Stage 1: Azkoitia and Zumarraga

6 October

We followed the old railway line, closed in 1986 and now a tarmac path for walkers and cyclists, to Azkoitia, where the splendid station building has an extension built out of old railway sleepers.

The next bit needed excellent guidance through the streets from Imanol, as the orange arrows had been painted over by someone who thought they looked untidy.

I don’t know if the leaders had planned for us to visit the church of Santa Maria La Real, but I am glad we did.  There was an interesting art exhibit called The Modern Recycling of Holy Children: two large graffiti panels illustrating “the iconography of the sacrifice of child soldiers” including the English words ‘How long, O Lord, how long?”. Much more untidy and shocking than the odd orange arrow on a lamppost.

We left the town through an industrial estate gradually becoming rural, with cows, sheep, hens, and lots of apple trees. Still on the old railway, we passed through at least a dozen tunnels, well lit and not in the least scary, before stopping for lunch.

We reached the hotel in Zumarraga at 2 pm, but three of us decides to keep walking to the Hermitage of La Antigua, known as “the cathedral of all the hermitages.”  Not so much a hermitage, more a disused parish church and a masterpiece of woodwork. “Beams, all sorts of columns, ties, wedges, guardrails: everything forms a rustic joining of oak with its genuine carving of female heads, tools, and geometric drawings.”

Friday is church cleaning day, so we had the joy of meeting some of the team who keep the building so beautiful, including a pilgrim who has walked the Camino from Loyola to Manresa 6 times and from Manresa to Loyola once.

In spite of having to wait for the church to open, we arrived at the hotel just three hours after passing it.