John Flood's Camino Walk and HCPT Cycle

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We provide pilgrimage holidays to Lourdes to change the lives of children and adults



The Camino to Santiago de Compostela via the Portuguese way – the Epilogue

To conclude our Pilgrimage we attended the Sunday Pilgrims’ Mass in the Cathedral at midday. The church was packed with standing room only but we found positions near to the high altar. There were several concelebrants and great music and I am told by our two Spanish speakers, Arthur & Patrick, that the sermon was inspiring and simple, advocating one making the Sign of the Cross, instead of succumbing to temptation. After Communion we witnessed the spectacle of the huge Botafumeiro being swung across the high altar by half a dozen Tiraboleiros. Later I returned to ascend the stairs to the right of the High Altar to offer the prayer I had brought at the statue of St James the Apostle.

The Pilgrimage over, Pat was intent upon our spoiling ourselves with a drink in the Parador adjacent to the Cathedral where the four of us raised a glass to our missing pilgrim, Jim, who sadly was already over the Atlantic travelling in the opposite direction to Arthur’s wife, Sharon, who happily was joining him a day later than intended. A Tapas lunch was had at a location which by chance turned out to be an ideal spot to witness the gathering cavalcade of vehicles that heralded the arrival later of the cyclists at the end of the Spanish equivalent of the Tour de France, this including about 100 police motor cycle outriders. While the razzmatazz of this event impacted hugely on the more typical gathering place for Pilgrims in front of the Cathedral, we never-the-less continued to meet friends made along the route from innumerable countries both in the Cathedral and outside the café. They had in their individual ways added greatly to our experience along the route from Porto or Ponte Lima to Santiago, a journey that was both different, but at the same time similar for each of us. Pat reckoned it was more difficult than the Wainwright Coast to Coast he had undertaken in his 80th year, over 4 years ago.

Sharon duly arrived in the evening and we returned to the Cathedral Square in time to witness the roar of the crowd as a leading cyclist came over the line before entering a restaurant that forms part of the Parador for an excellent meal and emerging to the very loud concert singing that then filled the square in music that Patrick, a celebrated musician since his Beaumont days, declared to be “really quite good”!

In the morning we hope to attend the English mass and see the museum before we part company, Arthur & Sharon to continue their tour of Spain & Portugal before travelling to Moscow by boat from St Petersburg, and the two Patricks and John to Epsom, but each of us to a life enriched in some way by this extraordinary experience, too difficult to adequately describe in words here and only capable of being understood by personal experience.

If you have followed our journey through our daily reports we hope you have also enjoyed it. We have greatly valued and appreciated all your messages of support and the overwhelming donations so many have made to already result in our original target being met and exceeded today in aid of HCPT and the 2015 Cycle and subsequent Easter Children’s Pilgrimage to Lourdes. These have now reached in excess of £4,000 and perhaps may yet surpass £5,000. The Chairman of HCPT has suggested that we have redefined “Pilgrimage”! Let his be the final word as he also appropriately wrote “Testimony to what we all know of the great man, that 84-year-old Pat gave up his water to an unknown struggling junior. Respect”.  

Camino - Day 8

The leader of the "A" team left Padron alone at 5.30am armed with his team mate, Pat's, torch. He was on a mission to make the Pilgrim's Mass at noon as he was leaving for the airport before 5am on Sunday. Despite walking in the dark for the first 2 hours he tells us he walked into the Cathedral at 11.58! What a guy!! He is therefore the smartly dressed one in the arrival pictures because he had had the benefit of a much needed scrub up!


The "B" team, supplemented by the intrepid Pat, were 4 hours behind him and there were prospects of delay when Patrick (who you may remember mislaid his glasses on day 1), first questioned where his vital pilgrimage "passport" was and then required us to search his backpack for his forgotten morning pill! His memory is not a patch on his 84 year old namesake! They are both "Patrick John's!


We met a Spanish group of 7 outside a church and she gave us the story of St James in very interesting detail.


