Bringing the Camino Home

Bringing the Camino home, is also about returning. Even the planning, the anticipation is life enhancing, releasing the desire to write about it. Giving time to other pilgrims is a way of saying thank you not only for the very positive experience of walking but for all the blessings bestowed on us along the Camino.

We haven’t returned to Spain in four long years either as tourists or pilgrims, but plan to return in April 2018 to finish the Camino and serve a turn in Miraz the albergue run by the Confraternity of St James.

Four years ago we began walking the pilgrimage to Santiago along the coastal path, the Camino Del Norte and relished the dramatic views and the towns we passed. We took time to enjoy the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the pavement cafes in San Sebastián as we walked through, intending to revisit in tourist mode some time. At Oviedo we got the train forward to Santiago for a stint as hospitalero in the Camino Fin Del Camino. It coincided with the Feast of St. James, a joyous time to be in Santiago and enjoy the singing and dancing of groups from all round the world. Sadly, that was 2013 the year the rail tragedy cost many lives.

The atmosphere of sadness as the news spread through the thronging square that was prepared for fireworks and partying is hard to forget. So too the dignified return home or to the hospital to offer to donate blood, of the many who had gathered there. One thing is sure. Nothing is certain in this life.

Towards Santillana

On the ferry to Santander the Picos wrote their message in the sky.  Snow clad all year, the tops can be seen for miles, appearing to float like smoke signals or some vast flock migrating.   What is that? pilgrims asked.  A few shrugs.  No one wanted to commit.

The ferryman sold us a jar of anchovies that just fitted neatly into the pocket of Sunny Boy’s rucksack.  Look forward to making pissaladiere back home.

The hostal in Santillana, arriving hot and sticky and waiting for it to open, is old and welcoming.  We have the last two beds.

We begrudge the 5 E charge for the cloister but must concede we are glad to have seen it.  The remains of Santa Juliana have been here since the sixth century. Camino friends are here too and the evening is jolly.

Yesterday We Walked with Eagles

Yesterday we walked with eagles, even though we were mostly along the road,  climbing high and wild between rocky ravines with the sea falling away to our right, silvering in the sun.  One eagle flew so close its shadow blotted out the sky and fell cross us like an eclipse, fronded wings and talons threateningly close. It circled a few times before climbing away to join the others to an eerie or perhaps for better prey.

Today was more rural: a ferry ride and beautiful beaches.  In fields, buzzards followed a tractor in such numbers that one sees crows in England.  We tried to make them into eagles, but we knew that neither the country nor their silhouettes were harsh enough.  Still, a dozen or so cartwheeling, quarrelling buzzards is no mean sight.

When we reached Guemes and met Don Ernesto the old priest who runs the hostel that the guide book said was not to be missed.  I thought perhaps the eagle had been an omen. Sadly, we did not find the experience of staying in the comune that he has built with his own hands and with the help of friends, awe inspiring.

Walking the Camino del Norte

The scenery in the Basque country is strikingly different from any we have encountered in Spain, and certainly from Camino Frances.  It is no surprise that regions consider themselves as separate entities.  Language , entirely their own, with barely anything in common with Castilian, ( which is how the Spanish term their own language that the Brits learn in school,) never mind any other language.  I told one chap I thought it sounded Japanese.  He looked at me very sternly and made it plain that there was no way.

Tomorrow we cross to Cantabria.


Bilbao and Beyond

A slow descent into Bilbao for 12 kilometers left time and energy to visit the Guggenheim.  It is true what the guide book says.  The exhibitions do not do the building justice.  That is a joy.  I could imagine a school party being allowed to play in and around the building and the fun they would have. Two exhibits are permanent, and fun: a metal maze that hums along with you and a light display that falls like red and blue water from a great height.  The Japanese fog that blows over the water outside just seemed pretentious but, what do I know?

Metro to Portugalete  saved a slog through concrete jungle and a surprise awaited.  A small town with charm and a fascinating swing bridge we could have ( and did) watch for ages.

Our last night in the Basque country and perhaps because this is border country the pleas for independence are everywhere.

Victor Hugo

The guide book tells us to walk to San Sebastian on the first day.  Our hospitalero advices us to break our journey in Pasajes de San Juan.  He lists his reasons.  it is your first day walking so dont  try for too much.  This way we would get to San Seb with time to enjoy its delights. Besides, and this seems the main reason, the busy port that looks like a small village is his home town.

It was good advice.  The village, a fishing port, clings to the sea with one main medieval street.  The rest of the town is across the water with a connecting ferry.   Lovely red rooves soak up the sun with the last of the evening sun that gradually sinks behind a hill of soft yellow sandstone.

Victor Hugo had a house here, now a lovingly run musem and entry is free.  Readings from the book of his travels about this trip   lilt out on a loop. Wrting on the wall tells of a child running in the sunny rooms.  Leopoldine, the one who drowned whose death curtailed his journey so decided to sell up and move away.

The name Leopoldine was like a key unlocking treasures of my past and a stash of memories from girlhood. And a poem, Quand nous habitions tous ensemble …When we  lived together…

I had learned the poem at school,  with a French nun, the Sacristan, Soeur Marie Odile, from the convent in Neuilly.  I remembered the strangeness of being in a part of the convent where the girls were not permitted and repeating word for word till I had the poem, accent perfected, under her tutelage.

