Last year, retired journalist Mike Gardner, who lives in Calasparra, Murcia, walked the Camino de Santiago, an 800-kilometre pilgrimage across the north of Spain. Mike, who is 68, was so moved by his experiences that he wrote a book calledMiracles on the Camino, and the Costa Cálida Chronicleis serialising his blogs which were followed by thousands of fans across the word.
This month Mike tries to play a game of golf on one of Spain’s most exclusive courses – and ends up almost being thrown out!
I have now been walking for nine days and I set off in glorious sunshine, heading for Santa Domingo de Calzada.
It was a pleasant walking day in ideal conditions when I came across a golf course. I could pick out the lush fairways from far away and by the time I arrived at Rioja Alta, I had convinced myself that it would be a good idea to have a game. Don’t ask me to explain why!
I walked into the reception where several waiters, smartly dressed in suits and wearing shiny shoes, were attending to the needs of club members. I went to the receptionist and asked her straight, ‘just like that’, if I could hire a set of clubs and book a tee-off time. Sometime in the next hour would be just fine, I told her. She looked at me for what seemed like a long time with a look of complete bewilderment on her face before saying, quite abruptly I thought – “No”. And that was it.
As I walked out of the clubhouse I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the small mirrors which were hanging up in the entrance hall, above an expensive teak table with a bowl of flowers on top. It occurred to me right away that a dirty, sweaty, smelly pilgrim with a torn shirt, muddy boots and spiky, greasy hair was unlikely to pass the club’s dress code. It looked like the sort of place that would throw you out if you weren’t wearing a tie. I laughed at the absurdity of it all!
I am writing today’s blog around 8pm, lying on a bottom bunk bed surrounded by tired pilgrims. A quick look at the club’s website confirms my view that Rioja Alta is the Spanish equivalent of having afternoon tea at The Dorchester. The first thing you see is a four-minute video provided by a helicopter gliding serenely over manicured fairways. There are photographs of smiling golfers under blue skies and clients wearing suits and drinking champagne in the club’s restaurant. Looking back, I was lucky they didn’t call the Guarda Civil!
On my 12th day, I arrived in the beautiful city of Burgos. It is claimed that Burgos Cathedral is the most beautiful in Spain and it certainly has an impressive name – La Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María. It took more than 500 years to build and its spires rise up 84 metres. For some reason, pilgrims were admitted free that evening and I spent more than an hour there and probably saw no more than 10% of its beauty and history.
You enter the cathedral up stone steps and there are plenty of them, leading you under a magnificent entrance known as the Apostles’ Doorway and they are all here, surrounding you, paying homage to Jesus Christ, who is centre stage, alongside the Virgin Mary and the scene is framed by various angels performing unknown duties, but mainly just flying. You can’t take your eyes off the artwork. Inside, you take a left turn, walking along the exquisite marble floor and if the sun is in just the right place, the tiles will dance with colour around your feet as the light shines through the stained glass windows surrounding you and high above, in the eaves of the building. I walked alongside various holy places, full of enormous chandeliers, tapestries, tall balconies, various coats of arms, tombs, cloisters; some small and intimate, others bigger than a jet hangar; large angels, small angels, some archangels, saints, kings, queens, archbishops, gold chalices, silver chalices, various paintings, crosses, stairways, which always include exotic looking red carpets with lots of gold in them and I mustn’t forget something called ‘The Golden Steps’ and, of course, you can’t miss the large clock, almost too high to see, below the upper body of an unknown 16th century bearded man, who opens his mouth in perfect timing with the hour.
Next month: Trying to buy food at the world’s smallest supermarket.
Miracles on the Camino by Mike Gardner 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.