The sun is hiding behind the clouds, but you will see it break through as soon as you cross the bridge in Itero de Vega and enter the next province – Palencia. Following the yellow way-markings leave Hontanas. A field track runs parallel to the local road to Castrojeriz marked as the BU-P-4013. The Camino climbs up for a few minutes on the hillside. The trail is muddy; it is raining, and the wind is blowing into your face. It is really cool, just a bit remote – hills to your left, hills to your right, in front of you, behind you, no people, no animals, no plants; at the most if you are lucky you might be bitten on the arm by a mosquito.
After about four kilometres the track turns into the BU-P-4013 and passes
Convento de San Anton (at 5.50 km), now impressive ruins of a monastery that used to care for those suffering from St Anthony’s fire. This horrible medieval illness decimated the European population between the 9th and 14th centuries. It manifested as painful seizures, hallucinations and gangrene. People suffering from St Anthony’s fire lost limbs and lived in everlasting physical and mental pain. The origin of the illness was not found until the 17th century when a French doctor rightly identified St Anthony’s fire as ergot poisoning. Ergot is a fungus that can infect and grow in grains. If the grains are not separated from the ergot, then bread made from them will be a source of illness. In the Middle Ages, people didn’t see a reason to purify cereal, especially in poorer parts of Europe. As a consequence, the outbreak of the illness killed whole villages and towns.
In the 11th century on the initiative of a French nobleman, the Pope set up an Order whose mission was to look after those suffering from ergot poisoning. The Frenchman did this to give his thanksgiving to St Anthony the Great for the miraculous cure of his son. The new Order known as the Hospital Brothers of Saint Anthony was very successful in bringing the sick back to health, probably because they fed them well with ergot-free products. When the source of St Anthony’s fire was finally found, and the illness vanished, the Order was dissolved.
The Convento de San Anton you are travelling past was one of 370 hospitals owned by the Order. It was founded in the 12th century but today’s ruins are mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries. A porch protects the main portal where in the past monks left food for pilgrims who arrived too late to be let inside. At present, the local road runs under the porch. There is a basic albergue in the ruins of the monastery:
Hospital de Peregrinos de San Antón, opens from May to September, 12 beds, no electricity, no running water, shared dinner, donation
Continue cycling along the BU-P-4013 and in less than 4 kilometres enter Castrojeriz (790m; 7.80 km→12 km to Itero de la Vega)
Castrojeriz is a charming town founded by the Celtiberians and later seized by the Romans who built a causeway to Galicia there. I guess you won’t be surprised to find that the road still exists. With its five churches and seven hospices for pilgrims, Castrojeritz was an important stop on the way to Santiago in the Middle Ages. Today the medieval ruins of the castle overlook the town.
A former collegiate church, Santa Maria de la Manzano houses the grave of Queen Eleanor of Castile, imprisoned and killed in Castrojeriz castle in the 14th century. However, the temple’s treasure is a stone polychrome statue of Mary, praised in the famous 13th century songs written by King Alfonso X (1 Euro; recommended). While in town you can also visit the Gothic church and cloister of San Juan, paying attention to the fine 16th century Flemish altar with the Mass of San Gregorio located in one of the chapels. The church originally belonged to the Knights Templars.
If you would like to stay in Castrojeriz you can choose between four albergues. In the past I stayed twice in Casa Nostra, run by a skinny Spaniard who ingeniously converted an old house into an albergue. The Hospitaliero cared well for pilgrims but sometimes matters got out of hand (busy albergue, pilgrims, more pilgrims, walking pilgrims, cycling pilgrims, pilgrims on horses), so he might have just lost a sock from my or friend’s laundry; totally understandable. Anyway, the sock was somewhere and was found eventually. Sadly today “Casa Nostra” doesn’t have good reviews.
