Camino FAQ (Telegraph)

 

                                                    THE CAMINO FRANCES - FAQ

When to Go / How Long Does It Take / Pilgrim Record / Maps and Guidebooks / Preparing for the Journey / Language / Getting to Spain / Accommodation / Refugios / Camping / Security / Road Safety /Dealing with dogs / Opening and closing times / Planning the Day / Prices / Returning from Santiago

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                                              A FEW PRACTICAL PILGRIM IDEAS

                                               MORE TIPS ON WHAT TO CARRY

                                                   THE CYCLING PILGRIM FAQ

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When to Go

Many people time their pilgrimage in order to arrive in Santiago shortly before 25 July, when for several days the city celebrates the feast of St James. August, the traditional Spanish holiday month, is also hot, busy and crowded on the camino. If you prefer to travel at a cooler, quieter time, choose April to mid-June or, and this is perhaps the least busy period,-1-mid-September to November.

 

The disadvantage of going on, pilgrimage in autumn is that some hotels and restaurants are closed then and some refuges and bars in small villages may also be closed. The weekend prior to Spanish national day (October 12th) is a fiesta and accommodation hard to find in the big cities. However in spring and autumn refuges are less full and there are no problems with lack of water in some of the villages.

 

How Long Does It Take?

The distance between St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and Santiago is approximately 800 kilometres. Walkers, depending on their pace, stamina and desire to have some rest days, generally allow between four and six weeks, while cyclists will need around two weeks on average..

 

Pilgrims Passport or Credential del peregrino

This is essential if you wish to stay in the Refugios.

 

The Abbey at Roncevalles will give you a Pilgrims Passport at the start of your journey, apply to the Abbots office. If you get this document stamped (with the 'sello' or rubber stamp) at monasteries, churches, town halls ('ayuntamientos') or other establishments long the way, it will serve as proof of your pilgrimage and help you obtain a 'compostela' or certificate of pilgrimage when you arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago . The record has to be shown at refuges if you wish to obtain accomadation.

 

The pilgrim record is known as the 'credential del peregrino' and is available in a number of places in Spain, and pilgrim refuges. 1996 pilgrims who wish to stay in the refuges along the way and to obtain their' compostela' in Santiago are recommended to carry the Spanish' credential' . There should be no trouble in getting both documents stamped as described above. It may be helpful to have a letter of introduction from your parish, college or similar organisation to present when requesting a credencial although this is not always required.

 

Maps and Guidebooks

A basic map is theTelegraph Online's Web Map of Pilgrim routes in the middle ages to help you to locate the camino in its geographical contextWhy not Order some excellent maps of the route from our BOOK LIST

Whatever mode of transport you use, good maps are essential and a detailed guidebook (especially for walkers) may also be helpful. If you have been following the GR65 (Le Puy to Roncesvalles) in France you will find nothing to compare with the French 'topo guides'. All the commercially-2-available maps are inadequate mainly because of the amount of road-building that has taken place in northern Spain, particularly Galicia, in recent years.

 

If you want a single map that covers the whole of Spain the recommended one is published by Kummerley and Frey. The Michelin maps 441 and 442 are to be preferred to the Firestone ones and are easily available. Military maps on a larger scale are available in Spanish cities but only for that region and not all are up to date.

 

A very attractive and recent book of maps is The Way of St James by the late Elias Valina; published by Roger Lascelles, it consists of 70 hand-drawn colour maps plus a Spanish glossary and list of refuges. This book can be obtained from via the - Telegraph Online Newspaper Book List

 

The larger (and heavier) is Elias Valina's authoritative The Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Editorial Galaxia, 1992) which contains a wealth of historical and route-finding information (including some town plans) as well as details of accommodation and the words and music of pilgrim songs. It is available from the Confraternity at £15-95 including postage(£16-65 overseas).

 

Pilgrims who read Spanish easily will find a wealth of guides in Spanish bookshops. Two of the best ones are that by Millan Bravo Lozano: Rutas a Pie: el Cam/no de Santiago published by Everest which is particularly clearly laid out, and the more compact Camino de Santiago, Andando bicicleta by F. Imaz (and others) published by the Spanish Federacidn de Asociaciones Jacobeas at 1300 ptas.

 

Preparing for the Journey

Some people like to make meticulous preparations for their pilgrimage, while others prefer lust to leave on a summer's day. But for less experienced walkers some initial preparation and training can make a lot of difference to one's comfort on the camino. If you need to buy (light-weight) boots or good-quality shoes get them and break them in well before you leave.

 

Trainers are not adequate in bad weather, particularly the winter months. For sore or 'hot' spots that can develop on feet, animal wool available from chemists, provides excellent padding. Dr Scholl's adhesive foam is also effective. Clean socks (wool/cotton looped variety) each day also make a big difference.

