Garfinny Bridge

while our guide material made reference to the Garfinny Bridge, it still came as a pleasant surprise. (partly due to the fact that we hadn’t seen a way marker in some time and I’d begun to fear we might have missed a turn.) situated “just” outside of Dingle (if you are in a car … still about an hour if you’re on foot), sources claim it is the oldest surviving stone bridge in all of Ireland. it dates from sometime in the 16th century and, like most bridges of its era, was constructed without mortar — just radial stones and clay to secure everything using a corbelling technique. the apex of the arch stands about 3 meters over the river surface.

the informational plaque indicates that the troops of Lord Deputy Arthur Grey may have crossed this bridge on their way to massacre some 600 Irish, Italian and Spanish rebels at Smerwick Bay. Grey, along with some 6,000 recruited soldiers, had been sent to Ireland in 1580 as Lord Deputy to put down the Second Desmond Rebellion. he was largely successful in stifling the rebellion, but even at the time some of his actions were questioned, such as the massacre at Smerwick. (he also executed a former chief justice for suspicion that the man supported the rebellion.) many say he promised the rebels safety if they surrendered their weapons and position, a promise that he soon broke, giving rise to the term “Grey’s faith.”

by the 19th century, the bridge had begun to collapse and people opted to ford the river a bit upstream. in the late 20th century, the bridge was restored to its current condition, which found us crossing the river by it rather than the nearby modern road.


as the title of my last post about Spain alluded to, the one-hundred kilometer threshold holds significance on the Camino. for those of us who set out from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port or farther afield, it serves as a somewhat awe-inducing reminder of how far you’ve come and how a once-staggering distance (i.e. the last 100 kilometers) now seems all but inconsequential. for many, though, Sarria marks a convenient location with lots of lodging and dining amenities from which to start an abbreviated but Compostela-earning Camino. in other words, you can walk from Sarria and still receive a certificate of your achievement upon reaching Santiago. some quarter of of all those who complete the Camino and wait in line to receive their Compostela start in Sarria.

while archaeological evidence points to pre-Roman settlement of Sarria, better evidence dates from the 6th century when a Bishop spearheaded resettlement after a Moorish invasion. early noble Galician families viewed the town as their seat and later Alfonso IX died in Sarria while on his pilgrimage to Santiago; the hotel in which we stayed right next to the rio Sarria was named in his honor.

during the 15th century, disgruntled peasants revolted in Galicia and destroyed the castles and holdings of nobles in Melide, Arcos, and Sarria. after its destruction, a bishiop reconstructed the castle in Sarria, but it didn’t last very long before deteriorating and falling apart. all that remains of the former residence of the counts of Lemos is one reconstructed tower.

in an effort to reach our next destination in time to secure some sort of tolerable lodging in Portomarin, we left Sarria as the sun rose. the view from atop the hill above the city as the sunrise burned off the fog was wonderful. just after crossing the medieval Ponte Apsera over the rio Celerio we had a close encounter with an early-morning commuter train. not unpleasantly close, giddily close. it was an interesting reminder of how long it had been since we’d been on any means of motorized transportation … and how we had another week on foot before reacquainting ourselves with such speedy movement.

jousting & the Puente de Orbigo

seeing the strategic importance of the ford over the river at Órbigo, the Romans established a town here, though it remained quite small for quite some time. over the centuries, towns grew up on both sides of the river, resulting in several names for the town based on the primary function of each — Hospital for its work with peregrinos, Encomienda for the Knights Templar, and Puente for the bridge.

the bridge is by far the most remarkable site in the town. its one of the longest and best preserved medieval bridges in Spain, dating from the 13th century though several of the arches have been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries (including two by the Spanish in an effort to halt Napoleon’s march sweep across Spain). the view from the bridge offers great views of the jousting lists, which appear to remain standing year-round though we saw a poster advertising jousts set to take place about two weeks after we walked through.

apparently, Órbigo is known for a particular joust, known as the Paso Honroso, that took place in the Jacobean Holy Year of 1434. a Leonese knight, Suero de Quiñones — scorned by his lady and wearing an iron collar as a symbol of being bound to her — sought and received permission from Juan II of Castilla to hold a special tournament wherein all knights passing the venue could be pressed into participating. those refusing to participate had to leave a token of their cowardice and wade across the river. the king proved highly obliging for the event, providing accommodations, having his herald pronounce the terms of Quiñones challenge throughout the kingdom, and “inviting” all the knights at court to participate. (as my cultural book describes it, everyone at court was bored of the “messy intricacies of court politics and gruesome dynastic wars and yearning for a simpler world they read about in … books of chivalry.”)

