Camarinas on Galicia’s Coast of Death, Spain

It’s summer and therefore a good time of the year for a visit to Galicia, Spain’s northwestern province. Although Santiago de Compostela is probably the most well known destination, there is much more to do and see in Galicia.  Other great Galicia attractions include Fragas do Eume Nature Park, The Sailing Ship Pinta Museum in Baiona and the Rosalia de Castro House and Garden in Padron.  My tip this week is a visit to Galicia’s Coast of Death.

I went to Cap Finisterre from Santiago by coach and then decided on a day trip further up Galicia’s infamous Coast of Death to the coastal town of Camarinas, famous for two things: lace making and as the site of a tremendous shipwreck which occurred in 1890. I heard about the tragedy when I visited the Maritime Museum in Finisterre and decided to visit what’s known as the English cemetery and the Lace museum in Camarinas.

The town is located approx. 70 km north of Finisterre and, as my preferred means of transport is the local bus, took one which left early in the morning.

The last return bus leaves Camarinas at 5pm, so make sure you don’t miss it, but in the worst of cases, there is no shortage of B&Bs and hotels either, so you won’t have to camp out on the beach.

Here is the story of the shipwreck:

In 1890, the ‘Serpent’ , a Briish naval vessel carrying cadets, set out on her voyage to Spain. Reaching the coast of Galicia in a raging storm at night, the then manually operated lighthouse of Cabo Vilan mislead the sailors. The ship crashed on the treacherous rocks half submerged under the sky high waves and all but two of the cadets lost their lives. The survivors managed to struggle on dry land and, exhausted, drenched and frightened they finally reached the only lighted house of a fisher man, who gave them shelter, dry clothes and their home made bread, baked under hot ashes.

Supposedly the cottage where the survivors found shelter

The bodies were eventually washed ashore and are buried in what is today known as the English cemetery of Camarinas, a memorial which should not be missed.

Entrance to the English Cemetery

After the shipwreck the lighthouse fire was replaced by electric fire. Oddly, the, still working barometer of the Serpent was also recovered and is today embedded in the wall of a house on the portside of town.

Barometer of the 'Serpent embedded in a house on the seafront

The English cemetery is best reached by taking a taxi as it is at least 10 miles away from the town but the ride allows the visitor a view of Monte Blanco, Europe’s largest sand dune.  Galicia is also home to one of the best beaches in the World, Playa de Rodas on Islas Cies.

Site of the shipwreck

Back in Camarinas itself, I walked along the pretty sea promenade and discovered the lace making. Shop after shop line the sidewalk with displays of the pretties things made from hand woven lace. What’s more: girls are sitting in the shop with their handheld looms on their lap and demonstrate how the lace is made. You can only marvel at the speed with which their nimble fingers throw the pegs about and how the most beautiful patters emerge with the girls hardly ever even looking at what they are doing. Truly an art which needs years and years of practice.

Turning left at the end of the promenade and following the sign you reach a Plaza adorned with a huge monument of a Camarinas lace maker and right behind it is the lace museum. The ground floor exhibits gowns by modern Spanish designers who have used Camarinas lace in their creations  and the top floor shows the history of lace making.

Monument of a lace maker

Modern design making use of lace from Camarinas

Be aware that the museum keeps ‘siesta hours’ and is closed over lunchtime, but as there is no shortage of good restaurants offering the freshest fish and seafood, Galicia’s speciality, you will not be hard pressed to fill the time.