An Exciting Few Months…

It may as well be April. The clocks have gone forward and already the first sign of summer is in the air. Friends have reached Santiago already (Buen Camino L!) which only increases my urgency to return to Spain and search for the yellow arrows. But the next few months are busy. You could say I have started my Camino…but I have not yet left my home.

As mentioned previously, the first annual Celtic Camino Festival kicks off in Westport in Co. Mayo from April 13th. I will be attending for the weekend. I have the train booked, the hotel arranged and all events booked. April 13th sees the screening of excellent “The Camino Voyage” directed by Donal O Ceallachair – A crew including a Writer, two Musicians, an Artist and a Stonemason embark on the Camino not on land, but by sea, in a traditional boat that they built themselves on an inspiring, and often time’s dangerous, 2,500 km modern-day Celtic Odyssey. April 14th will see presentations, discussions & workshops by internationally renowned Camino experts. A Gala Dinner will follow with Spanish music and dance. And April 15th, there will be a Celtic Camino Pilgrim Walk of up to 25km along the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail & Tochar Padraig, including Mass in Ballintubber Abbey. It promises to be a fantastic weekend and we hope to see you there!

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If this interests you and you wish to attend, Camino Society Ireland along with Irish Rail are offering you the chance to win free travel and tickets to all events for two. Just go to this link to enter http://www.irishrail.ie/fare-and-tickets/camino-festival.

Following the weekend, it is just a matter of weeks until I set off to A Guarda in Southern Galicia on the Portuguese Camino. From there I walk to Santiago with my brother and it will be his first time on any Camino. What a trip for him?! Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog if you want to be kept updated while I am on my Camino in Spain as I will be updating the blog.

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Writing Elsewhere….and a piece of Camino History.

As I have mentioned in the past, I have been involved with Camino Society Ireland since April last. Until recently, I had been helping out in their information centre on St. James’s Street, on one Saturday per month. It is also open on Thursday and Friday! So I still do that and the centre re-opens for the new season at the start of March. I’m looking forward to getting back into the action again.

I’ve also lent my hand, so to speak, to writing articles for their website and I edit their quarterly ezine entitled Shamrocks and Shells for members. Much of my writing has been directly with the Camino Society rather than here, and that’s fine by me. If you want to get a taste of what I write about, why not drop over to their website on:

www.caminosociety.com/newsandevents

The last few months have been a hive of activity for the Camino Society. We have had a very successful photography contest, two very interesting events and a newly launched ezine. There is the first information day on February 17th in Dublin and the much anticipated Celtic Camino Festival in Westport, Co. Mayo in April (details on the website).

The Dublin Camino

One of the events that I have mentioned, and I have written about, that struck a chord for me was a talk given by Historian in Residence at Dublin City Council, Cathy Scuffil. The talk was about St. James, the Camino and the Dublin Connection. I’m going to post below what is on the Camino Society website.

To learn about this connection, we were told that we need to focus on one part of Dublin – from St. James’s Street to Trinity College. Not only is this part of Dublin popular for tourists, but if you look closely enough, you will see plenty of evidence of the Camino within this short distance. We were told that this route was taken by pilgrims as they assembled at St. James’s Gate, walked through the city, before embarking on their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Lazar’s Hill – St James’s Hospital

800 years ago, Henry de Loundres, Archbishop of Dublin, founded the Hospital of Saint James, a hostel for pilgrims and the poor of Dublin, on present day Townsend Street, then known as Lazar’s Hill or Lazy Hill. It stood roughly where Hawkins House stands today, right beside the All Hallows Monastery, which later became Trinity College.

In medieval times, pilgrim ships destined for Santiago apparently docked alongside this Hospital, then sailed directly to the coast of Galicia, at Ferrol or A Coruña, from where the pilgrims made their way to Santiago overland. By the mid-13th century, some of these ships were carrying people with leprosy who were desperate for a miraculous cure.

A rather more downtrodden colony is said to have existed in what is today, Misery Hill. Sufferers lived in these monastic-type establishments not simply for the good of their health, but also as a form of perpetual quarantine. The only acceptable way to check out of the hospice was to perish. Another word for these quarantine stations was ‘Lazaretto’ (linked to Saint Lazarus) and it is from this that Townsend Street took its former name of Lazar Hill, sometimes shortened to ‘Lazy Hill’.

The scallop shell and water

The two things you associate with St James are the scallop shell and water, so even in the current tradition, those two things are replicated in ways that seem to commemorate the pilgrim.

For example, have you seen the street fountain on Lord Edward Street? It was installed in the 19th century and if you look closely, you will see the scallop shell motif at the top. Another example of something similar – the two holy water founts at the front of St Audoen’s Church on High Street. Both founts are large shell-like features and were brought back from South America in the 19th century.

Other examples include

– A baptismal font in St Audoen’s Church of Ireland church which contains the scallop shell on each side of its font.

– The Tailor’s Hall, Merchant Quay – Its fireplace contains no ornamentation except for a single shell.

