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26th October, 2016

El Ferrol

The crossing of the Bay was in excellent sea conditions so we arrived at the entrance to El Ferrol ahead of schedule and in pitch darkness, even though it was eight in the morning. The pilotage covers 5 miles through a narrow channel, which is tortuous at times due to the strong tidal currents, but not this day and berthing was completed as the sun began its rise into a crystal clear sky.

There is a great desire by the local community for more cruise ships to call and we were met with smiling faces and every assistance to ensure our passengers enjoyed their stopover. Three of the tours headed off towards Santiago de Compostela, Mrs R and I joining one which included a little exercise. Approximately three miles from the great cathedral our small bus deposited us at a tiny village, and then we walked along the pilgrims track through delightfully wooded countryside. It was quite charming, with the fallen autumn leaves and the odd ‘pilgrim’energetically heading the other way towards Cape Finisterre, the ‘end of the world’.

The end of this minor trek was marked by some refreshment in the magnificent Paradore that lies on the other side of Obradoiro Square from the cathedral. This building had begun life over 500 years ago as the Royal Hospital and originally sheltered the numerous groups of pilgrims that found their way to Santiago. Now it is considered one of the oldest and most luxurious hotels in the world, but its architecture and character have been carefully preserved.

Santiago itself was much quieter than we had experienced before, so it was a pleasure to amble around the narrow streets near the cathedral. The bars and little cafes were open, and quite a few tourists were sitting in the warm sunshine watching the world go by. A guitarist played softly in one square while in a short tunnel leading to Obradoiro the louder somewhat harsher sounds of Galician bagpipes played by a lone busker echoed from the granite walls. I’m quite sure it was the same chap we saw a few years ago.

The Galician bagpipes accompanied our departure a few hours later, somewhat more ‘classical’perhaps with the group attired in traditional dress. As we passed Fort San Felipe a similarly clad member of the historic local militia simulated blowing us out of the water with a small canon. I was told that these days the symbolic gesture is because they don’t want us to leave. How things change in 200 years.

Captain Philip Rentell

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