It’s Easter Sunday, and it's raining, and my thoughts turn to the Camino. I haven’t consciously thought about the Camino for some time, but today my mind is full of it. In many ways pilgrimages are intense microcosmic distillations of our general macrocosmic lives, rich in the symbolism of birth, death and renewal.
In the autumn of 2007 I walked the ancient pilgrim route from le Puy-en-Velay in south-central France to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. This 1000-mile journey lasted 60 days.
Almost a year later I walked my second Camino from Arles in the French Camargue to Puente la Reina in northern Spain. This time I went more slowly, and the 550-mile walk took me 46 days to complete.
In January and February 2010 I walked four-fifths of the Spanish Via de la Plata from Seville to La Gudiña, a total of 500 miles. And during the last two weeks of September 2011 I walked the Via Gebennensis from Geneva in Switzerland to Le-Puy-en-Velay in France, a distance of 225 miles.
In May the following year I retraced part of the original route I’d taken in 2007 from le Puy, finishing in Limogne; and then, last July, walked a very short stretch of the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Guînes just south of Calais. I’d like to rejoin this route, and do the full trek all the way to Rome one day.
Of course, the distances travelled and the number of days taken are among the least important facts about the Camino.
As well as these long and grand European pilgrimages, I’ve walked trails in England, such as the Dales Way, the Pennine Way, the South West Coast Path and the Hadrian’s Wall Path, and local routes such as the Trent Valley Way, the Viking Way, and the towpath along the Grantham Canal.
I walk whenever and wherever I can in the UK, and particularly like the Peak District, the Lake District, Scotland and Wales.
But what does it all add up to, this walking, and what does it mean? I don’t think I’ve really come to terms with the significance of my longer pilgrimages, how they affect me in the context of my whole life, how they fit into my personal human journey. Perhaps I feel more ready to do that now, more able to see their allegorical and spiritual value.
There's a saying on the Camino Francés that the Way is divided into three parts: the Way of Reflection, the Way of Penitence and the Way of Glory. All serious walks contain something of these three aspects, I believe . . .
To be continued . . .