Walking in Spain: follow the yellow arrows on the Camino.

Did you know that 2012 is the European Year of Active Aging?  I was pleased to learn from Julia Moulden’s newsletter Pulse that this is the year the EU are encouraging those of us over 60 to “get more out of life as you grow older, not less.”

Well thank you European Union.  Now I know why I chose to walk the Camino this year.

Julia writes:

To Europeans the word active actually means active. Where Canadian officials mention walking and gardening in their ‘new vision,’ in Estonia the new Move for Health initiative encourages hiking, Nordic walking, dancing and more.

Gardening? Hey Canadian officials, you left Bingo off your list!

In honor of our leader Sue, who walked barefoot, we all took off our shoes and socks on the last night.

There are several routes to Santiago. Our group walked along the  French Way which is the most popular of the Way of St. James ancient pilgrimage routes to Santiago. It takes about a month if you walk the seven-hundred-and-fifty kilometers from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees, all the way to Santiago de Compostela.

I was pleasantly surprised that many men and women who walked the whole route were older than me, and many were walking in spite of a severe illness like cancer.

A thousand years ago a pilgrimage on the Camino was undertaken for a religious reason. These days although many people do still walk for religious reasons, they also walk in memory of a loved one, or to celebrate a “zero” birthday, or graduation, sometimes to answer a personal quest or question like “What is my life’s purpose?” or simply because they like the challenge “Can I do it?”

Andrew, a young man from England, told me he spent last year in India and after walking the Camino he was going to Machu Pichu in Peru. I hope he finds what he’s looking for before he runs out of places to visit.

I’d love to share what it’s like to walk with no agenda. The rhythm of walking three miles an hour for over seven hours each day, slows you down, takes you far from the roller-coaster race of modern life, to a kinder, simpler more accepting existence …

Perhaps by showing you a few of my photos – in the order I took them – you’ll understand what I mean ..

We began our Camino by walking from Ponferrada to Cacabelos.

We started walking in Ponferrada, a modern city with a population of 62,000, and a 12th century castle on the hill, which is all that remains of the  templar’s order:

Knight’s of the templar’s order, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, who were officially endorsed by the Catholic Church circa 1129, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades.”

But  in 1312 the Knights Templar Order was outlawed and disbanded by a church “fearful of their increasing power.”

The knight guarded our backpacks in the hotel in Ponferrada.

Unfortunately we couldn’t explore the castle, because we arrived too late the evening before, and we had to walk 15 km that first day. Next time…

There was much excitement in our group

  • when we put on our way too heavy backpacks and started walking
  • when we saw our first Camino sign marking the way
  • when the first person walking past wished us “Buen Camino,” the traditional greeting of pilgrims

Camino de Santiago

Once we were out of the town, the countryside soon became gentle rolling hills, and fields planted with old grape vines.

Gentle rolling hills

and grape vines …

Along a quiet stretch of the path this farmer had fresh cherries, and little handmade wooden figures for sale. The cherries were packed in newspaper cones, and sold for one euro each. A delicious snack.

Lynne and I bought cherries

Fields of poppies.

After a pleasant day’s walk we arrived in Cacabelos, a town of 5,000.

Sue and the Italian barefoot guy walked together into Cacabelos

It must have been an important medieval pilgrim’s stop as there were once five pilgrims hospices in the city.

narrow street in Cacabelos

We stayed at the Municipal Albergue in Cacabelos.


We stayed here

I apologize, I know it’s not easy to see the doors to the rooms in the photo (the “wall” on the right) as it was overcast that day, and I forgot to go outside and take a photo of the rooms with the doors open…

my “room”

The rooms were tiny – almost like a wall of garden sheds – in a semi-circle around the Church courtyard.

Each tiny “room” had two little narrow beds on a spotless tile floor,  a tiny table with a light and a little “closet-like space” with just enough space for a backpack.


The next morning?

More gorgeous views of rolling hills, vineyards, poppies …

When we entered Villafranca del Bierzo (another town with a population of 5,000) the path took us past the fifteenth century Castillo Palacio de los Marqueses.

The path into Villafranca del Bierzo led us past the castle…

down this street…

… to a busy market day in the the town.

Cruz Roja Espanola

After a delicious lunch of fresh sardines (which I will share in a future post), and a few more hours of easy walking, we reached Trabadelo, that night’s rest stop.


A farm next to the path.

A row of old buildings.


Next morning I was pleasantly surprised to see muesli and organic fair trade coffee on the menu at the little bar down the road.

