Thursday, 30 April 2009

Dear Diary - Day minus one on the Camino Inglés

This Camino began with kitchen scales. I've noticed that on my last couple of pilgrimages the weight in my rucksack has crept up. I wonder if this may be a feature of the shorter routes? The seductive thought of taking a couple of extra pairs of everything to save washing...and maybe a light paperback to read.

This time I was determined to pack less and only to pack light things. So I did what I haven't done for a while and weighed everything, discarding all that wasn't absolutely essential. My walking companion arrived packed and ready to go. He looked at the kitchen scales, examined my toilet bag with a tooth brush sawn in half and shook his head silently.

I felt mounting excitement when we arrived at London Heathrow to catch the Click Air flight direct to A Coruña.

This wasn't only excitment about the journey. There was the anticipation of placing my rucksack on the scales at check-in to see the display in front of witnesses. Please don't worry about me. I recover quickly.

And there it was. 5.5 kgs. YES! I started to explain the whole Camino, lightweight walking thing to the woman at check in and saw her eyes glaze over in that same way friends react when you talk about your pilgrimage for the 758th time.

But to A Coruña, second largest city in Galicia and formerly the capital of the region until that honour moved to Santiago in 1982.
Historically it was a very important port in Spain and this remains the case today. But nowadays few pilgrims arrive by boat.
There is a route to Santiago from A Coruña which takes 3 or 4 days and one from Ferrol which takes 5 days.

Although the route from A Coruña is undoubtedly historically the more authentic of the two it is less that the 100 kms required to obtain a Compostela and so most modern pilgrims take the Ferrol route.

We stayed at the very reasonably priced Hostal Mara right in the centre. This was very handy for walks along the promenade, said to be the longest in Europe. It is also near the many sea food restaurants in A Coruña. Some are posh and expensive but most of them are like rough and ready fast seafood joints. It is possible to eat the day's catch for not a lot of money and down by the harbour you can see the fishing boats departing to fill the next day's menu.

Walking around the town it is easy to see how it got its other name: La Ciudad de Cristal or the City of Glass:

The glass fronted rooms are a feature of buildings and many homes in Galicia. There the weather is very like Scotland - only warmer. I often wonder if in houses these rooms evolved so that people could dry their wet clothes with all the rainy weather they get?

Before dinner we went off to the 17th Century Church of Santiago. The lady putting out the candles at the end of Mass explained proudly that it is the oldest church in A Coruña. On the way out we stop to admire the many images of St James.

Just outside is the first arrow of the route from A Coruña.

Then off to dinner. The Menu of the Day still remains incredible value at 8 - 12 Euros for three courses including bread and wine especially here where fresh fish dominates a lots of menus. But already the weakness in the pound against the Euro is obvious.

Normally A Coruña isn't a place you hear a lot of other English voices. This is the place where Spanish people go on holiday. But this evening is an exception. Two Englishment arrived in the restaurant. When the waiter approached they addressed him in uncompromising English. When he looked blankly at them they did that very English thing of speaking more slowly but much more loudly. I wanted to shout over, "He's Spanish, not deaf" when the waiter demonstrated that although he can't speak English he knows enough to be entreprenurial and handed them both a menu pointing with his pen as if to young children..."Feesh". He left the foreigners to cope as best they could. They rose to the occassion when he came back. "Beer" they said, holding up two fingers. Communication had been established.

After a final walk along the harbour we went back to the hostal for an early night. The alarm is set so that we can get out early in the morning for the bus to Ferrol.

To begin.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

New approaches to the Camino Inglés

New possible stages on the Camino Inglés

I’m just back from walking this delightful route from Ferrol again. More of that later!

Before I went I got a couple of e mails from people asking about the stages. The route is very beautiful with great scenery but it is demanding in parts. People are particularly apprehensive about the long stage from Betanzos to Hospital de Bruma/Meson do Vento of 29/31kms – particularly in light of the 3 kms elevation of some 0.4 kms 12 kms from Bruma.