I list the albergues in the order you’ll pass them:
Camping Camino de Santiago, 35 beds (bungalows), opens from 15 March to 15 November, 6 Euros
Albergue Ultreia (the albergue with a winery), 34 beds, opens from the end of March to the end of October, heating, 10 Euros
Albergue A Cien Leguas, 18 beds, open all year round, heating, 10 Euros
Albergue Casa Nostra, 26 beds, opens from March to mid-November, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros
Albergue de San Esteban (behind Plaza Mayor, converted 13th-century church), 30 beds, open all year round, heating, donation
Refugio Tradicional de San Juan (pass Plaza Mayor, then the Church of San Juan and go down the steep cobbled street and immediately turn left, the albergue is at number 7 C/Cordon) 28 beds, opens from the beginning of April to the end of October, breakfast, donation
Albergue Rosalia (the same street at number 2), from the beginning of March until the end of October, 32 beds, heating, kitchen, bike workshop, 10 Euros
The road from Castrojeriz to Itero de la Vega is pretty amazing. First, on leaving the town, you will cross a Roman road built on arches. Then you have to negotiate a steep elevation to get to the top of the hill. From then on you will cycle on the almost flat terrain. Again, many kilometres with no people, no buildings, just open space and sky stretching out and above your head. The landscape is a bit surrealistic, that’s why an event one late autumn of 2010 blended in with the surroundings – cycling I saw a group of 20 smiling Spaniards, non-pilgrims, who all of the sudden formed into two rows and while I was passing crossed wooden sticks above my head. You know, one of those close encounters of the third kind.
After about 9 kilometres of cycling in this completely remote area, you pass a picnic place and following the Camino way-marking, switch to the local tarmac road and then again to a field track (if however, you follow the local road for one kilometre further you will get to Itero del Castillo, a small town that is not on the Camino but would like to be so it invested in an albergue praised by the pilgrims for its hospitality (Albergue de Itero del Castillo, 12 beds, open all year round, heating, shared dinner, 10 Euros).
Shortly on the field track, you will pass hostel for pilgrims established in the historic 12th-century Hospice of San Nicolas. This albergue without electricity is run by Italians and again praised by pilgrims for its extraordinary hospitality and atmosphere. You can stay here or just drop in for a drink:
Albergue San Nicolas, 12 beds, opens from June to September, shared dinner, no designated space for bikes, donation
Now you will cross the bridge over the river Pisuerga whose water-according to the 12th-century guidebook- is “sweet and good for drinking”. The bridge is actually a border between two Castile and Leon provinces – Burgos and Palencia. The Camino turns right and a few minutes later you enter Itero de la Vega (769m; 19.80 km→8 km to Boadilla del Camino), a small town with a big bar that serves freshly made sandwiches and an albergue organized in the old farm school:
Albergue municipal, 12 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros
Albergue La Mochila, 28 beds, open all year round, heating, 6-8 Euros
Albergue Hogar del Peregrino, 8 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 12 Euros
The landscape between Itero de la Vega and Boadilla del Camino is almost the same as before – beautiful and austere. Eight kilometres of cycling on a flattish and wide sandy- stony track and you get to Boadilla del Camino (784m; 27.80 km→6.40 km to Fromista).
The first thing you will see there is Fuente Viejo, a well with a wheel that provides very tasty water. However, the pride and joy of the town is the Gothic gibbet funded by the inhabitants in the 15th century as a symbol of autonomy and independence from the then lord of Castrojeritz, given to the town by the King. The gibbet is over 12 meters high and is richly decorated with scallops, as well animal and floral motives. It is a well-known fact that it is much nicer to be hanged on pretty gallows.
