Saturday, 28 February 2009

A little incident that means the world

Next morning saw me off early as usual. Out through the streets of Logrono and into a long linear park. It was here that I realized for the first time that I am a slow walker. Everyone seemed to go past me. It did not worry me too much I had already learnt that at the end of the day most pilgrims had walked a shorter distance that I had. I was happy to let the hares get ahead. I sat on a bench that was beside the path and eat a breakfast of bread and cheese as the sun came up. Then it was away to new adventures. The park continued for some distance. Eventually I came to a large lake that formed the main feature of this country amenity. I think that it must have taken about 3/4 of an hour to walk to the top gate on the other side of the lake. As I came closer, I saw that a man had set up a stall on one of the picnic tables. As I am very English, my first reaction was to wonder what he was selling. And whatever it was I was not buying. Fortunately he was talking to another man. I sidled pass him. I did not escape, for at that moment, the other person moved off. The man at the bench called to me. 'Can I give you a drink'. I was drawn in, but I still doubted his motives. 'Or perhaps a sello'. I gave in and accepted his stamp. He then offed me, bottled water, a new stick, an apple, all of which I declined. I did not want to pay. In desperation he finally said 'then let me give you this'. He placed into my hand a hazel nut. Wished me Bon Camino and I went on. From his sello I now know he is called Marcelino Lobato. As I walked away I became a little ashamed of my reactions and suspicious thoughts. he was giving without any thought of return to the pilgrims that passed him. Some time later an another context, I was relating this story to a group of priests. One of them said that it reminded him of the gift that God gave Lady Julian of Norwich. God said to Julian 'I want to give you a little thing' placing a hazel nut into her hand. Julian asked 'what is this little thing'. ' It is', said God 'the whole world'. I have often thought about this event and my nut. Marcelino was giving me his whole world. To a stranger, because I was a pilgrim and I might have a need. What do I do in this world that is so loving to anyone, let alone strangers?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

I think I can, I know I can!

The night at Los Arcos was spent in the Albeque as per normal. It was nothing to shout about. Los Arcos is one of those towns that does not have much to commend it. It is old, but so am I.The only memory of that town, is a bar on the south side of the road through. This was the first place that I saw the long distance filling of a glass with cider from a barrel trick. The barrel is a large vertical thing with taps on the side. This small tap produces a long jet of fluid that the barman or in my case woman fires into a glass at some distance, say a metre, from the tap Very impressive. But if that is all that they have for entertainment, it quickly palls. On leaving the town we pass the graveyard, which has the legend carved in stone over the entrance 'Where you are, I was once'. The way my body feels today, I feel that I am with you already. Today is a beautiful gentle walk to Viana. The large church in the centre is open and the Christian community is one of the most welcoming on the Camino. On another trip I met their priest. He was not at all like the people. Perhaps they could swop notes.The people seem to have a continuous rota of welcome for pilgrims. In this church, in the season of Easter, they have a very beautiful black Madonna, with silver stars around her head. I took a picture,but as it has the shakes I will not exhibit it here. I hope to get a chance to photograph it again this May (09). This town on the hill has a most fantastic view towards Logrono. Whilst I was there, they were repairing the road to Logrono, so it was easy to walk the straight road without traffic,rather than go through the fields. The picture at the head of this page is the view from the town of Viana. Beyond the view of the picture are gardens that lead down into the City of Logrono. From a distance the hills on the south side of the city have an odd look to them. They are the only hills that I know of that seem to have had the tops taken off. It gives an appearance of leveling to provide a Spaceport for some ancient star going local population. I could just imagine a huge Space freighter the size of one of our oil tankers descending onto the flat top. Well I can dream like the next man! . Logrono Albeque is a modern, well appointed establishment. The pilgrim is often met by a local who is also Mayor of the City. He is great. Welcoming, friendly and helpful. A real friend to pilgrims. It was he who taught me the reply to thank you is 'not at all, or it is nothing', 'da nada'. I hope he was truthful. I have said it to many people. A walk around the town a meal and bed. It was a day without any alarms and I was beginning to realize that I might make it after all.

Monday, 23 February 2009

A hard day and meeting an Angel.