Whilst this stage is fine for strong walkers I’ve been up that hill myself a few times now and it is steep!

But now there are more options available to pilgrims on this route – with more planned.

Here is the news:

Existing suggested stages:

Ferrol – Pontedeume 25 kms
Pontedeume – Betanzos 20 kms
Betanzos – Hospital de Bruma 29 kms
Hospital de Bruma – Sigüeiro 24 kms
Sigüeiro – Santiago de Compostela 16 kms

There are albergues in Neda, Miño and Hospital de Bruma.

For those wishing to use albergues:

Ferrol – Neda 11kms
Neda – Miño 27 kms
Miño – Hospital de Bruma 38 kms

New albergues planned:

Betanzos – 40 places – 1 Rua Cervantes in the town centre was due to open this year – will now open for the Holy Year 2010.

Sigüeiro – Money has been allocated and a site identified next to the swimming pool on the route into Sigüeiro – not due to open until the Holy Year 2010

New possible stage:

The family who own the O Meson Novo Pension in Meson do Vento have been welcoming pilgrims occasionally for 34 years.

They know the route is growing in popularity. Therefore they are now providing a new service:

They will pick up pilgrims at an agreed point – say the Bar Julia - 18kms from Betanzos and just before “the hill”. They will transport them to their pension if accommodation is booked for 18 Euros per person and will return them to the pick up point next day. Transport is free of charge.

The parents worked for 10 years in Leeds in England and their English is very good. Antonio their son who will run the taxi service undertands English very well.


981 692 776
981 696008

Mobile number for Antonio – 678 585 431

E mail: or

There are also two new Casas Rurales which have opened along the route:

The Dona Maria in Buscas – 20 kms from the Bar Julia opposite the Bar Novo and on the route. (Double from 60 Euros –

The Antón Veiras – in O Outeiro – 27.5 kms from the Bar Julia on the route (981 682 303. Doubles 60 Euros)

These are expensive options for pilgrims and Antonio from the Pension O Meson Novo is offering a fully flexible service therefore pilgrims could base themselves in Meson do Vento for 2 nights being picked up at As Buscas or O Outeiro on the second evening to sleep ion Meson do Vento being returned there the next morning to go forward to Santiago.

Please note that the Bar Julia is only open Monday – Friday by arrangement with groups booking lunch.

I have a few other updates to make to the guide which will appear shortly.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Hasta Pronto - See you soon

Hola a todos

Just off to the airport to fly to A Coruña. The flight was reasonably priced and isn’t a red eye – yippee! I’ll have a lazy day tomorrow walking along the beach and eating seafood. I know, it’s difficult, but someone has to do it.
Then on Monday a bus round to Ferrol to start the Camino Inglés from there. I'll leave from the harbour (see below). You can follow where I am with the wee slide show on the side bar.
I should be in Santiago on Friday and may catch up with everyone soon after that.

Have a good week – I will!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Pilgrim People Series - Susana Rio Vickes

A life in the day of Susana Rio Vickes
Administrator of the Archicofradía Universal del Apostól Santiago

Susana gets up early in the house she shares with her parents and sister near Santiago. She breakfasts quickly on hot milk poured over sweet biscuits. Although her home is only 20 minutes from her office it is in the countryside. The family keep chickens, rabbits and a pig. She smiles and says, “But they don’t have names, they are for the pot”.

Susana’s office is in the Plaza la Quintana which in summer is bursting with visitors. It can be an impromptu theatre during the day and a dance venue in the evening. The Plaza is bounded on one side by the Convent of San Pelayo home to Dominican cloistered nuns. On the other side are the walls of the Cathedral with the famous Holy Door.

This door is closed and bricked up at the conclusion of each Holy Year – the year in which the 25th July Feast of St James falls on a Sunday. It is only opened again to herald the start of the next Holy Year. The formula for working out when a Holy Year occurs is to add intervals of 11,6,5,6,5,11.... etc starting with the next Holy Year in 2010. So the next will be 2021, the next 2027 and so on.

