Account : Bennett  

 

                                                               Graeme Bennett

 

   http://www.gbwalk.blogspot.ca/

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  Reflections and ramblings a year on - Friday, August 25, 2006 -

 

  So what is a former pilgrim thinking, doing a year on from his pilgrimage? A few reflections….

 

  A year ago, I was just starting to write my chronicle in the Santiago-Today forum and in my blog. Time seems to pass quickly, and I have not made time to read about other pilgrims’ worries (before travel) and excitements (during and after).

 

  Has my peregrination changed my life? In a word, no. My life goes on much as before. I think my outlook has changed marginally; however. I am far more aware than before of just how many people walk for pleasure, spiritual reasons or any other. My goal was simple: to walk 1600 km at one go from Le Puy to Santiago, following what seems to be the oldest pilgrimage route to Santiago, a camino dating back 1055 years.

 

  As I live not too far from the Camino in France, I have occasion to cross it quite frequently, but I rarely see any pilgrims. However, recently, I drove along part of the Chemin for a few kilometres east of Figeac and saw 5 pilgrims, walking separately, waved at them and they waved back. There are frequent moments of nostalgia: out running in the early morning brought back memories of seeing the sun rise, valleys shrouded in mist, the call of birds, the peace and tranquillity of the morn, the absence of people, beautiful countryside in both France and Spain, quiet villages.

 

  I have had occasion often to mention to people I meet that I completed a pilgrimage to Santiago. Some show a passing interest:

“How far did you walk? How long did it take? Would you do it again?” are the most frequent questions.

 

  Occasionally, somebody will ask a lot of questions and show real interest, and then, of course, I can wax eloquently about the trip. Several friends followed my progress through my blog, and then, of course, a number of readers of the forum followed it too. Several people remarked that it was really good that my wife joined me for the last 111 km, from Sarria to Santiago. I thought it really good too! It gave her a small taste of what it was all about.

 

  I started to write a proper account of my pilgrimage, but it is not yet complete: too idle perhaps, or too many other distractions?! What I have found is that, by looking at my notes and photographs, I can recall quite a lot of detail about any particular day or place, and this is good for keeping the memory alive. I have read that some people have great trouble settling down again after the long walk, but this has not been my experience. Normal life resumed at once.

 

  Would I do it again? The experience of walking unaccompanied from Le Puy to Santiago I still regard as marvellous: meeting other pilgrims from many walks of life – the Belgian who started at home in Belgium, pulling his “trailer”; 2 Swiss, met separately, who started in Switzerland; a Russian who shared what was probably the worst accommodation I stayed in, in Spain,; 2 ladies who snored for England; a French couple and their Labrador; New Zealanders, Canadians, Brazilians, and the young Frenchman who insisted I stay at "En el Camino” in Boadilla del Camino, saying it is the best albergue in Spain……It was!

 

  …..And what about places? A “concert” in the Abbaye at Conques with its sublime acoustics; the long distance views over the Aubrac in France and across the meseta in Spain; Burgos and its cathedral; the cock and hen in the church at Santo Domingo de la Calzada; the moving moment during Mass in the cathedral at Santiago; hilltops covered by windmills, particularly on my second day’s walk after Santiago, on the way to Finisterre; the somewhat grey, evening sky over the Atlantic, “a las cinco por la tarde”, when I reached the end of the earth at Finisterre.

 

  So you can see that much remains in the mind exactly one year on from my departure. No doubt much is forgotten too, but no matter, there are good memories. Names of some villages in Spain conjure up nostalgic recollections: Puente la Reina, Carrion de los Condes, Calzadilla de la Cueza, Manzilla de las Mulas, Hospital de Orbigo, Rabanal del Camino….To me such wonderful names!

 

Visions of the Camino shall float them before me

Echoes of dreamland shall bear them along

Like the notes or the catch of a song,

Till the fields ring again and again

With the tramp of women and men

 

  And no, I would not wish to walk the same route, because the magic moments would not be there – but there could, and would, be others. Another route? Now, that would be of interest! They tell me that Sevilla to Santiago is good…….

 

  I have not walked a step since I reached Finisterre last November, but a different challenge exercises me at the moment: trying to fly a paramotor (or motorised paraglider). Hmmm, to fly the length of the Camino would be good – but probably not practical. A 5 day walk was planned for this year on a variant of the Chemin, but it is postponed to another year.

 

  Why have I written all this? It just shows that even though I have not visited this or other forums very often since last November the reminiscences of the pilgrimage remain strong and while the pilgrimage may not have re-shaped my life it has certainly marked it.

 

  Ultraeia !!

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  Réflexions d’un pèlerin un an après…… - Thursday, August 24, 2006 -

 

  “Chaque marche commence avec le premier pas……”

 

  C’est ainsi que j’ai démarré du Puy il y a un an, le 25 aoùt, ma pérégrination à destination de Santiago de Compostela, avec le but de faire le voyage d’un seul coup. En lisant les commentaires dans les forums, j’ai remarqué que des gens sont parfois bien influencés dans leur vie par l’expérience. Je voudrais partager quelques réflexions depuis le moment où je suis parvenu à Finisterre en novembre 2005.

 

  Aprés ma rentrée, j’ai reçu plusieurs emails des pèlerins précédents, en me remerciant pour le journal que j’avais écrit, lequel a fait revivre leurs propres expériences lorsqu’ils marchaient eux-mêmes le long du Chemin. Ces mails m’ont fait beaucoup de plaisir……

 

  Alors, est-ce que j’ai changé ma façon de vivre? Quoique la rencontre de beaucoup de personnes de nationalités, de la Nouvelle Zelande jusqu’à l’Alaska, du Brésil jusqu’à la Russie et le Japon, et que le voyage fût formidable, je crois que je suis le même homme qu’avant! J’ai fait des remarques à plusieurs personnes au cours de l’année passée que j’avais fait le pèlerinage: peu nombreuses sont celles qui ont posé les questions en profondeur.

  “Combien de temps avez-vous passé pour faire le périple? Combien de kilomètres avez-vous marché? Voulez-vous le refaire?” sont les questions posées à maintes reprises. Cela m’a etonné, car ce n’est pas tous les jours que l’on croise une personne qui a marché 1600 km d’un seul coup! Je me demande si c’est la même expérience pour d’autres pèlerins?

 

  Cette année, je n’ai pas du tout marché: trop d’autres choses à faire, y compris maîtriser un défi nouveau, le vol paramoteur! Ça progresse bien……

 

  Les réminiscences du périple restent fortes. J’ai commencé à la fin de l’année passée à écrire un journal plus profond que la chronicle que j’avais composée en marchant: chaque jour, les souvenirs reviennent, et surtout en voyant les photos que j’ai prises. Malheureusement, le journal n’est pas encore terminé! Et les souvenirs, tels que le moment du départ après la Messe dans la cathédrale du Puy, sur les marches en pensant qu’il n’y avait que 1520 km à faire à pied; la première vue, avec une certaine exhilération, des Pyrénées près de Condom; les vitraux remarquables dans la plupart des églises que j’ai visitées en France; toute la chaleur et l’hospitalite montrées par les hôtes dans les gîtes et les albergues; la “cérémonie” de la quemada, dans l’auberge à Villafranca del Bierzo, faite par Felix; le village remarquable de O’Cebreiro; l’arrivée à Santiago où j’ai rencontré une dame que je n’ai pas vue depuis 850 km en France, et l’entrée dans la cathédrale. Tels sont sont quelques souvenirs…….

 

  Chaque fois que je regarde la carte d’Espagne, les noms des villages sur el Camino évoquent la nostalgie tels que Puente la Reina, Carrion de los Condes, Calzadillo de la Cueza, Manzilla de las Mulas, Hospital de Orbigo, Rabanal del Camino…. Quelle expérience, quelle joie de vivre! Donc, pour conclure ces remarques, je peux dire que ma pérégrination n’a pas changé ma façon de vivre, mais elle m’a bien marqué.   

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  Statistics - Wednesday, January 25, 2006 - 

 

  A few statistics about the walk:

- Distance walked: Le Puy - Santiago 1553 km

- Santiago - Cabo do Finisterre 96 km

- Time taken: Total since departure to Santiago 86 days 44 in France, 35 in Spain

- Actual days walking to Santiago 69 days 35 in France, 33 in Spain

- Actual days walking Santiago -Finisterre 3 days

- Day in Santiago 1 day

- Total since departure 86 days

- Average per day: Distance 22.9 km/day

- Time (incl stops / visits) 6 h 14 min /day

- Weather: Days on which it rained 22

- Temperature range 0 – 30ºC

- Gîtes / albergues visited 33 in France, 26 in Spain = 59

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  Livres, internet, oeuvres de recherche / référence - Tuesday, January 24, 2006 -

 

  Les livres de référence que je porte (mentionnés plus bas) “Le Chemin du Puy vers St Jacques de Compostelle” , “Le Chemin de St Jacques en Espagne”, et le “miam-miam-dodo” que j’ai trouvé très bien, voire indispensable sur le Chemin-même. Au début, j’étais sceptique de l’utilité du descriptif du Chemin que l’on trouve dans certains guides, préférant la carte, mais de temps en temps, je l’ai trouvé utile, quand le Chemin n’est pas bien balisé, ce qui arrive parfois, et la carte n’étant pas suffisamment détaillée. Néanmoins, je suis persuadé qu’une bonne carte est indispensable. Ceci dit, beaucoup de gens marchent sans carte: ils dépendent du balisage, ou ils demandent oû se trouve le Chemin. Et des gens vous diront si vous vous égarez! Ce que m’est arrivé 2 ou 3 fois. Comme d’habitude sur le Chemin, c’est le choix personnel…..

