Reader, I made it. I’m here! I am in Santiago de Compostella…
It’s good but it’s odd. I mean, who walks from England to Spain? Weirdo. Haven’t they heard of planes or trains or cars?! And then I realise that weirdo is me. I am the one who has walked from her home in Essex, UK to Santiago de Compostella, Spain. 3,000km in 4.5 months.
It feels like it was just yesterday that I left and yet also a lifetime ago. I can still feel that awful damp, chilled bone marrow, pruny fingers feeling like it was moments ago when I think of Chateau Renault and yet it is also so faded, so soft around the edges in my memory that it could have happened to someone else and I can only imagine it inaccurately. A sepia tone discolours everything. The Sun’s heat in Spain has seared out most of those soggy recollections of France and faded even the brightest of blue skies I’ve experienced in Spain. I know I am the one to have walked this walk and lived these moments, these memories, but it is already starting to feel like a surreal dream.
I’m surround by my family and Guthrie, reveling in all their noisiness and celebrations and loving it. I am so ready to go home.
Day 1: Portomarin to Ponte Campana
I was ready to leave Portomarin. It’s a lovely town but there isn’t much to do there to say the least.
I walked on my own which suited me just perfectly. I needed to work out where my head was at. Having said that I was ready to go home, that I had accepted that this adventure was drawing to a close, I suddenly wasn’t so certain. Sure, I’m desperate for my own bed, for some privacy, for my family and friends and boyfriend. However, am I ready to go back to work? To accept the responsibilities that come with normal life? The commitments and compromises, that for the last few months I’ve been able to leave at one side, are going to be clamouring for attention the second I get off the plane. I know I said I missed them, but do I really? The only person that has mattered for the last four and a half months has been me. The only thing I’ve been responsible for is getting myself from A to B. The only person I’ve had to answer to, has been me. Me, me, me, me, me, me.
All this has been churning around in my head, non-stop. It was rather a relief to meet other people on the Camino and chatter with them as we walked. I ended up walking 30km, I was both tired and full of energy, wanting to walk those kilometres and get to Santiago.
Palas de Rei is a charming town where I had originally decided to stop for the day. I entered the church in the town where a lovely man was running the stamping of pilgrim passports and talking to those interested about the history of the church and of the Camino. The Friends of the Camino really are an incredible bunch. Their endless friendliness, generosity with their time and their knowledge is incredible. They must have heard nearly all our stories of triumph and woe before and yet they never fail to be interested, excited and sympathetic. Their boundless enthusiasm and positivity for this journey is catching and I left the church, revved up and determined to walk a way further – but not too far, I know my comfortable limits!
It was only c.5km further to Ponte Campana and I am so glad that I decided to stay there. I was wandering along a lovely little country road when I saw an enormous scallop shell on the side of a building. ‘Do you think that’s the albergue?’, I asked myself. ‘Why, yes, I do’, I replied to myself.
There was a fabulous gang there – Leah (28, South African), Katie (27, German), Petra (26, Austraian), Martin (27, German) and Jueve (60? Belgian). They had been walking together for a week or so, having started from all different places. Leah had started in SJPDP and Jueve had started near Belgium- c.2,500km! The others had started along the Camino Frances, although this was Petra’s 3rd camino. She takes a different route each year. They welcomed me with open arms and were interested to hear my tales as well as share their own. I spent a wonderful afternoon with them lazing in the sunshine and chatting this and that.
There was also a Japenese family at the hostel. The father was a journalist and is writing a piece on the Camino Frances. He had started in SJPDP. His wife and 6yo daughter had joined him in Leon. He walked separately from them but they all met up in the hostel at the end of the day. On average they walked 30km a day. A tiny 6 year old girl walked 30km a day. In fact ran some parts of it, and then ran back to her mother, so she probably walked about 35km a day and was still a bundle of energy at the end of the day. I look on in awe and felt rather ancient and decrepit. ‘Ah, the energy of youth’, I thought to myself.