Quiñones chose to stage his tournament beginning in July 11, two weeks before St. James’ Day when the number of peregrinos, eager to receive the extra perks of completing the Camino during a Holy Year, was highest. during the several weeks the tournament lasted, Quiñones broke some “300 lances,” including some belonging to a Catalán knight named Gutierre de Quijada. in acknowledgement of Quiñones reputation, Quijada dressed in double-thick armor; Quiñones mocked this decision by dressing in light armor and a woman’s blouse which seemed like a good idea until Quijada knocked him to the ground. Quiñones continued to mock his opponent, dancing up and proclaiming the blow Quijada landed was nothing. shamed and embarrassed, Quijada and his men rode off, continuing on their way to Santiago. two weeks later on August 9, Quiñones wrapped the tournament up by removing his iron collar and proclaiming himself free of his lady and announcing his intention to compete the Camino as a sign of his new-found freedom.

twenty-four years after the tournament of 1434 and Quiñones’ Camino to Santiago de Compostela, he encountered Gutierre de Quijada while out riding. not one to let the previous, reputation-sullying encounter go, Quijada and Quiñones dropped their visors and rode at one another and after a few passes Quiñones fell once again but this time didn’t manage to spring up and dance around to mock the blow.


the journey from Roncesvalles to Zubiri was our first lesson in the short-comings of our guide book. while it recommends continuing on to Larrasoaña — a further 5 or so km — with the afterthought addendum “if you’re feeling muy fuerte” we were more than ready to stop in Zubiri for the night. it was the first of many experiences in one of the numerous small villages that make up the majority of the stops along the Camino, as well as another albergue experience that quickly amounted to a strong preference for private rooms with fewer snorers and private showers wherever they might be found.

Zubiri is named for the bridge that connects the Camino to the town, crossing over the rio Arga. the name comes from Basque and roughly translates to “town of the bridge.” originally constructed in 1097, the current bridge dates from the 14th century. it’s known as the Puente de la Rabia because of a tradition (or legend) that held that walking around the central pillar three times would cure a domesticated animal (e.g. sheep, horses, cows) of rabies. until the 20th century farmers would bring their animals to receive help from the 5th century virgin-martyr Saint Quiteria, whose remains might have been found or ended up here.

the second day was challenging in a whole new set of ways. it still hadn’t really set in that we were in this for the long haul, though I worked assiduously on not thinking about how many days of walking we had left. even though on some level I knew we couldn’t possibly be facing 33 more days as arduous as the ascent over the mountains into Roncesvalles, I didn’t have any evidence yet to prove otherwise. swollen feet were my worst enemy the duration of the Camino and they showed up with a vengeance on this day; my body wasn’t prepared for the reality of walking for hours every day, for days on end.

physical pain aside, the countryside had a lot to offer, all of which differed from what we saw the on the preceding day. apart from a few days in the middle as we crossed the plains of Castilla y Leon, the terrain differed every day — offered new and incredible vistas and presented unique challenges. on this day, for example, we saw our first group of domesticated animals moving as a herd. after a brief rest and not-yet-underwhelming bocadillo in Espinal, the main road through town was briefly swarmed by sheep moving out to pasture. the shepherd and his dogs kept everyone in line, plodding along determinedly, the old sheep straggling along at the rear with periodic canine astonishment to stay with the group.

in all honesty, I am surprised we didn’t see more herds of farm animals moving through towns. we saw plenty of animals out in fields, sure, but only two or three in being shepherded to a new destination. suppose the farmers were up before even the peregrinos seeing to their animals and getting them out for a nice long, sunny meal in the pasture.