Monday, 27 December 2010

Videos and slideshows

Recently on one of the pilgrim forums someone asked where they could get slideshows or pictures of the Camino routes to show their boss so he would be persuaded to give them time off to walk! I realised I needed to bring mine together in one category. Here is a selection:

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Sign

A few times on the Camino I’ve wondered whether or not I was walking in the right direction. When this happens on the routes all we have to do is look for a sign, a yellow arrow, to show us the way to go. The past couple of weeks have been a bit like that for me.
I shared with you in this very public forum that I’d decided to pack up and just set out walking to see where it took me. I felt good about the decision and equally good about announcing it. Then the doubts started: Will I have enough money? Will I rent out my home or sell it? If I rent it how much will I get and will the tenants ruin the place? What if I do all of this and get ill? How will I get a bank account in Spain and a mobile telephone? Nagging thoughts and a rising anxiety that seemed to attach itself to everything. The ground floor apartment in my building was flooded when a pipe broke in the apartment above. “Oh my God” I thought, “what if this happens to me when I am away?” I woke up in the middle of the night worrying about everything. “Do I have enough insurance?” “Do I have enough Spanish?” “What if something happens to one of my daughters and they can’t find me on Camino?” “What if I get robbed, or injured or… or …”

I started to doubt the entire enterprise. “Do you really want your life to go in this direction?” The question got larger and larger. Then like the star which appeared in the East or the yellow arrow on the tree when you think you are lost, a Camino sign appeared as if from nowhere…here is the story:

Some time ago an e mail popped into my inbox from Pietro. He explained that he was a pilgrim and had travelled the Camino Inglés using my Guide. Here is what he wrote:

“Dear Mr Walker,
I obtained your guide for the Il Camino Ingles via the Confraternity website and it was excellent.
I did Il Camino in September 2009 as part of my BA Photography degree at the University of Portsmouth.
I produced an A4 size book for one of my project and finished with a BA First Class with Honours in Photography.
Within some of my text I would have probably used similar wording from your guide and in my forward I acknowledge this, hopefully you do not mind?
Would love to talk to you in any event if you could e-mail me your telephone number I would then ring you.
Thank you for the guide, without it my pilgrimage would have been a lot harder.”
I wrote back to him saying I didn’t mind in the least what he did with extracts of the Guide and that started an exchange of correspondence. It was clear that as well as being a photographic project, his Camino had had a profound effect. He sent me a CD of his Camino Photographs. They are excellent. I’ve cheekily posted one or two of them in this blog. Then the other day, at the height of my doubting about packing up and leaving the postman brought me a copy of Pietro’s book. It is delightful and I leafed through the photographs enjoying them once more.

Then I was drawn to the Introduction and as I read the words I could not believe what I was seeing. Here is what it says:
“This book is a celebration of my Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela which started as my project for my BA (Hons) Photography. However it developed into a lifetime experience.
Do we sometimes receive a sign? I got a push in the right directions one morning whilst collecting the Church Hymn Books at Sunday Mass. I had racked my brains for a topic for the project for my degree with little inspiration. Suddenly there, inside the hymn book, I found overlooked copies of the previous two weeks’ Sunday Bulletin containing an article on “The Pilgrim Way to Santiago de Compostela.”
Being a photographer there was even a picture of the Sunday Bulletin in question. I stared at it. I was astonished.
To explain. Every week thousands of copies of the Sunday Bulletin are produced by Redemptorist Publications and sold to parishes all over the United Kingdom. They have stories and articles on one side and the local church prints their information on the other side. Some three years ago one of the priests in the parish where I play the organ in London was appointed the Director of Redemptorist Publications, a highly successful company. One day he said to me, “I’m looking for ideas for the summer series and I thought about “Pilgrimage”, why don’t you write a few articles for us?” “And,” he added, “We pay good money for all contributions.” So I produced a couple about Santiago and they asked for more which I supplied, the fees going to the Confraternity of St James. Then they asked for another entire series about pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Before my first pilgrimage the most I had ever written were business reports to Boards of Directors. This was much more enjoyable and from that Rebekah Scott suggested I start this blog.

It was so long ago I’d forgotten about it until I was looking at my own words reproduced in Pietro’s book. Pilgrims encouraging and inspiring other pilgrims. How could I have doubted that the Pilgrim World is for me and that I was going in the right direction?
So I have stopped writing down my finances over and over again hoping that they will look different every time I do it. I’m lucky I have enough to live on if I don’t buy a Ferrari. My plan is in place. The housing market remains depressed so I am going to lease my house. I am going to resign my remaining work responsibilities and just after Easter will walk the Camino Levante from Valencia. I do not intend to return to live permanently in the United Kingdom.
I am open to all possibilities on the Way. Some readers have written with helpful encouragement…” a priest is converting his home to an albergue on the Via de la Plata,” “ The church of San Francisco in Santiago has no organist”, “Someone needs to write a Guide in English to the Coastal Route in Portugal.”
I have some ideas of my own. I’ve been talking with my friend in Gibraltar about a new circular pilgrimage route unconnected with Santiago in the South of the Peninsula. I’ve agreed with him that if some of his fellow Gibraltarians want to develop this route I’ll help them.
I also think that English speaking Pilgrims in Santiago need a place to give them information and assistance … then there are the families with children who walk the Camino and have to stand for hours in the queue at the Pilgrims’ Office … then there are the people in wheel chairs who can’t get up the stairs. Maybe with a little backing in Santiago the Confraternity of St James will open a Welcome Centre to help all of these groups. Hey I could be the first ground crew to get it going.
Who knows? One thing I am now certain of is that in the 7 or 8 weeks it will take me to reach Santiago from Valencia the steps beyond will be revealed. I’ll let you know.

