Thursday, 28 November 2013

Meseta sketches

After the exertions of Sunday, Simon and I opted for a relatively short day of 26th km. As I mentioned in an earlier post there is a section beyond Carrion where there are 17km without a village. The weather was not particularly conducive to convivial walking as rain had set in just as we left Carrion . This was more of a pity since the path follows the Via Aquitana, a Roman road which is still recognisable today.
We hadn't booked an Albergue but found places in a modern complex on the edge of Terradillos de los Templarios. Since we were amongst the first to arrive there was time to do our washing and have an early lunch.
There are two memories of this stay. For days now Simon has been suffering with his feet. After lunch David set to work to drain his blisters for him. Laurie (from Canada) helped as Marjory(also from Canada) looked on. It was a vivid example of pilgrims helping each other. The other memory is less happy . Simon and I were given a room with two double bunks and an en suite . The lady asked us to use one pair of bunks so that the other pair were available for whoever comes next . In these circumstances people usually find a common language and arrange some simple ways of spending the time together.
Our fellow room mates were a couple. They arrived while we were at lunch and we didn't see them all afternoon . When Simon and I went back to settle for the night at a the normal time they were already in bed and apparently asleep . We settled down quietly and were then regaled with some of the noisiest snoring! Eventually I called across in the hope that I might disturb the snorer!
In the morning there was no sign of movement from our neighbours so we got ready by torch light. Our surprise was that we had hardly settled down to breakfast when our neighbours arrived! Fortunately such behaviour was very rare on the Camino.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Translation of the Pilgrim prayer

It is interesting that this prayer is a personal reflection inviting each pilgrim to see how the experience has impacted their own life:

Even though I have walked all of the caminos,
Crossed mountains and valleys from East to West,
If I haven't discovered the freedom of being myself
I haven't arrived anywhere.

Even though I have shared all that I have
with people of different languages and cultures,
made friends with pilgrims of a thousand paths
or shared albergues with saints and princes
if I am not capable of forgiving my neighbour tomorrow
I haven't arrived anywhere.

Even though I have carried my pack every step of the way
and waited for every pilgrim in need of encouragement
or given up my bed to a latecomer,
and given away my water bottle in return for nothing,
if,when I return home and to work,I am not able
to create fellowship and spread joy, peace and unity,
I haven't arrived anywhere.

Even though I have had food and drink every day,
and enjoyed a roof over my head and a shower every night
or been well cared for with my injuries
if I haven't discovered the love of God in all of this,
I haven't arrived anywhere.

Even though I have seen all the great monuments
and contemplated the best sunsets;
Even though I have learned how to greet people in every language,
or tried fresh water from every spring,
if I have not discovered who is the author
of such bountiful beauty and such peace
I haven't arrived anywhere.

If, from today onwards, I don't follow in Your ways,
seeking and living what I have learned;
If, from today onwards,I don't see in each person,
friend and enemy,a companion on the way;
If,from today onwards,I don't recognise God,
the God of Jesus of Nazareth, as the only God of my life
I haven't arrived anywhere.

Pilgrim's prayer

The church in the tiny hamlet of O Cebreiro is extremely beautiful and dominates the hamlet . On 10th October I was able to concelebrate with Padre Roberto. At the entrance to the Church is a chapel adorned with the following :

Aunque hubiera recorrido todos los caminos
Cruzado montanas y valles desde Oriente hasta Occidente,
si no he descubierto la libertad de ser yo mismo
no he llegado a ningun sitio.

Aunque hubiera compartido todos mis bienes
con gentes de otra lengua y cultura,
hecho amistad con peregrinos de mil senderos
o compartido albergue con santos y principes,
si no soy capaz de perdonar maƱana a mi vecino
no he llegado a ningun sitio.

Aunque hubiera cargado mi mochila de principio a fin
y esperado por cada peregrino necesitado de animo,
o cedido mi cama a quien llego despues,
y regalado mi botellin de agua a cambio de nada,
si de regreso a mi casa y mi trabajo no soy capaz
de crear fraternidad y poner alegria, paz y unidad,
no he llegado a ningun sitio.

Aunque hubiera tenido comida y agua cada dia,
y disfrutado de techo y ducha todas las noches,
o hubiera sido bien atendido de mis heridas
si no he descubierto en todo ello el amor de Dios
no he llegado a ningun sitio.

Aunque hubiera visto todos los monumentos
y contemplado las mejores puestas del sol;
Aunque hubiera aprendido un saludo en cada idioma,
o probado el agua limpia de todas las fuentes,
si no he descubierto quien es autor
de tanta belleza gratuita y tanta paz
no he llegado a ningun sitio.

Si a partir de hoy no sigo caminando en tus caminos,
buscando y viviendo segun lo aprendido;
Si a partir de hoy no veo en cada persona,
amigo y enemigo,un companero de caminos;
Si a partir de hoy no reconozco a Dios
el Dios de Jesus de Nazaret, como el unico Dios de mi vida,
no he llegado a ningun sitio.

Translation to follow!

The Beatitudes of the Pilgrim

On my third day in Spain I called at a small convent outside Pamplona . I was given the following text to help reflection on the Camino:


1.  Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the 'Camino opens your eyes to what is not seen.
2.  Blessed are you pilgrim,if what concerns you most is not to arrive as to arrive with others.
3.  Blessed are you pilgrim,when you contemplate the ' Camino ' and you discover it is full of names and dawns.
4.  Blessed are you pilgrim, because you have discovered that the authentic 'Camino' begins when it is completed.
5.  Blessed are you pilgrim,if your knapsack is emptying of things and your heart does not know where to hang up so many feelings and emotions.
6.  Blessed are you pilgrim,if you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without seeing what is at your side.
7.  Blessed are you pilgrim,when you don't have words to give thanks for everything that surprises you at every twist and turn of the way.
8.  Blessed are you pilgrim,if you search for the truth and make the 'Camino' a life, and of your life a way in search of the One who is the Way,the Truth and the Life.
9.  Blessed are you pilgrim,if on your way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time without rushing so as not to disregard the image in your heart.
10. Blessed are you pilgrim,if you discover that the ' Camino'holds a lot of silence,and the silence of prayer. The prayer of meeting with God who is waiting for you.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Healing hands

After a relatively disturbed night in Nogaro the four of us set off together . The intense heat had broken and there was a threat of rain. It was one of the least interesting days with much road walking . I arrived at Aire sur L'Adour before 1 and immediately asked for directions to the Gite . When I arrived there was a notice saying that the Gite would open at 2.30 . I finished off my bread and settled down to wait . I was eventually joined by Pierre and Isabel . At 2.30 Andre,the owner emerged . He was quite put out that we had been waiting and said that we should have rung the bell . I said that he had every right to his rest.
The gite was really a private house and Andre plied us with drinks before he showed us our rooms . He also offered to tend to our feet.
As there was rain threatening he offered to help us dry our washing. Since the first day I had been troubled with a few blisters and so I asked Andre to look at them . He turns out to have been a paramedic who first undertook the Camino in the 1980s. In those days there were no paths and few places to stay he said . You literally had to make your own path!
He carefully worked on my feet for half an hour and then proceeded to refuse the money I offered to help cover the cost of his medical supplies. (From that day onwards I didn't have a single problem with my feet!)
At the start of supper Andre asked me to say grace. I started in French and ended up in Spanish . Andre commented that this was appropriate since the supper was Paella! Andre managed to create a deep atmosphere of reflection and the gathering was quite profound.

