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Some reflections on the Camino del Norte


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Hello and Buen camino

I have just completed the Camino del Norte starting in Bilbao on August 17th and arriving in Santiago on September 10th 2008. These timings did not allow me to walk every step of the way so at times I took busses and trains to avoid the industrial areas of Gijon and Aviles, and the outskirts of Santander. Actually, I thought the center of Aviles was very beautiful and full of little local food and other shops and the Albergue here is very close to the historic center.

Four years ago I walked the Camino Frances and I thought it might be worth recording here some of my reflections on the Camino del Norte.

1. First of all, there is a lot of walking on asphalt on the Camino del Norte. I read somewhere in this forum a comment that someone thought the amount of road walking was similar on the two caminos. That was not my sense at all! I reckon if the Camino Frances is 75% non-road walking to 25% raod walking then the Camino del Norte is the opposite i.e. 25% non-road walking to 75% road walking. Although much of the road walking is on quiet country roads with very few cars the asphalt is still hard on the body and feet.

It should be noted, too, that as I started from Bilbao, I missed the stretch from Irun to Bilbao which is all walking on earth

2. I was expecting to have more difficulty finding accomodation in Albergues and elsewhere doing the Camino del Norte in August but actually it was fine, especially as I moved into late August/early September. There are MUCH fewer pilgrims doing this Camino. I reckon that at Arzua, where the Camino del Norte joins the Camino Frances, I saw more pilgrims in 40 minutes than I had seen the entire Camino del Norte.

3. I only met one other person speaking English (and he was Irish). As I wanted to speak Spanish, this was great for me, but it is a great advantage doing this Camino to be able to speak Spanish.......asking for directions, places to eat, talking to fellow pilgrims (though I met a lot of Germans who generally spoke good English) etc

4. As others have commented on this forum, the albergues at Guemes (especially!) and Miraz should not be missed.

5. Much of the walk along the coast is through developed areas. Although it is now halting, there has been a boom in construction in Spain and evidence of that is all along the Northern coast. For me, it was a relief to enter Galicia (although, of course, it immediately started to rain here) and have more sense of an ancient, mystical path, especially evidenced by the beautiful crosses to be found on the Camino in Galicia.

There are however some beautiful stretches of coast walking along the Camino - especially if at times you leave the Camino and walk on the coastal path (for example between Navia and Tapia), and there are some delightful small coastal towns.

I had the most wonderful meal of rice with fresh wild mushrooms and plump langoustines in Tapia. I can't remember the name of the bar/restaurant but look out for a modern style bar saying 'vinos y raciones' (I think) on the road up from the harbour. All the food here looked wonderful, and what I ate seemed, especially after two glasses of delicious wine, to be the perfect expression of the meeting of sea and earth that I had encountered earlier in the day walking the coast path. The food here is a bit more expensive than a typical pilgrim meal but really worth it.

6. I hope the overall impact of these comments is not negative. The Camino del Norte was a wonderful experience and just what I needed at the time, although I don't think I knew that in advance. As others have commented, it is VERY different from the Camino Frances, and to ask which is better is like asking which of your children you prefer.

7. Things I did not take and which would have been useful were a small torch and a good penknife (obvious really!)
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Thanks for a great post Paul!

I hope this makes some of those thinking of walking the Frances to maybe consider this camino.

I have not seen any reports of bed bugs either! :wink:

I am looking forward to Camino del Norte this coming April. Although the high percentage of road-walking is disappointing, I am planning to leave take the time to go off trail to the beach as often as possible. Indeed, Ivar, it is gratifying to hear that no bedbugs have been reported....

As always, I am looking forward to Galicia most of all. When I'm old(er) and not able to walk the entire Way, I will only walk in Galicia.

What is the future of all of the routes with this unbridled development, do you think?

ivar said:
I have not seen any reports of bed bugs either! :wink:
I walked through the Camino France June 2008 and I heard only in a one place that there has been some bed bugs earlier this year. I've thought that I'll walk the Camino Norte next but lately I have read so much about bed bugs in the Camino Frances. That have made me a little worried because I know that I won't enjoy the Camino so much if there is a big change to meet those little "friends of pilgrims".
What about the atmosphere with other pilgrims? Was it as nice that it is in the Camino France? I enjoyed so much about those dinners and conversations with others? I miss those every day because everybody was so great there. Thank you. :)
The one from Galicia (the round) and the one from Castilla & Leon. Individually numbered and made by the same people that make the ones you see on your walk.
Hi Paul - just wondering if you're the Paul I met at Guemes and then again in the internet cafe at Llanes? I arrived in Santiago on 17 September, having walked from Irun with a diversion to Oviedo and Aviles. Agree with Paul's comments on the walking - and it was cerainly a shock to arrive at Arzua where the tone of the Camino seemed to change completely! The route was good overall - especially the sections along the coast - apart from the dodging traffic parts. To Paul's recommendation of Guemes and Miraz, I would add Baamonde - the hospitaliera there was a wonderful woman who practised the hospitality of the Camino so beautifully. Helena
I have a maximum of 12 days and I want to finish my walk in Santiago. I plan to go next weekend and wondered where might be a good place to aim to begin?
Clearly this is a bit rushed but if I can see a suitable route with decent access I will go.
Thanks for those reflections Paul. I smiled about the bit where one is asked which Camino is best and you feel you have to choose between your children! Well said. If you feel like walking a quiet Camino in Central Spain I can strongly recommend the Camino de Madrid up to Sahagun. There are a couple of alternatives from there and on to Santiago. The "Madrid" is around 14 days. More info on the "Madrid" site.


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