We stayed here the third night

I felt encouraged that the good breakfast would help me face the hard walk up to O’Cebreiro (which I mentioned in my previous post).

The path out of Trabadelo led us past the Rio Pereje.

Next morning the path took us past this river

moss covered stairs in a house built in the middle ages

This man invited us into his workshop to show us the beautiful walking sticks he carves.

One of the beautiful walking sticks carved by this man

Writing his address for us to send the pictures.

After walking for several hours by the river and through several ancient hamlets where cows and sheep welcomed us, I thought I’d been mistaken about the hard climb to  O’Cebreiro…



a village through the trees

another village

A bridge across the river

Almost without any warning the path became steep and rocky, and the climb I’d dreaded proved to be the most difficult one I’ve ever done.

There wasn’t a gentle gradient –  the path suddenly became steep and rocky

If you ever get to O’Cebreiro I hope you’re fortunate to go on a fog-free day so you can see the magnificent views.

the view climbing up to O’ Cebreiro

O’Cebreiro still looks like a medieval village.

The building (below)  is a “Palloza” a “traditional dry-stone thatched house, circular or oval, and about ten or twenty meters in diameter, which were built to withstand the severe winter weather in O’Cebreiro.



When you walk along the Camino, scallop shells embedded in the walkways, and on the mileage markers point the way, but the yellow arrows which are painted everywhere – on the road, the path, rocks or the sides of a house or barn – are really what you follow.

I walked alone for part of every day and was grateful and reassured when I’d see the flashes of yellow (sometimes so old I could barely make them out)  but which all felt like old friends there to guide me.

I use this opportunity to my give personal and grateful thanks to Don Elias Valina Sampedro (1929-1989) a parish priest and scholar living in O’Cebreiro. He devoted his life to the resurrection and promotion of the Camino,  and it was his idea to mark the route with the yellow arrows.

Bust of Don Elias Valina Sampedro in the churchyard at O’Cebreiro

When Don Elias first arrived in O’Cebreiro in 1959, the church, ancient inn and pilgrim hospital were badly neglected ruins which  took many years and much hard work to restore, and in 1972 the village of O’ Cebreiro was declared an Historical Monument..

In 1967 at the time of Don Elias‘s doctoral thesis on “The Road of St James: A Historical and Legal Study,” there was only a remote memory of the Jacobean pilgrimage, and no clearly marked path.

In 1972 only 6 pilgrims were awarded the Compostela. These days hundreds – and possibly thousands in the summer – of Compostelas are awarded every day. When I was there earlier this month the office in Santiago stayed open until 10 pm every night.

I must share this lovely story about Don Sampedro:

One day in 1982, with fears of terrorism rife, the sight of yellow arrows painted on trees along a Pyrenean road aroused the suspicion of the Guardia Civil. Following the trail, they came upon a battered white van. A small, smiling man got out. When prompted, he opened the van’s back doors to reveal tins of bright yellow paint and a wet paintbrush.

“Identification!” barked the Guardia.
“I’m Don Elías Valiña Sampedro, parish priest of O Cebreiro in Galicia.”
“And what are you doing with all this?”
“Preparing a great invasion…”

Looking back down the path at Alto do Poio (4,380 feet)

More beautiful views greeted us on day four. I took the above photo at Alto do Poio after the short, but steep climb to the highest spot in Galicia (4,380 feet or 1,335 meters).


the view

It was early in the afternoon as Lynne and I took a moment to rest and admire the view above, that I had another one of those incredible experiences one has on the Camino, when words – words that I hadn’t planned to say but had haunted me since childhood – poured out of my mouth (almost as if I’d vomited them out), and once I’d thrown them away to the wind, I was free of the pain they’d caused.

Thank you Lynne.


Pilgrims leave pebbles “for wishes” creating cairns like this all along the Camino

I wonder whether its easier to understand what I’m trying to share by watching the slide show. The 49 pictures are all in the order I took them (as you can see from the numbers) except for a few at the end.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My previous posts on The Camino:

About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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48 Responses to Walking in Spain: follow the yellow arrows on the Camino.

  1. lynn says:

    Hey Rosie!
    Wonderful post! For a few envious moments, I wished that I was that Lynne with you on this great journey! In the mean time I continue to walk my hour as often as possible……keep posting! Much love.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Lynn,
      Believe me there were many times that I wished Lynne was Lynn. Perhaps that’s why I felt so close to her… Happy to know you enjoyed the post. It was so long I thought it would scare folks away!

