A horreo on the Camino de Santiago trail, photographed by Madelyn Given.

El Camino: Hórreos

On the el Camino, it does not take long before you develop a daily walking pattern. The necessity for food and a place to sleep becomes your main focus for each day’s mileage. For me, as I hiked the Camino de Santiago in fall 2014, that was the reason for getting up and beginning hiking each day before dawn.

Timo, a young German friend, and I started out and walked together awhile. It was a beautiful, cool morning, and the stars and constellations were brilliant in the sky. Two more pilgrims joined us, and we walked together through the forest, passing a small hamlet, until we came to a fork in the trail: one trail went between the barn and the house, which was quite common, and the wider trail vied off to the left and down a hill.

There were no markers. We looked and looked. Two more pilgrims caught up with us, and we were deciding which way to go when a farmer came out of his home and said: “No, no! Used debe volver. Este es el Camino equivocado.” I translated to the other pilgrims that we were going in the wrong direction, as the farmer frantically pointed to the path we had just used. We thanked the farmer, who I am sure we had woken with our talking and hunting in his yard for the trail signs.

This disaster had occurred just as I was becoming confident of finding the yellow arrows. We clearly had a mile now to retrace our steps, which is so wasteful when you have only so much time to get to your next destination. On the way back, a car passed us, and I signaled for the driver to stop. The young woman on the passenger side of the car rolled down her window. She spoke fluent English and I asked her for directions to the el Camino. She said it was just a short way from here and to look for a path on our left. Soon after this, two older men met us, and all of us had missed the marker. Finally we came to the marker, which was not clearly marked, and we all gave a sigh of relief and went on at our own pace.

Timo and I reached a tiny village, where he stopped for breakfast. I kept going at a steady pace, with only two quick pit stops, hoping to reach my goal of Hospital de la Craz. I expected the place to be okay, but I never know what lies ahead.

I walked through tiny hamlets, sometimes with just one farm, and though oak forests, with moss-covered ancient stone walls, down the path, which was the prettiest scenery for a long while. There was a cool breeze as I walked though scenery like a fairy forest or Robin Hood’s sanctuary. I met up with dogs, cows, farmers, and elderly country folk. I passed apple orchards and went through farmers’ yards. I walked up and around barns, around houses, down lanes, and up alleys. The structures are so interesting with stone masonry and slate roofs.

The most unusual structures I have come upon are the hórreos. They are very distinctly Iberian, rectangular granaries built on stilts that are used to dry corn and keep it out of reach of rodents. Most of them have a cross on top for religious reasons; some are made of stone and some of wood. They stand out as such an oddity that I began to stop and take a photo of each one, as they all had such an individual character. At the top of this blog post is one of my photos of the hórreos.

A landmark today was my passing the 100 kilometer marker, and then to see the kilometers going down. At the end of today it is 80 km. After 29 kilometers tomorrow (I hope), then I will have only 29 kilometers the next day, 30 km the next, and then just 20 into Santiago to the grand Cathedral—the finish.

I crossed several ancient bridges, and at the end of the day, a long modern bridge. At one side was an ancient submerged village. It is being dredged and unearthed as a large archeology site. On the other side of the bridge is our way into the city, up many steep stairs. I secured a bed in the private albergue (all 30 beds were soon filled for the night), and the slower pilgrims all had to go on at the end of a long day. I went across a field to a small restaurant for dinner, and that night I thought… only three more days to get up before dawn to find a place to stay. It is quite a journey.

(June 2, 2015)