Walking the Camino del Norte: Villaviciosa to Pola de Siero

The Day We Took a Detour on Purpose:

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.

We look sad here, but we are really laughing. We laughed the whole day – all 20 miles of it.

The Original Route of the Camino de Santiago

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 Leรณn 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 Gijรณn and toward Oviedo to follow the detour of so many pilgrims before us.

A sign announcing a detour on the Camino del Norte to the Camino Primitivo
A detour on the Camino del Norte

The Religious Heart of Asturias

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.

A sign marking the detour on the Camino del Norte to Oviedo
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20 Miles walked in a day on the Camino del Norte? That’s Nothing!

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!

Lessons Learned on the Camino del Norte:

  1. Even if it seems like there will be open restaurants or stores along the route, it’s best to keep a spare orange or apple tucked into your backpack. We often experienced long stretches with no food in sight.

Tips from a Post-Camino del Norte Perspective:

  1. Make friends with your albergue operators. Many of them operate their albergue for the love of the Camino and not for a profit. Plus, you never know when they will put you in their car and race you along the Camino in pursuit of thieves!

Our Pilgrimage Stats After Day 21 on the Camino del Norte:

We are between Oviedo and Vega de Sariego on this map

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)

Up Next: Day 22 on the Camino del Norte Pola de Siero to Oviedo (Stickgate!)

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