  2. What a beautiful recounting of this amazing trip!! I have never heard of the Camino and love all your photos! (specially all your cute feet although I can’t imagine why Sue walked barefoot??) You did such a great job of combining history with the physical attraction of the surroundings and I even loved seeing your spartan sleeping quarters. You ARE a pilgrim and a pioneer … I am SO impressed that you completed this challenging journey!!! xooxxo b

    • dearrosie says:

      Hello Betty,
      It gives me much pleasure to know that you enjoyed sharing my memories of that incredible time and I appreciate knowing that you enjoyed the historical background. I haven’t explained that though walking the Camino was something everyone knew about in the Middle Ages only men walked it as it was dangerous. They had to fight off bandits and wild dogs and walked with a “stick” to protect them. I don’t know when women were “permitted” to walk. I think a royal princess was the first female…

    • Sue Kenney says:

      Betty, it’s Sue, the barefoot pilgrim. I started walking barefoot in August of last year and it has had a huge impact on my life. I am happier, lighter, more balanced, flexible, stronger, connected to Mother Earth and all that is. I have a new sensory perception of myself thanks to the nerve endings on the bottom of my feet that can sense my surroundings. Hey, we only started wearing shoes/boots regularily about 150 years ago. It’s relatively new. It doesn’t hurt me, except when there was a lot of gravel and then I wore minimalist shoes. Since it was my 9th Camino, I thought it was time to do it like the pilgrims of the past. 🙂

      • dearrosie says:

        Hi Sue,
        I know you were replying to Betty but I wanted to thank you for explaining why you walked barefoot, because I’m sure many others were wondering “why?”

  3. magsx2 says:

    What amazing things you saw on this journey, the beautiful villages with their old buildings, lovely streams, and the list goes on, just magnificent. I thought the little room you had was rather good, it looks very clean and even had a light, I was actually surprised.

    The path does look very hard on the steep climb, very rough going by the photo. All the photos look great, you did a wonderful job putting these in order for us to see how your journey was done, and I am looking forward to hearing more and of course seeing more photos. 🙂

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Mags,
      Walking the Camino meant so much more than just putting one foot in front of the other and getting to the destination at the end of the day. Each path, each tree, each river, each old village I walked past offered me something beautiful and to be treasured.

      The little “garden-shed space” we slept in the first night was the only refugio where we didn’t have to sleep in bunk beds, and where we had a bedside table AND a light! Although there were walls between the beds they didn’t go all the way up to the roof so any snoring carried right through the building.

      I placed the photos in the order I took them in the hope that it would give one an idea of what you see when you walk. I’m so glad to know you appreciated it.

      Thank you so much for your all your thoughtful comments Mags. It means a lot to me to know that you’re enjoying my posts.

  4. shoreacres says:

    First, a word on behalf of gardening. Haul around enough bags of landscape soil, compost and mulch, spend enough hours trimming hedges and trees and transplant enough baby plants, and you’ll be heading off for a hike to relax!

    The photos really are marvelous. I was surprised by the cherries, and delighted by the hidden-away little streets. I must say, despite the layers of meaning the experience surely had for everyone, I was just tickled beyond belief by this: Andrew, a young man from England, told me he spent last year in India and after walking the Camino he was going to Machu Pichu in Peru. I hope he finds what he’s looking for before he runs out of places to visit.

    It was such a reminder of my own youth, and some of the friends of my youth – and of a few current acquaintances who still haven’t found what they’re looking for.

    Thanks so much for being willing to share all this with us in detail!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hello Linda,
      When I read “gardening” I didn’t think the Canadian officials were thinking of sending their senior citizens to do that heavy kind of landscaping and hedge trimming (I know how backbreaking it can be….!). I think they meant putting soil in pots and planting geraniums. Isn’t that what old ladies are meant to be doing? Not traipsing around Spain?

      The cherries were a lovely tasty surprise to me too.

      I’m “muy feliz” to know you’re enjoying my photos (and personal stories). When you walk along the Camino I would hope you’re not sleep-walking so you can appreciate the beauty of each path, each tree, each river, each old village…

      The U2 song is perfect. Oh man that poor boy Andrew…!

  5. Sybil says:

    Wonderful post. I’m surprised by the size of the “trunks” on the grape vines.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Sybil
      I too was surprised by the size of the trunks. In the past few years we’ve been to wine areas in California, Italy and South Africa but I’ve never seen such huge old vines.