Near Azqueta. Road works in connection with the new motorway.
The house is astir. It is a new day, another walk. It is still rather dark outside, but we set off anyway. Down through the ancient hill village to the Roman bridge at the bottom of the village. This was a fine bridge, mostly still in good shape.On the far side one wall of the bridge has broken down so that you have to climb down through what were the insides of the bridge that have now spewed out into the river. Apart from that big hole, most of it is as it was in Roman times. It would not be a difficult job to repair and restore this structure. I wonder why they don't do it. I can see from looking at the map that the track is going back and forth crossing and recrossing the road. I take the short cut straight down the road. It is very quite.The Sun begins to come up and I enjoy a new day. Estella is reached for breakfast. I sit in a town bar on the main street, as it climbs out of the town. I study the map. I am at the end of the section that I had cut in half to press on to Cirauqui. It is only 9:30am. I wonder if I can do a whole section of 22kms, but that is only 13 or so miles, it sounds shorter in miles and I decide that it is on. I also decide that I will have to cut a few corners, walk along the road to make it all happen faster. Phone calls are also made about the gbp. They go on for a while. They are not satisfactory; neither do the help the situation or me. In fact for me thay make things worse. They will dominate the day in a way that will make today's walk the hardest yet. However, at this point I do not know it. Coming out of the bar,I go up the hill following the yellow arrows. They take me up a steep hill into a new housing estate. I find this rather suspicious. I wonder if I am on another of those Camino wild goose chases that add miles, show you some not very pretty place, and take you to a second cousins bar that just happens to be on the way. And sure enough here comes the bar.I am about 150 feet above where I would really like to be and the path is taking me straight down the hill on steps. I have been on a big loop. There is the main road with pavements that lead from where I was to where I am now. It has a gentle rise to it and is 30% of the distance I have walked. We are at a zebra crossing. I can see that the Camino crosses the road here to go off into another circuit of old road. I know from the map that we will rejoin it later after an extended walk. Oh boy. You do not get me twice in so short a distance.I walk straight up the road. Later I find out that what I missed on that loop was the free wine fountain. Win some; lose some, but not loose both! I keep to the road for a great deal of that day. It is hot, hard work. The gbp is eating away inside and I am getting very tired. The distance seems endless and I wonder if I am really up to this. Catch the bus home now screams every muscle. A bar appears around lunch time. It is full of the usual suspects. Old men playing cards,truck drivers, husbands~fugitives from wives in siesta time. I wish this was an Alberque. I would gladly stop here. I carry on. About an hour later I am about three miles away from Los Arcos. I am walking on a road which is undulating. We are in a rough scrub countryside and I am on my own. I am all in, but have to continue. I cannot stop here in the middle of nowhere. Far ahead of me in the heat hazy I see someone coming towards me. I watch as he gets closer and closer. I do no know why I am looking at him intently, but there is something about him that holds me. He looks like a pilgrim in dress and baggage, but he is walking the wrong way and off the Camino route. I am off the Camino route. This is not an easier way and no one would return on this hard road so who is he? He looks up and fixes me with his eyes. This is extraordinary. I feel him looking into me with the question 'Are you alright'. My mind says 'Yes'. I feel a breath of refreshment blowing through me and I am stronger for the encounter. Our eyes part and we go our separate ways. My mind straight away wonders if this has been an Angel encounter. They do happen on the Camino, but not to me. I turn to look at him, but he has gone over the hill and out of sight. My interest is up now, so I turn around. If I walk a little way back. I will see him. I do this. On the top of the hill I have a view of the last 1.5 miles I have walked. There is no one! And no turnings off, or houses or bars or anything, just scrub! Was it an Angel? I think so.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Alberque at Ciraque.

