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2020 Packing List

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 clearskiescamino@gmail.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.

Rain Gear – Helly Hansen Rain Jacket / Columbia Rain Trousers

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.

Clothes

  • 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

  • Buff
  • 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.
  • Blister kit
  • Mobile phone, plug and charging cable
  • Fitbit and charging cable
  • Credencial from Camino Society Ireland
  • Passport
  • I carry a small over-the-shoulder bag which includes my credencial, passport, a small amount of money, debit card and phone.
  • In my backpack, I have a clear plastic pocket envelope which contains the important things – copy of a prescription, boarding pass, contact details if my phone is lost/stolen

Download my packing list with links that may help you. For more tips, see my preparation page.

3 months until the Kerry Camino

I’m not one for countdowns (ok..I am!) but it is just under 3 months before I wander to the south of Ireland and start the Kerry Camino. This is a relatively short trail compared to the ones I am used to in Spain and Portugal but the thought of just walking with a pack is liberating. I write this while Storm Ciara does her worst outside but hopefully in May all this mad weather will have abated.

Kerry Camino near Tralee / Photo: outsider.ie

Being in Ireland, you just can’t predict what weather you are going to get, especially in May. So the best thing to do is prepare for all seasons. I really can’t see my kit changing that much. I suppose the only parts that will test me is where the trail goes “off-road” or where it is super-mucky after a rain shower! I’m so used to road-walking, or walking on flat trails on the Camino, that I get put off by any bit of descent or ascent. And this is where a good stick comes in. I always buy one before I walk a Camino. Not the metal or ultra-light type. A good wooden one. I will have some time in Tralee before I start out so I can look around for one. It is great for support, not just physical.

My brother is coming along and we have reserved some accommodation in advance. It was just an idea as Tralee and Dingle are usually very busy. I had planned on walking this route alone a few years back luckily the brother was really eager to come along this time. Below are the list of accommodation we have reserved. You might leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of them:

  • Tralee: Glenfort House
  • Camp: Finglas House
  • Annascaul: Dingle Gate Hostel (looking forward to the South Pole Inn)
  • Dingle: Rainbow Hostel

The days are pretty short, 15km to 20km each day, I don’t have a guidebook but www.kerrycamino.com has great information and maps. The traditional arrow you see on the Camino is replaced by a sign and a picture of a little man walking. There are many stamping stations dotted around the trail and when you arrive in Dingle you will be awarded with a certificate. The Kerry Camino is one of the Celtic Caminos and walking this plus walking from A Coruna to Santiago will earn you with a compostela.

But, I have three months to go. I have much to do. Follow me here as I prepare for this Camino in May. Buen Camino!

Shamrocks and Shells – Do you have a Camino story to tell?

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!

A happy pilgrim at Christmas!

I’m lucky my family appreciates that I enjoy wandering through Spain, Portugal and indeed Ireland with a backpack on my back. Santa (or my family, you decide) has been to the Smith household and he certainly is a pilgrim at heart. I have a number of walks planned for 2020 and these few gifts really hit the spot.

For preparation walks leading up to my Kerry Camino and my Portuguese Camino, I was surprised with an Osprey Daylite Plus pack. Not the first Osprey pack I own, this is the first Osprey 20 litre pack I own. I will still use my Lowe Alpine 35 litre for my Caminos, however this day pack is perfect for daily walks.

I was also surprised with replacement dry bags. These are essential if you are walking on a Camino, in my opinion. I was looking to buy these before I leave for Porto in September.

All in all, it was a good day with the family but I look forward to my first walk of the year. I hope you all had a good Christmas and were pleasantly surprised.

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One sunny day in Dublin, I took a walk…

Some say I’m a dreamer. In the past, It has gotten me into some trouble. Looking out windows wishing I could be somewhere else, only to focus on the task at hand. I used to think it was a habit but in my formative years, it wasn’t the case.

