El Camino Frances

The Traditional Route from France

Over the Pyrenees

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Roncesvalles to Pamplona (then Cizur Menor)

15/16 May 1993, and 31 May/1 June 2002 Burguete

From Roncesvalles the Camino starts off downhill to the village of Burguete which features in Hemmingway’s novel Fiesta (or The Sun Also Rises). The bakery opens early for coffee and cakes etc. and there is a supermarket farther down the street on the right if you are passing through a little later in the day. You are not yet out of the mountains and there are a couple of steep ridges to cross during this stage.

After Burguete the Camino crosses a stream by a rickety bridge and soon enters woodland. There were lots of horses with foals here in 2002.

The Camino is easy to follow and avoids the roads wherever possible. Recently some sections have been “improved” with a sort of crazy paving set in concrete. This is an advantage during rainy weather but can be a bit hard on the feet. There are several villages to pass through where it may be possible to pick up supplies and refreshments.

Espinal

Soon after Espinal the Camino climbs through some rather unusual vertical rock strata but, although steep, the path is not difficult.

The Alto de Erro is the final climb on this section and, in 2002, Iwas lucky enough to be able to refill my water bottle from a GB registered campervan that was parked at the summit. Then there is a steep, paved descent to the ancient bridge at Zubiri. Legend has it that passing under this bridge several times is a cure for rabies.

Refugio at Zubiri

The Camino turns left just before the bridge but on both my journeys I crossed over into the village to stay in the refugio which has been converted from the old school. The refugio is somewhat basic but there are shops and bars nearby for supplies and refreshments.

From Zubiri the Camino follows the Rio Arga towards Pamplona. The easy way is to take the road for a straight and more or less level journey. This is not very interesting and a better way is to recross the bridge and follow the waymarked path which stays mainly on the left side of the valley. There is an ugly cement factory to skirt round then the way is by fields and woods through hamlets and villages.

In 2002 I decided to avoid the factory slag heaps and walked down the road as far as Larrasoaña. On this occasion I was accompanied by John from San Diego and Jack (aged 71) from County Durham who also wished to have an easy start to the day. Larrasoaña

Larrasoaña has a refugio in the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) and a bar/café farther into the village which would mean a short back track to regain the Camino. The Alcalde (mayor) of this village has been very active promoting the Camino as it passes through his village and it has gained a reputation of being very friendly.

After a coffee break we set off following the real Camino though the woods on the opposite bank of the Rio Arga, stopping to cut pilgrim staffs for Jack and John to help them up and down the slopes.

Trinidad de Arre

There is a picnic area at Zabaldika then the Camino climbs over a hill, crosses under a motorway by tunnel and climbs round another hill to Trinidad de Arre. Here there is a refugio in a convent next to the bridge over the Rio Ulzama.

Burlada

From here you are walking through the suburbs of Pamplona but this is much nicer than the approach to other Spanish cities on this route. In Burlada there is a house decorated with scallop shell motifs to remind you that you are on the Camino.

Cruceiro

The Rio Arga is crossed by an ancient bridge with an ornate cruceiro at one end, and a pleasant walk through a park leads to the town gate through the city walls. Unfortunately on both my visits to the city the cathedral was closed for repairs.

Pamplona has been an important centre of population for over 2000 years. Originally founded by the Roman general Pompey in 75BC as a military camp it grew to become a city. After the fall of the Roman Empire Pamplona lost its importance for a while under Visigoth and Basque influence. During the middle ages it became capital of the Kingdom of Pamplona (subsequently Navarre) and controlled the Basque country on both sides of the Pyrenees. It was a multicultural city becoming more and more under French influence until 1512 when the kingdom, south of the Pyrenees, was captured by Castile. Then it became an important frontier fortress, guarding the route from France into the heartland of Spain.

The city is the host of the annual San Fermin festival made famous to the English speaking world by the books of Ernest Hemmingway. This takes place in the second week of July with the daily running of the bulls through the city streets to the bullring. During this time the city is crowded with tourists and accommodation can be very difficult to find and expensive.

In 1993 I could find neither the pilgrims' office nor a refugio so, after treking back and forwards through the hot streets for an hour or more, I gave up searching and headed for Cizur Menor.

Pamplona

2002. I arrived in the city with John and Jack and we went to the main square near the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall). Here there was a large wedding ceremony taking place but we were made most welcome as we passed through the crowd of extremely elegant guests.

There is now a pilgrims’ office near the church of San Cernin (and I believe a refugio) but our little group decided to walk on to the village of Cizur Menor where there are two other refugios. On the way we gathered Jann into our group and stopped for a rest in the shade of some trees on the University campus.

Cizur Menor

I have twice been welcomed in the private refugio in Cizur Menor run by Señora Maribel Roncal. This is situated in an enclosed garden with overflow facilities in an annexe to the main house. A nearby restaurant offers a pilgrim’s menu and the refugio’s garden is an ideal place to sit on a warm evening. Inroads were made into my small supply of Lapsang Suchong tea as I had a very civilised chat with fellow pilgrims.