A generous heart

This hill village is really beautiful, especially the views across the valleys to the mountains beyond. The Alberque as good. It has the feeling of a private house. It is well appointed and the owner/hospitaller is warm and welcoming. The only disturbing thing is that I cannot find anywhere to have the evening meal. I have already paid for it, but a Comidor is not to be seen. All is revealed later. We are told to assemble at the front of the A. The lady takes us behind the house, through a door and into another set of rooms below the house that must have been the cellars of the building. There we eat a well prepared meal of the usual type. This is somewhat spoilt by a French woman who sits at the shared table near me. She takes sometime to berate me about the English; always expecting everyone to speak their tongue. I am uncomfortable with this and rather wish that she did not talk to me at all, either in French or English. But I hold my tongue. It maybe that I will meet her many times in the days ahead. For that reason, to keep things sweet. I accept the rebuke. The day is over I am lying in bed thinking about what I have learned in the pilgrimage. I have gone over and over the great big problem. There has been no resolution and I have no ideas how to solve it. I have prayed into and out of the issues without any result. I have spoken on the phone several times and things are not any easier. If anything they are worse. My mind and heart are tired. My body is tired from all this walking. I have learnt that I have brought too much stuff and I am in the process of leaving it behind. I have removed stuff from my bag every night now. And the bag gets heavier and heavier each day. What a picture of life. I can see that my life is crowded by stuff.I have become a carrier of things I do not need.I do not know why I am here. In some ways it all seems rather pointless. But I am pleased with the distances that I am walking. I can do far more than I had ever expected. It has been a delight to learn that I'm was wrong in my thinking. I had been allowing the thoughts to distill in my life that I should not and could not expect to be able to do what I had done as a young man. A pain here and slowness there, this was to be expected in an older man. So 'Take it easy, soon be dead'. What a blasphemy. I have been wishing myself to an early grave. I have learnt that body and soul should not be separated. I am rejoicing in a new found vigor of spirit and body because I have pushed laziness and lazy thoughts aside. So all is not bad. With those thoughts I go to sleep. I sleep the good holy sleep of the pilgrim.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A quiet Valley walk

The bridge and village are not quite what I had imagined. In my minds eye I had seen a steep side valley with the bridge at the bottom, beyond the houses were clinging to the side of the hill. The bridge was the same shape, but not in that place. This was the first fo many changes to what I had expected. The Camino always keeps you guessing. I crossed the bridge. There are few building on the other side and the footpath takes a sharp turn left. After two hundred yards it then takes a sharp right and enters a wide bottomed valley. I was alone. Nobody to be seen. I do not expect the Spanish out at this time. It is the middle of siesta. I did expect pilgrims there were none. The pilgrims who were with me have stopped for the day. Those who were in front are leaving me behind. I have noticed since that day that the quietest time of day is early afternoon. That is the time one can expect to be alone. It is a wonderful walk along the valley. After awhile I notice that the path has been diverted. My instinct is to ignore the changes. Fortunately, I do not. The new path is not easy. It climbs steeply, is narrow and has not had a great deal of use. It shows signs of mechanical earth movers that have pushed the path through where there was none before. The ground has that uncompacted feel about. As I get to the top of the hill I understand why. The motorway has come through here. The original Camino has given place to the car.I have to content myself with walking high on a shoulder about the fast new road.The day comes to close about two hours later. The town of Ciraque is before me. It is a traditional hill top village. The church at the top, the rest of the houses huddling together for support at its' heals. Walking up the hill I notice that everywhere is restored. All the houses have that new paint look. There are not many people about. There is one general store.I cannot find a bar. The albeque is in the centre of the village, by the Church at the top of the hill.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Bless me Father!

So I set off the next morning whilst it was still darkish. The way could not have been more obvious. Straight down the the back of the nasty little hill and out into the fields. So as I walked I thought about how many days I still had left till I could get back to the UK. Oh I've just run out of tarmac and there is a fence ahead of me. So I retrace my steps, to the last cross roads. There I look for a yellow arrow in the yellow light of the street lamps. I do not find it as the marked route has cut this corner off with a short cut through the estate. I am a little unnerved. I walk back to the fence and wonder if I am supposed to climb over it. I see no signs of a path on the other side so that cannot be it. Back to the cross roads. In the distance I notice a group of pilgrims crossing the field that I have recently been looking into. But they are on a parallel course to the imagined way that I had hoped for. This unmarked road must be it and sure enough it is. I meet up with the lost Camino shortly after. It descends into open fields that smell damp and growing. As I walk the crushed herbs under foot release their oils that fill the air with nature in the morning. Looking up, ahead I see that the way rises to the top of what seems a low hill.The top is not far away and it is not to step a climb. Oh! the deceits of the eyes. It takes over two hours to reach the top. It is quite steep.As it is morning in May there is dew and fresh lush grass underfoot. Wonderful grease to slip on the clay beneath. Two thirds of the way up. I hear the noise of a group a group of Irishmen talking with verve. I would not like to call them old. But they were most certainly senior. I pause on the path near where they are sitting. It is good to hear the Queen's English spoken by one who does it every day. One of the Irishmen look down at me and asks where I have come from. I tell him. He corrects the question. Not where had I started today, but where was my home. I tell him. I also answer the next question he puts to me, by saying that I am an Anglican Priest. He is in raptures. 'Glory be, bless me Father' he says. So I do. He then tell me that he likes the pilgrimage and discloses that he has been on many before and lists them. He does not include the Camino as this is his first. He is quiet for a moment and says 'I can't stand the gradient. I love the pilgrimage, but I can't stand the gradient'. I leave him with his friends chatting on the rocky outcrop and go to the top of the hill. At the top there is a large metal sculpture of a line of pilgrims in silhouette. It also forms the background to the banner on this blog. Now it is down hill to lunch in Puente. A steady walk after a steep decent. And with the bridge, the end of the first major section.