Last week, I turned another year on the calendar. I usually take a day off work to celebrate. However, the week before I wanted to celebrate the day by giving something back. What could I do? I could walk! I am good at that!

The Saturday beforehand I created a birthday fundraiser on Facebook with all funds going to Epilepsy Ireland. Epilepsy is a condition I have lived with for nearly 30 years and Epilepsy Ireland do great things spreading awareness and provide assistance to those with epilepsy and their families.

I saw the weather forecast for Monday, the 16th, It was due to be sunny but cold. Perfect walking weather. So the decision was made. I would walk from Dun Laoghaire in the south of Dublin to Howth Harbour, 24kms in total. Dublin’s own coastal Camino. We also call it the Sli na Slainte, the Harbour to Harbour or Celtic Camino. For me, it was just an opportunity to give back.

Dun Laoghaire

I got off the 8.30 am train at Dun Laoghaire, tired. It was frosty but quiet at the Harbour. I started to walk northbound with the sea on my right-hand side. The route hogs the coast until it reaches Seapoint where it diverts to the town. At every given opportunity, I reached back to the sea. I passed a few Martello towers, built by the British during the 19th century, for defensive reasons.

I arrived at the River Liffey and the Northside close to midday but I was nowhere near finished at this stage. I had 11km completed, although I had the drab East Wall road to walk down. This was the heart of industrial Dublin.

The River Liffey

One of the nicer parts of the northside is Clontarf and it was a joy to walk along the coast here. There is a good area for walking and cycling right until Bayside – another 5 km away.

Just after 2 pm, and 24km later, I arrived in Howth. I must admit I was tired but very content. I didn’t stick around and returned home for some rest.

I just want to thank everyone who gave a few euros for the fundraiser. Together we raised over €200 and I’m super proud of that. I might make this an annual thing and walk a different route each year, who knows? This was a win-win for everyone. I got to witness the beauty of Dublin one more time (I have walked this route many a time) and helped a great cause.

Towns Along The Way – “F”

Welcome back! I hope you are enjoying this series and your memory is being refreshed! It certainly is helpful for me and interesting to see the many different types of accommodation being provided since I started walking way back in 2011. Hopefully, this won’t be the last “TATW” post of 2019 as I am on a bit of a roll.

Today, I will talk about F. Again, let me know if you have stayed in any of these towns.

La Faba (map)

Yet another village I haven’t stayed in but keep meaning to, La Faba means The Beans in Spanish. It is a small mountain town between Villafranca del Bierzo and El Cebreiro. It has a population of just over 30 people. While the name of the village doesn’t stand out, there is quite a lot of love for it from the pilgrim community and it has one of the best albergues on the Camino Frances; Albergue de la Faba. I have not stayed here myself, preferring to walk on to O Cebreiro, another 5km on. Once you reach La Faba, and it’s a long climb, you won’t have far before arriving at the Galician border.

Ferrerios (map)

One of many many small Galician hamlets that you will pass through while on the Camino. This particular town has 50 or so inhabitants and is approximately 14 km from Sarria. There is nothing very eye-catching in this town, however, keep an eye out for the Iglesia de Santa María de Ferreiros which has an unusual cemetery. The scenery is very shire-esque and when passing through, make sure you stop at Casa Cruceiro for a cafe con leche and sello. There are a number of places to stay there also (gronze.com). Just another 104km to go to Santiago.

Fillobal (map)

Another Galician town and one so small I almost considered leaving it out from the list. Fillobal is situated some 4 km before Triacastela and has a population of just 9. The town does hold a cafe and an albergue for pilgrims however at Albergue Fillobal. On walking through here in 2012, I was so focused on arriving at Triacastela and the albergue. I passed Fillobal in the blink of an eye.