There are three albergues in Boadilla del Camino, the last one you pass has a huge garden and a small swimming pool:
Albergue de Boadilla del Camino, 12 beds, open all year round, heating, no designated space for bikes, 5 Euros
Albergue Putzu, 16 beds, open all year round except for Christmas, heating, a kitchen, 7 Euros
Albergue En el Camino, 48 beds, opens from mid-March until 1st of November, heating, 7 Euros
Outside Boadilla del Camino the landscape changes dramatically – now you are cycling along the bank of the canal, which is very refreshing after 47 kilometres of desert. A path overshadowed with trees goes alongside lazily flowing water – the track between Boadilla and Fromista is undeniably the most picturesque part of the Camino in the Province of Palencia. The Canal de Castilla you are cycling by has quite an interesting history. The idea to build a canal in the basin of the river Pisuerga was conceived in the 16th century, but it was not carried out until the middle of the 18th century when King Ferdinand VI ordered the digging of the canal. The network of waterways seemed a perfect solution to the problems of transport of Castilian corn. It took another half century to finish the work and ironically the opening of the Canal de Castilla coincided with the building of railways, which quickly took over all the transport. The reason behind one of the biggest civil engineering projects in modern Spain all of a sudden became no longer relevant. Today the canal provides water for irrigation and is used for producing electric power. In some parts, it is a habitat of rare birds and recently became part of a cycling event called the Grand Prix Canal de Castilla. Probably you will agree with me that it is a brilliant place for this kind of competition.
Following the yellow arrows, cross the small bridge over the canal and on the tarmac road parallel to the Camino, enter Fromista (789m; 34.20 km→3.50 km to Poblacion de Campos). When you get to intersection turn left, don’t choose the main road but the smaller parallel road that leads to a national monument: The Church of Saint Martin de Tours, one of the Camino’s must-sees.
The Queen of Navarre Mayor of Castile (to whose family we owe two other fantastic monuments – Cathedral in Jaca and Church of Saint Isidore in Leon) ordered the construction of the church and monastery (the monastery no longer exists). She wanted the church to be splendid and employed architects who had previously worked in Jaca. The Queen didn’t spare any expenses, bringing not only artists but also the special limestone that church is built from. Saint Martin de Tours, like its Jaca’s prototype, has an octagonal cupola, a clearly separated roof covering the main and side naves and a series of impressive capitals and corbels, the latter in both the interior and exterior of the church. Corbels in the shapes of humans, animals, and mythological and fantastic figures support the roofs of the temple. The interior is also richly decorated, and the lavishly sculpted capitals drew your attention. Some of them are decorated with vegetable and floral motifs others present popular biblical scenes. Two different artists sculpted them: Master of Fromista who had worked before in Jaca and was responsible for the capitals in the apses, while his disciple, slightly less talented, is the author of the others.
The church in its death throes underwent restoration work at the turn of 19th and 20th centuries. The main conservator decided to remove all the post-Romanesque additions. Unfortunately, the conservation itself was made in the style typical for this era. As a consequence, the church looks as good as new which obviously doesn’t impress modern Art Historians and while remaining an excellent example of pure, mostly authentic Romanesque architecture it looks like it was built in the 19th century.
There are two other churches in Fromista – the 16th century San Pedro and the Santa Maria del Castillo that houses the latest tourist attraction, a 3D multimedia installation telling the story of Fromista and the Camino.
Albergue Canal de Castilla (at the entrance of Fromista), 48 beds, opens from April to the end of October, heating, 17 Euros (dinner included)
Albergue de Fromista (opposite the church of San Martin), 56 beds, opens from February to Christmas, heating, 8 Euros
Albergue Estrella del Camino (go back to the intersection and turn onto the main road following the signs; the albergue is on the left, behind the Church of San Pedro), 34 beds, opens from March to 1ST November, heating, 9 Euros
Albergue Betania (opposite Albergue Estrella del Camino), 9 beds, opens on and off, heating, a kitchen, donation
The gravelled path between Fromista and Carrion de los Condes is specially prepared for pilgrims. It is parallel to the tarmac road and additionally flanked by pillars. I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this path; I understand the idea behind the posts, they are supposed to be pretty, and yes, they are. But everything comes with a price – the pillars have shells and are quite close to one another, which, means you slow down every time you pass one – in the other words every 20 meters. Anyway, gravel is not so cool to cycle on compared to tarmac so after 500 meters you are going to give up and with a general feeling of embarrassment, switch to the road. Just to make you feel better I have to say that pillars make the walker’s life difficult too as you can’t walk and talk with another person without risking catching your rucksack on a post. As I stressed before the pillars were put up to look pretty.