House keeping

Those who are following this blog, and there seem to be a few , may well wondering what is going on here. In my introduction on the left of this page I speak of experiments in theology and here I am just telling a tale of my first pilgrimage. This is because what will come later was a great surprise to me. I never set off to have my understanding of the faith so radically changed. I had no idea it was coming. So I want you to know the whole background of those early days. If you want me to cut to the chase and dive into theological discussion, you will have to wait. There is quite deal to come yet. If you haven't been in on the beginning, then I would recommend that you go to the page bottom and work up. If you cannot bear any more of this stuff but want the main feature, then come back in about a month. In the mean time you might like to look at the new web site of Peterborough pilgrims to Santiago. This was built by us to help new pilgrims understand what they are getting into and to invite anyone who wants to come with us to join us. And another thing; It would be great if you felt you were able to sign up for this blog~ helps encourage the writer that he is not talking to himself.

Monday, 16 February 2009

So good night Vienna

The modern way into Pamplona is to go through the park, down a dusty track that appears to be through small holdings following the river until you come to the bridge over it that takes you into the area of town that is nearest the Cathedral. I found my way and was standing in front of the Cathedral wondering what to do next, as the door seemed to be closed.Just then a coach load of Japanese tourist came up with their guide. He asked me to explain my sack and stick and shell and with that they set off in a frenzy of photography. What a experience. It made me feel firstly, ' I must be a real pilgrim.' Then a bit of a freak, a tourist sideshow in the tour guides working day.I was glad to get away. I walked through the city to the University. I had been told that I could get a sello on my pilgrim passport there. What I was not told was that I would have to walk well out of my way to get it. It was the end of the day, however, so what the heck! A shortish walk out of town to Cizur Menor. This village is at the top of a cruel little hill that takes it out of you. Not too welcome at the end of a longish day's walking.The countryside was now more rolling that straight up and down as in the three previous days. This hill is really the first of gentle hills that go on for several hours up and then the same down The Alberque in Cizur Menor is a delight. Run by the Roncal family with a beautiful garden setting. It has been developed over many years as a place of refreshment or pilgrims. For many year Mr, Mrs Roncal have given themselves to this work. Mrs Roncal is a healer of feet without equal in this part of the Camino. On my last visit,October 2008 she demonstrated the effectiveness of burn cream for blisters on the feet. She was also on her own as her husband had passed away since my last visit. I wonder who will take on her work when it is time for her to stop. She was saying that she does it all herself these days. I wanted to say, 'give us a job! I'll take it on from where you leave off'. Being English and polite I didn't. I wonder what would have happened if I had. Round about now Hans turns up. He did stay late to have quiet shower after something of a lie in, and his long German legs have gotten him to the bottom of the short nasty hill at the same time as my sawn of jobbies have. We walk up the hill together. He tells me about his day, I cannot remember any of the details now. I do not tell him about mine which has been another 15 rounds with the great big problem. a few tears thrown in for good measure. I ache and I hurt inside. But for now I listen as he tells me about the plans for the evening. Hans was the one who said that we should aim for Cizur. Get a good place to stay, blast through the City of Pamplona, and catch a bus back into town after a rest. So we did. I stood on the wrong side of the road waiting for that bus that would take us into the city and to the famous Tapas bars. The bus came. It was on the correct side the one I was standing on. It felt wrong. My mind was clearly still in the UK. The Bus is a short ride, down the hill and into the main areas of town. Hans pokes me. It's time to get off. So I do and so does he. We cross the road and walk through the streets. Hans tells me that the bus home is on the opposite side of the roundabout. I take mental note of the exact place. It does not strike me why he is so keen to make sure I know where to catch the bus. Soon it will. To be precise one beer later. We had ordered a couple of tapas, nothing very big, and he says' I'll see you later. All the bars along here have different tapas, try a few'. With that he is off. This is not what I had expected. I thought that he might be able to tell about Pamplona and we might chat for a little. The was a little 7 minutes to be exact. So I did as he had said and moved on to another bar. The long evening tapas supper rather ground to a halt at that point. I had a couple more pieces and caught the bus to Maison Roncal. Pilgrimage has some surprises not everyone turns out as you expect. For the most part they do, but now and again....... I got up early the next morning. Today was to be the day when I got going. I had looked at the guide. The next section was to Puente la Riena. 20k. If I cut the section beyond into two and did half of that as well as today's section I would cover about 30k, if I stopped at Cirauque. Could it be done? I think I can! As for Hans, I never saw him again. That 'short Little fella' he had called me. Well that 'Short little fella' was going to sleep in a town further on that you tonight. So good night Vienna..

