse to pack-up and get a warm coffee. Very nice couple from Switzerland gave a very generous drop specifically for spending on such luxuries :)

OK, so I'm in the North and I'm likley to be in the North for at least a couple of months. The cold issue needs to be addressed. I'm on a mission to source gloves, long johns and a new scarf. Sadly lost my other, very old, very sentimentally valuable scarf on a mountain pass somewhere the other day. It was only a scarf and it can be easily replaced, but I felt a bit gutted about the loss for a couple of days. Almost like I had just lost a girlfriend. You tend to hold on to any companionship on lonesome treks. May only be fantasy, but it's all you have much of the time.

Right, where's the longjohneria???

Monday, 24 November 2008

Snowing in Leon.

Leon just went from being a very cool little city to a downright fucking freezing little city. Everybodies coughing, everyone is sneezing and I'm the loudest of them all. Wet, windy, snowy and cold. Unworkable sales wise. Never mind. I'm still enjoying myself and I've found a very nice little pension (Pension Blanca) for just €22/night including breakfast and as much internetz as I want. Paid for for just One more night and I'm down to my last €20 in pocket. I need to make a plan of action quickly. In the meantime I'll just prattle on the web waiting for God to intervene, or something. Make postcard sketches from postcards in the dry, warm comfort of a cafe possibly. That may be a solution.

I like Leon a great deal. A curious blend of Southern and Northern European culture which means you don't know when to pay for your drinks at the bar. I plan to stay a few more days and explore a bit more to see if this city has anymore to offer my future than Granada. I like it that much, but cold, wet and windy is very much the norm for winter so I'm told. High on your list of city weekend breaks - you won't regret it.

So, what to do in Leon when it's cold, wet and windy? You go to a cafe and take a large coffee with a couple of very large brandies followed by a big fat spliff. Then you go to the cathedral for a full, magical kaleadoscopic, stained glass window experience. The best collection of windows I've ever seen. It's so impressive you may be distracted and forget to look at all the other amazing relief sculptures and stuff.

Guess I better get me pens out and get to work!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Wrong Sort of Pilgrim?

I've reached Astorga. Once again the pilgrim trail has gone all commercial and rule driven. I was denied a bed in the pilgrims albergue for no good reason. The place was far from full, but I was sent to scumbags albergue down the road.

Scumbags albergues are church run night shelters for the homeless that offer a meal, bed, shower and even clothes. Usually run during day by young church going volunteers with a caretaker sleeping overnight. On less well known pilgrim routes these hostals double as pilgrim albergues. They're fine. Usually very clean and warm if a little basic, but they often fill with big drinking, heavy snoring street folk.

Looking after the unfortunate is a big part of Spain's culture. Very much a family oriented way of life and generally most can rely on family for help, but some lose family and slip through the state safety net. It is law that a free meal and bed is offered for one night only. A system that also gives vagrants an incentive to move on to the next town and not 'litter' the streets of course. But, it's also a service that anyone following old, rarely walked pilgrimage routes will find very useful. Especially during winter.

Off to sketch and try to make enough for a safe bed in Leon for a couple of days. I've met some great people in this part of Spain already. Bending over backwards to help me in anyway they can and a couple of contacts in Leon. A short bus ride from Astorga, I'm told it's an exceptionally beautiful city. Back to pilgrimage on Tuesday.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Back on the Pilgrim Route.

And, heading towards Astorga after a very splendid break in a secret albergue in a secret village hidden high in the mountains. Possibly the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Sunshine all week and the woods, forests and valleys all bathed in glorious sunshine everyday :)

But, rain cometh :(

Chestnuts, mushrooms, apples and pears. Plenty to eat for free. A perfect trout river at the bottom of the valley. A 40 bed albergue with 8 showers, loos and sinks all to myself and a huge wood burning stove to play with. All has been documented photographically on old skool film and will be published here at a later date. Very interesting history to this village. And, there are wild boar, wolves and bears! More later.

Must make Astorga in time to catch business tomorrow and make some cash to buy a huge umbrella. It is the only solution. I may then venture off track again for a couple of days to visit Leon. Looks to be a city with cash potential.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

A Small Diversion

A bus ride some 150KM off track for a Two week break from pilgrimage. I'll return to Benavente to start hiking again. In the meantime I have work to do.

