El Camino Frances

The Traditional Route from France

La Rioja

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I have included the next few pages under the heading of La Rioja even though some of it lies within the province of Burgos. The countryside and agriculture is much the same and the change to the terrain of the meseta happens after the city of Burgos.

The land is mainly rolling hills and there is nothing really strenuous until the climb after Villafranca. You will pass through the famous vineyards of Rioja but this mainly agricultural region has plenty of other crops in the fields. It is by no means the boring monoculture that occurs in some areas of the meseta.

Logroño to Nájera

21 May 1993 and 6/7 June 2002

The first few kilometres involve negotiating the suburbs of Logroño but soon there is a pleasant walk in a park with a large lake. You may find a snack bar open here but there are plenty of shady spots for a picnic amongst the pine trees.

Navarrete

Soon after the park the Camino is diverted along the top of a cutting for a motorway. Alongside a wood yard the high chain link fence guarding the motorway is decorated with hundreds of crosses made from offcuts of wood and bark. Navarrete is very soon after the motorway and contains all the services needed by pilgrims.

2002. Our small party had started this morning from Viana and, despite the gentle pace, some of us were suffering from blisters and other pains. We reached Navarrete by noon and called a short day.

There is a refugio here run by French ladies but we went to a restaurant while waiting for the refugio to open. Peter and I gambled on one of the set meals even though we could not translate the menu. It seemed to consist of pigs’ ears, fat and bone. We ate some of it then shared in the meals of our companions. The sweet helped make up for the main course. Usually whisky cake is a pre mixed frozen concoction but this one had a large measure of real whisky poured over it.

When we were allowed into the refugio we had a long siesta while waiting for our clothes to dry. Some of these had been wet for the last two days. Wine and snacks had been bought for the evening meal and we settled in for the night. The French ladies made breakfast at 6am so we could have a reasonably early start. There was snow on the distant mountains to the south.

1993. I passed through Navarrete with Jaime from Valencia and Mikel from Bilbao. Jaime managed to beg some fruit from a shop then we went to the church. This was in complete darkness but Jaime was able to feel his way down to the altar. We then continued along the Camino, stopping for biscuits with Bernhard, Marvi and three-year-old Ulysses from Minorca. Ulysses had been unable to sleep last night so they had set off early. He was now asleep in the grass by the side of the track.

There are lots of vineyards in this area and in one we could see the workers throwing handfuls of sulphur into the vines to protect against fungal infections. I recognised some of the bodega names and we were able to sample some of the produce over the next few days.

This stage of the Camino passes through the site of the battle of Navarrete which was fought by the Edward of Woodstock (Prince of Wales and of Aquitaine, better known as the Black Prince) in 1367. At this time there was a civil war in Castile between King Pedro (The Cruel, the winners always rewrite history) and his half brother Henry of Trastámara. The Hundred Year’s War for the French throne was in a quiet phase so Pedro called for help from Aquitaine and Henry did likewise from the famous French captain Bertrand du Guesclin. The Black Prince was victorious and the forces of Henry were trapped against the river at Nájera with great slaughter. This was one of the first appearances of the English longbow in Spain with devastating effect. Du Guesclin was captured but subsequently ransomed, as was the custom in those days.

This was only a short term gain for Peter since he reneged on his financial and dynastic promises to Edward and was abandoned. Soon after he was trapped by Henry in a castle and killed. Henry became the new king of Castile and the English and French resumed their quarrels on the other side of the Pyrenees.

Nájera

On the outskirts of Nájera there is a long wall on which is painted a poem about the Camino. A gentleman, who I presume is a priest and the poet, greeted us on both occasions I passed by here and gave out copies of the poem.

The cobbler’s shop, on the right when walking into town, is very helpful for repairs to shoes and equipment.

In 1993 I stayed in the refugio in Nájera which was in a room of the old monastery. This is built into the side of a sandstone cliff and has a very peaceful cloister. In 2002 the refugio had been moved to a larger room of the monastery and had been much improved. After looking round the refugio and stopping for coffee and cakes we felt fit enough to move on to the next village.

Nájera dates from Roman times but its name has an Arabic origin. Early in the 10th century it was conquered by Christian forces and, for a while, was the capital of the Kingdom of Navarre. This did not last long and by 1054 it was part of Castile.

The most important monument in the city is the monastic church of Santa Maria la Real. This dates from the 11th century and became one of the most important Cluniac centres in Spain. Legend has it that a King of Navarre was hunting partridges with his hawk when the hawk followed a bird into a cave. When the king entered the cave he found both birds sitting peacefully beside a statue of the Virgin Mary. A chapel was built on this site and to this day the church buildings are clustered around the cave.

Within the monastery complex is the Royal Pantheon of the Kings of Navarre and later of Castile and León. More than 30 royal family members are buried here.