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Article by Stephen Gurney | 22nd June 2018

Walk the Walk: Diary of a Pilgrim

Stephen G turned pilgrim to trek the Camino de Santiago, follow him on his trails...

The Trip

What is the Camino de Santiago? The Camino is known in English as the way of St James – all Camino routes lead to Santiago de Compostela as this is where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried and were discovered in the 44AD. Pilgrims have been coming here for more than 1,000 years to visit the site of St James the Great, one of Christ’s apostles whose remains were brought to Santiago from Jerusalem by boat in the 9th century.

The Road to Santiago…

Waiting at the airport now to board the flight for the start of my pilgrimage on the Santiago de Compostela. It’s a packed flight, full with lots of ‘fellow pilgrims’, and we fly to Santiago then head out to the start point. This isn’t the best of starts for the 120k trek ahead as I have a bad back so have already started dosing up on ibuprofen early. 

Think I may have done this the wrong way round… Arrived in Santiago de Compostela first and went to pilgrims’ mass but wow, what a place, stunning architecture and atmosphere – and I just saw my first pilgrim on a horse!

I feel like I’m a pilgrim already – just the 120k to do now to get the badge! Looking forward to meeting my fellow pilgrims from Ireland tomorrow and opt for an early night.

Day 1

About 14 miles walking through lots of very old stone-built farms and hilly scenic countryside. The thing that strikes me the most is the amount of people from all over the world doing this walk and cycle.

A lot of the farmers who I guess once lived quite simple lives are now offering accommodation, food stops and tourist gifts for sale along the route. As numbers have increased massively recently they must at least be benefitting financially, even if it means thousands of people venturing through their properties.

I have to say the walking seemed fairly easy so no aches and pains so far …

Day 2

I am doing this pilgrimage as part of a group rather than going solo, which a lot of people from all over Europe, including the UK, opt to do. Our group is made up of mainly folk from Northern Ireland plus one American and two English, including me. Most of the group is raising money for the hospice in Newry, County Down and at the time of writing they have raised £23,000 (visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/john-darragh1).

Everybody is doing the Camino for their own reason - some religious, some spiritual and some for just the experience and to maybe find some answers about life. Me, I’m not sure why but I’m looking forward to seeing how we all feel at the end when we reach Santiago.

Days 3 & 4

Many sorer legs and blisters but we are definitely having lots of fun – and the food is absolutely fantastic.

There are nine main routes to reach Santiago. The one we are on, the French Way, is extremely busy at this time of year but well catered for with many stops along the way and ample food and accommodation. Next time I quite fancy a less touristy route as the walk from Sarria is very busy. We were lucky with cooler weather than the UK - perfect for walking.

Finally arrived in Santiago after walking for five hours today. The last few miles through the city seem the hardest bit and we are all very happy to have arrived and are now just waiting for Mass to begin. We are also waiting to get our pilgrim passports stamped to say we have completed the journey. Looking forward to resting my legs!

Last Day on my Fabulous Trip

I’ve had a great time with my lovely group on the Camino de Santiago. Everybody has got something on this journey– from making new friends to spiritual realisations, and remembering lost family and friends. Doing the pilgrimage with a group is a great and rewarding experience as you take the journey together and share thoughts and feelings. And I finally got to see The Botafumeiro, the famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.

In the past, similar devices were used in large churches in Galicia (in fact, one is still used in the Tui Cathedral). Incense is burned in this swinging metal container, or ‘censer’ (and the name Botafumeiro means smoke expeller) and it was used in medieval times to cleanse the cathedral as the pilgrims visited there after months on the road without washing! Watching the Botafumerio is quite something and apparently in past times it allegedly often came loose and injured people!

Fact File

In the Middle Ages the Santiago de Compostela was a major Christian pilgrimage however the Black Death and Protestant Reformation led to its decline. By the 20th century, almost no one was walking any of the routes. Then in the late 1970s and early 1980s a few hundred people did the pilgrimage and it become of interest again. Now in the 21st century, it has once again grown in in popularity, somewhat due to films like The Way, the 2010 Spanish drama film in which an American father travels to France to retrieve the body of his estranged son, who died while attempting the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compsetala. He resolves to take the journey himself, in an effort to understand both himself and his son. Today more than 300,000 people from all over Europe do this walk or cycle the route, taking anything from just a few days to months.

Getting There

Stephen booked his trip through Follow The Camino. For more information, email info@followthecamino.com, visit www.followthecamino.com or www.onefootabroad.com or call 020 3411 0701.






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