This is the first time I’ve ever walked for 4 consecutive days and although this trip was rather unexpected, it’s been both informative and fun.
Not to mention challenging!
I walked over 90 km in total (56 miles) it took another four days for my feet to forgive me. Among other things on my Camino shopping list are new walking shoes.
The priority for this trip was to complete the mid-section from A Guarda to Redondela, where the coastal Camino merges with the central Portuguese Way of St. James.
I did most of it in the company of my friend and associate, Paulo Lopes, although the last day I was on my own.
Our purpose was to gather notes so that I could write up the route descriptions for Paulo’s self-guided clients to follow. Although there are many yellow arrows marking the Way, they can be a little confusing, or deliberately misleading, at times.
Note: Since writing this, I’ve been back to Northern Portugal to walk the first few stages of this route.
A Guarda to Oia (16.5km)
The Camino leads you from the river ferry terminal that connects Portugal with Spain and passes through A Guarda before hitting the coast.
This wasn’t my first time in A Guarda and I had visited the Celtic settlement of Santa Tegra a couple of years previously.
This involves a slight detour from the Camino but offers magnificent views across to the Portuguese town of Caminha and the River Minho, as well as Galicia’s coastline so if you go to A Guarda, allow time to visit the site. I’d take a taxi up the hill unless you’re a glutton for punishment.
A Guarda itself has some interesting old churches and buildings, although we didn’t have much time to linger – we needed to get to Oia before dark and it was already mid-afternoon by the time we set off.
Having navigated the various junctions and come out the other side of the town, I got my first real taste of the gorgeous Galician coastline.
Aside from a couple of small sandy beaches, it’s mostly wonderfully worn, rugged rocks with waves smashing into them.
Once we got off tarmac and onto the grass and stone path, both Paulo and I were in scenic heaven with the scent of the ocean in our nostrils and, fortunately, no bitter sea breezes to spoil things.
At one point, we came across what I thought must be a seawater swimming pool but is actually a shellfish hatchery that was used to rear enormous lobsters.
There are some parts of this stage that involve walking along the main tarmac road but there was so little traffic it wasn’t an issue. I imagine it’s busier in summer but apart from a few patches of woodland, there’s precious little shade so you wouldn’t want to be doing this in peak holiday season anyway.
The final leg took us past outlying houses and fields with Oia’s monastery looming large in the distance.
When we got there, the village seemed quite busy for such a small, relatively isolated place. It turns out that they were filming a documentary about troubled times when the village was evacuated, which explained the ragged costumes and grimy cheeks of some of the kids we passed.
Possibly because of the filming, or maybe we just caught the end of a regular mass, the monastery doors were open so we popped in, just in time to snap a couple of photos of the golden altar and the Romanesque interior before being thrown out.
We later discovered that it’s privately owned and not open to the public – no wonder the congregation gave us some nasty glares. Sorry!
Oia to Baiona (17.8 km)
During the first half of the second day’s walk, when we were walking close to the sea, we came across a small group of men resting alongside a pick-up truck with sacks full of something.
They explained that they’d been picking baby mussels from the beach which were destined for the mussel farms in the Ria de Vigo. It takes a year for them to grow from this tiny size into the fat juicy ones you get in restaurants.
I’m not sure if you need a permit for this but the police were out in force, too, keeping tabs on various groups of mussel pickers along the coast.
Although the day began on a dirt track alongside the rocky beach, we spent much of the time on tarmac so I was especially glad when the Camino veered right to go across the mountains and cut out the top corner of this part of Spain.
We had to climb uphill for a while but although my legs were tired, it was a relief to be using slightly different muscles and the views are fabulous.
This new terrain also came with the challenge of dodging massive puddles in the old stone road but it was one I relished.
Once over the hill, we spent the remaining few kilometres walking through countryside and villages along tarmac lanes and a short patch of main road before reaching the outskirts of Baiona.
As you might expect from a pilgrim route, the Coastal Camino Português passes two of Baiona’s most emblematic churches before hitting the medieval street that runs parallel to the marina.
Whether you visit Baiona as part of the Portuguese Way of Saint James or just for fun, do allow yourself time to explore a little. It’s a really pretty town with a few sandy beaches at either end of the bay.
The old fortress walls on the promontory contain several surprises, including a Parador luxury hotel. You can also go aboard the replica 15th century La Pinta caravel, the original being one of Christopher Columbus’ ships.
As this was February, we found that many of the hotels and restaurants were closed – Baiona really is a seasonal town. After considerable wandering around, we struck lucky with a delicious meal at Freiduria Jaqueyvi.
Baiona to Vigo (24.9 km, in theory!)
As Sod’s Law would have it, our longest stage also happened to coincide with the one day it rained heavily.
Not only that, someone’s malicious tampering with the painted arrows added another hour and around 5 kilometres onto our journey.
This is the day I learned how important it is to:
a) have a positive mindset,
b) train properly beforehand and
c) have waterproof shoes and trousers (thank you Dori for lending me the trousers!).
I knew this was going to be a challenging day before we even set off.
My feet were still tingling and swollen from the previous two days of punishment and I’ve never walked 25 km in a day before, or at least not for as long as I can remember.
