I have a particular need to walk the Camino. And yet, I’m not sure what that need is.
The Camino, or The Way of St.James, is an ancient pilgrimage route ending at Santiago de Compostela, in northern Spain. Lately it’s become popular with walkers who make the journey to Santiago for a variety of reasons, not necessarily religious.
The Way of St. James
Last year in 2012, nearly 200,000 people walked the Camino.There are various routes you can take – some starting in Portugal, others in Seville in the south of Spain, but the majority walk what’s called The Camino Frances, which traditionally starts on the French side of the Pyrenees, in a small town called St. Jean Pied de Port. From there to Santiago is about 800km.
That’s the route I intend to take, although I want to go all the way through to Cape Finisterre – “the End of the World” as the pagans called it, because they believed it was the western most point of Europe.
For me, that walk will be near on 1000kms.
My particular need started nearly two years ago now when I visited Spain with my wife and son, to spend time with our daughter in Galicia. She was writing a book, now published and called Only in Spain. My wife Jennifer needed to be with her to script edit.
For three months we stayed in a small and very beautiful stone cottage near the sea, close to Viviero – about 155 kms from Santiago de Compostela.
We’d arrived in April 2011, and in May we drove to the Cannes Film Festival. I am a feature film producer and director, and attending Cannes each year is almost a prerequisite in my job. On the way there, we stopped at a small town in the Basque region, which must have been on the northern route of the Camino, called Camino Del Norte.
My wife and I sat outside a pretty shaded cafe for a morning coffee, and sitting nearby were several pilgrims. I could tell by their scallop shells on their backpacks. The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, dating back to ancient times, and is used to mark the route.
After coffee, I went walking around the town, and found myself in a small mercado, or market. There were several walking staffs on sale, the kind the pilgrims were using. I bought myself one. I don’t know why. I just felt I had to buy it. It was nobbled and cut from a branch, not a pre-fabriated staff, and it felt right in my hand. It cost me €7.
On the way back from Cannes I structured our journey so that we could follow the Camino as much as possible. We went to Burgos, Leon, Ponferrada, and many small villages on the way to Santiago de Compostela. On the summer equinox, we also drove to Cape Finisterre. We sat on the headland and watched the sun go down on the longest day of the year – a ritual that has been followed for millennia. The headland was full of pilgrims who’d walked hundreds of miles to be there for the event.
We arrived back at the cottage in Galicia and I began walking each day, taking the staff I’d bought on 12-15km walks through some of the most spectacular country in Spain. Out to a lighthouse on a lonely headland, through ancient stone villages, past ruined churches, dodging around huge barking dogs, walking in amongst tall stands of eucalypts so reminiscent of my home in Australia.
I told my wife and daughter that I would come back one day and walk the Camino. They both laughed. It seemed crazy. I’m not a Catholic. This is not a religious thing. Yes, I will soon be making a film on intuition, and so my leanings are spiritual. But I don’t necessarily see my walking the Camino as something spiritual. But perhaps it will be. I don’t know. I’ll probably only know when I walk into the square in front of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
In the meantime, I’m making preparations. I’m getting fit, buying gear, getting my backpack and boots ready, and I feel something building inside me. I’m fortunate to have a very tolerant and understanding wife in Jennifer. She is a wise soul.
I will dedicate the walk to her.
Scallop shell showing the way in Leon. I wanted to step off onto that path and keep walking.