Stage 19 – Sahagún to Reliegos
Total Distance – 30.3 km + 3 km = 33.3 km
Adjusted for Climb – 33.5 km (accrued ascent 50 m = 0.2 km)
High Point: N/A , it was pretty much level with a slight climb at Reliegos
CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO ENLARGE TO FULL-SIZE
John Brierly in his excellent A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Guides, Scotland), says the following about the stage:
On the Calzada Romana we will encounter no asphalt roads, no sendas, no town, no farmyard, no house but also no water fonts and little shade apart from the few rivers that crisscross this tranquil landscape. Classified as the most perfect extant stretch of Roman Road left in Spain today, we follow in the footsteps of Emperor Augustus himself but he will have travelled with a retinue of servants not available to a humble pilgrim – so make sure your flask is full and that you bring some food to fortify you along this ancient way. Enjoy the silence and 80% of traffic free walking.
Was I crazy to have been overjoyed and brimming with anticipation for the long and harsh walk that awaited me? (don’t answer that!) I had dreamed of walking this stretch for days before and even though I hadn’t slept the night before I was as giddy as a schoolboy skipping class to mischievously go to the opening day of the baseball season. I admit it, I have a love affair with the Romans and my wife, judging from her lack of complaints from the massive amounts of books relating to Rome in our household, patiently tolerates it.
Rome, or the vestiges of the Roman Empire, was not far off when I started out from the Monasterio de Santa Cruz that morning because well within a kilometer I was at the Puente de Canto, a historic stone bridge over the río Cea that was originally a Roman bridge that had been reconstructed in the 11th and 16th centuries.
Charlemagne, not to be outdone by mere Romans, was close by in the adjacent Copse of Charlemagne’s lances or Charlemagne’s Field of Lances as it is also known. This legendary poplar grove, located immediately over the river, is the site of the following episode that is related in chapter 8 of the of fourth book of the 12th century Codex Calixtinus, known as the Turpin chronicle. It told of Charlemagne’s effort to safeguard the road for pilgrims by pursuing the villian Aigoland. Here is the story as related by Turpin:
They caught Aigoland in a region called Campos, next to the River Cea, in some meadows that are a flat fertile plain. Later, by order of Charlemagne and with his help, the excellent large basilica of the martyred Saints Facundo and Primitivo was erected there… . Then the night before the battle some Christians, carefully preparing their arms for the battle the next day, stuck their lances into the ground, straight up, in front of the camp… . At dawn the next day, those men who in the coming battle were to receive the palms of martyrdom for their faith in God found that their lances had grown bark and were covered by leafy branches. Astonished beyond telling, and attributing the miracle to God’s divine power, they cut them off at ground level. From the staves whose roots remained buried was born the great forest that even today can be seen in that place.
It was also reported by Turpin that 40,000 Christians died in losing the next day’s battle.
My battle with the Calazada Romana or the Vía Trajana as it is also known had yet to begin. I knew the solitary 20 kilometers of the Vía Trajana would be physically challenging but now for a short while I could enjoy the shaded road as I travelled toward the village of Calzadilla de los Hermanillos where I would meet up with the Via Trajana.
Before arriving at Calzadilla de los Hermanillos my map told me that I would have to cross a bridge that would take me over a railway line and I would also have to transit through a small forest in the middle of which would be the Fuente del Peregrino. What would this fountain be like? I had no idea and I envisioned something similar to the Fuente de Roldán that I saw and drank from in the Pyrenees. I had to wait and see.
Well, it wasn’t what I thought it would be and I didn’t refill my water.
Calzadilla de los Hermanillos was to be my stop for food even though it still was early in the morning. Looking at the route ahead of me I knew I had to have a meal before tackling the long and EXCITING (for me!) Calzada Romana.
Calzadilla de los Hermanillos (pop. 145) is named after the “little brothers” (hermanillos) actual Benedictine monks that were affiliated with Sahagún. The Benedictines are long gone and the only local I only encountered was the owner of the Comedor Via Trajana. He graciously agreed to make me a bocadillo (sandwich) de jamón serrano even though it was hours before lunchtime. While settling in I met Heather, a Canadian Peregrina from British Columbia who was finishing her breakfast. During our conversation she told me that she intended staying in town all day and I convinced her to accompany me on the Calzada Romana. I thought it would be a waste of time staying in town when there was plenty of daylight to tackle the 20 kilometers ahead of us. We also met a Korean-American Peregrino named Kyung who was a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He too had decided to stay in town and while I made the same argument with him as I had with Heather I was not successful and he stayed behind as we moved on from the restaurant.
