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Camino del Norte in October, I have a few questions. Any insight much appreciated.

michal.don

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
hopefully 2022 Camino del Norte
Hello everybody,
after a couple of years thinking about it, I finally made the decision to go on my first camino. I'm not a big fan of hot weather and large gatherings of people, so after a bit of researching I opted for the Camino del Norte from Bilbao (to wherever I can walk before my legs/back/anything else hurt too badly :) ) starting on the 8th of October. I've read a couple of posts here about people walking the same route at similar time in a year and generally having a good time, so I hope it was not too much of a stupid decision on my part.
I'm not the kind of person that does things on a whim without thinking about them thoroughly and doing their research (with both the good aspects and bad aspects of the fact). I bought a guidebook for the Norte, installed the Buen Camino app and read through the Gronze website. I looked at the map, learnt about the alternative parts of the route, studied where some of the albergues are, which parts of the trail are considered difficult. But there are things one can not learn from any of that, which is why I'm asking around here :)
So, my first question, and I'm aware there probably isn't an exact answer to this:
Should I expect meeting a lot of pilgrims on my way, or is it more probable that I will be the only one/one of a few people walking there at this time of the year? It seems to me there are not a lot of albergues, at least in the first part of my journey between Bilbao and Gijón, and the ones that are there aren't very large, some of them have around 15 beds. As they often are the only albergues for quite a bit of walking in either direction, I suppose majority of the pilgrims in the area will use them. And I've read a bit about the "bed race", which doesn't sound like a fun thing to me and I would like to avoid that, if possible. I know some of the albergues offer the possibility to make a reservation, which leads to my second question:
Do most of the hospitaleros/hospitaleras speak English? As you can probably tell by now, English in not my first language, I'm trying to learn a bit of Spanish, but I really don't think I'll be able to make a phonecall in Spanish in a couple of months. If the route is busy, I'll probably try to reserve accomodation where possible, so I'm curious about that one.
I have quite a bit of time before I'm going, so for the time being I'm trying to prepare myself. I'm breaking in my new shoes, experimenting with various clothing on my hikes, doing a bit of training, some reading, and a whole lot of overthinking, probably :) So, one last question (for the time being), an open-ended one:
Do you have a tip that I should not overlook for this specific route and time of the year? For exaple packing a warmer set of clothes? Or on the contrary, not packing one? Is a part of the route harder than it seems, and I should definitely reserve more time for it? Do you know a place/town/beautiful albergue that I definitely should not miss? Or a place that is on the route, but is not worth visiting at all and I should skip it? A restaurant with a meal just so great that my camino would not be complete if I did not try it?
I'll be very grateful for any insight and experiences from the Norte, or any other camino.
Thanks,
Michal.don
 
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Dennis Pack

Member since 2017
Time of past OR future Camino
Camino de Santiago Norte 2018
1. Spain is not a third world country and if you discover you need something you didn't bring, you will find it along the way ... "the Camino provides"
2. In my opinion, over-planning stifles spontaneity ... be flexible and open to new experiences ... I just got my map out the day before and decided which way and how far I was prepared to go tomorrow ... worked for me ... and many others I met along paths near the ocean's edge
3. Don't expect English to be widely spoken anywhere ... nor should it be ... but Google translate comes in handy ... and locals I met were appreciative of my efforts at trying ... take some Spanish lessons before you go, or what I had time to do, take some Spanish lessons in Spain

My "plan" was to spend as much time with locals and absorb as much as I could of the Spanish culture ... and improve my Spanish. I was much less interested in meeting other pilgrims, though I did meet several and enjoyed the time I spent with them.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
2020
There is a lot to say about the Norte but I will just start throwing out some ideas.

