El Camino de Santiago

Have you ever seen The Way? It’s a small movie, but with a large heart, telling the fictional story of a father who unexpectedly walks the renowned Camino de Santiago – The Way of Saint James – to honour his dead son.

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And I’ve also just watched the fascinating Walking the CaminoSix Ways to Santiago, a more recent documentary film focusing on 6 very different people and their own motivation for walking the Camino.

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From the film’s website:

Officially, the Camino is any route that starts in Europe and ends in Santiago de Compostela, the cathedral city of Galicia in north-western Spain. It is named after Santo Iago – Saint James – one of the 12 apostles. According to legend, his body was found in a boat that washed up on the northern coast of Spain thousands of years ago.

His remains were transported inland and buried under what is now the cathedral in Santiago. His bones were rediscovered in the 9th century, when a hermit saw a field of stars that led him to the ancient, forgotten tomb.

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Since then, hundreds of thousands of people walk the Camino every year, most as a personal pilgrimage. The classic route is 500 miles/800 km from St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France, across the Pyrenees into Navarra, through La Rioja and then heading west across the flatlands of Castilla y Leon before the final approach through verdant, gently undulating Galicia.

Both films and reality tell of the personal journeys each pilgrim makes, and the people you meet along the way. It is said to be a life-changing experience. You stay in albergues, special pilgrim hostels run by volunteers – hospitaleros – pilgrim themselves, whose love for the Camino has inspired them to come back and help others along the way.

At recent travel shows in London I chatted to the lovely people promoting Camino Ways, a commercial business promoting the many different ways to experience the Camino now.

I have been drawn to attempt it myself since seeing The Way. But I have shied away from the classic route…..too far, too hard and too many people! But there are some appealing alternatives, all ending in Santiago, that might be a good way to share some of the Camino emotions, if not the full self-examining 500 mile route.

Perhaps this is the year to walk the Caminho da Costa, the Portuguese Coastal Way. Starting in Porto, you cover 265 km of northern Portugal before crossing by ferry to A Guarda, in Galicia, and leaving the coast at Vigo to head towards Santiago.

I wonder how pale this imitation might be, or whether it will still be powerful enough to stir the soul. I am not religious, but perhaps it will nevertheless be a small spiritual awakening, as well as a physically demanding and fulfilling walk.

And who knows what else it might inspire me to do after arriving at the cathedral square, with all those other pilgrims……

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