Day 2: Ponte Campana to Ribadiso
Again, my head was in an odd place. Or maybe not so odd. We’d all love to not have to work or worry about money and yet still do all the fun things we want to do and see our friends and family and live in nice places and eat delicious food… So really, I should stop being such a drama queen and just get on with it.
Besides, I love my job. I love Tymperleys, I love the team of staff that we have there, and I love our customers! I love that I never have two identical days, that there are always new faces and challenges. There always seem to be this idea that we shouldn’t love our jobs though. It starts to rub off. You’re constantly being told that you should ‘live for the weekends’ and that Sunday evenings before going back to work on Monday mornings are depressing times. Well, stuff and nonsense. I refuse. I’m one of the fortunate and it’s just not true for me. I’ve missed Tymperleys. I think of it as my baby and I can’t wait to see it again!
While I was mulling over this oddity – we spend more time at work than not, we should enjoy it, shoudn’t we? It seems odder and odder the more I think about it that we accept anything less – that I met Roland and Rocinante. Roland is Hungarian and has walked from Budapest to Finisterra, back to Burgos and then back to Finisterra again and is now slowly making his way back to Budapest, all with his 21yo donkey, Rocinante. He hands out stamps for pilgrim passports, playing the recorder and generally spreads goodwill and cheer in a bid to collect enough money to pay for his and Rocinante’s journey home.
I stayed in a charming little hostel in Robadiso at the top of a monster hill – why do I always seem to bump into the big hills at the end of a day’s walking? Why can’t I meet them at the start when I have more energy?!
Also staying there were a group of ladies who I’d seen the previous day and said a ‘hallo’ to as I passed them by. Apparently I’d also commented on ‘what a lovely morning it is’. They instantly hated me, convinced I was one of those dreadful chirpy walkers who have flooded the Camino since Sarria. They weren’t best pleased to see me.
I spent another afternoon basking in the sunshine and reading my book. It wasn’t until I overheard them speaking English and decided to butt into their conversation and make some friends. Enya (Denmark, SJPDP), Louisa (Brazil, Burgos), Kim (American, Leon) and her daughter, Madelaine (American, Leon) were polite enough to give me a second chance. We chatted this and that until of course, the inevitable question of ‘where did you start?’ arrived.
‘England’, I replied.
‘We beg your pardon, where?’, they asked again.
‘England. From my home in Essex’, I repeated.
They were gobsmacked. Apparently I had featured in every one of their diary entries the night before as the perfect example of how irritating and full of energy the people who have just started from Sarria are. With their tiny backpacks – hello, Ken?! – spotless boots – errrr?! – and fresh faced energy – thank you! – those who are on Camino day trips are fairly obvious. How I was mistaken for one, I have no idea. I do suppose I walk quite fast so maybe they didn’t have time to go through the full check list.
They were terribly funny about it and convinced that I had inadvertently taught them some great Camino lesson about never judging people by appearance or on snap assumptions. It has to be said, remembering that all journeys are of equal importance and weight is a little challenging when you see people walking along in a full face of make-up, with a real handbag and no backpack at all… My handbag for the last three months has been an Oslo Airport Duty Free plastic bag… Still, we all do what we can do. No one is any more or less important. If I repeat this often enough, hopefully I’ll start to think it instinctively. I should, I know, it’s just hard to be an understanding person all the time. Especially when they have a real handbag. I mean, seriously, a handbag!
Day 3: Ribadiso to O Predrouzo
I was just so excited to arrive by Wednesday. I was counting down every kilometre, every hour, every second in my head. I kept on welling up, almost crying, I’ve no idea why. Walking through the eucalyptus forests was lovely. The smell was just so evocative. It reminded me of my prep school, Hanford, and Lucker, the matron, who used to hand out eucalyptus sucky-sweets when you had a sore throat.
