On this day, nine years ago, I was flying home from Santiago de Compostela having successfully walked the Camino Ingles (the English Way). It’s known as the English Way because it starts at the port of Ferrol, the traditional arrival point for those pilgrims arriving by boat from Britain and Ireland. It’s one of many popular routes that now see both believers and non believers walking, cycling or even horse riding to the destination point of the Cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela.
The Cathedral has been an important pilgrimage route since the 9th century as it is home to the shrine of St James the Great, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus and now the patron saint of Spain. I’ll leave the story of St James for a later post, as well as my journey from Ferrol as my focus today is the Camino Frances.
Many of you will know of my love for Spain, thanks to my favourite Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. It’s eruption in 2010 left me stranded in Seville and began an obsession with all things Spanish, including the idea of walking ‘El Camino’.
When I say walking ‘El Camino’ (or ‘the way’ as in ‘The Way of St James) it was my dream to walk the Camino Frances, so called because it starts in France and crosses into Spain via the Pyrenees. Of course the original pilgrims started their pilgrimage from their own doorsteps, wherever that might have been, but today there are numerous popular routes, called after their starting point or route, with the exception of the Camino Finisterre which starts, not ends in Santiago de Compostela. However, walking the Frances was not a realistic option for me, fitness, time and money being major factors. That was why the Camino Ingles was more realistic, shorter and yet still a full Camino in it’s own right, rather that walking the end section of one of the others. To receive your ‘Compostela’ you have to prove you have either walked 100km or cycled (or travelled on horseback) 200km to Santiago de Compostela.
While the Camino Frances still remained a dream, an option for when I could finally retire, life had other plans. It’s unlikely I’ll ever walk the Frances, as the nerve damage to my feet following chemotherapy makes walking long distances difficult. Would I ever cycle it, highly unlikely, or hang on maybe I could – just not actually on the ground. What if I could ‘virtually’ cycle the Camino. It might sound daft but there’s a growing number of virtual challenges you can sign up for via the internet and the Camino is one of them.
I don’t actually intend risking life and limb by getting out on the roads, my bike has long fallen into disrepair (a bit like me) after it served it’s purpose in training for cycling through Rajasthan (yes, I’m not a novice at signing up for doing daft things). However, we bought an exercise bike after Christmas and this would be the perfect motivation to get me on it more. I won’t be attempting to replicate the distances each day that would normally be cycled, or even walked – I think the ‘boss’ might have something to say about that as I still have work to consider. But the way these challenges work is that any activity you undertake, walking, cycling etc., as long as it’s quantifiable, counts towards your goal. So El Camino is on!
I haven’t got a formal plan – no news there. I seem to go through life doing things on a whim and appreciating what I’ve started after the event – Jill’s Book Cafe started in pretty much the same way! All I know is that I intend following the 772km route, at my own pace, to hopefully ‘arrive’ before 25th July which is the Feast Day of St James and the most iconic day in the Camino calendar. It also marks the final day of Theakston’s Crime Festival at Harrogate (if it actually happens) so a momentous day all round.
I shall track my journey and read about the places I’m passing through, and ‘virtually’ stopping in, so I can at least get a flavour of my journey, albeit from the comfort of my dining room. That said, I undertook a trip through Northern Spain several years ago that visited some of the places en route so I have my pictures to share. I’ll be accompanied on my trip by several authors who’ve already completed the route and I’ll be sharing their experiences with you along ‘the way’. So wish me Buen Camino and I’ll update you soon – I have to go an see a man about a bike!