I've noticed a big cultural difference recently. Things started changing gradually, but now the landscape, way of life, the people are all very noticably different. I'm liking this part of Spain a lot. Can't say exactly where I am for now, but it's very beautiful.

Tomorrow I will be hiking a further 20KM into the mountains and losing all internet for a few days at least, possibly longer. Logistically, things are going to get very complicated from here to Santiago. I have a lot to pack in, but I'm far further into my route than I expected to be by now, so there's no rush.

Back in a couple of weeks, or so???

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


Monster hiking through fine weather and effing foul weather. I have crossed Camino de Santiago and continue to follow Ruta Mozarabe/Via de la Plata northwards. I will be walking a huge loop around the north western corner of Spain and returning to the point at which I crossed camino de Santiago to follow that route eastwards.

I'm in Benavente. The free albergue is a rather cool, hard to find (very unexpected) dereilct railway station.

A small town with a castle that is now a Parador hotel, a huge flour mill, a couple of nice churches, an outdoor municipal swimming pool with water chute (for summer use only) and an exercise park that some bloke with no legs is currently using as I write from the library.

On a convergence of Two rivers, Benavente is pretty much surrounded by plains filled with poplar plantations used for producing match sticks and fencing stakes. At this time of year the are totally naked but for the gold tops of late falling leaves. Almost surrounded by plains, but not quite. Between the 'V' of the rivers are fertile valleys renowned for the harvest of varied crops they produce. There is a harvest fair here at the end of September each year.

I have invested in a quality body warmer and a pair of light weight combats. I now have 38 pockets. Pockets for cash. Pockets for cigarettes. Pockets for lucky stones. Pockets for rubbish. Pockets for pretty much everything. Took me almost an hour to find my pocket torch last night. Cash is low. Very little going to local charities ATM. I also have a schedule to stick to over the next few weeks. Hopefully here, Astorga and Ponferrada will provide a bit to see me through a few days (or, possibly weeks) in the wilderness. I may go off radar for a while. People have been goo enough to give their time for me to interview/film/photograph them, so if I have to take a bus ride off route for a while I will.

The rains have stopped. I'm all togged up in new, warm, dry clothes... I'm off to sketch in the streets of Benavente :)

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Beautiful Day Today :)

Blue skies, glorious sunshine and a crisp breeze. Perfect hiking weather, but I have a large panoramic sketch to finish. I have about €40 more in my pocket than I had when I arrived in Zamora, so another night in a cheap pension isn't a problem and I may collect a handful of €'s this afternoon.

A quick note about albergues:
Since reaching Zafra they have all been very nice. Some a bit pricey for what you get, but others are dirt cheap, or even free. It all evens out. Often they're restored, historically interesting buildings. Or, monastaries, or a room in the bishiops house! Most comparable thing in the UK would be 'old school' Youth Hostals. The deal is that you can stay One night only as a pilgrim. The albergue here in Zamora is located in the old quarters behind a very pretty little church. It has balconies with views across the river. A good kitchen and salon. Excellent showers. Dorms of 8 bunks. For the first time in about Two weeks I was not the only pilgrim. One other French guy hiking in the opposite direction.

From here on it looksas though there are cheap, or free albergues no more than Four hours hiking distance apart. With plenty of towns en route with sketching potential I should be fine.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Business as Usual

Today was better. No hassle from police. Enjoyed sketching and made enough to cover costs at least. Also remembered it is Saturday and stocked up on paper and pens. Zamora's alright in the sunshine.

Found a great little tapas/pincho bar. Second favourite in the whole of Spain so far! Bar Sevilla on Calle Alfonsod Castro. €1,90 buys a quality wine and quality snack from a huge selection. I went for tortilla with ham followed by paella. The paella was given a suspiciously long time in the microwave, but I could do with a good blowout and I have a hotel room with my own bathroom to enjoy ;)

And, whilst on the subject: best ever tapas/pincho bar in Spain so far was in Salamanca. From Plaza de EspaƱa walk along Paseo del las Canalejos. Opposite the park are Two great bars. One is exceptional for fantastic local food. €2 buys a wine and whatever you want from a huge selection of traditional stuffs. Excellent.

