With rain forecast I was a little worried about today’s climb, which involved 700m of ascent. But the weather bots of eltiempo.es also promised me one last day of tailwind, so I’d better use it.
A humdrum ride took me into Astorga, an OK looking town with an OK square where I had a fine chocolate con churros, con too many churros actually: I had to take a few away with me.
A highlight of this part of the route is the Maragatos villages, home of a distinctive regional culture with its own building style, dress patterns, petroglyphs, soup etc. The Camino took me bumpily through the centre of Castrillo de las Polvazeres, a restored such village. It was scenic and atmospheric but eerily empty of people. You could have shot an alien abduction horror movie here, the hapless cyclist unaware of the stalking aliens, looking vainly for cafes and petroglyphs to a moody soundtrack of diminished sevenths.
Having miraculously escaped being kidnapped, examined, shown round the mother ship and released to a disbelieving world, and also the threatened rain, I snapped some industrious storks on the church tower and headed off and up and up and up. It was a gradual, tedious climb: boring roads, cloud gradually closing in, no views. I went through more Maragatos villages, pleasant but unmemorable, and carried on climbing, a long job with less and less to see as I ascended.
Foncebaudon, near the summit, was formerly a thriving village, but was then abandoned as everyone went to the city for a life that wasn’t four decades of cold misery before dying in a freak farming accident.
Now however it’s a formerly abandoned village, because a few intrepid rehabiters are moving back in, and there’s even a hostel. It did still look pretty abandoned and ghostly on this misty day, though. The main street was muddy, puddled and rocky, and there was a bitter carapace of snow off the road.
I desisted from following the walkers’ Camino out the very top, as there was a massive puddle the size of a tennis court and it would be easy to get lost in the mist. So I trudged back down, rejoined the road, and carried on my meditative pushing, thinking of all the mistakes I had made in my life. By the time I got to the summit I had reached about the age of eight.
An obelisk, just visible in the low cloud, marked the summit of the road, and a few Camino cyclists were dutifully taking selfies that would to be too foggy to show anything.
After a couple of up-and-down kilometres I got to the downhill at last: 10km of freewheel, and the world suddenly appearing as we dropped under the clouds, like the reassuring emergence of the runway beneath you after a bumpy descent through clouds into Leeds-Bradford airport.
At last, some scenery from today’s efforts. Fabulous. I whizzed down through El Acebo, a picturesque balcony village of stone houses and cobbled ‘main’ (ie only) street, and had a coffee to warm my hands and stomach.
More blissful free scooting downhill led to Molinaseca, a beautiful riverside village/town with more balconies, from where it was a short hop to my destination of Ponferrada.
Tourist info was easily situated in the old town, again right on the Camino, and the pilgrim refuge was in spanking new, comfy building with the mountains of Leon as a backdrop. After shower and laundry duties it was still only fiveish. I had a quick look round old town.
The regional museum was closed for a painter’s vernissage, but I can make my own entertainment, I thought. So I got a bottle of rather nice 2007 Bierzo from the supermarket, fixed my own cheese/chorizo/olive/bread canapes back at the hostel, and talked pretentious rubbish about art to my fellow pilgrims.
Miles today: 44
Miles since Pamplona: 331