Bits of History, Words of Advice
Bits of History (well, more like legends, really...)
After the death of Christ, the apostles dispersed throughout the known world to spread the Gospel.
Sant Iago -- St. James the Great, apostle of Christ, son of Zebedee and brother of John -- ended up
evangelising in Spain, apparently not very successfully because he returned to Jerusalem where he
was later martyred at the hands of Herod in 44AD. According to legend, James' followers claimed his body, took it to Jaffa on the coast and, trusting to God to find a burial place, sailed in a rudderless boat through the entire Mediterranean, through the straits of Gibraltar (the Pillars of Hercules) and on to Iria Flavia on the coast of Galicia (present-day Padrón.)
After some shenanigans involving the local Queen, Lupa, and her overlord, the King of Spain, the saint's body, along with two of his disciples, was finally placed in a tomb, and over the course of the next 800 years of Roman, Barbarian and Moorish occupation, forgotten.
Early in the ninth century, a local hermit named Pelagius had a vision which indicated the
location of the tomb; the site was quickly authenticated by Bishop Theodomir of Iria Flavia,
and just as quickly Santiago was named patron saint of Spain by Alfonso II, king of Asturias.
Benedictine monks arrived, and the town of Compostela was born. The pilgrimage followed
shortly after: the first pilgrim on the camino frances is reputed to have been the
Bishop of Le Puy in France. The pilgrimage slowly became the most popular in mediaeval Europe.
See also this page at UCLA's Humanities section (though watch out for the "Annua Gaudia" hymn the dratted thing plays :-) or this entry on the Mozarabic Rite in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Words of advice (remember: free advice is worth exactly what you paid!)
All the usual guff about good footwear applies. I have seen pilgrims do the entire walk wearing sandals (admittedly ruggedised), so hiking boots are not strictly necessary.
Break in your boots before tackling the Pyrenees!
If you're staying in refugios, you don't need a bulky sleeping mat - a lightweight sleeping bag is fine.
An unframed rucksack (frames get caught in bush.) 40-50L capacity should be plenty. You can
get purpose-made waterproof rucksack covers, but I preferred a black plastic bin-liner, which
did the job just fine, though perhaps lacking in style. If you're a poncho afficionado, you're
covered, but I found they restricted my movement too much.
A walking stick! Very handy, provides you with a third leg. I had one of those retractable ones. They'd be quite handy for fending off dogs, too - I am most definitely not a doggy person, but I had no trouble at all with dogs in Spain.
Though I'm told they are much more of a nuisance in France.
On the clothes front, One on, one off, one spare is the golden rule. Be aware that you may not get a chance to dry your clothes after washing them if the weather is bad. For my trip, I had 3 tee-shirts, two pairs of shorts, three pairs of socks & jocks, and a very lightweight roll-up trousers and sandals for the evenings. A small container of detergent to wash your clothes can be topped up en route.
Water can be replenished in the many fuentes or fountains that line the camino. Food can be purchased almost anywhere (except in small towns on Sundays). It is quite cheap to eat out and many restaurants en route will have a menú del peregrino which means you can get a good lunch for half nothing.
Sunscreen is a must. Avoid the summer sun at its worst -- have a siesta, a long leisurely lunch, visit one of the local sights or whatever, but try not to walk during the hours of 1-4 (or 12-4 in high summer.) Galicia and Navarra have quite a bit of shade, but there are other stretches of the camino (the meseta in particular) where there's neither shade nor water for miles. Aim to be walking as early as you can - an hour or so after dawn is nice and cool. If required, you can continue walking in the cool of the evening for another couple of hours.
Voltarén Emulgel - the Hiker's Friend (tm). Just the thing for those aches and pains.
Also, alcohol de roméro is good for rubbing into the feet. Toughens 'em up. It doesn't taste very nice, though :-)
- The Way Of St. James - Le Puy to Santiago: A Walkers Guide
Alison Raju, Cicerone Press, Milnthorpe, Cumbria, England. ISBN 1-85284-271-7.
