Volunteer Julie’s blog part 5: What is Pilgrimage? (cont’d)

Volunteer Julie’s blog part 5: What is Pilgrimage? (cont’d)

26 August 2022

Since walking on the Camino in 2018 I have thought more about what it means to be a pilgrim. In the past, the religious aspect was very much the focal point of the journey. For thousands of pilgrims today this is still so, however many of us who walk today do not have religious beliefs but still attempt to follow the practices of a pilgrim. In John Brierley’s excellent Camino Guides of many of the caminos, he points out that a pilgrimage is supposed to be a challenge! Walking long distances day after day, carrying only what you really need, living simply in basic accommodation and having time and space to explore your own thoughts creates that challenge.

The choices that the modern pilgrim makes about what to carry, where to stay, going it alone, abstinence or following practices such as meditation or prayer are very much an individual decision.

There are also divided opinions about the pilgrimage routes. Some are of the firm opinion that creating detours or new routes avoiding busy roads or areas subject to flooding are destroying the historical tradition of the Camino. However others believe the paths need to evolve, modernising a route keeps people safe or improves a path, pilgrims have always taken varied routes and changed them as necessary.

Then there is the question of how far to walk and is it ok to hop on a bus?

So what about me? How have I approached these dilemmas to make the most of my own pilgrimage?

  • l have opted for hostels and basic hotels, with a couple of more upmarket hotels thrown in to relax now and again. I have stayed in some beautiful hostels but in my experience dormitories are noisy, smelly places and no one gets much sleep. I need all the rest I can get so I have booked private rooms. I will take a rest day each week, seven weeks is a long time to be walking!
  • l will walk some of the journey on my own and different stages with my friend Christine, my partner Bill and Jean, the friend I walked part of the Portuguese Camino with in 2018. This way I have time to be with my own thoughts but also the opportunity to share this experience with people I love and maybe get to know them a little better.
  • The 431 miles or there about, will take 43 days to complete. Some people manage this in a in a month walking 25 or more miles a day, others walk a week or so in chunks, returning year after year. I will walk between on average 10-15 miles, partly determined by the location of the accommodation, with a few days of 18 or 19 miles. I am 63 and not athletic and hopefully I have done enough training to be able to make it! However, I am not too proud or stupid not get on a bus or calling a taxi now and again if I need to! Bill and I will walk for about 4 miles for 3 days with a rest day between. He is not a big walker and It needs to be manageable and enjoyable.
  • The back pack I carry each day weighs about 8kg. It has taken me months of carrying books and water bottles along paths around Stamford and now it is quite comfortable!! Jean has had some health problems, so when we walk together for 6 days we will use a courier and I will carry her day stuff.
  • I have spent weeks deciding what to take. Clearly, a key factor is to keep the weight down and I have had to pare down all the superficial stuff that fill my life, that I don’t really need. I have got it down to a couple of changes of clothing and tiny bottles of toiletries (Bill will bring top ups when I meet him midway. I am not sure if he knows this yet!) as well as the important things like my phone, first aid kit, water bottle etc. It has been fun and a challenge. If you are thinking of taking a similar trip or just curious about the contents of my personal stuff, watch out for my next blog… otherwise skip it!
  • I will give up eating meat but I will eat fish.
  • The only electronic device I will take is a phone, earpods and a power pack. The phone is my safety net and gives me confidence to walk alone. I will be able to use the wonderful Walkbox app to track the routes which have been especially designed for me, message my family and listen to audiobooks on sleepless nights when sharing a room. I will write all my notes and blogs in my phone.
  • I have chosen to walk the Portuguese Caminho which begins in Lisbon and runs north to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Northern Spain. It is never very far from the ocean, which is my favourite place to walk. It is more manageable than the more popular but longer French Camino, which crosses the Pyrenees, the stiflingly hot Meseta and an extremely treacherous stretch of road where pilgrims are too often hit by lorries and die! I will take the costal option whenever possible and a recently developed path out of Lisbon to Fatima which promises to be very scenic and interesting going through many historic towns.

Does all this make me a pilgrim? Probably not! I think pilgrimage is all about attitude and whether I make the grade is as yet unknown.

If you are a walker and holiday in Portugal you may like to download the walkbox app. MindSpace is given a mention on the Portuguese Caminho. It is free!  https://apps.apple.com/us/app/urbanspoon/id1512987505