 

  Les auteurs du “Chemin….” trouvent, pour chaque étape, quelque chose d’intéressant à décrire, tant il y a d’histoire sur le Chemin.

 

  Le “miam-miam-dodo” vous donne et les adresses et les numéros de téléphone des hébergements, des magasins, si on vous nourrit……Encore un bouquin indispensable.

 

  A mon avis, il ne faut pas prendre avec soi plus de 2 livres de référence à cause du poids, mais avant de partir, il faut faire autant de recherche que l’on peut. Je me suis servi de l’internet: des forums en Français et en Anglais, et les sites construit exprès pour vous informer du Chemin de Compostelle.

 

  Livres de référence:

- “Le Chemin du Puy vers St Jacques de Compostelle” by J-P Siréjol and L Laborde-Balen

- “Le Chemin de St Jacques en Espagne de St Jean Pied de Port à Compostelle” by J-Y Grégoire and L Laborde-Balen

- “miam-miam-dodo” by L Clouteau and J Cloteau for the route in France, and by C Champion for the Camino Francés in Spain.

 

  Sites internet:

- http://www.caminolinks.co.uk/4679.html

- http://www.webcompostella.com/

- http://forum.pelerin.info/list.php?bn=pelerin_compostelle

- http://www.santiago-today.com/board/

- http://www.pelerin.info/article/index.jsp?docId=2034680&rubId=21493

- http://www.aucoeurduchemin.org/spip/aaa_stat.php3?id_rubrique=303

- http://www.santiago-compostela.net/fr_bulletin.php

- http://www.chemindecompostelle.com/index.html

- http://www.caminosantiago.com/web_ingles/foroperegrinos.htm  

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  Beyond the Field of Stars - Wednesday, November 23, 2005 -

 

  Compostella.... Campo de Estrellas.... Champ d’Etoiles.... Field of Stars....

 

  ....left behind when one leaves Santiago. The route to the end of the earth did not pass by the Padron River, from whence came the shells of St James, according to legend, so I did not see it. However, in the bay at Fisterra, I did collect a few shells from the beach on my way to Cabo do Finisterre. Beyond the lighthouse on the Cape, upon which it stands is a stone cross and statue of St James carved within its plinth, facing the sea. Late afternoon, on the 18th November, saw me there at the end of my Camino. The wind blew; the sun was largely hidden behind thin clouds; the sea was grey; and a symbolic metal boot was affixed to a stone near the carving of St James. Three days walk from Santiago, which I had not realised until I reached Santiago was a pilgrimage for many, down the centuries. Whether done for spiritual reasons or any other, the walk from Santiago to Cabo do Finisterre is well worth doing, and provides a fitting conclusion to a long walk.

 

  Very strongly recommended!

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  Une découverte

 

  Avant mon périple, je n’avais aucune intention de marcher entre Santiago et Finisterre. Je savais qu’il y avait des personnes qui faisaient ce Chemin. Puis, lors de mon trajet le long du Chemin de Santiago, on m’a dit que c’était très beau, bien différent de toute le reste du Chemin, donc je me suis décidé de le faire. Maintenant, je peux bien dire que ça valait la peine. Dès que l’on échappe la banlieue de Santiago, on entre dans un paysage vraiment beau, qui change graduellement au fur et mesure que l’on approche à la mer. Il faut, normalement, 3 jours de marche, avec 2 étapes assez longues (33 et 39 km jusqu’à Cabo do Finisterre).

 

  Ce n’était qu’à Santiago même, pendant une visite au Bureau de Tourisme de Galicia, que j’ai découvert que beaucoup de pèlerins d’autrefois marchaient entre Santiago et Finisterre. L’histoire du pèlerinage à Finisterre et Muxia date presque de l’époque de la découverte du tombeau de St Jacques au 9eme siècle.

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  The glory that is Galicia - Tuesday, November 22, 2005 -

 

  The watch alarm alerts me to tell me it’s getting up time. I slide out of my sleeping bag. Catherine, sleeping opposite, slips out from under hers; Jaime, the Spaniard, rests on. With stealth we pack up and move downstairs. She sets off at 7h30 with a man (her boy-friend?). I have a light breakfast. I move quietly out of the warm albergue at 7h45 into the cool of the pre-dawn. Negreira in the valley to my right is hidden by mist. I climb by the light of the silvery moon, “the silvery moon, moon, moon, by the light of the silvery moon”…..

 

  I espy the cemetery off to one side, dark crosses above a wall silhouetted against the moonlit sky. I search for the yellow arrows to direct me along the Camino, my torch being helpful because they are not well defined here, and to get through the labyrinth of little streets in the village without time wasting is important. 33 km to do today.

 

  On through eucalyptus woods, out into the open to see the hills cloaked in cloud, and some valleys shrouded in mist in the early light.

 

  Half past eight, is sunrise, but I don’t see the sun on the tops of the trees for another 10 or 15 minutes. The Camino meanders through woods, the path often running with water, up hill and down dale….it’s getting warmer now in the sun….low lying clouds have lifted….my shoulders tell me it’s time for a break. I see a sign and arrow for a bar in which I stop, order a small, black coffee and the “dueña” offers me “orujo” (a sort of eau de vie) to put in it – Germans like this, she tells me – so I try it. Not too bad, but I think it necessary to acquire the taste. Clearly I shall need more practice at this! She has lived and worked in England, I gather, so helps me to correct some of my Spanish. A bocadillo (sandwich) of chorizo and cheese is on the menu: will do well for my lunch, I think.

 

  On I go, in the warm sun, along a road, tracks, back to the road with its fine commanding views, hilltops crowned with windmills.

 

  The clump, clump, clump of boots is all I hear. Absolute stillness; no wind, no sound but the boots….but no! A distant note catches my ear. A carillon? Surely not. Listen. No, a bell, a church bell ringing: t’is 12 noon. The silence resumes, I turn onto a track, a post tells me it is 49.730 km to Muxia. I follow the track, gently upwards, straight. I see a figure some distance up front, speckled in the sun and shade of pine trees. I hear a dog yelping off to the right beyond the thick gorse.

“What are you hunting?”

“Rabbits”, the hunter replies.

“And your shotgun: is it a 12 bore?”

“Yes. It’s difficult here, because of the thick country,” he gestures towards the gorse.

  I leave the hunter in his red and white diamond coloured jumper, shotgun slung over his shoulder, and continue, now downward, along the track. Another hunter is off to the right along another track, some 150m away.

 

  Two noisy tractors pass me, disturbing the peace…. I spot some boulders ahead….ideal place to have lunch, look at the view, admire the high vapour trails, windmills on a distant crest, and listen to the hunters shouting at each other / their dogs….. not a shot fired, yet.

 

  Two German pilgrims (brothers) from the albergue last night pass me as I sit. One stops for a short chat. A few minutes later, a young Italian girl, also from the albergue, passes by. Lunch over I walk on, some 200m behind her. I pass through fields, there are views….the girl reaches a T-junction, I see her turn right. I arrive: a complication. Which way? Left or right? No arrows. Exactly opposite is a kilometre post with the Camino emblem, a yellow “shell”on a blue background. The “spikes” of the shell point left. Way back, 700 km ago, in Roncevalles, the tourist office gave me a brochure which said that the Camino sign did not necessarily point in the direction of travel. This has been proven quite correct. However, since Santiago I have noticed that the “spikes” have always pointed the way to go, therefore I should go left, and do so. The next 500m is spent wondering, even worrying, whether this is right (because I hate going back!). Check direction from the sun, should be going WNW so it looks good. The next village shows a yellow arrow; good, the right way.

 

  Onwards….I notice on all the hilltops around me there are windmills. My mind drifts…..

……Unlike Don Quijote I will not be tilting at windmills – too many, and they outnumber me some 200 to 1. They are like Gideon’s men on the hilltops, ranged like an army – Primero y Segundo Regimiento de Eolicos (has a certain ring to it (1st and 2nd Regiment of Windmills), but all almost unmoving in the still air – must be deployed to stop pilgrims - should be able to slip through them unnoticed into the next valley – the 2 or 3 turning ones are facing the wrong way, so that’s OK, I’ll get through.

 

  Over a crest and in front of me there is a large lake, more hills all around, more windmills! What a view! Another problem with the direction of travel but soon resolved.

