It’s been 14 days since isolation kicked in and 2 days since lock-in. With so much negativity, it is unhealthy for the mind. I have been scouring YouTube for Camino-related videos and with the recommendation of Linda at Somewhereslowly, I have signed up to Babbel at a specially reduced rate. These days indoors are the perfect time to learn a new language, and dust down a new one (I’m looking at you, Spanish!). It also has podcasts to tune your ear, so it’s all good.
Ok, back to the subject matter of the post. I can’t believe it’s nearly 6 years since I last walked from St Jean Pied de Port. I had been planning to walk from there ever since I arrived home from Leon in June 2013. I had done quite a bit of research and I actually had planned to meet a few Camino forum members in St Jean when I arrived. For someone who has not walked a Camino, it might seem a bit daunting but if you do the right research, it is quite easy. Once you know the days you are free and you have booked your flights, that is half the battle. You just arrive and then walk! I booked a flight with Ryanair to Biarritz. The next step was to find somewhere to stay in St Jean Pied de Port. Generally, accommodation fills up quick during peak season. I found a great place after looking on Gronze.com, Gite Ultreia. It offered B&B for €15 – practically nothing at today’s prices. I met Jason from South Korea there and we bumped into each other on and off until I finished in Belorado.
September arrived with much anticipation. The weather looked good in the North East of Spain. I got on the flight and before I knew it I had arrived. I met a pilgrim friend, Andrea in Biarritz. We had met on a forum and we were going to walk from the off. After a quick shuttle to Bayonne and a bus to St Jean, we had arrived.
One thing I remember however is how busy the town was. It was full of pilgrims and we arrived in the middle of rush hour. People are dining, viewing the sites and basically wandering around. Oh, do you remember the book “I’m Off Then” by Hape Kerkeling? Well, I am probably the only pilgrim to have not read it yet. BUT…it was made into a film in 2014, and many of the scenes were shot on the Camino. As I was going to my B&B, I was asked to stay put by part of the film crew while a scene was being shot.
The next day proved to be one of the toughest but most rewarding days on the Camino. I was in no hurry. There was no prize. It took nearly 8 hours to reach the monastery in the woods in Roncesvalles but I was glad to see a bunk bed on arrival.
I didn’t have any wine until I had my meal later that evening but it didn’t matter. I was already drunk with the scenery from the day. I was lucky enough to receive a blessing in the chapel beside the monastery after the meal before thinking about the next day.
I keep thinking if I will be walking from St Jean any time soon. I would certainly love to as my love for that part of the world has not gone away. Let’s see when all this madness goes away first.
Let me take you back to Saturday, March the 14th. Coronavirus was in the news here in Ireland however we were free to travel and see folks (oh I miss those days!). I went to the Camino Information Centre for the day and walked back to the centre of town to catch my train. At the time, there were a number of flights cancelled but there was no talk of lock-downs or restrictions. There were 90 cases of Covid-19 located in Ireland. The following day, I travelled to my parents house as I normally do for a Sunday. It was such a strange thing taking the train, it was actually empty for once. Sunday was fun but I had seen Italy and Spain had imposed restrictions to control the virus. I knew that I wouldn’t see my folks again for quite some time. And I was right.
Jump ahead to the next morning. I wake up with a thumping headache and a temperature of 37.5c. Ok, it’s not quite a fever but, considering the advice given from the HSE, I decided to call my GP and lay low. At that time, the HSE were looking to test anyone who displayed flu-like symptoms. It is quite an ambitious approach but it will have a huge waiting list. I called my GP and to my surprise, he asked me to self-isolate for 7 days and he would arrange a test for me. Now, the important thing to remember here was that I felt fine, I had no cough (yet) although I was aware that it is possible to be not have any symptoms to have this virus. I gave my GP the benefit of the doubt and looked forward for the test.