Spain's Best Kept Wine Secret 2

This has been one of the most fun parts of pilgrimage for me. Seeing, and eating the grapes from the vine and trying the local good stuff :)

If you like a no messing, full bodied Crianza with clout check out a few Toro's. I like very much. Nothing subtle going on here, just a quality punch in the right direction at 13 - 14%. Yay! My sort of wine. No doubt those with more eloquent taste buds will notice some undertones of berries, or something. I'm sure it works on other levels, but I'm quaffing by the bottle.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Oh Dear! Intervention Policia Nacional.

Shame. I was enjoying Zamora up until now. May continue anyway, but he was a right arsey fucker. Undercover police (or, perhaps off duty. I wasn't aware that Nacional operated undercover on the streets) jumped out of car: 'You're not allowed to sketch here'. Why not? 'Because it's private property and you need permission'. Were can I obtain permission? He then told me where, but it's closed until Monday, so you may as well fuck off basically. I suspect he would be even more arsey if he saw me again. I also suspect he was just on his way home going off duty. I'm going with the second suspicion. Or, I'll try sketching in Plaza Mayor and see what happens there.

Big 'Boooooooooh!' to nasty Policia Nacional Zamora trying to spoil the charity cause. First poblem I've had since the first town outside of Granada. All the police have been generally friendly and helpful everywhere else. Just one cunt in a bad mood.

Onwards and upwards...

I guess if I was just to ask Policia Municipal if I could sketch in Plaza Mayor they would simply say no just for the sake of it???


Didn't post this yesterday because I wasn't 100% sure, but after a bit of local research it seems it was indeed a wolf. My first live, real, wild wolf spotting. About 4KM north of Cubo del Vino the track follows fairly dense woodland to the right and fields of corn to the left and there are wolves in the woods. Apparently local farmers aren't happy. As well as controlled, licenced culls many wolves are hunted illegally.

Thanks again for comments. I agree that Zamora has a very unique charm. What makes it very different in atmosphere for me is that there isn't an overbearing cathedral presence. As beautiful as cities like Salamanca are, there is no getting away from the ostentatious display of wealth and power from the state and church. Zamora has many small churches and a cathedral, but the cathedral's location doesn't impose on the rest of the town and the churches are all small, old and very pretty rather than dominating edificies designed to impose on everything around them. I like Zamora, but I don't think any city in Spain I come across will quite do for me what Granada does for me. Pretty sure I know what I'm going to do when I eventually return.

I've taken a €60 gamble and booked into a hotel for a couple of nights. It's wet now, but the forecast is good. A couple of hours sketching yesterday returned €40. I'm sure I can do that again today and take €100 or so over the weekend. Today will mostly be spent in the dry warm library researching pilgrimage and pilgrim routes. The one thought occupying my mind much of the time during lonely hiking stretches is why? Why did they do it? Beyond all the romance that religion plasters history with, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that pilgrimage was nothing more than a glamorised recruitment campaign for the crusades. A young Mozarabe man feeling a bit oppressed by the Moorish regime may set off to the lands of hope and Christian rule from the south, but what does he do once he gets there? Toughened up and fit for a fight I reckon he simply joins one of the many mercenary armies fighting for the Pope, or the King. Good pay and it's one way home at least!

Slight change of plan. Taking a more careful look at the map it makes sense for me to continue walking to Ponferrada before breaking to visit friends and places of interest in the mountains. So, about another weeks hiking ahead of me. Pretty sure Ponferrada and Astorga can bring in a bit of cash and there are cheap albergues to make use of in both.

Thanks to Tammo in Granada for the comments. I'm managing to maintain a very healthy float now, but things may have been very different without the generous donation to get started.

Thursday, 6 November 2008


Yay! Beat the rain to Zamora. Two relatively easy days of short hikes in glorious sunshine. Beautiful countryside and loads of wildlife. All looks a bit French along this stretch. Fields full of grape vines, maize and stubble with the odd coppice of birch and poplar here and there. Little wine villages with streets of bodegas.

