We got up at six to steal a march on the day. The sun was rising, and so was a group of vocal Irish walkers from Galway, who woke the other pilgrims in the albergue, whether they wanted to wake early or not – inside I groaned, like I had done when I discovered I was on a plane with a baby and some Scouts; this group of people were potentially our company for the next nine days, all the way to Santiago. So much for solitude and tranquility.
This was the first proper day of walking, and we had no idea what to expect, what our pace would be, how we would fare in different temperatures, what the terrain would be like. We had no guidebook, no maps, nothing. We were totally dependent on two things: the yellow arrow waymarkers and the kindness of the people we met on the way.
So walking through woodland and fields of tall maize in the cool of the early morning, we came across our first coffee stop in Pedra Furada, where a woman made us toast and milky coffee and told us about all the other pilgrims who pass through her cafe.
‘One lady,’ she said, ‘has walked the camino to Santiago many, many times. I asked her once why she kept walking it. She said to me: ‘When I arrive in Santiago, I feel like I am free, like I could just fly away with the birds’.’
We signed her guestbook and left just as our Irish companions arrived, shouting orders for omelettes and baguettes.
The path to Barcelos took us through countless sleepy hamlets. Whenever we saw people, they all seemed to have the leisure to pass the time of day, to stop and look up and day dream. As the countryside became more built up we knew we were nearly at the end of our first day. We crossed a river to the large market town of Barcelos. This was a short leg on the journey, perhaps the shortest bit of walking we would do, but as we reached the other side of the river, all over the town, church bells began to ring out, and it felt like they were ringing out just for us.