Four days passed and I heard nothing. I had been taking my temperature every day and it had remained normal. By the end of the 4th day, I had developed a dry cough, but I put this down to being indoors and having no fresh air. The cough is not persistent. I ring the GP to discuss this with him. Again, he said it was best to relax, and I should receive a call soon from the HSE.
And finally, on the 25th of March, the HSE changed their criteria. Now they were looking to test people with two symptoms. I immediately rang my GP and he said I didn’t need a test. I am now back at work, although working at home. Apparently, over 40,000 people were waiting for a test while 94% of those testing were negative. This is only a good move.
I took my first walk since the 15th of March on Thursday. We luckily have a large park beside my house where I can go to stretch my legs during lunch and during the weekend. A few weeks without seeing my family can be sacrificed. The party will only be huge when this is over.
I look forward to the day when I can hug my parents. I look forward to the day I can go for a walk through a packed Dublin city. Even walking through the hills of Galicia is a dream for me right now. But it is nice to dream. Keep hoping. It keeps a light on in the dark times.
But all I do right now is sit and wait. It is the best we can do to help. While I am not working, and while I am indoors, I will be good to #keepwriting. The Camino keeps me happy, naturally enough so I will post some of my favourite memories from years gone by every day.
With the ever evolving situation in Spain, France and Portugal, many pilgrims are putting their Caminos on hold until Covid-19 subsides. When that will be is difficult to say but many qualified people are saying, we should be over the worst by June. Until then, we need to wait. The Camino has seen darker days and I am sure it will see days like this again but the sun will shine, I can be sure of that.
For those of us who are at home, please follow the advice of your own health authorities. Wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing and if you feel symptoms, self-isolate. The WHO has great information on what to do.
The current situation:
The government of Spain has declared a State of Emergency for the next two weeks.
The government of Portugal has declared a State of Alert until April 9th
The ones who will be hit the most from Covid-19 are the people who help pilgrims on the Way, the volunteers and the owners of cafes and albergues. They depend on pilgrims walking through their towns. But as I said before, the Camino has seen tougher times. We must think positively and work together to ensure that Covid-19 is slowed down and stopped.
Ok..since my last post, there have been more developments. And I have a feeling that will be the case for the next few months. Yesterday, we learned that our lord and saviour President Trump has placed a travel ban on flights from Europe (excluding UK and Ireland). Now, I’m not medically qualified, but this is highly unlikely to contain the virus. The only thing it has done has made some bad friends in Europe and made some US travellers very concerned.
I am still hoping to walk in September. Six months is a long time in dog years. In the meantime, let’s try and get together and look out for the more vulnerable in society. If I am unable to travel in September, the Camino isn’t going away anytime soon!
First of all I need to apologise for the delay in posting. With my time dedicated to work from Monday to Friday, I don’t have a lot of time for writing however I do try to write during the weekends or during the evenings. Last week, I had a nice easy walk, nothing too strenuous, but it was enjoyable. I would love to venture out again in the near future, this time with a pack. I have a 3 day pilgrimage coming up in May (2 months away). However, with the news of Covid-19 and with the lack of any positive outcome, it’s difficult to predict if I will walk this or not. At the time of writing, 18 people have contracted the virus in Ireland and a number of schools are closed. A few weeks ago, I didn’t think that it would cause us much disruption but I am willing to take that back now. Each and every morning, I go to work and hear people coughing. You can only imagine how unsettling that feels. But to be honest, I can see this getting worse. I feel for the vulnerable, I feel for the elderly, I feel for the people with existing conditions.
Ok, so the question remains what you do if you are planning to walk a Camino in Portugal or Spain in the near future? Do you go ahead or cancel? I see many pilgrims on social media already on the Camino in photos. So why not, is the answer to that. But I answer with a caveat!
You must firstly follow your own Government’s advice. If you are advised not to travel to an area where there is a spread, please do not travel. Otherwise, it is safe to travel.
On the Camino or anywhere for that matter, how can you stay safe from corunavirus:
There is as yet no vaccine for coronavirus so Spanish health officials are advising people to practice good basic hygiene to keep themselves protected.