So friends another year comes to a close. I am full of hope for the year which comes. I pray that all of you will have a peaceful Christmas and that 2011 brings you health, prosperity and more steps on the Way to Santiago.

I’m off to Sevilla for New Year – I’ll report to you when I return!

Thursday, 9 December 2010


I haven’t written to you for a while. I’m afraid I have been preoccupied with other things. A few weeks ago I lost a friend and it has had quite an effect on me. I've been thinking a lot about the nature of friendship and the place that friends have in my life. I’ve also been remembering the people that I've met through the pilgrimage routes to Santiago, a few of whom I suspect will be life-long friends.

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
William Shakespeare Sonnet 30 

I don’t make friends easily and I don’t go out looking for friends. I understand what people mean when they say that they are looking forward to their pilgrimage “because of all the wonderful friends they will make along the way” but my first choice would usually be to walk one of the less travelled routes where meeting other pilgrims is the exception rather than the rule. Of course it is great to meet other people at the end of a day’s walking; to have dinner and chat about the adventure. However I rarely come home with a pocketful of email addresses.  I suppose I am a person with a very few really good intimate friends and a larger network of acquaintances.  I could count the close friends on one hand probably. They are the people who I might not see for a considerable time but when we get together it is as if we have never been apart. They are the people who have no expectations of me save that I will just be myself.  They are the people who dare to laugh at me and when they do I usually join in. They are the people with whom a friendship is an adventure because we are prepared to share together the triumphs and the real tragedies that occur in all of our lives. I think most of all we are friends because we won’t ever demand anything of each other save our friendship. 

Remembering, how we two walked
The roads to Santiago
How simple was the life we lived
How good the friends, how clear the way
The feelings deep, the troubles halved
A milestone on the road of life,
So many miles that stay with us
Those roads to Santiago

It’s true, it changed so many things
It made us care in different ways,
We shared that life, it made us new
Camino then, Camino now
Remembering still, how we two walked
The roads to Santiago
Roads to Santiago  Cristina and Paul Spink

In many ways the pilgrimage routes to Santiago are like friends to me now. As time goes on we are getting to know each other more closely. The routes are always there. They are full of promise and always bring something new. They expect nothing except that we walk them. They don’t even demand that we walk them to the end. Just that we start.  Increasingly, because of the Guides, people write to me when they are planning their pilgrimages. I feel privileged to have the e mail exchange with them because it is full of their excitement and questions. I get to see their plans change and develop over time until eventually the plane tickets are purchased and I send a final “Buen Camino “ email.

Sometimes I am a little concerned at the expectations they have of themselves and the Camino. I was very much like that myself. I used the programme at the web site Godesalco and worked out the stages I was going to walk on the Via de la Plata. Blisters put paid to that plan and I had to adjust to the realities of the pilgrimage. In doing so I slowed down, built stamina and began to enjoy the pace which emerged. On a few occasions in the last couple of years pilgrims have set out and I have either never heard from then again or I have received a plaintive email where they explain that they had to give up usually for a physical reason. The sense of failure from them is palpable. Yet, I don’t recognise the language of failure when it comes to pilgrimage. For me it isn’t like that: the difficulties, the illness, the injuries, the “giving up” are all part of the experience and learning the Camino brings.
Pause for reflection, Montes de Oca - Michael Krier
One winter I was on the Camino Frances and the weather was dreadful. I looked at the weather forecast and saw that there were to be three weeks of continuous rain ahead. As I walked along a rain sodden path a younger pilgrim passed me. He turned and we had a few brief words before he set off at a much faster pace than me.  The next day as I approached Villafranca de Montes de Oca, 40 or so kilometres from Burgos the rain beat down all day. I felt I was in danger of the recurrence of a serious chest infection from which I had only recently recovered. Hot and wheezy the next morning I checked the long range forecast again: rain, rain, rain. I made the decision to take a bus to Burgos, on to Madrid and then home. Luckily I only had an hour to wait and the people in the bar directed me to the third lamppost past the church which was the bus stop. I stowed my rucksack with the rest of the luggage when the bus arrived and got on. No sooner had I sat down, after removing my hat and rain gear when I turned to see who was tapping my shoulder. It was the young man who had passed my on the path a day or so before. “This is too much” he gestured out the window to the storm we were driving through.  This was Daniel from Malaga who had always wanted to walk to Santiago. We then went on to have a long conversation about pilgrimage, life, politics, God, walking…and when we might be back on the route when it was drier.

I hadn’t seen my friend who died for some time. Quite a long time in fact. As it turned out we ended up living in different parts of the country. I bumped into him earlier in the year at Heathrow Airport. I was leaving as he was arriving. We only had a few minutes together. We both crammed the events of the intervening time into those minutes and of course we promised to be in touch soon. A ruptured aneurysm in his brain removed that option for both of us. He was years younger than me and this was a shock. But in the sadness there is much to celebrate. His short life was well lived. Full of hilarity and pathos his professional success only endeared him more to people he knew. His passing is a lesson.
So, over the next few months I’m putting plans in place to make a big change marked by a big pilgrimage. The notion has been in the air for some time. I now have the courage to do it. I think.

Can I give up everything and just walk a path and see where it takes me? I’ll let you know.