Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Becoming a pilgrim - the call of the Camino Francés

Having walked the Via de la Plata and then the Camino Inglés two or three times I knew that I would eventually walk the Camino Francés. But I kept putting it off and walking other routes instead. So for a while the Camino Portugués and the route to Finisterre and Muxía took my interest. Both are wonderful but increasingly I felt the call of the Camino Francés. For a considerable time whenever I spoke to people I met about the pilgrimage to Santiago they assumed I meant the French route. Each time I patiently explained that there are many other routes and that I had not yet walked that particular one. Each time was also a prompt that it was time to get going from St Jean de Pied Port and walk over the Pyrenees into Spain following the footsteps of millions of pilgrims before me stretching back to medieval times.

I had to sit down and work out what had been holding me back. I had a mental list I worked through. Was it the fact that it was a popular and busy route? Was it the commercialisation I had read about? Was it the albergue industry which has grown up? Was it the amount of young people or New Age pilgrims, or itinerants I had heard populated this route?

Truth is, it was none of these. I was used to walking routes where I had long periods of splendid isolation walking alone often in the most glorious countryside. I had journeyed on lesser walked routes at times of the year when it was unlikely there would be many other pilgrims around. I had walked where it was still a novelty to meet pilgrims. I had to be honest with myself it was the fact that it was inevitable I would meet other people on the Camino Francés whether I liked it or not was what made me reluctant.

I looked at postings on pilgrim forums: Question, “Should I plan to walk with a friend or will I meet other people on the Camino Francés?” Answer, “You will meet other pilgrims even before you start walking. At the airport. At the bus station in Pamplona, within a few yards of setting out on the route”.

This typical dialogue filled me with apprehension. But it had to be done. As a last attempt at appeasing my fears I chose to walk in deep November. There were three or four of us in the Pilgrims’ Office in St Jean de Pied Port. I slept peacefully. There weren’t many others around, I thought. Indeed as I set off the next morning I seemed to be alone then as I walked with the road rising to meet me I spotted pilgrims in front and behind…well click the slideshow above to see and hear what happened.


  1. This was wonderful but I really wish you'd left the music out! Struggled to hear what you were saying at times.
    I walked the Camino Frances this year and continued on to Fisterra and Muxia and then back to Santiago. I still can't quite believe I did it. At the end I was adamant that I would never do it again but now I'm pining!

  2. four short or long years ago, i reached Santiago de Compostela. Today it is Thanksgiving Day here, a meaningful coincidence. Your video clip has me wondering with quite a few what if's, but i know i will be back with a lighter backpack, a different pairs of hiking shoes, but the same faithful walking sticks, which will be used more frequently on the next journey. Ultreia ~ Meegwetch ~ Vivat Jesus