All of the Spain watches the Puerta Santa being opened on live television and everyday visitors have their pictures taken at the Door.

Most visitors fail to notice the other door to the left of the Holy Door. This is the discreet entrance to the offices of the Archicofradía. Susana has been the Administrator for 5 years.

The Archicofradía is a religious organisation which aims to support the cause of St James. the pilgrimage to his shrine in Santiago and pilgrims themselves. Currently it has 2,145 members. The organisation has branches in many parts of Spain but is also beginning to flourish in Mexico, Venezuela and Chile.

The staff of the Pilgrims´Office is employed by the Archicofradía and members also provide guided tours and support for pilgrims in the main churches of Santiago such as the Iglesia de Sal, the Iglesia de Santa Clara or the Iglesia de San Roque. They have also developed this service along the Camino Francés in Galicia in churches including those at O Cebreiro, Sarria and Portomartin.

The Archicofradía is a religious organisation which aims to promote the spiritual aspects of the pilgrimage. Susana recognises the benefits of having a well developed network of albergues run by local councils but her organisation also has ambitions to open more albergues which offer a simple Christian welcome. They have an eye to a number of disused rectories along pilgrim routes for this purpose in future.

Susana stresses that everyone interested in St James can apply to join the Archicofradía. Members receive a copy of the magazine Compostela which published twice per year. The annual subscription for that is 18 Euros.

New members may also have a medal presented to them on one of the three feast days of St James each year: 25th July, the Feast of his death, 23 May the Commemoration of the legendary appearance of St James in the Battle of Clarijo and 30th December the feast of the Transportation of St James’ body to Padrón. On these days members can site within the confines of the High Altar almost within reach of the Botefumeiro.

Susana has been doing this job for 5 years and she loves it. She is in the office from 9 – 3pm every day including Saturdays. She particularly welcomes pilgrims who come to visit whether members of the Archicofradía or not. She loves meeting pilgrims who put a lot back into the Camino, the volunteers who repaint the yellow arrows, the hospitaleras and hospitaleros and the other volunteers along the routes.

Today she has been visited by among others the new Abbott of the Oseira Monastery famous for its beauty and the past regular visits from Graham Green. The Monastery is situated on the Via de la Plata beyond Ourense and the Abbott is looking at how to improve facilities for pilgrims.

Susana leaves the office at 3pm and travels home for lunch with all of the family. They usually have three courses starting with soup. Susana’s favourite meal is fried eggs and chips. I asked her if she was sure she wasn’t Scottish!

Her spare time is filled with lots of hobbies: walking of course, both popular and classical music and dancing. Susana also reads a lot and is currently reading Un Hombre Llega y Dice by Nicole Krauss. She reads before she goes to sleep and she always dreams. Last night she dreamt that she was frantically searching through piles of paper in the office for a letter the Chairman had given her.

And her biggest wish? With the farthest away look imaginable she says rather sheepishly…”Amor”.

Friday, 10 April 2009

To cut a long pilgrimage short - Cupid's Arrow

I got a telephone call from Bob the other day. He’s one of my best friends. He and his wife Lida are going to Santiago for a short holiday in July and wondered if we could meet up there.

Bob said the reason for the trip is that whenever I see them I tell so many stories about the Camino and Santiago they’ve decided to see it for themselves.

This is quite a compliment as Bob is a great adventurer and story teller himself. He’s a journalist to trade but spent many years helping the poorest in society such as working undercover in South Africa during the days of apartheid helping to fight for better conditions for black workers. He was one of the first journalists into Romania after the revolution which deposed the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. It was Bob who first reported the plight of the “Aids babies” – the babies who had been infected with contaminated blood provided by a corrupt regime who denied the existence of the disease. We met shortly after this and we organised a mission to Romania to help fledgling enterprises become established.

It was in the centre of Bucharest he told me some of his stories including how he had recently met Lida. He had been travelling in Romania researching a book and had been visiting some of the orphanages where children lived in appalling conditions. That brought him into contact with the nascent social services and he was invited to a party to meet some people.

