If you undertake the 800 km walk, the Camino Santiago, The Way of St. James, from St. Jean Pied de Port in France across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela you will need a guide book. This route, known as The Camino Francés, the French Way is a mediaeval pilgrimage which has become very popular in recent years and is contributing in no small way to the regeneration of many small Spanish villages on the way.
While there are many guides available this one by John Brierley is one of the better ones. John, is a very spiritual man and one of the delights of this book are his meditational paragraphs at the beginning of each stage. The guide gives full information on all the pilgrim hostels, alternative accommodation, distance and contour guides.
It is a nice compact size, which is a big consideration when you are trying to cut down on weight in your back pack. The first chapter is devoted to preparations for the walk, what to take and what to leave behind. The author is a purist and recommends leaving behind your camera, mobile phone and your watch! Perhaps this is not for everyone. There is useful information on how to get there but it is aimed at European travellers so American traveller will need to get to Europe first.
There is a Spanish phrase section also which is very useful, as most people outside the larger towns in Spain will not speak English. The historical and traditional aspect of the walk is very well explained and detailed enough to give the traveller a good insight into the culture and tradition associated with the walk. The book is in full colour and has over 200 colour photographs and 16 detailed plans of the larger towns.
The book is organised into thirty three stages. Each stage is one day’s walk of approximately 20 to 30 km. Each stage is accompanied by a detailed map, contour guide and the distance between each hostel is clearly marked. Where there are alternative routes this is also clearly marked in another colour. Another useful aspect of the book is the blank spaces left at the end of stages for personal notes and reflections. The tourist attractions and history of each town and village is adequately dealt with giving the pilgrim a greater appreciation of the people and the places he/she passes through.
For the traveller on a budget the prices of the hostels are also given so it is important to get the latest edition of the guide. At the end of the book there is a comprehensive bibliography for the traveller who needs more information either before the trip or after returning home. An important feature of the book is that it is well bound, the paper is of excellent quality and I can vouch that it survived the whole 800km in good condition despite the abuse of the rucksack and the vagaries of weather.
As an inexperienced solo traveller I could not fault this book. It gave me all the information I needed and eliminated the need to ask for information in a foreign language.
It is more than a guide book in that it will serve as a memento of an unforgettable trip
For those who are not into reflection and meditation there is a shorter version of the guide which contains just the maps and essential information.
I bought my own copy of this book.
Here is the link for the book
Here is the link for the shorter version containing maps only.