It was for a competition,  Anglo French Verse Speaking, in which all the local schools took part. A grand title indeed.  I remember the moment I knew that I stood a good chance of winning – when the audience  fell quiet, and all restlessness ceased.  I stood before them, perhaps in my minds eye now, not a large 13 year old in school uniform, and knew.

The poem reproduced here from the internet not from failing memory.  In my memory there was the word, helas, Alas.  When the audience took a deep breath in, sensing something sad about to happen.

Quand nous habitions tous ensemble

Quand nous habitions tous ensemble
Sur nos collines d’autrefois,
Où l’eau court, où le buisson tremble,
Dans la maison qui touche aux bois,

Elle avait dix ans, et moi trente ;
J’étais pour elle l’univers.
Oh! comme l’herbe est odorante
Sous les arbres profonds et verts !

Elle faisait mon sort prospère,
Mon travail léger, mon ciel bleu.
Lorsqu’elle me disait: Mon père,
Tout mon coeur s’écriait : Mon Dieu !

À travers mes songes sans nombre,
J’écoutais son parler joyeux,
Et mon front s’éclairait dans l’ombre
À la lumière de ses yeux.

Elle avait l’air d’une princesse
Quand je la tenais par la main.
Elle cherchait des fleurs sans cesse
Et des pauvres dans le chemin.

Elle donnait comme on dérobe,
En se cachant aux yeux de tous.
Oh ! la belle petite robe
Qu’elle avait, vous rappelez-vous ?

Le soir, auprès de ma bougie,
Elle jasait à petit bruit,
Tandis qu’à la vitre rougie
Heurtaient les papillons de nuit.

Les anges se miraient en elle.
Que son bonjour était charmant !
Le ciel mettait dans sa prunelle
Ce regard qui jamais ne ment.

Oh! je l’avais, si jeune encore,
Vue apparître en mon destin !
C’était l’enfant de mon aurore,
Et mon étoile du matin !

Quand la lune claire et sereine
Brillait aux cieux, dans ces beaux mois,
Comme nous allions dans la plaine !
Comme nous courions dans les bois !

Puis, vers la lumière isolée
Étoilant le logis obscur,
Nous revenions par la vallée
En tournant le coin du vieux mur ;

Nous revenions, coeurs pleins de flamme,
En parlant des splendeurs du ciel.
Je composais cette jeune âme
Comme l’abeille fait son miel.

Doux ange aux candides pensées,
Elle était gaie en arrivant… –
Toutes ces choses sont passées
Conune l’ombre et comme le vent !

The translation is also cribbed from the internet.

When we lived all together
on our hills in the old days,
where the water flows, where the bush quivers,
in the house that touches the woods,

she was ten years old, I was thirty;
I was the universe to her.
Oh, how the grass smells sweet
under the deep green trees!

She made my fate prosperous,
my work light, my sky blue.
When she said to me: “My father,”
All my heart cried: “My God!”

Through my numberless daydreams
I listened to her happy talk,
and my face lit up in the darkness
at the light of her eyes.

She had the air of a princess
when I took her by the hand.
She was always looking for flowers
and for poor people in the road.

She gave the way people steal,
hiding from everyone’s eyes.
Oh! the pretty little dress
that she had, do you remember?


In the evening, near my candle,
she would chatter softly,
while at the reddened windowpane
the night butterflies knocked.

The angels saw each other in her.
How her “bonjour” was charming!
Heaven set into its eye
that glance that never lied.

Oh! I had seen her, still so young,
appear in my destiny!
She was the child of my dawn,
and my morning star!

When the moon, clear and serene,
shone in the skies, in those fine months,
how we used to walk on the plain,
how we used to run in the woods!

Then, towards the single light
starring out from the dark house,
we would come back by the valley
turning the corner of the old wall;

we would come back, hearts full of flame,
talking about the splendors of heaven.
I was composing this young soul
as the bee makes its honey.

Sweet angel of guileless thoughts,
she was joyful when she arrived…–
All these things are gone
like shadow and the wind!

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)


The Camino del Norte started in Irun

It felt  an enormous journey just to get here: Wales to Manchester to Bilbao to Irun.

In  Bilbao, we caught sight of the Guggenheim in its burnished splendour but did not go in.  Sunny boy and the crowds were far more interested in the dismantling of the football stadium not far off.  The crowd , some in full strip, photographed the slow progress of cranes and diggers dismantling concrete and metal bars edging closer to the iconic arch of their old stadium.  No one knew if the arch would be  taken down that day or the next but they wanted to be there when it happened.  Nostalgia was palpable, the end of an era, of  their childhood football dreams.  The new stadium was well underway.  A man we spoke to thought capacity would be 50,000 or so.  Just before I could say it looked God awful, he told me it was muy bonito. Very pretty? No way.

The first  pilgrim we met in the Albergue in Irun, Alison from Namibia,  had broken her foot. She talked of angels so I told her of my book.  She made a note of the publishers, Cinnamon Press,  as she too wanted to write.

The second pilgrim, Paquita, a diminutive figure, carried a bright orange canary in a metal cage.  Richard.  She put the cage on a counter top and told him not to move.  He didn´t.

We saw her struggling with her burden the next day  and then lost sight of her.  By chance I saw a bright orange feather blowing in the gutter and kept it in the hope that, should we meet again and Richard had suffered some mishap, it may be of some macabre consolation.