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Beach Swimming on the Norte - Months?

2020 Camino Guides

Mark T17

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Kumano Kodo 2012
Frances Sept 2017 (bike)
Hi all, I'm thinking about starting the Norte in Irun and turning onto the Primitivo in May/June. I like the idea of swimming on the beaches at the end of a day and then venturing into the mountains to Santiago. But am I going to be able to swim in May/June? I'd like to avoid the crowds in August/September but not freeze in the ocean in May.

If I cant swim in May/June, then I think I'm probably better off just doing the Salvador out of Leon and connecting up with the Primitivo that way.

I swim regularly at beaches in Sydney, Australia in summer months but not in Spring/Autumn which are too cold for me.

Any thoughts?
 

Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)
Hi Mark! The ocean on the north coast of Spain will be a lot cooler than you're used to... The average ocean temp in May is about 15°C, going up to 17-18°C in June. The north coast is a surfing mecca, but for swimmers there are quite few dangerous rip tides/currents that you need to watch out for. Contrary to the image lots of people have, the Norte isn't about 'walking on the beach' the whole time - in fact, the camino doesn't always hug the coast (it goes inland for a few stages/stretches), and if you are next to the sea it's often along a cliff. Many of the Norte's stopping points are in towns or cities, where it would take a bit of planning to get to the local beach after you've checked into the albergue - the beach in Santander, for example, is 3km away. That's not to put you off! I've had some lovely swimming experiences on the Norte... but they tended to be of a more spontaneous nature: walking along and unexpectedly spotting an amazing secluded beach, just calling for a quick dip! There are some places along the way that are renowned for their beaches: you could probably have a good swim in San Sebastian, for example; the Cantabrian coast has a few spots (Laredo beach is 5km long!), and then there are famous beaches like La Vega in Asturias. In a nutshell, you'll get a few opportunities, but it's unlikely you'll get a "daily swim".
 
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Mark T17

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Kumano Kodo 2012
Frances Sept 2017 (bike)
Hi Mark! The ocean on the north coast of Spain will be a lot cooler than you're used to... The average ocean temp in May is about 15°C, going up to 17-18°C in June. The north coast is a surfing mecca, but for swimmers there are quite few dangerous rip tides/currents that you need to watch out for. Contrary to the image lots of people have, the Norte isn't about 'walking on the beach' the whole time - in fact, the camino doesn't always hug the coast (it goes inland for a few stages/stretches), and if you are next to the sea it's often along a cliff. Many of the Norte's stopping points are in towns or cities, where it would take a bit of planning to get to the local beach after you've checked into the albergue - the beach in Santander, for example, is 3km away. That's not to put you off! I've had some lovely swimming experiences on the Norte... but they tended to be of a more spontaneous nature: walking along and unexpectedly spotting an amazing secluded beach, just calling for a quick dip! There are some places along the way that are renowned for their beaches: you could probably have a good swim in San Sebastian, for example; the Cantabrian coast has a few spots (Laredo beach is 5km long!), and then there are famous beaches like La Vega in Asturias. In a nutshell, you'll get a few opportunities, but it's unlikely you'll get a "daily swim".
Thanks Jan, great advice !
 
Camino(s) past & future
2002, Toulouse/Aragon 2005, Cami S Jaume/Aragon 2007/9, Mont Saint Michel/Norte/Vadiniense 2011, Norte/Primitivo 2013, Norte/Primitivo 2014. Norte 2015, Cami S Jaume/Castellano-Aragonese 2016
I would suggest that you be very very very cautious indeed. The currents along the del Norte are pretty vicious-- a Guardia Civil whom I met on a beach when she was prepping for some surfing told me that she was in the Search and Rescue division or, she said, should be better called the Search and Recover Division. I have had a few swims on the del Norte at Islares west of Castro Urdiales, Playa Galizano (out of Guemes), in front of the village in La Isla, at Aguilar near Muros de Nalon, Meixota west of Tapia de Casariego, and de Arnao just before the bridge into Ribadeo, but at other places I would not have thought for a moment of doing more than a wade to my waist.

As a length swimmer at home, I was a bit frustrated by not being able to take a daily swim, but this is a coast where safety is a concern. Always check with the locals. As well, in May, the beaches are less likely to be lifeguarded. And always check with the locals.

The del Norte is a spectacular route-- pilgrims are not the only focus of the area as they are on the Francese, but with albergues, churches, and seafood, you should do all right.
 

Mark T17

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Kumano Kodo 2012
Frances Sept 2017 (bike)
I would suggest that you be very very very cautious indeed. The currents along the del Norte are pretty vicious-- a Guardia Civil whom I met on a beach when she was prepping for some surfing told me that she was in the Search and Rescue division or, she said, should be better called the Search and Recover Division. I have had a few swims on the del Norte at Islares west of Castro Urdiales, Playa Galizano (out of Guemes), in front of the village in La Isla, at Aguilar near Muros de Nalon, Meixota west of Tapia de Casariego, and de Arnao just before the bridge into Ribadeo, but at other places I would not have thought for a moment of doing more than a wade to my waist.

As a length swimmer at home, I was a bit frustrated by not being able to take a daily swim, but this is a coast where safety is a concern. Always check with the locals. As well, in May, the beaches are less likely to be lifeguarded. And always check with the locals.

The del Norte is a spectacular route-- pilgrims are not the only focus of the area as they are on the Francese, but with albergues, churches, and seafood, you should do all right.
Thanks, more great advice! I used to be a life guard in Australia, so I know my limits. I've seen a lot of beaches around the world, so I wanted the Norte to be more than just a walk and I was hoping to take a swim when an opportunity presented itself.
 

Dan T

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Planning on walking Camino del Norte early 2020
Thanks, more great advice! I used to be a life guard in Australia, so I know my limits. I've seen a lot of beaches around the world, so I wanted the Norte to be more than just a walk and I was hoping to take a swim when an opportunity presented itself.
I'm also hoping to have a swim here and there along the Norte in April/May. San Sebastian in particular, so I guess i'll wait & see how cold the water is when I get there. If you have been a lifeguard on Sydney beaches, then i think you'll be fine. Some treacherous conditions along Sydney's Northern beaches!
 

Tikitour

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Via de la Plata Oct 17
Primitivo Aug 18
Kia Ora Mark,
I was also planning to do the Norte in Mar next year and purchased a couple of guide books- so really glad you started this thread. I did the Primitivo last year and loved it. The landscape was quite a contrast from the Via de la Plata (my first, the year before) both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I now need to change my plans and travel in Sep (for a wedding) and believe that the albergues on the Norte will be very busy with surfers.
All the best with you decision - I hear the San Salvador is an awesome walk.
Buen Camino
 

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