Following the arrows leave Fromista by Paseo de Julio Senador (signed also as the P-980) and pass two roundabouts aiming for Carrion de los Condes. The tarmac road is empty most of the time, although you might suddenly be passed by a car or truck, so be cautious. The way is rather flat and after about 3 km you will pass Poblacion de Campos (787m; 37.70 km→3.70 km to Revenga de Campos).
This town used to have two hospices for pilgrims, one run by the Templars, however, in the middle of the 12th century, the municipality was given to the contending order of Knights Hospitaller. There are two humble 13th-century hermitages in town. Albergue/Restaurant La Finca is a good place to stay for a night or have a drink:
Albergue La Finca, 20 beds, opens all year round, heating, 10 Euros
Albergue municipal, 18 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros
After 3.70 km of easy cycling you will pass Revenga de Campos (785m; 41.40 km→2 km to Villamentero de Campos) and 2 km later Villarmentero de Campos (791m; 43.40 km→4.40 km to Villalcazar de Sierga) with the 16th-century church of St Martin de Tours that houses the saint’s relics. At the exit of the town there is a small picnic area under impressive pine trees; so huge you can see them from kilometres away.
Albergue Amanecer (you can sleep in the albergue, tipi or hammock), 29 beds, opens from 1st April to the end of October, a kitchen, 6 Euros
4, 20 kilometres further on you will reach a very important stop on the Camino – Villalcazar de Sierga (805m; 47.80 km→5 km to Carrion de los Condes) and another national monument, the Church of Santa Maria de la Blanca.
I have to admit that unaware of the history of the church I was severely disappointed when I saw it for the first time. How could that shapeless building with its austere interior possibly be regarded as such a significant monument? To find the answer we have to go back to 1157 when King Sancho III (whose wife Blanche of Navarre’s beautiful tomb you saw in Najera) asked the Templars to guard the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The Knights put up in Villalcazar where they built a huge fortified complex consisting of a church, cloister, tower, stables and a pilgrim’s hospice. Unfortunately, almost everything was lost during and in the aftermath of the earthquake in the middle of the 18th century. That’s why the church is so shapeless; it’s seven-meters-long west side collapsed burying the praised by pilgrims Portal of the Angels. What you can see today is vaguely forty percent of the original medieval structure. The only preserved portal dates from the end of the 13th century.
Inside there is the Chapel of St James founded by the Order bearing his name and here you will find three beautiful polychrome tombs from the 13th century. The tombs of Filipe, brother of King Alfonso X, and his wife depict medieval funeral customs. A bit older than these two is the tomb of the Grand Master of the Templars. The other interesting object is the 16th-century altar of Saint James with scenes from his life. In the centre of the main retablo, there is a 13th-century statue of Virgen Blanca (White Virgin), the main character from 12 medieval poems written by King Alfonso X the Wise (famous “Cantigas de Santa Maria”). My favourite one is about Italian pilgrims who set off on the voyage when a heavy storm breaks. While their ship is being battered by the gale the pilgrims offered up prayers to many saints whose names I pass over, as I don’t want to make them blush. The prayers of the desperate pilgrims were collectively disregarded by all those called and in the end, their lives were saved by the Virgen Blanca. The chalice that the Italians were carrying, originally intended as a gift for a different shrine, was given to the church in Villlalcazar de Sierga.
There are two albergues in town:
Albergue Villalcázar de Sirga, 20 beds, opens from April to October, no designated space for bikes, donation
Albergue Don Camino, 28 beds, opens from February to the end of November, heating, 7-15 Euros
The road to Carrion is mainly flat with the exception of one gentle hill.
