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I was very happy to see my piece Angels with Umbrellas published in the latest Confraternity of Saint James Bulletin - with a rather lovely illustration, too.

(Linked back to myself, as I don't think the Bulletin is available online.)
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Santiago and the journey home (7th-15th May 2007)

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain,
For we're under orders to sail for old England,
And we may never see you fair ladies again.


Cut for length and photos )
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Mountjoy! Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (2nd - 7th May 2007)

I was glad when they said unto me: we shall go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet shall stand in thy gates: O Jerusalem.

Ps 121

In Sarria we discovered a novelty: te con leche. Tea with milk. Excellent, we thought; Anne had been missing proper tea. It turned out, however, not to be tea with milk, but tea made with milk: a cup of hot milk with a tea bag in it. I was never so glad of my liking for black coffee.

A pleasant, if rainy, morning's walk along green lanes. The waymarkings now came at regular intervals: concrete pillars, about waist-height, telling you where, if anywhere, you were, and how far it was to Santiago. The count-down was beginning to get exciting.

Image heavy, as usual )
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Over The Hills And Far Away: Vega de Valcarce to Sarria (29th April – 1st May 2007)

Tom, Tom, the piper's son
Stole a pig and away did run,
And all the tune that he could play
Was 'Over the hills and far away':

Over the hills and a great way off,
The wind shall blow my top-knot off.


Image-heavy )
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Except in Church Porches: Astorga to Vega del Valcarce (24th - 28th April 2007)

Yves Massarde: I understand you believe there is some sort of plague coming out of Mali.
Dr Frank Hopper: We don't like to say "plague".
Yves Massarde: What do you think it is, then?
Dr Eva Rojas: A plague. - Sahara, 2005


GENERAL: Away, away!

POLICE: (without moving) Yes, yes, we go.

GENERAL: These pirates slay.

POLICE: Tarantara!

GENERAL: Then do not stay.

POLICE: Tarantara!

GENERAL: Then why this delay?

POLICE: All right, we go.

ALL: Yes, forward on the foe! Yes, forward on the foe!

GENERAL: Yes, but you don't go!

POLICE: We go, we go

ALL: Yes, forward on the foe! Yes, forward on the foe!

GENERAL: Yes, but you don't go!

POLICE: We go, we go

ALL: At last they go! At last they really go! - The Pirates of Penzance - W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan


The next morning we discovered the downside to staying in the wonderful Albergue San Miguel in Hospital de Orbigo. Our rucksacks had been invaded by bedbugs. 'Chinches,' the hospitalero said with resignation, and produced some potent and no doubt deeply environmentally unfriendly spray. We sprayed half-heartedly, promised to do it again later in the evening, and set out.

Warning: even more image-heavy than usual )
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Ai Nostri Monti Ritorneremo (Virgen del Camino to Astorga, 20th - 23rd April 2007)

'The Shepherds, I say, whose names were Knowledge, Experience, Watchful and Sincere, took them by the hand, and had them to the tents, and made them partake of that which was ready at present. They said, moreover, We would that ye should stay here awhile, to be acquainted with us; and yet more to solace yourselves with the good of these Delectable Mountains. They then told them, that they were content to stay; so they went to their rest that night, because it was very late.'
Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan

The refugio kicked us out at eight on the dot, but since we intended to shake the dust of León from our feet as quickly as possible this was no great hardship. It did mean that we had to cut off Morning Prayer half way through; the Lord, we hoped, would understand. Having decided to take the longer, quieter route to Hospital de Orbigo, rather than walking alongside the road, we stopped in Chozas de Abajo and completed the service. It was a pleasant morning, not yet too hot, and we lazed on a bench there for a little while. The next settlement, Villar de Mazarife, was only 4.5km further on, and we arrived well before lunchtime. We could have carried on, but the next refugio appeared to be another 15km away, and, when the one here was in plain sight and had a row of sun loungers temptingly displayed on the front lawn... we found that we weren't feeling all that energetic.