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Catch up with pictures

Valacarlos. On the road route.


Albergue at Larrasoana.

Looking west

Morning on Boar road. He was seen crossing on the rise ahead.

Pamplona and a Boar.

So with the gbp going over and over I fell asleep that night. What was I to do I really wanted to go home and sort things. In the night an idea came to me. Dig your heals in and walk longer and faster faster. Try and look at the maps and guide and cut of some of the corners. Take the direct route and do 1.5 sections from the guide. That will mean 30k per day. That will be tough. I may not be able to do it and the sections may not allow it. The next morning the American students were not so keen to get up or make noise as they had the night before. I got up quickly and rather early. It was still dark. Breakfast was non-existent. And because of the darkness and the thoughts of the previous night, I set off along the road away from Larrasoana. There were no cars or lorries at that time. It was very quite. I think in the next hour or two I only saw 3 or 4 vehicles. The Sun began to rise. As yet it was still below the level of the hills that run parallel to the road.So the right hand side was gaining in light and the left side was in a deep shadow of night. I kept walking. As I walked I looked to my left,up on the hill, I saw movement. What was that? Could it be? The moving, whatever it was came closer. It was now still some 500 yards away and indistinct. It was a wild boar. He was very still now. He had caught my smell. Pilgrims are very good at smelling. So it is no surprise that I had come to his attention so far away. With that he was off. Keeping his distance he came up the field to the road, over it,into the field on the right and up the hill into the sunshine. Running all the way as fast he could go. Red in the morning sun he came to a small copse of trees. He ran along the fence until he found a hole and went in. That was the last I saw of him.I have never seen a wild boar before and it was riveting. I had heard that they were dangerous if you got too close. Had I walked the main route I would have missed him. He would have gone before I was close enough to see him. So even on the road there are wonders to be experienced. You may wonder what had happened to Hans. He was tall with long legs. For him walking was done quickly. So he liked to get up later and shower. At Larrasona he was still asleep. he had told me to head for Cizur Minor on the other side of Pamplona and that was were I was going, but not until I had been through the great city.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

That first night.

The meal that night was much better than I had expected. Salad followed by trout and flan. I still could not believe how little all this was. I sat opposite a youngish man. We were at a table that was designated as a table for those on their own. I asked him if today had been his first days walking. He told me that it was his last. He had started in Santiago. He wanted to walk home as he had walked to Santiago last year. I kept quite about my experiences of the day. I was in the company of serious pilgrims. And so to bed. I lay in bed for sometime thinking about what I had taken on. Now the idea of doing 550 miles really came home to me. I must be crazy. I thought about my reasons for being there in the first place. I was here because I could not be at home! I began to feel a little home sick. And I feel asleep. What a lovely dream. Oh! the noise, the lights, the morning. Hardly light and they are on the move. The pilgrims are dressing and leaving. It is about 6:30am. I am up with not very good grace. Down to breakfast which is in the next village. I make myself understood even though I have little Spanish. It is another beautiful days walk. I am struck by memorials by the wayside to pilgrims who have died. As the day goes on I feel more and more for them. The pack is getting heavy now. I must find a way to get it lighter. I had noticed a shelf in the undercroft at Roncesvalles that had all manner of stuff on it. I now understood why. Left behind by pilgrims who had too much stuff. What a picture and lesson of life. In the west we have too much stuff. It bogs us down and stops us doing what we are made to do.Be in the presence of God. Larrasona came into view. The Alberque is in the town hall with an extension across the road. It had a portacabin for the facilities as well as a largish group of loud American students. The noise was a jar after the quite hours walking. But they are young and having a good time. I wonder if they will be so noisy tomorrow morning, early, when it is time to set off. We shall see.Their noise was welcome after all. The day had not been that difficult to walk, but on my own, without distraction my mind had picked away at the gbp. Over and over it had gone. I want to get home to fix it. Prayers of desperation. And some self pity. Why was I here what was I supposed to learn in this situation. I have no idea.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

My Story continues.

