To be a Pilgrim
I’d had a copy of the Brierley guide to the Camino Frances by my bed for two years. It’s the ancient 500 mile long pilgrim journey from St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrennees to Santiago de Compostella.
“The Way” crosses Spain, passing through the heart of cities, over mountains, past vineyards, olive groves and across the endless wheat fields of the meseta.
The medieval journey which originated with the desire of Christians to pay homage at the relics of St James (Sant Iago) has been revived in the last decade, with tens of thousands of pilgrims from every corner of the globe now making the journey every year. To do it in one stretch demands a serious time commitment – around a month of walking – and like most people I had never been able to take that amount of time out.
But now I could. I already had the boots, the rucksack and the guide book – and I was relatively fit. I read advice online, walked barefoot along Scottish beaches and invested in a Tilley hat to shade me from the Spanish sun.
I bought a cheap flight from Edinburgh to Bordeaux then jumped on a train to Bayonne and finally transferred to a pilgrim-packed carriage on the tiny mountain railway that terminates in St Jean. Dozens of us sat clutching our packs – many of them already adorned with the traditional scallop shell – staring out of the window, wondering what lay ahead and how far we would get.
And then the train pulled in to St John, we hoisted on clean rucksacks that still felt alien on our backs. For the moment there was no going back.
The journey had begun.