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Carrión regardless (Carrión de los Condes to Virgen del Camino, 15th-19th April)

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est

The curse of Carrión pursued us into the next day as we left the town. We got an early start and, though we left in no particular hurry, I managed to leave the suncream under the bed. Of course it turned out to be a sweltering hot day, and a walk on a path with very little shelter. When we discovered the loss of the suncream Anne was rather put out, and was obliged to cover as much bare skin as possible with a combination of trousers, long-sleeved top and Buff. I don't burn so easily, and trusted in my extremely wide-brimmed hat to keep the worst of the rays off.



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Meseta (Burgos to Carrión, 10th - 14th April)

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fiery, cloudy pillar
Guide me all my journey through.

William Williams, etc.

Before we left Emaús there was work to be done: sweeping and dusting. But before we left there was also 'bread for the journey' to be taken: slips of paper with a spiritual message. It was the little touches like that, and the provision of a prayer room, which made this refugio special: we felt that Marie-Noëlle cared about all the aspects of her pilgrims' experience, physical, mental and spiritual.



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Road to Emmaus (Villafranca Montes de Oca - Burgos, 7th - 9th April)

'Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but they were kept from recognising him.' - Luke 24:13-16



Anne and I left Villafranca de Montes de Oca in thick fog. The advantage of this was that it meant that we were unable to see the degree of the impending ascent. The disadvantage was that it made the path very boring indeed. We could see a few metres all around: (muddy) path ahead, and trees on either side. Things went on in this fashion all the way to San Juan de Ortega. San Juan himself was allegedly a disciple of our old friend Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and assisted him with the building of bridges in the area. The hamlet named after him seemed to consist entirely of a monastery, a church and a bar - where we caught up with Marg, Terry and Ursula. The church is large and impressive, and has painted dragons on the ceiling, and a wall painting depicting the story of Saint Jerome and the lion. I was very taken by the lion's expression of desolation. Equally appealing was the real live dog outside, who begged chocolate. We hardened our hearts – chocolate isn't good for dogs – and plodded on to Atapuerca.

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Via Dolorosa (Logroño to Villafranca Montes de Oca, Palm Sunday - Good Friday – 2nd-6th April)

'Let man's Soul be a Sphere, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is;
And as the other Spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motions, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey;
Pleasure or business, so, our Souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the West
This day, when my Soul's form bends towards the East.
There I should see a Sun, by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget;
But that Christ on this Cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.'
- Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward, John Donne



Anne, Terry, Marg and Ursula at the Logroño refugio

We made a quick getaway from Logroño, before daylight. It was a murky morning, raining, and the streetlamps were reflected in the wet pavements. We managed to get lost before we even found our way out of the city; a man with an umbrella pointed us back in the right direction. It was interesting, we were beginning to think, that everybody who helped us find our way was carrying an umbrella. Admittedly, most of the time that this was needed there was some degree of precipitation – but not always. The sky was becoming light as we left Logroño by way of a large park, which led to some kind of nature reserve. There was already a heavy stream of ponchoed pilgrims passing along the muddy Camino. Anne and I worked our way through all the folk songs to which we knew the words; it earned us a few funny looks, but it kept our spirits up.

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Bulls, Storks and Donkeys (Pamplona to Logroño, 26th March – 1st April)

'The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels...

'A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.' - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

The Larrasoaña refugio had been almost full; we resolved to make a good start the next morning. When we left it was still dark. (It must be noted, however, that the clocks had just gone forward, so this was not entirely due to extreme keenness on our part.) We were well down below the snowline by now, and made good progress almost as far as Villava, until we took a wrong turn across a muddy field and ended up having to climb over a wire fence. Once we had got ourselves back on the right track we found ourselves looking down on the motorway, and felt rather superior to the cars and lorries heading towards Pamplona. Pilgrims had been going that way for over a thousand years. We were there first.