 

You could consider joining a local rambling club and go for weekend walks, starting with slower, shorter ones, and gradually build up speed and stamina. If buying a rucksack for the first time, try on several and get the one that fits you most comfortably. When out walking wear your rucksack and increase its weight gradually until you are carrying all your equipment. If you plan to sleep in pilgrim refuges you will need a light-weight sleeping bag, with a sleeping mat and small torch as useful extras. Ear-plugs and lip-salve are also useful.

 

Finally you need to be prepared for continuing and torrential rain especially in Galicia and for the problem of never really getting dry. keeping dry clothes (and money etc.) in plastic bags is a great help. Cyclists with 27" (touring) wheels will find inner tubes scarce and tyres non-existent so you may wish to bring spares. A 1993 cyclist found cycle repair shops in the smaller places better stocked and more pilgrim orientated (eg Sahagun, Villafranca delBierzo) than the larger cities. Spares were more readily available for bikes with 26 and 28" tyres.

 

Language

A basic knowledge of Spanish, via evening classes or home-study tapes, will add enormously to your enjoyment. English is not spoken in rural Spain and is rarely spoken intowns, even in tourist offices. Expect to have to communicate in Spanish all the time and you will be surprised at the progress you make. Take a small dictionary with you or buy one in a town bookshop. Once you reach Galicia you may find that people answer you in Galician ('gallego') which is related to Portuguese.

 

Getting to Spain - by land, air or sea.

This guide starts lust before the French/Spanish border and assumes that pilgrims will have reached the French border town of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, possibly using one of the three routes across France (from Paris/Tours, Vezelay or Le Puy) that meet near Ostabat. There is a direct train service from Bayonne to St Jean five times a day.

 

The first two trains, the 9.28 and the 11.28, took bikes in 1993. Bayonne can be reached by train from Paris or by coach from London: Eurolines have a London to Bayonne service at a cost of around £125 return. Bilbao has direct air services from London and, if using Iberia, it is possible to return from Santiago. Bicycles are carried free of charge within normal weight limits.

 

From Bilbao there is a frequent coach service to Hendaye (tickets and stop in the Plaza Arrezola). From Hendaye take the train to Bayonne, or cyclists are recommended to cycle to Cambo-les-Bains and pick up one of the two morning trains to St Jean.

 

If you want to start the pilgrimage in Pamplona there is a coach service from Bilbao; two 1992 pilgrims were allowed to take their bikes on the coach, but this probably depends on individual drivers and how full the coach is.

 

Direct trains go from Bilbao to Logrono and Burgos on the route. If you stay overnight in Bilbao the calle Bidebarrita has several hotels and is convenient for the station on the other side of the river. The cathedral at Bilbao is dedicated to St James and has a modern statue of him. Now that it is no longer possible to send bicycles registered from Victoria Station to France, an alternative way for cyclists to reach St Jean is to fly (on a cheap charter) to Lourdes.

 

This worked very well for a 1992 pilgrim who used St Peter's Pilgrims, telephone (081 )-698 3788. If you prefer to travel by sea Santander is the port of arrival for Brittany Ferries' services from Plymouth. There is a direct coach service to Burgos from Santander run by Continental Auto from the bus station ('estacidn de autobuses') which is not far from the ferry port. The journey takes 3 hours and costs around 1195 pesetas.-

 

Accommodation

Staying in smaller towns or villages is often much more enjoyable than searching for accommodation in the big cities.

 

If you do decide to stay in e.g. Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos or Leon, try to avoid arriving in the early evening rush-hour between 6 and 8pm when roads and pavements are crowded and hotel rooms possibly already taken, especially at weekends and fiesta times.

 

Accommodation along the camino ranges from luxury hotels like the state-run paradors to very basic pilgrim refuges ('refugios'). The word 'hotel' generally indicates a higher standard of comfort (at a price) than 'hostal', which in turn implies more comfort and facilities than a 'fonda' and, going down the scale, a 'posada'. Most hostals and fondas provide acceptable accommodation at a reasonable price. A number of bars in Spain also have rooms, sometimes elsewhere in the village or town.

 

Even if a bar is full or has no rooms, they may know somewhere else to try or know a neighbour who will put pilgrims up in their home ('casa privada'). It is also worthwhile asking at restaurants. The word 'habitaciones' means 'rooms'and 'camas' 'beds'. If you want to leave early in the morning, you should arrange to pay the night before and ask to be shown how the exterior locks work. Otherwise, you may have to wait until well after 9am.

 

Refuges

Pilgrim refuges (or 'refugios') exist in many towns and villages, provided by monasteries, the parish, the town hall, the regional Amigos del Camino de Santiago or by individuals who enjoy meeting pilgrims.