Soon Heather and I were at La Calzada Romana. La Calzada Romana is a largely intact Roman road that has survived 20 centuries. Some maps also call it the Vía Trajana but that name for this road is disputed. In my opinion (and not just mine, see http://www.lacronicadeleon.es/2009/02/08/apoyo/la-mal-llamada-via-trajana-es-el-camino-de-santiago-real-25269) the name is inaccurate because there are actually only two roads in the world that can be truly called the Vía Trajana and this is not one of them.
The first Vía Trajana was constructed by the Emperor Trajan in 109 A.D. as an extension of the Vía Apia from Beneventum, and reaching Brundisium (Brindisi) by a shorter route than previously available. It was primarily a military road but the traffic of soldiers and commercial goods helped Brindisi flourish as a port that linked the Empire with Greece and the Middle East.
The Vía Trajana Nova was a reconstruction of a road known as the Way of the Kings and another one of Trajan’s projects. The Vía Trajana Nova was built by III Legion Cyrenica under the command of the Legate Caius Claudius Severus in the province of Arabia between 107 and 114 A.D. Its function was to link the capital of the province to a port on the Red Sea (present-day Áqaba) and marked the limit of the Roman province of Arabia.
The road that Heather and I traversed had no association with Trajan and was part of an east to west highway that was meant to link the gold mines in Galicia with Astorga and Rome. It was used by the Roman Army, the armies of Christians and Muslims and later became known as the Pilgrim Road Calzada. Heather and me that day were just some of the millions of Peregrinos that walked this same road!
As you can see from the pictures the road was uneven and difficult to walk in some places. The road’s condition made for slow going, that and the heat made it impossible to keep a steady fast pace. It was a hard slog in some places but that’s what you get when you travel on a road 20 centuries old!!
It was fitting that we ran into a flock of sheep on La Calzada Romana because it was the reconquest of lands from the Muslims in the 10th and 11th centuries that opened up vast grazing lands to the Christians right at the time when a growing European population needed to be clothed. Tending the herds became big business for villagers and the herds were sometimes as large as 40,000 head!! Of course where there was money to be made nobles, prelates, the military Orders and the monarchy were involved and owned these large herds. Heavy regulation and tax were also the norm. Herds grazed in lush northern mountain pastures during the summer at the time that the plains of the Meseta were growing wheat and then were brought south to winter in the wheat stubble. This movement of herds was called the transhumancia and continues to this day albeit with more modern modes of transportation for the herds of sheep. Back in the day major sheep roads, called cañadas, were constructed to facilitate this vast movement of herds. The large ones were 80-100 meters wide and were bordered by strong walls. Some of these ancient cañadas still cross the pilgrimage Road and I wonder if both Heather and I were close to one of them when the sheep appeared because it seemed to me that they came out of no where.
As Heather and me continued our journey toward Mansilla de las Mulas we could see the other route that Peregrinos could take that was by an asphalt track that ran parallel to a motorway. It was at times 2 to 4 kilometers to our south across some crop fields. A group of Catalan Peregrinas that were kind enough to take our picture decided that they had had enough of La Calzada Romana and opted to cross the fields to take that easier route. We on the other hand soldiered on La Calzada Romana! Close to what we thought was the end of the road for us we were quickly overtaken by Kyung and Andrew, a Peregrino from London. Kyung had said that I convinced him not to stay in Calzada de los Hermanillos after all!! We all soon became lost because our map was inaccurate and we had no idea what town we were close to. Trial and error got us to the town of Reliegos in the evening and that’s where we stayed for the night.
Luckily for us now we could relax at Bar/Restaurante/Albergue Gil with some cold beers in Reliegos. I have to say that I enjoyed sitting there in front of the place drinking and talking with my comrades after the long day we had just had. As we were sitting there we saw Rhys (the 10-year-old Peregrino) and his father Jamie and uncle Michael. We were glad to see them and they told us that they had to abandon La Calzada Romana and cross over to the road close to where the small airport was located. This meant that Heather, Kyung, Andrew and me were the only Peregrinos that day to have successfully walked La Calzada Romana! I went to sleep dreaming of Romans that night!