I love walking and I love travelling, and what better way to combine the two than by walking the 1000 year old pilgrimage route, The Camino de Santiago, also known as, The Way of St James.
One patronizing man, (I could call him other things but I’m being kind), told me it is also known as the ‘middle aged woman’s walk’. Ok, it might not be Kilimanjaro, but I don’t think it will be a walk in the park either. Anyway, in my experience, middle-aged women can kick ass!
The simplicity of carrying everything I need in a rucksack and having nothing else to do, other than get from one point to another and to eat and sleep sounds very appealing. And, also maybe, to drink a little wine along the way!
Some people walk the Camino alone, but I am walking it with six girlfriends; Fiona, Alice, Eileen, Oonagh, Pauline and Sharon. I know them from as far back as school days and by some divine intervention, we are all able to get away at the same time.
I’ve heard it said that the older we get, the more we need the people who knew us when we were young; and that’s because it’s those people who help us remember our carefree younger selves, before life had a chance to knock the edges off. None of us look at each other and see middle-age. We just see each other, as we always have.
“The older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when were young.” Mary Schmich
There are different starting points for the pilgrimage across Europe, but they all converge at the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. We’ve decided to walk the most popular route, Camino Frances, which stretches for almost 780 kms. Of course, it is impossible for all of us to take the time off to walk the entire way, but we have a week, and we are hoping to reach 100kms in that time.
We plan to make this an annual trip and walk 100kms each year, over the next five years, until we reach Santiago de Compostela in 2020. Time will tell!
There are loads of websites with great information on walking the Camino. Check out http://www.caminoadventures.com or http://www.roamfarandwide.com/mycamino-de-santiago
Preparations for walking the Camino!
We are going at the height of summer, which isn’t ideal but it is the only time of year suits all of us. Apparently April/May and September/October are more ideal times to walk.
We’ve been told you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to walk the Camino Way, ( thank God, for that!), although going from sitting on the couch, seven days a week, to taking on a 100km walk, isn’t recommended either. The advice is that a general level of fitness is adequate.
We are training as much as we can before we go in the shoes we will be walking in on the Camino, to make sure they are well broken in. We are lucky where we live as we are surrounded by mountains. We are all doing our own walking but once a week we meet at Slieve Gullion and walk for a couple of hours. Blisters and how to avoid them are a big talking point; apparently taking off our boots/shoes off to allow our feet to breathe and dry our socks at points during the day will help.
Some of our group have bought new walking shoes, and although I have hiking boots, I think they will be very heavy in the heat, so I’ve decided to stick with my trusty trainers, which are well-worn in. We aren’t going to be on very rough terrain, and it will probably be dry weather so I hope they won’t let me down.
We’ve also been told to travel, light, light, light! Although, it’s funny how light means different things to different people! Some of our group would rather forfeit their knickers, than do without their hair straighteners!
- European Health Insurance Card
- Pilgrim passport
- Pilgrim Shell
- Sun block and sun hat/bandana
- Camel pack (very handy for carrying my water, no fussing with bottles)
- Head torch
- Four pairs of 1000 mile socks (good socks are as important as the footwear)
- One pair of shorts
- One pair of trousers which cut off to make shorts
- Three tee-shirts
- Thermal leggings (for sleeping even in summer, as it gets cold in some places when the temperature drops at night)
- Poncho in case of rain
- Sleeping bag liner (in winter you would need a warmer sleeping bag)
- Pillow case
- Small travel first aid kit (include magnesium tablets for aching muscles and reducing cramps, plasters, painkillers, compeed in case of blisters, Jungle Formula insect spray ( with 50%deet which is a must against mosquitos)
- Antiseptic hand gel
- Flip-flops and sandals for sight seeing
- Sundress/ cardigan
- Ear plugs
- Bag for dirty washing
- Travel wash for clothes
- Trial size toiletries (Lush do a fabulous solid soap which serves as shampoo/shower gel and also a solid deodorant: no worries about getting liquids/sprays through security at the airport.)
- A stone
There are pros and cons of travelling in a group as you have to consider all the different personalities; from the laid back who want to go with the flow, to the control freaks who want to plan the trip to within an inch of their lives. Also, there is conflicting advice from people; some people have told us we would be mad not to book all our accommodation in advance, while others say, the fun is in winging it.
We took all the advice on board, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. After much discussion, we’ve decided we are going to wing it (Yes!!) and book accommodation as we walk to each place. This is making certain members of our group nervous, (it’ll be fine, Alice!) but fingers crossed we won’t end up sleeping on the side of the road. The only place we have booked is the Orisson, as it has small capacity, and it is the only stop off point between St Jean Pied de Port and Ronscavalles.
The other big question is whether we are going to walk with our rucksacks or send them on and carry a lighter day pack. This has caused some quandary among us, because if we don’t know where we are staying, how will we know where to send our bags on to. A couple of our group have decided they will be carrying their rucksacks no matter what, but I’m not sure, so I’m taking a smaller day bag, just in case.
I will be carrying a stone in my rucksack from home on this trip, which has to do with the tradition of the The Cruz de Ferro cross. Pilgrims have lain a stone at this cross for centuries and it symbolises the laying down of a burden. The stone must be carried from your home, and although I won’t be passing, The Cruz de Ferro cross on this trip, I am keeping the stone in my bag until I do, however long it takes me to get there.
The prayer of the Cruz de Ferro
‘Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage that I lay at the foot of the cross of the Saviour, one day weigh the balance in favour of my good deeds when the deeds of my life are judged. Let it be so.’
(From the Rother Walking Guide on Camino de Santiago)
We’ve also agreed even if we don’t all walk at the same pace along the route, we will meet at night and have our pilgrim meal together. Because it’s not just about the walking – it’s about the company and craic too.
Let’s be honest, it’s always about the craic!