Foncebadón (map)

From Galicia, we move to Castilla and the Leon hills. Like Fillobal, it has a small population. It is situated between Rabanal del Camino and Molinaseca. More and more people are choosing Foncebadon to finish walking for the day. It is very close to the Cruz de Ferro and watching the sunrise from there is pretty special. The climb up to Foncebadón can be challenging but the views are worth it. When you walk in to Foncebadon, it looks like a town in ruins, but the Camino is bringing growth to the area. During the summer months, it can be busy and there are accommodation, albergues, and bars (gronze.com). I haven’t stayed there myself, choosing to stay in the town beforehand, Rabanal del Camino. Maybe next time.

Fonfría (map)

From Leon, we return swiftly to Galicia and not too far from Fillobal. Fonfria is some 9 km from Triacastela. Again, it is a typical Galician town with green the predominant colour and many of the buildings are made of stone slabs. This is rural Spain at it’s finest. The town does have a selection of albergues and pensions also (gronze.com). On leaving Fonfria, you have a steep climb to Alto do Poio and then a further 150 km to Santiago! Enjoy your final few weeks!

Frómista (map)

Iglesia de San Martin in Fromista

The final town beginning with F and close to 450 km to Santiago is Frómista. It is situated in the province of Palencia and has a population of just under 1000 people. It has everything that a large town would have so many people choose here to lay their heads for the night (gronze.com). One of the main attractions of the town is the Iglesia de San Martin (pictured). I prefer to stay in Boadilla del Camino. You will be close to the halfway point at this stage on reaching Fromista, although the official halfway point is just before Sahagun.

The next instalment will feature towns beginning with H including favourites of mine Hospital de Orbigo and Hontanas. If you have stayed in or have any comments about the above towns, please comment below.

Towns Along The Way – “E”

The next letter on the “Towns Along the Way” series is “E”, as there are no towns starting with “D” (I dare you to look!). There aren’t too many so here goes…working towards Santiago.

Espinal (map)

Espinal is a typical Basque village and one of the first you will encounter after leaving Roncesvalles. At this point, you have 871km left before Santiago. Its name in Basque is Aurizberri and on leaving the town you are faced with a climb to Alto Mezkiritz. While not many stop here, there are many accommodation options (www.gronze.com). I don’t remember much of this town as I had stopped in Burguette (the town previous), and was deep in conversation with newfound Camino friends!.

Estella (map)

We meet Estella (or to give it it’s full name Estella-Lizarra) 115km from St  Jean Pied de Port. Estella is also part of Navarra and has a population of over 13,000 people. On entering the town, you cross the Picudo Bridge and are greeted with the Church of San Pedro de la Rúa, a large Romanesque church. There are plenty of places to stay (www.gronze.com).  I have good memories of my time here and of the Agora Hostel, a great place to stay.

Espinosa del Camino (map)

And finally, Espinosa del Camino is located about 40km (or 2 days walk) from Burgos. It is in Castille y Leon and has a population of just over 30 people. It makes a living from the Camino with a number of cafes and albergues (www.gronze.com). It was in this town that I met a good Camino friend and had a cafe con leche, only to be told I walk too fast. And that was my first day!! Above we have Albergue La Campana, a great place to stop for a rest!

The right shoes for your Camino.

I need to buy a new pair of shoes soon as my current pair are a little run down. I embark on the Kerry Camino in May. And there is no better place for hiking shoes/boots than the Great Outdoors on Dublin’s George’s Street. I usually buy shoes at the start of the year and they last me 12-18 months.

My preferred brand is Salomon. I have worn shoes from North Face, Colombia, Meindl, and Merrell, but Salomon X Ultra GTX is the most comfortable for me so far. There are people that can walk a full Camino with a pair of €20 tennis shoes or even sandals(!) however I would prefer not to take my chances having experienced blisters and sore muscles on previous Caminos.