Carrion de los Condes 832m; 52.80 km→17 km to Calzadilla de la Cueza
In the Middle Ages Carrion was the most important town in Tierra de Campos and an obligatory stop for pilgrims going to Santiago. It used to have 14 hospices which cared well for the weary wayfarers. Although the town has since lost its political significance, many pilgrims still decide to stay overnight in Carrion. As a major town on the Camino, it used to have many medieval monuments. In the following centuries almost, all of them were converted and today don’t have great artistic value except for two – the façade of the Church of Saint James and the former Monastery of San Zoilo. Both of them are truly amazing.
The façade of the Church of Saint James (Iglesia de Santiago el Mayor) dates back to 1160 and is regarded as a masterpiece of Castilian Romanesque art. In the frieze, there is a depiction of Christ Pantocrator surrounded by the symbols of four Evangelists. The author carved the figures in great detail and the frieze is delightfully beautiful. The work of Master Fruchel was later copied in facades of many Castilian churches. The frieze itself was inspired by the tympanum of the church of Saint Trophime in Arles, a traditional starting point for pilgrims going to Santiago via southern France. Below there is an archivolt decorated with a depiction of 24 old men of the Apocalypse wearing clothes and holding attributes representing the most popular medieval occupations.
The other interesting monument is the former Monasterio de San Zoilo at present a luxury hotel. Founded in the 10th century, a hundred years later it was given to the monastery in Cluny. From that time dates a Romanesque portal leading to a church that was discovered only twenty years ago. The monastery was very powerful but later declined and again acquired significance when it was given to Benedictines in Valladolid in the 16th century. The monks decided to build a cloister in Renaissance style. Completing the task took them almost 70 years but the effects are dazzling. The beauty of the cloister is contained in its ceiling decorated with figures and busts of saints, kings and prophets. Two hundred elaborately carved figures make quite an impression. The monastery’s church seen today is the 17th century Baroque. The façade with its beautifully sculptured figure of Saint Louis, King of France will make you stop at the exit of the town.
Carrion de los Condes is always full of pilgrims. There are four albergues in the town; all of them run by the convents:
Albergue Monasterio de Santa Clara (first one as you enter the town, one of the oldest Spanish monasteries of this Order), 50 beds, opens from March to the end of November, heating, microwave, 5 – 7 Euros. Apart from the albergue, the convent runs a hostel with single and double rooms. Prices of rooms may vary depending on the time of year, for instance in late autumn you might be given a room for the price of an albergue. Or not – a question of personal luck.
Albergue Parroquial de Santa Maria (at the intersection with the pilgrim’s statue go straight ahead, the albergue is behind the church with the 13th-century polychrome statue of Virgin de las Victorias y del Camino), 52 beds, opens from March to the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros. The albergue is quite basic but so warm that it always fills up very quickly. The albergue is run by nuns who pray for the pilgrims every day. There is an international pilgrim’s mass in the evening celebrated in the nearby church.
Albergue Espiritu Santo (Plaza de San Juan 4, at the intersection with the pilgrim’s figure turn right and immediately left, a minute later you will find yourself at the back of the albergue, cycle around to the reception), 100 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros. This is another friendly place to stay for the night in Carrion. If you are tired of sleeping on bunk beds, this is the place for you. However not all the beds are ‘normal’ so again it’s a question of personal luck.
Albergue Casa de Espiritualidad Nuestra Señora de Belén (Leopoldo María de Castro 6, by the Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Belen; 350 meters away from the Church of Saint James, keep going straight, one-way streets), 92 beds, open all year round, heating, 22 Euros (single and double rooms only) or 28 Euros for half-board. Sisters serve homemade breakfasts and dinners, prepared from the products coming from their farm and orchard. Reportedly very tasty.