If you’ve never thought that something as simple as a walk can make you change for the better, then you have never experienced the Camino de Santiago. Those who have say that it can be life-changing. You’ll marvel at scenic views and spend many hours in solitude thinking about your life. At the end of your destination, a better version of yourself awaits.
The Camino de Santiago is also known as the Way of Saint James. It is a network of pilgrim routes leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. According to Spanish legend, a vision of the Virgin Mary had brought Saint James to Judaea, where he was eventually beheaded. His remains were shipped off to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried at the spot where Santiago stands today.
From the ninth century onwards, when the remains of Saint James were discovered, the pilgrimage never ceased. Though it was quite popular from the 10th to the 12th century, during the many European wars its popularity slowly declined.
Millions of people have walked to Santiago de Compostela to the pilgrim mass. It was believed they would attain less time in purgatory by walking. Besides, pilgrimages were a suitable form of expiation, and could be used as penance for those who committed certain crimes. When they arrived, pilgrims were supposed to lay their hands on the pillar outside the doorstep of the cathedral.
The scallop shell has been the symbol of the Camino for centuries. You can see it on the signs along the Camino, and it guides pilgrims along the way. However, its relevance may have derived from the pilgrim’s desire to take home a souvenir.
The word “Camino” means “path” or “journey”. These routes were almost forgotten, but in the late 1970s they became of interest again.
The walk itself wasn’t always the main attraction; the point was to arrive at the sacred site. The pilgrims usually started their journey at their own front door. One of the reasons common routes were established was the fact it was safer for people to walk together.
When people talk about the Camino de Santiago, most of them are referring to just one route known as the Camino Frances or the French Way. This route starts at St. Jean Pied du Port in France. If you want to meet many fellow pilgrims, this is your best option.
Although this is the most popular route among tourists, it certainly isn’t the only one. Many different routes were made by pilgrims who were living in England, Portugal and other countries in Europe and even North Africa. The routes of Northern Spain are the ones listed on the World Heritage List.
The second most popular is the Camino Portugues that starts at the cathedral in Lisbon or at the cathedral in Porto and travels northwards. It is ideal if you are looking for a more rural experience.
If you are an experienced walker and you enjoy the challenges you should try the Camino del Norte. It starts in the city of Irun and travels west along the Basque Coast, Cantabria and Asturias. Keep in mind that this section of the walk can be challenging.
Lush green hills and mountains can compensate for the rain that can fall quite often. You can take a break in a picturesque seaside village and even have the chance to swim in the ocean, since long stretches of the path run along the coast. Compared to the most popular routes, the Camino del Norte is more scenic and gives you more time to be alone.
The Camino Ingles was established by pilgrims from England who arrived on the north coast by boat. The Camino Primitivo is the oldest route, first taken in the ninth century. It is the most direct road from Oviedo to Santiago.
Those who are interested in Roman history should walk the Via de la Plata. It translates to “a wide surfaced road”. It’s well named, as most of the route follows an old Roman road.
The Camino de Finisterre is the only one where Santiago is not the end of the journey but the start of a new one. It continues to Cape Finisterre, the name of which means “the end of the world” in Latin. The Milky Way seemed to point the way, and according to a medieval legend, it was formed from the dust raised by the pilgrims.
More than Just a Walk
Whatever route you choose it will almost certainly challenge you in many ways. You can learn a lot about yourself, whether you choose the popular or more solitary course. Enjoying the silence, breathtaking views and finding yourself is the goal of these walks. Take your time to explore cities and landscapes along the way.
The first couple of days can be hard because your body has to adapt to walking most of the day with a backpack. As you move ahead, it does get easier.
You can meet people with whom you would want to stay in touch for the rest of your life. It can also happen the other way round. Walking for a month, disconnected from the modern world can be liberating.
The routes are between 400 and 500 kilometres long on average. Depending on the one you choose and your fitness level, the Camino can take anywhere from a few days to three months. Many people choose to segment the route by sections, to make the Camino more manageable.
Age is not a big factor when it comes to walking the Camino de Santiago. However, you do need to prepare properly. Without training, you may be able to finish, but there’s a good chance you’ll get injured. Listen to your body and find your own pace. The fact that you are capable of walking so many kilometres can really be encouraging and motivating.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Some do it for religious reasons, others for sport, travel or simply to enjoy the challenge. Whatever your reason is, it would almost certainly give you the opportunity to relax away from the hustle of modern life.
Author: Rebecca Brown firstname.lastname@example.org