 

  Walking along a track a small dog, at 200m, runs to attack, but as soon as he gets close he stops, retreats into hiding in the village. Ah, a village…..it’s the season of muck-spreading, and each village has its street covered with cow crap or muck – what an odour!! And, believe me, there is a difference! And this one is muck! On the left drawers, jeans, shirts, vests, slippers draped along a fence to dry….on the right outside a house a rug thrown on a stone table in the sun, cats all around, but, wait a moment, that’s no rug, it’s a dog, curled up, snoozing….further on, cows corralled in a yard, mooing to be let out, 3 with heads over a wall, munching the neighbour’s prize bushes…..

 

  …..in a field an elderly woman, clothed in black cardigan, blue dress, boots, wide-brimmed hat, sombrero-like, wielding sickle and stave in a field of cows. Lord, am I to see her let blood, blood on the grass? She scurries across the field, waves her stave, shouts at the animals, she wants them where they do not necessarily want to be….I walk on to let the drama unfold……another woman in another field, dressed all in black and a long peaked cap, armed with a sickle, and this time using it to cut the bramble hedge.

“You’ll have to wield it more rapidly than that, lady, or else you’ll still be here at Christmas, with all that hedge to do”, I think.

 

  I emerge from a wooded road into the open, and suddenly I see more crosses of a cemetery limned against the sky once more. The cemetery is on the side of a hill. It has a calvary in front of it, a chapel in the middle, a wall surmounted by 2 bells, and the tombs on 3 sides. A car draws up, out struggle 2 old ladies in black and a slightly younger man. He tolls the larger bell once. It is 4 pm exactly so I say,

“You need another 3 strikes.”

“It’s for somebody sleeping,” he answers. He tolls the larger bell once more, then the smaller once.

“You mean someone has died?” I say. He agrees. We talk. Later, I establish I have 3 km to walk to Olveiroa. He claps me on the shoulder: “Buen suerte, buen viaje”, he says.

 

  At last the sign, hidden in the pampas grass at the side of the road: Olveiroa. Shortly afterwards, I reach a road junction where an old lady sits on the wall; she sits such that I cannot see in which direction the arrow points (vital information for a tired pilgrim!).

“The pilgrims’ albergue?” I ask.

“??!!??!!,” she answers in Galician.

“Straight on?” I try again.

“!!!???!!! left” I hear, as she hunches over in a fit of coughing. I hasten away, not wishing to be responsible for the collapse of the old lady.

 

  The legs are protesting; it’s time to stop. The albergue comes into view…..

 

  Not a single shop all day, no food at the inn, and little at the local bar – but all this was expected. Could be a long night on the wine in the bar! But the innkeeper comes up trumps: soup with noodles and vegetables in copious quantity for the 7 pilgrims wanting it, bread, fruit and wine….

 

  …..it’s been a good day in Galicia.

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  In the shadow of pilgrims...  - Tuesday, November 15, 2005 -

 

  Having arrived at Santiago I have attained the destination I set out to reach, the end of the Camino in its physical sense: the tomb of St James the Apostle. At the Cathedral one steps away from the Camino, walked (in my case) for some 1550 km from Le Puy-en-Velay; this is but one place in the Way of Life which continues after I leave Santiago.

 

  The first recorded pilgrim, Godescalc, walked from Le Puy in 951, and there have been many thousands since. I have walked in their shadow, met many pilgrims and walkers along the Way, and very much lived the experience. Santiago de Compostella is special in that it marks the goal of the pilgrim, but there are many special places along the Camino, be they Conques, Burgos, Puente la Reina, St Jean Pied de Port, and others, and they all combine to make up the whole Camino and its life. It has all been very worthwhile and much enjoyed.

 

  I have likened the Camino to a river flowing along inexorably bearing its pilgrims - and so it has proved to be. Because I stopped to rest and sometimes walked shorter stages, I have met new faces coming along behind. Although the albergues are less full than in summer there are still walkers even as winter gathers pace and so it will continue with the route becoming even more popular and walked by more and more people of different nationalities. I have met men and women from 21 different nations, at least, during my peregrination. A woman running a bar in La Calle about 20 km east of Santiago said that some 40 - 50 pilgrims were stopping at her place each day at the moment - and that, of course, does not include those who pass by outside.

 

  The final walk into Santiago was from Lavacolla, some 10 km away, and where tradition has it that the pilgrim stops for his final night so he can smarten himself up before entering the city and cathedral the next morning. It was a more pleasant walk than I anticipated being through a eucalyptus wood (we have walked amongst eucalyptus forests for 3 days), and yet more hills before arriving in the city (and a few days ago I was complaining that it was too flat when on the Meseta!)

 

  Arrival in the square in front of the enormous cathedral at 1115 on Monday, 14 November, was a moving moment; attendance at Mass was also a moving moment in particular with the most beautiful singing by a nun who took part in the service. I remembered the paper I had "drawn" from the basket in the Cathedral of Le Puy about the family who had lost their son aged 6 1/2, and which I was to bring to the Cathedral in Santiago, and pray for the family and lost son.

 

  The sun is shining: it is time to explore Santiago, the city whose raison d´être is the pilgrim coming to visit the tomb of St James.....and tomorrow I walk on to Finisterra.

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  A new arrival - Saturday, November 12, 2005 -

 

  The walk into Sarria from Triacastela was done in heavy rain - "It´s raining again in torrents, they say!" - and wind. A less than good afternoon....!

 

  From Sarria I am to walk with my wife to Santiago (111 km).

  She writes:

"Well, I am here. I have arrived with fear and trepidation. Will I be able to cope with the distance and pack? Will my toes behave? The time has come.... It´s raining. I can´t quite believe I have to don all the wet weather gear to start in. No, it´s stopped. It is 8C and 8.25am, just about light enough to see and it has started to rain again! Get on with it!

  At least there is someone to talk to and the countryside is very pretty, and I don´t feel sick any more. It is only a very short stage today [15 km] and a most welcoming "casa" although cold. The radiators don´t come on until 7pm. It has long since stopped raining and after a shower I am beginning to feel human again and Santiago is now less than 100 km! Roll on the Paradors!!"

 

  [Written last Wednesday; today is Saturday.]

 

  We are now in Arzua some 35 km from the Cathedral in Santiago. And still it rains! But yesterday it was lovely: sun all day.

 

  God willing we will reach Santiago the day after tomorrow...

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  Une promenade dans les nuages

 

  Ayant sorti de l´Albergue Gaucelmo gérée par la Fraternité de St Jacques (Confraternity of St James) à Rabanal del Camino, j´assistai à un beau lever de soleil. Deux heures plus tard est arrivée la Croix de Ferro dans les nuages. J´ai posé une pierre sur le tas de pierres qui entourent la base de la Croix (la tradition exige que l´on apporte une pierre de chez soi pour la poser, mais celle que j´ai placée est venue de 2 km de la Croix!). La Croix se trouve à l'endroit le plus élevé de mon Chemin, à quelques 1520m d´altitude. J´ai continué.

 

  Beau matin le lendemain, quand j´ai quitté l´Albergue de Ponferrada à 7h45 - belle vue sur les montagnes - mais 10 minutes plus tard, les nuages ont tout obscurci et ne se lèvent qu´à 12h00, puis vues impressionantes sur les vignobles du Bierzo, sur les Sierras, et Villafranca del Bierzo éventuellement. On dit à Villafranca: "S´il fait de la brume le matin, il fera du soleil l´après-midi".

 

  Donc, le lendemain matin, après avoir franchi le pont de Villafranca, je suis monté par une petite rue à droite. "On peut opter pour la variante par Pradela, mais à condition que la forme physique et que le beau temps soient au rendez-vous," dit mon guide. J´étais en forme, et je pensais que la brume dans la vallée où se trouvait le village ne serait plus sur les hauteurs, donc j´ai suivi la variante. Et quelle récompense! Apres 20 minutes de pente raide, j´ai émergé de la brume: vista magnifique! 50 minutes pour parvenir au sommet, les vues à l´est vers la neige sur les Montes de León, à l´ouest vers O Cebreiro où j´allais marcher, au nord et au sud, et en contre-bas dans la vallée de Valcarce. 50 minutes de marche le long d´une crête, et 50 minutes de descente, souvent raide, à travers les châtaigneraies, où quelques personnes ramassaient les châtaignes.... Une variante qui valait la peine.... mais l´avertissement écrit en jaune sur un rocher au début était juste: "Muy duro, solo por buen caminantes" (très dur, seulement pour de bons marcheurs).

 

  Quelques heures plus tard, la montée sur 7 km de Las Herrerias à O Cebreiro (1300m). De préférence, j´ai suivi la route goudronnée: montée constante, assez raide. Avant d´arriver à O Cebreiro, on remarque les vues splendides, et on passe de la province de Castilla y León à la Galice, enfin.

