Walking the Way of St James (Tell Us Your Story)
When initially planning the route and thinking about kit, accommodation and gear, I thought it was all about the walking - after all, 800km is a considerable distance. I was wrong though, it's all about the people.
The walk we did was the Spanish section of the pilgrim route known as The Way of Saint James, or more commonly, the Camino (the way). It starts in the Pyrenees, either on the French side, which gives you a fantastic first day crossing the mountains and dropping down into Spain for your first night in pilgrim accommodation, or missing this for a flying start in Spain itself. From here it winds its way across northern Spain through medieval villages and towns, following the ancient paths that have carried pilgrims to Santiago de Compostella for a thousand years.
One of the great things about this walk is the plentiful and cheap accommodation that enables you to travel relatively light – only needing a sleeping bag, with a roll mat, a useful extra for when the beds are all taken.
You will be in a bunk bed in various buildings and churches, the room will contain others, sometimes hundreds of others, and you will meet people from all over the world every day that you walk. You may walk with a group of people for days, or you might move quickly, but you will meet new friends every single day, and as time passes, you will be reunited with people you lost contact with earlier on the route.
My partner and I wanted to see rural Spain via a longish walking route, and after perusing the Cicerone catalogue for something suitable, we discovered this guide by Alison Raju.
Although we had no knowledge of it, it was obvious when we got onto the Camino that it was a global destination! As to the pilgrim aspect of the route, I would say that around 50% of the walkers had a spiritual agenda of some sort, a lot of young people, (especially from Spain and Italy) seemed to be doing it as a rite of passage experience, and a sizable proportion were walkers who liked the historical aspect of the route, and the medieval towns and villages along the way.
All walking routes have a history of some sort, but on the Camino the sense of continuity and the shared experience of the countless people over the millennia are palpable. This route will take you through a landscape that changes constantly, - from high plateau areas called the meseta, through rolling agricultural country, across fabulous historic cities such as Pamplona, Burgos, and Astorga, and the stunning beauty of Santiago itself at the end of the Camino. All of this is recommendation enough, but the thing that makes every hamlet, every dusty path and every pilgrim hostel so memorable is the people who you share it with.
The only way to describe this walk is life-changing.