I walked the Norte from Irun to Santiago in March 2019. I met about 20-25 pilgrims. I spent significant time with about 10. I never saw a lot of pilgrims in one place until Baamonde where at the municipal albergue there were about 30 pilgrims. Baamonde is kind of a choke point and a lot of people stay there. I walked from Irun to Santander in March 2020 before the pandemic forced us to go home. I met about 12 pilgrims that time. I just finished the Norte from Irun to Santiago from late May to early July 2022. There were a lot of pilgrims, although much less than on the Frances. A significant number, indeed I believe a majority, of pilgrims detour to the Primitivo around Villaviciosa. So after that there will be much fewer people. So March may be comparable to October in that they are both off season months. An advantage of fewer people may be the possibility of forming closer relationships with other pilgrims, as long as you are traveling the same distances each day. I feel you will meet enough pilgrims in October to have a social life, but not too many!
In an off season month before COVID I felt that if an albergue was open then there would be a bed for you. In 2019 and 2020 I stayed almost exclusively in albergues and never made a reservation. However, now there are a lot of closed albergues and if you are planning to stop in a town with only one albergue open it’s probably reasonable to reserve. This year almost all the albergues are on WhatsApp. Gronze will sometimes list two or three numbers for an albergue. One of the numbers is very likely to be on WhatsApp. Just use google translate to send a text. Tell them about when you plan to arrive and update them if you are going to arrive after 2-3 pm. There is less English spoken on the Norte but I know plenty of pilgrims who speak no Spanish and they did just fine. Don’t worry if you are not great with Spanish.
If you are planning to walk to a town that has several open albergues I wouldn’t really worry about a bed race in October. ( as long as March and October are comparable as off season months). The anxiety level on the internet about bed availability is, in my experience, always much greater than reality warrants. When you get there you will figure out the situation and be able to adjust accordingly.

My advice is to never make a booking.com reservation where you have to commit to advance payment. Use WhatsApp or call and just reserve with your name. Use booking.com as a tool to see if a place is open and whether they have rooms or beds available.

I really think in October you can just arrive in Spain with little to no planning.

There are some good albergues on the Norte. You can find pilgrim favorites on this forum. But my general philosophy is that the best albergue is the one where you are staying. Find your own favorites. But do look for ones that have communal dinners.

In October, as in March, I would pack for winter, including extra warm layers, a down jacket, and rain pants ( not so much for protection from rain but from wind and cold).

Consider searching this forum for coastal variants to have more time with the amazing coastal vistas on the Norte and avoid some stretches of walking through urban areas and on roads. But I would add one caveat about coastal variants. They are usually longer than the official camino path and hence you will need to walk longer and further to stay even with some of the traditional stages. Or you need the help of mechanized transport :) .


I would add that the first week from Irun to Bilbao is consistently the most beautiful and also the most difficult one week on the entire Norte. The stages from Bilbao to Castro Urdiales are, in my view, generally not pleasant. . Why are you starting in Bilbao?
Best of luck to you. Buen camino!!
 

Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Time of past OR future Camino
2019
Start in Irun (or even better, right off the plane in Bayonne!) - the walk is lovely and you’ll visit great cities with world class tapas!

October is actually surf season and you’ll find that the cheaper accommodations may be full, as we experienced in October 2021. Pilgrim-only albergues, though, always had room.

Pack for warm days and rainy days (plus warm AND rainy days!!!) in addition to cooler ones - in short, that season has very erratic weather.
 
Time of past OR future Camino
See signature. Too many to list here.
I am watching this thread curiously. I recently decided that Norte was my favorite Camino. I have walked it 3 times now, twice in September, last time in late April through May. IDK, I like the people... like independent maybe? IDK. But I'm an ocean / beach guy too and it's like the difference between Surf and Turf. I mean, on other caminos, I have never hung out on the beach playing Spike Ball or throwing a frisbee with freshly met Camino friends. I love those things.

I just booked a flight to Madrid for Oct 13. From there I can head to St. Jean or Irun... other? My main concern is weather. I love them all, never had a bad experience on any of the majors. But I don't like to get rained on everyday either.

So curious about the Norte experience too, that late in the year, from experienced travelers.
 