A decisive day and choices

After Golinhac the number of wayside crosses increased considerably.Like Chapels, I used them as an opportunity to stop and pray.The final descent into Conques was quite precipitous. It reminded me of the paths in the mountains of Chalatenango. I was joined at this point by Carolina the Dutch girl that I had met two days previously. I commented to her that the entrance to the new museum at Copan in Honduras is shaped like the mouth of a serpent. For the Mayans this signifies entering a new reality. In many ways the arrival at Conques felt similar.
 The Abbey only comes into view when it is less than 50 metres away. I took Carolina to see the tympanum before we checked into the Abbey guesthouse. Despite the satisfaction of knowing that the first stage of the pilgrimage was now complete, when I got to my room I felt a real sense of heaviness and wondered why I was on the Chemin.  It was a thought I would come back to. The community had invited all of the guests to share Vespers and Compline. Carolina and I went to Vespers-the cantor had a stunning voice which filled the corners of this dramatic building. At supper we sat with Daniel and Tim (Dutch man). Compline was even more dramatic than Vespers and it concluded with the blessing of the Pilgrims. Each pilgrim was offered a copy of the Gospel of John to take with them. We were invited to sing  Ulreia as we processed to the carving of the Virgin for the singing of the Salve. The silence at the end was broken by the organ. Afterwards the leader of the community gave a long description of the tympanum and its significance. It was a special experience to stand in front of the tympanum as the light faded.Afterwards we were given the freedom of the Abbey as the organ was played.
I must also mention that the two men from Normandy were there and greeted me warmly. They were clearly embarrassed about what had happened. They said that there were two empty beds which could easily have been used for the other English couple . I was touched by their concern and understanding.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The thinning' time

With the sun setting around 6pm and a chill in the air there is a reminder that a journey which began in high summer is drawing to a close at the onset of winter . Here in the Celtic heartland of Galicia this is the 'thinning time' - the period when the spheres between the spirit world and the material world are at their thinnest.Late last week I was at Fisterra which is where the Celts believed that the two worlds actually met . The tensions between the spiritual and the material have been constant during this pilgrimage . I have been invited to examine my motives and revise my priorities.
The profound tranquillity of walking by the Ocean at Muxia on Saturday and the intimacy of the Mass in the Cathedral today have been fitting codas to this immense undertaking . It is now 11 days since I arrived at Santiago.Even now the sheer scale of the achievement is beyond me . Someone once said to me that living is about standing on the tiny piece of earth that you inhabit . All I can say is that I feel that I stand more securely than I did eleven weeks ago.
When asked to reflect on the Camino in Emaus at Burgos I referred to the Camino as a school . The lessons that we learn on the Camino are the ones that we are called to apply in daily life.That will be the challenge and will be the true test . It is not a question of looking back with nostalgia to eleven amazing weeks but living what I have experienced and shared with so many remarkable people.
While I was at lunch today there was a Galician film on in the dining room tracing the Camino from St Jean to Santiago . As I watched I realised that I had walked every step of the way and 850km more!

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Magi

From the beginning of this journey the poem of TS Eliot- The Journey of the Magi-has been a constant reference.Journeying Westwards guided by a star has held resonances throughout . There is a special resonance at Santiago . The Portico de Gloria is,arguably,one of the greatest expressions of Romanesque art . What is less well known is that there is a second portico in the Cathedral by the same master and its subject is the Adoration of the Magi! As I stood before it today I reflected on how Eliot has the Magi changed by their journey . I wonder just how much I have been changed by mine!
Mass today was something special . When I arrived at the sacristy my name was already written down and an English text provided . As it turned out the only other priest was the Celebrant (actually the Dean of the Cathedral). He was extremely friendly and keen that I return next year as an English speaking Chaplain to the Cathedral . During the readings he indicated that I should read the Gospel . Santiago is one of the greatest Cathedrals in Christendom and to read the gospel in Spanish was a huge joy . I read the concelebrants parts of the Eucharistic Prayer in English . It was a truly blessed moment . After Mass the priest introduced me to the coordinator for English speaking pilgrims who turned out to be a Scot from Glasgow and a friend of one of my best friends to boot! He hopes that I can return next year for anything up to a month . What a note to end on!

A second bite at the cherry

As I walked out of the hotel in search of breakfast I realised that this is the Feast of St Simon and St Jude. Long before I arrived at Dulce Nombre de Maria one of my predecessors had made an individual parishioner responsible for each main feast . During my time at DNMa the person responsible for this Feast was my next door neighbour Rosa Galdamez who was the wife of Napoleon Flores(Don Napo) The whole Flores Galdamez family have become great friends and I still stay with them when I visit El Salvador . It is a lovely connection especially as I intend to ask permission to concelebrate in the Cathedral today.
Yesterday morning I was due to get the bus before breakfast was served . Despite the early hour, the girl in reception in the hotel at Muxia prepared fresh Orange juice and coffee before I set off to catch the bus . She even offered to make toast.
 As we waited by the placid Atlantic there was a beautiful sunrise rivalling that of two weeks ago at Portomarin. As I watched it I thought of the numerous beautiful sunrises over the last two months. Travelling over 100km on a bus was a strange experience. It is the furthest that I have travelled in motorised transport since 13th August.Towards the end we passed some of the way markers from my route of last Monday . We came into Santiago right by the Hesperia Peregrino where Alex,her dad and I had stayed . I dropped my rucksack at my Hotel before heading back to the Cathedral . It is amazing how the Cathedral is very much the heart of Santiago.
Compared to last Sunday the Cathedral took time to fill up . By noon, however, it was packed . I have been impressed by the quality of the sermons given at the Pilgrims Masses - sadly many pilgrims do not understand the Spanish! The singing was,once again,beautiful.
After a good lunch and a siesta I had another wander through the city with the Cathedral bathed in late evening sunshine . During the night it rained heavily but today has dawned a soft Autumn day.
I checked out a few things in the city then headed to the sacristy to enquire about concelebrating . The Cathedral at Santiago has its own version of a beefeater- red tunicked officials whose main office is to operate the Botafumeiro.One of them was coming out of the sacristy . You are a priest, he said . Of course you can concelebrate and you don't have to ask the nuns! And so,on a second feast of the Apostles, I will get my second bite at the cherry.Nina Rosita (now dead) will be thrilled as will Don Napo and the rest of the family.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Muxia photos

The final sabbath

It is a truism to say that life is full of choices and preferences! After visiting both Fisterra and Muxia I know which is my preferred location to complete the pilgrimage. Of course I am influenced by the fact that today has been a perfect late autumn day with the sun shining. I was also fortunate to arrive at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria de la Barca just as the first rays of the morning sun were touching it . I wandered beaches,paddled in the ocean and soaked up the tranquillity of this tiny fishing port . I encountered two pilgrims who threw themselves into the ocean but was not tempted to imitate them!
On 28th August I rested in Cahors . Now,after 65 days of walking I am doing the same at Muxia . Fisterra and Muxia both feature in the St James legend because they were both sites of worship long before Christianity . Fisterra was the place where the material world met the world of the spirits.Its sacred stones have been a place of worship for millenia . At Muxia stones are again part of the story . On the foreshore in front of the Sanctuary there are some remarkable stones . In the legend of St James,Mary the Mother of God appeared in a stone boat to encourage the Apostle in his preaching . The message is clear-holy stones can be used by God as well as druids . In the legend of St James the idea of spreading the message of Jesus everywhere is always present.
The experience of Muxia was,for me, very profound and the best way to end my pilgrimage.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Even more photos!

Photos on the road to Muxia

The 65th-and last day

For more than 2 months I have woken up to the routine of getting ready for a days walking . In some ways today was no different but I also knew that this was the last day . I have thought of walking back to Santiago but there comes a point where you say that enough is Enough! I was ready for off by 8,and a waning moon and stars announced a fine day . I had checked out the route from Fisterra yesterday and,apart from two aggressive dogs,had no difficulties. I was rewarded with lovely views back over the town and Mount Facho. Incongruously one of the villages was called San Salvador! After about an hour and a half there were breathtaking views of Praia de Rostro which is a gloriously unspoilt beach.. At Lires I stopped for a break.
After the break something extraordinary happened which has only happened twice on the Camino . I felt the physical presence of my father walking with me . Now my father died in 1989 but this seemed like a tangible affirmation of all that I have gone through these last two and a half months . I felt my father approving of something that he would have loved to do if he had had the opportunity.
This gave rise to a profound meditation . I reflected on the words that Eliot uses in Little Gidding which he almost certainly took from Abbot Justin McCann's translation of the Cloud: "With the drawing of this love and the voice of this calling"
I was drawn to the homily I preached at my dad's funeral drawing on Eliot himself:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive at where we started and know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown,remembered gate
When the last of the earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
at the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple tree
Not known,because not looked for
But heard,half-heard, in the stillness.
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now,here now,always
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.'

