A pilgrim’s progress – going solo in Spain

Karen, from Bristol Nordic Walking group, tackles the Camino de Santiago in Spain

My idea of a holiday is usually lying on a sunbed, but this time I opted for something completely different – hiking 115km through North-West Spain on the Camino de Santiago, solo!

My reasons for going were partly a challenge, partly to improve my fitness levels, partly because I thought it would be a fun holiday with time for a little bit of contemplation thrown in. But as a middle-aged woman who spends a great deal of time working on a computer, my fitness levels aren’t great – so my starting point was Sarria, a mere 115km distance from Santiago, compared with nearly 500km if you start in the Pyrenees. 

I’m a newbie to Nordic Walking. Six months later I’d got the bug and was determined to use my walking poles on the journey. I flew from the UK to Santiago and was booked into a lovely little boutique hotel. I had a sleepless first night!

The next morning, a bus journey took me to Sarria, but I retired that night reading news alerts on my phone about expected severe storms. Apparently, even the Mayor of Madrid was advising everyone to stay indoors. Fortunately, all remained balmy, and setting off on my first morning was very exciting. Going down to the hotel lobby there was a tremendous buzz and lots of animated groups.

I decided to start later to let the crowds dissipate. What I hadn’t considered was that this would mean me commencing my journey entirely on my own. I get nervous walking on my own in the UK for goodness sake! What was I doing?

My walk and the next few days were past cornfields, through woods and along paths lined with fallen apples, acorns and chestnuts. Later on in my journey it was dominated by eucalyptus forests, which smell heavenly and look dramatic from a distance.

I arrived at my hotel exhausted, but by day two I was getting into the swing of it. I left Portomarin with hordes of other ‘pilgrims’, through thick mist to the river crossing. Some young groups in the procession were singing, others chanting. I met up with fellow ‘peregrinos’ (pilgrims) walking at my pace and planning to arrive at Santiago the same time as me. That’s the best thing – it doesn’t take long to spot them and then your paths keep criss-crossing. 

And so my Camino continued. Not quite Eat, Pray, Love, more Eat, Walk, Sleep. No great Spiritual Awakening.  I spent most of my time wondering where I’d stop for lunch and REALLY looking forward to a midday Estrella Galicia, the local beer!   

The days blended into each other until day nine and I arrived in Lavacolla. I’d booked into Pazo Xan Xordo, an enchanting old manor, and on the last day I set off, very excited. I walked the last few kms, feeling elated as I walked down from Monte de Gozo into Santiago. And when I finally approached the cathedral and heard the bagpipe player who heralds one’s entrance to the main square in front of it, I welled up.

Wiping away my tears of happiness/pride/relief, I headed off to the Pilgrim’s Office. I showed my Pilgrim’s Passport which had to be stamped at least twice every day for the last 100km to be entitled to a Compostela.  This proved that I’d walked the walk and done the required distance. On my first evening back in Santiago, I was invited to join some fellow peregrinos for a celebratory dinner and it was absolutely wonderful. Here we all were, proud, tired, united.

It was lovely to end my journey on such a high note, but if I were to walk the Camino again it would most definitely not be alone. With all the wonderful things I did see and do, and the memories made, there was just one thing I hadn’t quite considered – dining alone in a restaurant is totally rubbish!