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Vacajoe

Traded in my work boots for hiking ones
Time of past OR future Camino
2019
I will say that although we met a lot of other lovely hikers in Oct 2021, we met very few pilgrims headed to SdC. Most were simply out for a great hiking experience with no intention of making it to the end and without any spiritual intent. They followed the Camino trail mostly, but chose not to stay in pilgrim albergues, didn’t have a credential for stamps, etc.

It was all well and good, but very different from other routes I have walked.
 

Richmond Gardner

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances (2017), Primitivo (2019)
Last October was great weather, for me. I had a combo thing going on, as I intended to walk the Le Puy. I misjudged French bureaucracy, thinking that the Spanish health pass would make it easier to get Le pass sanitaire. I was flying into Bilbao. Soooo, I visited Bilbao, San Sebastián and then took a bus to Pamplona and walked the Frances, while I figured out what I really wanted to do. Arriving in Burgos, I decided to bus to Santillana Del Mar, on the Del Norte and followed that Camino to Baamonde. Weather was outstanding, as was the terrain. Accommodations were tight in Albergues, with some closed and the others at half capacity in Covid times. I usually stayed in hotels, as a result. I still met lots of fun people and would absolutely recommend the Del Norte.
FYI, I did walk into Santiago, only from the Portuguese side to avoid Sarria crowds and just wanted to arrive from a different direction this time.
 

michal.don

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
hopefully 2022 Camino del Norte
First of all - thank you all for your thoughts, I really do appreciate it.
2. In my opinion, over-planning stifles spontaneity ... be flexible and open to new experiences ...
I hope that I will eventually get in a more spontaneous mood on the trail, it's just that camino-ing is a very new thing to me, and I'm not entirely sure what to expect. And I'm sure that even the most sophisticated potential plans I make won't probably survive the first day or two :)
There is a lot to say about the Norte but I will just start throwing out some ideas.
Very interesting and useful information, thank you! Especially the WhatsApp tip might come very useful, I haven't cosidered that.
I would add that the first week from Irun to Bilbao is consistently the most beautiful and also the most difficult one week on the entire Norte. The stages from Bilbao to Castro Urdiales are, in my view, generally not pleasant. . Why are you starting in Bilbao?
That's.... A multi-part answer. I know the first part of the Norte is considered really beautiful. I was a bit nervous to start the walk in the most difficult part. Then there is the time factor - I have just a bit over four weeks, probably not enough to walk the whole thing. Then the flight - for several reasons, I'm flying straight to Bilbao. And finally, Bilbao has a special place in my heart, and I thought it would be sort of cool to walk from this place all the way to SdC :)
I hope that if I find this camino thing enjoyable, I'll eventually come back to walk through the first section.
October is actually surf season and you’ll find that the cheaper accommodations may be full, as we experienced in October 2021. Pilgrim-only albergues, though, always had room.
I haven't considered the surf thing. Thanks for the heads-up. Good news about the albergues, though :)
I am watching this thread curiously. I recently decided that Norte was my favorite Camino. I have walked it 3 times now, twice in September, last time in late April through May. IDK, I like the people... like independent maybe? IDK. But I'm an ocean / beach guy too and it's like the difference between Surf and Turf. I mean, on other caminos, I have never hung out on the beach playing Spike Ball or throwing a frisbee with freshly met Camino friends. I love those things.
That all sounds great to me. As a guy from a land-locked country, I really enjoy the time I get to spend near the ocean. And all the beach activities and bars certainly help :)
I will say that although we met a lot of other lovely hikers in Oct 2021, we met very few pilgrims headed to SdC.
That's interesting as well. I'm really curious which types of people I'll meet on the trails. If any :)
Last October was great weather, for me.
Great news, and I hope the spanish autumn will treat me in a similar fasion :) I have to admit that the weather is one of my worries, but ultimately the one I have the least control about.... So, I'll just hope :)

Thanks again,
Michal.don
 

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