Camino Portuguese & Celtic Camino – it comes to an end

A year ago, I sat in a train heading to Porto.

I’d just finished the Camino Frances, and I could barely walk. I was in a huge amount of pain from a damaged knee, and the last thing I ever wanted to do was walk another Camino.

I’d scratched my irrational itch that was the Camino Frances, and that was that. I’d done it. I’d had enough.

The train stopped for a moment, to allow another train to pass as I recall, and while waiting I looked out a window and down on a small lonely wooded lane.

Way below me a pilgrim stood at a crossroad. She had a backpack on, poles, and I could see the scallop shell hanging off her pack. She had a guide book out, and she was trying to figure out which way to go.

At that moment my heart leapt.

I wanted to be down there on that wooded lane. I wanted to be wearing my backpack again. I wanted to be lost, trying to find my way to The Way.

At that moment I knew I had to walk the Camino Portuguese, even though only moments earlier I had vowed to myself I would never walk a Camino again.

And so here I am, twelve months on, having not only completed that walk, but I had the privilege and honour to lead a wonderful group of pilgrims too.

And what a time I had!
What a time WE had!

I will remember it always as being one of the most enjoyable times of my life. To walk a sacred path with friends. To share stories, meals, to share unforgettable memories.

How lucky am I?

And then Ireland. I don’t know what drew me to Ireland, but it reeled me in and landed me flapping and smacking on its decking, in awe and wonder at the power and magic of the place.

I want to go back. I need to go back. For some reason it holds a spell on me that I just can’t explain. I need to know all about that spell. I need to feel that magic deep within.

I’ve shared this walk, these walks, with my wife Jennifer who each day seemed to glide along the paths as though she was transported on wings. Perhaps she was.

She made every stage of the Camino Portuguese look effortless – with her relaxed easy gait and her readiness to help others. She showed me what it is to be a true pilgrim.

And so it comes to an end.

But there’s never an end, is there…

There are more paths I want to walk, more mountains I want to climb, more rivers I want to cross. The act of walking is a powerful statement. There’s something inherently honest about the simple act of walking.

It levels you.
It elevates you.
It heightens you.

And walking towards a higher purpose –
Well, what can be better than that…

Two arrows


Camino Portuguese Day 15 – farewells pts 2+3

As I write this I’m in my hotel room waiting for a taxi to take Jennifer and me to the airport.

It’s all over.

I’m sad that it’s all over.

I found that I had tears in my eyes when I said goodbye to Marie this morning – Marie the beautiful Basque – and then Steve and Arlene.

Yesterday morning Jennifer and I walked the Landers Express down to the railway station and said goodbye to them.

Landers express leaving

I took a final photo of them, and it occurred to me that the railway tracks were like the railway tracks outside of our hotel in Matosinhos in Porto, that very first morning I took a group photo before we set off.

Landers express on platform

That first morning we had no idea what the next two weeks would hold for us. What truly memorable experiences we would share – what laughter we should share – what friendships would be formed.

We said our final farewells to Peter, Julie, Ken and Angela. It was sad too. Very sad. But I feel we’ll see them again soon. These bonds formed are too strong to be easily forgotten.

Jennifer and I then walked back to the hotel to find Greg and Donna waiting for their cab to take them to the airport. We said our goodbyes to them too – and again it as though we’d been with them for months. Two very beautiful people, who allowed Jennifer and me to share what I believe was an important part of their lives with them.

Greg and donna at cab Greg and donna at cab closer Greg and donna in cab_

Peter later called to say he’d left his credential behind – his Pilgrim’s Passport, with all his stamps in it from his journey. He and Julie had started further back, from Coimbra near Lisbon – and so it was something he treasured.

Jennifer and Marie and I went to the church where we’d all received our third Compostela – one prepared by the Franciscan monks to celebrate the 800 year anniversary of St.Francis of Assisi walking the Camino to Santiago.

The church was closed, but later Marie went back and ferreted out Peter’s credential – and we’ll post it back to him on our return to Australia.

We had dinner last night at a local restaurant outside of the historic quarter – Steve & Arlene, and also Tim & Cathy, from Virginia. They’ve become good friends, and it was inspiring to hear of Tim’s plans to cycle across America later this year.

Cathy each day writes a blog (he walks she and keeps a wonderful record of their journey. Two amazing people.


Last night I slept nine hours. That’s why I didn’t blog. I was more tired than I realised. I woke at 9am – and that’s highly unusual for me.

