You can now read the first 15 stages of my walk, most recent first, under the menu heading Ignatian Camino. There may still be mistakes in other sections, but I think I have found out how to correct them.
I leave for Bilbao tomorrow. I have packed apart from the last-minute bits and pieces, with the rucksack weighing under 8 kg until I fill up the water bottles and a bum bag which converts into a day pack for cabin luggage.
Follow my progress in the new menu section Ignatian Camino.
This is the first walk I have led for South Bank Ramblers. I chose Thursday to avoid the crowds, and then wondered whether anyone would turn up. But we were 20, a good number, including my nephew Dan, a couple visiting from Australia, and three or four members of a Dartford group. Some had already walked Abbey Woods to Woolwich,others had grown up in Plumstead, but all discovered something new and were very appreciative. The abbey ruins were lovely in the sunshine. Unfortunately the kiosk was closed, as they were preparing for an official reception. One of the walkers asked if there was a guide book, and we were told there is an app in preparation. A great day out.
Ten years ago when I walked from Leon to Santiago, nothing was pre-booked except the flights. There were plenty of hostels and one could just turn up. This time, and on the Ignatian Camino, it’s different. Fewer places to stay, and further apart. What is more, when I started to look at booking.com I discovered several of the key towns were 100% booked on the date I wanted.
So instead of leaving everything open until I get to Spain, I have spent quite a bit of time in the last couple of days filling in the gaps where there is no pilgrim hostel available. I have even written emails in Spanish.
I had planned not to fly back until November 6, but then heard that the official launch of the new Prayer Centre is on November 2. So I should get to Barcelona the evening before and catch a lunchtime flight. This means that I can only have a completely free day if I either walk 50 km one day or do part of the route on wheels, and it looks as if the relevant bus does not run at weekends. So one week is still uncertain.
Most pilgrim hostels probably don’t take bookings but I shall have to do some telephoning on the day to get in.
So, not footloose and fancy free, this time.
Thursday 24 August
Rather than retracing my steps through the nettles, I headed along a road towards another of those hill forts. No vehicles passed me in either direction. Once on the Ridgeway, continued along the broad chalk track, stopping after two hours for water at Scutchamer Knob.
This was the only sunny day, and the only morning when I was walking southeast, into the sun.
Although there are gallops either side of Bury Down, I saw no horses. Crossed A34 through an underpass, then more downs with empty gallops. Stopped for lunch on a bridge where there was a brick wall to lean against, about two hours after the water stop. I thought I could then walk to Goring without stopping. However, a bench opposite Streatley Golf Course was irresistible. As I rested, another hiker strode past, the only one who has overtaken me in the whole three days. About 10 bikes today, four of which I saw yesterday.
I didn’t linger in Goring, but headed for the station where I caught the 15:14 train to London. It had acceleration problems, so took two hours to Paddington.
A successful walk, as far as the rucksack is concerned, but again the toes on my right foot were covered in blood. They didn’t hurt while walking, but I was glad not to put my boots on the next day.
I expected a 30 km day, though I shortened it by taking a path along an old railway line instead of going back to where I left the Ridgeway last night, and possibly by leaving it before the end of the stage to head for my accommodation.
It almost rained on Liddington Hill. After that came a longish stretch of road walking, crossing the M4, before the track headed uphill again.
Lunch at Weyland’s Smithy which is actually a long barrow over 5000 years old. Half a tin of tuna, resealable with a plastic lid, and half a tomato, putting the other half in the tin with the tuna for tomorrow, plus a cereal bar and a dried fruit bar. Then a steep climb up White Horse Hill, remembering G K Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. Couldn’t see the horse as I was above it.
On arrival at The Greyhound Inn, discovered that I had booked two rooms! I think what must have happened is that the first booking did not go through straight away so I thought I had done something wrong and tried again. They were very kind, told me to cancel the room I did not want and they would not charge me for it. Lesson: Check all details of bookings.
Tuesday 22 August
Easy walking. Once I got onto the Ridgeway, it was a broad track, albeit with puddles. I only visited the sights that were directly on the track, viz. The Sanctuary just opposite the car park where the trail officially begins, and Barbury castle, an iron age hill fort with a ditch between two circular earthworks, with spectacular views. I only met one other Ridgeway walker going in my direction, and she was going about 10 km further, to Liddington. Arrived at The Inn with the Well at 2:30, to discover it would not open until 4, sat outside and read my Kindle. Although the pub is near a busy road, the bedroom annexe was quiet. Just round the corner, a disused railway line offers a short cut to the Ridgeway for tomorrow morning.
A fast train to Swindon, whence buses were leaving to many places I knew only by name. Arrived in Avebury with an hour to spare, which gave plenty of time to explore the Henge and St James’s church. I was heading towards the B&B on a field path when I heard the church bells ringing, and hurried back in case there was evening prayer. It was lovely – no organized service, but several were praying silently, so I joined them for a good start to what may be something of a pilgrimage after all.
There are three other walkers staying at the B&B, and I’m going back to Avebury with them for dinner in the pub.
Another aspect of preparation for the Ignatian Camino is learning Spanish. I managed just a few words on a previous visit. I have tried a couple of apps: Duolingo which is free and cheerful but does not explain anything or get very far, and Babbel, which is not quite free but inexpensive and much more educational. Spanish has an enormous number of tenses. I have worked through the six modules of the Beginner’s Course, with interesting storylines including (women’s) football, speed dating, online banking, and protecting the environment. Now for the intermediate course!
I am about to set off for my second test walk on The Ridgeway, from Avebury to Goring. The first test of my new rucksack, starting in Goring and heading easy, was not altogether successful. After a good first day, when I met Kate and Tom and had dinner with them at the Fat Fox Inn in Watlington, the second day was very wet. I must have had the straps wrongly adjusted, as I was walking lopsided, but could not find a dry spot to stop and sort it out. After walking slowly and painfully by the Chequers Estate, I collapsed into a chair at a farm shop and was very grateful for a lift into Wendover where the farmer had a delivery to make. It seemed unwise to try another long walk the next day, although the sun was shining.
Still, let’s see if I can do better this time. Walking conditions on the Ridgeway are better than I expected, and the scenery is beautiful. But accommodation is expensive – almost £100 for a night’s B&B. I hope it’s cheaper in Spain on those nights when pilgrim hostels are unavailable.