Day 9: Najera to Granon

We’ve decided we all prefer the donativo albergues. These tend to be older, and are often run by some local Catholic church. Logrono was such an institution, and today we are heading beyond Santo Domingo, the recommended stop, to Granon, home of the oldest donativo. Apparently the same Father who ended up running Logrono started out at Granon. As I understand the story he was a parish priest who had this enormous ancient building and felt it was all a waste of space. So, he got in some mattresses and mats, and opened his doors to the passing peregrinos. He would house and feed them with no expectation of payment. Like I have said on numerous occasions, the rules of the capitalist society in which most of us live just don’t really apply here.

We arise at the Najera albergue un-bright and early. It’s been raining…

It’s dark and Najera isn’t particularly photogenic. We get out of town and into the fields.

The sun comes up, thankfully….

We roll up in Azofra and have Breakfast #1

Man holds wall up. Or possibly is praying to the Camino god of aches and pains.

And now, some cat videos…

On the way to Azofra (apologies for the rotation issue. I shall fix it when I get home)
Behind us…
..and ahead of us.

My Merrell sandals that I am accidentally wearing (see later in this post) break a lace. It takes ages to replace it…

We pass through Ciruena, through more fields…

In spite of what it looks like, this is a four way crossroads – taken with a 360deg panorama on my iPhone
Into Santo Domingo.

I wander into Santo Domingo, past the cathedral…

… and discover a hiking shop. Hmm, methinks, let’s see what they’ve got to replace my excellent (but sadly inappropriate in the Spanish heat) Salewas. A few minutes later I have a pair of outrageous Hokas. I head to the post office and send the Salewas home.

I speed on out of Santo Domingo to try and catch up with the others. I pass our Texan pals, Brian and Mike, as I rush on past.

Off to Granon…

Made it!

The hospitaleros are out to lunch, so they leave the place under the charge of Connie, a peregrino who happened to be there when they left for lunch. It’s that kind of place…

This is a very old church. There are two dorms and Llew and I end up in the upper one, right under the roof. It overlooks the kitchen.

We claim our mats, dump our stuff, and do the washing of ourselves and stuff. Diana is very impressed (?!) with the laundry facilities that are right up in the top of the church.

The drying area is a good walk down the street, in what looks like common land. It’s an honest borough!

Now that we are all clean and shiny it’s time for lunch.

More cat videos

At 5pm the hospitaleros round us up to help prepare the evening meal. I peel a huge bowl of spuds and then seem surplus to requirements. The albergue has two Spanish guitars which are miraculously in tune. I pick up one and a French chap, Guilliame, picks up the other. We are both aged hippies so know much of the same stuff. We have fun serenading the kitchen crew.

At 6:30 we take everything that needs cooking across the street to the aptly named Patiserrie Jesus bakery, where they cook it for us, whilst there’s a pilgrim mass in the church. We dutifully attend. Still clueless about what;s going on but everyone seems very happy.

Back to the albergue for dinner…

Our Brazilian hospitalero does a rap grace and we’re off…

We all help with the washing up. Then, like Logrono, the hospitaleros take those who are interested into a back room, at the top of the church, for a ‘contemplation’. This is very nicely done and rather moving. The leader goes round the gathered group and asks each of us to say something about why we are here. Or keep silent. Or sing. Or anything that makes sense to you at the time.

I start out explaining my story and struggle to keep it all together. I make it through and feel better for it. Others have strange and strong stories to tell. But, just as what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so what happens in this circle stays there.

Off to bed. A good day and very happy to be here.

Day 9: Stats

Najera to Granon

  • Steps: 40,089
  • Distance covered: 32.23 km
  • Apple Watch stats
    • 35 ‘Flights Climbed’

Day -1: Paris to SJPP

We checked out of Sacre Couer and I got my first stamp of the trip. It seems that most Catholic churches will have a ‘pilgrim’ stamp, so out it came (eventually – they struggled to find it) and I am now the proud bearer of an almost incomprehensible addition to my pilgrim passport.

Note that I’m still using the pilgrim passport from the 2019 trip. I have unfinished business and it seemed good to just carry on using the old one. More on this later…

Off to Montmattre to sort out the train. I had a message yesterday from SNCF telling me that the Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port (hereafter referred to as SJPP) had been cancelled. It looked like the best idea was to change our Paris-Bayonne tickets from 14:06 to 12:11. Off we go to the ticket office. After a bit of explaining we got the new tickets.

