This series of articles was compiled by Johnnie Walker for the Confraternity of St James and with their kind permission they are reproduced here.
This week in our pilgrimage series we read extracts from the diary of a pilgrim who walked the best known route to Santiago de Compostela – the Camino Francés. Marion Marples from London spent 37 autumn days walking from Pamplona. She describes her Sundays.
Sundays on the Camino
My second day walking was a Sunday. I left the pilgrim town of Puente la Reina, over its beautiful bridge, before dawn and with barking dogs, crowing cockerels and the morning star for company. I felt brave and cool as I strode out, but the stoney path soon started to climb. The yellow arrow waymarks disappeared for a while in new roadworks but I followed the bootprints in the dust. At Villatuerta I caught the end of Mass and later the priest came to greet us. After a picnic lunch I joined two Brazilians for the walk to Estella where we stayed the night.
By the second Sunday I had walked about 100miles. As we set out before dawn we met the teenagers returning from their discos and were thrilled by a huge orange harvest moon. By 10am we came to a bar for a welcome coffee and then started the steep climb up the Montes de Oca, which in the Middle Ages were feared on account of the wolves and bandits. In the lonely forest we came with relief to the spartan monastery of San Juan de Ortega. Here the priest served garlic soup to all pilgrims.
My third Sunday was the best walk of all. After 2 days off to heal my blisters I felt refreshed as I set off alone from Castrojeriz. I climbed a steep track to regain the higher plateau as the sun rose dramatically behind me, catching the bright quartz in the path. The path levelled out but soon descended to a broad valley, full of stubble fields, with a distant view to a tree lined river. Villages and church towers punctuated the glorious landscape spread before me. After the open plain the path followed the Canal de Castilla, which felt like walking through a painting with deep green water, golden cornfields, blue sky and sparkling poplars.
By the fourth Sunday I had reached the great city of León. After Mass in the beautiful Cathedral we shared a pilgrim’s birthday drink at the great San Marcos Hotel bar. I helped my new companion Anne reduce the weight of her rucksack by disposing of some surplus items. In the evening we indulged in heavenly hot chocolate at the Hotel Paris before returning to our very basic 5th floor hotel around the corner.
During the next week we had rain or showers most days. We also reached Galicia, a land of small hamlets and eucalyptus forests, very different from the rest of the walk. Arriving in Melide before lunch we found the pulpo (octopus) festival in full swing. However, we enjoyed an excellent plate of local cheeses and cold meats, washed down with local cider.
The guide book said the ‘last 50 kms are surprisingly arduous’, with which we concurred and were pleased to arrive eventually at a riverside converted 16th century pilgrim hospital. Everyone went to bed early. Only two more days to Santiago
It was wonderful to arrive in Santiago, stand before the great cathedral and contemplate all that had been achieved. I climbed above the High Altar and hugged St James, thanking him for my safe arrival and all those who helped me get there. The next day’s Pilgrim Mass was the emotional climax, as I stood among those who had made the journey with me. I’d arrived but I felt it was just the beginning of a new stage of my life!
How do I find out more?
From the Confraternity of St James in the UK – the largest and oldest association of pilgrims which celebrates its 25 anniversary this year. www.csj.org.uk