I also reflected on the fact that one of my most treasured possessions is a copy of The Cloud inscribed by McCann which he gave to my dad in the 1950s.Like Wednesday it was a moment of deep gratitude.
There were two other moments today . The first involved my final companion of the whole Camino. I had leapfrogged a Spanish man for most of the day.Towards Muxia we started walking together (in the wrong way it turned out!) After consulting a local lady we rejoined the correct path . When we arrived at Muxia my companion indicated that he was off to the Albergue . I am afraid that I have had my fill of Alberques . As I was talking my leave he asked whether he could take a photo . I asked him his name and he said Jesus I know that it is a common Spanish name but it struck me as much more significant than that.
The final surprise of the day was when I arrived at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Boat . It is the furthest extremity of Muxia.Beyond it there are only rocks and the open Atlantic . I experienced a profound sense of peace . This is where my pilgrimage is meant to end.

Thursday, 24 October 2013


More photos


Cabo Fisterra


If is probably obvious to all readers of these posts that there have,in fact,been two Caminos. The first was the 30 days in France,and then the Camino Frances across Spain . I have said openly,both in these posts,and in conversation with other pilgrims, that there is no comparison between the two Caminos . In every respect the route from Le Puy to St Jean is by far the superior . I firmly believe that if I had only started at St Jean I would not have felt the richness of the pilgrimage experience . The quality of care in the Alberques is rarely matched in Spain where,far too frequently,you feel that you are part of a production line . Only twice in Spain-at Emaus in Burgos and Casa El Cura in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos-did I experience a shared meal which was the norm in France and which gave the Camino a depth of community sharing and hospitality which was overwhelming.
I still remember the second night at the Auberge des 2 Pelerins ,La Ferme Bouysse, Ultreia in Moissac, La Casa du Pelerin in Condom and Hospitalet Saint Jacques in Aire sur L'Adour as unforgettable moments of profound encounter.
The Camino is first and foremost about personal renewal and reflection in the presence of God . This is mediated through the encounter with other pilgrims . It will be for the moments shared that I will remember the Camino . It was only six days in that I met up with Daniel,Tim,Catalina,and later Anavery.I remember being devastated when Daniel announced his change of plans and decided not to spend an extra night at Cahors . After that I have no idea how his Camino was . The leave taking with Catalina,Tim and Anavery was one of the happiest nights of the whole experience.
It was only three days out of Cahors that I met Pierre and Isabel and then Raphael and Hubert.Even though we had a couple of difficult moments Pierre,Isabel and Raphael sustained me all the way to St Jean and Hubert and I continued over the Pyrenees . I still remember the usually taciturn Raphael walking with me to St Jean and sharing some quite profound insights into his life .T he departure of Pierre,Isabel and Raphael was forseen and there was appropriate closure . The supper we shared in the square in Eauze was special.Thankfully all three of them have been in contact and followed my progress through Spain.
Hubert was a lovely companion-a man of great wisdom and humour . I can still see him disappearing behind the city walls in Pamplona.That was the last time I saw him . I still nurse the hope that I will see him when I return to Santiago.
I remember the cheery faces of Matthieu and Amede when they turned up at Aroue.Little did I know how much Amede and I would share in four precious days into Burgos . Sadly we missed each other in Santiago by less than five hours . When Matthieu invited me to have supper with them in Najera it was a moment to treasure.
Jan from Denmark,and Fiona from Australia never walked with me and yet they both chose to remain in Santiago to greet me.To find Jan sitting on the square when I arrived was magical . I first met Pauleen and David in Logrono and our paths crossed continuously over the rest of the pilgrimage . I hope that we can meet again in England.
I only met David and Hellen for the first time in Villavante.We only walked together for brief stretches but they became good friends.Marjory,Lorrie,Deborah and Cindy only featured in the final stages of the pilgrimage but I learned a great deal from them.
There was one sad incident at the end involving Simon from Melbourne with whom I had shared some memorable experiences and Cornelia whom I had met on the Meseta and with whom I had enjoyed a lovely al fresco supper in Villafranca de Bierzo . They came into the room we were sharing long after I had gone to bed and were quite put out when I asked for a bit of respect . It was a trivial incident which could easily have been sorted the following day but neither of them seemed prepared to do so . It meant that there was no opportunity to thank each other for the good things that we had shared.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

And the sun shone at the end of the earth

Even at this late stage in the pilgrimage there are novelties! The latest one was blessing an Albergue. It began yesterday evening when I was talking to Domingo in the bar . A woman came in who turned out to be his mother and,when she heard that I was a priest, asked me to bless the Albergue . It was planned for 7.00pm but Domino's dad took me off to Cee to meet the local priest . Sorry,at 8.00am this morning I did the blessing.
I set off in the dark but was optimistic that the day would be fine . Once I had passed the carbide plant I was on an ancient path through Eucalyptus and Pine forest . I fell into a deep meditation about all that had happened , and then began praying for so many people.Deep in the forest I passed the Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows.The descent to Cee was tortuous because of the damage done by monday's rain.Even before Cee there were glorious views to Fisterra.
In Concurbion a woman told me that I was going the wrong way! The final stretch was across beautiful white beaches with the sun shining in my face . I checked into a rather expensive hotel and then set off for the lighthouse . Halfway along I met Yuri on his way back . Just short of the lighthouse the way marker said quite simply 0.00km! It was a very moving moment . I paused in the lighthouse to have my creencial stamped and headed for the head land . I soon spied Cindy from Canada who had left Le Puy on 4th August . It was a special moment.
With Cindy and her daughter and her friend we explored the whole area and Cindy suggested that I join them for supper.
I wandered into town to get my Fistera which is much more impressive than the Compostela!
I bumped into Yuri and invited him for a drink and then headed off to eat Lobster.
Fisterra is certainly a special place.

Camped at the edge of the earth

Hispaniae was an important part of the Roman Empire . As well as being its Western fringe it was a rich source of Olive Oil and Fish(especially Tuna). The importance and antiquity of the tradition is brought home to you by the fact that much of the Camino over the Meseta follows a roman road . Both Leon and Astorga were important roman settlements.
The importance of Spain was not lost on the early Church . There is a sentence in the Letter to the Romans which suggests that St Paul visited Spain. Some commentators believe that there was time for him to do this during his stay in Rome. The legend of St James coming to Spain is much more tenuous since James the Elder was executed in Jerusalem not long after Jesus himself . The later legend of the arrival of his remains in a stone boat links Santiago to the ocean.
There is a much more prosaic link.Jesus charged His followers to carry His message to the end of the earth . In the First century(and for more than a milenium after that)this meant Finisterre.Thus the extension of the pilgrimage to the Western seaboard of Europe is in keeping with the wishes of Jesus himself.
It is a simple journey of three days to a deeply symbolic place which has been hallowed for more than 4000 years and,tonight,it is only 30km away!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