Wash hands your thoroughly and often with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing or before eating or it you have been touching surfaces that many other people will have touched such as on the Metro
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Cover your mouth with your elbow when coughing
Use disposable tissues and throw them away after use
Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.
They insist that protective face masks are not necessary unless you have symptoms or are treating someone who has symptoms.
At this moment in time, I am travelling to Porto in September. I will wait and see how this develops before making a decision on whether to travel.
If you are thinking of walking one of the many Caminos de Santiago this year, now would be a good time to get your kit and bits and pieces in check. As Roy Keane once said “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” and I would agree with him to a extent. Even I, after my many Caminos, am continuously looking to improve my kit.
Last week, Camino Society Ireland hosted it’s annual Information event in Dublin (You can read about it here). Lots of information was provided about the specific routes, the background, and the history of the Camino however there was good practical information provided on what to bring and what not to bring in your pack. What you bring is your own personal choice but the rule of thumb is you will be looking after your kit for the length of your Camino so try to keep it to a minimum.
So in this post, I am just going to go through my kit for my upcoming Kerry Camino in May and my Portuguese Camino in September and if you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email me at email@example.com.
Backpack – Lowe Alpine 35 litre Trail
I have used this for a number of Caminos. Lowe Alpine backpacks have served me well but that doesn’t mean that this will be the best fit for you. 35 litres is plenty of space for me and it gives me a rain cover. That said, there are many different brands out there – Osprey being the most popular. The right thing to do is to speak to someone in an outdoor store and get fitted. Never buy online!
Shoes – Salomon X Ultra GTX / Crocs Men’s Swiftwater River Sandal
Probably the second most important box to tick, in my opinion. We will get to the sandals in a second. I have walked with Salomon for 4 years now and love them. Some pilgrims like mid-ankle shoes, some pilgrims like sandals, some pilgrims prefer to walk with no shoes! Whatever your inclination, make sure you have a comfortable shoe before you go or else you will not enjoy yourself. Ensure that water doesn’t get into them or stones for that matter. The sandals are to wear after walking and to let your feet rest. You might not want to spend a whole lot of money on them. It might also be an idea to have waterproof sandals to bring into the shower.
I could count on one hand the amount of days I have encountered rain during my 10 Caminos. It won’t stop me bringing rain gear however. For every time I enter Galicia, I have an irrational fear that the skies will burst open, even if the sun is out. But it is not only Galicia. You may also encounter rain, hail or snow in April/May or Sept/October in most parts of Northern Spain. So it is worthwhile bringing along some king of rain protection. Then we have the poncho v rain jacket debate…which I won’t get into. I wore a poncho in 2012 and the wind blew it off me. That was the end of that. The great thing about the rain jacket is you can wear it for every day use during the year also.
Craghoppers NosiLife Zip off Trousers – perfect when it gets warm or when it gets cold.
Craghoppers NosiLife Long-Sleeved Shirt
Colombia Short Sleeve T-shirt
RAB Micro Fleece – good to have a fleece to have an extra bit of protection in the morning or in the evenings.
2 pairs of Under Armour boxers & 2 pair of Bridgedale Sock – lightweight, quick dry – having 2 pairs means I will be washing each night.
Jack Wolfskin Baseball cap – to keep the rays from the head!
Water Bottle – Contigo 720ml bottle
There are tonnes of ways to carry your water on the Camino. You can buy your water in stores as you walk thereby helping the local economy, you could carry a platypus, there are many pilgrims carrying nothing but 500ml bottles and refilling them in the fuentes. Now, I am not saying any of these are the right way but be sure you have enough water with you at all times. For me, I carry the above bottle and it just about works. On the French Way there are plenty of fountains and places to refill and on the Portuguese Way, the same applies.
