Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Sign

A few times on the Camino I’ve wondered whether or not I was walking in the right direction. When this happens on the routes all we have to do is look for a sign, a yellow arrow, to show us the way to go. The past couple of weeks have been a bit like that for me.
I shared with you in this very public forum that I’d decided to pack up and just set out walking to see where it took me. I felt good about the decision and equally good about announcing it. Then the doubts started: Will I have enough money? Will I rent out my home or sell it? If I rent it how much will I get and will the tenants ruin the place? What if I do all of this and get ill? How will I get a bank account in Spain and a mobile telephone? Nagging thoughts and a rising anxiety that seemed to attach itself to everything. The ground floor apartment in my building was flooded when a pipe broke in the apartment above. “Oh my God” I thought, “what if this happens to me when I am away?” I woke up in the middle of the night worrying about everything. “Do I have enough insurance?” “Do I have enough Spanish?” “What if something happens to one of my daughters and they can’t find me on Camino?” “What if I get robbed, or injured or… or …”

I started to doubt the entire enterprise. “Do you really want your life to go in this direction?” The question got larger and larger. Then like the star which appeared in the East or the yellow arrow on the tree when you think you are lost, a Camino sign appeared as if from nowhere…here is the story:

Some time ago an e mail popped into my inbox from Pietro. He explained that he was a pilgrim and had travelled the Camino Inglés using my Guide. Here is what he wrote:

“Dear Mr Walker,
I obtained your guide for the Il Camino Ingles via the Confraternity website and it was excellent.
I did Il Camino in September 2009 as part of my BA Photography degree at the University of Portsmouth.
I produced an A4 size book for one of my project and finished with a BA First Class with Honours in Photography.
Within some of my text I would have probably used similar wording from your guide and in my forward I acknowledge this, hopefully you do not mind?
Would love to talk to you in any event if you could e-mail me your telephone number I would then ring you.
Thank you for the guide, without it my pilgrimage would have been a lot harder.”
I wrote back to him saying I didn’t mind in the least what he did with extracts of the Guide and that started an exchange of correspondence. It was clear that as well as being a photographic project, his Camino had had a profound effect. He sent me a CD of his Camino Photographs. They are excellent. I’ve cheekily posted one or two of them in this blog. Then the other day, at the height of my doubting about packing up and leaving the postman brought me a copy of Pietro’s book. It is delightful and I leafed through the photographs enjoying them once more.

Then I was drawn to the Introduction and as I read the words I could not believe what I was seeing. Here is what it says:
“This book is a celebration of my Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela which started as my project for my BA (Hons) Photography. However it developed into a lifetime experience.
Do we sometimes receive a sign? I got a push in the right directions one morning whilst collecting the Church Hymn Books at Sunday Mass. I had racked my brains for a topic for the project for my degree with little inspiration. Suddenly there, inside the hymn book, I found overlooked copies of the previous two weeks’ Sunday Bulletin containing an article on “The Pilgrim Way to Santiago de Compostela.”
Being a photographer there was even a picture of the Sunday Bulletin in question. I stared at it. I was astonished.
To explain. Every week thousands of copies of the Sunday Bulletin are produced by Redemptorist Publications and sold to parishes all over the United Kingdom. They have stories and articles on one side and the local church prints their information on the other side. Some three years ago one of the priests in the parish where I play the organ in London was appointed the Director of Redemptorist Publications, a highly successful company. One day he said to me, “I’m looking for ideas for the summer series and I thought about “Pilgrimage”, why don’t you write a few articles for us?” “And,” he added, “We pay good money for all contributions.” So I produced a couple about Santiago and they asked for more which I supplied, the fees going to the Confraternity of St James. Then they asked for another entire series about pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Before my first pilgrimage the most I had ever written were business reports to Boards of Directors. This was much more enjoyable and from that Rebekah Scott suggested I start this blog.

It was so long ago I’d forgotten about it until I was looking at my own words reproduced in Pietro’s book. Pilgrims encouraging and inspiring other pilgrims. How could I have doubted that the Pilgrim World is for me and that I was going in the right direction?
So I have stopped writing down my finances over and over again hoping that they will look different every time I do it. I’m lucky I have enough to live on if I don’t buy a Ferrari. My plan is in place. The housing market remains depressed so I am going to lease my house. I am going to resign my remaining work responsibilities and just after Easter will walk the Camino Levante from Valencia. I do not intend to return to live permanently in the United Kingdom.
I am open to all possibilities on the Way. Some readers have written with helpful encouragement…” a priest is converting his home to an albergue on the Via de la Plata,” “ The church of San Francisco in Santiago has no organist”, “Someone needs to write a Guide in English to the Coastal Route in Portugal.”
I have some ideas of my own. I’ve been talking with my friend in Gibraltar about a new circular pilgrimage route unconnected with Santiago in the South of the Peninsula. I’ve agreed with him that if some of his fellow Gibraltarians want to develop this route I’ll help them.
I also think that English speaking Pilgrims in Santiago need a place to give them information and assistance … then there are the families with children who walk the Camino and have to stand for hours in the queue at the Pilgrims’ Office … then there are the people in wheel chairs who can’t get up the stairs. Maybe with a little backing in Santiago the Confraternity of St James will open a Welcome Centre to help all of these groups. Hey I could be the first ground crew to get it going.
Who knows? One thing I am now certain of is that in the 7 or 8 weeks it will take me to reach Santiago from Valencia the steps beyond will be revealed. I’ll let you know.

So friends another year comes to a close. I am full of hope for the year which comes. I pray that all of you will have a peaceful Christmas and that 2011 brings you health, prosperity and more steps on the Way to Santiago.

I’m off to Sevilla for New Year – I’ll report to you when I return!


  1. Good man! I'm sure all will come right. And a happy, peaceful Christmas to you too, Johnnie.

  2. Bravo John. Home is where the heart is and we know your heart is with el camino. There is a little place for sale in Vilacha (close to Portomarin) It is an old house with 2 plots of land not far from Casa Banderas. (I think it is on sale for 60 000 euro) If you want to know more, send Casa Banderas a message:
    Wishing you a safe, peaceful, happy and exciting new year.

  3. Go well, John. The Levante was so significant for me - all that solitude, the emptiness, Toledo, Avila, Chinchilla - and those days plodding across La Mancha.

    As the others say, it will come right.


  4. Thanks and best wishes for the 2011 - wherever it leads!


  5. Great post, Johnnie!

    Lot of inexpensive places in Portugal to start an albergue~

    Let me know if you need help... my feet are itching to walk and I'm free as a bird!