– Hawkins House, Poolbeg Street – The Department for Health is located on the exact spot where the original St. James’s Hospital was located.

– The Fountain at James’s Street – It was a custom that funeral processions passing the fountain would circle it three times before carrying on to the cemetery at St James’s Church where Pearse Lyons Distillery is now. There are also two scallop shells on the Fountain, but we are not sure if the water is for drinking!

– St. James’s Gate – Perhaps, for many people, visiting St. James’s Gate is like a pilgrimage. With over 1.7 million people visiting in 2017, it is a great attraction and adds to the area.

– Pearse Lyons Distillery – The newest visitors’ attraction in the area which was the original Church of St. James.

– St. James’s Hospital – The Hospital’s logo contains a scallop shell.

These are all areas along our route that have an image of the scallop shell included.

Cathy has requested that if anyone sees an image of a scallop shell, whether it be on the end of a church pew, on an altar, in the Dublin area, particularly in the Liberties area, could you please contact her. You can contact Cathy on Twitter @DubHistorians or by email commemorations@dublicity.ie.

 

2018

As 2017 draws to a close, it’s only natural to think of the future. 2017 has been good but it’s a year I’d like to park to one side. 2018 has so much potential as it will be a year of firsts for me. As I have recently posted, I have bought a new apartment and will be moving in shortly. All renovations have been carried out and it’s just a matter of gathering up my stuff and moving it. Not an easy task.

2018

I am also due to walk the Camino Portuguese Coastal Route from A Guarda. An 8 day 159 km wander to Santiago will result in my first Compostela since 2011. I walk with my brother and this will be the first time I travel with another person to the Camino. I have no idea how it will turn out but if he gets bored of my very being-there, he can stroll ahead with some new found peregrino friends. That’s the beauty of the Camino. There are no rules. You just walk….

However, I somehow felt that I had another Camino in me for 2018. A short 150 kms isn’t enough. So I will go back in September and walk from A Coruna to complete the Celtic Camino. A short 4 day 75 km trek to Santiago will provide me with a second Compostela for the year. But it’s not about Compostelas at the end of the day. It’s about the meeting of lifelong friends and the sharing of stories, it’s about getting away from the stresses and strains of daily life and away to simplicity, and it’s about Spanish culture and meeting locals. I cherish that.

I will return in 2019 also, unless I am physically unable to go. I want to walk a longer route, possibly 3-4 weeks of walking. But I will see how 2018 plays out. Buen Camino!

Towns Along the Way – Navarra #2

We continue on our journey…

Uterga (map) – 710 kms to Santiago.

utergaUterga is the first town you arrive at after descending the Alto de Perdón. The descent can be perilous at times, especially during bad weather. I remember walking into the village in September 2014 and initially spotting its large town hall. It must be the tidiest village I have seen. It is home to 2 albergues and a hostal (Gronze). Albergue Camino del Perdón is perfect for a stop off after the tough climb and descent. However, many choose to walk on to Puente la Reina, another fine town.

 

Villatuerta (map) – 685 kms to Santiago

Villatuerta is a town of just under 1000 residents located 4 km outside of Estella. Although probably of Roman origin, the greatest development of Villatuerta occurred in medieval times and, as a consequence of the Camino de Santiago. Since then it has retained its Romanesque bridge over the river Iranzu, the river that that divides the town into two neighbourhoods. The parish church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, also of Roman origin, it had to be rebuilt in the 15th century. There is the one albergue here, Casa Magica (Gronze), which is well recommended.

Villamayor de Monjardín (map) – 653 kms to Santiago

VillamayorDMonjardinIn 2014 I encountered this village in Navarra. I had stayed just outside of Estella the previous night and had left early that morning. Unfortunately, there were no cafes open in Villamayor when I passed so I had to make do with the wine I picked up in Irache earlier. I wasn’t complaining :). Villamayor de Monjardín is a small town located at the foot of the Castle of San Esteban of Deyo. The fortress walls are well conserved. The main site visited is the Romanesque church of San Andrés, from the 12th century. You should have no problem finding somewhere to stay here (Gronze).

Torres del Río (map) – 636 kms to Santiago

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Torres del Rio is one of the final towns you will pass before entering La Rioja. This small village, located at the side of a hill, hosts of one of the most characteristic monuments of Romanesque architecture in Navarre, an octagonal church of the Santo Sepulcro. I was unlucky not to witness the inside of this church as it was closed the day I passed through Torres del Río. There are three albergues here (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in Casa Mariela. The following clip shows you the church of the Santo Sepulcro.

 

Viana (map) – 625 kms to Santiago

Viana is a town that will surprise pilgrims for its rich architecture, wine cellars and, above all, for its extensive history. The last town in Navarre is situated just seven kilometres from Logroño. It has a fortified square, surrounded by a medieval wall, which served as a defensive stronghold during the Middle Ages against the ancient Kingdom of Castile. Its narrow streets, many monuments, and the majestic church of Santa Maria are highlights. The importance of the Camino on the evolution of Viana is evident by the six refuges for pilgrims, of which several traces still remain. Viana often hosts fiestas and is known to have a ‘running of the bulls’.