He described the feeling of being rooted to the spot when he entered the room and his eyes met those of a beautiful Romanian social worker. Instant Love is what he calls it.

When he told his friends about this cataclysmic event they said:
Don’t be silly
She is almost 20 years younger than you
She speaks no English
Coming from an underdeveloped country she will never cope in Britain
There’s no fool like an old fool – put in even stronger terms

But there was one friend who told him that whilst all of that may be true, in these matters only the heart is important. Bob and Lida have now been married for the best part of 20 years and have a most beautiful and talented daughter Catherine.

I don’t see them often but I did see them shortly after I had finished the Via de la Plata, the route from Seville. Frankly they were incredulous. “You walked 1000 kms?” they asked. “In a total of 36 days?” For some reason they kept repeating the answers I gave back to me as questions. “Why did you do it?”, “How did you get there?”, “How did you know about it”, “How did you find your way?”, “Where did you sleep”, “What did you take with you?” .

In fact their questions boiled down to the few things that pilgrims actually need to know.

· How to get there
· What to take
· How to find your way on the route
· Where to sleep
The truth is I spent many hours, almost obsessively, researching, planning, preparing. Then doing it all over again. I suspect we all do the same.

However the reality is that actually all we need to do is get to the start of the route, carrying as little as possible and then follow the arrows. Everything then unfolds in its own way, at its own speed, with its own momentum.
This is a very difficult concept for everyone to grasp. In the beginning I behaved as if I was travelling to the far flung regions of a third world country. Even although I knew Spain quite well! I tried to prepare for every eventuality. To predict every scenario.

But cutting to the bottom line as ever Bob said in his broad Glasgow accent, “Wee man, tell us the story of the arrows”. And so I did borrowing the words of Laurie Dennett who wrote in Roads to Santiago:

“The 16th century witnessed the beginning of a decline in the popularity of pilgrimage. Even in Spain, the once-great pilgrim roads gradually fell into disuse. The modern renaissance of the Camino Francés began with the efforts of the Galician priest Don Elias Valiña. From the 1970’s onwards he waymarked it, wrote the first guidebooks, and created a chain of “Amigos del Camino” along its length. Over 100,000 people a year now follow his famous yellow arrows.

Of the many stories about Elías - the inventor of "the yellow arrow" and rejuvenator of the Camino in modern times - this one perhaps captures him best. In Spain it is very well known, but here, less so.

One day in 1982, with fears of terrorism rife, the sight of yellow arrows painted on trees along a Pyrenean road aroused the suspicion of the Guardia Civil. Following the trail, they came upon a battered white van. A small, smiling man got out. When prompted, he opened the van's back doors to reveal tins of bright yellow paint and a wet paintbrush.

"Identification!" barked the Guardia.
"I'm Don Elías Valiña Sampedro, parish priest of O Cebreiro in Galicia."
"And what are you doing with all this?"
"Preparing a great invasion…"

I’ve learned that in life people are often driven by noble causes some deeply personal. One memory which will last for ever is when Bob stood up beside his new wife at his wedding reception. He faced a large gathering of family and friends some of whom found it difficult to hide their concern bordering on cynicism at this foolhardy undertaking. Bob dressed in a kilt drew himself up to his impressive height of 6’2, looked his audience in the eye and said, “ I’d like to tell you how I feel about this woman by my side.” And with a voice I’d never heard before he sang:

O, my love is like a red, red rose,
That is newly sprung in June.
O, my love is like the melody,
That is sweetly played in tune.
As fair are you, my lovely lass,
So deep in love am I,
And I will love you still, my Dear,
Till all the seas go dry.

Till all the seas go dry, my Dear,
And the rocks melt with the sun!
O I will love you still, my Dear,
While the sands of life shall run.

And fare you well, my only Love,
And fare you well a while!
And I will come again, my Love,
Although it were ten thousand mile!