In the eye of the storm

There have been many 'moments' during the Camino . Yesterday there was another . When I arrived soaked at the albergue I told the owner that I would want to wash some clothes.Apart from the wet clothes I hadn't done any washing in Santiago! He told me where to put the clothes and how much it would cost. I waited for the previous wash to finish . I was amused that an Italian lady came down and the owner told her that she would have to wait until I had done mine . Eventually the machine was ready but I couldn't get the money in! The owner was amused saying that I needed a token . He set the machine up and I went to the bar to write a post.
Shortly before supper the owner appeared with my wet washing . The drier in the albergue is not very good so I will dry yours in our house he said! Later in the evening he appeared with it again . I will leave it in the laundry he added . I was not aware that the same service was offered to any other guest.
I slept well comfortable in the knowledge that there was no point in getting up before 7.00 am . As I was leaving another guest joined up with me . He turned out to be Yuri a doctor from Latvia and we had a great day together . There was an amusing incident early on . We lost the way markers and,after a while,I suggested that we retrace our steps . We rejoined the path and then after 20 minutes found ourselves 50 metres from where we had turned round.Yuri is a Catholic and,like so many Catholics,whom I have met on the Camino divorced and remarried . I reflected that the Code of Canon Law begins with the assertion that the supreme law of God is the salvation of souls and yet the Church permanently excludes from communion so many people.
At our bar stop in a tiny village one of the ladies came in to see who we were . When she heard that I was a priest she said that if I was staying the night I could have said mass for them!
Today is a vindication of the phrase that 'fortune favours the brave'.In the appalling conditions of yesterday I thought that I was being foolhardy. (That this was folly in Eliots words) Today the wind has been gale force but we have not used waterproofs once.
At lunch the young Italian girl who had been in a bunk opposite me last night greeted me warmly . After lunch she surprised me by asking if she could walk with me for a few kilometres . After three kilometres I told them that I was stopping for the night.Yuri thanked me for the day and insisted on taking my photo . The girl is going to Muxcia first and then Finisterre . We will meet again on Thursday she said.
Domingo the owner of the Albergue is very friendly . He offered proper sheets and towels . I have a room with only 4 bunks and I am only 30km from the end of the earth!
Yesterday Galician television was full of the storm which was clearly strong even by local standards and we had passed through it.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Into the west and the rain

It felt strange spending the evening preparing the rucksack . I was up before 7 and enjoyed my last buffet breakfast . I managed to get myself lost in the university campus but eventually found the route . There were three other walkers . I had started off without waterproofs.As we climbed the hill we were rewarded by fine views back to the Cathedral . By 9.00am the rain had set in and it stayed for the rest of the day.
A number of years ago I attended a course about the Rite of Initiation of Adults . After their baptism they are supposed to spend time in mystagogia.This is really a time of reflection . In many ways that is the purpose of the walk to Finisterre . It is an opportunity to reflect on the experience of the Camino . For much of today I was on my own in lovely villages and woods . I was able to allow my mind to wander over the experience of the last nine weeks.
Around 11.30am I stopped at a bar and ordered a cheese roll . I engaged the bar man in conversation and he had a glorious anti-clerical comment saying that the Church had not promoted the route to Finisterre because there was no money in it for them! Shortly after the bar I crossed the Puente Maceria a wonderful medieval bridge . I was on the edge of Negreria by 1pm but decided that since I was already soaked I would press on . As the rain increased in intensity I wondered about the wisdom of the decision . Eventually I reached Vilasario after 35km,one of the longer days of the entire Camino.  

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The road less travelled

There has been an easy rhythm to the visit of Alex and her dad . After lunch yesterday we wandered back to the hotel ,had a break,and then sauntered into the city to visit the museum of pilgrimages . By pure chance we happened on the Bierzo restaurant which had been recommended to us on Friday . After the museum we wandered back to try the wine and liked the place so much that we booked a table for lunch after mass on Sunday.
We had a quiet evening in the hotel and met for breakfast at 9.00am . I had said that I would not concelebrate at mass and we found ourselves a place on the steps at the north transept . The Cathedral was much fuller than Friday and the celebrant led a prayerful and reflective celebration . Of course we were in pole position for a view of the full trajectory of the Botafumeiro.Alex took an excellent video.
Lunch was a splendid affair and I took Alex and Raymond down to get the airport bus from outside the railway station.
On Thursday when I arrived I was prepared to abort my plans for the walk to Finisterre . Now I have decided to use the walk(five days)as an opportunity to reflect on the experience of the last nine weeks . I plan to spend at least two nights at Finisterre to do some writing . Having talked to many pilgrims over the last few days this really is the road less travelled.
So,tomorrow I set off for the end of the earth . For the Celts when the sun disappeared into the ocean it entered the land of eternal youth.Even as recently as the 15th century people still believed that if you went far enough on to the ocean you would fall off the end of the earth.
It will be fascinating to have a new focus and to have time to absorb the experiences of the last two months.

Saturday, 19 October 2013


It has been wonderful to have Alex Kenyon and her dad here to share these few days . Yesterday evening I slipped into the city to say goodbye to some fellow pilgrims . Jan said that the pilgrimage has made him realise that people see him in a much better light than he sees himself . I pointed out that in the Book of Revelation the names of the elect are written on their forehead . We need someone else to tell us what is written on our forehead . I suggested that is what happens on the pilgrimage.
By then it was pouring with rain and I suggested to Alex that they stay at the hotel and I would come back in a taxi . We had a lovely relaxed evening and agreed to meet for breakfast at 9.00am
We went into the city and spent the whole morning visiting the Cathedral and it's museum . We even found them preparing the fire for the Botafumeiro.We stole into the Parador to explore some of its treasures and had another tapas lunch.
Tomorrow we will attend mass together and,after Alex has departed I will prepare for the walk to Finisterre

Friday, 18 October 2013

Under the botafumeiro

There have been two lovely touches these last two days. Carrie and I set off in the dark yesterday and enjoyed the atmosphere on a misty morning . About 11km out we stopped for a coffee . I was soon deep in conversation with Carmen behind the bar . When Carrie went to the rest room I offered to pay . The lady has paid for her coffee said Carmen and I am not charging you as you speak such good Spanish!You can pay next time.
There was a real sense of expectancy as Carrie and I entered the narrow streets of the old city of Santiago. Whilst arriving is not everything it is a significant moment. My first disappointment was that it is no longer possible to enter the Cathedral through the front door via the Portico of Glory. Carrie and I had photos taken and we mingled with familiar faces. Tim,the Anglican priest was there and Jan from Denmark whom I haven't seen since Burgos.Remi and Isabel were also there .
Carrie wanted to get her Compostela immediately and then the two of us had a celebratory drink . We had some problems locating our lodgings but a local policeman gave us good instructions. I found Simon in the room when I arrived and,after a welcome shower I accompanied him back to the Cathedral where we met up with Pauleen and David.
After catching up with my blog I joined up with many companions from the Camino and in the evening about 12 of us had a lovely tapas supper.
This morning I set out in search of the hotel where Alex Kenyon and her dad would be staying .Initially I headed in the wrong direction and,as it was beginning to rain, I took a taxi. It was only my second excursion in a vehicle since 13th August! Even though it was only 8am when I arrived  the lady at reception said that she would give me a room . When she discovered that I am a priest she also offered me a free breakfast! The buffet was delicious.
I wandered back into town and was the first at the Pilrim Office to get my compostela.I visited a couple of museums and was in the Cathedral at 11.20.It was already filling up . It was wonderful to see Alex and also many fellow pilgrims . The mass was led very thoughtfully by the Vicar General . After the Communion the Botafumeiro was spectacularly set into action . It was a fitting end . Alex,her dad and I then had a delicious tapas lunch.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Santiago in sandals

Carrie and I left the albergue while it was still dark. The rain had stopped but the countryside was shrouded in mist. I knew that our route took us close to the Lavacolla airport and we could hear taxiing aircraft without being able to see them. Eventually the mist lifted and the city was before us. From this side there is no view of the Cathedral.
In December I was asked to help compose the letter that would go out to parents announcing my resignation as Chaplain of St Edwards school . In the letter I announced two challenges . The first was that I would walk the Via Podiensis(all 1522km), and the second that I would do it in sandals! At 11.30am today I stood before the Cathedral at Santiago and declare that both challenges had been successfully completed . Tomorrow at noon on the Feast of St Luke I will be concelebrating mass at the high altar of the same Cathedral.
In the final weeks before I left England I was convinced that this was folly and I should abandon the whole venture.Even during the walk there have been three occasions when I felt that I couldn't go on.But here we are! I am sure that the enormity of the enterprise will not sink in for a while. Many thanks to all of those who have supported me with your prayers and encouragement . In the words of Eliot:
'' To make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
With the drawing of this love and the voice of this calling".