 

A number of new refuges were built last year (Holy Year) particularly in Galicia where there should be refuges every 10 to 15 kilometres. It is not known if they will all have wardens in 1994 or be open early and late in the season. Facilities in the refuges vary considerably: sometimes only foorspace is available, while other refuges have bunk beds or mattresses.

 

A sleeping bag is essential, a sleeping mat advisable, an inflatable pillow and plug for basin useful. Refuges described in this guide as 'basic' will have floorspace for sleeping bags, electric light, a cold water tap and a w.c. Other facilities, where known, will be mentioned, e.g. shower, kitchen(with or without pans etc.), bunk beds, hot water, drying facilities etc. In July and August there may well be serious water shortages in certain places on the camino when the supply will-6-be turned off for up to 12 hours at a time.

 

Please be sparing in your use of water. You will probably be asked by the voluntary warden ('hospitalero') to show your pilgrim record (and/or 'credencial')before being admitted as the refuges are intended for true pilgrims, on foot or travelling by bicycle, not just holiday-makers. Nor are they intended for small or large groups with back-up transport or for motorists. Despite this, in busy months you may still encounter large groups with their attendant disadvantages. Some refuges, including the Refugio Gaucelmo at Rabanal, do not accept large groups and do not accept bookings made in advance by leaders who arrive early with a vehicle.

 

At busy times preference is also given to walkers over cyclists, simply because it is easier for a cyclist to go on to the next refuge. However each refuge, with or without full-time wardens, has its own house rules, or lack of them. Some refuges charge a small set fee of

 

150 to 500 pesetas, others request a voluntary donation while others still make no charge. The doors of most refuges are locked 11pm and pilgrims encouraged to be away by 8am.

 

Camping

Prices at campsites have risen considerably over recent years. Some charge the motorcycle fee for bicycles, so that two people with bikes can pay more than if they arrived in a car. Some class I sites charged 2000 pesetas plus in 1992 for two people, two bikes and one small tent, although the average was around 1000. Sites were nearly all crowded (and noisy) in July and August. Opening times and facilities are listed for campsites.

 

Security

It is sensible, particularly in towns and cities, to establish your accommodation first, and lock up your bike and bags before going sightseeing.

 

If possible lock your bike to a solid fixture in the garage or lock-up place and, of course, if you have to leave it in the street. For personal valuables an old-fashioned, out-of-sight money-belt may be safer than the modern, more visible versions. Don't assume that you can leave anything safely outside in towns, even in quiet places; sad but true all over Europe.

 

Road safety

Lorries and cars are usually considerate of cyclists. Times to take particular care are when starting off (keep to the right) and late afternoon when you and drivers behind you will be travelling into the sun. Walkers should walk on the left of the road facing oncoming traffic. 'Camino' safety is also an issue and cyclists on mountain bikes should respect the rights of walkers on narrow paths.

 

Dealing with dogs

Spanish dogs are less of a problem than French ones but can occasionally be troublesome. Walkers will find a stick useful for a number of reasons, including keeping a dog at bay. Keep away from sheep and cattle being guarded by dogs and don't turn your back on dogs until at a safe distance. Avoiding eye contact is another tip. It is possible to buy a special alarm that emits a high-pitched noise that is supposed to stop a dog in its tracks; the cost is around £30. The word used to get dogs to 'sit' or 'lie down' is tumbate! said with authority. A1992 pilgrim said she just ignored dogs, pretended they weren't there and had no trouble.

 

Opening and closing times

The daily timetable in Spain differs markedly from that of Britain and France. Cathedrals, churches, monasteries and museums open at 9 or 10 until 1.30 or 2pm and reopen around 4.30 or later. Summer opening times, where known, are given here. Winter, with its shorter opening times, is usually from October to March.

 

In most towns and villages there is an evening Mass at 8pm, occasionally 7.30 or 8.30, not at all in the smallest villages except on Sunday mornings. Many churches are kept locked and may not be opened to casual visitors, even those with good Spanish. Country churches are often cleaned on Saturday afternoons, which may give an opportunity to see the interior. Food can be bought up until 7.30 or 8pm but often not between 2 and 5pm.

 

In small villages you may have to ask where the shop is. This edition of the guide indicates the existence or not of shops in very small places. Lunch and dinner are served around 2pm and 9pm or later respectively. Fortunately, bars often have delicious 'tapas' or savoury snacks of many kinds, which help to fill gaps. If you are hungry at the wrong time for a meal, ask in a bar for 'unaracidn' of what you fancy and you will be given a full helping.-8- A Spanish sandwich is a 'bocadillo' and is also available at most times. Breakfasts in Spain are generally very modest, although some bars and hostals do a cooked breakfast after about 9.30. Note also that bars in some of the very small villages will not necessarily be open all the time, especially in spring and autumn.

 

Planning the Day

It is important to plan each day, using this guide and your map.

