The Road to Santiago.

November 5, 2002

Templar Castle.
Templar Castle

Molinaseca to Ponferrada

It was a nice day and I found myself walking with Mikel, a 30-ish man from Pais Vasco (the Basque Province). He was interested in my Web site and asked me many questions. He had seen the site the night before on the coin-operated Internet terminal that was in the albergue. I asked him to email me at the site to tell me when he got into Santiago. He promised me that he would.

On the outskirts of the city Mikel and I were stopped and questioned by la Guarda Civil (Civil Guard), who are a sort of state police. They were investigating the disappearance of a husky-type dog from the strange albergue at Manjarin. They seemed to think that someone might have stolen it. After they left, I told Mikel that if the husky had the same temperament as a most of the dogs that I have met on el camino, someone probably clobbered it with his walking stick, in self-defense.

When we entered Ponferrada, the flechas amarillas (yellow arrows) seemed to head away from the central city, so I said goodbye to Mikel and headed out to look for a hotel. I saw a sign for one named Hotel Madrid, but it was 2 K away and, therefore, I thought that it must be on the outskirts of the city. That wouldn't do. I wanted to be in the city near the castle. So I kept walking and walking. And walking! I didn't see a hotel and was getting a little nervous. Was this going to be another León-type fiasco where I wandered in the wrong direction? I asked for directions to the castle and found out that, indeed, I had headed in the right direction. My mood changed to one of anxiety because I now had to make a pit stop. But, in this section of the city there weren't even any bars or cafeterias. I could duck into a back alley — if only I could find a back alley. It was at that point that I saw a sign indicating a hotel just a few hundred meters away. I was going to take a room in this hotel no matter what and quickened my pace. I made it in the nick of time! Interestingly enough it was the Hotel Madrid, which I had judged earlier would be too far away. It was the same hotel I had stayed in six years earlier. Another helpful coincidence!!

Ponferrada has always been an important stop for pilgrims and was known for two things. The first is its bridge across the river Sil. So many pilgrims were crossing the river at this point that, in the 11th century, a bishop ordered a bridge to be built and that it was to be reinforced with iron bars. Hence the spot became known as Ponferrada from the Latin pons ferrata (Iron Bridge). The bridge no longer exists, but a plaque on the present day modern bridge commemorates the spot where so many pilgrims had passed.

On the crest of a hill overlooking the bridge is the second most famous connection of the city to Santiago, the Templar Castle. After I checked into my hotel, I went to visit the castle, which is now a national museum. As I wandered around the place and read the various descriptions, I learned that the Templar Castle did not belong to the Templars. What they had built was a walled enclosure with modest buildings. The walls, which still surround the castle, covered an area large enough to provide the citizenry with a place to stay during threats of danger. After the Templars were destroyed, the property was taken over by a local lord and a castle was built. Ownership frequently changed according to the politics of the time and subsequent owners each imposed individual changes in construction.
For the past few hundred years, the castle was deserted and began to deteriorate. In the early part of the 20th century someone got the bright idea to dismantle some of the smaller buildings inside the walls to make space for a soccer field. Fortunately that project was stopped, but not before some important ruins were lost. I followed the directional signs and ascended the stairs in one of the towers. The view was tremendous and dramatized the strategic advantage of the hilltop. As I walked along the ramparts, I happened to glance down at the street.  Oh, oh. I was pretty high up. I hate heights. I especially hate heights while standing on a narrow catwalk that is several hundred years old. Oh sure, my mind was telling me that the walk was reinforced, but my heart was screaming,"Help!" I soon found myself hunkered down and slowly inching toward the downward stairs.

That night I had trouble transmitting my photos. It was well into the early a.m. when I gave up and went to bed. Since it was so late and there was a prediction of chubascos (rain storms) for the next day, I decided that I would stay an extra night.

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