After the Very Messy Weekend in San Sebastián, I thought I had a choice to make – to return to the UK with the Good Friends on a pre-booked flight, or to linger a little while longer in Spain.
As it turned out, there was no choice to make, as British Airways apparently took a dim view of my failure to be in the correct country at the correct time to take the outbound flight and in a fit of pique, my return flight had been vapourised.
I was pleasantly surprised at my complete lack of concern at this turn of events – I’ve never missed a flight before in my life, so to miss two in three days ought to have caused me some angst.
Nothing like it – instead my mind quickly turned its attention to making the best of the situation by exploring the delights of Bilbao and beyond.
For a few minutes, I contemplated booking a different flight home to the UK, but the prospect of ending my journey by arriving at Gatwick or Stansted was utterly intolerable.
Instead, I booked a slow boat home to Plymouth from Santander, promising a considerably more serene re-entry to England and creating a couple of bonus days to wander around a bit more.
Firstly came the Guggenheim.
This building looms large in the pantheon of design and to have an opportunity to gaze upon its sensuous exterior for a few hours was yet another Spanish treasure to be savoured.
To call it mesmerising is faint praise – I’ve rarely been more captivated by a building in my life and to sit and watch the afternoon sun play back and forth across its gilded tiled surfaces was a great honour.
In truth, the exterior of the building surpassed the contents held within, which included a number of works from the greats, as well as some more contemporary artists.
All well and good, but I was much more interested in looking at the outside again, so I did just that.
Eventually, it became necessary to drink and eat something, so I tore myself away to watch the end of the Ryder Cup in a nearby sports bar, which weirdly specialised in playing all the songs Eddie Vedder has sung that were not previously known to me.
They were all pretty good, I must say.
The next morning, I rose early with the intention of getting as far along the Camino del Norte from Bilbao to Santander as I could.
The Northern Way is a more coastal route to Santiago and I thought it would be fun to sample a bit of it, perhaps as a taster for a future Camino.
The first stage was a little testy, essentially following the river out of Bilbao through endless industrial areas, lightened only by the novelty of a midair ferry across to the other side in Portugalete.
It was a genuine relief to see the official Little Yellow Arrows of the Camino appear again to guide me out of the urban landscape.
Soon, the path became more rural again, but the Norte is a very different Camino to its big brother further south.
Fundamentally, there was pretty much nobody else on it.
I saw just three other Peregrinos all day and for some reason, interactions were limited to the “Buen Camino” greeting and no more.
It also seemed to me that the villages and towns along the Way were a little less enthused by the concept of random strangers pitching up and requesting refreshments in poor quality Spanish.
Oh well, that’s fair enough, I suppose.
It had attempted to rain a few times during the day, prompting the second deployment of the rucksack cover at long last.
But this change in weather conditions also led to a notable first.
I slipped and fell, as my right foot landed on a wet leaf going down a steep hill.
At last, a Full Slip and Fall.
No damage done and more importantly, no witnesses, I pressed on to my destination – a pretty town called Castro-Urdiales, with a good bus service onwards to Santander.
That meant a 35km day, a large part of which was spent on roads rather than the peaceful paths I’d become used to on the Frances route.
The compensations for the nature of the path came in the shape of the Atlantic Ocean on my right and mountains on my left.
It was good to have been back on the Camino again, particularly after the hedonism of the Very Messy Weekend, giving me the opportunity to reset my mind again and to begin to order my thoughts for my return to England.
But after eight hours on the road, when I finally arrived at Castro-Urdiales, I knew that I would walk no further.
It was time to give Left Foot and Left Shoulder the Good News.
I was done.
Now, it was time to rest and recuperate, before the penultimate day in Spain.