Salomon X Ultra GTX

Here are just a few tips before you consider buying a pair of new shoes/boots:

  1. Be sure what you need. What is the type of terrain of the route you are taking? Is it flat or rocky with ascents and descents or a mixture? Are boots really needed?
  2. What season will you be walking in? If you are walking in March or April, you may need to choose boots instead of shoes. If you are walking in Summer, boots might be too heavy.
  3. Practice, practice, practice. When you buy your shoes/boots, wear them as much as possible, break them in, get used to them. They will be your best friends on the Camino.
  4. Buy a 1/2 a size extra. On the Camino when you walk, your feet will expand due to heat so the extra space is helpful.
  5. Talk to an assistant in the store and have your feet fitted. Listen to the advice. Try on as many shoes/boots as you can. It’s probably a good idea to buy insoles with them too. Superfeet is a good brand.
rei.com

So have you any stories or advice you want to share about buying footwear? Let me know in the comments!

Towns Along The Way – “C”

And with B over, we are on to the 3rd chapter…. There are loads of towns beginning with C, it must be a Spanish thing! I have only stayed in two of these towns myself, so this may be the perfect chance for me to learn something about them, as well as pass on some information to you! And as always, if you have any feedback about these places, please feel free to share it in the comments below.

Cizur Menor (map)

The first town you encounter on leaving Pamplona is Cizur Menor (or Zizur Menor locally). It is approximately 5km away from Pamplona and is also located beside its sister town, Cizur Mayor, which is just off the Camino Frances. It holds a population of roughly 2400 people. It has a number of albergues (www.gronze.com) and should you wish to avoid Pamplona altogether, staying there would be wise. I haven’t stayed here myself but passed through early one morning on the way to Puente la Reina. While on my way through, there was a fiesta ongoing however, it is a quiet town with all the amenities you will need.

Cirueña (map)

The town of Ciruena is unique. Not only does it lie slightly off the Camino but before reaching the town itself, you are greeted by hundreds of empty houses, so it is eerie to say the least. These houses were built to accommodate members of the local golf club. Ciruena itself has a population of 131 people and strangely enough has two albergues (www.gronze.com), both of which have received positive reviews. I have previously chosen not to stay here, opting to stay in the town previous to it (Azofra in 2015) and the town following it (Santo Domingo de la Calzada in 2013 and 2018). I have met some people who have enjoyed their time here, however.

Castildelgado (map)

Another blink and you’ll miss it town on the Camino. It is located 20 km from Ciruena and in the province of Burgos. At this point, you are 560 km from Santiago and just becoming used to being a pilgrim. Castildelgado offers little to the pilgrim but should you wish to call it a day, there is a pension (www.gronze.com). I must say that Albergue Bideluze is very active on social media during the high season!

Castildelgado is located between Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Belorado and lies beside the busy N-120 motorway.

Cardeñuela-Ríopico (map)

Cardeñuela Riopico is a town located in the province of Burgos. It is actually 13km from the city itself and has a population of just over 100 people. You will encounter this little town as you leave either San Juan de Ortega, Ages or Atapuerca making your way to Burgos. I have previously chosen to stay in Atapuera and had breakfast in the either of the albergues here, whichever was open! There are three albergues here  (www.gronze.com). A further 2km on down the road from Cardenuela is it’s sister town Orbaneja Riopico.

Convento de San Anton (map)

The ruins of San Anton is not so much a town but rather a place. They are located on the outskirts of Castrojeriz. The Convento de San Anton was built in in the 14th Century, and was originally the King’s Palace. It was later turned into a hospital for passing pilgrims on their way to Santiago. Since 2002, the tradition of offering shelter to pilgrims holds as volunteers maintain a donotivo / refugio in the ruins (www.gronze.com).

I haven’t stopped by during my previous Caminos as it has not been open, unfortunately, but one day I would like to stay here.

Castrojeriz (map)

Castrojeriz is a town located in the province of Burgos and is a popular stop along the Camino. The town is based at the foot of a hill and your first view will be the ruins of a castle, which was a lookout in times of battle. The town was built along one main road which circles the hill. There are more than 1,000 people there. As it is a popular stop along the Way, there is plenty of accommodation (www.gronze.com). I haven’t stayed here myself, choosing to stay in Hontanas. I have however stopped here for breakfast. I would recommend Hostel El Manzano. You should stock up with refreshments before leaving this town as you have the difficult Alto de Mostalares to climb. Enjoy it – you have arrived at the meseta!