Sleeping Bag – Sea to Summit Silk Stretch Liner – Mummy
Again, when it comes to sleeping bags, there are so many options. Your choice of sleeping bag will depend on the time of year. If you are walking in the summer months, a liner will be fine, however if you are walking in the winter months, a sleeping bag might be needed. Don’t forget, some private albergues will provide blankets if it is cold, some at an extra cost.
Wash kit – Microfibre Travel Towel / All Purpose Soap
The towel is 130cm x 70cm and is really light and fast drying. You hang it on the end of your bunk when you are done in the shower and in a few hours it will be dry. I used to use Dr. Bronner’s soap but I found it really messy. So I changed to Lifeventure. This soap covers all the bases – hair, clothes, body and you can bring it on the plane.
Others – anything I have left out
Several safety pins for hanging laundry – you can even hang the safety pins on your back
Earplugs – for the albergue
Cream for feet – I was recommended Gehwol by a Podiatrist and I haven’t looked back since.
It’s February and as I settle back to my new home (long story!), I begin to look ahead on the next few months. 2019 brought a record number of pilgrims to Santiago and the expectation is that this year, the numbers of visitors to Santiago will be higher. But I am here to write about my own walks and how I enjoy them. And I do enjoy them. The fact that I return each year shows you that I get great love from my time in Spain or Portugal. If I could spend longer, I would, but that’s for another blog post. I will make do with two weeks and a few days in Santiago once I arrive there.
I suppose I have an affinity with the coast. I was born and bred along the coast. I have lived with the sea breeze. Walking the Portuguese Coastal Route is somewhat special to me. It may not be the “true” Camino but having walked from A Guarda in 2018, I knew I would be back again. Am I even going as far as saying that the Portuguese Camino is more enjoyable than the Camino Frances? I will leave that for you to decide but it can have it’s benefits. The French Way will always have much more infrastructure – because more people walk it. On the Portuguese Camino, especially in September/ October when I do walk it, there will be less pilgrims but some albergues will be open.
I’m still conflicted, however, as the French Way has a small place in my heart. All those years on the meseta have had an effect on me!
Speaking of tomorrow, I will help with our local Camino association at their annual information event in Dublin. I think this is the 3rd one I have attended in St James Church and each one has been packed! It just shows that each year interest in the Camino is growing and people are always curious looking for the right information. I will be there on deck helping future pilgrims. We seem to get a great response each year. I will post some photos in my next post. Talk to you later.
I have mentioned before that I edit a digital magazine for Camino Society Ireland, Shamrocks and Shells. It gives me great joy giving back to the Camino and it keeps me out trouble! It is published every quarter and the whole aim is to showcase the Society’s events throughout that quarter. We also look to publish pilgrim experiences, book and film reviews and practical information. Anything that a future pilgrim might find useful.
At present, we have the start of growing list of pilgrim stories dating back to 2018 but we are always looking for more. Every pilgrim has a story to tell, no matter where you have walked. If you do plan on writing, your submission will not be published on this blog but on Shamrocks and Shells. If interested, you might send me an email here. Looking forward to hearing from you and Buen Camino!
It’s been a while since I wrote about the various towns that line the Camino Frances. In my last update, I talked about the towns of Maneru, Melide, Molinaseca, Manjarin, and Mansilla de las Mulas. Molinaseca is a favourite of mine. In this post, I’ll talk about some more towns. Again, if you have stayed in any of the below towns, please let me know how you got on in the comment box below!
Najera is a small town in the region of La Rioja. It is nearly 27km from the city of Logrono and has a population of over 7,000 people. The Najerilla river splits the town in two and on a sunny day, relaxing by the river after a long walk is a great idea! I passed through Najera myself in 2013, 2015 and again in 2018, and it looked like the town had been built right out of the hills. It is visually stunning. The main sight in Najera is the church of Santa María la Real which was founded by García Sánchez III of Pamplona in 1052.
There are many different options for accommodation in Najera. I have stayed once (in 2013). If you are walking from Logrono and feel up to walking more than 25km, stopping in Najera is a good choice. Many people prefer to stop in Ventosa, the town prior.
