At this point on the Camino de Santiago, Lizz and I have taken our fair share of accidental detours. But on Day 21 we took a purposeful detour, choosing to leave the Camino del Norte and opting to head for Oviedo and the Camino Primitivo – the place where it all began.
It is said that the very first pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was taken by King Alfonso II the Chaste in the 9th century when he left the city of Oviedo to see for himself whether the bones of Saint James were really discovered in Santiago.
His route marks today’s Camino Primitivo. It is another route to Santiago and one that many pilgrims over time have detoured to see. The town of Oviedo grew to accommodate the pilgrims who came to see where it all began, building a pilgrims’ hospital in 1075.
There are a few different reasons that pilgrims historically walked days out of their way to see Oviedo. One reason is to see San Salvador de Oviedo, a church where the holy arc is believed to contain pieces of the True Cross as well as remnants from the actual Crown of Thorns.
Another reason is that in 1222, Alfonso IX, king of León and Galicia, actually ordered all pilgrims to pass through Oviedo on their way to Santiago. It is rumored that the royal decree was a fake; regardless, I like to think of it as the first effective tourism campaign. A campaign that is working nearly 800 years later, inspiring Lizz and me to turn south, away from Gijón and toward Oviedo to follow the detour of so many pilgrims before us.
After taking our detour toward Oviedo, we took another detour toward a monastery that has stood as the religious center of Asturias since 893. It is a beautiful site and well worth the hike downhill and the subsequent climb back up – but don’t expect food.
Lizz and I were pretty hungry and hoping that the restaurant at the monastery would be open, but no such luck. The nuns did sell us some cookies, which sustained us for a time. It’s funny, though, we always find food on the route when the guide books warn that there will be no food, and we tend to go hungry when both the guide book and the map indicate there will be restaurants.
At any rate, still munching on our cookies, we found a small grocery store and pulled together a makeshift lunch of crackers and cheese before heading on to Pola de Siero.
Our sweet spot would turn out to be 15 to 17 miles in a day, but on Day 21, we clocked our first 20-mile day, and we did it laughing the whole way into Pola de Siero.
We found a restaurant while we waited for someone to unlock the massive doors to the town’s albergue. Before long, a man named Roberto turned up, letting us in and even giving us our own private room in the sparkling clean albergue.
We tucked our sticks and boots into the communal storage room, waved at the few pilgrims who were nestled into their bunks, and went across the street for a drink. After checking to be sure that everyone was cared for at the albergue, Roberto joined us at the bar.
Little did we know that the three of us would join together the very next morning to solve a Camino mystery!
Stage Miles: 17 (off-stage detour miles)
Actual Miles Walked: 20 (32 kilometers)
Bus forward Miles: 0
Total Miles Walked So Far: 250 (402 kilometers)