Galicia feels like it could be the West Country with Fresian cows dotting the hillsides and milking barns everywhere. This stretch of the Camino is often called the Milky Way both because of this and also because the Way leads of Compostella – the field of the stars. The Milky Way in the sky stretches from East to West and legend has it that Teodomiro, Bishop of Idris, found the body of St James in the 820s, guided by a very bright star. This was the beginning of Santiago as a place of pilgrimmage. It continued until the 1500s, when the schisms in the Catholic church and the threat of ‘the pirate Francis Drake’ (all depends on your perspective!) led to the remains of St James being hidden so well that no one could find them. It was not until 1879 when they found the relics behind the high altar that the pilgrimmage was even remembered, let alone walked.
People often say that the Camino Frances is an allegory for life. SJPDP to Burgos is where physically the Camino will try to break you, pushing you to your physical limits, before your body starts to strengthen and harden; Burgos to the Cruz de Ferro, through the Meseta, is the mental challenge – at the Iron Cross you rest your stone where you have placed your worries and negativity; from here on is your rebirth – physical, mental and spiritual – leading to Santiago.
I had heard about this allegory before but no one had put such specific points to it. I guess they are right. It was different for me I suppose, having come from slightly further but even so, it rings true enough to me.
The hostel I wanted to stay in was fully booked but they did have private rooms for only €20. I wasn’t going to question that! Not only would it mean that I wouldn’t get bedbuggered, but that I would have a private bathroom to potter about it and try to civilise myself. I won’t lie, although not normally in the least bit inclined to wander about stark naked, the fact that I could because I had a private room meant that I did. I had to. It would have been a crime not to take advantage of this. Ah, the luxury!
The lovely gang I’d met in Ponte Campana turned out to the staying the same place as well and I had a fun evening with them.
Day 4: O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostella
I just wanted to arrive. I was so damn excited I could barely think straight. Everything kept making me almost cry though.
I left at 6am with the Ponte Campana gang. It was pitch black. I was jolly glad for their company – those eucalyptus forests would have been rather scary on my own. They were scary enough in company.
We stopped for breakfast and then for second breakfast. When they stopped for third breakfast (respect) I left them to it. I was too impatient. I wanted to arrive already!
Of course, as soon as I entered the historic centre, I got lost. 330m from the cathedral and I lost the Camino and all sense of direction and was well and truly lost. I mean, honestly. I suppose, at least, I have been consistent in my inconsistency at following the Camino. I ended up having to call my family who were waiting for me in the square and having Grace explain to me how to find the main square. I entered in from an entirely different direction to anyone else. But who cares? I did it. I did it my way! (theme tune for my walk!)
3,000km in 20 weeks through rain, snow, hail, grey, blue, hot, cold, wet, dry, miserable, glorious, incredible, surreal and painfully real. I’ve bloody done it.
I had no idea what I was doing when I started. It’s just walking after all! I walk everyday! It can’t be that difficult – hah. I didn’t even really comprehend what I was starting! If I had done, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to do it. But I’m so glad I did. So many people told me I was batty. I was batty.
Apparently you’re meant to discover deep and meaningful things about yourself. I’m not so sure I’ve done that. I’m a fairly simple person, there’s not much to know about me that isn’t immediately obvious. I’ve always thought that I know myself quite well: I’m stubborn, I love a good project that I can stick my teeth into and I can almost always find the positive in a situation and when I can’t, I can survive it until life moves on, which really brings us back full circle to stubborn. This walk has confirmed that more than anything else.
There was never any question that I wouldn’t finish this walk, at least not for me. It was more of a question of whether I was going to endure it or enjoy it. And by gorrah, I’ve enjoyed it – it’s amazing how a thousand kilometres or so can rose-tint all that rain!
I am so glad that I did it. So often I am asked why: It’s always been my dream since I was a little girl. I guess, I’ve just walked my dream. I could, so I did. Why don’t you?