Spent last night in a tin pueblo with no shops and just one bar. Albergue was just €6 and once again I had the place all to myself. I passed just Two other pilgrims on track. A French couple travelling in the opposite direction. €15 bought me a good meal with a bottle of wine and a couple of brandies. Friendly service and very friendly village also. Awoke to sunshine this morning and decided to skip breakfast to try and beat the rain. Couldn't resist a slight diversion to Morales del Vino. Took an early lunch with a couple of red wines wondering what on earth could be immoral about wine.

Wildlife: Fantastic. In one single momentary glance into the skies around me I saw a heron flying low ove a pond, a huge kite circling gracefully no more than 20 Meters above my head, a peregrin falcon , a kestrel, a pair of dark coloured ducks I didn't recognise, sky larks and countless other round nesting birds. Also saw foxes and all sorts of other birds I couldn't identify along the way. Loads of birds of prey.

Three days sketching in Zamora (hopefully with sunshine) then I take a break from walking for a while and head to the hills to fell trees and make logs and cider and other country stuff. Will build up my arms a bit. They feel as though they're fading to nothing compared to my legs.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Sticky Mud the Colour of Wine

That was a bit shit.

20KM in wet, cold windy weather mostly on roads getting sprayed by lorries. Not nice. When it wasn't road it was very clay rich mud that added a good Five Kilos to each hoof. Finally decided to walk along the unfinished new road. First layer of bitumen gave way under foot like a plush carpet. Soaked to the bone. Oh well - it only makes the coffee and brandy taste so much better when you eventually make it.

So, it's not a town with buckets of wine, but a small dead end village with rich red soil the colour of wine, or something. And, don't I know it.

One major redeming factor: mushrooms galore! All sorts. I have a huge bag of seta for dinner. To be lightly fried in butter with garlic and a Fly Agaric for after dinner experimentation. Only joking. Possibly? I'm in a bar watching a nature programme on large screen TV. The crocodile just ate the baby egrets mum and the football table is starting to not make any sense at all. Who knows what it's talking about???

Monday, 3 November 2008

Rain, rain, rain.

Is there anywhere in Europe it isn't pissing it down, or snowing? It's relentless here. Managed about Three hours hiking this morning. It's now chucking it down once more in that penetrating, cold London stylee.

The footpath also seems to have disappeared again. This walking on roads wasn't part of the deal in my over romanticising imagination. I was expecting quiet tracks through rural bliss between every town. Not to be sadly, although it has to be said that there is more track than road.

On the plus side, accommodation seems to be cheap and plentiful all the way from here to Santiago. Better still, I am the only pilgrim - I get the very nice albergues all to myself. Currently in some tiny village. Made use of facilities to wash my clothes and put them up to dry over the heater. Only to then be told that I need to be out by 8am because it's cleaning day. Hmmmmm??? No way my clothes will be dry and I need plenty of changes for the coming rain and snows. Also fancy cooking myself a nice hotpot to down with a fine red and a very late, contemplative night texting friends. Fat chance I'll be awake by 8am never mind out!

Thanks again for the comments. Very nice. A very nice company is now paying my phone costs and a PDA is on its way. I'll be scanning and uploading pics of sketches very soon. Also posting links to video clips and photo essays. I hope.

Next stop is a village called 'El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino'. I like the sound of that very, very much. I hope the rains don't spoil my downing of red wine by the bucket load :)

Saturday, 1 November 2008


At last. Some half decent weather. City full of tourists. Completed Three large sketches this morning. Sold them all. In total I collected well over €200 and I still have this evening and tomorrow to make more. If I can buy more paper??? Can't believe I still get caught out by Saturday afternoons in Spain. Hopefully a Chinese sell everything shop will be open with 'everything' I need.

Looks like I'm back on for a Monday morning start towards Zamora. The mural commission turned out to be HUGE. I'll come back to it after I've made Santiago de Compostela. It's at least Six weeks work. Very fun work at that. Didn't really need a reason to plan a return visit to Salamanca, but reasons don't get much better than painting big murals for a living :)

A big THANK YOU to Salamanca. Looking set for €300 to a local charity and enough to see me on my way to my next destination.