This is a little-walked camino largely following historical tracks and footpaths from Alicante to Burgos. It offers a great variety of attractive scenery, many welcoming small villages, World Heritage sites and a splendid opportunity to enjoy traditional Spain. It is a ‘favourite camino’ of some CSJ members.
History. La Ruta de la Lana means the Wool Route and is based broadly on drove roads (cañadas) followed by drovers and their often huge flocks, travelling to milder climates nearer the coasts for winter and to higher mountain pasture in summer. These routes, dating back to before the Middle Ages, were also used by sheep-shearers and wool merchants, and to take livestock to markets. Burgos itself was the capital of the wool trade in the 16th and 17th centuries and the routes from the SE, especially from La Mancha, were well used. This route was undoubtedly well-used by pilgrims to Santiago and there is documentation of a pilgrimage to Santiago made in 1624 by Francisco Patiño, his wife and cousin, from Monteagudo de las Salinas, a village some 45 kilometres before Cuenca.
The Route. From Alicante to Burgos is approximately 700km with a further 500km if you continue on the Camino Francés to Santiago de Compostela. Early stages are shared with the Camino del Sureste as you cross the dry, flattish landscapes of SE Spain, each village and small town dominated by its castle. Gradually you gain height and for much of the route you will be walking at 800-1000m, typical of much of central Spain. There are very few arduous ascents on the route, although some days you will be faced by longish distances between villages.
After 100km, the Ruta de la Lana is met by the Camino de Levante from Valencia, an alternative starting point for our route. You are now in Castilla-La Mancha with its mix of almonds, cereals, pines and vast fields of vines as well as spectacular hill-top villages. Cuenca, the only large town on the route, is half-way and fully merits a day’s visit. There is greater variety in the landscape now, cultivated valley bottoms contrasting with hillsides of holm oaks, mountain scrub and pines and more ups and downs as you cross low sierras. Villages are small, often with fewer than 100 inhabitants and you may see little sign of life as you pass through. In some settlements many houses have a ‘Se Vende’ (For Sale) sign, or are in a complete state of abandonment or ruin, forlorn reminders of long-term rural depopulation in this depressed region of Spain. At Mandayona there is a variant of the route. This goes via an impressive gorge to the beautiful town of Sigüenza, followed by a completely walled village, before rejoining the main camino near the medieval village of Atienza. Ahead are the highest point of the route at 1430m, an exciting gorge, timeless, half-abandoned villages, great views, Santo Domingo de Silos with its famous monastery and a final flattish but long stage to Burgos.
Waymarking. Now, very good throughout, with familiar arrows and marker posts. Some stretches are also waymarked with the Camino del Cid and Ruta del Quijote.
Weather and when to go. As for many of the longer caminos, the most pleasant times for walking are spring and autumn. Alicante will probably be warm to hot, while central Spain has temperature extremes and nights can be very cold.
Where to stay. There is an increasing number of pilgrim hostels, often superbly equipped, and in many villages more basic accommodation is made available to pilgrims. Unlike other caminos, because there are so few pilgrims, it is essential to phone at least a day in advance to check that pilgrim accommodation is available, where to obtain the key etc. The hospitaleros on this route are outstandingly helpful but most have full-time jobs. There are also cheap hotels and hostales, some accommodation run by religious orders and Casas Rurales (in villages, sometimes self-catering, sometimes B&B).
- The friendliness of the local people; many villages rarely see strangers but the welcome for the occasional pilgrim is invariably a very warm one.
- Very few pilgrims indeed; if you like solitary caminos that offer ample opportunity for reflection and contemplation, this is certainly one for you. CSJ members report meeting just 2-3 other pilgrims over the 700km; arriving in Burgos will be a shock!
- The timeless attractiveness of small Spanish villages, with their castles and churches, many dating back to the Middle Ages. Some sites such as Alcalá del Júcar are simply spectacular.
- Cuenca, a World Heritage Site, between 2 gorges with superb views and many fine buildings. Sigüenza rivals it for the quality of its architecture.
- Churches (sadly) often closed, cathedrals and monasteries, especially Santo Domingo de Silos.
- Landscape that is attractive throughout and truly impressive at times, such as the gorges of the Río Dulce or Río Caracena. A route of birdsong, hoopoes, eagles, countless vultures, deer, boars…
- Most of the route is way off the tourist track and you will find hotel/hostal and meal prices very reasonable.
Language . You will need to have at least basic Spanish, not least to make phone calls regarding accommodation, and to make yourself understood in shops and restaurants where there may well be no-one who speaks English. A knowledge of Spanish will also be important to glean the information in many of the websites listed below.
Guides and maps . The only published guide is in Spanish and dates from 1999. More up-to-date information is available from the internet, much the fruits of labour of Amigos de Alicante and Cuenca. For details for each stage with distances and accommodation and for maps, check the following:
http://www.dealbaceteasantiago.es/IndiceCaminos-11.html Km by km of route; also version in English; recent accommodation list
http://elcaminoderequena.blogspot.co.uk scroll down for downloadable QR code guide to route
http://caminodelalana.blogspot.com.es Route description; machine translation available
http://caminosantiagoalbacete.jimdo.com/camino-de-la-lana/ Description for first half of route with good map links
http://www.caminosdeguadalajara.es/el-camino-de-santiago.html Guide to camino in province of Guadalajara
Specifically for maps:
http://es.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=3340071 Google map for whole route
http://douglasajohnson.com/rutadelalana.htm Good maps for all stages by clicking links
http://www.ign.es/iberpix2/visor/# Printable IGN maps of all Spain
And well worth reading is the article in the March 2014 edition of the Confraternity’s Bulletin by Peter Walsh: Processionary Caterpillars – A Walk on the Ruta de la Lana
Michael Gaches and Peter Walsh September 2016