This is my first view of the great monastery of Roncesvalles. And it is very welcome.Now for the test. I had been told about the provisions made for pilgrims. Some places free, some donations, some 3-7 euros. I wanted to believe it. My sense tells me that nobody, but nobody would charge so little for a night sleep and a shower. I have enough in cash to take me to Santiago if it is true. I also had my credit card if it was not. So sit I at the large refectory table that is in the office in the gatehouse. I fill in the form ,get the passport stamped and find to my delight that pilgrims really are welcome. They are charged a small amount for the night. I do not expect very much for so little. I am overjoyed that it now seems that what I had been told and had read about pilgrimage is unfolding. I walk down the wide roadway, past the split rock of Roland, towards what has clearly been a great tithe barn and is now the Alberque of the Abbey. Inside it is not the under converted barn I am expecting, but it is a beautifully fitted out, open plan dormatory, with well appointed facilities. On later visits I realise that there are too few showers with little hanging space. On this visit it is heaven. I am very tired. So a quick shower and a rest. I take the booklets that I have brought and begin to study them with eyes that have not looked as closely as this at these materials, thinking about and planning the following day.
After my rest, I go for a walk. Examine the Church. Sink a beer. Discover that the meal is not until after Mass. I book a meal ticket. Hans slopes up. He has had a good day, high in the hills. It is now that he explains that his thirst for the route Napoleon is because his last trip was on a bike. It is a first for him as well. The last trip was up the road I have just walked. As a guide his star is sinking fast. Never mind I buy him a beer.
I feel the need to be along and pray about the gbp so I leave him in the sunshine and go once more to the Church. My prayer are in words albeit in my mind. I go over once more my troubles. This is no different from what I have been doing all day. So what have I been doing all day? What is this I am doing.? I'm I thinking or praying. Was I praying then and thinking now or the otherway around? I am a little tired to tangle with that metaphysical problem at this stage of today. So I got out again into the sunshine to wander about.I wander about for so long, forgetting that there is a small matter that I have not altered my watch, that I miss the beginning of Mass. Well let's be honest about half of the service. I am annoyed at my stupidity. I stand at the back and join.I recieve and am blessed. Shortly I am outside once more with an small animal devoring my guts. I really need Dinner. And I need it now.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The next part of my story