Wednesday, 16 October 2013



Camped on the threshold

On Thursday 15th August an idealistic pilgrim set off from the sun soaked Haute Loire . On 16th October a weather beaten pilgrim sits 19km from Santiago . It has been a long and, at times, difficult journey . There have been times when I have wanted to give up!The soles of the sandals have lost their tread,  I have worn out socks and shorts,but I am here . I cry even to think that I have walked 1500km in all sorts of weather . This dream began 18 years ago and is now a reality . Tomorrow I will walk into the Plaza de Obradoiro and be able to say that I walked here! The pilgrimage is about reality and how we relate to it . Ultimately it is God's  reality and we have to know ourselves as part of it . Eliot has the perfect phrase: 'And the end of all of our exploring is to arrive at where we started and to know the place for the first time.' Eliot has been my constant companion during these nine weeks.
Today I was up before 7. Andy,the Anglican priest from Poole was in the bunk above me last night and we had a fascinating conversation . We talked at length about different attitudes to priesthood.  This morning Carrie from Massachusets was in the bar and we walked together.As we trudged through the rain-soaked countryside we talked about many things, At this juncture it is good to have a companion. Despite the constant rain we had a brief,and dramatic glimpse of the sun . We had a lovely conversation and were later joined by Bob from Memphis.  When we finally stopped at Pedrouzo we were only 19 km from Santiago.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

At the Monastery of Samos

In the book I noticed that there is an option from Triacastelas to visit the Monastery of Samos. This foundation pre-dates the Camino! It seemed an opportunity not to be missed. I began walking with Mike who lives in Virginia . At Samos I found Simon and Claudia having a coffee . They are both walking on to Sarria but stayed for the conducted tour of the Abbey . From our guide I discovered that there was Mass at noon and that I could probably concelebrate.
I headed to my lodgings and put some trousers on and presented myself at the entrance to the Church.  When the door of the Abbey was opened a young brother took me to the sacristan who kitted me out with an alb and showed me where the Chasubles were. After that not one of the monks spoke a word to me. Despite the tiny number of monks (less than 10) it was a lovley mass with wonderful organ playing and a great sense of the presence in the majestic abbey. Since no one looked at me after Mass I headed back to find Mike. He and I had lunch together
and I then explored the town in the lovely sunlight. In a small wood there was a 9th century Chapel presumably used by a hermit in the early years of the Monastery.
Later we returned to the Abbey for Vespers and a Mass with a Pilgrim Blessing.
Mike and I were sharing with an elderly US couple and,despite revellers in the street,had a comfortable night.
Galicia is both an ancient part of Spain and also a very poor one. The countryside is incredibly beautiful.In the Autumn light it is wonderful to see it at its best.

Galicia shows its teeth

There are seven days of walking in Galicia and the province is noted for its rain. For four days the rains held off. Indeed we were able to enjoy the beauty and antiquity of the province. Today was different! It was raining when we got up and rained for the whole day! In many ways you cease to notice. Where I am stopped tonight is only 40km from Santiago!
Yesterday was a lovely day of encounters. I met david and Pauline at my coffee stop, I passed Lori and Marjory her companion on the way and then walked for quite a distance with David and Hellen. Over lunch with them we talked with Bob a huge man called Bob, from Memphis. Later in the afternoon Simon, Cornelia, and Doris joined us. There is something about those with whom you share the Camino . It is the knowledge that you know what each person has been through. There was a lovely sense of everyone coming to the end of their respective experiences. It will be interesting to see how this plays itself out on friday.
After supper I wandered up to the local church for Mass. We were four priests - the local parish priest who was quite old, a young priest who comes from Palas de Rei, a priest who was with the Spanish group of students, and myself. The parish priest asked the two visitors to read the reading and the gospel - at the end of mass he commented that my Spanish is estupendo! I had a coffee with Pauline and David and then retired to the Albergue Municipal. This morning when we switched the lights on we were a varied group including the young man with dreadlocks from Malaga, another young Spaniard with an unusual hairstyle, and various other spanish people. I reckoned that I was possibly the only non-Spanish person in the group.
It was lovely to have the route to myself. I reflected on all of the people with whom I had shared the camino over nine weeks. It has been a true blessing. I also thought of all of those whom I have prayed for during these weeks. In many ways the rain reminded me that the Camino is about being purged and about being tested.
On rainy days people simply exchange greetings and carry on walking . It is very conducive to reflection.

Monday, 14 October 2013

in touching distance

Mike and I left Samos together on a still Sunday morning. After a slight navigational difficulty we were wandering down beautiful valleys and incredibly poor hamlets. At one point Mike asked whether I would hear his confession. That was a ' Camino first'. Later he suggested that I head on . I arrived at Sarria in the mid morning only to find that the places advertised to stamp my creencial were closed.
Just beyond the town I took a break at Barbadelo. Mike and I had identified Ferrerios as a likely place to spend the night but,when I arrived,there was a large group of Spanish school children having a picnic lunch! I decided to head on, (At Santiago Mike told me that the albergue had been excellent)
At Mercadoiro I passed a bar with an Albergue attached . I enquired and was told that there was ample space . The owners are two delightful young men from Valencia who have restored an old farm house . It was quiet and the food was excellent . I settled down to a rest only to let my washing get soaked in a shower. This morning I enjoyed my breakfast and I set off on a  fine morning and the stars were still shining . It felt as if they are closer now . I enjoyed the silence and the peace . At this stage of the pilgrimage I treasure every minute.
At the town of Portomarin I was blessed by the most beautiful sunrise . I walked for over two hours with Cissy who left Le Puy a week before me. Curiuosly she introduced me to Cindy who had also left Le Puy on 4th August and with whom I woukd later spend two memorable days at Finisterre. Later in the morning I met so many friends including Pauline and David.
I lunched with Hellen and David and we were joined by a striking character from Memphis.  By the end of the day I was in Palas del Rey with only 66 km to go

Friday, 11 October 2013

Ya tienes dos hermanos Roberto

After a quiet afternoon I headed to the Church for Mass. The Franciscan brother was sitting in his place and there was a young man on the mobile! That is the priest said the Friar! I waited while the phone call was finished. The priest greeted me warmly. I am Roberto he said. I have a brother called Roberto I said. Now you have two brothers of that name was his reply! He could not have been more helpful and was thrilled that I spoke Spanish. You can read the Gospel in Spanish, he said, and then I will preach in Spanish and you can preach in English! Before the Mass he warmed the congregation up with some singing. We shared the bidding prayers and the Eucharistic Prayer. Let's go and give the people the Peace , he said! At the end we both went to the door to greet the considerable congregation.
It was a wonderful experience of hospitality and warmth.
After Mass. Simon, Meg (Maureen´s daughter) Pauline, David and Mike all joined up for supper. We had the most enormous steaks you have ever seen and the restauant owner wanted to bring more.
Thankfully we could sleep in today and did not leave O Cebreiro until 8.45. The walk was a gentel stroll through Galician countryside to the village of Triacastela. Now we are only 130 km from Santiago.
Having left the soaring heights of O Cebreiro we wandered through lovely countryside with abundant fruit on the trees. The first full day in Galicia has been magical.

