Week 24: Mi Vuelta a España

06/02/23 – 12/02/23 211 km

After more than five months on the road I was about to start the final full week of walking. I left Pertusa at the crack of dawn and made my way out of the village into an open expanse of farmland. Field after field of frosty produce glistened in the early sun as I battled my way through another morning of sub-zero temperatures. My fingertips haven’t really been the same since the Pyrenees and I was starting to worry that I may have damaged them. At least it was flat.

After about four hours I arrived in the village of Berbegal, situated on top of a hill, where I made a quick stop to grab a coffee. I then spent the rest of the day traipsing along tracks which cut their way through endless fields before arriving in Monzon. There, instead of an Albergue, I would spend the night in a residence for athletes, overlooked by a 10th century castle built by the Moors. The building reminded me of a university dormitory but after some of the recent Albergues it felt more like a five star hotel. 

I was out early the next day and soon found myself walking through yet more open farmland. It was the same as the day before with one exception. This time there was no opportunity for a midday break. So, I had to power on until I arrived at Tamarite de Litera where I was let into the Albergue by the Policia Local. The Albergue was situated on the ground floor of an immense building that used to house borders attending the local school. As I had only walked twenty three kilometres and the Albergue was free I decided to take myself out for lunch where I devoured a three course meal and sunk the best part of a bottle of wine. All for a whopping €11. 

Full and content I wobbled my way back to the Albergue and settled down to a much needed siesta. Suddenly, at 8pm, I was woken by a massive bang. I heard a loud group enter the building and immediately head upstairs. I had been warned that the building was used regularly by the locals. Apparently they even had a Scalextric club. But nothing could have  prepared me for band practice. Thankfully they called it a day around midnight…

The next morning, to compound matters, when exiting the building the band had managed to lock me in! So I had to wait, locked in the freezing entrance, until the policeman started his shift. Once released I was back into the same landscape as the previous few days. More flat open farmland with the stench of pig farms in the air. After just over four hours of walking I arrived in the tiny village of Algerri where I stayed in a brand new Albergue with amazing facilities. I had only walked twenty two kilometres so I made the most of the comfy sofa and put my feet up whilst I relaxed and read my book.

Day 162 started with a lie in. I didn’t leave until 09:30, and my goodness did I need it. I had another short day on the cards so I ambled out of town and completed the seventeen kilometres across yet more farmland. It was becoming like Groundhog Day in that sense. However, despite the fact the walking had been boring this week, I was grateful for the respite the weather Gods had afforded me after the harsh conditions of the previous month. I was also starting to feel like the end was in sight. Without warning, waves of emotion would sweep over me as I started to process what I had achieved. I was smiling uncontrollably. Tears of joy welling up in my eyes. 

Entering Balaguer was like walking into another world, after four days of flat open farmland ,I finally had something to look at. On entering the town, I dropped down through the 10th Century walls into the historic centre which is overlooked by a 9th Century castle. The Albergue was a converted museum named in honour of Teresa Pàmies, a Catalan writer of great significance after she was forced to flee the town with her family during the Civil War period. I spent the rest of the day exploring the town and treated myself to some salmon from the local supermarket. It had been a long time since I tasted something so good.

After three relatively short days I knew the next was going to be difficult. Each day’s distance had been determined by the location of the next Albergue and this meant that I would have to walk forty nine kilometres on Day 163 in order to get to Cervera. I left Balaguer before the sun came up and crossed the River Segre before exiting the town. It was freezing again, a situation exacerbated by the absence of the early morning sun. For the first two hours, I was accompanied by nothing more than the sound of my footsteps as I crunched along the frosty ground until I arrived at Linyola. There I stopped for a coffee and the chance to warm my hands.

After this I was back into the vast expanse of farmland where I walked for another three hours until I arrived in the tiny village of Tornabous which marked the halfway point of the day. I stopped to eat lunch on a bench and had a pleasant conversation with a guy from Hungary who had recently moved to the village. After refuelling, I walked for another three hours until arriving in Tàrrega, where despite my tiring legs, I decided not to stop. I was beginning to worry about the prospect of running out of daylight so I forced myself to plod on. I had another thirteen kilometres to go. Fortunately, when I left Tàrrega I could see the village of Cervera in the distance. It took me another three hours to slowly climb the dusty path up to the church situated next to the Albergue where I would spend the night. It was horrible. I was tired. I didn’t care!

I struggled to get up the next day. My legs were aching and my mind was starting to show signs of fatigue after so long on the road. The morning saw me follow a stream east before embarking on a slow climb up to La Panadella. Despite the extra effort needed it was nice to be away form the plains of Lleida at last. After a brief stop to eat the last of my rations, I descended towards the village of Jorba, where I spent the night with another pilgrim in the Albergue run by the local Priest. He was a lovely guy and had clearly put a lot of effort into making sure that anyone who stayed there would be comfortable. It was just what I needed at this stage of my journey.

The next day I woke up with a spring in my step. I would finish Week 24 by staying in the famous Monastery of Montserrat. It is one of the most iconic mountain ranges on the whole of the Iberian Peninsular and the sight holds special significance for all Catalans – it is their Mecca, for want of a better explanation. I left early that morning and quickly made my way through the industrial outskirts of Igualada before climbing up to Castelloli. Here I started the climb up to Montserrat. To my surprise, instead of struggling with the ascent, I found a new gear and I was soon high enough to see the famous peak itself or should I say peaks. The mountain(s) reminds me of a stegosaurus with a ridge of pinky sedimentary spikes running across the whole range, you really have to see it to appreciate its splendour.

As the sun was out, I took an extended break to take in the atmosphere of the place before contouring around the summit and arriving at the Monastery. I was also grateful for the long needed Vitamin D. The Monastery itself was a tourist trap and I must confess after so long in relative isolation I was not used to seeing so many people. It took me over an hour to work out the check in process for the Albergue but when I was finally collected by the host he turned out to be a real gentleman. By sheer coincidence we had already spoken via Social Media and he was intrigued to find out more about my adventure. Had I really walked around the whole of Spain?!

That evening, as I lay in bed listening to the bells of the Monastery ringing in the background, I was feeling very content. I could not believe that I had completed my final full week of walking and that I only had two more days to go!


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