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Camino de Santiago de Compostela

P1020396If you like walking and a challenge, or you need time and space to think over a decision, or you want to be a pilgrim for religious reasons, or you believe in leylines ... or for any number of reasons, I suggest a very special hike - El Camino de Santiago. 

There is actually a large network of routes that stretch across Europe but the most famous and busiest of these, known as the Camino Frances is 780 km long. 

This begins at St Jean Pied du Port near Biarritz and ends at the city of Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.  At the cathedral there to be precise.  The aim is to arrive in time for mass at noon.  There are other routes that start further into France or pass through the Pyrenees, or from different parts of Spain, Oporto in Portugal or even further afield.

P1020442For some the Camino stops at 'the end of the world' at Finesterre or at Muxia, along the Galician coast.  This is the less trodden section I walked a year ago.  My husband walked the last 200km on the Camino Frances, along with a crowd, to reach Santiago and there I took the baton and walked the last 100km to the coast.  Disadvantage no 6 of being a parent is that the more un-child-friendly challenges can't be done as a couple.  We passed each other with a wave at Santiago airport.

So the end of most peoples' camino was for me the start. The old city of Santiago has a beautiful and busy medieval centre of winding cobbled streets centring on the famous cathedral.  What immediately strucks me on arrival was the vast number of limping pilgrims who hobble around with bandaged feet, wearing their smiles and camino shells with satisfaction. 

P1020430My first days hike of around 20 km, following the shell symbols that line the route, went smoothly.  For me the pressure only built up on longer days, nearing the 30 km mark.  That is when I could feel every imbalance in my body, and every pressure of my boots.  But you get a rhythm in putting one foot in front of the other and your head drifts and you mull over the things that clutter your mind, and the world becomes a simpler place. 

Most walkers that you meet have travelled a few hundred kilometres on foot at least.  One Dutch lady had started in her home P1020440country over 2000 km away.  I kept quiet about my mere stroll.  My companion, who had walked 300 km in all, had not been able to wear in his boots and had done the distance in his Crocs, which had became wafer thin but just got him to Muxia.  At Finisterre, at the cliff edge where many end their pilgrimage, people leave their worn-out gear tied to a pylon or ceremoniously burn it.  Discarded walking boots abound.

Accommodation is offered in 'albergues' - the official ones (in which you need to organise a camino passport to stay) are priced at around €5 a night for dorm beds.  At busy times it is advisable to arrive by mid-afternoon to secure a bed.  But there are plenty of private ones along the route where you pay a little more.  If you want to treat yourself to a hotel at Finisterre, the O Semaforo overlooks the cliffs and lighthouse at the end point of the Camino there.  For details click

There are bars and restaurants that have sprung up along the route, and in each village locals greet you openly with 'Buen Camino'.  Be warned, it rains in Galicia, but this creates a flourishing green landscape and you'll notice the quirky 'horeos' (a small stilted house where the grain is stored) are found alongside almost every house.  For more than 1000 years pilgrims have walked these routes - there must be something in that! 

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