There are lots of ways to Santiago de Compostela in the north west of Spain, the purported resting place of the remains of St James. Way back in the Middle Ages a big chunk of the population of Europe walked the way or Camino, paying homage to St James on reaching the cathedral at Santiago. You got/get even more brownie points if you do the walk in a Holy Year, when 25 July (St James day) lands on a Sunday. The next Holy Year is in 2021.
During the 1990s and early 2000s the Camino has seen a steady rise in popularity; last year more than 45600 pilgrims or “peligrinos” [spell check changes this to peeling rhinos] set off from St Jean Pied de Port in France to do the whole 780km of the Camino Frances which is the most popular route. That’s the red line on the map above. Many more people do part of this route, particularly the last 112km from Sarria to Santiago (like us, because Katie’s little leggies wouldn’t yet manage the full 780km up and over the Pyrenees. And 112km is a shorter distance over which the boys can potentially get lost).
We stopped in St Jean in France on our route south last month, and saw the first arch and golden scallop symbol on the road where many pilgrims begin their journey. Then we toodled through Rioja in the campervan (which is a very nice if lazy way to “start” the Camino), picked up grandma from Santiago airport and headed back east again to Sarria to start our own journey on foot.
In Sarria we got our pilgrim passport, or credencial as it’s called, stamped and it now needs to be stamped at least twice a day en route to qualify everyone for a certificate or compostela at the cathedral in Santiago.
Based on the statistics, we are quite an odd bunch doing the Camino. Only 5% of peeled rhinos are over 65, and only 9% are under 18. Neil is the only average one. And he needs the odd ones in order to make sure he arrives safely at the right destination in the right country. Jen’s not doing the walk because someone needs to drive the campervan to the next place for night stops, and she won the gammiest legs vote. But she may one day do it when she is in the 5% minority.
This is what it looks like when you get an icecream after 22km hiking in the sun. Bless.