This way

Leaving Irun, looking for the stylish cast metal signs embedded in the pavement, and the poster kit arrows stuck to lampposts, I had no thoughts of what might lay ahead. Maybe I had no thoughts.

A bag packed with too much – carrying anything at all seems too much – seemed not to weigh anything. The scrying of the weather apps and skies promised rains and clouded suns and greys and greys. The routes, the maps and apps said up, up, and up, and so we went our merry giddy trepidatious way, a band of seven for now, full of buen camino! Hola! Buenas dias! to our fellow tribes people and the generous local ambients.

Across a busy roundabout, and there a daub of yellow on the pavement signalling a path beside a stream. From there the path meanders up, becomes a rutted track, a stony broken path, we climb past fields, the early leaf break of spring trees, and up into the dense green. At a curve on the path, a sharply sloping field leads our eyes back the way we’ve come – the towns of Hondarribia and Irun separated by the Bidasoa river from France and the town of Hendaye; an expanse of sea with its ribbons of white; the dark green hills pressing in from the east. Oh, how marvellous, I thought.

There are many choices along the way – you may go this way, or instead, if you like, this way. An early option duly selected was the path for Perrigrino Alpinistas, promising spectacular views across the Cantabrian Sea. This began with a three hundred metre climb at an incline of somewhere in the region of thirty five degrees. Our weeks of careful training duly paid off.

That’s not true. All conversation ceased, breathing, breathing, became panting, panting. Pauses to admire the view, became just pauses. But then the worst was over, a bit of flat, a gentle slope, an epic vista; until another steep and challenging climb loomed, another peak along the ridge we walked emerging from behind its neighbour.

Some hours and kilometres later we arrive via impossibly steep paths in Passaia and the door of the albergue, this one a tiny fourteen bedroom stone building attached to the back of a chapel. It is two o’clock, there are five already here. There is no booking. The nearest alternative another hour and a half further. The doors are shut until 4.00.

I sit round the corner out of the wind chatting to Reynard from Holland (number 5). A group of four peregrinos appear, and I feel myself tumbling into the mathematics of the situation, out loud. They look at me ‘Are you one group?’ No I say. They look at me some more, in my absurd clothing, and discuss amongst themselves in their impenetrable (to me) German. Reynard is entirely free now to chip in, with the language skills so typical of his people. All blame is entirely mine. They eventually head off, leaving me with my guilt.

Two americans have joined the posse at the door. Everyone is glad that someone else bore the bad tidings. I am glad they are amused. It rains a little. Two more peregrinos arrive. I keep quiet.