 

The route in Spain is not easy and the Pyrenees are only the first of several mountain ranges you will encounter. An indication of the number of kilometres between places is given, and warnings of the more difficult stretches. Try to start at 6 or 6.30 (or earlier) in hot weather and have break-fast en route a bit later. It is also a good idea to stock up the night before with fruit or yogurts and plenty of water. If you can, reach your destination by 2pm in time for lunch and a rest in the hot part of the afternoon. You will then have time to visit places of interest in the town which will re-open around 5pm. In autumn it gets light quite late so if you are leaving early make sure you can see the yellow arrows. Cyclists should ensure that they can be seen by motorists on the roads. There are one or two days when walkers will need to carry a fair amount of food and water with them as shops are non-existent in some areas.

 

Prices

Prices in Spain are now comparable with the rest of western Europe and hotel rates have risen quite rapidly in recent years. In restaurants the set 'menu del dia' is very good value and ranges from 700 to 1200 pesetas, with wine not always included in the cheaper menus. A full meal with wine, a Iacarte, tends to cost from 1700 pesetas upwards. Some 1993 prices are given as a guide to what you might have to pay in 1994. Breakfasts are not normally included in hotel room rates.

 

Returning from Santiago -

There are various ways of returning to the UK from Santiago, short of walking or cycling back, depending on the time and funds at your disposal.

 

By Air

If you are in a hurry there are scheduled Iberia flights from Santiago to Heathrow, but it is almost impossible to get an-62-economy single ticket (£180+) at short notice, especially in late August and early September. If you have a return flight already booked and want to change the date it could cost you an extra £100.

 

It is worth enquiring at a travel agent about charter flights from Santiago to Luton and from La Coruna to Gatwick. Bicycles are carried free of charge, within normal weight limits, subject to certain conditions, which may include packing in a special container.

 

By Coach

Eurolines and the Spanish company Alsa run coach services from Santiago to London and Paris for around 14,000 ptas. and also to Hendaye on the French/Spanish border. Alsa may take bikes for half the price of an adult ticket; if so you and your bike travel together.

The Eurolines coach to London is good and faster than going by train and ferry. If you decide to return by coach it is best to go in person to the Estacidn de Autobuses at San Cayetano, or you could try a travel agent first. A Dutch company has a special coach service known as the Fietsbus, which takes about 40 passengers and their bikes.

 

The seats magically convert into two-tier, full-length beds at night and passengers are supplied with a blanket, pillow and slippers. The bikes are towed behind the bus in a large, purpose-built closed trailer. For further details and booking telephone the agents, Fietsvakantiewinkel, in Holland on (01031 )-3480.21844 (if phoning from the UK).

 

The Intercar direct coach service to Santander takes 15 hours and arrives at 3am. A handy fonda in Santander is the Pension Santillana, calle Isabel II, 18-1, reason-ably close to the bus station and ferry port. Book in advance if arriving late on (942)-22.87.37.

 

By Train to France -

there is a regular train service from Santiago to run on the border with France. The position for bikes is difficult: they are no longer carried free and are not allowed(generally) on long-distance passenger trains. A 1993 pilgrim paid 3875 ptas for his bike to be carried to Hendaye and encountered border problems between Irun and Hendaye. Cyclists are there-fore advised to cycle between Irun and Hendaye and then start again. Take your bike to Santiago station at least two days in advance of your travel, excluding Saturdays and Sundays.

 

Travel agents who are also RENFE agents, eg Viajes Pina, Republica de-63-El Salvador 6, will sell you a ticket, but check on your bike ticket as well. The bike then has to go to the luggage registration office at the station to be weighed and issued with its documentation. If you have no bike and aim to get your ticket on the day of travel it pays to arrive at the station at least 1 hour before the train leaves. People's experiences of travelling on RENFE with a bike vary considerably and any further hints for next year's guide will be very welcome.

 

By Train (RENFE) to Santander -

from Santiago the journey takes 12½ hours with a change at Palencia. Departure is around 9am with arrival at Santander around 9.3Opm. This includes about 2½ hours in Palencia which is sufficient time to see the fine cathedral. There is nowhere to leave luggage at Palencia but the cathedral is less than ten minutes away, across gardens in front of the station. (See under 'Coaches' above for accommodation in Santander.)By FEVE Train - pilgrims using the narrow-gauge, privately-run FEVE trains along the north coast (from El Ferrol to Santander or Bilbao, via Oviedo) will find FEVE easier to deal with than RENFE. It seems that bikes may be accepted on the overnight train only, but it is essential to check first. Getting information can be a problem but the Tourist Office in rua do Villar has a photocopy of the timetable. Otherwise ring the FEVE station in Ferrol on 37.04.33.