Trinidad de Arre

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Excelsior! (Over the Pyrenees, 23rd-25th March)

NB. I quote extensively from Longfellow's poem Excelsior! in this section. The complete work can be found here.

'High are the hills, the valleys dark and deep,
Grisly the rocks, and wondrous grim the steeps.'
- The Song of Roland


Breakfast at 55 rue de la Citadelle

Jeannine presided over breakfast the next morning. Our French companions were going no further; they would return when the weather had improved enough to make the Route Napoleon feasible. Michel presented everyone in the refugio with a little medallion of the Virgin. Meanwhile, Brantz (I regret that I never knew how this was spelt), a Slovenian with dreadlocks and a magnificent leather hat, asked if he could join us for the day’s walk. We agreed readily.

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The Hobbits' First Sight of the Misty Mountains (Saint-Palais to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, 21st-22nd March)

'He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," he used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to."' - The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien



My first discovery upon preparing to set out was that I had stapled the pages referring to the French stage of the Camino into the guidebook for the Spanish leg in the wrong order. Even once I had straightened this confusion out the way out of the town was not immediately apparent until Anne spotted a yellow sticker on a road sign. It was a waymarking placed there by a Dutch cycling organisation, but it served the purpose admirably.

We were soon heading out of Saint-Palais, passing as we did so a house lavishly decorated with scallops and other Jacobean memorabilia. A stone propped in front of the proclaimed ‘849km → St JACQUES’. It may or may not have been accurate, but at this early stage in the Camino we had not yet learned to distrust distance markings. As we looked at it a man came out onto the balcony of the house and called ‘Bonne route!’

‘Merci!’, we called back, and continued up the hill.

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Breakfast in Caen, Lunch in Paris and Supper in Saint-Palais (Crossing to and across France, 19th-21st March)

"The man, therefore, read it, and looking upon Evangelist very carefully, said, Whither must I fly? Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, Do you see yonder wicket-gate? The man said, No. Then said the other, Do you see yonder shining light? He said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto: so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do." - The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan


The Solent ferry was called Saint Cecilia, which was, we thought, rather appropriate for a pair of choral singers. It was a vehicle ferry; the foot passengers walked on via the same gangway. Anne and I could well have been the only foot passengers, and the only vehicles were a few cars and a couple of lorries. The cabin was all but deserted and we spent the crossing grinning nervously at each other and making banal remarks like ‘Well, this is it’.

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Preparation

Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope's true gage,
And thus I'll take my pilgrimage.
The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage – Walter Raleigh


As it happened, we walked it in 2007. As we approached July 2006 and graduation, it became clear that neither of us was going to find a particularly interesting job for the next year, so, prompted by Heloise, we brought the scheme forward and joined the Confraternity of Saint James that summer. We considered leaving from Exeter and aiming to arrive in Santiago for Easter 2007. This proved to be impracticable – Easter was too early in the year – but the idea of walking in the spring remained attractive. The idea of leaving from Exeter also failed to fit into our time scheme: we were obliged to delay our departure until after my father’s 65th birthday party, which was after the end of term, rendering any such plan pointless. Having consulted the CSJ guides, we had concluded that the summer would not be congenial, with the weather too hot and the Camino too crowded, while the autumn of 2006 seemed too soon and that of 2007 too far away.

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Camino de Santiago: me, Anne and Saint James of Compostela

Introduction


There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
- John Bunyan

Life, they say, is more about the journey than the destination. I must admit that this is an attitude that I have come to apply to literal journeys as much as metaphorical ones. I love travelling; I prefer to take my time, seeing no reason why the fastest journey should necessarily be considered the best; I tend to be philosophical about delay, and I dislike being hurried. While aware of the necessity of getting from A to B, I am quite prepared to go via M, Q, or Y if M is likely to be more scenic, Q less crowded, or Y known to possess a feature of greater than average architectural merit. As with life, I am confident that I will arrive at my destination sooner or later, and if I am required to make the journey at all I would rather I made the most of it.

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