Sunday, 21 February 2010

Practical Pilgrims

The large yellow arrow indicated how to get into the event I was at yesterday. It was a Practical Pilgrim Day organised by the Confraternity of St James. I was amazed that there were so many people there interested in becoming pilgrims. As the title implies the programme is geared to help people plan their pilgrimage often when they have no idea where to start.

There was a short introduction about the spirituality of pilgrimage and then a question and answer session mainly about the Camino Francés. The topics were all the same questions I had in the beginning. How do I get to the start? How do I get a pilgrim passport? What’s a Compostela? Then participants broke into smaller groups to examine practical issues in detail. Upstairs in the Library surrounded by walls of guidebooks and books of pilgrim lore the cyclists’ group were pouring over maps when I went to visit them.
Downstairs in the main hall three large groups had formed. People were asking questions: “What are the albergues like? What about bedbugs? Should I wear boots or shoes? These are all familiar questions. What impressed me was the atmosphere. Very experienced pilgrims listened attentively to the novices. People were of all ages with perhaps slightly more women than men in attendance. I spoke to a doctor who has been exploring one or two of the shorter routes like the way to Finisterre but now he has retired he is committed to set out on the Camino Francés from St Jean de Pied Port in September. In the queue at the tea bar at lunch time I met a younger teacher who is going to use his summer holidays also to walk the French route. “Will I be able to do it in 5 weeks?” he asked.

In one group an experienced Pilgrim unpacked her rucksack and with every item explained how experience had brought her to take this number of socks or that number of T shirts. I heard her give invaluable advice about taking quick drying clothing and only taking black underwear. I’ll save her blushes by only posting the photograph of her holding up her socks in demonstration.

Marion, the secretary of the Confraternity had asked me if I would give a talk after lunch entitled Becoming A Pilgrim. Marion then introduced me as a “newish” member of the Confraternity. I joined in 2006. I wonder when my probationary period expires! I’m joking of course. The CSJ is a great organisation which provided me with a huge amount of assistance with my first pilgrimage on the Via de la Plata. I explained to the meeting that my first pilgrim experience had such an impact on me that I have been walking, exploring the routes and writing guide books every since. I explained that an alternative title to my presentation could easily be: “My rapid ascent into Camino addiction”.

I showed a number of wee films which I’ll post here over the next few days. They show the different personalities of the various routes I’ve walked. But people wanted to know about the Camino Francés. I did a commentary to the slide-show then showed them the Camino Hogmanay film since they may never see the route submerged in snow.

The Camino always inspires and I was very much encouraged by the enthusiasm of future fellow pilgrims. Over the next few days I’ll post the film of the Camino Francés with the text of the commentary and then in the days to come the other slide shows on the Via de la Plata, Camino Inglés, the Camino Portugués and the Madrid route.

I find a large glass of Rioja whilst watching them with the sound turned up is a great antidote to the months of winter. Oh no… Lent started last Wednesday!


  1. The 'experienced pilgrim' uses Bridgedale liners like me ;-)

  2. We are holding our Practical Pilgrim Workshop this coming Saturday. We all bemoan the fact that el camino is getting overcrowded but we can't help ourselves when it comes to sharing and encouraging more and more wanna-be pilgrims!
    Its a very infectious camino virus!

  3. John,
    I was at the Practical Pilgrim day in London, I very much enjoyed your talk and slide show, it was one of the best I have seen. Looking forward to seeing all of the show again.
    Steve Bowen

  4. John,

    I have enjoyed your posts, photos and films so much - you capture a wonderful essence of the Camino experience. I look forward to your next video postings, I think they would be great to share at Spring pilgrim gatherings - ours will be March 6.
    with thanks, un abrazo,

    Wanda Sawicki
    London Canada

  5. John
    Thank you so much for your inspiring presentation on Saturday....I still feel a bit nervous though about travelling down those lonely pathways on my own.

    Jo Brazil

  6. What a wonderful tour of el Camino from so many aspects. I've always dreamed of the route; but doubt I'll ever go, as I believe a journey needs a home to return to in the end. So I am delighted to have travelled a little of it - even in a desk-bound manner. Vaya con Dios.