The first incantation of our book out late last year, Two Steps Forward was called Walk to the Stars, referencing the meaning of ‘Compostela’ in the Camino’s destination, Santiago de Compostela, that stretched ahead of us for 87 days, over two thousand kilometres away on our first day out of a old farmhouse in central France. ‘Field of Stars’ also evokes the myth—that a shepherd was directed to the bones of St James in a Spanish field in the ninth century. We were not walking for religious reasons, but the knowledge that we were walking a pilgrimage route that millions had walked, was never far from our minds. It was there in every cross we passed, every church the Way took us via.
We have done many other shorter walks—Coast to Coast and Hadrian’s wall across the top of England, The Kerry and Wicklow Way in Ireland, The West Highland Way in Scotland, the Overland in Australia and Queen Charlotte Track and Banks Peninsula in New Zealand, all of which were beautiful and offered their own magic. But nothing really compares to the Camino, which we did twice.
So what is the magic of the Camino that weaves around some two hundred thousand or more that walk it each year, and has produced at least one movie so far (Martin Sheen’s The Way), one other well-known novel, The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho, and countless memoirs?
Religion is the obvious thing that sets it apart from other walks, but while there is a significant number of Catholics walking it, many at most say ‘spiritual’ as their reason. The Irish woman we met on the walk was doing it because she had grown up hearing about it—but she was protestant.
Unlike our hero Martin, no one is likely to be doing it to make money—but certainly some are up for the challenge. For us, this is probably where the reasons to walk collide—and throw in a bit of being steeped in history to tie it all up.
A walk of 800km (the traditional Camino Frances, from the French border to Santiago) is grueling (and doing the feeder routes to start, even more so). The second title we came up for the book, was Left, Right. Two people, two opposing views of the world…and yes—left right left—and lots of it along two thousand kilometres. You can’t get up every day and rely on telling yourself ‘only seven hundred kilometres to go’ or ‘only another month’ to get you out of bed in the morning. It requires—demands—a change in the way you face each day, and for us it was learning ‘forced mindfulness’—taking each day as it comes, seeing the beauty in all of nature’s gifts and in the simplest of exchanges. It was being in the moment, a period of no need for social media, the outside world and, especially, no need for ‘things’. I haven’t really been clothes shopping ever since—just the occasional needed item.
So will 2018 bring another Camino? After all, we hinted at a follow up walking novel at the end of Two Steps Forward. We’ve been trying to do the Assisi walk from Cluny to Assisi and then onto Rome (following the dove sign) for some time…but it’s a narrow window of opportunity to get over the Alps and both spring and autumn are taken up with tours and perinatal psychiatry conferences (my other job). Also want to do the Shikoku 88 Buddhist temple walk but need to do that in May (cherry blossoms—will be my third attempt to see them) and that is already booked too!
So this year? Thames Source to the Sea I think—not quite a Camino (between one and two weeks and I suspect FB each night), but at least will keep the boots dusted off (Graeme)…and a chance for me to try out my waterproof Topos…