En Santiago se van a caer las lagrimas

There is a danger of peppering these posts with suprlatives but today is certainly very special! With nearly 1000metres of ascent and a destination at 1300metres in a remarkable village where the church has existed since the 9th century today was bound to be very special. Add to that bubbling brooks, autumnal colours, birds singing, and a deep blue sky and you have the perfect recipe.
Yesterday Simon, and I stayed in a very alternative Albergue. Alfonso, the pony tailed hospitalero, was quite a character needing re-assuring hugs every so often. We were joined by the german girl (Cornelia) I had first met at Mass in Hontanas. The three of us wandered around Villafranca de Bierzo in suffocating heat and met a good number of friends.One shock was to find  Deborah from San Francisco  in plaster after falling in the shower. Cornelia and I decided to have a simple supper at the Albergue which we ate after I had had a leg massage! Alfonso and Jesus (the owner) were pottering around. Simon returned before nine and we settled down to a quiet night in our attic dormitory.
I was up around 6.30 and Jesus had prepared a delicious breakfast which included freshly fried eggs. Simon and I set off in the dark for the 330metre climb of Alto Pradela. We were rewarded with a stunning sunrise.We took the detour to the village of Pradela where time had stood still for 500 years and had a coffee in the bar.
The descent to Trabadelo was easy and we joined the road with a lovely clear river by our side and beautiful autumn colours. At Vega de Valcarce I had a ham roll and then we set off on the 700metre climb. At Herrerias I filled up with water at a spring exchanging greetings with the young Australian who had shared our dormitory last night. Simon spoke with Mike an American and I heard him say´"Is that Gerard, the priest?"
The final climb was up a truely ancient road. We twice passed cattle being led down in the opposite direction. The effort was rewarded with views that exceeded anything that I have seen during the whole Camino. It is amazing to look back over all the hills that we have crossed since Astorga. At Laguna de Castilla we drank fresh orange juice and then we were in O Cebreiro. On a whim I said to Simon let´s have a room! For 50 euro we got a splendid room right next to the Church.
I entered the Church and greeted the Franciscan brother who invited me to concelebrate at the 7.00pm Mass. In a bar we met Pauleen and David and Maureen´s elder daughter Anna. I noticed that Ana from Logrono was having lunch. Maureen soon arrived and we were a jolly company. Knowing that Ana was finishing tomorrow I went over to take my leave of her and was rewarded with a very warm embrace. She was sitting with a man that I not previously met called Miguel Angel. Ana told him how far I had come. Quick as a flash he said: "En Santiago se van a caer las lagrimas". I was reminded of Kathleen Raine´'s line:
'How can my heart contain a company so great.´
Throughout this pilgrimage I have felt enwrapped in the love of so many people. It is both overwhelming and humbling. I returned to the Church and knelt before the Blessed Sacrament

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

In the garden of Eden

Having climbed up to Foncebardon the climb to the Cruz de Ferro was a simple affair. This is the highest point on the whole Camino at more than1500metres. Many were waiting to take photos of the sunrise but I decided to press on. The descent of more than 1000metres was tortuous. At times it reminded me of the paths in the mountains of Chalatenango, and also the entry into the mouth of the serpent at Conques. In the village before Molinaseca the houses were like those of 500 years ago. The views were stupendous with the mountains behind and the hills of Galicia in front. I pressed on to Pontferrada which is famous for its Templar Casle, found a private room for the night and settled down.
Today I met two ladies (Laurie and Marjory ) at the early part of the day and then walked alone. I was not prepared for what I was to encounter. The Bierzo must be one of Spain´s greatest secrets. It  is hemmed in by the mountains that we crossed yesterday and those that we will climb tomorrow. It is a paradise of vines, lemon trees, and vegetables. In the autumnal light, and with a mist, it was like walking in the garden of Eden. At one point the men who were cutting the grapes offered us grapes to eat. At another there were casks of grapes outside a house and inside a man was pressing the grapes in buckets. It felt as if we were transported into medieval times. I stopped at a bar and was offered Garlic Soup with my class of wine. Apparently the owner of the bar was born in London of Spanish and Mexican parents.
The weather has relented and we are blessed with very cold mornings and then cloudless days.
Tomorrow it is the climb into Galicia.
I am worried that my ´Burgos belt´is showing signs of not being big enough!
Yesterday, over a beer, I was reading some of my earlier journal writings and came across this sentence from Eliot:
'The only wisdom that we can hope to aspire to is the wisdom of humility
Humility is endless'
On the camino I have learned a great deal about humility.

No hay de que somos nosotros los agredecidos a ustedes

I can think of fewer more congenial places to write a blog! I am sitting at 1400metres above sea level in the hamlet of Foncebadon. There is not a cloud in the sky and the final movements of Beethovens 9th is playing. However there is much to relate before I reach this point.On Saturday I set off from Villavente with Pauline and David. It was a stunning day and the views to the mountains and Astorga took your breath away. Beyond the city the closeness of the mountains was a sign that Galicia was getting closer.
On my way down to the city I passed a group of men picking their grapes and then weighing them. It seemed like a Spanish version of an allotment. As I got closer to the city the heat became intense. I arrived below the Cathedral around 12.30 but realised that the cumulative effects of the cold were now on me. I stopped at a pharmacy to get something for my throat. Eventually I found my lodgings right on the edge of the City. After a shower at the hotel I collapsed into bed and slept for more than 3 and a half hours! I had a drink with Pauline and David and then slept again until 8.30am. I realised that it was the first time since August 11th that I had been able to sleep beyond 6.00am!
On Sunday morning I was shocked at how cold it was even after 9am. I visited the amazing Gaudi Bishop´s Palace and then attended Mass in the Cathedral. The theme was that of faith. I realised that it is only by faith that you can complete the Camino. If you rely on your own strength then you will fail!
At the end of mass I felt quite emotional to think that in two weeks time I could be attending mass in the Cahtedral at Santiago.
I had a leisurely lunch but the cold has put me off my food and slept a lot again.
On Monday I had a coffe at the hotel and set off in the dark wearing clothes that had been stored at the bottom of my rucksack since August. At Santa Catalina de Somoza I met two campesinos. I stopped and said buenas dias. They responded with the familiar ´buen camino´. I said ´muchas gracias´and one of them said: ´no hay de que somos nosotros los agredecidos a ustedes´. in others words -we are the ones who are grateful to you. It was a profound comment about their faith in those who do the Camino.
At Rabanal del Camino I visited the Benedictine foundation but found them less than welcoming and so joined Simon and walked on to Fonbardon. The views were stunning. After the usual routine I joined Angela and her daughters for a drink.

God´s Clown

There is a story from the recent papal conclave whose source is Pope Francis himself. He relates how´ after the election but before the formal process was completed a cardinal who was sitting next to him- a fellow South American- leant over and said simply ´remember the poor´. The Pope relates that it was at that moment the name Francis came to him. Today is the feast of St Francis of Assisi  and, as I recounted in an earlier post, Francis walked the Camino. Simplicity, an awareness of the awesome beauty of nature, and living by evangelical values are archytypically the values of the camino.
Today the beauty of nature has been super abundant . After the interminable flatness of the Meseta the mountains of Leon are visible in the far distance. The hills are getting closer, the birds are singing everywhere, and the path climbs steadily westwards.
Pope Francis appears to be a ´mould-breaker´just as his namesake came into conflict with the ecclesiascal and civil authorities of his day. It is remarkable that francis of Assisis commitment to evangelical poverty was too radical even for his own followers. The gospel always calls us forward and deeper. I have a profound sense that´as I enter the latter stages of the pilgrimage, I am called to even more radical refelction. The Camino seems to take layer after layer off you. The ´naked intent unto God´of the Cloud of Unknowing becomes a reality. In many ways Francis of Assisis was ´God´s clown´and we are called to be the same.
What is also clear today is that the mornings are getting really cold . There was a lovely moment at Villar de Mazarife.On the side of the road was a sign advertising three albergues. It read: Jesus,Tio Pepe,and St Antony of Papua! I felt that someone had a sense of humour.
Villavante felt like a town where nothing happens! The owner of the Albergue Santa Lucia was quite welcoming and I was soon sitting at the side of the street on a glorious afternoon . I was joined by a lady from Massachusets called Carrie who would later feature in the final days of my journey to Santiago . By late afternoon the albergue was packed and,as my cold developed,I had an uncomfortable night.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Colour and light

