In 2016, I walked a short part of the Camino with a friend, from St. Jean to Roncesvalles via the Napoleon route, and back to St. Jean via the Val Carlos route. We had limited time and were beset with a few hiccups, but we had a great trip – enlightening – and even celebrated my birthday there. It made one of the most memorable trips abroad that I’ve had.
We walked in April and were lucky enough to be able to walk the Napoleon route as, the week before we left, the pass had been closed due to snowfall. There were still patches of snow and ice in the mountains, it was bitterly cold, and at one stage, we got caught in a sleet shower as we traversed the Pyrenees. Half way across, we had to take shelter from the deluge in a small hut. It was so good to arrive at the hostel in Roncesvalles to have a hot shower and climb into our respective bunk beds. And, we were lucky to get the last two beds in the hostel that night.
Last year, I returned to St. Jean with himself.
In St. Jean we enjoyed the heat, the sunshine, and the beautiful scenery.
We met up with my friend that I’d walked the Camino with previously and her daughter. They were going to walk another section of it also. We had dinner together in St. Jean that evening in the beautiful sunshine, and then we parted company in order to get an early night before the long walk the next day. My friends were staying in the town while we had a 2km walk up the hill to our accommodation.
We enjoyed a really peaceful evening relaxing at our little hostel, La Coquille Napoléon, at the foothills of the Pyrenees. Our room with single beds and an en-suite bathroom was perfect and had a lovely decking area where we were able to sit out and watch the sun go down. A washing line provided ample drying space for our microfibre towels until the rain started to fall later that evening. All in all, it was the perfect start to the first part of our Camino journey to Roncesvalles.
The next morning, after a light breakfast, we loaded our gear into our bags, including two sleeping bags that we had only needed for that first night and that we were to part with later in the journey. We began the first part of our ascent up the mountain. Boy, was it tougher than I remembered it being. Himself ended up taking my sleeping bag to make my pack a bit lighter.
The weather wasn’t too bad – a bit gusty – until we got about half way up the hill.
The skies clouded over, it began to rain, and our ponchos were quickly removed from our backpacks and thrown on. Unfortunately for me, my cheap cape (bought in a local discount store the week before our trip) did everything it could to escape from me in the blustery wind conditions, and I did my best to clutch it around me to keep dry. But, by the time we reached the marker below, the arms and front of my light down jacket were already soaked through.
Nevertheless, we pushed on, taking a break from the stormy conditions in the very same hut that I and my friend had taken refuge in four years ago. This time there were several other people taking cover from the thunder and lightning that had started on the mountain.
After a quick bite to eat, and as soon as we saw a bit of a break in the weather, we were on our way again, making our way over the rest of the mountain and then down through forest tracks until we reached Roncesvalles, cold, wet, and extremely tired after six hours of walking.
I was never so grateful to see a village, and so glad that I’d booked the beautiful Hotel Roncesvalles for that evening. We were quickly booked in and made our way to our room where we showered and rested in the cool, quiet bedroom, before making our way to the restaurant for dinner.
The second night of our Camino journey was very different to the first, but every bit as enjoyable.