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                                            PRACTICAL PILGRIM A FEW IDEAS

 

Most walkers have definite ideas about clothes and equipment. As I have been asked so often what I took with me, and most of what I took performed exceptionally well, I thought a few notes on the major items might be useful to others.

 

Shoes: Mephisto Recklers

Mephistos are French shoes that combine lightness, flexibility and breathability with a sturdy Vibram sole and interior contouring for maximum support and hence maximum comfort. When I was planning my walk, many people advised me to buy Boots. I balked at the weight of most of them. and was not convinced that I needed tile degree of support they offered, oven over some rough country. having done the walk, I would choose Mephistos again. Their only drawback was the wearing down of the Vibram, though this only became an irritant in the last week of the walk. (Perhaps people who wear down 'heels severely should buy shoes that can be easily resoled en route.) Before leaving, I debated trying to weatherproof tile shoes. As it was a very rainy April in France, they did get wet; they (tried well, though, and by the time I reached Spain and the first real heatwave of the year, I was glad I had not reduced the breathing quality of the leather.

 

Although I was very satisfied with my shoes, they had really given their "all' by the journey's end and have been relegated to the garden! At t-53, this might seem uneconomical to some people, but they did carry me 1600 kilometres in ton-and-a-half weeks in comfort, over all terrain and with nary a blister, so I consider their retirement well earned. Good boots, of course, would last; far longer than this.

 

Fit is essential I bought my shoes from tile Freeman Tonkin shop at 34 Chiltern St., London WI (walk south down Chiltern St from Baker St tube station) where both the proprietors are Master Shoe Fitters. I recommend a visit. I had forty minutes of undivided attention and came away confident that I had bought the right shoes for the job.

 

Socks:

Best quality 100% cotton, looped terry inside, smooth outer surface Tennis socks?

 

The question mark is because I actually bought mine in Canada, but I assume they are sold here. If I say that I didn't have a single blister in the whole journey, that alone is a recommendation. These socks are cushiony and wonderfully absorbent, soft to the skin, tend to lie close rather than rub, etc. Three pairs (tile old adage: one clean, one dry, one on) served me well the whole distance, and I am still wearing two pairs a year later. They wash and dry easily overnight if wrung out well. (A useful trick for drying clothing overnight: wring out as much water as possible. spread garment on towel - beat if hotel's - roll towel and garment together into a "sausage" and walk barefoot up and down it a few times before hanging garment up to dry.) As a general comment on feet, I view as nonsense all the warnings about toughening your feet by soaking them in methylated spirits, etc. Hard skin builds up 'literally where you need it; the problem is to prevent the skin from becoming a) too dry and inflexible, in which case you suffer painful cracks in that hard skin, or b) too moist, which leads in time to

 

Athlete's foot and other miseries.

Carry an end of pumice stone and a tube of all purpose lotion such as Vaseline's Intensive Care and use them daily to prevent a), and to prevent b) keep clean dry socks at the ready, and always dry feet thoroughly. If shoes wear inside, and you buy foam inner soles or anything else to go inside the shoes, wash and dry these thoroughly every day too.

 

For aches and tender spots, I found "animal wool" such as Boots sells in its range of footcare aids an excellent remedy, placed between akin and sock. The natural lanolin in the wool is very beneficial. You can stick it in place with another Boots item, a soft adhesive stuff, but I never did; the terry surface of the sock kept it in position.

 

Trousers: Rohan Bags

The great attribute of these was that they washed and dried so quickly. They were my only pair of trousers for every two days. They are extremely light, don't crease much, have lots of useful pockets, and look presentable; if I were taking1 them again, though, I'd stitch over all the seams as the thread on my pair gave way at a number of minor points (belt loops, round tile edges of tile double knees and seat, for instance).

 

Rucksack:

Logger back-loading (zip round three aides) convertible

 

This was the item I was happiest with. The Cordira (I think that's right) fabric is indestructible, dirt repellent, waterproof etc. Ease of access was my main object in buying this case; I hate rooting around in top-loading rucksacks - whatever it is I am after has always sunk to the bottom.

 

Comfort was obviously tile most important feature. This rucksack has an internal frame and a fully adjustable strap system, which meant that once I got it right and worked out 5 pattern for packing the load every morning, nothing needed adjusting. I almost forgot I was wearing a pack, it was so comfortable. Wide hip and chest straps were a great help. The outer support straps, three along each side, kept the load from shifting and made it feel more compact.

 

Convertibles have the advantage of transforming themselves into cases at tile pull of a zip, and while I usually wouldn't bother with features like tills, it just happened to be something that this rucksack did. I found it useful on a few occasions, but it's a minor point. Make sure the zips are best quality, throughout. and carry a strong needle and heavy thread in sewing kit.

 

Ten things That Made a Difference...

1. Swiss army knife

2. "Hotrod" water boiler (for cold weather only), and instant tea (Swiss herbals) or whatever comforts you when you're wet and cold!

