Retired journalist Mike Gardner, from Calasparra, walked the Camino de Santiago, in 2019. He was so moved by his experiences that he wrote a book called Miracles on the Camino. 

Mike Meets a Spanish Golden Eagle.

The famous statue just outside Astorga

Depending on which guidebook you use, I have walked 41km today and I have been walking for 23 days; quite an achievement, though I had plenty of help. I started in Valverde, on the outskirts of Leon, just before 7am and I was in Astorga eight hours later and that included three lengthy breaks. Whatever way you look at it, it has been some day. 

If there is such a thing as a world record on the Camino for an English OAP, I would have been close to breaking it, but I had help from a higher source. 

What took place in front of Leon Cathedral yesterday, (I am talking about God’s divine intervention to change a New Zealand lady’s life after almost 50 years of mental anguish), was still hanging around. I could feel it. 

The supernatural forces at work yesterday were still close-by. They were all around me and they seemed to have plenty of time on their hands. They decided to help me out; I know it. I was just swept along as if on the wings of an angel. It was all so easy. When I reached Astorga, I felt I could carry on all the way to Santiago, still the best part of 250km away. 

By the way, before I forget, someone posted something interesting online yesterday. I don’t know how they had figured it out, but we have now taken 694,054 steps which, apparently, is the equivalent of walking up and down a flight of stairs 2,310 times. Don’t ask me how they knew, but they were quite certain about it.

The next day, I soon found myself behind an American couple on the wrong side of 70 who were in a bit of a tiz about where they were going to sleep tonight. They couldn’t speak Spanish and had convinced themselves that all the beds would be taken. I called the albergue they were heading for and spoke to someone called Isabel and reserved their beds. The whole thing took about 20 seconds, but you had to be there to see the joy and utter relief on their faces.

On the outskirts of Rabanal del Camino, I met Alberto and his eagle with an eight-foot wingspan

Somewhere on the outskirts of Rabanal del Camino, I came across a large tent occupied by a man dressed as some kind of medieval knight, complete with chain mail and an impressive goatee beard of the kind popularised by Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood. His name was Alberto, but he was only part of the story. Sitting comfortably on a large pole alongside him was a real-life brown eagle, known as águila in Spain and looking majestic. Alberto was representing a charity raising funds to save endangered species and this was too good an opportunity to miss. 5€ later and this beautiful bird was resting on my left hand on a white glove. I stroked his feathers gently while the bird just looked around; as laid back as you can imagine. It was an incredibly moving moment. While Alberto was giving me a stamp, two pilgrims wandered by, but they couldn’t have been very interested in ornithology because they ignored one of the most incredible birds in the world and seemed mesmerised by a jewellery box on the table. In front of the box, written in six different languages, alongside appropriate flags, were the words: Would you like to see the most beautiful thing in the world? The pilgrims could hardly wait to open the box and when they did, it was just a mirror reflecting their faces back towards them. It was a clever trick, but not up to much when compared to holding a wild bird with an eight-foot wingspan. I guess they just didn’t get it. They smiled uncomfortably, before walking off, without leaving a donation, or giving the eagle a second look. Quite remarkable. 

I arrived at Foncebadon feeling quite alone, without my Camino family. Tomorrow is a big day when I will reach El Cruz de Ferro, one of the emotional highlights of the pilgrimage, depending on your state of mind. I fell into a deep sleep hoping all would go well, but I couldn’t get rid of the thought that I might not have the strength to face it on my own.

Next month: Remembering my best friend with the help of my Russian hero.

Miracles on the Camino can be downloaded directly onto your Kindle, mobile, tablet or computer from Amazon Books for 4.32€. It has 173 pages and more than 80 pictures. It is also available as a hardback and can be delivered to your house in Spain.