|tree-lined sendas — welcome to us if not our guidebooks
the walk between Terradillos and El Burgo Ranero was one of the rougher stretches we covered — we opted for the “alternative” — more popular, less strenuous, though less scenic — route out of Terradillos and nearly missed out on a place to sleep as a result despite the fact that our calculation was supposed to prevent that possibility. we opted for this route because, unlike the alternate destination of Calzada de los Hermanillos, there were four albergues and two hotels and all manner of amenities. sure, the guidebook bemoaned the “improvements” of a gravel senda and the proximity to the highway but following this route cut a couple kilometers off overall route even if it made this day longer.
one of the few distinguishing features of the Camino stands just outside Sahagún — a forest, now a municipal camping ground, is the site of the Field of Lances from the campaigns of Charlemagne. essentially, the night preceding a battle, Charlemagne’s troops planted their lances in the ground in preparation for battle; when they arose the next morning the lances of those fighters who were heading for their heavenly reward had been covered in bark and leafy branches. needing the lances for battle, the soldiers cut them off at the ground and, after the battle, a grove of trees grew up. some 40,000 Christians died in the battle.
beyond this forest it was mostly wide-open farmland. wool was a major business in the region as early as the 10th century; merino sheep were introduced from North Africa and proved highly resilient in the face of Iberian weather changes. the herds, sometimes as large as 40,000 sheep, were owned by nobles and military orders and tended by local villagers. the migration of these massive herds posed some difficulties that required a degree or regulation as early as the 13th century. a network of paths snaked throughout Castilla, León, La Rioja, north and south; herders were contracted for a year to tend and travel with the herds. nowadays most of the land has turned into agricultural fields instead of grazing, but sheep still sometimes put in an appearance.
there’s not much to El Burgo Ranero, apart from the albergues and attendant peregrino-related services. this day we almost stopped for the night at the preceding town — Bercianos del Real Camino — but after finding the only hotel booked and that municipal albergue didn’t allow access to the facilities until after 1 p.m., we decided to push on in spite of fatigue and shin splints. we’d left a bit late from the albergue (compared to everyone else, at least …) and sat for quite a while in Bercianos debating our options, which brought us into the small, rather desolate town much later than planned … only to have difficulty finding the lodging options (a couple of albergues and two small hotels) … and discover that all the beds were taken … almost. we studied the town map at the outskirts of the city with an Aussie and Scot and still took the wrong road through town; when we found the right one, the guys we’d followed were told “oh no, all the beds in town are taken,” so we went in search of one of the hotels … only to head further in the wrong direction. but that additional delay (ending up at a cemetery outside of town) probably saved us from trekking an additional 8km to the next town to find lodging. we made it back to town and actually went into the bar that served as reception for a hotel/albergue to ask for a room; the young woman whom I posed the question to initially said “no, we’re booked up,” but an older woman (the manager probably, her mother possibly) told us to wait and she headed off to check in the book. she returned with good news and sent us off with the first young woman to their second property. as it transpired, the double room in the albergue building had been requested by someone … someone who hadn’t yet showed up by 3:30 p.m. and who had been told to call if they wouldn’t arrive to check in by 3:00 p.m. the guy who checked us in seemed rather incredulous when the young woman brought us in and explained the situation — “but what about the other guests?” he queried in Spanish, “shouldn’t we wait for them to arrive before giving their room away?” “well,” she replied, “[so-and-so] said they’re here … and they’re ready to pay…” and he shrugged, took our credencials and signed us in. to our immense relief and gratitude. it was even a private room instead of bunks in the sheds out back (which was less shocking than it sounds)!