Today was to be a day of continual and gradual climbing, starting at 800m and getting to the high-point of 1,150m. Good thing Robert and I had a great meal the night before!
The first village we encountered after Belorado was Tosantos. The village has existed since at least the late 10th century and in the 16th century had a population of 200 but today that has decreased to only one of 80. Located here is the parochial Iglesia de San Esteban (17th Century) with a pilgrim hospital that is attached. Apparently the church has an interesting 16th century wood retablo that I did not see because the church was locked.
After a short water break in Tosantos we continued on the trail and soon saw the Ermiita de la Virgen de la Peña carved into the hillside about a kilometer off into the distance. The legend surrounding the ermita is that an image of the child Jesus was hidden under a bell in a cave to protect it from the Muslim conquerors.
Walking on we ran into a group of French senior citizens. Judging from their backpacks we concluded that they were walking for only a week. It is not uncommon for many Europeans to walk the Camino one week at a time once a year. Walking the Camino this way makes it a yearly event and does not use up all of their vacation time. Soon we entered the town of Villambista and saw in the distance the Iglesia San Roque (17th century). This road near this town still has some stretches of medieval pavement and you can many houses still showing their half-timber and stucco construction.
As we walked amongst the rolling hills we were soon contemplating our stop for lunch. Our stop was to be the beautiful Villafranca de Montes de Oca. You will encounter on the Camino many towns or villages with the name Villafranca as part of its name. The word literally means Town of the French and indicates a town that was exempt from certain feudal taxes or obligations, normally as a reward for some special service. These exemptions and in many cases additional rights and privileges served as an inducement to convince peregrinos to settle in Northern Spain and thereby provide manpower for the reconquest of Spain from the Muslims.This area has evidence of a pre-Roman Iron Age settlement from as early as 700 B.C.
Our lunch stop was to be in the courtyard of the beautiful and exclusive Hotel San Antón Abad just off the square where the Iglesia de Santiago is located. It is a three-star hotel the owner of which also has walked the Camino and runs an albergue in the rear of the hotel and as way to “give something back”. Here we had lunch with Otto, our Austrian friend, and also with an unexpected fowl prowling the courtyard!
Otto went ahead of us after lunch and we also soon began the steep climb up the Montes de Oca. In the local dialect, monte is not a mountain but rather indicates hilly, desolate, scrubby wasteland. Indeed, the area is rolling with pine- and oak-covered hills and gullies, thick with heather and broom. It was famous for its wild animals and thieves. Peregrinos often got lost here. We were soon rewarded with a beautiful view of the area and the ominous approach of rainclouds, thunder and lightning. We could clearly hear the thunder in the distance and at one point thought that we would outrun it be alas it caught us in the mountains and we had to hurriedly put on our raingear. The area was very beautiful and reminded me of the many wooded mountainous areas in the states.
Soon we we upon the Monumento de los Caídos (Monument of the Fallen) that commerates the men from Burgos assainated in 1936 during the Civil War whose bodies were dumped on this spot. The monument was placed there by the families of the dead. After a brief stop here we continued on and soon found Otto!! He was resting by the side of the trail and he soon joined us for the final descent to the Monasterio de San Juan de Ortega.
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