I left El Acebo at 7:34 in the dark. Below me, Ponferrada sparkled in the valley. I headed downhill on an asphalt road. A German guy walked with me for a bit but our ability to communicate was limited and we slowly drifted apart.
I walked through the pretty village of Riego de Ambros, with its traditional wooden overhanging balconies. In fact, I noticed the architecture was changing now, with slate taking the place of tile and the wooden balconies reflecting a timber-producing landscape. This is the region of El Bierzo, a pleasant transition area between Castille and the green forested Galicia.
In Riego de Ambros, I stopped to say a prayer at the cozy Ermita San Sebastian.
El Acebo to Riego de Ambros (3.4 km)
After leaving Riego de Ambros, I walked on a rocky path steeply declining and then on a more level path through castañas, or sweet chestnut trees. The mountain path went alongside streams and through woods; it was very pleasant although not photogenic as the valley and the mountains were in shadows. There were more steep and gravely descents.
Riego de Ambros to Molinaseca Puente de Peregrinos (4.7 km)
I rejoined the road just above Molinaseca at Iglesia de la Angustías, then I crossed the Puente de Peregrinos, a medieval bridge over the río Meruelo into the historical village of Molinaseca at 9:45. The 17th-century Church of San Nicolás, with its statue of San Roque, sat atop a rise to the left.
I stopped at a café just across the bridge and had a potato tortilla and cafe con leche. A man had passed me on the trail earlier. He kept saying, “We left at ……” and “we” did this and that, but I never saw him with anyone. He spoke to me again in the cafe in Molinaseca.
Molinaseca Puente de Peregrinos to Molinaseca (1.0 km)
Leaving Molinaseca, the “we” guy caught up with me and walked the rest of the way with me into Ponferrada. He introduced himself as Greg, high school math and science teacher from British Columbia. His friend Sean had talked him into doing the Camino, but they walked at different paces so didn’t often walk together. He said their wives would join them in Santiago.
We walked through the small town of Campo, a historic pueblo with well-preserved buildings bearing coats of arms. You can see a bit of Greg in the photo below. It’s the only photo I have of him.
After Campo, we passed through Los Barríos, a modern suburb of Ponferrada. The path was mostly flat in this section. Greg told me he’d met an Australian woman named Beth who he “really clicked” with. He seemed to be a bit smitten with her. I told him about my issues with my loved one and he said “tough love” was the answer, even though he had no kids himself. We both agreed Donald Trump was a disaster for the world.
The time passed quickly and before we knew it, we were at Castillo de los Templarios, the Templar Castle in Ponferrada, population 69,000. The capital of El Bierzo, Ponferrada is a modern metropolis with a unique micro climate that produces the respected Bierzo wines. Other local specialties are thick pork sausages locally marinated and served with boiled potatoes and vegetables.
Molinaseca to Puente Mascarón (entry to Ponferrada) (5.9 km)
The 12th century Templar castle was declared a National Monument in 1924; it recently reopened after extensive renovations.
At the Templar Castle, Greg and I parted ways as our albergues were on different sides of town and he would meet his friend Sean there.
I skirted the castle and made my way to my hostel, Guiana Hostel, on the outskirts of the medieval town. There, I went through my regular routine, then went back to the town to look for food. I ran into Sheryl sitting at a hostel and she said she’d eaten something good at a cafe around the corner.
Most of the historic sites in Ponferrada are clustered in the old medieval city that occupies the high ground around the castle.
I walked into Plaza Virgen de la Encina with its many cafés. At the bar recommended by Sheryl, I had my lemon beer and mushrooms sauteed in garlic with bread to dip. Yum!
In the Plaza, I found the 16th-century Renaissance Basílica de la Virgen de la Encina, named after an evergreen holm oak (encina) in which a figure of the Virgin was found inside the trunk by the Knights Templar. It apparently had been put there centuries before to keep it from the invading Moors. After stopping at the Basílica, I went to the bank to get some cash.
I visited the Castillo de los Templarios, the 12th-century Templar castle. I found great views over the city and some beautiful illustrated replicas of Templar and other religious texts.
There was also an interesting exhibit about the Middle Ages. Displays told about Master builders, as opposed to architects, which didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. Essentially the planning and building of a castle was done spontaneously, without architectural drawings. Skilled craftsmen occupied a middle class between peasants and nobility. By the 15th century, the craftsmen had organized themselves into different trade organizations of guilds.
Owning an impregnable castle in the Middle Ages was a safe and sure possession, an equivalent deterrent to today’s nuclear weapons. Castles were popular from the 8th to the 16th centuries, and were used as defensive walls much like fences. They proliferated in the Middle Ages not only for military purposes but as residence to the Lords of nobility and Kings. They were most often situated in places of strategic advantage, often on top of hills and close to a water source.
Ponferrada came under the protectorate of the Templar Order by decree of King Fernando II in 1178, but the Order was outlawed in 1312 and disbanded by a Church fearful of their increasing power and esoteric traditions.
From the castle walls, I had a great view of the 17th-century Iglesia San Andrés.
From the castle walls, I had views of the modern town across the río Sil.
The 17th-century Iglesia San Andrés sat on the corner across from the castle, but it was closed.
After visiting the castle, I returned to my albergue, where I had a single bed; the room had 3 bunkbeds too, so six other beds. I relaxed a while at the albergue then went out later for dinner.
At La Taberna de Ra, I enjoyed grilled asparagus and Brie, which was delicious, along with some wine. Then I went to the same restaurant I’d been to earlier for avocado, tomato and smoked salmon tapenade, along with another glass of wine. Nearby, I happened upon a souvenir shop, La Cueva de la Mora, where I bought three scarves. 🙂
After dinner, I made my way back in the dark to my albergue.
I had a restless night of sleep with some stomach problems probably brought on by something I ate. With all my rumblings, I was afraid of waking up the younger pilgrims in my room.
*Day 36: Tuesday, October 9, 2018*
*33,203 steps, or 14.07 miles. El Acebo to Ponferrada (17.4 km)*
You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:
On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.
This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk.