Climbing over the Pyrenees Mountains was arduous as promised, but the stunning scenery was worth every ounce of effort. It was the way favoured by Napoleon to get his troops in and out of Spain during the Peninsular War and by medieval pilgrims anxious to avoid the bandits hiding in the trees surrounding the lower route. The Napoleon route is recommended only in good weather, and we had fantastic weather for it.
There are no words to describe today, only pictures and music …lots of music: “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music;” “High on a Hill was a Lonely Goat Herd;” “Climb Every Mountain;” “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain When She Comes!” I couldn’t even hear the words of the songs I was singing as they were whipped right out of my mouth by a strong head wind. The pilgrims walking behind might have been entertained, but more than likely they were hoping the pilgrim ahead would just shut up.
We left Orisson at 8 a.m. and arrived in Roncesvalles by mid-afternoon. Roncesvalles means “valley of thorns.” John Brierley wrote that Roncesvalles is the ‘major entry point for Spanish pilgrims and was one of the earliest and most revered pilgrim refuges … Since the 12th century it has received ‘All pilgrims… sick and well. Catholics, Jews, pagans, heretics and vagabonds…’ This open hospitality continues today with one judicial agency offering the opportunity to walk the camino as a way of purging offenders of their misdeeds in lieu of a custodial sentence.”
We checked into the albergue administered by the collegiate church. It has 183 beds spread over three floors with bunk beds in cubicles of four for 10 Euros each and excellent modern facilities. We got cleaned up, settled into our little cubicles, and then checked out the little town of Roncesvalles.
The town has a resident population of less than 100. We took a tour of the Royal Collegiate Church of Saint Mary. The church was built at the behest of the Navarrese King Sancho the Strong and consecrated in the year 1219 after his death. It houses the beautiful 14th century statue of Our Lady of Roncesvalles. We also visited the Sala Capitular with its 13th century mausoleum that houses the tomb of Sancho VII and his wife Clemencia, but what was most interesting were the human bones under the floor. We looked through the hole to see what was under the floor, and numerous skulls were staring back at us. Yowsers!
The “Menu del Peregrino” at Casa Sabina tonight was very simple, consisting of red wine, potato chowder, boiled white fish and chips, and an ice ceam bar. The wine and the ice cream were the best part.
Hiking a total distance of 25.1 km over two days is tiring, especially when the distance is adjusted for climb to 32.0 km, so we fell into bed not long after dinner. We’ll be going for another little walk tomorrow and the day after and the day after…