Navarrete is also situated in the La Rioja region, 12km from Logrono. I remember seeing it first in 2013. Picture postcard stuff. It was my first day walking and it was pretty warm. I was thinking of calling it a day but I knew I had a few more kilometres left to walk that day. I stopped for a moment and saw the town at the top of a hill ahead of vineyards and that gave me the energy to keep going. After an Aquarius, of course!
Over 2,000 people live in this small town, which is based at the bottom of a hill. The streets are small and winding but it is a lively town. There is a castle at the top of the hill and there is one theory that the castle was used for defensive reasons. Nafarrate in Basque means “Door of Navarre”. Anyway, Navarrete is a welcoming place nowadays and treat peregrinos like their neighbour. There are many different places to stay here, both municipal and private. I have stayed in Albergue La Casa del Peregrino and I’d recommend it.
Ok, so even seasoned veterans will find it hard to remember this town. It is that small. We move from La Rioja to Navarra where Obanos is situated. It has a population of around 700 people. It is the final town before Puente la Reina and many choose to stay here during busy times. The Camino de Aragones from Somport and the Frances meet here and continue to Santiago. Obanos holds the Gothic church of San Juan Bautista which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. I found it amusing on passing the town in 2014 to find the same banner hanging from the church.
There are a number of places to stay in Obanos however the majority of people prefer to walk an extra few kilometres to Puente la Reina. Keep an eye out for the town’s fiesta however, as the people who live there put on a play every second year for the pilgrims who pass through.
We start with possibly the largest town on the Camino, other than Santiago herself. When someone mentions San Fermin, “the running of the bulls”, Hemingway and “The Sun Also Rises”, you automatically think of Pamplona (or Iruña in it’s favoured Basque). Situated in Navarre, it is home to close to 200,000 people. The city is also famous for its “pinchos” and it’s always worthwhile to spend some time in the historic quarter where you can sample them (www.spain.info). As you make your way into Pamplona, you will pass a number of suburbs – Villava and Burlada – and finally see the town’s fortress walls. You are now entering the old town. There are many albergues, hostels, and hotels to choose from here (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in the municipal albergue. Pamplona is well worth a visit if you are not walking the Camino.
Staying in Navarre and only a further 25 km westward, we find Puente la Reina. The town was named as such as the bridge was built by Queen Doña Mayor, the wife of King Sancho III, to facilitate passage of pilgrims over the river Arga. It is a town heavily influenced by the Way to Santiago, with the remains of walls and several religious buildings in place. El Iglesia de Santiago was founded by the Knights Templars, who settled in there. Also worth mentioning are its large medieval bridge of five arches, and the church of San Pedro, from the 14th century. There are a number of places for the weary pilgrim to rest their head in Puente la Reina (Gronze); Albergue Jakue being one of the better ones.
Close to 300km further on down the Camino Frances, we reach Población de Campos. Calling Población de Campos a town would be a push, however, as nearly 200 people live here. A hamlet would be the appropriate word! It is situated in Castilla y Leon and is the next town to Fromista. In the village, you will find Church of the Magdalena; and the chapels of Socorro and San Miguel. I do remember stopping here for a cafe con leche in 2015, but I haven’t considered it as a stop-off point. There are a number of albergues here, however (Gronze). The following video shows you scenes of the town.
A further 100 km along the way, we arrive at Puente Villarente, a suburb of Leon. Named after it’s large Romanesque bridge, it has a population of approximately 150 people. I have passed through here on two occasions and wish I had stayed here as it is a long slog into the city of Leon. A footbridge was built recently for pilgrims to avoid any accidents on the busy main road. There are a number of albergues here also (Gronze); San Pelayo is getting good reviews.
