Number one on my bucket list is my heartfelt desire to complete the long version of the Camino de Santiago. Five years ago I walked the final 100 kilometres of this ancient pilgrimage route. It was a wonderful week-long adventure, shared with my husband, Adrian. We met some inspiring fellow-travellers and felt part of something much larger than ourselves.
Ever since then I have wanted to walk the longer 481 miles of the “Camino Frances”. This route begins in the French town of St Jean Pied du Port. It crosses the Pyrenees and traverses northern Spain to arrive at Santiago de Compostela. I love the idea of taking time and space out of normal life to undertake a personal journey.
Camino simply means “Way”. It denotes physical travel, but there is an invitation to an inner journey too. Both involve challenge, commitment, and hopefully new discoveries.
Ancient Pilgrimage Route
The Camino is an ancient pilgrimage route, culminating at the beautiful cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela in North Western Spain. Believed to be the final resting place of Saint James or Sant Iago, friend of Jesus, Santiago de Compostela draws pilgrims from all faiths and none. If you have seen the wonderful film, “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen as a grieving father who walks the Camino carrying his son’s ashes, you will have an idea what I am talking about. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I highly recommend it.
Anchored to home
My problem is simple. Hiking the Camino Frances takes a minimum of one month (or longer if you think you might want an occasional day off!), and there is no way my life will allow for that. A busy family, a disabled child and work commitments all keep me firmly anchored to home. I am very fortunate to be able to take holidays of one week or maybe even two at a time, but four weeks away from the family is unthinkable. Every now and then I puzzle over how and when I might be able to walk my Camino before I get too old and decrepit. Then I put the problem aside again and get on with the day’s demands.
When the Coronavirus lockdown arrived, I felt more restricted than ever. Our family has been blessed with good health, so we were fortunate enough to be able to feel sadness over missed holidays and travel.
Adrian and I had a special holiday booked for Easter 2020: a five day Camino Finisterre. This part of the Camino is rooted deep in pre-Christian legend. It is a journey to the end of the world, associated with new beginnings. We had planned to begin with Easter Sunday Mass at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Then we were going to walk our mini-pilgrimage to the coast at Finisterre. I don’t need to tell you what happened to our plans. No one was going anywhere for Easter 2020.
Virtual Camino de Santiago
During the lockdown, walking has become one of my greatest joys. In the early days when we were strictly instructed to stay at home, my daily walk was my release and my hope of freedom. One day, scrolling idly through my phone, I came upon a website offering medals and a tracking app for virtual long distance journeys. Lands End to John O’ Groats seemed too far, and Hadrian’s Wall not quite challenging enough. I was about to forget the idea, when I spotted the virtual Camino de Santiago. I knew instantly this one was for me.
I signed up to travel the 481 miles over a period of twelve weeks. That means about six miles per day, every day, which is reasonably challenging to fit into my life. I am tracking my progress using my Garmin watch and it is uploaded to the website. The vast majority of my mileage is on foot, but I am also permitting myself to include swims and the occasional bike ride and paddleboard journey. Many walks are two miles or less and begin and end at home. Some days I drive to a local piece of coastline or countryside and achieve slightly longer hikes. Day by day I am covering sections of my virtual pilgrimage.
Discovering new places
I am about one third of the way there, and it has been a remarkably satisfying experience so far. I have discovered new and lovely places to walk and swim in Essex. I have had time to myself to settle into the reflective rhythm of my own footsteps. I have had to overcome reluctance, busyness, rain and all the usual reasons not to bother with a walk today. It is an unfolding personal journey. It has many of the characteristics of a genuine pilgrimage.
Lockdown is a journey
Lockdown is a journey for all of us. It is rather like a pilgrimage. Sometimes hard, often boring, and always requiring a quiet readiness to plod on through today’s challenges. We travel in hope towards an unseen destination. My virtual Camino is helping me make sense of this unusual year. I pray that I will have an open heart to receive the gifts I am offered.
And yes, I still want to do the “real” Camino de Santiago, when the opportunity arises. Actually in Spain! One hundred per cent!
I am planning to blog more about my virtual pilgrimage over the coming weeks. The middle section of any long-distance commitment is usually the most troublesome. I suspect some sticky challenges may lie ahead. Look out for my blog if you would like to follow my story.
Right, I’m off for a walk. Still need to cover another five miles today, and it looks like rain!
You can learn more about the Camino de Santiago here
My virtual Camino de Santiago is recorded online using an app provided by The Conqueror.You can learn more and sign up for your own virtual Camino (with medal!) here:
Karen Lawrence is a writer, blogger, yoga teacher and reflexologist. She lives with her family in Billericay, Essex, UK.
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