Day 2: Roncesvalles to Akerreta – approx 25 km.
After the challenge of the first day, and looking forward to a good night’s rest, the Hostel at Roncesvalles was a disappointment. Wasn’t particularly hospitable, didn’t have a great night’s sleep (but I think I was over tired – not their fault), and if you like your breakfast to be a jug of cold coffee, day old bread toasted, and a post-it note to indicate which separate table you should sit at, then this hotel is for you. I spoke to a hotelier further along and was told that La Posada had changed hands 2 years previously and hadn’t had a good review since. Given there are only 3 places to stay in a village of 30 people I guess they don’t have to try hard. I think a 10 Euro cubicle in the monastery would have been the better option.
I was still a stiff and tired from the previous day but made good time along mostly forest path ways. Traversed the witches forest safely until I reached the White Cross which warded them off and reached the next village ( where apparently 9 ‘witches’ were burnt at the stake – not a good time perhaps for women to stand up for themselves). Sometimes it was a little like walking through a forest in a Harry Potter novel. At times you were just walking through the fallen leaves on the path which covered your boots.
The end of this stage is a 3.5 kilometre steep downhill to the town of Zubiri. This gives an impression of a further pathway meandering downhill to the town. Nothing could be further from the truth. This was 3.5 kilometres of a gully carving its way through sedimentary rock and completely covered in loose rocks of 3, 4, 5 or more centimetres in all shapes and sizes. we are not talking gravel here. And the sediments rose vertically through the pathway. This descent did me more damage than the first day. Again, if it had been wet I am not sure that I coulod have done it. I have been lucky with the weather so far – no rain, it starts off at around 6C and rises to 16-17C – ideal for walking.
It was complete concentration, using the walking poles for balance and support out downhill in front of you, and picking you your next footholds never looking more than a couple of metres in front of you. With the shards sticking out, it became like picking your way along the spine of a dragon and keeping between the vertical scales. Hard work.
This is not to recommended if you have a dodgy knee and I suffered the consequences later.
But the Hotel Akerreta was lovely – an old residence restored, and all beams and stone. It was featured in the Martin Sheen movie ‘The Way’. And a beautiful meal of slow cooked Navarran beef stew before I slept for 10 hours straight. I felt physically drained by the first two days but content.
Day 3: Akerrita to Pamplona – 15 km.
So, my knee is swollen and quite sore but only 15 kilometres to Pamplona and a rest day. Even after a good sleep and breakfast I was still feeling tired and was glad that this day was mostly flat and tracing the banks of the river that flows down to Pamplona. Only a couple of hills and mostly nice shady walks through the beech forests or the tidy little villages. I left at 9am and arrived only a little after lunch.
And eventually you climb a path and see the city of Pamplona in the distance. Then it’s just a matter of following the path through the outskirts, crossing over first the old Roman bridge and then the 13th Century Magdalena Bridge and climbing through the enormous ramparts, crossing the still functioning drawbridge and checking in.
I feel like I am back in civilisation – my wi-fi automatically connected as I walked into the hotel …. 2 nights here, I really need this rest day.
As a bonus, Roger and the hot Brazilian had stayed an extra night in Pamplona, and I met them for coffee in the main plaza before they were off to catch their bus to Bilbao. I could get used to this cosmopolitan man-of-the-world lifestyle.
Off to Puente de La Reina tomorrow morning. We will see how the knee holds up. Really glad I stopped for a day. It’s a little strange – you feel as though you should be pushing on, and I got a bit bored; but you also know you are doing the right thing by your body.