The Via de la Plata is one of many Caminos de Santiago, pilgrimage paths that weave their way across Spain (and into the rest of Europe), towards Santiago de Compostela. In March and April 2012, Craig and I walked the 1000km from Seville to Santiago as an outside-the-box way to celebrate ten years of marriage, arriving on our anniversary after six weeks on the road.
The Via de la Plata differs from the other Ways in that it mostly follows an old Roman road, so the religious imagery present on the other Caminos is supplemented by Roman bridges, waymarkers and other structures.
We left Seville on Tuesday morning, after attending two masses and having our pilgrim passports stamped. The path took us past an old Roman city, which we visited before continuing on to our first stop of Guillena.
The rest of the week was characterised by shortish days, Craig developing enormous blisters and me not being able to talk because of my cold. There was a fair bit of road walking but some beautiful paths through forest and farmland as well.
Although we were starting to find our stride, week two was marked by challenges — my shoes bit the dust and Craig continued to battle his blisters. We walked through both Merida and Cáceres, which abounded with awesome Roman architecture, and had private rooms almost all week — which you appreciate when you’re usually sharing with eight other people.
It was a week of changes of plan: days that were going to be long that ended up being short, short days that ended up long. Plus, the longest leg of the whole walk at 40km, and one of the shortest at 11km. We passed through the old Roman city of Cáparra and increased the average length that we walked each day to a much more-respectable 26km.
After three weeks of slightly-chilly sunshine, the weather turned on us, pelting down and leaving us wet on arrival almost every day. We passed through the beautiful but impersonal city of Salamanca (where Craig bought some walking sandals which changed his life), we got off-track, slept in freezing conditions in Santa Marta, and walked through snow. Easter day was one of our favourites of the entire walk, involving mass (with procession), great food, an interesting walk and a warm albergue.
Week five was a fantastic one, full of interesting walks and great food. Late in week four we’d turned off the true Via de la Plata, taking the north-westerly Camino Sanabrés rather than continuing north to meet up with the Camino Francés, and we found the terrain much more to our liking: hills to climb, rivers to cross, deers to spot bounding across the path in front of us.
Despite one terrible day weather-wise (which we carefully planned around and mostly avoided), week six was amazing. Five days of shorter hikes, good food and well-maintained albergues culminated in our arrival in Santiago, in time to attend the midday pilgrim mass. We were in luck, the priests swung the huge incense burner known as the botafumeiro, a dramatic end to our long walk.
Some pilgrims experience disappointment on arriving in Santiago. I did when we finished the Camino Francés four years ago, so was expecting a bit of a let-down. But on the contrary, arriving was as satisfying and exciting as we could have hoped. The entrance to the city was more pleasant than the one we’d entered by last time, seeing the botafumeiro swing was an unexpected bonus, and we also rewarded ourselves with a very nice hotel room and dinner in a good restaurant. Throughout the weekend we met up with some of the people we’d met on the walk, and took advantage of the free pilgrim meal offered by the parador hotel, having a great lunch with pilgrims who’d walked or cycled some of the other routes.