  6. E fullstop says:

    How beautiful and inspiring, Ro! I’m really enjoying these peregrina posts.

    Methinks you’ve finally found the fountain of youth. While the rest of us age sitting in cars or looking at computer screens, the pilgrims on the camino get a little younger with each step while connecting with the past.

    Looking forward to the next post!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi e fullstop,
      Thank you for allowing me to inspire you with the beauty from my Camino.

      Ah you mention sitting in cars? I wish I didn’t have to come to a city where we sit in cars. The commute to work has been very nasty the past couple of weeks. I was half an hour late my first day back.

  7. Mahalia says:

    What a beautiful adventure you had! So happy that you got to fulfil this dream, and meet the challenge of walking the camino. And, so glad you are sharing some of your adventure with us in photos. Next time, let’s walk together!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Mahalia,
      Walking the Camino was as you say “a beautiful adventure” and I’m happy to know you’re enjoying reading about it. Thank you for taking the time to leave me a comment.

      That I was able to follow my dream though I’m not thirty anymore, I hope will inspire others not to give up on their dreams.

      It would be my pleasure to walk the Camino with you. What a lovely idea 🙂

  8. Kaisa Larsson says:

    Hi Rosie, I so enjoy reading about your Camino. It keeps my dream alive! Thanks for the encouragement…..
    Out of all the things you packed for the trip, what was most important for you?
    Look forward to hearing from you again.
    Bye for now

    • dearrosie says:

      Hello Kaisa
      Nice to welcome you back. I’m so glad to know that you’re keeping your dream alive by reading my adventures. I hope you don’t mind if I repeat my reply:
      “that I was able to follow my dream though I’m not thirty anymore, I hope will inspire others not to give up on their dreams.”

      Your question:
      “Out of all the things you packed for the trip, what was most important for you?”
      intrigued me. I spent some time thinking about it and my obvious answer is my camera . Why? Even though it was “heavy” and weight was an important consideration I’ve never forgotten the advice I learned as a beginning writer: “show, don’t tell”.

      How could I share my story without showing you some of the hundreds of photos I took?

  9. souldipper says:

    Rosie what an incredible experience. I’m so glad you spat those words out. I hope the empty space was immediately filled with all the love you can hold. Thank you for this post…what a great view of a hiking experience I’d love to have shared with you.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hello Amy,
      It was an incredible experience to spit out those words, and as wind blew away both the words and the water running down my cheeks, the empty space was filled with gratitude, love and happiness. I look at the picture of that beautiful view and I marvel how it happened…

  10. I am so impressed with you! It took a lot of gumption to travel this historic road. You have wonderful photos to tell your story well. This accomplishment will keep you young at heart for years and years to come, Rosie! And the scenery and landscape is just breathtaking! Keep sharing! Debra

    • dearrosie says:

      I love the enthusiasm in your response Debra. It was an unbelievable adventure that as you expressed so well, will keep me young at heart for years to come. Even just thinking about what I did makes me sit up with a straight back 🙂 I thought we’d be walking through beautiful landscapes, l but didn’t imagine it to be as scenic as it was, and in these posts I’ve barely shown you how beautiful …

  11. Denzil says:

    Hey Rosie this walk inspires me and fills me with (more) respect for you.
    I want to experience this and I am putting it on my list. Thanks for sharing and making it accessable. i hadent even heard of it before!!!!! so dankie dankie.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hey Denzil,
      It’s always a pleasure to welcome you back here. Thank you for your comment.

      I’m happy to know that after reading my story about this ancient pilgrimage route you feel inspired to lace up your boots and go walk the Camino. It’s a challenge but I’m sure you’d love it.

  12. Wow! Such an exciting adventure. I felt like I was there myself, walking the narrow road, eating cherries, admiring the landscape, experiencing the rich, vibrant culture. Beautiful images that makes us appreciate life and its surprises. Thanks . have a great weekend.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hello IT,
      It was an exciting adventure. I’m glad you popped in so I could share it with you.

      Oh boy I wouldn’t mind having one of the cherries now… even a bite of one would take me right back there…

      Hope you also have a great weekend.

  13. Kathy says:

    Loving this post. I enjoy your description of walking without an agenda. Years ago I attended a summer retreat out in Montana and we were advised to let our feet lead us where they wanted to go. Very different than the mind doing the instructing. Your photos are lovely, Rosie. What a pilgrimage!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Kathy,
      Your summer retreat must’ve been so healthy and fun. I don’t think I’ve ever allowed my feet to take me where they wanted to go. You can only do something like that when you don’t have to get to a destination at the end of each day.
      Thank you for your comment and your interest in my pilgrimage.

