So, Finisterre. There are several things that set alarm bells ringing when we head towards places on our travels. It is never a good sign if somewhere has an English name, is called ‘Cape’ something or appears often in literature.
It is never a good sign if people refer to passing its headland as ‘rounding it’, if it has its own section in the weather forecast or if the chart is littered with wreck symbols in its vicinity. It is never a good sign if there is a massive lighthouse on the end of it, or if people suck their teeth when they talk about it, or if the stretch of coast around it has its own forbidding name. Good signs for places are the presence of flotilla companies, easyjet airports and English menus with pictures on them. Think the Ionian, land of tranquil anchorages and gently lapped shores. Finisterre, however, ticks all the wrong boxes. Its actual name is Cabo Fisterra, but nobody calls it that because its English name is too notorious. I can think of at least several literary references to it off the top of my head, and even our great poet laureate gives it a mention* despite looking like an unlikely candidate for oilskins and seaboots.
You definitely ‘round Finisterre’, the local weather forecast nearly always counters the general forecast with ‘occasionally something more miserable near Finisterre’, there is definitely a massive lighthouse there, they update their forecasts four-hourly, they translate them into English over VHF, people make all the requisite noises when referring to it, and cheerfully the coast surrounding it is called the Costa da Morte. Which is Galician for the ‘Coast of Death’.
However, after checking around twenty five forecasts even I was convinced that today was a good day to go, and happily we nosed out of the Ria de Muros to find a flat sea and virtually no wind. An hour or so later, with an updated forecast from an unusually chirpy lady at Fisterra signal station, we were joined by the two heralds of good weather; dolphins and small white motor boats going fishing for the day that always look from the way they move around as though they are being driven by drunk people. And maybe they are.
We motored all day, and nothing happened other than I couldn’t find any biros for a while and we didn’t catch any fish. By five o’clock we arrived here in Muxia in the south of the Ria de Camariñas, and tied up alongside a pontoon.
The marina here is not open yet, so nobody is in charge, which means there is nobody to charge. We had a little siesta then headed out to explore the metropolis that is Muxia and to try to find wifi for a forecast. We ended up walking along to the headland at the south entrance to the ria, where there is a church we had seen on our way in. It turns out that Muxia is the end of the line for pilgrims who have chosen to walk the very last bit of the Camino de Santiago to Finisterre. Strangely, Daisy and I always planned to come here when we did the walk ten years ago, but ended up too short on time to make it. So I was very pleased and quite moved to find myself here so many years later.
There was a service going on in the church, but outside the rocks were filled with tourists clambering around, and from the information boards – written in Galician – we more or less managed to work out why.
There are several large rocks here, of unusual shapes. Three have names and particular significance, and it would appear that they have done since pagan times. I can’t remember the actual names of any of them, and you should probably look somewhere else if you want an account of any level of historical accuracy at all. One is the rock of backache, and you are supposed to climb under and go around it nine times in order to relieve yourself of this affliction (presumably by creating several others by the time you have done this).
Another is the tiller rock, because it is shaped like one. I can’t remember what that’s meant to do. The other is the balancing rock, which is a massive slab of granite that is permanently balanced on a point. It is large enough to fit around twenty people standing on it without being too squashed. Folklore says that if and when it moves, it determines the fate or the guilt of those standing on it. It is an impressive site, and I can see why it has been a place of worship for so long, with its awesome view and geological features. The Christianized version of all this is that Saint Peter came to Muxia to preach or live as a hermit, one of the two, not sure which. He got a bit frustrated with life, then one day while he was down at the rocks (which weren’t there at the time) he looked up and who should he see but the Virgin Mary sailing in on a boat made of granite. She was washed up on the shore, but the remains of her boat (the tiller, the sail and the keel) are still to be seen here in Muxia. So they built a church, called it the church of the Virgen de la Barca (the Virgin of the Boat) then a load of tourists in hiking boots and Ronhills turned up. Brilliant.These days, there is also a large granite monument to a rather less welcome visitor in the shape of the Prestige, the oil tanker which sank off the coast here in 2002.
Muxia itself is a strange and charming large village, not dissimilar to Lizard in Cornwall in some ways. If you were time travelling and landed here you would probably put the date at around 1988 judging from the shops, bars and fashions we came across first.
It reminded me somewhat of the Cornwall of my childhood, and perhaps for that reason we took an immediate liking to it, despite the fact that the first scenes that confronted us when we ventured out this evening at around 6pm to look for wifi were a man in his forties vomming outside a bar while being shouted out by his girlfriend, a bar lady with purple and green eyeshadow covering half her face and a drunk disabled man in a wheelchair being pushed by his equally inebriated mate who nearly drove him into us. What else do you do on the Coast of Death on a Saturday?
After several false starts and about three quarters of an hour of searching, we finally found a lovely wine bar about three streets back, in a beautiful stone building. We asked about wifi, and were guided to a nice big table in a quiet spot. I went to order a drink and the lovely woman who ran the place told me we needn’t buy anything unless we wanted to. It was so kind of her, but we wanted to get something in exchange for using her internet, so I ordered a couple of glasses of wine and we sat down. At the end, we got up to pay and she refused to charge us. We tried to pay, but she continued to refuse and in the end we accepted gratefully on the basis that at the next opportunity we’d buy somebody else a drink, thus passing it forwards. Which in our opinion is the best way to do things.
* Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer – Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre. (Carol Ann Duffy ‘The Prayer) To be fair she is referring to the old shipping forecast area Finisterre, now replaced by the less ambiguous FitzRoy, but still…