Jennifer had arranged to meet Marie for breakfast, and again we had a tearful farewell. She said it was the best Camino she’s ever had, and told Jennifer that before the Camino, she saw the world through dirty glasses, and that she, Jennifer, had cleaned her glasses for her.

Marie and Jen with umbrellas

Jennifer and Marie became very close during the walk – and for Jennifer, Marie was a joy to walk with, because she learned so much from her, and because they laughed so much.

Marie is a healer, and she had offered to do a healing session with me – but I had always politely deflected. Over breakfast, she asked me why I had not taken up her offer.

I told her that I had wanted to walk this Camino without any help. Without any help from the van, from lightening my load with a day pack, without any painkillers or Voltaren for my aches and pains – I’d wanted to be self reliant.

She accepted this, but she said with a twinkle in her eye: “Bill, you are sometimes too hard on you. And you think too much with your brain.”

I laughed and said that my brain was really small, and laughing, she said: No no no Bill – it is too much like this…”  and she stretched her hands out wide either side of her head.

I think what she was saying is that I shouldn’t intellectualise too much. That I should just allow things to unfold without thinking.

I will have to think about this.

As we said our goodbyes to Marie, Steve and Arlene walked into the coffee shop. We sat and chatted and agreed that it had been an extraordinary time together, and that sometime soon, somehow, we would all meet up again.

Marie with Steve and Arlene

We took photos – Steve being particular with Arlene about “headroom,”

Jen and Arlene with cameras

And then we strolled back to the hotel.

My relationship with Steve has been very special. he has entered my life firmly and decisively, and I’m still not sure why. I just know that he has.

Steve & me

I told him that when I first met him, he surprised me with the mirth that lay within his face. You don’t get to his age and have a face full of mirth, unless you’ve lived a life full of mirth.

arm wrestle

Steve has had great tragedy in his life, and he’s had highs and lows that few of us will ever experience, but he’s now has reached a place of tranquility and peacefulness. A place many of us would want to reach.

We took photos and said goodbye. The photos are a ritual of severance, as if they protect ourselves from revealing our true feelings – of sadness, of hopefulness, of knowing that our spirits have co-joined in a shared history that will never be forgotten.

trio walking away 2


Camino Portuguese Day 13 – farewells pt1

Today was our last day together as a group.

church in late light

It was Easter Sunday, and some of the group went to Mass. Marie volunteered as a helper for the English Mass, and at the end of the service the Botafumerio was swung. Marie has a problem with crowds, which has kept her out of packed services, but today she overcame that fear and witnessed something she never thought she would ever see.

She was delighted.

We then walked to lunch, and we shot a group photo – this time with Steve included. (He wasn’t in the group shot yesterday.) The group showed their best side…

backside backside with Caterina's legs

And then their not-so-best side…

group shot.1

We had a terrific lunch at one of Santiago’s top restaurants, away from the tourist crowds and frequented by locals in the know.

Afterwards the girls wanted a shot just of themselves, which I objected to because I thought it was sexist, so I did my darnedest to mess the photo up.

girls shot.thru glass

(Glass half empty or glass half full?)

Begrudgingly, I then took a more considered photo.

girls shot.1

After lunch we said our farewells to Catarina. We gave her a group hug – she has been fantastic, and everyone adored her.

group hug with Catarina catarina crying catarina crying3

She felt very teary as she walked away, back to the van which she would then drive back to Mercedes in Porto.

catarina walking away catarina walking away shell

If ever we do another Portuguese tour, (and we’re considering another one in October,) then Catarina will be a part of it.

Tomorrow pretty much everyone leaves, except for Steve and Arlene, who are staying on an extra week. Jennifer and I fly out Tuesday for 10 days in Ireland.

I’ill write a series of posts over the next week or so, reflecting on the time we’ve had together. But just to say it’s been an extraordinary two weeks. We’ve formed friendships that will last a very long time, we’ve laughed so hard that we’ve almost needed resuscitation, we’ve stayed in some beautiful hotels in some gorgeous towns and eaten some truly wonderful meals, we’ve walked through some spectacular countryside, and some have had profound revelations about their lives.

They will go back home with a vastly different view of life.

This has not been a decadent five star jaunt – this has definitely been a spiritual journey. Yes we’ve stayed in some nice digs, and yes the van has been there for support when needed, but this has been a very real pilgrimage for everyone involved.