Now, one of the things I felt I had to do to, ahem, justify taking 30+ days off work was to be kinda-sorta available should Very Bad Things happen at work. Thus my red backpack contains a Microsoft Surface Go which I could use to access the corporate VPN and fiddle with stuff should it be required (and write this blog, come to think of it…). Trouble is I’m struggling to charge the wretched thing. I bought a 65W USB-C charge yesterday on the assumption that this would work. Sadly not. The Surface would charge for 20 mins maybe and then just stop. So, my task this morning was to find a ‘proper’ MS branded charger. I went to the Darty store in Montparnasse station. They didn’t have one, so they sent me to a FNAC store a 20 min walk away. They didn’t have one either, but they assured me that the FNAC in Gare St Lazare did, so off I went tp that on the Metro. Turns out they were lying and no charger could be found. By this time it was 11:30 and I was in a panic. I returned to Montparnasse and discovered that a very large Darty store was about 3 mins walk from where I started. They did have one. I bought it in a great hurry and slightly panicked as the sales assistant took her time extracting the charger from the protective security case. 35EUR lighter I ran, pack and all, and made the train with minutes to spare.

What with staying up all night being religious and philosophical, and then running around town for 90 mins I was completely knackered.

I got out all my electronics and charged everything I could think off and eventually had a small sleep whilst the magnificent TGV whisked me through the countryside at a fantastic pace.

We arrived in Bayonne and sought out a cash machine and some coffee and cake, like you do. The train to SJPP turned out to be completely full so an additional bus was laid on. We were about to board the bus when Jonathan, the 4th member of our group, came into view. He’d flown out that afternoon to Biarritz and was on the same train/bus as us.

Off to SJPP – the start of the trip!

It’s a lovely little town,more or less completely given over to the Camino.

The queue outside the Pilgrim Office

Hordes of peregrinos (aka pilgrims) exited the bus, and the train, which arrived at the same time, and we all raced into town to find the Pilgrim Office to pick up the pilgrim passports. Without these very important pieces of paper it isn’t possible to stay in the albergues. The albergue system of very cheap accomodation and carbohydrate-heavy meals seems to me to be a bit of a labour of love for those involved. Imposters, who try and stay at the albergues without putting in the effort are usually turned away. Note that ‘effort’ could be pretty much anything. Most folks walk, a fair number cycle. There are blokes on donkeys and people who take the bus. It all counts.

Sorting us out at the Pilgrim Office

And now the all-important first step pictures.

This is us. Step #1. Roughly 1,250,000 to go… I am simultaneously sick with worry that I won’t make it and as excited as a 10 year old at the Lego store. Bring it on…

Day -2: London to Paris

Up from my tiny non-descript hotel room where I have to sleep at an angle in order to fit in the bed (and I’m not that tall) and off to St Pancras. I meet Llew and Diana – Llew is a very old friend of mine, and Diana is a very old friend of his whom I have not met.  We exchange greetings and eat properly at Carluccios. 

We’re on the 10:26 Eurostar to Paris.  I like fast trains!  By French standards the Eurostar is a bit half hearted but it is a step above most other trains on the British networks.

We are seated awkwardly and, with the permission of the sole occupant of a nearby 4-seat table, we move and join Edi, a medical student from Manchester who is off to visit her grandmother somewhere south of Paris. She had big and noble plans – joining MSF for example – and was good company for us old folks.

Paris arrived in a flash.

We left the bags in Gare de Nord and messed around for an afternoon.  We walked down to the Tuillerie Gardens and strolled on, doing our best to flaneur to Notre Dame to see how the reconstruction was going.  I understand that it’s not going to be open in time for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, which I don’t think was a surprise to anyone familiar with the engineering challenges.  It is a most impressive project.

Notre Dame is under here somewhere

Then back to Gare de Nord (note we walked the whole day – need to get in the practice…) to pick up our bags and heat up to Montmatre, to Sacre Coeur church. 

I wanted to revisit a restaurant in Montmatre that I have visited several times. A small Italian place that has a parrot sitting by the counter.

We arrive to find that it’s under new ownership – an Egyptian chap has been in charge for a week. Llew, who use to live in Cairo, starts talking to him in Arabic and the manager is quite impressed.