  14. Emily says:

    Roseanne, what an amazing journey! JB kept me updated as best he could and I was thinking of you the entire time. I’m so happy to read that it was challenging, beautiful and fulfilling. Such a wonderful accomplishment!!!!! You’ve made me want to do the same thing. Miss you lots and hope that the hiking is good in sunny California!!

    • dearrosie says:

      Dear Emily,
      What a lovely surprise to receive your comment. Welcome to my humble home. I know you’re “très occupée” with your work and travels in England and it gives me much pleasure to learn you thought of me, and enjoyed hearing about my Camino via JB. (Pleased to know he kept you updated). It was as you said “challenging, beautiful and fulfilling” and an experience I will cherish the rest of my life.

      I’d love to hear about your travels. How much longer will you remain in England?

      If you want to walk the Camino you’ll do it. Look how you followed your dream to Paris last year, and now England…?

      much love to you!

  15. What an extraordinary pilgrimage you made, Rosie! It was wonderful reading about your journey, and seeing your photos of the scenery, landmarks, signs, animals and interesting people you noticed along the way. I especially am drawn to the moss covered stairs in the house built in the middle ages.

    It’s been said that what is good for the body is good for the mind, and vice versa, and it seems you came home refreshed physically, emotionally and spiritually. There truly are sacred places on our earth. Thank you for sharing so much about this one with us.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Barbara,
      I’m happy to know you enjoyed seeing my pictures and reading about my journey. I did come home, as you described so perfectly, “refreshed physically, emotionally and spiritually” To be able to walk the Camino was a journey I dreamed of doing for so long, and it didn’t disappoint…

      When I saw those moss covered stairs I wished I were a better photographer, because I really wanted to “capture” something of it’s history. Perhaps I succeeded because you noticed it. Many thanks for your comment.

  16. aFrankAngle says:

    Sounds like a wonderful experience Rosie. Interestingly, we just watched a Rick Steves episode that featuring this walk! That’s a lot of miles!!!

  17. dearrosie says:

    I think the problem is we’re speed reading trying to catch up with all the posts we have to read, that it becomes a big blur in the end. At least you remembered you’d seen it.

    Good shoes are the most important item. And you must go to a place like REI where you can return them if they don’t fit. I had to try about half a dozen pairs before I found the one that fit me.

  18. munchow says:

    It looks like you have had a fantastic trip along the Camino, and it shows in the pictures. I like them, and more so I like the ones that somehow surprise me. Like the one of the feet, which is really delightful. I have always wanted to walk the Camino to Santiago de Compostela and your pictures increases my desire.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Otto,
      You’re so kind, your comments are always so encouraging. I don’t think you’d be sorry if you walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. It’s a challenge – physically, mentally and emotionally but you get back so much when you push yourself out of your comfort zone.

  19. This post will surely inspire others to put this as a part of their ‘to do’ list! Thank you for the time invested to create this post! Z

    • dearrosie says:

      Ola z
      I’m delighted to hear that you feel inspired to walk the Camino after reading my post. I hope you do.
      As a blogger you know how much time it takes to do a post like this one with so many photos. I thank you for mentioning it.

      • Ever since I read Coelho’s story, I’ve been intrigued.
        Now yours makes it twice as intriguing! Z

      • dearrosie says:

        I also read Paulo Coelho’s book “The Pilgrimage” before I went. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to read a book on the Camino.

        I’m not sure whether you read my original post – I waited a long time to walk the Camino. I wanted to go there almost twenty years ago, but I never gave up my dream.

  20. bronxboy55 says:

    I’m so glad you got to be part of that “great invasion,” Rosie, and that you shared it with all of us. This is a beautiful post, and truly reflects what must have been a life-changing experience for you.

    • dearrosie says:

      I’m sure it must feel like a “great invasion” to be at the square in front of the Cathedral in Santiago on July 25 because that’s the day the Spanish celebrate the life and deeds of Saint James (i.e Santiago) who was one of Jesus’ first disciples.

  21. Pingback: Walking in Spain: “I just had to do it” | Wondering Rose

  22. Sartenada says:

    How interesting post and lovely photos. We have been thinking to walk the Camino de Santiago, but it did not realize yet.

  23. Pingback: Santiago de Compostela in Southern California | Wondering Rose

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