Saturday, 22 August 2009

The arrows have it

Segovia - Santa Maria la Real de Nieva 32km - Coca - 22km

The Madrid members of the Amigos of the Camino to Santiago have never claimed that this is an historic route. Common sense tells us that pilgrims must have passed this way over the ages and the authors of the 2000 guide found some evidence of this. We know that the Amigos charted this route as a kind of representation of what might have been.

And so this route feels different from others. It has taken me a wee while to work out what that is. Other routes follow the description laid out in the medieval Codex. Therefore if an industrial estate has been built across the route we pilgrims try to follow faithfully where the route would have been - through the industrial estate.

None of that on this Madrid Route. It has become obvious over these last 6 days that is has been designed for walkers by people who are themselves walkers. This is truly a "no roads camino" and each day has been a joy. In fact each day could stand on its own as a brilliant walk. Although albergues are popping up so that pilgrims can walk different distances if they wish I'm beginning to sense the personality of this route. I think it may have been conceived as a series of one day walks which run together - each beautiful and complete on their own. What I have been trying to do is identify where the cadences are.

The last few days are good examples. The stage over the mountains is arduous and long. But it felt right to arrive in Segovia. For me, whilst convenient, an albergue in the middle of no where en route just wouldn't make sense.

Yesterday to Santa Maria was also 31 km. The same distance as the previous day but totally different. It was smooth, gentle walking along some forest paths and miles of meseta surrounded by vast open areas, clear as far as the eye could see. Walking the long lines of the meseta brought that rhythmic pace which is almost hypnotic. What a contrast to the previous day. It was a long day as we tool plenty of breaks. Also we are coping well with the heat as our kit is less that 5kgs so we are carrying lots of water.

Today (and tomorrow) are shorter days at just over 20 km or so. The seem to naturally follow on. We set off this morning in glorious sunshine. The skies were cloudless. It was warm. Walking through some fields frequently led to miles of walking through shaded forests on white sandy paths. The blessed breeze followed us. Walking on sand can be tiring and Coca came at the end of a long stretch. 22 km today felt just right.

This Camino has been thoroughly and thoughtfully waymarked. The arrows have been painted and repainted. The experience of the arrow painter shows - they are right where they are needed. It is entirely possible to walk this route following the arrows. This raises the question in my mind whether with a route as well marked as this the Guide style of, " turn left at the oak tree and KSO for 1.5 km and turn right at the red house," is necessary or appropriate. Maybe all pilgrims need is a list of mileages between places and details of where to find food/water/bed with some historical information and of course: the arrows.

I need to think about this and get the opinion of others. But today, the arrows have it.

We arrived last night at a very friendly hostal. A man in the bar started talking with us. He said his idea of pilgrimage was driving to Santiago but he was very respectful and bought us a drink. "What are the three things pilgrims should avoid?" He asked with a twinkle. We shrugged. "Barking dogs, preaching priests and sore feet." He laughed.

Amen to that!


  1. Hi Johnnie,

    really interesting post. I enjoyed what you say about the particularity and character of this Camino. It has really helped me to think about my own forthcoming Pilgrimage.

    Go well,


  2. Hi Johnnie
    You have done such a good job of discribing the beauty of the route, I think you're whetting the appetite of others who will certainly consider it. Sounds like a fine walk.
    Thank you for such a discriptive and interesting post

  3. Yesterday, just by chance, I arrived to this blog. As one of the guys of the Madrid Amigos that 14 years ago started to paint the yellow arrows in this Way, thanks a lot for this post.