I’m staying in a convent in a town called Carrión. Pronounced “Carry On.” I’m sleeping in a nun’s cell. The convent is dedicated to the Virgin of Belén. “Carry On Convent”. I fully expect to be calling the mother superior “matron.” She will be played by Barbara Windsor in a skimpy surplice. I’ll be disguised as a monk for some reason and she’ll tell me I have a dirty habit. “Ooh I know,” I’ll reply and Sid James will cackle. Then I’ll keep saying “Bell-End” instead of “Belén”, Kenneth Williams will drop his trousers, we’ll all start running in and out of a corridor full of doors. In 100 years time it’ll still be playing at 4 in the morning on Dave.
I’m sure the picture above my bed was looking directly forward until I wrote that paragraph. For those if you unfamiliar with Carry On films, now you know all there is to know.
Oh but It’s been a long day on my own.
I’ve been back into France rules. Carry a lunch. Walk until you can’t walk anymore. Then do another 6km walking. Then find a bed and hope you can eat before you fall over It’s been good and flat and pretty and I’ve pulled two official stages in a day. It’s late now though and I’m feeling it. I think it’s a dinner of cheese and chorizo from my pack because everything in this town is shut on a Monday. I won’t get any food out of the nuns and there’s a curfew at the convent pretty soon.
I walked down a portion of the Canal de Castillo. It goes for 200km in total and took 70 years to engineer before being rendered obsolete almost immediately by a railway “built by the English”. They haven’t bothered maintaining the weirs so it drops more than 14 metres. So essentially now it’s lots of little canal sections at different heights. There was one boat on the bit I walked, guarded by an attack dog on a short leash.
Then an impossible multi weir waterfall.
I imagined careening down it in a narrow boat.
I’m crossing through Palencia now, and again it feels like a different country. The grape vines have died away entirely. Whatever crop they have is here is being sprayed obsessively right now. I was downwind of a load of tractors puking all manner of chemicals on the fields. The wind was fierce. I swear one guy was deliberately gassing me. I had my scarf over my face, running with my pack to get out of his cloud and he turned his tractor to flank me. That was the low point of the day, but if there are any bedbugs in the convent they’ll be dead before I’m asleep for sure. Problem is I might be too. So much for fresh country air. At least his crop won’t have ergot…
Today also involved lots of adobe houses, some whole towns made of mud.
Piles of crosses. Inevitable ancient stone churches, all of which would in isolation elicit gasps of wonder, but right now it’s like walking down Brick Lane going “Wow, a curry house!”.
It is more and more apparent how this ancient route drives the economy here. Every little village has a place that opens at 6am for coffee. Everyone wants you to stay with them if it’s after 1pm, and they’ll follow you down the street. Old men sit in cars by the side of rivers waving stamps and shouting as you pass. We all have passports to be pilgrims, you see. They allow us entry to the cheap albergues. To get your Compostela you need to have a good string of stamps proving you have walked the route. I just get one in my sleeping place and occasionally if I like a place and the stamp is free I’ll get one. It’s advisable to get 2 per day in the last 100km as lots of people just get the bus. But some pilgrims are collectors and want to catch ’em all. Anyone with a cork and some ink can charge a euro for a stamp and hang out somewhere pretty as if they made the place. Then, even if they only get half of the Korean supergroup, they’ll still make €35 for ten minutes work – and chances are they’ll get closer to €70 from that lot. I saw 8 of those guys shell out two euros each for a stamp to some lads selling instant coffee out the back of a van near Roncesvalles.
And I ended up eating in the only place in town that was open on a Monday, and ding went the microwave and out came the clam soup and I knew I shouldn’t have touched it but I ate half of it because i was hungry. And now both orifices busy for hours and I’m getting a bit feverish in my little nun’s cell with the blessed Virgin above my head as night falls. All the progress I made today… Ugh. Literally down the loo.
I hope my constitution can process this properly. I don’t want to lose too much time. Let’s see where it goes. Strapping into the rollercoaster…