I also knew it was going to be wet so I somehow convinced myself to not let myself focus on the hardships or even how much further we had to go. I needed to get to Vigo and that was that. I’ll admit I was annoyed when we were sent vastly off course, but there was no point wasting any more energy on it.
Unfortunately for Paulo, his knee, which had been hurting since the first day, couldn’t take any more and he had to take a taxi to Vigo, leaving me to walk the last 8 km alone. Even that didn’t faze me and I consider that day quite a personal achievement.
In terms of scenery and the Camino, we traversed the outskirts of Baiona, walked across an ancient pointed bridge and through various villages until we hit quite a long stretch of forest.
At this point, it was chucking it down again so the glimpses of the Cíes islands in the Ria de Vigo were gloomy and hazy and I have no decent photos.
My least favourite parts of the Way, aside from the unnecessary detour (you DO need to go over the blue bridge and NOT along the stream that the arrows direct you towards), were walking along the busy main road after the forest and the few hundred metres of dodgy area near the power plant on the way into Vigo.
Despite setting off at 9 am, the various delays and added complications of putting on and taking off rain gear meant that I only just made it to Vigo by dark (7.30 pm).
I hadn’t thought this would be an issue, assuming there’d be street lights, but the Way doesn’t really go into Vigo itself – it takes you through a park and along a stream which has no lighting (that I could see).
By the time I finally made it to my 4-star hotel, I can honestly say that have never been so happy to see a bath before.
Vigo to Redondela (15.75 km)
Although shorter, and considerably drier, than the previous stage, in some ways I found this day more difficult.
I don’t know if it’s because I was doing it alone, which had always been the plan, or because it was the last stage for this trip and I had yet to catch a train and drive home, or possibly because my body was crying out for a rest.
The weather was good, especially compared to the day before, with only a couple of brief showers. The Camino was relatively straightforward and most of it was through villages and forest with great views of the Ria de Vigo.
Birds were singing, the sun shone and I was quite happy but unlike the day before, where I’d been energised throughout and was still buzzing when I finally reached my hotel, this day felt like more of a slog.
It will be interesting to see what happens when I’m dealing with 10 consecutive days of walking.
I had imagined that I would try to see some of Vigo’s sights but to be honest, I was so tired that I decided not to bother.
The Camino passes through the main shopping street before leaving the city but not the old part of town. If you want to venture off the Way a little, my advice would be to do this in the morning.
It took me about 4 1/2 hours to walk to Redondela, although I didn’t take any long breaks, so if you have the energy, daylight and inclination, you could spend the morning having a look around Vigo.
What I’ve learned about walking the Camino de Santiago
Stretching is really important. Although I did some stretches at various points during each day, it wasn’t until the final day that I did something approaching a yoga routine before setting off. My muscles, especially in my back and legs, really needed lengthening and I intend to do this before each stage next time.
Hills help. I’ve always thought that walking on the level was easy, something I could do for hours. What I found was that when there was little variation in the way I was using my muscles, I found this more tiring than going up and down short hills.
Breathable clothing is essential. Even the short days are long enough to necessitate a break and if you’ve got a wet, sweaty top, it will quickly become cold and uncomfortable. Synthetic materials that wick the sweat away from your skin allow you to stop without getting chilled.
A lot of it is in the mind. I found it surprisingly easy to cope with and even enjoy the difficult day by not focusing on the negatives or how much further I had to go. For me, it was more about acceptance, perseverance and looking on the bright side when obstacles appeared.
Your feet are precious. I meant, but forgot, to take a pumice stone or foot scrub. For four days, I managed okay without one but I’ll definitely take one on the central route. I massaged Sudocreme into my feet each night which soothed them and kept them soft but it took days for the swelling and tingling in the pad behind my toes to dissipate.
Take waterproof shoes. I hadn’t had time to buy or break in new walking shoes before this trek and my old ones, although comfortable, are no longer waterproof. By the time I got to Vigo on the rainy day, my socks were soaked and my toes had gone white and shrivelled.
Ponchos are great! I wouldn’t want to risk exposing my backpack to a downpour and it didn’t have a rain cover so I threw a poncho over my raincoat and bag, which helped keep everything drier. The only downside is that your forearms get no protection.
Waymarkers are not always clear or accurate. Most of the time, it’s easy to follow the painted yellow arrows or other signs that mark the Camino de Santiago. In places, however, we found yellow arrows pointing in contradictory directions and on the Baiona-Vigo stretch, we were deliberately sent off course for no apparent reason. Fortunately, we had a GPS with the trail marked so we knew if we had strayed from the Way or not.
Galician people are friendly and helpful. Whenever we met people along the Coastal Camino, they (with the exception of Oia’s churchgoers) greeted us cheerfully and gleefully pointed out the Way if we appeared to be in any doubt.
The food’s great! I ate tons of fish and seafood and even had my first experience of razor clams, which I was surprised to enjoy. Menu do dias are excellent value at between 8 and 10 euros for a 3-course lunch with a drink.
Are you tempted by the Coastal Portuguese Way Of Saint James?
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