When I discovered the Camino de Santiago nearly 10 years ago, this was one of the first videos on YouTube I found and I was enthralled by the photos. This slideshow was created by a Belfast man who walked the Camino Frances in 2007. The music is apt, considering we are approaching March 17th.
Yesterday was my 3rd walk of the year. I took a trip to Kilmeadan, Co. Waterford to walk some of the Waterford Greenway with Camino Society Ireland. The weather forecast wasn’t great but the skies were clear when we left Dublin and we had a pleasant walk. It was 11 km in total from Kilmeadan back to Waterford City, and to honest, it is a very easy walk. If you cycle, it is possible to hire a bike a cycle from Dungarvan to Waterford which is 46 kms in length. This greenway rests along the River Suir and is a former railway. It is a flat right walk into Waterford.
It is primarily a cycle route and can be used as a good starting point for Camino preparation. But if you are looking for something more challenging, you might need to look elsewhere. It was nice to be in that part of the world all the same and away from “the big smoke”. I brought along my Osmo Pocket and recorded a little video of the day, before the heavens opened.
I’m watching more and more videos, more from last year but there are some new ones coming through. This one is from last year. If you have walked before, this will make you want to book your flights!
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.
Rain Gear – Helly Hansen Rain Jacket / Columbia Rain Trousers
I could count on one hand the number of days I have encountered rain during my 10 Caminos. It won’t stop me from bringing rain gear, however. 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 kind 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 everyday 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.
- Blister kit
- Mobile phone, plug and charging cable
- Fitbit and charging cable
- Credencial from Camino Society Ireland
- 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
Today, I’d like to make a start and talk to you about the towns along the Way starting with R. And there are a lot of them. The first of these towns is the first you will meet after leaving St. Jean Pied de Port. Again, if you have stopped in any of these towns, leave a comment and let me know what you thought!
Roncesvalles (or Orreaga in Basque) is a small village in Navarre. It has a population of 50 people and is situated about 21 kms from the French border. This town is the start of the Camino Frances in Spain. The first day is probably the toughest day, after an ascent of over 1400 metres over the Pyrenees, but the descent to Roncesvalles can be equally challenging. On arriving at your end point, pilgrims are rewarded by their stay at possibly one of the best albergues on the Camino Frances. The albergue here is a renovated monastery with over 180 beds. There are other accommodation here to choose from. Ensure you visit its Gothic “Iglesia de Santiago” for pilgrim mass before having your first pilgrim meal in either of the town’s restaurants.
Redecilla del Camino (map)
Some 190 kms westward and 8 to 9 days later, we arrive at our next destination, Redecilla del Camino. It wouldn’t surprise me if you know little about this town as the majority of guidebooks gloss over it. That said, I have stayed here in 2014 and have enjoyed my time here, regardless of the size. Redecilla is located in the province of Burgos and has a population of 140 people. Those who have already walked the Camino will remember Redecilla as being the first town after the large sign saying you are now in Castille y Leon. There isn’t a whole lot to do here but I did enjoy my stay in Albergue San Lazaro. There is also a hotel here that serves fine food drinks and in 2016, a new albergue opened.
Rabé de las Calzadas (map)
A further 70 km to the west, we arrive in Rabé de las Calzadas. Again, this town is in Burgos and has a population of 150 people. Rabé marks the start of a new “phase” of the Camino, however. Now, pilgrims enter the meseta which is the the central plateau of Spain from Burgos to Astorga. While Rabé is roughly 10 kms from Burgos and most pilgrims tend to walk to either Hornillos or Hontanas, there are a number of albergues here. The town is sleepy with a main plaza and fountain and would attract pilgrims who prefer not to stay in Burgos. On leaving the town, you will pass the Ermita de Rabe de Calzadas.
Between the towns of El Burgo Ranero and Mansilla de la Mulas, we arrive at Reliegos. Here we have a sleepy village with a population of 300 people. The journey to Reliegos is relatively uneventful with a long paved road to walk on and a long line of trees to your left hand side. The trees seem to go on for hours. You reach Reliegos eventually to be greeted by a number of huts on hills which are used as bodegas. Further on there is a Bar Elvis (right) owned by an eccentric but delightful character. You need to stop by there. There is plenty of accommodation in Reliegos. I have stayed in Albergue La Parada to the rear of the town in 2015. After walking 32 kms from Sahagun, we were glad to stay there. On leaving this town, you have 25 kms to Leon and the terrain will change from then on from the flat meseta you are currently on.
Rabanal del Camino (map)
21 kms from Astorga, you will arrive at Rabanal del Camino, the last stop before the up and over of the Leon hills. Many choose to stay here for the night as a result (thanks Brierley!) In the Middle Ages, the knights templar built several hospitals and churches here for passing pilgrims before the journey over the hills. For such a small town, it has a real relaxed vibe about it and I have stayed here myself a number of times. Albergue Gaucelmo is run by the CSJ and the Albergue NS de Pilar is also popular. Today, all economic activity of the village revolves around services for pilgrims, with up to four good albergues and hotels. It would be wrong of me not to mention the Benedictine Monastery, “San Salvador del Monte Irago“, set up in 2001, which is popular among pilgrims. Sleep well, as the next day can be tough on the legs as you climb to the Cruz de Ferro and descend to Molinaseca.
Riego de Ambrós (map)
Less than 4 kms after El Acebo, you will arrive at another small village – Riego de Ambrós. I have passed this town on 2 occasions and because my mind was so fixed on where my feet were, I didn’t take in where I was. Here the village lies on a curvy and steep descent, between El Acebo and Molinaseca. You have two albergues to choose from also, but if you are interested in breaking up the descent into 2 days, my advice is to stay in El Acebo beforehand as there are more facilities and more albergues. You may also prefer to finish the descent entirely and walk to Molinaseca (my favourite) or Ponferrada (where all the history is!)
Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village, Ruitelán is situated in the El Bierzo valley between Villafranca del Bierzo and O Cebreiro. Many choose to walk from Villafranca to O Cebreiro over a day which is close to 30 kms. That’s pretty tough going. However, some like to stop just before the ascent kicks in (Ruitelán, Las Herrarias or La Faba) and leave it until the next day to move on. Could be a wise choice! Ruitelán has a recommended albergue that offers a communal meal – Albergue Pequeño Potala. I might try it out!
You have climbed O Cebreiro, you have entered Galicia, passed Sarria and are on the home stretch. On your 3rd or 4th last day before Santiago, you will pass Ribadiso (or Rivadiso to the Galicians). It is not so much a town but rather a hamlet, and is home to the Rio Iso, a medieval bridge built over it and 2 albergues. All invite pilgrims to take a break. The old Xunta albergue, just past the bridge, used to be an old hospital restored from the fifteenth century. Ribadiso is 3 kms from Arzua and many a pilgrim has been tempted by the river to stay at these albergues rhan move on into the larger town.
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- Camino Francés 2021 – Day 1 – Burgos to Hornillos del Camino