CAMINO DE SANTIAGO – walking the road much travelled

Peregrinos coming through.



Making a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago had never been on my bucket list. Everybody had ‘done’ the Camino, like they’d ‘done’ Kilimanjaro, the Milford Track and Machu Picchu.

I’ve yet to tackle any of those famous walks, being slightly deterred by their popularity, but now I’ve started along the Camino, I feel differently about it. Yes, lots of people have done it, hundreds of thousands of them, maybe millions over the centuries, and that’s the whole point.

This walk is a cultural experience, rather than an athletic one. This is the 12th century church in Estella.


Our fellow pilgrims were walking the Camino for all sorts of reasons. Few of them may be religious these days, though for many it seemed to be intended as a sort of spiritual cleansing, at least getting some fresh air and exercise, seeing some lovely countryside and historic villages, and enjoying the relaxed company of others.

For me it was a chance to catch up with my cousin Iain who lives in Logrono, on the route, and who suggested walking a couple of stages. I was only too happy to join him.

Two pilgrims prepared for the trek.

In the Camino office in Pamplona we picked up our passports – we would need them to stay in the ‘albergues’ along the way – for the modest sum of EUR1.50. A bonus in the foyer was the display of nativity scenes by local children. I particularly liked the manger in an igloo, with ox and ass replaced by penguins…

Well, why not, if there’s no room in the inn?

At crack of dawn we set off, then stopped 127 metres down the road (according to my ever accurate GPS computer) at the place with the good coffee and sticky croissants.

The signs are there, but a pair of chatting idiots could miss them.

The route through Pamplona is clearly marked with the scallop shell symbol of St James set in the pavement every five metres. That didn’t stop us wandering from the path while we were chatting. A local quickly directed us back to the long and winding road. She didn’t want stray pilgrims cluttering up her town.

The designated route was already busy with a conga line of our fellow ‘peregrinos’.

The road out of Pamplona was not pretty, nor was it a place to get away from it all.

We chatted to those we overtook. Being novice pilgrims not yet adjusted to the slower pace of life on the Camino, we walked faster than most.

‘As soon as I cross the frontiere into Spain, I feel a new wind blow,’ the intense young French pilgrim told us. He’d walked all the way from his Christian commune in France. ‘The spirit here is incredible.’

A group of Italians, work colleagues from Milan, had other concerns. They explained that their chances of winning the Formula One were crippled until Ferrari could get a new chairman. Perhaps their prayers would be answered if they reached Santiago. The German ladies were taking time off from hausfrau duties – a sort of Girls’ Month Out.

Miracles happen along the Camino. Somewhere between 13.7 and 15.1 kilometres into the trek my GPS computer broke free of its moorings on my wrist and was lost. I retraced my steps and searched the ground fruitlessly, until a Spanish angel appeared on a mountain bike and produced it from his backpack.

The countryside in Navarra was particularly beautiful in the spring, poppies blooming by fields of ripening wheat.

The walking was generally not difficult, though the path was rocky and steep for short distances. Of course we also had no particular deadline or daily distance which had to be achieved, but around 25 kilometres a day was comfortable for us.

There were often a few steps to be tackled…and we were pleased to see those mountain-bikers struggling as much as we were.

But for the most part, the walking was very relaxed and comfortable.

By early afternoon we reached the albergue in the village of Obanos and checked in, excited as kids collecting football cards when the warden stamped our Camino passports.

For 7 euros each we had hot showers and beds in a communal dormitory (there was some competition for bottom bunks between those whose knees needed nursing), and could afford to splash out an extra 3 euros for breakfast.

We had time and energy over to stroll a couple more kilometres down into the valley to see a 12 century octagonal church.

The octagonal church.

There were a few worshippers inside. We contented ourselves with a few minutes of quiet contemplation, relieved to be doing it in a sitting position, and admired the ancient stonework.

Trodden by pilgrims for eight hundred years.

Then with an almost audible creaking of knees we resumed the vertical position and climbed back up the hill to Obanos, knowing that beer was waiting in the bar, along with a hearty three course ‘peregrinos menu’, all for EUR9.50. Hiking the Camino was really the cheapest travel I’ve done for a very long time.

And there was plenty more of it to come.

29 Comments

Filed under Hiking, Spain

29 responses to “CAMINO DE SANTIAGO – walking the road much travelled

  1. A friend who lives near the Camino often re-directs disoriented peregrinos. Part of the problem is the ambiguity about which way the trail markers are actually pointing. You’d think that after a few hundred kilometres the pilgrims would have worked it out.

