Day 3: Wednesday 13th July 2005

Orisson to Roncesvalles, 16.8km

Sunrise View
Sunrise View

We left Orison at 5:45 am, about 30 minutes before dawn. We followed the path forever upwards, eventually leaving the trees behind and becoming more open grassland.

The air was still and the pre-dawn was silent apart from a few birds twittering as they awoke and the clang, clang of distant cow bells. Our early morning start was rewarded by a stunning sunrise and magnificent views. The first of many beautiful sunrises we were to see on our journey.Today was one of the most scenic walks I think I have ever done in my life, about 20 km (12 miles) and an ascent of 700 metres, accompanied by the most stunning views.

We saw many birds of prey circling above on the thermals. I think they were some sort of Peregrine falcon, but I'm not sure.

A Golden Eagle swooped across our path, about 50 metres ahead, its massive wing span some ten feet in width. We could almost see each individual feather. It glided off to our left, down into the valley then perched on a rock some distance away.

I wish I had brought my binoculars with me, but they would have been a heavy extra to carry.

This was an auspicious sign for a good journey ahead as eagles are considered one of the most spiritual birds, bringing good fortune.

Our First Sunrise


Vierge d'Orisson


We arrived at the statue of Mother Mary: The 'Viege d'Orisson' built on a rock at 1100 metres.

I had expected something bigger - it was only about 6 feet tall.

At her feet were many small wooden crosses, flowers and dedications left by other perigrinos.


crosses Crosses at the base of the
Viege d'Orisson
Vierge d'Orisson at 1,100m  

Further along we passed a wayside cross and stone cairns marked a turning off the tarmac track onto a grass path heading towards the Pic de Leizar and the Col de Bentarte.

The fence around the cross had been decorated with scarves and reminded me of Tibetan prayer flags, fluttering in the wind.

As we passed over the border into Spain, marked by a cattle grid, fountain and Spanish sign.

Diana spotted wide blueberries growing at the side of the path. They were deliciously refreshing in the heat of the late morning sunshine.

The descent down from the height of the mountains led us through beech forest, the dappled shade providing very welcome relief from what had turned into a very hot day.

At one of our rest stops we were accompanied by a daring mouse, that came within a couple of feet of us, feasting itself of a bit of bread and some nuts we threw towards it.

Prayer Flags
Wayside Cross and 'prayer' flags


Eventually the route took us down to the Spanish town of Roncesvalles. The site of a medieval monastery.

There was not much in the town except the old abbey, an albergue, a couple of cafes / restaurants, and a small church.

The albergue didn't open until later in the afternoon, so our rucksacks joined the line of other rucksacks to keep our place in the queue, whilst we enjoyed a refreshing drink and booked our place for the pilgrim's menu in the evening.

Eventually the albergue opened and in a very orderly fashion we filled in our details, received our 'sallos' (pilgrim's stamp) and were directed across the road to the actual albergue building and shown to our designated beds.

Old Monastery at Roncesvalles Old Monastery at Roncesvalles (not the Albergue)


Pilgrim's MonumentPilgrim's Monument in Roncesvalles



It was a large room of 130 beds in 65 bunks. This was our first experience of a large albergue and quite a shock: 4 showers and 4 toilets between 130 pilgrims. We joined the queue to shower. Then queued again to wash out our few clothes, which we hung outside. Finally a siesta for a short while.

Roncesvalles holds a daily evening pilgrim's mass. This is certainly something worth attending, whether you are Catholic or not, or even if you are not particularly religious. The service is in several languages, Spanish, French, with bits of German and English. At the end, all the pilgrims are invited down to the front for a pilgrim's blessing.

It was a lovely, welcoming service and really made you feel special and one of the thousands of pilgrims that had gone before. A good way to start the Camino proper.

Old Chapel
Old chapel in Roncesvalles

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