Guest Author - Elizabeth Brennan
If you are into long distance walking one of the most renowned long distance walks is the Camino Santiago or The Way of St. James in northern Spain. The ultimate destination of the Camino walker is to arrive in the city of Santiago de Compostela, where according to tradition, the remains of St. James the Apostle are kept in the great cathedral. The Camino Santiago is a mediaeval pilgrimage and many people undertake the pilgrimage for spiritual reasons but anybody can walk it for any reason, not necessarily spiritual. While there are many starting points the most popular route is the French Way or Camino Francés which begins in St. Jean Pied de Port, a small French town at the foot of the Pyrenees.The nearest city to St. Jean is Bayonne.
The first day’s walking takes you over the Pyrenees Mountains to Roncesvalles a distance of 25km. The distance from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago is 800km. Of course it is not necessary to do the full distance. Many people do the way in stages over a period of several years. The way is well marked with yellow arrows so there is no danger of getting lost. A good guide book, of which there are many, is a must.
The Camino will take you through a wide variety of landscapes the Pyrenees Mountains, the Basque country, La Rioja the wine growing region, La Meseta the vast corn growing plain between Burgos and Leon,and finally Celtic Galicia.
Accommodation is provided along the route in dormitories in hostels or albergues at a very reasonable rate. To stay in a hostel you must have a Credencial or pilgrim passport which can be obtained in your own country before departure, in St. Jean Pied de Port on arrival or in many of the hostels. If you do not like dormitory accommodation there are many Casa Rurales which provide bed and breakfast accommodation. Many hostels have a kitchen where you can cook your own evening meal. In some hostels there is a communal meal cooked for all pilgrims at a very reasonable price.
The route is well provided with little cafes where you can have a cool drink, a café con leche or a bocadillo. Hostels are plentiful along the way so you can decide how many kilometres you will walk each day. It is important to pace yourself and not do too much so you avoid foot problems.
If you do not wish to carry your rucksack there are many transport companies which will carry your bag for a daily rate from one hostel to the other If you walk at least one hundred kilometres finishing in Santiago you will be presented with a certificate called a Compostelle in the pilgrimage office in Santiago.
The walk attracts walkers from many countries particularly France, Germany, United States of America, Canada, Korea and numerous other countries. Spain is well served with a bus service so if for any reason you are unable to walk any stage you can take a bus to the next town.
There is a wonderful spirit of friendship among the pilgrims and if you wish to undertake the walk alone, there is no problem. You will make friends and quickly begin to recognise fellow walkers.You will never really be alone.