 

  Le village de O Cebreiro est unique sur le Chemin: maisons en granit (?), quelques toits de paille de seigle, 2 magasins touristiques, un petit magasin d´alimentation, 2-3 maisons rurales (=gîtes), une albergue pèlerin, 2-3 restaurants, une église. Vue magnifique sur 360 degrés. Heureusement pour moi, beau temps le soir et le matin suivant (très rare, on dit; j´ai appris qu´il y avait de la neige hier soir). Diner (menu du jour) dans un resto à côté de la cheminée: soupe de légumes, veau + pommes frites, fromage d´O Cebreiro avec miel (très bon), vin. Bonne camaraderie avec d´autres pèlerins...... Je dirais une des meilleures journées de mon Camino.

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  A day in the life of a pilgrim - Monday, October 31, 2005 -

 

  Up at 0630 or so, usually befor most others, so no problem with basins / showers / loos (which tend to be far less than the number that pilgrims require). Pack kit, modest breakfast provided by me or othe albergue. Set out some 45 minutes after rising.

 

  Just a bit of light in the sky (a few light clouds today), but have to watch carefully for the yellow arrows and signs which indicate the Camino. A recce the afternoon before is usually invaluable (time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted!).

 

  On the Camino, look back east from time to time to see the sunrise (about 0755); beautiful one today, changing cloud colours, vapour trails pink, leaves on trees hues of pink, yellow, green as the sunlight catches them, church tower (with stork´s nest) silhouetted against the sky, the morning star due west visible until just before the sun rose.

 

  Five minute pause after one hour – rucksack off – resume walking. No one else in sight in any direction. Do I hear a shot? Yes, definitely! A hunter or 2 must be nearby. I put up some grouse so perhaps they are shooting those: not sure. Hunters usually have one or 2 dogs with them, no idea what kind but they ain´t Labradors! Have passed through wooded country and am out in flat, open country.

 

  Ten minute pause after 2 hours. I find these stops useful for me (others do not stop for 2-3 hours). March on, drinking water all the while. Need to pee – nobody around (those people way over there wouldnt know if I was on my head or heels), good. Colour of water? Clear, so am drinking enough (if yellow, not drinking enough. Most important to drink plenty or tendonitis and / or other problems might arise.).

 

  About a 15 minute pause after 3 hours, need some calories so eat banana (takes some 7 minutes to get into the system I read somewhere once) and it gives a boost.

 

  Here comes the Swede: “Everything OK?” he asks.

“Yes, fine thanks. Where are you stopping tonight?”

“Sorry, please repeat.” So I do.

“At Mansilla, another 16 km or so.”

“Probably see you there.....buen camino!”

 

  March on in solitude admiring the vista all around. A village comes into view; shoulders are tiring with the weight of the sack so I´ll have lunch there, if there´s a bench to sit on. Yes, stop for lunch; greet 2 pilgrims who pass and wish me “Buen provecho” as do 3 locals who walk by. I reckon on lunching about 4 hours after setting out.

 

  Move on. Back onto a track again so faced with decision of which bit to walk on, where the going is best (déjà vu!).....

 

  Here comes a slight up slope, therefore a view in prospect, marvellous! Oh! Is that the village of Reliegos way off in front which means, if so, that Mansilla is another 6 km beyond? Hmm, I calculate that means 10 km or so to go, and I´m feeling pretty knackered! Let´s walk on and see.....Great! Here´s Reliegos, just in front of me (hidden by a slight hump I hadn´t seen back there), so it´s only 6.5 km to Mansilla. Lift in spirits as not so far to go – easy!

 

  Stop in the bar at Reliegos, greet the 2 French Canadians I have been seeing periodically since Burgos. Have a hot chocolate. Nice to get out of the wind which is quite strong. The bar has a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the room. The barman puts on some wood and within 5 minutes the place is filled with smoke. But it smells good!

 

  Continue; reach Mansilla de las Mulas about 16.00 hrs. Find albergue without any problem – select bed (mattress on floor) in a room with 6 other pilgrims who have arrived before me and who have selected the lower of the bunk beds. Ablutions – write up diary – plan route and lodging for next day – pay the hospitalero of the albergue – brew tea and eat biscuits / patisserie – wander briefly in the village to look at sights (church, main square, route out for tomorrow) – identify shop / “supermarket”. Plan food requirements for next day. Breakfast supplied or not by the albergue? No, therefore must buy breakfast or go to a café (if open at 07.00 hrs) and buy lunch too. [Now, here is a difficult moment! If it is a decent shop it will have all sorts of goodies one has not eaten, or, indeed, even thought of, for weeks. I cannot buy much at all because I cannot carry it! So the goodies sit there on the shelf, things like different cheeses, gazpacho soup, varied breads, fresh vegetables to name but some.]

 

  Supper at 19.30 in adjacent restaurant. Menu del dia for €7: macaroni, chicken and fritas, fruit, wine. (I was recently told that in Franco´s time it became law that restaurants have to provide a “daily menu” at a cheap price. I am not sure if that applies, in principle, to all restaurants.). A third or half litre of wine is always provided, or another drink, within the price.

 

  Bed at 21.45, lights out, p & q, zzzzzz.........

 

  ............zzzzzzZZZZZZ at 01.30 the man in the corner is snoring loudly (some people wear ear-plugs to combat the blight). Did I say p & q?!

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  ....and quietly flows the Camino - Saturday, October 29, 2005 -

 

  Kinda damp! Yesterday it rained all day, some 29 km or 7 hours of it! But I must consider myself lucky that this is the first day it has rained all day in some 58 days of walking. You go along, head down watching where you put your feet so, as they say in racing parlance, the going is soft. Part of your vision is obscured by your hood; you fiddle with it to get it right, excellent, it´s OK. Where do I go on the track? It looks good here but no, there are stones making it rough; looks better on that side over there so over you go. 50 metres on it´s getting too soft here, better try the crown of the track, looks firm there, so change. Oh no! There are rough stones here now, what´s it like ahead? A smooth path seems be just off there on the left. Previous walkers have made it that so it must be OK. Move over to that path on the edge of the track. Aieeee…doggone it! I saw that stone so I did I come to kick it?! Oh well, the pain´ll only last a couple of minutes. It must be the 1337th stone I´ve kicked since starting this trek – but, touch wood, the feet are still in good shape. Ah good, here comes some tarmac so I don´t have to keep looking at the ground. I can look around a bit more, but the hood has slipped in that gust of wind, needs adjusting….Why´s that bloke in his car – the first in 20 minutes - waving his arm at me? Wants me on the pilgrims´ path or is he saying “Buen camino”?

 

  At the end of the day a fair bit of the outside clothing was wet or damp so Rule Number One had to be applied. Rule Number One? Yes, one set of kit must be kept dry at all times so that it can be put on in when one stops walking. If the wet / damp clothes are not dry by the morning on they go again. So it was this morning as there was little chance of drying out clothes in an Albergue where the temperature was 13C. Putting some on my sleeping bag during the night helped but they were still slightly damp. Dried the boots partially in the bar opposite.

 

  Looked out this morning: crescent, waning moon visible. Good, no rain. Hang socks out to dry on rucksack. After sunrise leaden skies where I was, but over there you can see the sun coming up. Where´s the wind? It´s coming from where the sun is, in the east, so that means it will a clear sky here soon……Later on, where´s that blue sky? It´s still over there…Come on, come here where I am……Oh no, feels like raindrops, on with the wet weather gear again. But no rain fell, the wind got up and it became really strong so it moved me around on the track.

 

  The journey seemed never ending today on the Calzada Romana or Roman Way. I elected to follow the old Camino rather than a more direct route beside a road. The guide book advised switching to the road route at a point I calculated be 20 km from my starting point. So where is this point? I am out in the open in virtually featureless country. How long to take to walk 20 km? Leaving at 07.55 hrs I should be there around 12.55 at my speed. It´s important I get this turning right because if not and I go straight on I arrive at a river which, after rain, is crossable only by swimming! At 12.35 a junction comes into view, track going off in the right direction, across a level crossing…that must be it, but no signs to indicate where it leads and I cannot quite see due to the folds in the ground. Take it….ah yes it´s OK I can see another walker in the distance going the right way.

 

  Eventually arrived at Manzilla de las Mulas after 33 km on the trail. León tomorrow…

 

  That young Frenchman, Philippe, I mentioned a couple of days back: had supper with him 2 weeks ago and asked him why he is doing the Camino a second time. He had some sort of injury to his leg some 2 years ago which put him in bed for 2-3 months and he wanted to see that it was now fine, plus he felt a spiritual need to do it again from where he lived in the Basque country near SJPP. The last I saw of him was near the Rioja Alta Golf Club at Cirueña. He caught me up.

  “I thought it was you,” he said, “by the shape of your stick”. We talked for a few minutes as we went along. “I feel really inspired by an old boy I met yesterday while walking, and today I feel in good form because I have learned the Pilgims´ Song. I can easily do 30 km.” So saying he speeded up and sang the song as he went off into the distance. Within 2 hours, he was a small dot way in front of me. What enthusiasm! Not met him again since.