It hasn’t been an easy walk, and when we got our Compostelas yesterday there was a very real sense that we’d damn well earned it. There wasn’t one of us didn’t appreciate what it meant. We’d walked the Camino Portuguese.

From a personal point of view, I’ve had an extraordinary time. I’ve learnt so much from this wonderful bunch of people, and I’ve been humbled by them and inspired by them. I will remember these last two weeks as being a very very special part of my life.

To all those in the group – thank you so much. Thank you for taking the risk of coming along, thank you for trusting Jennifer and me, and most importantly thank you for being the wonderful human beings that you are.

You are the ones that have made this tour something so very memorable.

And we had fun, hey?

group shot

group shot wider


Camino Portuguese – My Packing List

Only 5 days now before I leave, and I’ve started to get serious about training!!

Yesterday (Sunday here) I did a 14km walk with full backpack plus two cameras. I wanted to see if I could find a configuration where I could have the cameras readily accessible, yet not have them interfere with my walking rhythm. I think I sorted it.

Why will I be walking with a full backpack when I have a support van? I could easily just put my pack in the van and walk with a much lighter day pack, but I want to approach this as a pilgrim –

Yes, I know, pilgrims can put their packs in vans too –

Perhaps the real reason is that …

Well, I actually don’t know the real reason.

And maybe that’s what I’ll learn on this walk. Is it bloody-mindedness? If there’s an easy way or a tough way, do I naturally gravitate towards the tough way? Just to try and prove something to myself?

Or am I showing off? Trying to show the other folks – those on the tour – that I’m big and strong and a “true” pilgrim? That I’m a leader? 

Like I said, I really don’t know. But my PGS has told me this is what I must do, and so I’m doing it with the backpack. And two heavy cameras.

Having decided this, I’ve started weighing things again, getting the weights down, and working out what do I really need to carry on my back for some 240kms.

It’s interesting – I learnt a lot from the last Camino. I carried way too much stuff last time. This time I know exactly what I need and don’t need.

As well though, this time I’ll be staying in hotels the entire time, so I won’t need a sleeping bag and towels and soap/shampoo.

For those of you who might be interested, my backpack is the one I used last year – an Osprey Kestrel. The poles are Lekis, and the boots are full leather Meindl.

So here’s the list:

(W = wearing one, or carrying…)

2 trackies W
3 t-shirts W
2 socks W
2 undies W
2 long sleeve shirts
2 long sleeve tops W
windstopper jacket W
rain jacket
Backpack W
Water bottles W
Walking poles W
Boots W
light-weight runners
Scarf W
Cap W
Sunglasses W
money belt W
knee brace W
pantyhose W
iPad charger
Power adapter
Fuji X-T1 W
Fuji X-E2 W
XF 18-55mm W
XF 55-200mm
XF 14mm W
XF 35mm
battery charger
card reader + cable
SD cards
iPad SD card reader
Camera case
Rainproof bags
headlamp + extra batteries
Garmin watch + strap W
Garmin charger + dongle
Opinel knife
Shaving cream
Eye shades + earplugs
Muesli bars
Crepe bandage
Hopefully I won’t need the Ibuprofen and Voltaren!

Easter in Santiago

I’ve been so immersed lately in the detail of this tour – organising hotels, places to eat, checking routes, locking in support facilities etc – that I seem to have overlooked one really important thing –

We’ll be walking into Santiago de Compostela on Easter Saturday, and we’ll be there on Easter Sunday for the Semana Santa celebrations.

The Catholics in Spain take Easter more seriously than Christmas.

They have parades, processions, they do recreations of the Christ story with huge effigies, and on Sunday there’s feasting, dancing, and all manner of festivities. It’s a crazy time evidently.

And we’ll be right in the thick of it.

Yes there’s the walking, yes there’s the camaraderie, yes there’s the good food and wonderful wine – but we’re also walking an ancient pilgrimage route. And we’re arriving in one of the holiest cities in the world, on one of the holiest days.

As most of you might know, I’m not Catholic, and I’m not even sure I’m a Christian – I veer towards Buddhism – however I think walking the Camino into Santiago at Easter will be pretty damn cool…

Cathedral clouds

Jennifer’s Camino Portuguese – anticipation!

I’m so looking forward to walking the Portuguese Camino.  I have been doing some walking in preparation.  Not too much – I don’t want to peak too soon.