The Spanish gate at St Jean de Pied de Port
Walking up the hill into the town we are faced with a tee junction. We turn left and walk one hundred yards up the hill, coming to a stop outside a shop. Only it is not a shop it is an office. The office of the French Confraternity of St James. The office is full. There have been those who walk faster than we who get to claim their credential before us. We join the queue. All shapes of pilgrims are here. Long ones, short ones, bald, hairy, badly cut ones, young ones, old ones, old ones trying to be young ones. young ones trying to be old ones, Male and female he made them, pilgrims he made them all. I am called forward. I present my credential. It is stamped and returned a few details are taken. Name, age, passport number, sex etc. Hans is next. His interview is a little longer. He has to fill in a more comprehensive form. Why does he want to go on pilgrimage? It is Cultural, Religious, Other or a blend of the three. It's a blend. He gets his pilgrim passport. It is smaller than mine. That will fit into his pocket much more easily than the A5 thing that I have.We withdraw to the street where Hans tells me that he is going to walk the route Napoleon. The high way across the top of the mountains. I am for the low way, recommended for those who are not very fit. That's me, fat and unfit. We walked together to the end of the town. Facing us at the bottom of the hill is the Spanish gate. This is the real start of the pilgrimage. It is 550 miles of walking from here. Outside the gate he goes one way and I go the the other, as Hans has directed me. I begin to walk downhill only to walk in a complete circle back into St Jean by another way. Perhaps Hans is not such a reliable guide as I thought? Again I leave by the Spanish gate and go up the hill this time to a very obvious fork in the road. Here I turn right and skirt around the side of a hill to join what seems a fairly mainish road.At this stage there is a walkway or pavement.It seems positively suburban.But soon we are out of the town and no pavement.I have by now picked up the famous yellow arrows originally put down by Father Elias of Cebreiro many years before. I hope these will take me all the way to Santiago. The day was not easy, but it was uneventful. The most exciting part was where the path diverged from the road and cut a large number of S bends off. It was at this point that I learnt that all the pilgrims went by the route Napoleon. This meant that any off road sections were overgrown and not trampled. The result being that it was a hard path to walk. Towards the end of the day I breasted the hill to come out on a small road at the highest point on the way. Coming towards me was a couple of older folk. In the front was a weathered, gnarled woman,looking happy and full of life. She was having a great time. Behind, was what I took to be her husband. He looked beaten up to say the least. I was glad that I had gone the easier way! I wondered if he wished he had? Later I discovered that they were French. They were retired. They were going to do the whole length of the Pilgrimage. Every afternoon I came across them in the same state of liveliness/exhaustion. It went on for three days until one evening she was on her own. On enquiry I found that they had had a heart to heart. The result was that she was to walk and he had caught the bus to Santiago. He was there by now, sitting on a bar stool drinking cold beer. There were others with me at this time. We all went silent. Drinking the words in and in our imaginations a share of his Santiago beer. The silence said it all

Bayonne;The river and town

After an hour and a half I land at Bierritz. Transfer bus to Bayonne. A public service bus really which takes for ever or so it seemed at the time. Get off on the wrong side of the river from the railway station; walk across the bridge to the square in front of the railway. Pause and look at the timetable. Last train at 6pm, I am not ready for that and I've been expecting to stray in Bayonne. I stick to the plan noting that there is a train 8mm tomorrow. As I am looking and planning a man who has been on the bus rushes up, tries to buy a ticket, is told that it is too late, although the train is standing in the station. I watch as I can see that he is boiling with frustration. Alongside is another man. I can see that there is no connection between them. They both have sticks and rucksacks so they are linked, they just don't know it yet. They are pilgrims. Neither is able to get to St Jean tonight. All three of us will stay in Bayonne tonight. I go to the Hotel Ibis which is as disappointingly standard as very other chain hotel I have ever been in. It is cheap, but not cheap as in hostals in Spain. This I do not know yet. If the Hotel was very bland the restaurant is not. After a walk up and down the town, during which I discover a good butcher who sells great sausage.I find a small bar by the river in the upper part of the town that looks as though it will be cheap. Outside they display a plate de jour. It is an interesting menu. I order and get a simple meal beautifully cooked that was delightful. I am somewhat surprised. I am also happy and grateful. I feel that God is in control of this adventure. Back to the Hotel and so to bed. Next morning I get up early or as it will be for the foreseeable future the normal time of 5:45am. To me this is a strain. The strain is devalued by the excitement that I feel. Today I start walking. I am at the station by 7:30am. Ticket in hand I go onto the platform. After a few short minutes, first one pilgrim, then the other arrives, from wherever they have stayed all night. I have seen nothing of them all night, or this morning, except I did see the Italian, who I knew to be Italian at that moment because I saw a small flag on his bag, as I walked around the town last night. The Italian stands well down the platform. He is out of conversation range. The other is next to me. I asked if he is going to Santiago.It seems a strange question to be asking on a railway station that is not on a direct line or even the same size tracks as Santiago, to a person who is not going to use the train to get there. He tells that he is and that he is German. This is his second pilgrimage. Bingo! Someone to show me the ropes. He is meeting a friend in three weeks time and wonders if he will get to the agreed meeting point in time. The train comes and we get on it. Now railways are one on my 'things'. I have always been interested in them. This journey then is the icing on the cake for me as we wind our way up the valley towards the start of the walk. It is a bright and clear morning. The French Pyrenees are beautiful. And what is that in the distance. High peaks.That's where we are going. Now! Today!. The heart swells again. After one hour we are there! St Jean station is the end of the line. The platform is full of people pushing and shoving to get on the train back to Bayonne. I am somewhat amused and puzzled. I had thought that this would be a one way trip. Pilgrims to the mountain, thence to Santiago. So why are there so many coming back. Have they started a pilgrimage only to give it up in the light of the first days experience? I never find an answer to this question. So I guess that they were ramblers. Returning home after a few days walking the mountains around St Jean. My thoughts are broken by Hans, the German pilgrim,to me guide, telling me we must get off and hurry. We have to get to the pilgrim office before the crowd or we will be in the office for ever. We need to start walking as soon as possible. I have my pilgrim passport already. It was issued by the British Confraternity. I go along for the ride anyway. He knows what he is doing. I do not.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Just like everyone. Ryan air gets you there. That is if you are happy to hang on to the wing.