 

  Still lots of pigrims on the Camino: anywhere between 6 and 20 in the municipal albergues.

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  La Meseta - Thursday, October 27, 2005 -

 

  Il y a bien une quinzaine qu´un jeune Francais, Philippe, m´a recommandé de passer par l´Albergue "en el Camino" à Boadilla del Camino. Il l´a considérée la meilleure auberge sur le Chemin, en Espagne, qu´il a visitée (il y a 2 ans). Donc, j´ai fait l´effort de la visiter.

 

  En entrant par la porte en bois, très rustique, on se trouvait dans un jardin avec belle pelouse tondue (pas une mauvaise herbe), piscine (en état de fonctionnement, mais froide), de grandes pots de fleurs remplis de fleurs, ancien bâtiment bien restauré pour le refuge pèlerins, propre, bien équipé de meubles confortables (fauteuils), gérant acceuillant....enfin, tout ce que je veux! Tout ça pour le prix de €15 - dîner, lit, pdj.

 

  Je suis en train de traverser "la Meseta", pays plat, agricultural, très ouvert, peu d´arbres, et Chemin rectilingue jusqu´à ce qu´on puisse voir. On a l´impression de marcher très lentement, mais une colline lointaine arrive éventuellement et passe derrière soi. Rythme de marche: 4 km dans l´heure; étapes de 27-30 km par jour. On travers la Meseta à une altitude de 800 m +; bon temps jusqu´à présent, mais la prévision est mauvaise!

 

  J´ai passé une journée de repos à Burgos (donc 2 nuits), ville formidable, avec une cathédrale exceptionelle: 19 chapelles, cloître à 2 etages, un travail en pierres à l´intérieur et l´extérieur bien impressionant, quelques tableaux de peintures très bons.... et ainsi de suite. On dit "la reine de des cathédrales gothiques" et "une des plus belles d´Europe". On dit que la cathédrale à León est aussi "une merveille gothique". Un autre jour de repos s´impose.

 

  Position actuelle: Calzadilla de la Cueza, 81 km est de León, à mi-chemin entre SJPP et Santiago, donc 397 km à parcourir.

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  Stepping back in time - Friday, October 21, 2005 -

 

  The Camino is really a step back in time: staying in old albergues (= inns), seeing villages and churches which date back 100s of years, being reminded from time to time of those who provided for pilgrims in the early years of the last millenium, eg Santo Domingo de la Calzada and San Juan de Ortega.

 

  It is also a form of escapism for many: no need to keep in touch with the world, but the enjoyment of meeting other walkers of like mind walking to Santiago or part way. I think many pilgrims return to do part or all of the Way, because they enjoy the experience and they hope to re-capture the good moments they enjoyed the first time - and they must succeed because they do it more than once!

 

  Two nights ago would be a case in point. In the Albergue de Juan Bautista at Grañon, there was a special atmosphere. First, the albergue: situated as an attachment to the church with one wall being common to the church and inn; a dining / sitting room with room with dormitory as a mezzanine floor overlooking the dining area, the whole under a wooden, sloping roof. In the corner a large fire-place, later lit by the Frenchman (hospitalero) running the place (for a fortnight), and a filled in church window in the church wall; upstairs the bell tower (where washing could be hung!). Second, the people: 19 pilgrims sat down to supper after a Spaniard had entertained us to guitar playing and singing, and another had sung in a powerful voice, and afterwards he could be heard singing in the church during evening prayers. A particularly attractive albergue, well run - and sleeping on mattresses on the floor was no discomfort after a 28 km walk! I was tempted to have a second night there, but will do that in the important town of Burgos, due to be reached tomorrow, where there is much to see.

 

  And what of the walking? Wonderful, long, open views across rolling and, indeed, mountainous country. On Monday (17 October), the sunrise was spectacular and we could see the Pyrenees, well over 100 km away, silhouetted against the sky in the dawn light. Most days are good, but yesterday was not! Rain throughout the walk which was largely beside a busy main road (also known as the Camino de Santiago), but today was really good being through open country, then forest, over a "pass" (1150m), a visit to the fine old church of San Juan de Ortega, described as a jewel on the Camino, and finally into Atapuerca, a small old village, and an old albergue for the night.

 

  A landmark : passed the 1000 km mark on this day, the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Better not comment on the outcome as there may be French readers and I am in Spain!

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  Les grands espaces..... - Monday, October 17, 2005

 

  Descendu des Pyrénées il y a 6 jours, je me trouve dans les grands espaces ouverts de l´Espagne avec ses longues vues. Ce matin, c´était formidable au lever du jour: on pouvait voir les Pyrénées à une distance de 100 km ou plus, silhouettées contre le ciel.

 

  Une petite déception hier matin à Irache: à la fontaine du vin, il n´y en avait pas, mais on était bien exhorté de boire si on voulait arriver à Santiago avec force et vitalité et félicité! Je continue quand-même!

 

  Quelques statistiques: aujourd´hui 21 Km en moins de 6 heures entre Torres del Río et Logroño où je suis, demain 28 km à Nájera; temps toujours nuageux, temp 10-18C, peu de pluie; 926 km parcourus, et 625 km à faire à Santiago.

 

  Après Logroño, je vais bientôt monter sur la meseta qui dure quelques 250 km d´un terrain relativement plat....

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  From Chemin to Camino - Thursday, October 13, 2005 -

 

  There are places on the Camino where walkers leave or join: Conques, Moissac, Condom, St Jean Pied de Port (SJPP) in France, the last being a particularly significant point as it is the last important town in France before crossing the Pyrenees. In Spain important towns are Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, León before Santiago.

 

  My 2 days / 3 nights rest in the delightful town of SJPP were most enjoyable. Its principle features are its citadel, very old buildings many of which have the constructor´s name and date of construction engraved into the lintel above the door, its cobbled streets with many boutiques, a very welcoming "Accueil des Pèlerins" / "Pilgrims´Office" in the Rue de la Citadelle, numerous tourists (even in October) walking, cycling, driving and arriving / leaving by train.

 

  I chose to do the stage to Roncevalles, where there is the first accommodation in Spain, in 2 stages with a night in the Auberge at Orisson. It was new and good: a completely isolated building with a wonderful view into the Pyrenees and down to the valley near SJPP. To get there required a steep climb, mostly on a road, for 8 km (175m to 770m altitude) through land used for agriculture and sheep grazing. A good supper and night´s rest was necessary for the next day, which entailed climbing to 1430m (and the half way point between Le Puy and Santiago). Nothing difficult with the route, but the gale force wind for a few hours gave one the feeling of climbing a very steep route. It even stopped me once or twice it was so strong! Fortunately, it was not cold.

 

  Views and countryside were splendid: open, treeless mountains, then heather and gorse, more open mountainside, and a descent through beech woods to Roncevalles and its impressive Colegiata. I elected not to spend the night there, as it was only 13.00hrs and the refugio did not open until 16.00hrs. I carried on to Espinal, covering some 29 km for the day.

 

  A very good 2 days crossing of the Pyrenees followed yesterday by a further descent through pine forest to Larrasoaña and on to Pamplona today, a very old, walled city founded by Pompey in the last century BC. Regrettably, the cathedral and churches were not accessible when I was there (12.00 - 13.00 hrs).

 

  Now at rest in Cizur Menor, in an Albergue much better than last night in Larrasoaña.

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  Sous un Chemin d'Etoiles - Saturday, October 08, 2005 -

 

  Un petit frisson d'émotion en passant sous la Porte St Jacques en arrivant à St Jean Pied de Port hier, le 7 octobre, après 34 jours de marche (plus 9 jours de repos) et 740 km parcourus. C'était une journée splendide: soleil (plus de 25 C), belles vues, chemin facile, accueil très bon au gîte Sous un Chemin d'Etoiles......

 

  Les hébergements où on loge sont bien variables. Je donne quelques exemples de ce que l'on peut trouver. Peut-etre plus tard ferai-je un "bilan" détaillé.

 

  A St Côme d'Olt, le Couvent de Malet était vraiment formidable: une hospitalière très gentille, de bonnes soeurs (rélativement peu - 18), un bâtiment récemment restauré à l'intérieur, dîner et pdj corrects. C'était, en effet, comme un hôtel de luxe avec chaque chambre (3 lits) et salle d'eau en suite, vue imprenable sur le village; un magnifique escalier ancien en chêne; jardin; très propre; belle chapelle....

 

  L'accueil à l'Hospitalet St Jacques à Estaing, géré par les laïques, était fort bien. On célébrait dans la chapelle en bois les Complies le soir et les Laudes le matin. Pendant celui-ci, on prie pour les pèlerins qui vont à St Jacques en lisant du livre de registre les noms de chaque pèlerin qui y vont pour une période de 2 mois, le temps qu'il faut pour y arriver. Autre tradition: pour les vrais jacquaires, un des personnel vous accompagne à travers le pont sur le Lot jusq'à la sortie du village.

 

  Donc, 2 hébergements très bons.

