On the 16th of September 2014 I boarded a ferry from Portsmouth, UK to Santander in Spain. My intention was to catch a bus to St Jean Pied de Port on the French/ Spain border and then walk 790km on the Way of St James along the Camino Francés, my destination- Santiago de Compostela.
On the 20th of September, I left St Jean. Two days later I got a taxi from my albergue to Pamplona. Three days later I went to Zaragoza, and two days after that I was in Paris, 1602km from my actual destination. So, how did I end up so far from where I was meant to be going, and why am I choosing to try again?
I can remember the exact moment I realised I wanted to walk the Camino. After a relationship breakdown the year before, I found myself in a strange place, physically and mentally. He had been keen to relocate, so we had moved across country just months before we broke up and, with the rented house and utilities in my name, I was stuck, isolated on the edge of Dartmoor, hundreds of miles from my family and friends. I ate, I drank, I binge watched tv and I read books.
I had read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert towards the end of the relationship, in fact it really helped me to realise that the relationship wasn’t working, (there’s a great follow up book called Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It), so I was keen to read more books about inspirational women who had gone travelling. Despite always wanting to have a gap year, it was something that had never happened, and now I was 30, it seemed like the perfect year to take some time out.
In searching for a new book, I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, a women who walked the Pacific Crest Trail. Walking and travelling, I could do, so I looked for more books on the subject, and found A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful by Gideon Lewis-Kraus. This writer had walked three pilgrimages, the Camino De Santiago, the Shikoko Pilgrimage of Japan, and attending Rosh Hashanah in Uman, Ukraine. It was then I first discovered the Camino, and it was in the first pages of his book, that I knew I wanted to walk it too.
“The pilgrim could step outside of all roles and just be a person, someone without responsibilities or expectations or any constraint besides continuous forward movement to a distant goal.”
It was like a pull, it was the only thing that felt right.
I trained, I saved and I planned. In planning, I found others that were planning on doing the walk at the same time and we met up, it was glorious. I have such wonderful memories of dining with these people the night before we left, our breakfast together, everything felt right.
Two days in though, I had made the decision to leave the Camino. Approaching Zubiri, I was keen to stop as I walked past the other walkers drinking and talking after a hard day. Except I couldn’t. I had agreed to meet my friend at Hotel Akerreta, the hotel used in the Martin Sheen film The Way. I wanted to see the hotel and I wanted to see my friend, so I carried on walking for a further 5.4km. It was not a nice road. Tarmac paths along the side of a quarry, no one else was around and my feet were now starting to blister. I started to get angry, this was my walk, and now it felt like I was doing something for someone else. A feeling familiar to me from the recent years of trying to keep my ex happy. I was flooded with memories and reminded of the many, many times during my previous relationship where I had just wanted to run away, and for no one to know where I was, but I couldn’t because I had responsibilities. Now, I could do what I wanted, so I did, which is how I ended up in Paris!
Now, six years on, whilst I have no regrets about going to Paris, that call of the camino is still there. I have to do that walk, I have to reach the Compostela.
I do not expect any life changing revelations, I have a lovely life, a wonderful husband, a cute dog, a good job. I’m not sure I have ever been happier, which almost makes me want to walk the pilgrimage more, to give thanks.
Recently though, I’ve been restless, and you can read in my previous blog posts, I’m craving an adventure. As part of my 42 adventures, I recently went to Plymouth Hoe to watch the sunrise. As I walked around the Barbican I remember how, when I first moved to Plymouth I had gone for a walk with my parents and whilst there had seen a monument to the St James Way.
That morning I walked towards the monument again. The golden scallop shone in the daylight of a new day and the excitement bubbled in me all over again. This was the adventure I craved.
It had seemed ironic, that when I moved there just weeks after returning from Paris, I discovered that this was the city many pilgrims had left from for centuries before. Here I had found my happy place, but here I could also return to the Camino, and show my gratitude. Initially I thought I just wanted to do a pilgrimage, so I looked for British pilgrimages and found the St Michaels Way, which had recently become part of the Cornish Celtic Way. I realised that if I did the Cornish Celtic Way from St Germans (just 7 miles from my home), I could join the St Michaels Way and then take the South West Coast Path to Plymouth. From Plymouth I could get a ferry to Santander, and from Santander I could walk the Camino Del Norte. It felt less like a calling and more like an order!
So now, I am back to training, saving and planning. I won’t be able to do the walk all in one go, which is a little disappointing, but I’m going to reach the Santiago de Compostela, and this is the route I am going to take.
You can follow my story on Instagram @aliwritespace and of course by following this blog. Have you done the Camino? Do you want to do it in the future?