Day 1: SJPP to Roncesvalles

We go that way…

It’s our first night in an albergue – and it’s a rather nice one in SJPP. After an excellent dinner in a cafe the night before and a moderately effective sleep we are up, 6:30-ish, to head on out.

Llew and I are trying to remember the rules and Diana and Jonathan are getting to grips with them for the first time.


Rule #2: Don’t get up too early. If you do, see Rule #1.

We head on out, in the dark, and hope to find an open cafe. Sadly we find none, but we do come across a nice bakery. We begin the trip with cake and a coffee.

As would be expected in August the pass is open…

…and off we go, on to the Route Napoleon. The sun comes up and the beautiful Pyrennes reveal themselves.

Let’s be blunt. Day #1 is hard. It’s probably the hardest of the entire trip. I think there are higher passes in Galicia, but by the time you get there, you are an entirely different beast from the one that exited SJPP on Day #1.

Today we climb to 1500m or so, on surpisingly nice roads, and walk into Spain.

We try to get used to our packs, with much adjustment and re-adjustment and over-analysis…

We climb, slowly.

I take a photo of my shadow. I think of the old joke – “What’s the best way to lose 10 pounds of ugly fat? Cut your head off…” – as I make a note of my belly and hope that I can reduce it in the next month.

I am very surprised and rather concerned at the hundreds of peregrinos who are on the trail. The camino infrastructure is creaking to cope with the huge post-Covid increase in numbers.

The trail is very busy. I’m worried already about the upcoming ‘bed racing’, where the peregrinos get up earlier and earlier to race each other to the next town, and the next albergue. Either that, or they pore over the guide book and try to book ahead.

This isn’t the way to do it! The ideal is to get up, walk, and find a hostel when you’re tired. Then repeat for 33 days.

Too many pilgrims means we can’t really do this. Sadly, we’ve had to book Roncesvalles for tonight. And later we try and book Zubiri and two further albergues. I don’t like this!

Anyway… time to enjoy the view…

After about 8km of huffing and puffing (Jonathan lives in Cambridge and doesn’t know what a hill is) we arrive at the tiny albergue and cafe at Orisson – one of my favorite places on earth.

They do excellent food and the view is sublime…

Tortilla, orange juice and coffee. I don’t think it ever gets better than this.

I post to the Telegram group:

I phone Jen and say “I’m in heaven, kill me now…” and I can hear her eyes roll.

But, we can’t sit here all day (WHY NOT!?) so we head off, up the hill, and take in more dramatic views and sounds.

The rather odd and somewhat spooky Virgin Mary statue with Spain in the background
Rounding up the horses
Diana’s combined laundry, bread basket and backpack
a 180 panorama
Sheep music

An enterprising gent has brought his van up to near the top of the pass and is selling sensible camino food – eggs, cheese (that he has made himself), bananas and the like.

Time to try some….

The Cheese Shop
I think that’s wrong! It’s at least 799km from here….
…but we’ll take it!

We descend on a rather muddy path through some old forests…

…and, rather worryingly, we start ascending again. I don’t remember this bit…

Llew aerates his armpits

And, finally, way on the middle distance we can nearly see Roncesvalles.

We take the easier route down, the ‘normal’ route is very wet and muddy, and we’re all old people who don’t want to fall down. Plus, we get to meet some excellent cows.

A few more corners and Roncesvalles appears…

… and we make journey’s end.

We check in – and are very glad we had booked. There are 180+ beds in here and it is full to bursting. The hospitaleros try and deal with the unfortunate peregrinos who cannot be accomodated (some pilgrims are unreasonably cross about this. I’m not entirely sure what they expect to happen…).

We eventually check-in and then I have a stupid fight with Vodafone trying to figure out how to call a local Spanish number from my UK phone in Spain. You’d think this information should be easy enough to find, but you’d be wrong. TOBI, the Vodafone virtual, ahem, “assistant” is quite concretely useless. Grrr! An hour later Llew has managed to get his phone working and we’ve got two more nights booked.

There’s an 8pm mass, and, as good Protestants (or Protestant-adjacents), we all troop off to see the Catholics do what they do best.

A well attended service in a beautiful place

We have reservations for the 8:30pm pilgrim meal. As we’re all more-or-less veggies you get what you’re given and that’s that. So a rather good veg soup was followed by a slop of pasta in something red with cheese on top.

But we didn’t care. We’d made it over the big hill and we were all quite OK.

Day 1: Stats

SJPP to Roncesvalles

  • Steps: 31,167
  • Distance covered: 23.85km
  • Apple Watch stats
    • 256 Flights climbed (whatever that means – I’d like some real numbers please….)