I’m not entirely convinced that the bride fully understood every word at that point but together they have been following the arrows in their own life for along time now.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Pilgrim People - A life in the day of Gareth Thomas

Last year Gareth made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela walking 2000kms from Worcester. He is now studying for the priesthood in Rome.

My alarm wakes me at 6.30 from a dream in which I was in the role of youth chaplain on the rooftop of a hostel in the middle of a Judean desert, helping a student construct an electronic robot lama from microchips, diodes, pipe-cleaners and cotton wool, as we struggled to make sense of an instruction manual printed in German. I have a lukewarm shower and I do not attempt to de-construct the dream. My room is on the top floor and there is a good view to the west, the direction of the Mediterranean sea which can be reached after an hour’s bike ride.Palm Sunday looks like being a bright sunny day.

It is now 6.50 and while shaving I wonder how many donkeys are preparing to go to church today? I remember reading a book about planning parish liturgies for Holy Week, and it advised never to get a donkey involved in the Palm Sunday procession, because the donkey becomes the main attraction and Jesus gets eclipsed.

I wonder how many donkeys were made redundant because of that book?

7.10 Dress for Morning Prayer is informal, but I wear my suit trousers to save time changing later. I have a few minutes to spare before Morning Prayer so I look at my revision list and think about priorities for study. The real problem is that I haven’t understood even the basic concepts of the Metaphysics course we began weeks ago and there will be an oral exam on it before long. I decide to use some of my free time today to find a way into the subject.

7.25 I walk down three flights of stairs to the chapel, past the portraits of popes and previous rectors of the college. I’m carrying my metaphysics text book and a teabag. On the stairs I meet two fellow seminarians heading for Morning Prayer. We wave a wordless greeting because we are in our fourth day of silence, a period of pre-Easter recollection that will continue until Tuesday of Holy Week.
I sit in my place in chapel and in the few minutes before Morning Prayer, I look at my book. Its title is simply Metaphysics. The title alone is enough to conjure up that feeling of nausea that first swept through me at the age of eleven when I was the only one in my class who dared to ask “What is the point of algebra?” because I genuinely did not understand. It is the same now with metaphysics

We begin Morning Prayer at 7.40 We sing Psalm 118 and I am struck by the way the line “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” occurs shortly before “blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord”. I hold onto these two lines, as they suddenly seem new and exciting. I let the rest of Morning Prayer drift around me and stick with these two lines from the psalm.
It is 8.10 and I take Metaphysics and the teabag to breakfast, which is a silent meal during this recollection period. I say grace and cross myself before sitting down and I catch a smile from the student opposite me. I realise I’ve just made the sign of the cross with a teabag. My breakfast is Bran Flakes with a sprinkling of muesli, one slice of brown bread with home-made marmalade, a glass of orange juice and a cup of weak tea from the pot enhanced with my PG Tips pyramid teabag. I finish breakfast quickly and take Metaphysics into the garden to sit and read for a while. The Roman sun is hot already.

9.30 The morning retreat conference is given in the common room and the subject is human development in formation. It starts from the familiar premise that life in a seminary years ago was very different. Feelings had to be suppressed, but now that has long been recognised as a mistake and we pay a great deal of attention to our human needs. As the speaker develops his theme, talking about intimacy, sexuality, bereavement and mutual dependence, I remain with the opening premise and reflect upon it. Is it true?
10.30 I go back into the garden with my Metaphysics book. The terrapins are surfacing in the pond. There are five of them, in different sizes, and I have been watching them a lot recently. A pair of terrapins crawl out of the water and sit in the sun, completely still, basking. I suddenly find myself playing with the question, “What is the point of terrapins?” It becomes an important practice metaphysical question, and it doesn’t make me feel nauseous. It’s fun.