Ponferrada is the capital of the El Bierzo region and is one of the major points of the Camino Frances. The historic quarter of this town sits below an imposing castle built by the Knights Templar. The Castle rises above the river Sil, dominating the city’s historic quarter. Construction began on this medieval fortress towards the end of the 12th century. It is also worth visiting the Museum of El Bierzo, located in Calle del Reloj, in the building which was the former prison. Its facilities provide an introduction to the history of Ponferrada. As with every large town, there are many places to stay (Gronze). I haven’t stayed here myself, preferring to stop in the town prior, Molinaseca.
Another small village located just outside a larger town. Pieros has a population of fewer than 50 people and is dependant on the Camino. Five kilometres along the way is the much larger Villafranca del Bierzo, in the Bierzo valley. Pieros is home to the fantastic Albergue El Serbal y Luna and don’t forget to take a pit stop at the Café Bar Arroyo (on the left-hand side of the road) before moving on.
Pereje is the first town you arrive at on leaving Villafranca del Bierzo; 5 km to be precise. However, it is worth noting that you will only see this town if you walk along the roadside. There are two alternative routes (via Dragonte and via Pradela) which skip a number of towns, but that’s for another day. Pereje is built just off the busy N6 motorway and also lies on the River Valcarce. I walked through Pereje on my way to O Cebreiro in 2012 and even though it was a tough day, Pereje is one of those towns that make you want to come back to Spain, open an albergue and give back. There is a great albergue and a pension to choose from here (Gronze). Leaving Pereje, you return to the N6 with Santiago on your mind.
The first thing you will notice as you approach Portomarin is the large bridge over the Mino river, following the climb of a number of steep steps into the village. But if you look close enough, you may see another bridge underneath. The reason for this is in the 1960s the Miño River was dammed to create the Belesar reservoir, putting the old village of Portomarín under water. The most historic buildings of the town were moved brick by brick and reconstructed in a new town, including its church – La Iglesia de San Juan in the main plaza. In the seasons when the dam is at a low level, the remains of ancient buildings, the waterfront, and the old bridge are still visible. Also, if you look close enough at the church, you will see numbers placed on the bricks, to ensure each brick is put back together! I walked through this town in 2011 and was fascinated by the history. There is no shortage of accommodation in Portomarin (Gronze).
Some 25 km after Portomarin and 70 km from Santiago, we arrive at Palas de Rei. It is a major stop-off point for pilgrims with plenty of facilities, albergues, and hotels (Gronze). The town is of pre-Roman origins and it was important in assisting pilgrims during the Middle Ages. At this point, you are only three days from Santiago.
20 km from Santiago, we arrive at O Pedrouzo. The Caminos del Norte, Primitivo and Frances all pass through this large town, so it can be a little busy during the summer months. Never-the-less, there is no shortage of accommodation (Gronze) and pilgrims usually use this town to get some rest before their arrival in Santiago. O Pedrouzo is the capital of the municipality of O Pino and has close to 600 people living there. This is unofficially the penultimate stop on the Camino Frances but it is possible to stay beyond here should you want to make your final day that little bit shorter.
This is a short video promoting the Portuguese Coastal Camino and it does a great job. September can’t come soon enough. However, I can’t help noticing that this particular pilgrim walked inland to Valenca instead of crossing the River Mino at Caminha.
Clearskies Camino was born on returning from my second Camino de Santiago in June 2012. I had been writing a journal and had taken the odd photo while on the Camino Frances that it just made sense to write my thoughts online. 2012 became 2013 and my hobby became something more. Writing had never been part of my life but I guess the Camino gave me the inspiration to put finger to keyboard. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage but in my eyes, it is also a challenge. It is a great way of meeting people and a great way of getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life. There are many Caminos to Santiago from all across Europe, but my experiences have mainly been on Camino Frances; an ancient trail covering 800 kilometres across Spain starting in St Jean Pied de Port in the foothills of France and ending in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Clearskies Camino is everything Camino – I love writing and talking about the various Caminos to Santiago and if you are one of the many people who have walked these routes, you may well feel the same. I hope my talking about my times on the Camino helps you as you plan for yours. Feel free to browse and “like” any of my posts and if you have any questions, please feel free to comment.