The long day has ended and we are in one of the prettiest towns I have ever been in. We started the day with a glorious dawn as we left the albergue, run by volunteers from the Confraternity of St James. Rabanal is the first real mountain town I have seen in Leon, but the old hands are saying that, even compared to the Pyrenees, this is beautiful countryside.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The path led steeply into the mountains and, as we climbed higher, the clouds rolled in. We walked to Foncebada in the mist, past ruined buildings and deserted farms.

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On everyone’s minds today was the momentous event, arriving at the Crux de Ferro. The various groups of friends began to divide as each reflected on what the Cross might mean to each of them. You will remember the seen in the film and the significance of leaving a stone or a message at the foot of the cross. At Foncebada, an interesting couple run a kind of a cafe where we refueled for the mountains. Beth and Terry, Wisconsin girls, said they could smell snow. You didn’t need to smell it — the temperature was below zero and the wind-chill pretty bad. I normally walked in shorts and a shirt, to everyone’s amazement, but I had long pants and my big technical jacket on today.

It is very hard to describe the experience of the iron cross. For many, it is the climax of their journey, because laying a pebble has become associated with laying down a burden. Brierely, author of our guidebook, says that leaving a stone is just an act of love and blessing. For many, it seems to be an act of dedication, often to a lost loved-one, the high point of a journey undertaken in tribute. Wives, children, husbands, fathers, I saw pictures of them all and prayed that the journey had brought the pilgrim peace to grieving heart.

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I prayed for many at the cross, and then tried to honour other pilgrims by spending a moment reading their tributes as my act of love. I did not want to leave a stone because I have not felt burdened on my pilgrimage. This journey is a journey into myself, and I feel no sense of this being a burden but more an act of acceptance and opening to God and to the people I meet.

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In the photo, you can see Beth chanting beside the church. Tobias was well ahead and others had done the trip at a different pace. I left them and walked, turning each step into a prayer. I wanted to chant, but singing Crux Fidelis while going uphill didn’t work, unless I was going to need a Packer whacker at the top.

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We dragged into Acebo during the afternoon, most of us behind time because of individual devotions at the Cross. No one really travels, together of the Camino unless they have made a pact to begin with, so this fluid set of relationships, which I find extraordinary and beautiful, exists in the private world of only a few people. It is fragile, it may not exist tomorrow or even at the end of the day, but it makes each meal a celebration and each buen camino a farewell.

I came down the mountain on very rough mountain paths, tired and focused on my feet and emotional after the Crux de Ferro.ntime was good for getting into Molineseca on time, but There was Tobias at a the bottom of the hill outside a country cafe, insisting that the afternoon was right for a radler, or cerveica con limon as it is in Spain.

It was late evening as we came down the hill to the village. Wilma and Beth had caught us, shared a drink, chatted with the owner and, evening though the light was golden, hurried with me down the hill. The path here is poorly marked and we got bushed for a bit, although I did have a good idea of our location, thanks to the iPhone’s GPS. We were bushed, and the aubergue was in the far side if town. The best hotel in town had a four berth room for €15 a head, so the four of us walked in. The manager gave us a room, washed our clothes cheaply and, after we returned from a really good pilgrim meal, sat at the bar and talked while we organised nightcaps.

Our feet were sore but our hearts were very full. We had covered well over thirty kilometres on what I think is the third hardest day. The evening walking in to town was so beautiful, it made the expression “golden hour” completely inadequate.

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