As we stopped for a coffee on the second short stretch of main road a car full of the Madrilenas was passing and gave us a very healthy hoot! The coffee break was peppered with intense hilarity for reasons that now escape us! Before we left the main road a second Madrilenas vehicle gave us a healthy encore! 


We had a spring in our feet today and the several hills seemed to pass easily in our stride. For the 6th day in a row there was no rain, contrary to expectations. We did get very warm and every so often dipped our hats into the many fountains and even one stream to cool our heads. There was debate as to where to stop for lunch, but the eventual choice was a good one with an excellent Tortilla and tomato salad and large beers. As we emerged a young girl from Portugal was struggling up the hill and asked if we had any water which she took with great gratitude. Later after passing through the last of the many pretty villages that we had wound our way through in our 100 mile journey,  we came into sight of our destination on the distant hilltop. Going down the long descent to the river we caught up  with the Portuguese girl and Pat gave her his water and was rewarded with the loveliest of smiles. We engaged her in conversation and now know she is Patricia and lives where Arthur & Jim started their 240km journey in Porto, where she does social work. This was are last of many inspiring encounters along our pilgrimage route which each added hugely to our experiences of this journey. Then over the river bridge and the long steep slog up the hill to the town took us past the huge hospital which will have been a place of great sorrow in the summer of 2013.


On arrival at the Cathedral it seemed surreal as, unlike Arthur & Jim's first journey here a year ago, the square was full of the paraphernalia associated with the end of the Tour of Spain Cycle race which finishes here tomorrow and loud music. There was an element of disappointment, especially after climbing the 33 huge steps to the Cathedral door, only to be turned away, but all that disappeared when he entered a little later by a side door to find Jim already there and a Spanish mass in progress. We also met our German friend, Christine, who later took our photos and shared a drink with us.


After collecting our individual certificate a "Compostela" and meeting our Irish friends there and then our own scrub up, we had paella at our hotel and shared our joy at all our experiences. Arthur & John then walked back to the Cathedral and found the old town was electric with crowds of happy people, including our bumping into our Norwegian friends who we had last met last Sunday when Pat gave them a rendition of "Singing in the rain"! That was just one of so many of his unique contributions to the last 8 remarkable days in which he was the most remarkable achiever!


There may be an Epilogue tomorrow after we have attended the Pilgrims' Mass........

Camino -  Day 7

The penultimate day started early for Jim but his subaltern, Pat, was late on parade so they didn't leave till 08.10 after Pat's demotion. I was in trouble because last night's blog had still to be written but we were away by 9.30. In fact the late departure meant that the first coffee stop coincided with the Madrilenas time at the cafe. Email and website addresses were requested of us and Pat has subsequently predicted that the first Spanish HCPT group could be born from this encounter - so there is a challenge for the 10 lovely ladies.

The walk then took us past a cute nursery school where the children were all out playing and the words "Safe journey" were displayed in most languages. We promised to send them a postcard on our return home. Our next pleasure was coming across a Good Samaritan who had driven his car with a trailer full of fruit and water from Portugal and was handing this out to all the Camino walkers.

Lunch was again with the 10 Madrid ladies (Carmen, Maria (2), Blanca, Ines, Concha, Laura, Bea, Silvia & Gabriela) who very kindly shared their provisions with us to supplement our Empanadas and tiny peppers, a speciality of our destination today, Padron. We hit that by 4.30, the "A" Team having said they arrived by 2! The hotel was opposite the station from which we could have reached Santiago in 15 minutes and we resisted that temptation every 15 minutes as the trains came through. After supper Arthur and John visited the outside of the ancient Padron church of Santiago which contains a stone, the legend being that this is the stone to which St James moored his boat when arriving in Padron from the Holy Land. And from there back to the hotel and bed before midnight ahead of the final long and hilly 24km to Santiago de Compostela in the morning............

