The first day of a Camino pilgrimage contains a magic found in few other life experiences. After months of planning, training, anticipation, and travel, a pilgrim takes their first steps into the great unknown on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Even though I’d walked two Camino routes before the Ingles, my thoughts were still awash with contingencies on weather, walking, accommodations, injuries and more. It wasn’t just me after all, I had my 5-year old to consider as well. Luckily, I knew my churn of thoughts would smooth out into a gentle flow of tranquility as the first scallop markers began to pass by later in the day.
A fantastic buffet breakfast at the Parador Hotel helped ease us into the first stage of our journey towards Santiago, with omelettes, baked goods, fresh fruit, juices, and coffee! A group of three pilgrims sat a few tables away from us in the breakfast sunroom. We didn’t know it at the time, but they would become a part of our Camino family in the days ahead.
After a great breakfast, we made our way back up to the room to grab our packs and get ready to hit the trail. Since my son would be walking this Camino on his own two feet, we opted to use the Correos baggage transfer to take our heaviest gear from stage to stage. As a backpacking purist, I struggled with this for a few weeks leading up to our trip departure. For every other trip I’ve taken, I’ve carried everything I need on my back. In the end, I knew that it was most important to reach Santiago happy, healthy, and smiling, and baggage transfer would dramatically increase our chances of doing so.
For our first stage on the Camino Ingles, the trail would take us from Ferrol to Neda over 9 miles (14.4km) with 740ft (230m) of elevation gain. I decided to break our itinerary down into nine manageable stages (many pilgrims finish in 5-6), to help balance the daily load on my son’s legs. The secondary goal of walking in nine stages was to optimize our free time and enjoyment of each location, something I’ve never been able to do on a Camino before! I still shake my head when thinking about how I completed the 500-mile French route in 23 days back in 2012.
Stage 1 Overview:
Point to Point: Ferrol to Neda
Distance: 9 miles / 14.4 km
Elevation Gain: 740ft / 230m
Trail Conditions: A mix of paved roads and dirt paths. Very little walking along busy streets, despite the start in Ferrol. The trail mostly follows the Ria de Ferrol inlet.
Food and Water: Very few near-trail food options between Ferrol and Xubia. Make sure to pack snacks for this section. Potable water fountains were plentiful though.
End of Day Accommodation: Pazo da Merced
In the days before our Camino kickoff, the weather forecasts had called for heavy rain. The weather in Galicia can be very temperamental though, and we were blessed with perfect hiking weather.
From the Parador Hotel, we made our way back to the Ferrol Harbor and the official starting point. Right along the main street of P.º Mariña, there is a large stone block signifying the start of the Camino Ingles. Just behind the starting point is a large archway and narrow road that began our journey towards Santiago.
Right after leaving the narrow walkway behind, The Way brought us right back to the Parador and a view of our first Camino signpost. Only 112,799 to go from this point!
After leaving the harbor, the Camino Ingles works its way through the heart of Ferrol. This was one of the last places to grab food/snacks on the first 10km of this first stage, as many other places were closed on an early Sunday. Owen was charging ahead, with excited little legs that couldn’t move fast enough.
One of my favorite parts of the Camino experience is the coffee culture in small towns and villages. Each town tends to have a cafe/bar where locals congregate for news, conversation, coffee, food, beer, and more. These stops are vital for well fed and highly caffeinated pilgrims. I tend to start my days with a few americanos and tortilla, then transition to bocadillos and Aquarius’ as the day grows long.
After 2.5 miles of hiking through the city, the path moved alongside the river and passed through a series of gravel and natural trails. The sounds of the water made for a very peaceful and relaxing stretch of hiking.
It was really nice to start our Camino on a Sunday, as we got to walk alongside many of the Ferrol locals out for morning runs and dog walks. The cloudy skies ensured that we had perfect temperatures with just enough sunshine to keep our jackets in our packs.
At the 5.5 mile mark, the trail leads away from the waterfront and back in towards the city through an industrial zone. This stretch had the one on-trail food option listed on the map at Cerveceria O Mariscador, but like many businesses in Ferrol, it was closed for Sunday. We opted instead to stop for a short break on a bench by the trail, then continued on towards Xubia.
At the 6.5 mile marker, we reached the Monasterio de San Martiño do Couto. This Romanesque 12th century church sits right next to a driving bridge over the river. There is also a walking path alongside this bridge for pilgrims wanting to cut their first stage a little short.
We stopped outside of Monasterio de San Martiño do Couto for a little break, and were joined by a cat which Owen made quick friends with. This bond between human and animal would turn out to be quite the theme of our Camino Ingles. Owen really has a knack for bonding with the earth’s four legged friends.
From the church, we continued on along the Ria de Ferrol until reaching Molino de Las Aceñas at the 8 mile marker for the day. This tide mill has a fascinating history that dates back to the 18th century. Molino de Las Aceñas was used as one of the primary flour factories in Galicia during the 18th and 19th centuries.
After leaving Molino de Las Aceñas, we reached the 100km marker!! With a total distance of 114km on the Camino Ingles, Owen had already knocked out the first 14km (8.7 miles) with nothing but smiles and laughter. To celebrate, we walked a little off trail into the town of Xubia to celebrate for a pizza lunch.
I briefly mentioned my love of Camino breakfast foods earlier, and as much as I do love a pilgrim’s breakfast, lunches are my true favorite. We dove all-in on this first day at Pizza Plaza, starting with Estrella Galicia for Julia and I, and Owen knocking back a few bottles of peach juice. From there, I ordered a lovely raixo, and Julia and Owen ordered some delicious pizzas.
After our lunch, we made our way back to the Camino Ingles to cross over the Puente Peatonal de Xubia. This bridge spans the estuary of the Ria de Ferrol, and drops pilgrims off at the Neda pilgrim’s albergue.
We opted against staying at the albergue, and had booked ourselves a stay at the nearby Pazo da Merced instead.
Pazo da Merced is a beautiful hotel situated right along the Ria de Ferrol and very close to the Ferrol train station. This wonderful manor is rich with history, with an old legend stating that it is linked by an underwater tunnel with the San Martiño de Xubia church we visited earlier in the day. It made for the perfect place to end our first day of exploration, with comfortable and large rooms, and river views from each window.
After 10 miles of walking it was time to rest up for another big day ahead. The beautiful grounds of Pazo da Merced made that a bit of a challenge though, with the beautiful pool drawing us in, and their affable jack russell terrier constantly baiting us into a game of fetch. Our Camino Ingles was off to a magical start, and we were all excited and ready for the days that would follow.