The Camino Diaries

“And now I was on my journey, in a pair of thick boots and with a hazel stick in my hand…”

Laurie Lee

Day 0: San Sebastian

This place is like a speakeasy for the pious. A church housed in a school. As I entered, and handed my virgin pilgrim passport over, I felt I was somehow being weighed and measured. As a godless wanderer, I can’t help but feel the three men at the entrance saw a frantic, solo Englishwoman, and found her wanting. The answer to my stutterd “h-abla Inglish?” a Cheshire Cat smile and the slightest shake of the head. The meaning translated: not here. It is not The Way.

Day 1: Zaurutz

An Englishman, an Italian and a German sit down to dinner. It sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s really the end of my first day of walking. They expect to talk about the Camino, and instead end up talking to me about epilepsy. They had a lot of questions, wonder, and I think a fair amount of admiration.

“Does your medication explain why you’re so relaxed?”

No, I say. I’ve always been like that.

misty path through pine trees on the Camino norte with yellow arrows

"The mountain was hard on us all. For others it was the monotonous columns of pine... For me it was the roller coaster ups and downs"

Day 3: Markina

The mizzle mountain weather today was more my element than the sun of yesterday, but it was warm enough to have to refill and carry water as I went. The mountain was harsh to us all in different ways. For others it was the monotonous columns of pine we walked through. For me it was the roller coaster ups and downs on unforgiving tarmac trails. There was pressure on my legs to get me to the albergue for one of the forty beds: I was number forty-eight last night; today I was thirty-five. At a victory dinner, I was still wearing my Epilepsy Research UK top. The pilgrim at the next table pointed at my chest.

Epilepsia?” he saidI have!”  

“Si? I have too.”

Day 7: Paboña

A tired email last night to the wrong colleague leaves me with no job to go home to. I feel like Bilbao just shit me out through its industrial outskirts. I arrived in my initial target of Portugaletta too early in the day, and it was too much in Bilbao’s shadow. I needed exhaustion today. Even the extended walk to here hasn’t quite made me tired enough. One week in, and walking now feels better than staying still.  

Day 8: Castro-Urdiales

Barbara is far more regimented in her writing than I am, and has been crafting fairy tales about the people she meets. My epilepsy inspired her to write me as a lightening wrangler with courage I’m not sure I have.

Sorreno ham legs hanging in bar with pinxos

"At a victory dinner, I was still wearing my Epilepsy Research UK top. The pilgrim at the next table pointed at my chest. 'Epilepsia?' he said 'I have!' "

Day 10: Guemes

Walking 34km took me through so many varieties of landscapes and yet for some of it, all I could focus on was the next step. Looking any further was just too difficult. But Noja saw a congregation of old, sweaty men in the ‘youth’ hostel I had planned to stay at and I knew the legend that is Guemes would hold the hospitality I craved. My blistered toe throbbed, until my feet got so tired that the pain engulfed the throbbing. I was walking through hot, empty countryside. So far, I have not listened to music at all and today I was entertaining myself ‒ a out-loud rendition of ‘Tom Paget’ was interrupted by a buen Camino from a passing cyclist. I don’t care. Singing helped me get here, somehow. I am cansado, pero feliz.

Day 13: Santillana del Mar

Today was my first ‘cheat’. I took the train to the stop past Boo, bypassing the walk around the estuary and the death-wish of walking the train bridge. I was soon out in the calming countryside again. But after the ‘proper holiday’ in Santander, I’m now three days behind everyone I have walked with so far. This monk-like albergue is calming, but the men and the women have separate dorms, and so I’m somehow in a room entirely by myself for the first time in over two weeks. The town is beautiful, but I think the tourism has driven the other pilgrims elsewhere.  

"Apparently, today is the Feast of Santiago, and we certainly had a feast, with the cultures from our German hosts and Spanish surroundings"

Colourful painted stones with pilgrims and hikers on them

Day 15: Buelna

I like walking alone, but it’s only nice if you have people at the end of the day you can relate to. Instead, I have to dine next to an old American man with water eyes, hooked nose and skin all in flakes. He seems to think himself a maverick for “being the only one to wear Chinese symbols on my tops, whilst they all wore English” when he was teaching in China…

Day 16: Poo

The waves were a consistent clapping at my senses today. I paused at the bufones, waiting for rock and sea to become more. Only the horses were there to see me inch closer to the hole, and dart back with undue fear. The splashes seemed ominous to me, but the water never jumped out.

Day 17: Cuerres

Walking with Tatjana today, we talked about many things. She asked me what caused seizures. Then we got lost ‒ I got a German girl lost ‒  and stumbled over train tracks to Casa Belen. Apparently, today is the Feast of Santiago, and we certainly had a feast. The cultures from our German hosts and Spanish surroundings creates a strange, but tasty, mix. Cider from Asturias,  pulpo salad, meatballs (the Spanish albòndigas is much more elegant). And we ate to the sound of cowbells out in the dark.

Wooden pilgrim's walking stick wrapped in material with a red moth on the end

"Today, people called me 'fuerte'. After twenty-five days of walking, I certainly feel strong"

Day 20: Pola de Siero

Today was a milestone day. Not only does it mark my twentieth day of walking, but it is also the day the Norte and Primitivo routes split. Before heading onto the Primitivo, I came across some new walkers at a pit stop, set up by the lady who lives in the house next to the split. I took some fruit, left some coins and was lucky enough to meet the lady herself. After thanking her, I left with a hug and a buen Camino, and a new word on my tongue to describe that house that had been in her family for years: antigua.

Day 25: Mesa

Today, people called me fuerte. After twenty-five days of walking and climbing a mountain bigger than Snowdon, I certainly feel strong.

Day 30: Melide

Today was a time to reflect. I’m so close to Santiago now, I could be there tomorrow if I wanted, but I’m going to take it slowly. The way has changed a little now that the paths have joined and I should allow myself time to adjust to this new Camino before skipping to the end.

"Tomorrow I will walk into Santiago. I wish that I could go into the city with the many people I've been carrying around in my backpack"

Sunrise behind a mountain on the Camino Primitivo in Northern Spain

Day 31: Pedrouzo

Tonight, I Spanish-wined and dined and tomorrow I will walk into Santiago de Compostela. I hope to do the 20km quickly, arriving in time for pilgrim mass at noon. I wish that I could walk into the city with the many fucking awesome people I’ve been carrying around in my backpack, but the way I’ve walked I have few contact details. If we meet again, it will make me smile. And if we don’t, that is the way sometimes.

Day 0: Home

My first walk back in England, it made me happy to see a box of apples outside someone’s front door. I found generosity when I needed it in Spain. It’s nice to be reminded I can find it at home as well.

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