 

  Par contre, à éviter: le Relais de St Jacques à Montréal du Gers. Sale, insuffisantes lampes dans les chambres / couloirs, les annonces partout qui vous disent qu'il est interdit de faire un tas de choses, une gérante peu acceuillante; mais, quand-même, un bon diner et pdj.

 

  La grande majorité de gîtes / hébergements sont propres, bien équipés de tout ce qu'il faut dans la cuisine comme matériel, couverture et oreiller pour le lit, et parfois on peut louer des draps si l'on veut. Je crois qu'ils sont plus luxueux que les refuges en Espagne. A voir! Et, en France, on peut réserver son lit à l'avance!

 

  Les dîners sont presque toujours copieux, délicieux, et normalement se composent de 4 plats: soupe / crudités, salade / omelette, plat de résistance avec pâtes et / ou viande (souvent canard sur le Via Podiensis!), fromage et / ou dessert, plus vin. Deux ou 3 hôtes nous a offert un apéritif et un digestif - une fois l'Armagnac (dans la région de l'Armagnac) âgé de 20 ans, et aussi un autre plus jeune et plus fort! Tout ça pour E10-12! On est souvent gâté!

 

  La plupart de ces mots j'écrivais en plein soleil le 5 octobre à Aroue, petit village à quelques 40 km des Pyrénées que je voyais du jardin oû je m'asseyais. Quelles vues on avait la veille et l'avant-veille entre Arrzacq-Arraziget et Navarrenx! On voyait presque la moitié de tout le massif des Pyrénées - et de la neige, déjà, sur les cimes les plus hautes. Réservation faite à Orisson (770 m d'altitude), le dernier réfuge en France, pour lundi le 10 octobre. Heureusement, pas de neige à cet endroit, qui sera à mi-chemin entre Le Puy et St Jacques, quelques 750 km distant.

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  Approaching halfway - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 -

 

“ Hello, I didn’t see you in the gîte "Maison des Pèlerins" (at Aire-sur-l’Adour) last night.”

“No, I camped out,” the Canadian said.

“You do well to carry a tent with you all the time, considering its weight.”

“I don’t. I just sleep on the ground.”

“And for breakfast?”

“I find a shop / boulangerie in the next village.”

“But today I don’t think there is a village for miles because it’s all across country!”

This at 08.15 in the morning, while being overtaken by another pilgrim.

 

“Where were you last Sunday when that storm broke?”

“Crouched over my rucksack with my poncho covering me and it, for 1 1/2 hours.”

 

  I, fortunately, was a few yards from my gite – as yet still closed, as it was only 12.00hrs - sheltering in the porch of a bank in Lectoure, watching the rain lash down and seeing the street turn into a river for half an hour.

 

  The Camino / Chemin / Way to Compostela is like a river, gently flowing, bearing the pilgrims along like leaves which are stopped by obstructions (gites, lodgings, sights), but they get going again. The movement is relentless: when you re-join the current there are more pilgrims / walkers moving along inexorably. However, in France at least, there appears to be a slowing down now that September has passed. Many people stop at St Jean Pied de Port (SJPP) and will return next year to continue over the Pyrenees into Spain.

 

  My latest acquaintances include 2 Brittany ladies walking from Figeac to SJPP, a French couple with Labrador, Antoine the Belgian, who started in Belgium and is going all the way to Santiago pulling his trailer with his tent on it, and others.

 

  The rich pattern and variety of styles of church and villages continues. Some churches go back to Roman times, fortified villages, known as “bastides”, date back to the days of the Hundred Years War and when the English were giving the French a lot of grief in Acquitaine.

 

  The Way (GR 65) passes through Gascogne, and there is plenty of evidence of the current English invasion, properties bought in large numbers (most of the chateaux, I am told, are bought by the English).

 

  Just before Condom (490km from Le Puy), I saw the Pyrenees for the first time. Instant boost to morale, pack suddenly 2 kg lighter! It meant I was closing in on the half way stage, but still with 250 km to do, however. This on the 24th day of walking…..

 

  And my leg? After 6 days of rest, I set out again and it has been fine. When I stayed in the convent at Moissac, I managed to have my feet massaged by the reflexologist: a pleasant experience. He opined that I had strained a tendon rather than pulled a muscle. The recipe for avoiding a recurrence was to walk no more than 20-25 km / day, to drink 2-3 litres of water / day, to carry no more than 10% of my weight (= 7 kg), and to rest completely for a day from time to time. The wearing and tiring effect is cumulative.

 

  Where am I now? At Naverrenx, some 70 km from SJPP and 650 km from Le Puy. Have had a wonderful day’s walking today looking at the Pyrenees beneath a cloudless sky and seeing them get ever closer. Expect to cross on 10 and 11 October.

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  La légende de la coquille - Monday, September 19, 2005 -

 

  Au Moyen Age, le pèlerin revenant de Compostelle portait avec joie et fierté sur sa besace, sa pèlerine, ou son chapeau, une coquille “Saint Jacques” qu’il était allé ramasser dans la baie de Padron. C’était la preuve qu’il avait bien accompli, après une longue et rude route, son pèlerinage au tombeau de l’apôtre vénéré dans la belle ville de Santiago.

 

  Pourquoi les pèlerins de Compostelle portaient-ils une coquille?

 

  Nous ne savons pas exactement, mais ce fut dès l’origine l’emblème de ce pèlerinage. Les braves pèlerins de jadis qui suivaient le chemin étoilé, avec foi et confiance, se posaient moins de questions que nous, et ils se transmettaient la belle légende que voici:

 

  Pour atteindre Compostelle, les pèlerins devaient traverser une ria, embouchure d’un fleuve côtier de Galice, semblable à celles de de certaines rivières bretonnes.Un chevalier qui cherchait le passage à gué risque d’être noyé par la marée montante envahissant l’estuaire. Il adressa une prière à St Jacques. La légende raconte que des milliers de coquillages remontèrent alors de la plage voisine pour s’amonceler sous les pieds du cheval, maintenant ainsi le cavalier hors de l’eau, et lui évitant la noyade. Ces coquilles étaient l’enveloppe d’un mollusque appelé “Peigne de Vénus”. Depuis, on le désigne sur sous le nom de “Coquille Saint Jacques”, et la coquille est devenue l’emblème des pèlerins de Compostelle.

 

  J’ai trouvé ce discours sur un panneau à la sortie de Saugues.

 

  Je reprends le Chemin mercredi, le 21 septembre au plus tard.

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  Ramblings - Saturday, September 17, 2005 -

 

  Clack…..clack…..clack…..behind me. “Bonjour pèlérin”, says Speedy as he zooms past me through the undergrowth of the track we were following before Cahors. He soon disappears. I assume that those who walk fast are travelling, daily, much further than I; but no, that evening, at the Auberge de Jeunesse et Jeunes Travailleurs, I find him in the bed next to me, asleep at 8.30pm! Fast walking must have exhausted him! He has not even got up the next day by the time I slip out of the building at 7.15am in the centre of Cahors, but later he again speeds past me with a single observation: “It’s difficult here…” and once more is soon lost to sight amongst the bushes and trees, stick clacking against the stones and rocks of the path.

 

  Getting into the Auberge de Jeunesse et Jeunes Travailleurs was no problem for me who is neither young nor working, nor indeed for the Gang of Four in their 60s/70s, and others more of my age. Reception, by a young girl, very pleasant, was into an establishment rather like the military: “ID please; do you need a pillow / pillow case / blanket / sleeping bag / supper / breakfast… all of which will cost you if you do?” I indicate a pillow, supper and breakfast will meet my requirements (providing breakfast is early enough), and a bed, if possible. E22.10 it costs, sleeping in a dormitory with bunk beds for 8 (only 6 people that night), and a basin; loos and showers were miles away along old bare boarded corridors. Spartan furnishings, the strict minimum, one might say, but all quite clean. Supper OK (4 courses), taken with my new companions, and breakfast too and then we climbed the steep hill out of Cahors together before they slipped away ahead of me after we had admired a somewhat misty view of Cahors from above.

 

  Hobbling along to Labastide-Marnhac during the morning I stopped from time to time to arrange my rescue from the Chemin which duly took place at lunch-time. Very useful to have a portable phone in my kitbag I can tell you. It was used extensively that morning (last Tuesday). I was not going to carry one but had my arm twisted; I’m glad it was!

 

  Had to cancel 2 reservations I had made and one of my future hostesses enlightened me with a new expression for me: “Bon rétablissement”, so I told her that when I was “mended” I might well be coming to see her (at Lauzerte).

 

  So what’s the state of the leg now after 3 days rest? Improving without a doubt, but still not ready to start walking.

    

  While I am not walking I have time to write so if I stop writing that could be a good sign....

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  Blessé à J19! - Thursday, September 15, 2005 -

 

  Quoi? Blessé? Comment?

 

  Eh oui, c’est un étirement du muscle sur le devant de la jambe gauche. L’effet, c’est que je ne pouvais plus marcher sur le plat ou sur les descentes, donc je prends 5-7 jours de repos pour donner le temps pour que ça guérisse.