Cacabelos (map)

Cacabelos is a village in the El Bierzo region of Leon. You will pass it as you walk to Villafranca del Bierzo, usually within your last 10 days. It is a moderate size town with good facilities and a good selection of accommodation (www.gronze.com). There are over 5000 people living in Cacabelos. Many choose to by-pass here and stay in Villafranca, including me, this is one for the future. The refugio (pictured) has been renovated from an old church and is a bit special, I hear.

Calzadilla de la Cueza (map)

Quite a few people may not know the name of this town. Rather than placing a name on it, they will be able to describe how they feel about arriving there!! I say this as Calzadilla de la Cueza is the first stop after a grueling 17 km walk from Carrion de los Condes. It may well be the best thing you will see all day, depending on the weather.

This little town may not be much but after walking 17km, it has everything you need. I have walked road three times and have always stopped here for refreshments. There is also accommodation also should you choose to stay (www.gronze.com) .

Calzadilla de los Hermanillos (map)

On leaving Sahagun, there are 2 options to take; the tradational French route or the old Roman way. The French route leads you to El Burgo Ranero and to Mansilla de las Mulas, while on the Roman road you may be alone. The only town on this route is Calzadilla de los Hermanillos before you reach Mansilla de las Mulas. Quite a lot of people choose the first option. Calzadilla is a small town, and it has a population of just over 80. Being a town on the Camino, there are albergues (www.gronze.com). The advantage of walking this route is you can divert back to the other if you find it too solitary.

Carrión de los Condes (map)

Carrion de los Condes (or Carrion as many peregrinos prefer to call it) is a large town prior to Calzadilla, mentioned above. It is a little over halfway to Santiago (410km) and by all means, is one of the major Camino towns. It has a population of over 2,000 people and has a wealth of accommodation (www.gronze.com). I have stayed in Carrion a number of times including during the feast of Corpus Christi (start of June). It is a tradition on this day throughout Spain to layer their roads with flower petals of all different colours and make a great design. All the albergues are run by religious orders, so there can be a tendency to get swept away by their routine which is not a bad thing. I chose to stay in Villalcazar de Sirga, the town preceeding Carrion, in May 2015, but there is no doubt I will return to Carrion in the future.

O Cebreiro (map)

Not quite the highest point on the Camino, but it is not far off. O Cebreiro is the first village in Galicia and a welcome relief after a 1300m high climb from Villafranca. I just about made it in 2012. Seeing it for the first time reminded me of home…the music, the food, the buildings, it had a real Celtic feel to it and it just didn’t look like anything else on the Camino. The views are amazing. There is plenty of accommodation (www.gronze.com) with the main albergue holding up over 100 beds. I stayed in the fabulous Hotel Celta Venta back in 2012. On leaving this village you have 165 km left and are on the homeward stretch. Enjoy the descent!

Our next post will be on Towns beginning with D, can you think of any?

The Camino Podcast – Re-walking the Camino

Hi folks. If you are planning your Camino, the information you receive from people who have walked the Camino previously can be more valuable than the information you find in guide books. So the following may prove valuable to you. I came across a podcast owned by Dave Whitson from Portland, Oregon, called “The Camino Podcast”. There are over 20 episodes uploaded on iTunes, Soundcloud and on his website www.northerncaminos.com. Dave is also the author of “The Northern Caminos” guidebook which dissects the Caminos north of the French Way.

A number of episodes on his podcast form a series where Dave “re-walks” the Camino with previous pilgrims. I was delighted to be asked to discuss the stretch from Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Burgos. You can hear me at the 29-minute mark in part 2. Below are all three episodes and you can find further uploads from Dave by clicking here.