Zen top-up: Villafranca to O Cebreiro

Another late start; I was in no hurry, I had booked a room in O Cebreiro, and as luck or camino magic would have it, they only had a twin so I had a spare bed for a sudden camino companion. It’s only about a 10 km walk, but most of it is very much uphill. And what an uphill! Nicole and I had both walked it before and knew what we had in store, so we had decided to take an easy day and walk up to O Cebreiro together. She wanted to get to Finisterre in the time she had left, so even if that made a very short day for her, at least we would have a whole day together before she zoomed off ahead of me again. I am glad she did, because this was the first time we had a chance to catch up properly. We took our time on the way up and worked with the hill instead of trying to beat it, like some of the other pilgrims do. You can also hire horses in Herrerias and ride up if you prefer. And the washing machine is still there, slowly decaying; one year there were kittens in it.

The first part of the walk, once you get off the tarmac road from Herrerias and onto the camino path, is like a twisting tunnel of lush green trees. We sat down for a refreshing clara in La Faba, where the eco albergue still stood blackened and hollow after catching fire on New Year’s Eve the year before. Such a shame, it was a great place to stop and get a good cup of tea and a favourite stop for many who wanted to brave the hill over two days. The bar was open though, and we met some of the same people from the dinner the night before – it felt like old friends already.

After La Faba the landscape opens up and you can marvel at how far – how high – your own little legs have carried you in the space of a short day, with the hilltops on the other side of the valley and the trail that still keeps going up, up, up. We made sure we turned around often to enjoy the views and took photos of other pilgrims – a great excuse to stop and catch my breath as well!

The next little village is La Laguna, where pilgrims stop for a well deserved cold refreshment on a hot day, or hot drink on a cold one. Sitting outside The Escuela bar watching pilgrims light up when they see the outside tables, is one of life’s great pleasures. Everyone who sits down seems to be buzzing with effort and achievement, not to mention relief that they can get off their feet for a while! We thoroughly enjoyed our drinks and a catch-up with others we had seen on the hill, and some we hadn’t, like the Irish man who spontaneously started serenading our table before he took a deep bow and carried on his merry way.

The bar has a restaurant, rooms and beds too – I stayed there during some awful weather in 2012 and got a crash course in camino kindness when the host got out in his tractor in the heavy rain and drove down the narrow track to pick up struggling and soaking wet pilgrims, took them back to the albergue and laid out spare mattresses for them in the dining room. That’s one of the reasons I always stop there and spend some money, even though I have spent the night in O Cebreiro since. It must be lovely watching the sun go down and also rise from there though. But if you arrive late in the walking day, beware of the cows quite literally coming home – all of a sudden they will come trundling down the narrow road between the bar and the outside tables, and most of the time they aren’t bothered about stupid, interchangeable walking people sitting still with a drink.

This year though, the son of the Escuela hosts and his dog were playing as the cows came. Suddenly the dog decided to do a bit of shepherding and started barking and running up to one of the cows; the cow protested loudly and started running, the dog ran after the cow barking, the boy ran after the dog shouting, and the boy’s mother ran after the boy screaming at him to stop shouting at the dog; the rest of the cows broke into a run and headed for home, and the poor tired pilgrims whose eyes had lit up at the sight of plastic tables, started worrying about the cows coming at them, at speed, horns first! Luckily the boy managed to grab the dog by the collar, the mother grabbed the boy by the arm and snatched him away from the running cows, and the farmer down the road quickly opened the gate for the cows to safely barge into the barn. Phew! Some of the pilgrims were pretty shaken and needed a stiff drink, but no persons or animals were harmed (though I have a feeling the dog and the boy both got a good telling-off).

After this short kerfuffle Nicole and I sauntered up to the Galician marker, took the photos, took photos of other people, and then almost reluctantly finished the last km or so up to O Cebreiro. It had been such a lovely walk, in such great company, that I didn’t want it to end. But end it did, on the hilltop, with the magnificent views over the valley below and the statue of the peregrina pondering her walk. As we stood there we started chatting to two lovely Canadian ladies who had just arrived to walk from O Cebreiro in the morning. One of them had done it before, and the other was on her first camino. I think we both felt a stab of first time camino envy.

But even if the walk was over, the day wasn’t, and there are few better places to spend a sunny afternoon and evening than the old stone village of O Cebreiro, with its round hobbit looking houses and wide vistas. After rehydrating with an anker bier we went for a snack which turned into a pilgrim menu lunch outside the Casa Carolo restaurant, where we could look out over the Other side of the valley for a change, and met and chatted to the Canadians again. Strange how the camino always finds you immediate friends.

After showering we discovered, chased and expelled a HUGE grasshopper from our room with much high-pitched girly screaming and panicky flapping of guidebooks, which make very useful swats. Safe from this second dramatic wildlife event of the day we dressed in our finery (the clean set of clothes) and went for a drink in the sunshine to calm our nerves. Later we went to the church to say hello to Don Elias (as you all should; he is buried in the far left hand corner of the church), but pilgrim’s mass was just starting, so we said hello to Don Elias’ bust outside instead; then we had a drink and Nicole’s first taste of Cebreiro cheese outside the Venta Celta, overlooking the valley and seeing the sun sinking in the sky.

Then for a night cap we went to another in the bar none of us had been in before, which was so busy we only just managed to squeeze in by the bar and grab some stools. And then we got pen and paper out, and with the help of Godesalco, Booking and our guidebooks, we hatched a plan for Nicole to get to Fisterra on time – basically meaning she would soon have to start doing longer stages. We would still be able to walk together or at least meet up and share rooms where possible until Portomarin, but then she would be speeding up, while I would keep sauntering along at my leisurely pace. We might still meet again at some point but that would have to be a camino magic bonus – I was just grateful I had met her at all.


2 thoughts on “Zen top-up: Villafranca to O Cebreiro

  1. Thank you for taking me back to the places I visited last spring!

    Your writing hits a sweet spot. Love reading about your adventures both here and on Instagram.

    1. Thank you, Milena! I am glad I could bring back good memories for you too – it is such fun to sit and go through the photos and think back on the good times and it’s lovely to hear that I am bringing others with me. Hope you will continue to enjoy my posts!

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