Camino -  Day 6

We knew today was to be our longest day so far, but also one without the customary elevations to contend with. Pat accepted an invitation from Jim for an early start but we learnt later that he had demoted this sub-mariner to a lower rank, having walked Pat straight by the only coffee outlet in 22kms! By contrast, after a detour to see the Cathedral and Convent chapel at Ponteverde, we arrived at that café an hour and a half after they had passed it by, this in under 2 hours, to find the Gucci coach parked outside. They were soon back on the bus leaving us briefly in the company of the 3 Spaniard men with whom we had shared the path.  We had only had our first mouthful of the best Tortilla yet when 10 Spanish ladies came over the brow of the hill 20 yards back. As we were leaving they asked Arthur what the photos in my map pouch represented and he gave them a potted history of HCPT which resulted in the Just Giving site receiving €40 and reaching 90% of our target.

We had not seen any rain since Sunday morning and would almost have welcomed the previously forecast deluge as the afternoon got hellish hot. Arthur was gasping and eventually asked a local where water could be obtained and we were directed to a shop that opened especially for us where we got one Helluvadeal with a litre of icy water for just €1. Patrick negotiated the purchase of the largest tomato in the shop and was given it for nought! This unscheduled stop meant that the two Dublin ladies overtook us, but we caught them up when we stopped at an Auberge. That was close to our destination where Arthur had his hair cut and Jim befriended a German lady who he later invited to karaoke, only to be rebutted with the immortal words “I am not from the “Congo”!

Mass was at 8pm followed by a simple but excellent dinner served by a charming waitress. After dinner Arthur timidly approached the Irish ladies and told them that he had been trying to imitate their accents, which gave me the long awaited opportunity to drop him right in it by my telling them that Arthur had originally predicted that they were 2 Sisters Oh be Joyful, not the tax inspectors that they actually are! We then beat a hasty retreat and, not for the first time on this pilgrimage, laughed the night away ….! With tired legs and painful feet we took some solace that we were now ¾ of the way to Santiago and our penultimate day would be ¾ of the length of walk we had achieved today. 

Camino Day 5

With the exception of Jim we left Arcade later than usual in the knowledge that we were on our shortest walking day and, perhaps more significantly for the first time nearer the finish than the start. However by the time we reached somewhere for a late lunch we all commented that it had not felt that much shorter than previous days. As we get closer to Santiago there are more and more fellow hikers along the route and the average age seems to come down, highlighting that ours is substantially above average at 69.

There is plenty of time to chat along the route and we enjoy this. Pat is now very knowledgeable about how we learnt on Kandersteg station that Beaumont was closing when this was reported in the DT in July 1965 and all that happened after that, but he is the ultimate raconteur and his stories have included one of the best I have ever heard, the “ST ST ST ST” story from Freddy Wolff – an absolute classic!  

Lunch was leisurely  consisting of tapas and particularly good today.  It wasn’t very long after lunch that we entered Pontevedra and realised what a delightful town we had come to. Most of the walkers we had met before seemed to be there including the Gucci 17. One of them announced that she lived in North Yorkshire and I was astonished to find that she was an immediate neighbour of Sleightholmdale Lodge where we had stayed so many times in the 90s!

Dinner tonight was a strange experience, especially for Jim who ordered ham and got beef, which wasn’t even on the menu. After dinner we hunted down the Pontevedra Parador in search of the Gucci ladies for Jim, but alas they had all gone to bed!

Camino – Day 4

Our departure from the town with the largest polygon in Spain brought us quite quickly to attractive country paths and eventually to a village where 4 coffees and homemade cake cost us just €4. That set us up well for a climb to 235m and when we reached Mos at the top, a welcome water break. We later discovered that our Yank compatriot, who had again taken off early alone, was already approaching our destination for the day 7km further on! We think he was trying to put a respectable distance between himself and his company the previous night.

We then had a steep descent towards the plain below where we found a restaurant which served some delicious squid. There we were caught up by the Gucci coach party and for the second time in two days Pat was greeted by someone who completely independently of each other said "What beautiful blue eyes - you remind me so much of my father"!! (A picture will be posted when I next have wifi access!).

