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Pilgrim numbers on the Invierno


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Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Having been out on the Invierno this August, a delightfully solitary experience in which I didn't see another peregrino on the trail until the sixth day, I was curious to see what the growth curve was looking like in recent times. So I did a little number-crunching with the Pilgrim Office's statistics. Needless to say, these are not completely comprehensive: obviously they don't count those who never show up for a compostelle, and probably don't include some people who began on the Frances; joined at Ponferrada; but for one reason or another got set down as Frances-completers nonetheless. But at least they should suffice to establish some trend-lines. I went back to the beginning of 2017, and inasmuch as the figures this year are available only until the end of June, obviously I stopped there.

If we're taking things in half-yearly chunks, a definite upward trend-line exists. For the first half of 2017, there were 237 finishers; 266 for the same period in 2018; and 382 this year. The robustness of those figures, however, are a little open to question. In all three years a single monster month (June for two of them, and May for the third) accounted for more pilgrims than the other five put together, with the peak for any month over the entire period being 208 in May this year. If, in one year for whatever reason, that bumper harvest of pilgrims failed to materialise, it would wipe out the apparent upward trajectory for the year as a whole.

Based on 2017 and 2018 data, this is now a second-half-of-the-year route. Significantly more pilgrims completed it between July and December (308 in 2017 and 437 in 2018) than during the first six months. It would take more time than I have available to cross-reference finishers with their national origins, but I would assume from this that the Invierno is disproportionately a foreigners' Camino, those people arriving in Spain during the times of the year that most foreigners do. Contrary to its name -- but just as we would expect in all other respects -- the number completing in the winter months is very small, with fourteen or fifteen per month being typical.

I'll be interested to see how the second-half figures this year look, once they're available. While from the Xunta's point of view there are definite and encouraging signs of growth, and no doubt the slow but steady infrastructural improvements (the forthcoming guidebook, perhaps, even more than the couple of new albergues) will help to sustain it, there's no reason to believe that this will remain other than the Camino-less-travelled for some time yet. If we assume for the sake of argument that the average pilgrim-party consists of two persons, that will mean that on the busiest days the Invierno ever had, typically no more than four groups were out on any leg of around 25-30 km each day, while for the remaining eleven months that number varied between two and 0.5. Those who are concerned that the route may lose its essential character in the near future, therefore, may be reassured that it probably won't happen for quite a while yet.
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