More than one way to be a pilgrim


Now is the time of year when people start thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago. In summer it’s very hot and in the winter it rains; the higher roads can even be blocked by snow. So Spring and Autumn are the ideal times to walk across northern Spain.
In the recent TV travelogue, The Pilgrimage, the seven pilgrims taking part
—an actor, an ex-soldier, a priest, a singer, a TV presenter, an investigative journalist, and a comedianstarted at the French border at St Jean Pied de Port, but didn’t walk the entire 800 km to Santiago de Compostella – they walked part of the way.
26 km to be exact and then they took a bus. Finally they resumed their walk to complete the last 100 km. Cheating? Not really. After all they only had two weeks in which to complete the journey and make the programme. They did carry their own luggage all the way however and they stayed in the local hostels, sharing dormitories and showers, and eating with the rest of the pilgrims. Having watched the programme, I’d say that only two of them would have liked to walk the entire distance; the others were more than thankful when it was over.

A woman I know walked the whole 800 km and it took her five weeks. An incredible feat for someone who was in her seventies at the time. Like the pilgrims mentioned above, she stayed in the local hostels, only twice treating herself to a room in a small hotel so that she could recharge her batteries and soak in a hot bath. She told me of the bed bugs and the blisters, of sleep broken by the snores of other pilgrims and of the camaraderie between the pilgrims, and said she would do it all again in a heartbeat.


A good friend of mine walked the Camino a few years ago in the company of some friends and work colleagues. They decided to do the de-luxe version starting at Sarria which was 115 km from Santiago de Compostela. They only had a limited time as work, family and other demands on their busy lives meant it was impossible to do the entire 800 km. The majority of pilgrims like to be awarded the certificate which states that they have completed at least the last 100 km of the Camino and they must produce their pilgrim passports which have been stamped at all the hostels where they have stayed the night. Except when you do the de-luxe version as my friend did, you don’t stay in hostels sharing dormitories and bathrooms with strangers, you stay in modest but comfortable hotels with your own bedroom and en-suite bathroom. And you don’t have to lug all your belongings on your back, you can have your rucksack sent on each day to the next hotel. A much more carefree and relaxed way to walk the Camino. But you still get the blisters and the aching legs. 


Most people consider their pilgrimage over when they reach the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela but some, like a few of the pilgrims in the TV travelogue decided to continue walking until they reached Finisterre – the ends of the earth. A fitting end to a walk that takes you through some spectacular countryside, over mountain ranges, through woodlands, across an arid heartland and then through the lush and often wet but always beautiful Galicia.


My novel SANTIAGO TALES was written in 2011 after I had spent some time talking to those who’d experienced the pilgrimage for themselves.

It is available on and in paperback and as an ebook.


Joan Fallon is a writer and novelist living in Spain.

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