Tag Archives: Templar

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills

Salas de Barrios to Villafranca del Bierzo
Wednesday 26 November

Rising from a comfortable sleep in our fifteenth century mansion alburgue, our charming and passionate host was preparing breakfast in the warm and ancient kitchen. Fruit smoothies, wholesome bread with homemade conserves, coffee. Conversation flowed, we could have stayed all day, but we had sights to see.

We first toured several small mountain villages. Our host had grown up in the area, and knew the ancient history as well as telling stories of his personal history. I was born here, my uncle lives there, a king owned this, this family is famous for that. He is an architect by trade, so could explain some of the ancient building techniques, illustrating the colourful stories from the area. Fascinating.

We ventured down to Ponferrada, walking around the twelfth century Templar castle. It looked like something Walt Disney would have dreamt up, the stuff of fairy tales. I searched for dragons. Our host pointed out a small hole and told tales of when he was a child crawling through that very hole to explore. I suddenly realised my necklace had broken, and I had lost my pendant. It’s a Balinese Hindu symbol, that I’ve had for several years, and am very fond of. I had recently added a small Camino symbol to the chain, however that had remained. I didn’t feel panicky or particularly upset, as I thought I might, but felt I would find it. We searched the surrounding area, and retraced our steps, then searched the car, but it was not to be found. I thought perhaps it had fallen off back at the alburgue. I was almost pleased that I would have an excuse or visit our host again.

We next drove to Las Medulas, the ancient Roman, UNESCO listed gold mines, and the reason for our Camino detour. We parked near a wooden platform on the edge of the cliff. Our view was obscured, until we climbed the platform. My jaw dropped. Giant red ancient anthills. A once towering mountain, now desolate, almost completely carved away. Spectacular barren landscape. We were then able to enter one of the Roman tunnels, but first we had to don hard hats. We descended into the dimly lit red passage. The first few meters were wide, but not very tall, so we had to duck. It then opened up, and we were able to stand. The shaft branched out into several tunnels, we followed one until the end, then backtracked along another. I marveled at the centuries old technology that had managed to carve out this mountain. Continuing through the tunnel system, it opened to a large abyss on the side of the mountain, through which we could view the anthill-like forms. My jaw dropped again.

It was time to go, and we were all a little hungry. We drove to Villafranca to look for a resturant. As I was getting out of the car, I saw something shinny wedged between the seats, it was my pendant! I will have to find another excuse to visit Salas de Barrios again. My American friend and I had planned to walk from near Ponferrada to Villafranca today, but as we were already there, we decided to forgo our Camino for another day it was getting late. She said the municipal Albergue would be too much of a shock for us after our luxurious mansion, so suggested a small hotel she knew. It was very reasonable and included breakfast in the price, so basically the cost of an alburgue, as we split the cost of a room.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 17- The Magic Fountain

Le Barp to Moustey
Friday 24 October

Sometimes I can be a lazy pilgrim. I am a night owl, not a lark. Overnight the temperature dropped, and for the first time had my sleeping bag zipped up all the way, all night. I wasn’t getting out of bed until it warmed up. The others had left, or were ready to leave when I rose. We had been invited to the gentleman’s from the church house for coffee, but I had said I would not go early, but would drop in later. I had bought some eggs at the supermarket and cooked them for breakfast. It was my first time to have eggs for breakfast in France. In Indonesia they are hard to avoid… and I eat them almost every day. I was a welcome change from bread.

I eventually packed up and left about 11.30, went around to say goodbye, and rode towards Belin-Beliet, the next town on the map. On the way I passed two of the pilgrims from last night, and bid then Buen Camino. It was lunch time by the time I was in the small town, and as it was Friday, was hoping fish would be on the menu somewhere rather than the usual beef. I turned off the main road, and saw a small Resturant with a lunch menu. They had two choices for main – beef or something else… Google translate came up with ray, so it was fish. I parked my bike, and went in. I asked if they spoke English, and the very enthusiastic host, spoke very fluently. She asked me what bought me to her small town, and I said I was a pilgrim on St Jacque de Compostelle. She said I was the first one on a bike she had met. We had a very interesting conversation – she used to live in the Caribbean and work on boats, and was interested in my life in Indonesia. She asked had I visited the Templar churches nearby, apparently there are two. I said I had visited one… and described it, she said I should visit the other one too, although they are almost identical, the other one had a ‘magic fountain’ in the woods behind it. A magic fountain! Now that was worth seeing. It would be an hours detour return, but I had time for magic. She helped me search google maps for directions, but it couldn’t be found… a secret magic fountain. She then searched the internet for the coordinates, and we found it…

After another delicious three course lunch, I made my way to the Saint Pierre Church in nearby Mons. It was almost identical to the one in the forest I had visited the previous night, but surrounded by a small graveyard. I entered the gate, but the church was locked. I saw the small path into the forest, and followed it to the fountain. It was a small stone arch with an iron cross, and several small, recently made wooden crosses. The trees around were covered in candle wax. It was more like a spring than a fountain really, but it was magic!

I had to backtrack to Belin-Beliet, to find the road to Moustey, my destination for this evening. I had originally planned to stay at Saugnacq-et-Muret, as I had information about a pilgrims Gite there, but when I asked my fellow pilgrim to call, they were told the was nothing there, and to stay in Moustey where there was a commercial Gite, that had beds for pilgrims. I road on following the instructions to look out for the wagon wheels marking the turnoff. I arrived, paid, and was shown the place for pilgrims. I thought it was a little overpriced for the 17€ they asked but it was a commercial venture I guess. There was another Pilgrim camping, and turns out he was paying half as much as me for the use of the same facilities – I should have put up my tent, but I had already paid, unpacked and had occupied a bed.