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Outside the Iglesia de Santa Maria in Viana

Leaving Viana brings us to Logrono and the new province of La Rioja…

 

Towns Along the Way – Navarra #1

You have left St Jean and make the climb up and over the Pyrenees. You have met your first pilgrim friends and experienced albergues for the first time. All part of pilgrim life. A simple life.

Now to briefly talk about some small towns in Navarra, that I have not talked about before. Some are so small that you and your companions will have passed them without looking back. Others not so.

Viscarret (map) – 759 kms to Santiago

Viscarret

Viscarret, or to give it it’s full name Viscarret-Guerendiain is situated in northern eastern Navarra and has a population of just under 100 people. It is 31km from Pamplona. For a town so small and not being a traditional end of stage town, there are a number of options for places to stay (Gronze). The always popular Corazon Puro has unfortunately closed since March 2017. Next stop is Zubiri – where many rest for the night.

Zubiri (map) – 750 kms to Santiago

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For a town of just over 400 residents, during peak Camino season, the population nearly doubles. It is an important stop on your road to Santiago. Most guidebooks list Zubiri as an end stage. In 2014, there were 3 known albergues here, however with increased demand, a number of new albergues and pensions have opened since I have been here last (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in Albergue Zaldiko, especially after the difficult descent from the Alto de Erro. Zubiri is Basque for “by the bridge” and one of the town’s features is the Puente de la Rabia over the River Arga. Walking under the bridge was meant to have healing qualities in medieval times. The next day brings you to Pamplona, your first major city on the French Way.

Zabaldika (map) – 735 kms to Santiago

Before you reach Pamplona, however, you will reach a signpost pointing you in the direction of Zabaldika. Not a town, but a parochial albergue in Iglesia San Estaban.

 

Zariquiegui (map) – 716 kms to Santiago

Zariquiegui

Zariquiegui not only wins you 200 points in Scrabble, but it is the last town before you make the ascent to Alto de Perdón. You can read a post I wrote dedicated to this particular Alto here. A sleepy village of less than 50 residents, Zariquiegui has the one albergue (Gronze). In 2014, I had stayed in Pamplona and found this town as a perfect place for a second breakfast. Walking to Puente la Reina can be tough as not only are you gradually climb from Pamplona, you also have the demanding descent from the Alto de Perdón.

Next town, Uterga…

Towns Along The Way – St Jean Pied de Port

I have left this series unattended for quite a while. In fact, the last post from this series was in January when I briefly spoke about towns beginning with the letter R. I have decided to jig things up with the remainder of towns from the Camino Frances. And there are many. I will start with the town furthest from Santiago and walk towards the Cathedral. One day I will get there. Maybe I should have done this from the off 🙂

So..we begin…

StJean

St Jean Pied de Port (map), or “Saint John at the Foot of the Pass” is in the Pyrénées department in Southwestern France close in the Pyrenean foothills. The town is also the old capital of the traditional Basque province of Lower Navarre. It is also the traditional starting point for the Camino Francés. If you start your Camino here, you are 8km from the Spanish border, however those 8km may as well be doubled if you factor the ascent. The town is made up of one long main street, crossing over the River Nive as you exit the town.

Getting to St Jean is not as easy as you think. You can either fly to Biarritz and catch a train from nearby Bayonne. It is the nearest city to St Jean and Ryanair offer regular flights. For those of you who live outside of Europe, you many have to fly to Barcelona or Paris. You can travel to St Jean directly from those places also. There are plenty of places to stay in St Jean once you arrive (Gronze). If you are planning to walk during peak season, it is advisable to book a room in advance as you are not guaranteed a bed on arrival. I have stayed in Gite Ultreia and highly recommend it, however Gite Beilari is well known and well liked. Many of the people you meet here will walk with you for much of your Camino.

stjeanpdp-pilgrimofficeThe old town of St Jean Pied de Port is really one old cobbled street, the rue de la Citadelle which runs down hill from the 15th century Porte St-Jacques to the Porte d’Espagne. The street crosses the River Nive on a old stone bridge and there are many pictures of these views strewn across the internet. Up above the town is the citadel which once held great importance in Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port. St Jean Pied de Port is very geared up for the pilgrims with restaurants offering pilgrim menus and shops selling anything you might have forgotten. A top tip is to visit the local Lidl to buy some snacks for the arduous walk the next day. The pilgrim office will either give you a credencial or stamp your own one, which you need in order to stay in the albergues along the way and also have maps and useful advice. Heed any advice the volunteers there give you, especially if you should cross the Napoleon pass or if you should walk via Val Carlos. The weather plays an important part in this decision.

Your next stop after leaving St Jean is Orisson after 8kms of uphill. But remember to enjoy the views 🙂