A quick breakfast and we're out at 8.20am to catch out train over the bridge- walking the tracks seems too dangerous! It takes 2 minutes exactly and saves us 4 hours walking back to where we were yesterday. It seems strange to be moving so quickly and effortlessly. Speed is the great temptation for Modern beings.
We get out at Mogro station and start walking up under the lipid blue skies after morning mist, with glimpses of the distant sea. Then down into a wide river estuary with mudflats dotted with white ibis. I follow a pipe-line (I didn't find out what) on a gravel track for several miles, which is a pleasant change to tarmac, which gets tiring on the legs. And a wonderful enormously ugly cement works at Rinconeda.
It's a long steady 120m ascent to Santilliana del Mar and I somehow miss a shortcut onto a quieter country road, so I end up marching up a busy road, but find a spring of drinking water half way up; it tastes very good after the chlorinated hotel water in my bottle.
At the top I think I see a shortcut on the map - which of course wasn't because the lane was about 30 foot below the main road and I ended up climbing over a road barrier to get onto it. But eventually I arrive...
Santilliana de Mar is very old and very beautiful. Cobbled streets, honey coloured stone buildings, deep, dark wooden balconies and carved coats of arms on many of the grand buildings. The church at the top of the town is Romanesque and I can't wait to see inside. It's stuffed full of tourist shops full of leather bags, delis, cheese shops and the usual tat....and lots of hotels and restaurants. I start hearing English voices.
Annie was a fast-mover today and has arrived one and a half hours ahead of me. She's checked into a single room in a hotel/ private albergue since the Municipal one is closed for renovations. At €25 a single room with ensuite sounds good to me and I do the same when I arrive at 2pm.
The hotel is a Gothic delight, if that's the right word. It is run by a scarily spooky couple of rotund, bearded brothers, one of whom reminds me of 'Blue-Beard' with a manic laugh. He offers his guests chocolates every time they pass through reception. The place is full of black panelling, old wooden chests, antique wardrobes, crumbling crucifixes, statues of saints and the odd instrument of torture.
I'm shown into a nice double room with bathroom overlooking the garden- it's very quaint with an iron bedstead and an 'Eau de Nile' bedspread. The real pilgrims are in dorms at the back, I can see them sitting in the sun and hanging up washing in the garden. I enjoy getting undressed and showering in private but still I feel in the wrong place!
Then Annie and I set off for a wander around town- it's an picturesque warren of narrow streets and sunny squares. I fancy a late lunch and find a Menu del Dia: grilled prawns, fried fish with potatoes, a slice of the local curd tart and a glass of sangria. Delicious!
I see a sign for a visit to the cloisters for 3€ and in we go. WHAM BANG. A totally unexpected full-on Romanesque cloister with the most amazing carved capitals. One of the best I've seen! Intertwined Celtic knotwork, saints, soldiers, winged horses all dance round the shady walkway overlooking a simple grass space.
Then into the church which is dedicated to Santa Juliana and the place does have a sort of Feminine feel. A lovely reredos of St Anne with the infant Mary (Mother and Daughter). Again, wonderful carved capitals but the building is simple and unadorned with narrow marble-glazed windows. A deep hushed peace. Santa Julia's tomb is in the chancel with a sweet prone statue of her at rest- she wrestled with demons apparently.
The Baptistry would be easy to miss as it's under the tower and almost dark. It contains a huge stone font for full full immersion, overlooked by a tall wall painting of Christ rising in victory, flanked on each side with Easter candles. I think I now understand the Alchemical illustration of the King in his bath that I set off, all those weeks ago.
Next to the cathedral is the lovely house/studio and garden of sculptor Jesus Otero. The Pilgrim's albergue is also part of his foundation. Some of his monumental honey-coloured stone carvings and bas-relief adorn this quiet oasis off the tourist trail. They are mainly of stylised buffalo, horses and goats; informed perhaps by the prehistoric Altamira cave-paintings, which are within walking distance of his house.
We meet up with Christine in the evening for a bottle of white wine in the main square. We have a nice chat with a middle aged well-to-do English chap who is motor biking around the mountain villages with a group of friends; they all emerge from the bar later. One is wearing a 'David Beckham' style sarong, which could cause some interest around here!
Then back to the hotel for a well earned sleep. Annie has several large blisters and we decide to review our travel plans for tomorrow when it comes.