11.45 We are in the college garden in formal dress, ready for the Palm Sunday procession and Mass. No donkeys will be involved at any stage in the proceedings. The Gospel is read, in the garden, and starts with the account of the collecting of the donkey that Jesus will ride into Jerusalem. I picture the donkey. I think of Barbara Reed’s donkey who goes on pilgrimage to Compostela with her: Daly, a rather angelic looking animal even if she has a reputation for occasional stubbornness; and I think of Rebecca in Moratinos and her donkey troubles a short while ago as reported on her blog. I remember the Dutchman I met while walking through Tours on the way to Compostela: he was riding a little blue cart pulled by a small horse. I suddenly snap out of it. There you are: it is true what that book said! Donkeys are a distraction in the Palm Sunday liturgy.

13.00 lunch time. We listen to the Concerto de Aranjuez while eating in silence and I remember walking across La Mancha in 1971 pretending to be Don Quixote and arriving in El Toboso expecting to see the real Dulcinea at any moment. I look around me at my fellow students, eating in silence, and I am sure that they have probably all done similar things.

13.45 Coffee after lunch in the garden. I look at the terrapins again. There is definitely something metaphysical about them. They have the answer. I decide to go for a bike ride, but not to the coast. Just a little circuit around Rome.
15.20 I arrive at a viewpoint on the Gianicolo looking out across Rome. My ‘little circuit around Rome’ started as a full-pelt ride down the Via Ostiense, then I raced past the Colosseum to Piazza Venezia, whizzed down to Piazza Navona, crossed the Tiber and raced past St Peter’s, then up to the viewpoint. Breathless, perspiring, I buy a beer from one of the stalls next to the equestrian statue of Garibaldi and look at the view across Rome. There’s a momentary sense that – even with all the restrictions of seminary life - this is a kind of freedom I haven’t had for many years. I just stand there and reflect on that for a few minutes, enjoying the beer, the view, the sunshine, and take some pleasure in the sparkle on the recently polished spokes of my racing bike.

16.10 Back at the college, I have a shower and book my laundry slot for Monday afternoon. We have a washing machine on each floor and we book a time slot. I spend another half an hour on the Metaphysics book.

17.00 Second conference of the day. I’m not really receptive to another hour of input, so I just let it go over me and don’t really take it in. There is a time for this, but it’s not now. I consider the metaphysics problem. Can I really work it out with terrapins?

18.00 After the conference is finished, I go to the art room and collect my painted crucifix which I’ve been working on for several months: oil paint on a gesso ground in a recessed area carved into African mahogany in the shape of a Byzantine cross. Once again, I find myself next to the pond with the terrapins. Working quickly, I sketch the figure of Saint Francis and on the other side of the Christ figure I sketch in the figure of Saint Clare.

While I am doing this I am simultaneously glancing at the terrapins. My brain seems to have switched on again as I’m still thinking about the metaphysics problem. I’m going to work out a way of interpreting all the problems of metaphysics as a conversation between terrapins: as if one of them is trying to explain to the others an answer to the problem “What is the point of terrapins?”

19.30 Supper is followed by adoration of the Holy Sacrament at 20.30, then Night Prayer at
21.15, after which I’m ready for bed.

PS: Posted at 9am Monday 6 April:

3.30 in the morning. I woke up to find the whole building shaking.It seemed to last about half a minute. My first ever experience of being in an earthquake. I stood in the corridor with other students and we wondered what the procedure is: should we go outside or not? Scary.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Giving and taking

Last year the Confraternity of St James in the UK was 25 years old. During these years the CSJ hasn’t just survived, it has grown and flourished. It is now the largest English speaking association of its kind in the world.

The Confraternity is just that: an organisation made up of 2000 members, run by the members with members of staff who are pilgrims too.

I’ve spent 30 odd years working with non for profit organisations and like small businesses more charities start and go out of business than survive for any length of time. So I’m impressed the CSJ has lasted this long and when you take into account that it is formed of determined, individualistic, self opinionated and stubborn pilgrims (like me) its very survival is amazing.
But most pilgrims have other qualities too and many are driven by the search for spiritual development of one kind or another and perhaps we recognise that in each other. Actually when pilgrims walk together on a route, or sit down to eat together or meet at home there is a lot of give and take. A lot of tolerance. The Camino is inclusive.

