Burgos is gateway to the meseta, 200km of featureless fields, crumbling adobe villages, mounds of sugar beet, farmers in flat caps, women in black dresses. Very Thomas Hardy... The camino runs straight west, a white gravel track laid specially for the Holy Year. Scenic, but hell for weary feet. The only alternative is to cross the muddy fields, and sink. The devil or the deep brown sea. Nobody said it would be easy.
In the hostels, camaraderie develops from suffering. We found the Pilgrims' Support League. Then, as the pace slows, the Snails' Club. I'm dubbed the Long-range Snail. Sybille, a German nurse currently specialising in blisters, Sister Snail. A Frenchman is unanimously acclaimed as Cannibal Snail. All Europe knows what the French eat... A 6ft-plus German overhauls us and races for the horizon. Queen of the Rocket Snails.
Suddenly, snails are in. Snail pictures appear in hostel guest-books, on walls, scratched in the dirt. Every pilgrim wants a nickname: Garlic Snail (Italian), Whale Snail (an eco-friendly German), Kangaroo Snail (guess). Finally, another Frenchman approaches. No rucksack - he's relying on charity to get him to Santiago. A snail without a home?
"Hi. I'm the Pilgrim Slug."
29 NOVEMBER-4 DECEMBER
Slither on with Sister Snail, Cannibal and Slug. It's an education. They're all broke, but daring. They cadge cigarettes off passing pilgrims, ploughmen, policemen and a priest. The priest invites us all for a drink. Then to the church for an organ recital. Bach, Beethoven, Wagner. Just wondering if he might be pro-German when he launches into a tirade. Germany's wonderful, Nazis were misunderstood, the Holocaust never happened...
We're still reeling when he breaks off to go to his catechism group. Hope he sticks to the Bible with them.
Finally reach Len, city of art, history, culture, and perpetual roadworks, its medieval heart swathed in post-modern scaffolding.
Christmas is coming, the lights are going up, the department stores playing (English) carols. Swallow my nostalgia and go busking. Too cold to stand still, but the shivers make great vibrato.
The locals are brilliant. Adults smile, children dance, dogs fight to stay and listen - but where are the donations? Then I see. Outside the cathedral, Sister, Cannibal and Slug stand begging, cockleshells in hand, making a fortune. I'd make more money if I stopped playing and joined them. Wouldn't be half so much fun, though.
For more information on the charity trombone walk, visit the website:www.netplaycafe. co.uk/bonewalkReuse content