Day 9 – St Jean-Pied-de-Porte to Burguete (via Roncesvalles)

Charlemagne only suffered one military defeat. It was in 778. I walked through the site today. The man was an extraordinary genius but he rashly decided almost offhand to raze the walls of Pamplona after a successful campaign elsewhere helping allies. Pamplona was the Basque capital and he thought they were in bed with the Moors. Perhaps it would save him some time later.

As he was returning through the passes I passed through today, the Basques fell on him. They isolated his rearguard and baggage train. Commander of the rearguard was Roland of the Breton Marches. He and his men must have fought extremely hard and well before they were massacred to a man. They lasted long enough for the king to get himself and the rest of the army out before they were chased. Nobody knows how Roland died or what happened exactly as there are no Basque records surviving. There aren’t even any records to tell us exactly who commanded them but we can speculate.

Roland and his doomed Paladins eventually became extremely potent romantic models of mortal heroism – the blueprint for the round table and all that shit. Angry Roland. Orlando Furioso. Dying to protect his king.

Walking up this morning it was almost entirely fog.


If I walked past a good bit for an ambush I didn’t see it. They would’ve made mincemeat of me, those angry Basques. Apparently there was a statue of Mary and a spectacular view and all sorts. Probably some more crosses. They like crosses. Wet fog. That’s what I saw. I was soaked to the skin by hiking pretty much entirely inside a cloud all day.

I left super early as all the internet people were making noise about how hard it would be on the mountain. It was miserable and wet and reminded me of The Isle of Man. But it was basically just a mountain pass. And we were inhaling drinking water. We walked up it. Lots of us walked up it. Lots of people walk up it every day. Especially in midsummer. People run up it. It’s a steep day’s walk with a load of exaggerating self aggrandising pimps writing about it afterwards. “Look at me I did a thing.” I was glad of the two cold Spaniards selling 2 euro instant coffee out of the back of a van. I was glad of the fact the clouds finally broke on the Spanish side and I met a horse.


I was glad to get over it. And myself in the process.

Now I’m in Spain. And I’m in a ridiculously expensive hotel room. The only option in Roncesvalles was a huge hostel, and I got an email from my agent when I was in that cloud. I had to record a self-tape audition. So all my plans of rest went out the window and I walked a bit further to Burguetz looking for a room. But I don’t speak the language. I can’t be an ally. They can charge what they want by just repeating a number. So pow, there goes €60 for bed and breakfast. That wasn’t the cheapest offer I had but the other woman was such a bitch I paid €9 not to stay at hers. It’ll be another €10 for a meal here too. That can’t continue. I’ll be home in a week broke. Still, worth it if I land the job. The eternal mantra. It’s a pretty village though, Burguetz. A river runs through it. It is contained down the Main Street on both sides of the road, in front of the houses, flowing swift.

Now almost 6 hours after I stopped walking, I’m still waiting for the fucking videos to upload. It’s nice that I can audition from Spain. But God it’s still so time consuming, and in this case (and often) it’s expensive. I had to buy a peaceful room of my own, record the other parts with gaps and then play the audio track and film myself. No way I could do that satisfactorily in a hostel where all the Americans are shouting at each other and there’s nowhere to sit and chill without someone asking you if they can put something somewhere.

I’m glad I’m in Spain. I can blitz some duolingo now to make myself a bit less shit at Spanish. I’d forgotten how much people dislike you if you can’t express basic things. And I hate being the guy who has to drag people into another language to do simple stuff. I can’t even count in Spanish today. My head is full of French, ordering and locking in the huge colloquial learns of the last week, en effet.

That and watching the upload bar on fucking WeTransfer. I’ll never get to bed at this rate. But I’m glad I’m in Spain. I’ve crossed the border. I’ve done the hardest day of walking on this trail and thought it easy, and I’ve immediately turned my focus to my craft and banged out a good self-tape (if not clean shaven – no razor. No shops.) All in all, that’s a good day.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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