I don’t mind hills but long stretches of flat are sooo boring. Each day I try and take a different route but the very nature of walking from home means that I always return home.

Bill amazes me.  He has a training route he enjoys.  He walks that same route over and over again.  He only varies that route to walk up Mount Misery.

But I try and find a different path each time, turn a corner I’ve never been around or up a laneway I didn’t know was there.  Anything so I’m not going over the same ground.

I’m really looking forward to going for a walk in Porto and not ending up in Porto but ending up in Santiago!

And I’m looking forward to walking in the Spring when everything is new and fresh.  The Spring flowers will be coming out. The bulbs that I must plant before we leave will be blooming  there.  Amazing!

And I’m also really looking forward to eating Portuguese tarts.

I know I will walk past lots of pastry shops because Portugal has so many and I’ll just have to go in and have a sit down and try something I’ve never had before! Yummy!

Then there’s the lace museum in Vila do Conde. I’m training hard so that I’ll be capable of going for a walk at the end of the day (after 24kms or something!) so that I can find this museum. That’s how much I love lace!

But what I’m really looking forward to is experiencing the extraordinary energy line that is the Camino Portugues.  Pilgrims and others have been walking on this energy line for thousands of years.

At some point St James himself walked this route and legend has it that he preached at O Porrino.

I love legends.  Legends are energy gatherers.  Lots and lots of people down through the ages have placed their thought and their faith in St James.

He travelled the way we will go both when he was alive and after his death.

And I’m looking forward to making new friends.

Having someone to walk with and have a chat with and learn new things. To have a shared time,  a shared history with others. Having an adventure on my own is never as much fun as with someone else.

I’m having such a lovely time thinking about what I do on the Camino that I’ve set up a Pinterest account.  I have a board called Camino Portugues and I’m starting new boards for each day.  You can have a look at –

Jennifer’s Pinterest boards – Camino Portuguese

For those of you coming on the tour, I’m so looking forward to meeting you all in person!!


Jennifer walking.

Mt. Misery – so happy to be back…

It’s been twelve months since I was last on Mt. Misery.

Just to explain – Mt. Misery is an aptly named mountain that rises sharply at the back of Mudgee, which is where I live. From my door it’s 4kms to the base of Mt. Misery – then it’s 4kms to the summit. So round trip, it’s 16kms.

The elevation from door to summit is about 650ms. And there are some sections which are damn steep. So it’s a great training hike for the Camino.

Last year, in preparation for the Camino Frances, in the 6 wks prior to departure I did Mt. Misery about 3 times a week. It stood me in good stead when I had to climb the Pyrenees.

Today was my first day back there since those training days twelve months ago. It was good to be back. And a lot has changed in those twelve months.

Firstly, I’m now wearing a complicated and very impressive looking knee brace, because I shot my knee to pieces on the Camino last year. The orthopaedic surgeon, after looking at my MRI, said it was a “miracle” I walked the Camino on that knee.

I’m also now using walking poles.

Last year I resolutely refused to use walking poles, until my knee gave out – and then I finally succumbed. I had to. I wouldn’t have finished my Camino if I hadn’t used those poles.

Today I climbed Mt. Misery and it seemed so much easier than last year. Because of the poles? Yes, I think they certainly helped.

But twelve months on, I’m a different person. I’m not necessarily fitter than I was a year ago. But my head is different. I think differently.

Last year I felt I had to push myself up that mountain, I had to do it fast and I had to keep my heart rate in it’s 75%-80% zone, to get my aerobic fitness up.

This year I don’t give a damn.

I now see walking as fun, not a goal which needs to be achieved.

I walked with my wife, Jennifer this morning.

That’s a first.

Jen walking Mt. Misery

Usually we don’t train together. She heads off in one direction, I head off in the other. She likes to go a different way every day – I like to go the same way every day, so that I can judge how I’m feeling by certain milestones.

And I like that I don’t have to think about where I’m going. I just walk on automatic pilot, so that my mind can wander into other more interesting areas –

But it was fun walking with Jennifer this morning. And when we came to the really step sections. I surged on ahead and she went up them at her own pace.

What training up Mt. Misery gives you is confidence. It’s a gnarly climb, there’s no doubt, but it gives you confidence during the Camino. You know you can handle whatever The Way throws at you.

Last year I found Mt. Misery miserable. This year, I’m finding it a joy.

That’s what’s changed in twelve months…

Bill Mt. Misery