July 17, 2008

Day 47: 30 May- Orisson (France) to Roncesvalles (Spain)

I could scarcely believe my good fortune when a second day dawned clear over the Pyrenees. These were perfect conditions for climbing, with enough cloud to prevent the day becoming too hot, but still allowing gorgeous views.
Near the statue of the Virgin of Orisson there were huge vultures sitting lower on the same outcrop of rock. I regarded them for a while, but was too slow to get my camera out! When they rose and took flight, I was just astounded by their size and wing span.
There were more farm animals to encounter on the slopes,
including these sheep, and also some horses. The climb kept on going upwards, though the gradient became less steep as we got higher. Finally it came time to leave Napoleon's road behind, and head onto the mountain slopes.
Lyne and Denis had carried some special crosses from home to place on this cross, and they waited for me here.
Also here was Shinechi, a Japanese man we were to meet regularly along the way to Santiago.
I was glad to be finally climbing 'off road', though I knew we were so fortunate with the weather. At these heights I have seen many photos where people were surrounded by mist. And others have encountered alpine conditions here, that for a few, sadly, have claimed their lives.
Eventually, I realised that I was crossing into Spain. No great fanfare, just a stone route marker...
There were some muddy sections up higher, formed by leaves that lay here thickly on the ground. And the mud was quite the blackest I met anywhere, which I guessed explained why the slugs were so black! Washing my socks this evening was also to be a very 'black' experience!!!

I loved this section of the climb- quite alpine, and this area would be covered in snow all winter I would imagine. I was glad to know that Lyne and Denis were never far away, keeping an eye on my progress over the mountain so I wasn't tackling it alone.
Denis' sports watch - a gift for the trip from his children- allowed us to know when we had reached about 1400m, near the maximum height for this climb, and here there was a lunch stop to celebrate. It was starting to get cloudier and cooler by now on the top of the mountain pass though, and I wasn't sure whether we would still be dry when we reached Roncesvalles.If you look very hard, you can see a slight whitey area down in the valley below: those are the roofs and buildings of Roncesvalles. (And slightly further along, the buildings of Burguete.)
When I reached the place for the descent to begin, I took the road option, recommended on the info given by the pilgrim's office in SJPP. I was to hear later how steep and tricky the forest option was, and was glad I had taken the road route.

We arrived before 13.30, and had time to register for a bed for the night at the pilgrim's office before it closed for lunch and siesta until 4pm. We were on "Spanish" time now, with later lunches than what we had become used to in France...
At the albergue (run by the Collegiate church), Dutch hospitaleros made everyone welcome on arrival, with a calm, friendly manner.
We reserved for dinner, then relaxed until a guided tour of the village and museum. Later there was a special pilgrim Mass and blessing.
I found it slightly overawing to be in a huge dormitory, along with so many of so many nationalities. But the building was beautiful. And at 9.45pm the hospitaleros reduced the lighting and started playing some calming music...until lights off.


  1. Hello Margaret! I am leaving again to finish the Camino from Pamplona to Santiago next week, although I won't start walking until September 14. It occurred to me I hadn't finished reading your blog, so now I'm trying to catch up. In this section I can see exactly where we had to turn back in the snow, where the trail leaves the road. We were so close, alas! I am impressed all over again with the quality of your photos and your lovely writing. Thank you, again. It was your blog above all that convinced me I could walk the Via Podiensis. And what a marvelous experience it was!

  2. Yes, I have read other people's accounts where they have been forced to turn back at the same point. It looks more like the sort of land that could be covered with snow for weeks in winter. I realise how lucky we were with two days of perfect walking weather- no rain or mist- not too hot and not windy. We were very fortunate!

  3. Hi Margaret,
    I've booked my tickets to the Uk, and will begin my 3rd Camino in April 2013. this time, from Le Puy, as you did. I'm very excited, but also nervous, hoping my fitness will be good enough! Your blog is really inspirational, and I've read and reread bits of it over and over again. I too am hooked on this journey, although after the first one in 2008 I wondered why anyone ever did it more than once, by 2010 I was back, this time walking from Oporto. Thanks again for your fantastic photos and encouraging words. Alison, Hastings, NZ

  4. Hi Alison, I know the time will go around very quickly until May- trying to build up that fitness! Am glad you have found the blog useful. I re-walked the Le Puy-Conques section earlier this year and loved it even more than the first time. What I found interesting was that the weather was different, and how much my first-time impressions were related to the weather I experienced.