One night whilst googling things to do in Paris I came upon the ‘Night Adoration’ at Sacre Coeur.  The deal is this: you commit to taking part in prayer or meditation for at least an hour at some point in the night, and you can stay in the Sacre Coeur pilgrim’s hostel for 40 euros. Well… that sounded interesting. Apparently there has been continous prayer in the Cathedral since 1885. All day, every day, apart from Good Friday. So no pressure then….

Long time readers of this blog will recall that my reasons for going on my 2017 Camino was that it sounded like a nice walk across Spain.  Which is, indeed, was.  But it was much more than that, as I completely failed to articulate in any understandable sense.  As Jen’s, my daughter, Masters thesis would put it “I had walked myself into pilgrim”. A destination and not just a noun.

And now we were going back, to retrace the Camino Frances, with me having a much better understanding of the – dare I use the word – spiritual aspects of this escapade. Why not start it with some kind of all night prayer/meditation bash at what must be one of the most spectacular churches in the world.

We arrive at 8:15pm and are checked in by a nun, who is straight out of that Audrey Hepburn film.  I’m not a Catholic so don’t understand the ins and outs of the structures but it was exactly what I’d hoped for.  A very simple white room with white sheets and blankets, no TV, no wifi, no anything. No distractions.

In an attempt to stay awake we went to the 10:30 mass.  Sadly, there was none of the magnificent chanting and what-not.  Just a sermon in French from a jolly priest.  Which didn’t do too much for keeping us awake.

We’d committed to the midnight to 1 am slot.  At midnight we wander into the Cathedral through a rather impressive side entrance.  It is a truly beautiful place.  There are, maybe, a dozen people in the cathedral and we take a seat and have a think.

As I keep saying, I am not a Catholic.  Not only am I not a Catholic, but I come from the Rangers end of Glasgow, which can best be described as vigorously anti -Catholic.  My father was one of five brothers.  Three were pastors, and my father would have been a pastor had he not had a serious stammer.  So, I am steeped in a fundamental mistrust of people from the Celtic side of the city.  And then there’s all the scandals, the child abuse, the cover-ups, the weird attitude to women.  I have a number of ex-Catholic friends for whom the mention of the church induces anger and nausea.

But, but, but…

I have none of that history. I don’t have that visceral response.  My knowledge of Catholicism is minimal.  I do not have that angry nauseus response even if I quite understand those who do.

And yet…

The Catholic church is really good at the mystery of God.  Sacre Couer is a magical place.  When you’ve more-or-less got it to yourself at midnight it’s even more magical.

I think of the Pink Floyd lyric from ‘Time’ – ‘and far away, across the fields, the tolling of the iron bell, calls the faithful to their knees to hear the softly spoken magic spells’.  I used to read that as critical, now I’m not so sure.

I shall waffle on more on this later, I feel.  Suffice to say I sat there until 1:45am and loved it. An ideal start to the trip.


It’s time to break out the rucksack that hasn’t seen serious duty since we were snowed in a few years back for a week, and I used it to get groceries from the supermarket. Happy days…

Snow isn’t going to be a thing in northern Spain in September. I’ve been watching the BBC Weather app and checking up on the temperatures in Pamplona, Leon and Santiago. Pamplona hit 40°C earlier this week. Yikes. The prediction for when we get there – possibly next weekend – is 25°C and raining. Speaking as a good Scotsman I think I’ll take the rain over the heat.

I’ve been too busy lately with work and life. Today is the first serious thought I’ve put into packing. It not yet noon and I’m quite knackered from all the ‘do I take this, do I really need that, what if??’.

On the other hand, I have done this before and I know the important things.

Because my feet hurt and my knees hurt and my teeth hurt, I became obsessed with those things and ended up packing the evening before I left.  No problem!  It’s encouraging just how quickly you recall your previous adventures and you delight in keeping it simple and throwing things out.

Monday morning, I repack my pack (just in case) and it weighs 8kg.  Result!  That’ll do.

Here’s a pic of me and my stuff.  Nothing much different from previous trips (see here and here).  Other than the small white tub of Spanish Vaseline that I bought back in 2017.  Slather that on your feet as a pre-emptive strike against blisters and all will be well.

The main hiking shoes are by Salewa and the secondary slobbing-about-the-hostel shoes are Merrell Strike (750g -superlight!).

So, all good.  I remind myself of the scene from The Jerk that I referenced last time…  ‘All I need is this remote control…’.