CF Sola 19, Day 5: Vega de Valcarce-O Cebreiro

Finally, the day of my subida favorita – my favourite uphill. Yogi and I went for a morning coffee, and who did we bump into but Piia! Suitably refreshed we started walking towards Herrerias at the bottom of the O Cebreiro climb. Walking at different speeds we agreed to meet at the last bar, by the washing machine – this makes sense; see the photos – before heading up the hill.

When I first approached the O Cebreiro climb in 2012, I had read all sorts of scare stories about the practically insurmountable hill, the health risks to the weak and untrained, the danger that awaited any pilgrim that attempted it. In fact a lot of people advised getting a bus past it rather than take the chance. So when I came to the start of the path, I was worried. Very worried. Just not enough to get a bus. And I soon fell in love with it. You enter a tunnel of trees, rocky ground beneath your feet, a timeless place where nothing reminds you of our time – it looks like it probably did centuries ago (apart from all the other colour coded pilgrims huffing and puffing their way up). I love this hill and always take my time to enjoy it.

After a beautiful walk amongst the trees, the landscape opens up as you get to La Faba. There are two bars there, a church, two albergues, and many pilgrims choose to cut the hill in two by staying there. Piia and I walked up the hill, drifting apart and then back together as we stopped to catch our breath or take photos. At La Faba we sat down for a clara and were joined by two lovely American ladies who didn’t know what a clara was – they do now. They were part of a group with a set itinerary which would have them walk from Villafranca to O Cebreiro, but had chosen to ‘exercise alternative options’ and taxied to the bottom of the hill to enjoy the walk up. Wise choice, well worth celebrating with a cold half-way clara.

After La Faba you start seeing the view of the valley below, and I can never get enough of it. I could bring a chair and a picnic and just stay there for hours.

Also, touch wood, I have always had lovely weather on this walk, apart from the very first time, when I stopped in the albergue La Escuela in the next village, Laguna, because a storm was brewing. Soon after we booked in, the heavens opened and the hospitalero got out in his tractor to pick up drenched pilgrims from the trail and then put out mattresses for them all in the dining room after dinner. That’s one of the reasons why I always stop for a drink and sometimes a meal at La Escuela. Another is that it is perfectly placed for thirsty and breathless pilgrims!

After Laguna the hill mellows out a bit as you enter Galicia, the corner of Spain and the last of the regions pilgrims cross through on the way to Santiago or the sea. At the top of the hill you are rewarded with the age old gem of O Cebreiro village, though it can be full of tourists and souvenir tat. Try to look beyond it! The round grey stone houses and the church are all worth a marvel, and even if you don’t take part in the mass, inside the church you’ll find the grave of Don Elías Valiña Sampedro, who started reviving the camino and painted the first yellow arrow to show the way.

I like to stay in O Cebreiro so I can see it without the busy tourism trade and enjoy the stillness and the beauty of the village itself. I have my favourite bar, even my favourite table, and it always feels like coming home.

Piia was moving on to Liñares, but had lunch and a drink with me before she left. Then I bumped into the American ladies again, and before I knew it evening had crept up on me and it was time for dinner and the rest of the pilgrim menú wine, which the landlady had kindly set aside for me from lunch. I had my own room, so no curfew for me, but at ten the village was empty and I got my O Cebreiro by night photo. Then, sadly, the day was over.

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