As the old saying goes: “Pilgrims take what they need and give what they can”

Over the years enthusiastic pilgrims have started associations in many parts of the world. But it can be a thankless task and post Camino enthusiasm can wane so most have fallen by the wayside.

Not the CSJ. The founding members and trustees ever since have taken wise decisions to charge reasonable subscriptions to keep the Confraternity going. The organisation also has an excellent on line bookshop and publishes its own guide to Camino routes as well as retailing works by other publishers. Among the best sellers is the CSJ Guide to the Camino Francés.

Now the CSJ has launched a new project that I think has largely gone unnoticed in pilgrim circles so far.

Everyone knows about the longer routes to Santiago – the Camino Francés, the Via de la Plata, the Le Puy Route and so on. But there are other shorter routes: the Camino Inglés
(3 or 5 days), the Camino Portugués (10 or 11 days), the Camino de Madrid (14 days), the route to Finisterre and Muxía (3 – 5 days).

These routes are becoming increasingly popular and may be a welcome respite from the hoards of pilgrims on the Camino Francés these days.

And so the CSJ has not just updated its Pilgrim Guides to some of these shorter routes
(see here) it is also making them available to down load free of charge from their website. Free of charge? Yes, with the option to leave a donation.

“What’s the catch?” I hear you ask. Well there isn’t one. The deal is that pilgrims using the guides are invited to send back comments, new information and updates so that the guides become a constantly updated resource for future pilgrims. Giving and taking.

But will pilgrims participate? The reason I ask the question is because people react to the Camino in different ways. I see this on the internet forums. For some the Camino is a disappointment. It can be difficult physically particularly if there has been little preparation, the level of sharing in accommodation and one to one is a challenge for some and on the more remote routes the isolation of walking solo for many days isn’t so splendid for some. For others walking the route satisfies the desire to do it and often we never hear from people again.

But for others the Camino has a powerful attraction and once bitten forever smitten.

Many people want to give something back and sending comments on a guide provided free of charge is an easy way of doing that. So the CSJ have launched this project as an experiment. We’ll soon see whether pilgrims want this service and whether they will give feedback.

The way it works is that the individuals who wrote the guides will get the comments and decide how often to up date them. They will be updated at least once a year.

I’ve written new guides to the Caminos Inglés (photo above)and Portugués (photo below) and the prolific Alison Raju has revised her guide to the route to Finisterre and Muxía. That is also part of this project. I hope to complete the revision of the guide to the route from Madrid at the end of August and then that will be available.

The early results are encouraging. Pilgrims from the internet forum at user tested the guide to the Camino Inglés before it was published and recently two sets of pilgrims have e mailed me comments.

In the next few weeks starting from today the Guide to the Camino Portugués is being used by various pilgrims. Just today I got an envelop from the CSJ enclosing comments from a pilgrim who used the Guide. It was a complete relief to see that they have suggested a few helpful clarifications and additions rather than complaining they got hopelessly lost and the Guide is useless!

If anyone is wondering what is in it for the CSJ (or even for me!) let’s remember what Woody Guthrie the famous songwriter said about his songs:

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”

Do wijits have a heart?

A strange title but the story is true:

After I started this blog I installed some wijits - to feed blog pieces to those who want them, to record the number of readers of my blog and so on.

It now appears that one of these "free" electronic gadgets wasn't entirely free and came with advertising malware. Some readers in different parts of the world alerted me to the problem.

I decided to systematically remove the wijits to find the source of the trouble. And so I removed the Ligit search wijit which usually lives on the side bar. The problem persisted.

Quite coincidentally I got an e mail from one of the Ligit team who apprently has been reading the blog - astonishing enough! But she noticed their wijit had gone, enquired why and offered to help find a solution.

An IT company with a heart that puts it users first? Apparently so!

This is good news in these times of economic turbulence where everyone finds it difficult to make money let alone good customer relations.

Thanks to Jacqueline Malan and the Ligit team for their concern and help.

The horrid pop ups have now the unlikely event they return please let me know.