 

  Jusqu’à ce jour, j’ai marché 350 km, même pas le quart de la distance totale, mais je vis dans l’espoir que je puisse continuer dans quelques jours, à partir de Labastide-Marnhac.

 

  L’hébergement dans le Monastère des Filles de Jésus à Vaylats dans une chambre individuelle: très bon. Deux horloges comtoises attirent mon attention, ainsi que celle à l’acceuil de l’Abbaye de Ste Foy à Conques.

 

  Je formais de nouvelles relations avec les gens que j’avais rencontrés depuis mon départ le dimanche passé, mais ils ont disparu devant moi. Certainement, il y aura d’autres personnes à rencontrer plus tard car, comme on dit, on n’est jamais seul sur le Chemin.

 

  Je lisais l’autre jour un journal à propos du Chemin, qui racontait que l’auteur, après être arrivé à St Jacques, était un peu déçu avec la fin de son pèlérinage, la réception à la Cathédrale, la Messe, puis il se rendait compte que le Chemin et le pélérinage et les gens qu’il avait croisés pendant le périple étaient bien plus importants que la fin du Chemin….. Il y a plus de pèlerins sur le Chemin qui ont l’intention de marcher jusqu’à St Jacques que je n’attendais. A Estaing, dans le livre d’enregistrement de l’Hospitalet, j’ai compté pour le mois d’août 45 pèlérins qui faisaient le long voyage – et cet établissement n’était pas le seul dans la ville pour recevoir des marcheurs. On n’a aucune idée combien y parviendront…..

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  Injury and frustration at D19!

 

  After resuming my walk on 11 September without any problem, the next day proved difficult: I “developed” a strained muscle in my the front of my left leg which made walking difficult. A night’s rest might solve the problem, I hoped, but not so. On leaving Cahors and after climbing up a steep slope, which was quite OK, it was walking on the flat and downhill which proved uncomfortable – to say the least. I decided to stop and rest for a few days. Suddenly, another 22 km seemed a long way let alone 1200! My normal walking speed is about 4 km/hr; it took about 4 hrs to do 10 km on Tuesday. Frustrating this is, having to sit around in the sun waiting for one set of muscles to mend while others, in excellent condition, become flaccid and weak! What value training?! I always did say the intention was to walk to Santiago, but the body must be willing.

 

  People on the route were very helpful: they offered pills and potions, told me all about their ills, aches and pains – but were able to carry on! New relationships I was building up with other walkers have now come to nought but there will be others amongst the “Camino Community”.

 

  So now I am resting……and I hope, as Churchill once said, that this is not the end but only the end of the beginning.

 

  Lately, on Monday in the monastery in Vaylats where I was staying I met those I have dubbed the “Gang of Four”; 4 old boys aged in their high 60s or 70s going to Santiago, one equipped with a backpack plus wheels (for use on roads), whose philosophy is to let tomorrow look after itself without booking beds or worrying about where they would get to; the “Noisy Ones”, being the group of women I met on Tuesday whom I had recognised from the day before in Cahors, not so much by sight as by the amount of noise they made – and which quite amused them; the man who had walked part of the route 2 years ago (stopped because his mother died), and who had met an 87 year old man who said to him to come back in 2 years time on the same day and eat truffles with him and have onion soup, so here he was about to do this! He’s walking from Blois to Santiago and back next year: 3000 km over 7 months. Then there is the 20 year old who has been living outside at night until she was soaked in a storm and is now moving into gîtes at night……

 

  By the way, at the last pause I reduced the weight of my rucksack to 12 kg (including water and food), so it has been easier to carry. I reckon that is the best I can do.

 

  And finally an amusement:

 

  Several men are in the changing room of a golf club. A mobile phone on a bench rings and a man engages the hands-free speaker function and begins to talk..... Everyone else in the room stops to listen.

MAN: "Hello"

WOMAN: "Honey, it's me. Are you at the club?"

MAN: "Yes"

WOMAN: "I am at the mall now and found this beautiful leather coat. It's only £1,000. Is it OK if I buy it?"

MAN: "Sure ... go ahead if you like it that much."

WOMAN: "I also stopped by the Mercedes dealership and saw the new 2005 models. I saw one I really liked."

MAN: "How much?"

WOMAN: "£26,000"

MAN: "OK, but for that price I want it with all the options."

WOMAN: "Great! Oh, and one more thing.... the house we wanted last year is back on the market. They're asking £950,000."

MAN: "Well, then go ahead and give them an offer, but just offer £900,000."

WOMAN: "OK. I'll see you later. I love you!"

MAN: "Bye, I love you, too."

  The man hangs up. The other men in the locker room are looking at him in astonishment. Then he asks: "Anyone know whose phone this is?"

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  Resting - D 18 - Sunday, September 11, 2005 -

 

  A striking point about all the accommodation I have stayed in is its variety. I stay usually in “gîtes d’étape” which are “hôtels” where one sleeps in dormitories of 3 to 20 people. They are quite cheap – E6-12 – and sometimes offer supper – E9-12 – and sometimes breakfast – E4-6. I have been in a convent, at St Côme d’Olt, which had recently been completely renovated such that it was now like a modern hotel with rooms for 3 people, en suite bathroom, but still retaining its old characteristics. It was very nice, and pilgrims were very well received: strongly recommended. I have been in the Hospitalet St Jacques at Estaing, a refuge run by laymen and a laywoman, which was free, but where one is invited to make a donation. They provided supper and breakfast, a service of compline in a very old chapel in the evening, and a service of prayers in the morning at which they pray for all pilgrims for 2 months after their visit that being the time it is expected to take to reach Santiago. Another nice touch: for the pilgrims going all the way they escort you across the bridge over the Lot River to see you on your way. Other walkers do not receive this treatment! I have stayed in an old pigeon tower (converted I hasten to say), private houses converted into gîtes, hotels which convert a loft into a gîte. All, without exception so far, have been spotless upon arrival, and they provide one with a bed, sometimes double-bunked, mattress, a blanket, and a pillow. One must, therefore, carry a sleeping bag or sleeping sheet. I think arrangements will be different in Spain…..we will see.

 

  I am enjoying 3 days of rest as at Limogne en Quercy; resume walking today. After the magnificent scenery of the Aubrac and Margeride, the countryside has become different and closer and, to an extent, less interesting. After Cahors I can expect changes, especially more rugged country. I have met several groups of people: the “Singers from Marseille” who offered songs last thing at night; the Bretons who were down for a week’s walking along the Way, doing a week each year to get to the end goal; the Normans, doing a similar thing and having their baggage transported from gîte to gîte on a daily basis; the 2 ladies one of whom is frightened of cows and had to be helped through a field of them; the French couple from St Etienne who have stayed in the same lodgings as me throughout the trip and with whom I have supped on almost all evenings since the start, but who, now, will be some 100km in front of me; the retired school-teacher who gets up at the time I have done 2 hours walking and who always arrives at the same gîte at 5pm exhausted by the heat or rain not to mention the walking! I expect to see him again before St Jean.

 

  On... on…....ultraeia!

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  Sur le Chemin – J 15 - Thursday, September 08, 2005 -

 

  Du Puy à Limogne-en-Quercy en 15 jours.

 

  Départ précédé par la messe dans la Cathédrale du Puy avec l’évêque. A la fin, il a proposé que tous les pèlerins se présentent, bien utile plus tard pour les rencontres entre pèlerins sur le Chemin. Moment émouvant: être debout à la sortie de la Cathédrale avant de prendre les premiers pas vers St Jacques.

 

  Points forts jusqu’ici:

La messe au début

Le couvent de Malet à St Côme d’Olt

L’Hospitalet St Jacques à Estaing

Traversée de l’Aubrac

L’acceuil bien chaleureux dans tous les hébergements

La bonne volonté de tous les pèlerins / randonneurs sur le Chemin.

Conques et son Abbaye

 

  Points faibles:

Aller se coucher à 21h30 chaque soir

Gîte non ouvert avant 16h00

 

  J’ai passé à travers des paysages vraiment formidables, mais avec quelques rudes épreuves de temps en temps, par exemple après Monistrol sur Allier, et après Conques. Par contre, les jours de marche sur l'Aubrac n’étaient pas difficiles, car il faisait beau et chaud, vues magnifiques et longues. On voit des crètes à longue distance, on se demande combien de jours il faut pour y arriver; parfois c’est le même jour, parfois le lendemain. Le progrès est lent, mais inexorable!

 

  Au couvent de Malet à St Côme, l’acceuil dans les lieux récemment aménagés était très chaleureux. Le soir, au coucher du soleil, dans le jardin la compline était un moment pour se souvenir.

 

  A l’Hospitalet St Jacques, tout le monde est enregistré dans le livre des pèlerins: pour ceux qui continuent jusqu’à St Jacques, tout de suite on offre des prières tous les jours pendant 2 mois, le temps qu'on estime qu'il faut pour y arriver. Autre tradition: on vous accompagne, si vous allez jusqu’à la fin du Chemin, à travers le pont du Lot depuis l’Hospitalet. Ces traditions, j’ai bien apprécié.

