Muy Hermoso, Muy Difícil

There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it – Charles Dudley Warner

Day 1, Saturday 5th September. This is the second attempt at today’s blog post. The technology gods somehow managed to delete my original post, and I regret that this attempt will not be as good.

That said, today was both a beautiful day and a very hard one. It was, as today’s quote says, a “moment of delight”. After last minute repacking of our packs last night to jettison every last bit of unnecessary weight (the scales at Biarritz airport had revealed that we were both a few kilos overweight) we headed off at 7:30 this morning, all bright and shiny as this photo taken at the Porte Notre Dame shows.
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The first part of today’s walk is a relentless uphill climb of some 1200 metres over roughly a 20 klm stretch. We were lucky to have relatively cool temperatures. I can only imagine how much extra difficult the walk would be in the heat (or indeed in the rain).

The second part sort of reverses the first – a relatively steep 500 metre drop over about 3 klms. That leaves only about 2 klms of relative flat for the whole day … relative.

That said the scenery was spectacular. Whether it was the rolling hills, the green fields, especially when offset by the white coats of the sheep that dotted the hills, or the horses with their cowbells which so much reminded me of the yaks of the Himalayas, I had strife deciding what was prettiest.
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But I think that my favourites were the beech forests through which we walked for much of the day. I couldn’t help but think of Dr Zeus’s truffula trees (without the coloured tops), which i used to read to and with my daughter when she was young. The quiet in the forest combined with the softness of the path as a result of millions of dropped leaves was out of this world.

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And I was surprised at how much excitement a sign telling me that we only 8 klms to go would bring, even if (unbeknown at the time) 8 klms was still a 2 1/2 hour walk.
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It’s hard to tell, but I guess there’s somewhere around 150/200 people on the track today. Earlier in the piece there seemed to be about 50 in our immediate vicinity, that is, within the nearest kilometre or so. But everyone spread out over the day, and my estimate is based on the crowd here in Roncesvalles. And a mixture of people, young and old, all races. More on this as the days proceed.

We arrived in Roncesvalles a little after 3 pm, some 7 1/2 hours after we started. What a magic little village. The hotel we are staying in is part of the old monastery, which now houses the albergue. The building is some 300 years old, although its history goes back another 1000 years. In the courtyard of the building is a sculpture of Roland, who was killed in the Battle of Roncesvalles in 788 (Charlemagne’s troops versus the Basques). And as I wrote the earlier version of this post l sat outside the church listening to the 30 piece choir practice for the pilgrim’s mass. The sound was beautiful, and so fitting for the surroundings. I popped my head into the mass – some 150 people there, all in Español, with one American and one French reader.
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Tomorrow is another big day in distance, although with the big hill behind us. Until then.
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