3. Animal Wool

4. Hat, folding cotton type that can take anything and has a brim wide enough to shield your nose. Longer noses need wider brims!

5. Sunscreen (ESSENTIAL)

6. Nailbrush (for clothes as wall as self)

7. scarf, headsize rather than necksize. All sorts of uses, including protecting back of neck from sun, makeshift support bandage for knee or ankle, etc.

8. tiny pillow, about 8" by 15". Mine squashes down to nothing. I can sleep anywhere with this, and used it often; also useful for putting under aching joint, cushioning bicycle saddle or hard items in pack, etc. Not a silly luxury.

9. Cassette player, which will either have radio or record (only one very expensive model does all three). I took the radio type; useful for French and Spanish comprehension, weather reports. I never used mine while walking - too much else to See and hear and think about to want any intrusions! - but it was pleasant to have music in the evenings.

A note here: I sent myself two books and two or three cassettes to stops en route, poste restante or hate de correos, and used the wrapping, pre addressed and turned inside out, to send the ones I'd finished with back to London. Remember that in France you will be charged a franc per item from the poste restante, whether it's a package or 5 postcard.

10. Small pair of binoculars the folding kind used at racecourses are ideal - for looking at sculpture in churches. ESSENTIAL.

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                                          MORE TIPS ON WHAT TO CARRY

 

Equipment

1. Unframed rucksacks better than framed rucksacks which get caught on trees

2. Even good quality rucksacks not always waterproof-wrap everything in polythene.

3. Lightest gear essential for everything-Rohan good. Empty tems out of bulky containers.

4. Clothes-one set on, one set off, one set spare. Take old clothes on 'last legs' and discard as you go. Nothing formal required-continental cafes, restaurants very unstuffy.

5. Safety pins always useful for emergencies.

6. Socks double as gloves.

7. Hat essential in hot weather-much of the walk is unshaded.

8. But Spain can be cold and wet even in August.

9. 11 kilos weight (rucksack 30-35 litres) without tent/sleeping bag/water quite heavy enough to carry for 40+ kms or even less.

 

First Aid:

For blisters: Spenco skincare pack Spenco second skin dressing, foot pads etc

 

Money

Pay by credit/charge card wherever possible as exchange rate tends to be better than for cash/traveller's cheques. VISA & AMEX best, Access is not taken much in France.

However, keep sufficient cash in francs/pesetas for petty expenditure to avoid time consuming visits to Banks. Bank visits can wreck planned schedules and do not allow early starts.

 

Water Bottles

In hot weather absolutely essential to avoid dehydration. 1 litre per person per day minimum in coolish weather-far more when hot. Keep water container topped up from fountains (Spain) and farm. Remember the ancient Dorians (in Groeco) when on route marches stopped for water every 10 km and constructed a network of fountains for the purpose.

 

On the way

Early start-even in the dark- saves valuable sightseeing time and helps avoid midday heat. Recky dark stretches the evening before to establish location of waymarks, hazards etc.

Wear your scallop shell- entry fee: will be reduced,- cafes will give you food and drink- and everyone (certainly in Spain) will greet you.

Inspect footwear frequently, and always at the end of the day to remove anything which may damage the footwear or your feet.

Women walking in shorts-a lightweight wrap around beach skirt useful for wearing over short: for church visiting.

 

Dogs:

French dogs usually more timid than their hark-fierce ones not normally allowed loose. Eyes down on French pavements; the stuff is difficult to remove from well-soled boots.

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                                                THE CYCLING PILGRIM FAQ

Foreword / The BicycleTourer or M.T.B / Technical Specification / The Bicycle and Load Carrying /

Clothing and Equipment / Transport to and from Spain / The Daily Routine / Maps, Guides and Routefinding / Tools and Spare Parts

 

Foreword

In this necessarily a short FAQ as it is impossible to deal with the very wide spectrum of requirements for all cycling pilgrims. We have therefore covered a number of aspects of a cycle pilgrimage from the very elementary, (does not own a bike) - to the experienced rider who wishes to be guided on the particular conditions on the pilgrim routes. Inevitably the individual will have further questions that attach to particular concerns.

 

The Bicycle

Of the methods of transport recognized as appropriate for the true pilgrim by the Cathedral authorities at Santiago de Compostela, i.e. foot, horse or bicycle,rguably the bicycle provides a greater degree of flexibility, independence and freedom from time constraints than the other two. To visit say, Clavijo, the site of the famous battle, is an extra day for the walker but a comparatively short diversion on a bike. Given a reasonable spares kit and the ability to use it, coupled with the considerable numbers of cycle repairers on the route - then the likelihood of major mechanical problems is quite low. The much greater speed of the bicycle means that more time is available to study and enjoy all the notable sights en route.

