Part 4 in a series of snapshots of my journey on the Camino de Santiago, Spain, February and March 2013. Personal comments and responses are welcome.
On entering Grañón I see a cat pausing in the centre of the cobbled street. She is catching the last of the evening light, her tail raised in an attention-seeking gesture.
We had received a text an hour ago: ‘In Grañón. Hostel great. At church.’
As in most Spanish Pueblos, there is a church in the centre of the town. From the outside it definitely does not look like an Albergue so we walk tentatively towards the large, heavy, ancient-looking, wooden door which lies ajar at the side of the church tower. There is a beautiful, brass, scallop-shell door-knocker indicating that we are in the right place. As soon as I step over the threshold my eyes adapt to the darkness of the hallway and I feel the temperature drop. I touch the cold stone.
A sign in Spanish asks us, as pilgrims, to pick up a log from the basket near the door and carry it upstairs. We tramp up the spiral staircase towards a deep window ledge where another hand-drawn sign instructs us to leave our boots. In a box of crumpled-up newspapers, which have been left there to stuff into wet boots, another cat is peacefully dozing. All of these little things add to the mounting excitement, mystery, and novelty of this hostel which looks very promising already compared with the utilitarian places we have stayed in so far.
More stairs and doors, and finally the corridor opens into the main room of the hostel where the Hospitalero welcomes us. Not only does Ramón, the volunteer who is running the hostel, hug us on arrival but he also informs us of the scheduled times of the Pilgrim Blessing, and the dinner and breakfast, which he is going to prepare for us. This is too good to be true. I wander about with a silly grin on my face and meet the others who have made themselves comfortable in armchairs in front of the open fire, where I throw my log.
Above the sitting room is a gallery area with a simple wooden floor and yoga mats, which is where the four of us will sleep. This is perfect for us now but I wonder what it would be like in summer, with dozens of sweaty pilgrims and little ventilation.
Before dinner, two local girls come into the hostel, chatting away to Ramón. They are about thirteen years of age, still charmingly child-like but with teenage awkwardness. They head up to a door in the sleeping area and disappear through it. I am intrigued. My friend figures out that they are going up into the bell tower. This is an opportunity I cannot miss, and so I ask Ramón if we can go up too.
I can barely contain my excitement as I run up the steps and out of the dark, into the tower with its massive bells lit by the setting sun. The bell tower doesn’t disappoint me: it is delightful.
The girls are not going to ring the bell, they are simply enjoying the vantage point to shout down to friends below. After a few short minutes in the cold air the girls and Ramón have had enough and I soon get the hint that it’s time to leave and lock the door. I will ask if I can return in the morning.
Breakfast is at 7am. Although it feels very early, we relish the luxury of not making – or paying – for it ourselves. And so back to the bell tower; this time it is still dark, although the sun is rising. The birds are singing and it is very cold. A fine morning mist has settled over the fields around the town.
I cannot believe the sound of the birds: the whistling and chattering of the starlings, and the flapping and cooing of the pigeons in the roof of the bell tower; it’s as if the power of their collective song is pushing the sun up over the horizon. As each moment passes, a little more of the town is bathed in its light, enhancing the hues of the red tiles of the roofs.
We stay there until the sun is well and truly risen, then bid goodbye to Ramón and move on; enriched, energised, and well-fed.