  2. I’ve read a number of books by people doing the walk all with quite different perspectives of it, so very interested to hear about your adventure

  3. Interesting. Is it hot? I’m not going if it’s hot.

  4. Jim McIntyre (am Bodach)

    Well done both, can’t believe Iain didn’t take at least one golf club!

  5. We were in Spain last year in April and it was 35 degrees in Madrid, part of the reason I hated the place.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences on the Camino with us, Richard. It’s something I’ve been drawn to for a long time… not sure if I am up to walking such distances, particularly carrying a backpack, but there is something calling me there nonetheless…

  7. Love the blog Richard….Reiner and I spent time in Santiago De Compostela a few years back and made a pact to do the journey when the kids are a bit older….glad it was so enjoyable.

  8. David

    Just discovered your blog & thoroughly enjoying it. I’m planning to start El Camino mid-July & blogging about it daily so hopefully I’ll be able to return the favour in an interesting way!

    • Buen Camino, David. It will be interesting to follow your blog too. Let me know when you’re up and running (or at least walking). Take a hat – the Camino will be hot in July.

      • David

        Thanks Richard – will let you know – and am doing a few UK walks / photo blogs etc. in the meantime to get in the swing of things if you want to check them out at http://www.walkingforequilibrium.com, although I think I need to start getting a bit more succinct if I’m going to blog daily in Spain – current posts are starting to bear a worrying resemblance to War & Peace! cheers, David

  9. I have a goal of walking the Camino — maybe it will happen in 2013. Was going to do it last May/June but just wasn’t in the cards for several reasons, including a painful inflamed Achilles Tendon.

  10. After we recently watched the movie, “The Way,” which had some great images from the Camino, my oldest teen put this walk on his bucket list! ~ Kat

  11. I just had to send this story to a friend who has the famous walk on her bucket list. What a great experience!

  12. Pingback: Sunday Post: Peaceful | Marsha Lee

  13. I will be walking the Camino in Mid April 2013, What in your opinion is the best Book or Guide to the Camino Frances? I will start in St. jean pied de Port and going all the way to Compostello

    • I’m afraid I’m not really an expert, Paul. I didn’t read any books other than David Lodge’s Therapy. And I watched the Emilio Estevez/Martin Sheen film The Way. I hope others (or a little googling) will help you. It’s almost impossible to get lost on the route, due to the signage and the other pilgrims. Buen Camino!

  14. Umberto Di Venosa

    Hi all Fan of the Camino de Santiago,
    As we have the same interest of the wonderful Camino de Santiago we would like to share with you useful things to make your Trip better.
    Indeed 2 things are essential,

     Get a good mobile Application of the Camino providing, Map with monument, Hotel & Restaurant, and Taxis number; but also social media interaction and ground transportation planner. We have also linked up with Hike-Tech.com to allow a unique luggage transfer online booking capability.
    CAMINO GUIDE provided by Follow the Camino is available in different languages 6 languages on Apple and Android and is FREE.

    Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tnr.free&hl=fr
    Itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/camino-guide/id574890800?mt=8

     The second thing if you are not friendly mobile users is to book your luggage transfer before going on the Camino. Hike-Tech booking engine allow booking your luggage transfer in less than 5 minutes when you have your itinerary.
    Simply your town from/hotel from the Town to/Hotel to, date and number of luggage and here you go 
    You can book as many stages as you like at once. No need to contact different taxis, we do it for you.
    Once a booking is made, you will receive a confirmation with the contact details of each taxi transferring your bag(s).

    So don t stress any more about your luggage and enjoy your Trip on the Camino.
    http://www.hike-tech.com/en/services/luggage-transfer

    For Walkers and cyclists on the following routes:

    Le Puy: Le Puy en Velay to St Jean Pied de Port
    French Way: St Jean to Santiago
    Finisterre Way: Santiago to Finisterre
    Northern Way: San Sebastian to Oviedo – Santiago
    Portuguese Way: Tui to Santiago
    English Way: Ferrol to Santiago

    In hoping it will be as useful for you as for us.

  15. 2orangebags

    I am enjoying exploring your blog. My wife and I did the Camino last spring and it was the best trip ever. (carryoncouple.com) This year we are trying the West Highland and Great Glen ways in Scotland. Have you done either or both of those?
    Happy exploring!
    Reg and Sue

    • Thanks Reg and Sue. I haven’t done those walks in Scotland, but as it happens I’ll be in Glasgow in a couple of months, so on your advice I’ve googled them. Now they’re on my ‘to do’ list.

      • We are beginning our trek from the Glasgow area May 9 and will be blogging about the experience. We plan to walk for about two weeks, ending in Inverness. We once lived in the Dundee area, so we will visit friends after our walk.
        Hope you enjoy your Scotland visit!

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