 

Broadly speaking the pilgrim on a touring bike is confined to the road. On a mountain bike the pilgrim is free to follow in the footsteps of his forbears and travel on the Camino. In parts, the Camino is tough going even on a M.T.B., so a reasonable degree of fitness is required. Training rides on bridleways, with the kit you expect to carry on pilgrimage, is highly desirable. The difference between the behaviour and handeling,laden and unladen, over rough terrain is considerable. Acceleration is slower, which is not of great importance.but braking is much more sluggish which can be dangerous unless you are used to it. Some of the rough tracks through the Pyrenees and Navarre are not the places to get accustomed to a change in behaviour.

 

Whichever type of bicycle, the prudent pilgrim will seek to reduce weight as much as possible. Although the cycle carries weight quite well, the load still has to be carried up hills (plus at least three mountain ranges!). It should always be borne in mind that travel on the Camino in June, July and August will require a high intake of fluid. Water is a substantial addition to the overall load.

 

Technical Specification

Most pilgrims who contemplate riding to Santiago will possess a bicycle and providing it is a reasonable quality tourer or M.T.B., it will be adequate. Those without a bicycle or cycling experience need to do some research. Richard's) Bicycle Book (Pan) is a good starting point and perusal of the variety of cycling magazines will provide familiarity with current equipment and jargon. If you can find one, perhaps the best option is to find a sound dealer, preferably one who handles maintenance as well, and seek his advice.

 

There are two other sources of help and advice; the C.T.C., which has worthwhile benefits if you join, and the Confraternity. The latter has a number of cycling pilgrims in its ranks who will be happy to help.

 

Cost is a consideration. Both touring and M.T.B. cycles can be made to measure, with all fitments to your specification. This solution is (a) the best, (b) the most expensive and (c) relies either on complete faith in the builder or a very high standard of personal knowledge of what you want. The" off the peg" solution is a matter of taste and cost. Less weight means more money, but in the long term also means less effort. There is nearly always a weight penalty with an M.T.B. because it is designed not to break when subjected to great stress. In my own case I have a very modestly priced M.T.B. and recall one experience on the Camino which would have irretrievably smashed a touring bike. I simply rode on, both self and bike totally undamaged.

 

Before you set off always get your bike checked over very carefully. Better, do it yourself if you have the ability. Do not risk riding off without your steed in tip-top shape and that really means stripping it right down to ensure that bearings are as they should be and then repacked with grease, wheels in good shape (literally), chain not stretched, brakes and gears carefully checked and so on.

 

The Bicycle and Load Carrying

Whether walking or cycling try to minimise weight. It has to be carried, which may seem a statement of the obvious, but the more weight the greater the energy output required to carry it. When travelling over long distances and mountainous terrain it can make a lot of difference to the pleasure of riding. Even if the purpose of your pilgrimage is penitential, there is no need to make carrying excess weight part of the penance. Never forget, with no apology for the repetition, that you have to carry water and emergency food, and water is heavy.

 

There are a wide variety of racks to support your panniers. Choose one of solid construction; they take a lot of punishment. The mountings and securing nuts must be checked daily.

 

Panniers come in a variety of styles and sizes. In any event prudence suggests that the pilgrim will contain his kit within the panniers in a dustbin liner or similar protection to ensure that rain and dust are excluded. An important consideration is the fixing of the pannier to the rack. If they simply hook on they will just as simply bounce off if you hit a pothole, so they should have a positive fixing that ensures that they are locked on. All the fixings should be regularly checked.

 

A bar bag can be useful for carrying valuables, camera etc., because they are easily detachable to carry around with you. They also usually have a fitting on top to carry a map. If you do not use a bar bag, a map holder is invaluable.

 

Front panniers or low loaders help to keep a good fore and aft balance, they also help to prevent the front wheel getting skittish on steep hills with a heavy rear load and a low gear.

 

Kevin Corrigan ,who made his pilgrimage on an M.T.B.,carried 24 lbs and felt that was as much as he would wish to carry. On my own pilgrimage the all up weight including panniers and the clothes I stood up in amounted to 23 lbs lOoz. In contrast John Hatfield carried 53lbs in his tourer. He believes that this is too heavy and may have contributed to broken spokes.

There are times when you need to support your bike, for example when opening a gate. A kick stand is useful on these occasions and perhaps the continental pattern nearer the back wheel is more stable than the usual domestic product which fixes under the bottom bracket.

 

Clothing and Equipment

In Spain, in the heat of summer, protection against the sun needs careful thought. Wear a long sleeved shirt, cover your legs unless very well tanned and ensure protection for the head and the back of the neck. For those with very sensitive skins there are a number of screening products on the market which you should be aware of. If in doubt, do not hesitate to consult your doctor.

