Leaving León meant arriving at the end of the plains. And what better way for them to see us off than with more rain! Our first day walking we saw extraordinary black clouds building on the horizon, advancing closer and closer towards us. We made it to our hostel with 5 minutes to spare before the downpour began. The next morning the rain was out in full force.
The worst thing that can happen on the Camino (save injuries) after spending a day trudging through mud in chilly rain is arriving at an albergue with cold showers and not a lot in the way of heating. Welcome to Astorga! Instead of spending too long at the hostel, we found a bar down the road with a warm atmosphere and local wine to warm our bellies.
We knew the snow was coming before it hit us. For a day it sat on top of the hills as we walked towards them, warning us of what was to come. I was secretly hoping it would want nothing to do with us and that the hail and sleet we’d spent the afternoon watching from the comfort of a warm hostel would clear overnight, leaving us with a sunny day. We woke up to snow, but it wasn’t that bad after all. In fact it was absolutely magical walking in the snow. And when the snow turned to rain, I wanted it to turn back to snow. Snow hits you and bounces off, when rain hits you it soaks right through to the skin. Snow makes everything seem easier than rain, it’s soft and crunchy to walk on where rain is dull and makes steeps dirt paths turn to slippery mud tracks – especially difficult to descend when the snow melts creating minor rivers running down them!
Just one day after we’d been walking through snow, we were making our way through fields and past small farmhouses on our way to Cacabelos, when the clouds parted and let some sun though. Having had our hopes rise only to be quickly shattered so many times, we didn’t take any notice of it. Until we got to the albergue. This time the sun had actually come out and it wasn’t going away in a hurry. What a relief it was to feel warm sun on your skin after weeks of overcast skys complemented by wind and rain. The mood of the 100 odd pilgrims at our albergue changed completely, people were laughing and joking as they kicked off their shoes in the sun and relaxed.
The next day we woke up to even more SUN! Brilliant blue skys without a cloud to be seen. Although we wouldn’t leave Castilla y León for Galicia (the final region on the Camino) until O Cebreiro, the landscape and houses had changed remarkably since leaving Astorga. The countryside was diverse, full of hills, rivers and forests. And the grey houses with their slate roofs and stone walls looked more like something from northern Europe, not from a Mediterranean country.
We had been teased by stories of all the amazing wildflowers, butterflies and lizards that we would see on the Camino de Santiago. However, in the cold weather they had all gone back into hibernation (as we probably should have too). So it was with great delight that we saw lizards on the climb to O Cebreiro. At first it was just their tails as they scampered away upon our arrival, diving into the undergrowth. As we got higher and their shelter was reduced, we saw some amazing lizards basking in the sun. One cheeky guy even ran towards us to check us out!
O Cebreiro is famous amongst people walking the Camino de Santiago as the last enormous hill to climb before beginning the final stretch to Santiago. Although it was pretty tough climbing 700m in only 9km, it was worth it for its magnificent views. A stony hamlet on top of a very tall hill, with spectacular 360˚ views of the valleys it towers above – it was the most charming village of the Camino.
O Cebreiro is also famous amongst locals for Quiexo do Cebreiro, amazing cheese that was worth walking 620km across Spain and climbing a hill for. Served with a healthy drizzling of honey and a slice of the hearty local bread, it was irresistible! We overdosed on this cheese while watching shadows growing in the valleys below as the sun set.
What goes up must come down, and so with reluctance we left O Cebreiro, beginning our descent of the mountain range we’d climbed the day before. Rumor has it that if the weather is clear enough, you can see Santiago as you work your way down the narrow winding paths to Triacastela. We were treated to some outstanding views, but it was too hazy (still some volcanic ash we think) and we couldn’t see the end of our walk, less than 150km away.