Most pilgrims usually set off early in the morning: we never managed to get going until at least 9. After our night out in Pamplona, at 11 we were still in the albergue. All night the bars and streets had been heaving with people eating pinxos and drinking wine and at only 2 euros each it is a quick and slippery slope. With our ever-improving Spanish we tried to blend in with the locals end ended up having a memorable night. It is so refreshing to be on the continent again, there is something special about Mediterranean culture. The warmth with which people approach you here is truly unrivalled.
By midday we were finally on the road again; after taking a last walk through the city we rejoined the Camino heading for Puente la Reina. A long hill range coated with wind turbines streched ahead of us. Not restrained by the earth’s gravitational hold we headed on for the steep climb; our ascent to the Alto del Pedron was rewarded with wonderful views back over Pamplona. Pressed by time, and tired from the night before, we were grateful to reach the peak. Our descent was rapid, only interrupted by a short lunch in Obanos.
Before heading on for our destination we stopped to visit the church of Obanos where we had heard that the skull of St. William was kept. A curious legend lies behind this piece of history. It is said that duke William of Aquitaine killed his sister Felicia when angered by her refusal to return to court duties after walking the Camino de Santiago. Filled with remorse and as an act of penance, William also embarked on the pilgrimage to Santiago, and returned a changed man. He renounced his nobility and spent the rest of his life in poverty in the hermitage just outside the village.
That evening our arrival in Puente la Reina was welcomed by the kindness of a fellow pilgrim who was now walking the Camino for his 6th time. He had cooked dinner for the owners of the hostel, and noticing our fatigued faces also offered us a meal. The Italian chef who owned two restaurants in Paris had made risotto with saffron and pasta with chorizo. He sat by us through the whole meal and made sure that we ate at least two helpings each. I’m guessing my slender features must have worried him. We ate till we could no more and later slept like babies.
The next morning we set off across the bridge which gives the town its name. Leaving the highest peaks of the Pyrenees behind us today’s walk was steady and pleasant. With the sun shining high and accompanied by a pleasant wind we headed on through the gently rolling farmland. Our morning was rendered all the more pleasant by the many ripening cherry trees dotted along the path. As we got closer to Estella we began to see our first vineyards along the Camino; and now my mind wanders miles ahead to the Rioja valley where, in only a couple of days, we shall be drinking some of Spain’s finest wine.
Having made better time than expected we reach Estella in the early hours of the afternoon. It is a small but vibrant town and here there is a lot to see. The author of the first guide for the Camino, Aymeric Picaud, in the Codex Calixtinus, describes Estella as a “fertile place, with good bread and great wine, meat, and fish.” The local community must be proud of this description as these writings are engraved in stone by the fountain at the entrance to the city.