 

The pre-pilgrimage training rides should tell you if your kit is adequate for you, because all pilgrims have slightly different requirements I have not discussed this much here.

 

Transport to and from Spain

It depends where you start from!

 

There are good air connections to Bilbao and Santiago. Most airlines carry your bicycle free and usually all you are asked to do is to partially deflate the tyres to counteract the effects of pressurisation. There is the possibility of getting a one way. fare only ticket on a pilgrim flight to Lourdes. It is then an easy ride to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

 

Train travel is becoming progressively more difficult. You can no longer send your bike to the continent in advance because the ferry companies refuse to take them unaccompanied. If you travel to France with your bike make sure you go to Calais as bikes can no longer be forwarded from Boulogne. You may expect a three day wait for your bike to arrive. Always get in touch, prior to departure, with French Railways 179, Piccadilly, London W1V OBA (Tel:071 409 1652) to check the current position.

 

Brittany Ferries have a good service to Santander and P&O will have a regular service to Bilbao from April 28, 1993. Both lines carry bicycles free if accompanied by the owner.

 

In July and August there is a Fietsbus (Dutch for cycle bus) which operates a return service from Woerden,near Rotterdam, to Santander and Burgos. For a small surcharge you can travel one way. The company is called Fietsvakantiewinkel, Tel 010 31 3480 21844. They speak good English.

 

You may find it easier to convey your bicycle from England to Santiago than from Santiago to England! There is a train service from Santiago to Irun (the Franco-Spanish border). Unless it is a slow train (expreso), the rules say that you do not accompany your bike. In practice it may not be so. At Santiago station, buy your ticket in advance and take your bike to the luggage registration where it will be weighed and a 'facturada' issued. If it weighs less than 20kg it will be carried free and RENFE staff will handle it thereafter.Collect your bike at Irun and ride across the frontier to Hendaye. It will save you a fiver. From then on you will be in the hands of SNCF. Check before you go the most convenient forwarding point for your bike and allow time for it to get to the channel port.

 

Flying back, with the bike free as part of your luggage is very good, but more expensive. It is worth checking whether there are any spare seats on charter flights before booking scheduled ones.

 

There is also the returning Fietsbus from Burgos or the ferry companies. There remains the mediaeval option - ride home!

 

The Daily Routine

The daily distance covered is dependent on a lot of factors, not least of which is your personal fitness. It is sensible, at least for the first few days, to aim at a modest mileage. It gives you a chance to acclimatise. Using your Pilgrim Guide to Spain and taking advantage of the flexibility that your bike bestows on you, you should be able 10 plan your stops more advantageously than is possible for the walker. Do try, if at all possible, not to hurry. Your pilgrimage is not a race and a leisurely approach will put you more in tune with the country you are in. Fry to put in one or two rest days. Burgos and Leon are obvious possibilities. There is much to see. Whether the object of your pilgrimage is religious or cultural or some mixture of the two, taking time to appreciate all the aspects of your journey will pay the greatest long term dividends. The Pilgrim Guide will give you ample guidance on where to stay and where to eat.

 

There follows below a number of check lists. They are intended for guidance only, but they should, at least be helpful. if only as a check on your own lists of the kit that you need to take.

 

Maps, Guides and Routefinding

The best guide to current maps, guides and other publications is the Pilgrim Guide to Spain, published by the Confraternity of St. James and updated annually. It will also help with all of the general information you will need in respect of places to stay, food and drink and the sights to see. An invaluable feature for the cyclist are details of the cycle repairers en route (20 at the last count);

 

Tools and Spare Parts

(Tyres come in a variety of sizes. See the C.T.C. Handbook if you want all the permutations. For the purposes of the pilgrim, if you have a 700c rim, You should have no difficulty in replacement. Similarly, if you have a M.T.B., the 26" tyre is universal in Western Europe. So, if you have these two sizes you should be alright in France or Spain, if not, carry spares.)

 

(Useful for first aid on a split tyre. Glue the casing and then line the tyre with an old piece of car weight inner tubing.)

 

1 spare tyre

3 cables (brakes and gear)

1 puncture repair outfit

1 chain link splitter

1 pair brake shoes

1 spare tyre

3 cables (brakes and gear)

1 puncture repair outfit

1 chain link splitter

1 pair brake shoes

1 spoke key

1 tube superglue**

1 pair pliers with wire cutter

5 assorted allen keys

1 can lubricant

1 set sockets to fit bike

1 free wheel extractor

1 spare inner tube

1 Swiss Army knife. Useful for its screwdrivers as well as for its other attributes.

2 bottom bracket ball races

6 spokes and spoke key

1 toothbrush

1 pump

3 tyre levers

2 water bottles

2 bunjie cords

 

Remember at all times when you are not actually riding it, your bicycle should besecurely locked up.

    

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                                                                       16/02/2011

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