This is indispensable. It provides a detailed walking guide, historical background, as well as practical information like the location of shops, bars, restaurants and accommodation (but alas generally not the locations of the albergues or refugios.) More importantly, it's also just small enough to slip into a pocket. Hmmm ... it'd be even better if they brought out an edition of this book dispensing with the mass of the French section - starting in the Pyrenees (i.e., routes from St. Jean Pied de Port and the Somport pass), thereby reducing its size even further!
Available on Amazon.co.uk for a mere tenner or so here.
- Roads to Santiago by well-known Dutch travel writer Cees Nooteboom.
"One of the great books about Spain," as one critic called it.
Superbly descriptive book about the author's impressions of Spain. Lots of history and an obsession with romanesque and plateresque churches. It's fun following this book as it meanders all over the place - the Camino de Santiago is but a minor subplot!
- As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (yes, he of Cider With Rosie fame.)
Superb. A short but intense book that will stay with you long after you've put it down. The atmosphere of "beautiful and violent" 1930s Spain will be imprinted by the beauty and lyricism of the writing. Available here.
- Clear Waters Rising - A Mountain Walk across Europe by Nicholas Crane
An eccentric Englishman's 17-month mountain walk from Finisterre to Istanbul with his trusty umbrella, Que chova. A man with too much to prove, I think. Enjoyable enough if only to thank the Gods that you weren't with him :-) Available here.
- Guía del Camino de Santiago a pie by José Manuel Somavilla
1999, Ediciones Tutor SA, Marqués de Urquijo, 34. 28008 Madrid.
Somavilla's "How to do the Camino in 22 days" in (fairly simple) Spanish.
Good background info, some lovely photos, but Raju is probably a better bet.
- www.xacobeo.es is the official website for the last Jacobean year (the name given to any year when the feast day of St James - 25 July - falls on a Sunday. The next such year is 2010, the last was in 2004.) There's loads of Camino de Santiago info here in many languages. Warning: Shockwave animations.
Pilgrim's Way pages on the UK's Daily Torygraph. Err, I mean "Telegraph."
- This article
in Outlook Traveller.
- The Confraternity of St. James, based in the UK.
- Sergin Castanheira's winter journey,
with pram, in Portuguese. I liked the pram burning in Finisterre (scroll down :-)
- Salvador Miranda's Camino by bike in September 2003. As he says himself, we picked a lot of the same things to photograph!
- The Irish Society of the Friends of St. James.
Did you know that St. James' Gate, the site of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, was the
traditional departure point for Irish pilgrims?
- Leslie's site at www.caminodesantiago.me.uk is definitely worth a visit, and puts my site to shame with the amount of info. Look at his planning and links pages if you're thinking of doing it yourself!
Caminando a Santiago
("Walking to Santiago") is the Camino website of artist Antón
Hurtado; its centrepiece is a collection of 120 wonderful
watercolours of the sights on each of the three major routes from the
French border - the traditional Camino Francés from St. Jean
Pied-de-Port, the Camino Aragonés from the Somport Pass,
and the Ruta Baztán from Bayonne. All three meet up in
Puente La Reina. Browsing the paintings brought back many happy memories!
- santiago-compostela.net is a mine
of information I wish I'd seen before. Great photos, but little in the way of textual info.
A 32-day planner is available there.
- http://www.camminodiassisi.it/ is a pilgrimage in Italy to the burial place of St. Francis of Assisi.
- The entry on Lover's Walk here in Cork is interesting (thanks, Tom.)
- A detailed site about Roncesvalles -- from Carolingian times (i.e., the death of Roland)
to its role as the major staging-post on the Camino Francés pilgrimage route. Apparently it was the Arabs that caught Roland after all -- I'd read
somewhere that it might have been the locals. (As an aside, it finally brought back to me that Durandal was the name
of Roland's sword - anyone else remember the ever-so-slightly mad computer in Bungie Software's Marathon game?)
Last updated by turly, Monday 17 January 2011