The Pilgrimage begins.

After a few weeks I am getting fitter. Then from a clear sky a massive problem develops. This involves others, so it would not be right to outline the difficulties here. It is enough to say that it was a cataclysmic earthquake of a difficulty that disrupted everything.For here on in I will call it the great big problem ~gbp for short. The gbp was spiralling out of control and I had no idea of how to deal with it or how to mend it. It did seem obvious that if I ducked out for a month+ to go to Spain there might not be much of my life to which I could return. So I stayed home. The gbp grew and grew. Every way I turned I could not turn this problem. Getting into May now, very near the start or should have been the start of the pilgrimage. A small window opens. In discussion it is put to me that if I was not around then things could settle. It might bring about a resolution that opened the way into a future of some sort. Perhaps if I was away somewhere then it would give space to all concerned. Spain seemed as good a place as any. I must admit that I did not have much of an appetite for pilgrimage anymore. Should I go or stay? I went. A few days to go. No walking or training since to emergence of the gbp weeks ago. I was worried that I would not be able to walk all that way. Too late now. There is no stopping this. I have to go. I am sitting in a plane at the end of the runway at Stansted. My heart is full. I am going on pilgrimage. I begin to weep silently, in a way to no one will notice. My head is turned towards the window. No on can see my face. Tears of joy begin to stream down my cheeks. I cannot believe that with all the problems I am on the way. There is a surge of power, a leap of the plane and a great jump down the runway. We are off. As the plane climbs so does my heart. This is some buzz.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Here is a photograph of me, in the blue shirt, my wife Liz, and a friend called Peter, taken on pilgrimage last year. I thought that this would be a good place to start.As you can see I am not young and I am fat. I wish as was like my friend Peter, who eats like a horse and never puts on a pound.
So here we go!
My story so far.
I was ordained as priest in the Church of England in 1981. So by the time I got to 2006 I was feeling in need of some sort of change or refreshment. I heard about the diocesan scheme for sabbaticals and this seemed the answer to my needs. I had heard of other priests taking this time to go to Monasteries in the Sinai or other places to study some obscure piece of patristics. This was not for me, so I wondered what I could do that would qualify for the Sabbatical and more importantly for the grant that goes with it.
It's funny how things come together. Earlier that year, as a family, we had decided to go on a holiday to northern Spain. We like to get about, so a took a day of to go up to that great map shop in London, Stanfords to buy some maps of the area. Above the rack of maps was a copy of a guide to the Camino Frances and a book by Nancy Frey on the Santiago pilgrimage. So as I had
made a mental note that one day I would like to see the giant incense burner in Santiago, but knew very little about, I browsed these books. The books were purchased. I went home, reading about pilgrimage on the train as I went.
Pontius Pilate asked at the trail of Jesus 'What is truth'. I begin to realise that I am already beginning to drift a little from reality. I cannot remember which came first. The possibility of
a Sabbatical or me finding the above books. I am not sure if the Sabbatical was the peg to hang the trip to Santiago on, or if pilgrimage was a great way to use a sabbatical. The outcome is the same. I decided that it was a cool idea to walk 550 miles from the French border to the bones of St James in his Cathedral in Galicia Northwest Spain. The only problem was I am not a walker.
It was January. Like most priests I know I was running a car that any self respecting man would laugh at and call an old banger. Getting up one morning to do the same as yesterday, I got into the car to drive my children to School. The old banger did what old bangers do and refused to start. No option, a walk to school for me with the children. It takes about 30 minutes to get there. On the way back I thought that if a diverted a little and increased the distance then this would be the beginning of the training needed to be fit enough to do the walk. That was the start of a good period of preparation. Each day the distance was increased and the weight came down.
And this reminds me that it is now early February and the next pilgrimage is in May so I had better begin all over again.