Today we leave behind the big-city trappings of Burgos and head into the vast plains of the Meseta.
Occupying forty percent of the Spanish landmass, the Meseta is a sparsely populated plateau – flat, largely treeless, hot in summer, cold in winter. It is a surrogate home to we dwellers of the Canadian Prairies. The similarities in landscape and climate are everywhere. Only the culture varies, our own small communities of wood-framed structures replaced here with stone villages and soaring churches.
The spareness of the Meseta is its strength. It is the perfect complement to a spiritual journey along the Camino path, dominated as it is with an overtly religious stream of churches and cathedrals. Here we tread across the barely-decorated Romanesque plane of earth while, above us, Baroque clouds drift across a vividly blue sky dome.
We slowly make our way across this land, heading to Hornillos del Camino, some 20 kilometres distant. There are fewer villages along the way. Instead, we encounter rolling farmland and pastures occasionally inhabited by a herd of sheep or a random farmer. Hornillos is a quaint rural community of 100. Stone houses line its only street, stretching from one end of town to the other along the Camino route. We spend the evening drifting up and down the empty street, visiting the village church and dining at the one restaurant. By this time, the dark, quiet street outside our hostel is hinting that we should be in bed.
Our next day’s walk continues 20 kilometers across the Meseta landscape to Castrojeriz.
It is a pleasantly warm mid-October day spent under blue skies. The villages are sparse but welcome. Like our approach to Hontanas. Set in a shallow valley, the community suddenly reveals itself, a tight cluster of low rooftops. Above peaks the domed tower of the 14th Century Church of the Immaculada Concepción.
A little further along are the ruins of the monastery and hospital of the Order of San Antón. Here our Camino path passes right through a Gothic-arched stone gateway. Once roofed, this 14-15th Century portico was intended to shelter late-arriving pilgrims for the night.
Our day ends in Castrojeriz. This sleepy community of 600 is dominated by a castle-on-a-hill. Our evening’s entertainment is a climb to the castle walls, with fabulous views over the countryside. The castle itself has a long history with pre-Roman origins. What we see today is the rebuilt, Middle Ages version. As well, the ‘hill’ we stand on is not really a hill. It is the ancient top surface of the Meseta plateau and, off in the distance, we can see the other side of that ancient plateau. In between, where Castrojeriz sits, is a valley carved by centuries of erosion.
Yet another reference to our Manitoba prairie and its glacially carved Pembina Valley.