A cross to bear.

Shortly before travelling to Spain, I found myself idling along Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver, savouring my final days in Canada. Buried in the sand, I discovered the most perfectly formed scallop shell (an iconic symbol of the Camino) and the smoothest pebble. These trinkets would be my first pilgrim accomplices. Unfortunately, the shell resembled a DIY mosaic by the time I scooped it from my bag after touching down at Madrid airport. The stone, however, had remained a close compatriot throughout. Nevertheless, following a much-celebrated rite of passage on Day 24, I dropped my quartz companion at the highest point of the Camino Francés.

Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 24

A fiery sunrise spurred my solo walk from Day 23’s Albergue in Foncebadón through the sweet-smelling gorse bushes of the Leónese highlands. The morning’s first destination – one I had envisioned before beginning the trail – was just around the corner.

Sunbeams sprouting over Foncebadón

The summit at Monte Irago (approx 1,500 metres above sea level) features an ancient ritual site dating back 2,500 years. Theories of the origins of the Cruz de Ferro, or Iron Cross, are many and diverse, but today the monument acts as a point for reflection, gratitude and forgiveness. Since Roman times, travellers have freed stones from their pockets and weight from their conscious at this lofty altitude.

According to custom, by leaving a small piece of your home at the foot of the iron cross, you are symbolically ‘leaving your burdens behind.’
caminoways.com

The meandering path soon delivered me to the foothill of the towering cross. A dramatic mass of rubble encircled its base, and a gathering of pensive pilgrims took turns climbing the rise and presenting their contributions.

As I stepped closer, the sheer volume of rocks became almost overwhelming – generations of pilgrims, yielding countless hardships, were infused into a seven-metre-high mound. I could sense the emotional and physical weight that had been unshackled here.

Soon it was my turn to summit the stack and place my offering. I had exercised my demons on South Australia’s Heysen Trail some nine months earlier, but I could still feel the centuries’ worth of stories beneath my feet. I took a few moments to mull the significance of the occasion before continuing my journey.

Depositing my stone at the Cruz de Ferro.

As I descended down the other side of the mountain, I collected walkers as I went; each in a contemplative, slightly melancholy mood. The morning’s reflection, paired with rich mountain air and an extraordinary vista of the valley bowl, had pilgrims examining their perspectives.

By the time we reached Molinaseca at the mountain’s foothills, the drop in altitude had heated the day, and we were rendered exhausted. A quick paddle in the icy Meruelo River was enough to cool our heels, but the emotion of the day had sapped our energy.

Molinaseca provided a cool rest stop.

The following 8-kilometre trudge to Ponferrada was hot, sticky and in every way unpleasant. A threatening cloud had joined the blistering heat of the day and unleashed a tropical humidity. By the time we arrived at our Albergue in the late afternoon, a dripping sweat had rinsed our shirts, and all we wanted to do was eat and collapse. Unfortunately (for everybody concerned), after three and a half weeks as a dedicated sous-chef, it was my turn to prepare the evening menu.

My ‘Avocado Pasta’ main attracted intrigue and hesitation; however, following the feast, the entire table (including our resident Italian, Chiara) gave their approval. These slow-burning carbs would need to pick up our enthusiasm before a bumpy Day 25.

All the details.

Trail distance covered

27.1km

Accommodation

Albergue de Peregrinos San Nicolás de Flue

Price

Donation

Terrain

Go steady down back down the other side of the mountain. Easy walking toward Ponferrada.