There is no doubt that this has been the most difficult week so far . There are three reasons for this . Today was the start of my eighth week on the road . I have walked for 47 of the last 50 days! It is easy to forget that a pilgrimage is a time of deprivation and cleansing . St Paul understood this perfectly . The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness,he says in the Letter to the Romans . He also says when I am weak then I am strong . It is precisely at this stage of the pilgrimage that God can manifest Himself . The challenge is to stay focused and open.
The second reason for the difficult week has been the weather! Rain has never been far away and Tuesday was one of the most miserable days I have known . Again the challenge is to realise that God is present in every circumstance.
The third reason is that I have a cold! (Probably the result of the weather.)
In the evening at La Casa del Cura Henna was quite concerned about a missing sock! Rummaging through my sack I found the offending item to her great relief. She,and Leo, have given us attention to rival the Ferme de Bouysse.
On Wednesday morning Leo served us breakfast and wished us well. Fortunately the rain had relented as we made our way across the Meseta . To the north we got fleeting glimpses of the Picos de Europe. From Calzadilla to Reliegos there are almost 17km of relatively similar countryside. Beyond Reliegos we followed the road to the quaintly named Mansanilla de Las Mulas. Our albergue had the name 'El Jardin del Camino' but exhibited little of a garden and was functional inside. After the luxury and conviviality of the Casa del Cura it was a bit of a shock . We were soon joined by Pauline and David who had decided to take the bus into Leon the following day.
When Simon and I walked the 12km I realised that they had made a good choice! Our route was along a busy road, which made conversation impossible, and then through the outer suburbs of Leon.  As rain was threatening we stopped for a coffee and ended up in deep conversation with the barman.
Entering Leon the rain finally started and we donned our wet gear . I managed to get us lost but was rewarded with an experience which took my breath away. Turning up a tiny street we were suddenly confronted by the soaring buttresses of Leon Cathedral towering over the surrounding area .The effect was mesmerising . It is amazing how medieval Cathedrals still have the capacity to inspire awe.
By now it was pouring down and I entered the Cathedral. I tried my 'I'm a priest' line at the entrance but the only discount offered was that for pensioners!
I have never visited Chartres . It is high on my wishlist!  After Chartres it is claimed that Leon has the greatest collection of stained glass in Europe . On this gloomy morning,and even though I have been in the Cathedral twice before,the quality and variety of glass truly took my breath away . Having been in Burgos just a week ago I reflected that the artistry of Burgos is in the stone and that of Leon in the glass . I was reminded of Daniel's comment in Cahors that these buildings are a statement of faith about their creators . It was certainly a moment to savour.
Outside in the pouring rain I met David and Pauline. Over a coffee we arranged to meet at the albergue just outside the city. Again they chose the more sensible option by taking the bus as the route out passed through nondescript suburbs and warehouses. At the albergue they told me that they had met Amede heading out of the city.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

At the house of the priest.

Since Saturday I have been walking with Simon who is from Melbourne . He is the father of three and I have enjoyed his company . Most evenings we meet up with Pauline and David . On Monday we were at Terredilos de los Templarios and were trying to arrange lodgings for Tuesday . I asked the girls to help but the first place gave a different number and the second did not answer . Eventually I got through to the Casa del Cura in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos  . I booked two rooms at€2 each.
Tuesday 1st October proved to be the wettest day  of the Camino so far. (Many pilgrims took the pragmatic decision and made their way in public transport.) Simon and I donned full waterproofs and trudged off . As we approached Sahara (which Brierley wrongly claims has a population of 170,000!) we encountered a Danish lady on her cycle . The three of us negotiated the puddles to visit the Ermita Virgen de Puente, sadly closed.
In Sahagun we headed for a coffee and found more pilgrims waiting for a bus. I visited a pharmacy as I felt that a cold was coming on. Simon also needed waterproof trousers. As we left Sahagun Simon retired behind some trees to change his trousers.
The final 9 km to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos was on a straight path which closely resembled a lake!It was a huge relief when the village came into view .
When I arrived at the hostel two ladies were asking the price. Despite the appalling conditions they turned away.Henna the owner greeted me warmly . It was exactly the right place for a wet day . The house had an open -plan room and a central staircase . In the bathroom there was a bath!
When Simon arrived I was ready for my bath. Sadly his rucksack had fared badly in the conditions and everything was soaked. I suggested that he had a bath and then we would have some lunch.
Downstairs I met Leo who was the husband of Henna . When I checked in I pointed out that it was appropriate that I should be in the priest's house and Leo addressed me as Padre. I ordered a glass of wine and was given delicious cheese with bread and olive oil . Simon and I enjoyed delicious seafood soup and salad . Leo was constantly offering witty comments.
Later David and Pauline arrived and Angela from north of Melbourne . She is the mother of seven and is walking the Camino with two of her daughters.Henna asked me whether we would be happy to have supper together .She also took away everybody's wet clothes and said that she would sort them. Eventually Silvia from Chile and her friend Rebecca arrived as did Nigel and Dale . I had met these two in Carrion.Nigel is an Anglican priest in Suffolk and Dale is an electrician from Devon . I blessed the table and the food and we had a delicious meal. At the end Leo appeared with some of his father in law's local liqueur . It was a very happy gathering. Apart from Emaus in Burgos,this was the first time that I had experienced anything like the fellowship that had been common place in France . It may have cost more to stay at the Casa del Cura but it was worth every euro!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013



St Martin Fromista


Yesterday my elder brother sent me a text in which Dante refers to the Camino. Beatrice identifies St James in this way: ¨look, look! This is the saint because of whom on earth Galicia is visited!" What my brother did not know is that the previous evening in Carrion de Los Condes I had stayed in a Monastery of Poor Clares where St Francis of Assisi had stayed. When I was preparing for the camino I found out that it is possible that Geoffrey Chaucer might have done the camino before he wrote the Canterbury Tales. Between St Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri, and Geoffrey Chaucer we have three of the most significant figures of the 12th - 14th century. This proves to me that the Camino is something that has figured in European history for more than a thousand years. That is an awesome fact. What we attempt today is part of the long march of humanity. Of course it is not just recent history . From the Aubrac, through the Causse,and right to Galicia, the presence of dolmens and standing stones remind us that this path has been trod for many thousands of years.
On 1st September I set off from Saint Antoine with Raphael and Hubert in the gloom on an extraordinarily hot day. During September I walked for 28 out of the 30 days. The 1st of Ocotber could not have been more different. it was pouring with rain when we set off and the rain did not let up throughout the six hours of walking. It was truely a day when you knew that you had walked the camino. What added to the exertion is that,beyond Carrion,there is the longest stretch (17km) without a single village.
After 45 days there is a certain weariness. It is not physical - although I am currently nursing a slight cold- it is the waeriness of the absence of creature comforts and the endless adjustment to the rigours of community living in close quarters. For four days the walking has been in terrble conditions. But, of course, that is the penitential aspect of the Camino. We have to be stripped of our ilusions and we have to be made aware of our humaness. It is truely a ´Via Purgativo.´´
With October beginnig it is clear that the stages of the process are much clearer. There is a focus in knowing that Santiago is now only a couple of weeks away.
At the Monastery in Carrion the nuns were singing the novena of St Francis whose feast is on friday. Francis was a man of great simplicity and evangelical poverty. He is clearly an inspiration to each one of us. It is so appropriate that Pope Francis has made this the clear message of his papacy. As I move through the Camino I am conscious that it is an opportunuty to make choices for the future which will have implications both for the way I live and for the way in which I relate to others.  