By the time we reached the town of Redondella we were hot and tired and an ice cream was very welcome. There then followed a very attractive path and the second climb of the day to a very special drinking fountain and a long break, followed by our first spectacular views of the sea. And as we entered Arcade the advanced party were there to greet us and by the time we had covered the last 100m slope to the terrace in front of the hotel, Jim already had the Gin & tonics on the table! Suitably refreshed  Pat accompanied me on the 15 minute walk to the sea where I enjoyed the most welcome swim since my last encounter with the damsels on the Menorcan beach! This gave me my healthiest appetite so far for an excellent supper and the prospect of the first lie in! Pat was in great form and the stories flowed amongst great laughter! 

Camino – Day 3

Today it was John who nearly got off to a disastrous start, inadvertently packing all his socks in the main case which is collected early each morning! The distance was shorter than hitherto and mainly flat and there was no rain – in fact a mainly sunny day with initially quite a bit of shade through the wooded paths between the oak and eucalyptus woods. We visited Tui Cathedral before leaving the city and then had our last close view of Portugal across the river. There was no facility for a coffee stop but the lunchtime restaurant was very pleasant with tables in the garden and even a hammock for Patrick & Pat in turn to take a nap, and in Pat’s case a swing with two Korean girls! The comradery that develops with other Camino walkers of all nationalities along the route is an important feature as one passes other people or they pass us and then congregate at the various pit stops. Arthur’s fluent Portuguese and Spanish and Patrick’s Castilian has proved a considerable advantage.

After lunch the route took us alongside what must surely be one of the longest polygons in Spain – a hard, hot and ‘orrible route, followed by a seemingly never ending boring and unattractive slog into O Porrino itself. Hopefully this was a one off as generally the route has otherwise been attractive and rewarding. The hotel when reached was older than the previous night with its superior bathrooms. Patrick cheekily used his Spanish to ask for the best room but when he got to it, it had no balcony and no window in the bathroom causing him to examine John’s room next door, but in the process the door of his room blew to with the key left inside! In the meantime the lift had packed up and we were on the 5th floor!

Camino Day 2 

After an appalling night with a dog barking half the night the day started wet with the regular search for Patrick's glasses - concluded he had packed them in his case which had already gone! 14 miles to Tui into Spain but in the end mainly a beautiful day. Highlight was visit to new Auberge recently opened by a very interesting lady whose life was changed by walking a 880km from Lisbon & back after the death of her husband and is now married to her companion and treated us like royalty, especially Pat who she said had the most fantastic blue eyes! Patrick was overjoyed when reunited with his glasses! Great Tapas for supper. 

Camino Day 1

Amazing day - hard but great! See the message left to the Brits by Jim the cheeky Yank who had steamed ahead. Stopped for lunch - all in 17€ for 5! Made the summit of 410 metres after steep, rough & long climb - on the descent stopped for another G&T 1km from hotel. The others got there before Pat & I and failed to wait outside leaving us to do an extra mile BEYOND the hotel! They were moderately apologetic!

I first went as a helper in HCPT Group 24 to Lourdes from Beaumont College in 1965. I am marking my 50th pilgrimage in 2015 by participating as a support driver for the 7 day HCPT Cycle from Versailles to Lourdes which involves a commitment to raise at least £2,000 for HCPT, but for my 50th year I would like to raise at least £3,750 to aid HCPT, this being the equivalent of the cost of taking 5 disabled and disadvantaged children for a holiday of a lifetime in Lourdes.

My own exercise challenge is more imminent as I am walking, with 4 others, about 100 miles (allowing for us to lose our way occasionally!) on the Camino pilgrimage route from Ponte Lima in Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain between the 6th and the 13th September. Our ages range from the mainly late 60s to a venerable 84!  Two of my walking companions were with me at Beaumont, Arthur Cope from Indianapolis and Patrick Solomon from Epsom, and they are supporting me in seeking sponsorship for HCPT. My only previous sponsored walk was only 4 miles along the front at Brighton but raised £2,000 in 3 days, so I am being more ambitious this time! Any help that you can provide in achieving our fundraising target will be very gratefully received. 

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Since 1956, experienced HCPT volunteers have taken 1,000s of disabled and disadvantaged children and adults on life changing pilgrimage holidays to the shrine of Lourdes in France. We are of all faiths and none. Thank you for your support.

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