 

  Conques est un village superbe, bien préservé, avec son Abbaye de Ste Foy. Autre moment précieux: concert de chansons et orgues / piano dans l’Abbaye, samedi soir, le 3 septembre. L’hébergement dans l'Acceuil de l’Abbaye de Ste Foy est bien recommandé. Dîner avec quelques 50 pèlerins / randonneurs; quel vacarme! Tout le monde avait tant de choses à raconter à son voisin, la plupart qui ne se connaissaient pas.

 

  J’ai rencontré de gentils pèlerins avec qui j’ai passé des nuits, accompagnés sur la route, de plusieurs nationalités: Français, Allemands, Belges, Anglais, Luxembourgois, Canadiens, Suisses. Quelques uns vont jusqu’à St Jacques, d'autres fractionnent, c’est à dire ils feront tout le trajet, mais pendant quelques années, d'autres ne sont que les randonneurs, et encore d’autres marchent avec un petit sac à dos pendant que de grandes valises sont prises en charge et transportées en voiture entre chaque hébergement.

 

  Alors, pour ceux qui partent: aucun souci! Les gens sont chaleureux, les vaches belles (on en voit beaucoup, notamment en Aubrac), les chiens pas trop méchants, et le monde est à l’écart…….                  

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  Under way - Sunday, August 28, 2005 -

 

  Some 80 km done and only another 1500+ to do! It is good to be on the move, having started with a Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Le Puy on 25 August. There were some 20 pilgrims that morning of which only one other is going to Santiago. At the end of the Mass, the Bishop invited us all to introduce ourselves - useful for when one meets people along the way later. An interesting touch was to ask each of us to carry with us a "prayer" for a family member who had suffered and to take this to Santiago (if going that far).

 

  I am now in Aumont-Aubrac, staying in a gite in a room with 13 Frenchmen and women who walk but have their effects moved by wagon. They are pigrims going to do this over several years, 2 weeks at a time.

 

  Scenery is magnificent, architecture in churches very interesting, people one meets pleasant. Morale is good and physical shape OK; weather fine for the most part though 3 hrs walking in the rain yesterday not so good!

 

  Now slipping into a routine: leave around 7am and walk for 4-8+hrs depending on distance to cover, rest and recuperate and look over the town / village in which I am staying, supper in either the gite or at another resto nearby, 8-9 hrs sleep.

 

  On the Way one is very conscious of being on a pilgrims' route, because there are frequent signs, prayers, St Jaques shells all along the route. The Way is well signed: a map is scarcely necessary though I do carry one in case of a problem. Guide book has been a great help.

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  Ready at D-2 - Tuesday, August 23, 2005 -

 

  I am looking forward to setting off on Thursday. Move to Le Puy from home tomorrow: takes about 5 hours to get there by car, and about 11 days to walk back to Figeac which is almost due south of where I live! The plan is to walk for 7 days or so, then rest for a day or do a very reduced distance and fit in some sightseeing as there will be many places to look at closely. There will be one or 2 "social" stops to look forward to involving 2 or 3 days rest.

 

  I have just received another very useful book for the Camino Francés from the Spanish Embassy in London: "Pilgrim’s Guide. The Road to Santiago Spain" by JMA Jaén (translated into English). It has useful maps, including towns, description of the route and places of interest / some history of each stage.

 

  J’ai reçu plusieurs messages de "bonne route / buen camino" pour m’encourager: formidable! Les 2 premières réservations de gîte sont faites, mais je ne m’attends pas à rencontrer beaucoup de marcheurs du Puy, à part les randonneurs locales en vacances.

 

  Je me suis décidé d’aller à la Cathédrale du Puy pour assister à la messe de jeudi avant de partir sur le chemin. Donc, je partirai en bonne forme physique et de l'esprit.

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  The Camino Francés - Sunday, August 21, 2005 -

 

  The Camino Francés or French Way runs across northern Spain and can be seen at:   

  http://perso.wanadoo.fr/cheminsdecompostelle/Leschemins/Camino%20frances%20carto.html  

 

  Where is the Via Podiensis?

 

  The Via Podiensis or Le Puy Way follows Grande Randonnee 65. Visit  

  http://www.chemindecompostelle.com/ServicesGR65/CarteFrance.html

 

  to see the route in France.

   

  I will be staying in some of the places shown as I follow the GR.

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  Via Podiensis - D-7 - Thursday, August 18, 2005 -

 

  Pèlerin: personne qui voyage, ou bien personne qui voyage à une destination sacrée pour des raisons réligieuses. Moi, je suis plutôt du premier type, mais je vais à une destination sacrée. Jusqu’à présent, je n’ai pas décidé si je vais assister à la messe de 07h00 le matin de mon départ du Puy. Le guide de la “créanciale” propose une bénédiction avant de partir, vu du fait que l’on entre “dans le peuple des vagabonds, des démunis, des déracinés”! Mais aussi, il constate que “Le pèlerin d’aujourd’hui met les pieds dans les pas des pélerins qui l’ont précédé…”, donc à l’ombre des pélerins précédents. Et quelle précédence! Jusqu’à Godescalc en 950 AD!

  

  On dit que c’est “une grande aventure spirituelle qui n’a jamais cessé”. Alors, mon exploit ne commence pas pour des raisons religieuses, c’est parce que la route des pélerins est là: je veux voir de quoi il s’agit, avoir la bonne fortune de rencontrer les gens qui le font pour des raisons spirituelles et autres. L’idée m’est venue en contemplant un autre endroit de pèlerinage pas trop loin de chez moi, Rocamadour, où viennent les gens toute l’année, surtout à Pâques. La ville de Rocamadour se trouve sur le chemin (variante) du Puy à Santiago. Pour ma part, j’ai l’intention de suivre le GR65, dit La Via Podiensis.

 

  Un commentaire d’un lecteur m’a ammené à son “blog”, donc journal, avec photographies. Très intéressant, et bonne idée, des photos. Lorsque j’ai appris le système des blogs, j’essayerai de mettre des photos dans ce journal. La plupart seront pour la fin du voyage.

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  At home - D-9 - Tuesday, August 16, 2005 -

 

  Depart Le Puy-en-Velay on 25 August, arriving Santiago around 11 November – if all goes well. Training walks and runs have been done but none emulates the accumulated effect of walking for many days in succession. Average distances to be covered will be some 20-25 km/day with a rest day every week or so. Rucksack weight to be no more than 12 kg but this is on the heavy side. How to get it down when it appears that everything I have selected is essential? While I intend to cover the whole Camino in one trip many people do sections of the route, return home and resume at a later date from where they left off.

 

  I will occasionally update this "chronicle" but it will depend on availability of computers along the way and how enthusiastic I feel about sitting down to write! Some say that they get into the walk and may maintain a manuscript account but do not wish to spend time in front of a keyboard. However, having looked at several sites in French and English I believe there is quite an interest amongst previous "camineros" and potential ones about what is experienced on the Camino.

 

  Background reading has included a very good French diary about a couple who walked from Le Puy to Santiago in 2001 : "Carnets de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle" by Francois Dermaut. His illustrations are all painted and sketched and include caricatures of people encountered on the way. It is useful to have at least one opinion on some of the accommodation I am going to stay in.

 

  For other camineros, useful books (which I shall take) include “Le Chemin du Puy vers St Jacques de Compostelle” by J-P Siréjol and L Laborde-Balen, “Le Chemin de St Jacques en Espagne de St Jean Pied de Port à Compostelle” by J-Y Grégoire and L Laborde-Balen, “miam-miam-dodo” by L Clouteau and J Cloteau for the route in France, and by C Champion for the Camino Francés in Spain.

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  Introduction - Monday, August 15, 2005

 

  Habitant en France pas trop loin de Figeac, je veux prendre le chemin du Puy-en-Velay à St Jacques. Je partirai le 25 août. Je crois que le trajet ne sera pas facile, car il faut marcher pendant 70-80 jours à la suite pour une distance de quelques 1600 km.

 

  Néanmoins, j’attends avec plaisir la possibilité de rencontrer d’autres pèlerins, de faire le voyage, et de voir la France et l’Espagne à pied. Mon expérience récente en faisant de longues marches n’est pas grande, mais j’ai eu le grand plaisir de grimper dans les Himalayas (1998), et jusqu’au sommet du mont Kilimanjaro (2003).

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  About Me

 

  Graeme Bennett By way of introduction

 

  I live in central southern France most of the time, and my intention is to walk from Le Puy-en-Velay to Santiago, starting on 25 August. I say “intention”, advisedly as I am under no illusions: almost continuous walking for 70-80 days will not be easy. Nevertheless, I look forward to the pilgrimage, meeting pilgrims and other walkers and enjoying both France and Spain. Previous experience of long distance walking includes trekking in the Himalayas and up Mt Kilimanjaro.

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                                                                       22/01/2013

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