The first thing to do is admit to being a fake, I’m not a fully-fledged pilgrim, not even a partially fledged one. This trip was not anywhere near long enough to complete the Camino de Santiago (North) or St James Way, and our group cherry picked the choice walking and bike riding routes through Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. As I started with a confession, maybe there’s hope for me as a pilgrim after all.
Along the way there was plenty to see and do, stopping off some of the main milestones of the route, Unsurprisingly, it’s punctuated with dozens of small chapels, gothic churches, cathedrals and monasteries, many of which still provide sanctuary for a travelling pilgrim. A place to soothe tired limbs, and rest a weary head, generally offering dormitory type accommodation, basically hostels for pilgrims.
Discover northern Spain here: Cantabria, A Hidden Gem in Northern Spain
We passed, and were passed by many completing ‘their Camino‘, their reasons for completing the trek as varied as the languages and accents which are heard along the way. They all appeared determined, and cheerful, a few almost evangelically so, their positive attitude gushing out in a tireless reverie about the benefits of taking on the challenge. “The Camino will provide“, is a saying which we were to hear repeated several times during our short flirtation with the pilgrimage.
This appears to be true, as plenty of peregrinos, the name by which pilgrims are also known by, often pass on useful belongings. We were told how one pilgrim was gifted a waterproof jacket, while another received a tent which wasn’t needed any longer ….. the Camino does seem to provide.
The Camino is a very personal challenge, as already mentioned the motives which cause an individual to take a sabbatical or even leave their employment, take time out from family and friends to trek through northern Spain are varied.
There are not any rules, how the Camino is completed is a matter of choice, it can be finished in a month, a year or whatever suits the individual pilgrim. We met several which had paused on route to volunteer at one of the alberbergs for a few weeks. In some cases, they felt so at home, so at ease in the refuge they returned after completing their Camino to volunteer for several weeks or even months.
Walkers and cyclists are the usual traffic along the way, but it seems likely other forms of transport such as scooters or skateboards have found their way along the route. If anybody (or knows somebody) has completed the Camino using an unusual form of transport, please let us know in the comments section below.
There are plenty of stopover points along the way, and options to take detours, only the most focused peregrino would not be distracted by the many attractions this region of Spain has to offer. Cities such as Bilbao, San Sebastián, Llanes and of course Santiago de Compostela, pretty villages like Pasai Donibane and San Vicente de la Barquera or attractions such as bird sanctuaries, ship museums, dozens of chapels and monasteries or even prehistoric caves.
Read about the caves at Altimera here: Walking Through History in Cantabria, Spain
Of course, there are also many lovely beaches to waste an afternoon, day or even a week for those which don’t have any time constraints. Time doesn’t appear an issue among peregrinos, often having given up jobs to concentrate on making their pilgrimage. They do usually start out early to avoid the heat of the day, so what better way to recharge batteries than by spending a week on a beautiful beach?
A special Spanish beach: Postcards from Beach of the Cathedrals, Galicia
German, English, American, Australian, South African, French and of course Spanish, pilgrims come from all corners of the planet to follow St James Way. Peregrinos come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of fitness although this undoubtedly improves along the way. Although most pilgrims seem to be in the twenties or early thirties, age isn’t an issue, people of all ages and social backgrounds can be seen packing a backpack, grabbing some trekking poles and sleeping in monasteries along the way.
It doesn’t matter what you wear, designer clothing isn’t compulsory, although most do seem to have a distinct style. I guess spending several weeks trekking across north Spain, it’s important to retain individuality, characters are common place here.
Good walking boots and a waterproof jacket are a must, there are a lot of way markers to follow, yellow arrows and scallops. Plenty of steps to take, and it also rains at times.
Accommodation usually consists of dormitory beds in monasteries, a bit like a hostel, but hopefully a better class of roommate. Mixing with other peregrinos in communal areas, chatting about life on the Camino, mutual acquaintances they’ve bumped into or places visited along the way.
Refuges and alberbergs often offer smaller rooms, some even have double or twin rooms, but there still appears to be the same feeling of comradery. Many are maintained by volunteers, local and pilgrims, not charging a fixed rate. Meals and accommodation seem to be offered with flexible rates, pay as much as can be afforded.
Life on the Camino appears relaxed, a socialable trek through northern Spain, with opportunities to meet like-minded people, a trek with a purpose. Maybe the right way to experience the beauty of the region is the St. James Way, the pilgrim’s way.