He was German, and also riding a bike. I asked had he ridden from Germany? He said he had ridden from Germany, up to Norway, back down, was going to Santiago de Compostella, then onto Portugal. He was in his fourth month of the trip, and had ridden today from Bordeaux. He said his budget for France was 15€ a day, as he was heating up some pasta with instant sauce. My budget for lunch is that. I guess if you live in Europe, you don’t have to indulge every day. He was then rather dismissive and didn’t want to talk any more, I guess after four months you get sick of the same conversation. I was impressed however… and he had a really nice bike.

I went up to the village of Moustey to visit the two churches that are side by side, and look very similar, I don’t know why, and couldn’t find any information on the subject. Nearby is a marker to Compostella… Only 1,000km to go!

Another pilgrim arrived, and it was the French man from the previous evening who had no English. He is in his late 60’s, and didn’t seem the fittest of men, but said he had walked 38 km that day… Slightly less than I had cycled (he had left before I got up!). That is impressive!

I was cooking some pasta for dinner, as had a had a big lunch only wanted a simple meal, and offered to make some for him, but he said he would go up to the village to a resturant. About half an hour latter he returned saying everything was shut, but he had bought some supplies form the local shop. We started a conversation, but both agreed it was too hard… But I do like to talk, so opened Google translate, and we were able to chat. I showed him some photos of Indonesia, and he told me about a trip he had had to China, and we ended up having a pleasant evening together, with only a few words of each other’s language.

Cycle Path Psychopath part 16 – A Pilgrim Party with the Templars

Bordeaux to Le Barp
Thursday 23 October

My host had to leave early, so I packed up and also had an early start. I considered checking into a hotel, so would have a bit more time to discover Bordeaux, but decided I was more in the mood for quiet country roads, rather than the delights of a cultural city, so started towards Le Barp.

It was a straightforward route out of the city to the next small town… Then I got a little off track and ended up in a forest, which was rather lovely. I continued down small roads and paths, getting smaller and smaller as I headed again into the countryside. Then my road turned to sand. Thick sand. Thick sand that was impossible to ride a bike through. Google said it was a further 4 km down this path. I got off and pushed, my fastest rate was 4km per hour… If would take an hour of pushing the bike through the sand… Then after about a kilometer the road became firm again. I happily road on to Le Barp. On the way I saw another pilgrim on foot, he was also heading to Le Barp, and asked my to buy him some supplies, as he would probably arrive after the shops closed.

Tonight I was staying in a municipal Gite, open to pilgrims. My host had called ahead for directions and instructions. I had directions from the church and the code to get in. I went to the church and there was a workman installing a plaque, and an man looking on nodding. I said bonjour, and they asked if I needed help. I indicate that I was just looking at the church. They then saw my shell, and said there was a place for pilgrims to stay here – I said I had the code, but was just looking for my instructions of how to get there… The man said to follow him, as he drove around the corner. He asked if I would like a stamp in my Credencial, I said I would so followed him to his house. I wasn’t sure if he was the priest, but then his wife came out, but he seemed associated with the church in some way. They offered me coffee and biscuits, and I sat down for a chat – he had some English. He knew quit a lot of the history of the local area, and asked if I would like to visit an ancient Templar church, and explained the history of the Templar knights in the area, indicating that were still alive and well. I said I would be very interested, and he said he would come by the hostel later, and whoever was there was also invited for a tour.

I road back to the hostel, entered the code, and there was another pilgrim already there, a French man with hardly any English, we had a difficult, but friendly conversation, and he told me there was a young girl, also on her way, so we would be four tonight – a full house! I went to the supermarket for some supplies, and when I returned everyone had arrived. I told them about the offer to see the Templar church, but only the girl was interested. The others said they would wait for us for dinner.

The gentleman arrived and first took us to the birthplace of a former queen of France, married to one of the Henry’s, but all that remained was a small hill, and a rather kitsch statue. He said that during WWII, the Germans were convinced that the hill concealed treasure, so ordered the locals to dig it away, so really, it was just half a hill, with a nearby pile of sand. There was no treasure.

I was asking the fellow pilgrim about the origins of her unusual name, Quitterie – She said it was French, but our friend had also never heard it. She said it was actually a Saints name, form this very area. As she said this – she exclaimed and pointed to the street sign – we were in Rue Saint Quitterie!

We then went to the 10th Century Templar church – it was dusk in the forest, and the light surrounding the simple rounded building was lovely. We entered the darkened church, it was cold the only light was from the stained glass windows. The gentleman handed us candles, and the three of us made a procession to the alter and placed candles all around the church in front of all the statues, it was rather spooky and mystical – fitting for this secretive order.

Returning to the hostel, I showered and the others were preparing for dinner. I had been under the impression we would all go into town for dinner together, but the group had pooled their snacks of bread and fruit. I said I need a proper meal, so would cook if anyone would partake – they were all happy to eat. We had melon and some duck pate to start (not together), I opened a bottle of wine to share… and cooked up lentils with vegetables I had leftover. It was fun and relaxing to be in the company of other pilgrims, and we all had stories to share.