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Under leaden skies

As you go further on the Camino the process changes . The physical effort seems less significant . You feel that you are being called to a deeper and deeper intensity . The process is about reflecting on why you are walking the way . Today I walked with Simon from Melbourne and we covered 35km without noticing .
We set out from Itero with rain threatening. Since the section to Fromista is along a canal, and therefore very flat , we made excellent progress. I had a certain discomfort around my knee. It was only when we reached Fromista that I discovered that the guidebook in my pocket had rubbed away the skin above my knee!
In Fromista we met Pauleen and David over a coffee and then explored the Church of St Martin. Beyond the town the path followed the road all the way to Carrion.
As the kilometres pass the challenge is to remember that the Camino is about personal renewal achieved in the company of others . As Santiago approaches the objective focuses even more clearly . This is not a long distance marathon. It is an invitation to change especially in relation to others . The Camino is a school about relationships . The challenge is to live it out both on the Camino and, especially, when you return home . The leaden skies and the monochrome horizon help to focus on the process.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Living the dream

One of the reasons for walking30km was that I wanted to stay in Hontanas I had been told that it was a particularly beautiful spot but was not prepared for its extraordinary quality . After 10 km across the meseta I first saw a shepherd and then the tower of a church appeared . It was like stepping back 300 years . Halfway down the only street was the Auberge, the girls were very welcoming since I spoke to them in Spanish . Over the washing I convinced two ladies from US to come back and do the french section next year . I asked whether the church would be opened and was directed to a house in the village . The owner introduced me to his wife who suggested that I say mass at 6.She prepared the church and rang the bell. It was lovely to celebrate in Spanish in such a special place . After mass I took some photos from above the village . As David and Pauleen were having a pre dinner drink Rick arrived . I first met him in Emaus two nights ago . He is from Atlanta and excellent company . We had a lovely evening.
This morning the girl in the bar greeted me as the Englishman who speaks Spanish . For the first half hour I had the meseta to myself . It was wonderful to absorb the silence . The waning moon was accompanied by a solitary start . At Castrojeriz I found David and Pauleen having a coffee . We walked together as the conditions deteriorated . Eventually we were walking in the heaviest rain so far . I had a particular reason for stopping at Itero de la Vega. It was here on a scorching July day in 1995 that my dear friends Moira and Bill Reid had set off with Pepe Redondo to walk some of the Camino . It is not often in our lives that we can fulfil our dreams . This dream has exceeded expectations . Rick appeared and we enjoyed a hearty lunch together.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Into the heart of the meseta

There is something about a day off. In some ways I feel guilty that I am not walking in others, I make the most of the opportunity .Yesterday after visiting the Monastery of the Huelgas I had the most delicious lunch in a restaurant that I had last visited 8 years ago. Pauleen and David shared the lunch with me,a reminder that the pilgrimage is more than just walking! At the hostel I discovered that there are only two other people for the night . I concelebrated with Padre Augustin for the second evening . He gave me a very warm embrace as we parted . At supper Marieno asked what time we wanted breakfast . I asked for 7.00 and she said 7.15. I slept well and was pleased to hear the Taize chants at 6.45. I wandered through just after 7 and everything was ready . I left at 7.25.After 4 days with Amede it was strange to be walking on my own.
Burgos was just coming to life.Children were heading for school . On leaving Burgos there was quite a tedious walk around a reservoir . In the cool breeze I reflected that we are now well into autumn. I enjoyed the walk and met David and Pauleen when I had my tortilla stop after 4 hours . We walked together as the path climbed steepl onto the mesesta. At one point a shepherd was leading his flock. After 6 hours I rounded a corner and there was Hontonas right in the heart of the meseta.30km after the day off.


The Burgos haircut

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Peregrinos a Santiago

Polvo,barro,sol y lluvia
es el Camino de Santiago
Millares de peregrinos
y mas de un millar de anos.
Peregrino quien te llama?
Que fuerza occulta te atrae?
Ni el Campo de Las Estrellas
ni los grandes cathedrales.
No es la bravadura navarra
ni el vino Riojana
ni los mariscos Gallegos
ni los campos castellanos.
Peregrino quien te llamas?
Que fuerza oculta te atrae?
Ni las gentes del Camino
ni las costumbres rurales.
No es la historia y la cultura
ni es el gallo de la Calzada
ni el palacio de Gaudi
ni el castillo Pontferrada

Todo lo veo al pasar
y es un gozo verlo todo
mas la voz que a mi me llama
la siento mucho mas hondo.
La fuerza que a mi me empuja
la fuerza que a mi me atrae
no se explicarlo ni yo.
Solo El de arriba lo sabe! 

The 40th day

Even after 6 weeks the Camino throws up surprises!On Monday at Villafranca de Montes de Oca Amede and I went off to look round the village even though we had been told that the church was closed . I suggested to Amede that we check out what time the bar did breakfast . When we arrived there was a large group having a drink . I suggested to Amede that we have a beer so as not to appear antisocial . When we emerged from the bar they had all gone! We sat on the edge of the busy road . A man came out of the bar and asked if he could join us . He said that he doesn't normally drink but his son had just phoned to say that his father in law had died . He was visibly upset and I spent the next 15 minutes listening to his story and trying to console him . As we returned to the hostel I said to Amede . That was the reason why we went to the bar.
The evening at Atapuerca was very relaxed . We had arranged to meet Pauleen and David at 6th . As we set off I noticed that the church was open . There were two women sitting by the door and their eyes lit up when I said that I am a priest . Very quickly they had me saying mass . The night in the hostel was one of the quietest .On Wednesday we had a gentle walk into Burgos,my 40th day of walking . In the outskirts we called into a shopping centre both looking for belts . I asked someone where the Emaus alberge was and we were soon ensconced.
So what about the 40th day? Well the experience so far has exceeded expectations . As a priest there is no question of doing the Camino for yourself . The range and quality of encounters has been overwhelming . Amede thinks that I talk to everyone . In many ways that is a complement . I have found the last weeks a renewal of priesthood in its truest sense engagement with people . If you engage with people there is a real encounter which is transformative for both . That has happened so many times . I continue to feel unbelievably blessed . As I have commented previously it is very humbling . Today I am resting in Burgos,tomorrow the meseta.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Lunar landscape

In Aire sur l'Adour Andre had told us to seek out villages . I had been booked into a convent at Santo Domingo but I said to Amede that we should go on to Granon.On the way out of Santo Domingo Amede said that he hadn't sung Ultreia since France . The two of us walked out of Santo Domingo singing lustily.Granon was literally a village with one long street . From the house of smiles we could walk down the street to the only bar. When I went in the owner wanted to know where I was from but you have no accent he said. He then said that there had been two priests in the night before.
The house of smiles was very alternative with graffiti on all of the walls . Amede and I were sharing with an English man who had been at Ampleforth . There was a couple from the South West in the next room . I wandered over to the adjoining hostel and found everyone sleeping on mattresses on the floor . Back at the bar Michael was talking with David and Pauleen from near Ripon . Amede brought over Isabela and Remi.At one point we sang Ultreia and I noticed that Ernesto the owner of the Auberge joined in with gusto.
In Granon there was a sense of community which has been rare during the Spanish section of the Camino. Amede and I headed back for the communal meal which was a little chaotic perhaps in keeping with the ambience of the house of smiles!

Sunday, 22 September 2013




With Amedie and Matthieu
Cloisters Estella

At the house of smiles

During the afternoon Mattieu invited me to supper saying that since it was his last night he wanted me to share it! I went off to visit the monastery of Santa Maria de la Real.This also serves as the Pantheon for the Kings of Navarre. On my return I delighted the lady who was running the Auberge by translating a Spanish poem about the Camino for her. (We had passed the original on the wall of a factory on the outskirts of the town). My reward was a very warm hug!  When she was booking accommodation for me I heard her say that I spoke excellent Spanish and was a priest.  (I have copied the original in a subsequent post: "Peregrino a Santiago".)
Whilst the supper was far from gourmet, it was great  fun. Both Mattieu and Amede speak some English so we meandered through both languages as they both reflected on their experience of the Camino so far. Carlos passed by but didn't want to join us. Back at the Auberge Mattieu said that he would be around to see us off.
There are two major hazards in an Auberge- snorers and street noise!  Last night we had both in abundance. I was up before 6 and went for a coffee at 6.30. At 6.55 Amede came down and said that he had not slept. I said that there was no problem and that I was happy to wait. I took my leave of Mattieu and we set off. There were far fewer vines than yesterday and but lovely views of the Sierra de la Demanda. Over breakfast Amede said that hew so pleased to see me yesterday. Mattieu had just told him that he was going home and he didn't know what to do. I reflected that it is strange that a 21 year old from Brittany should be so happy to walk with me. We spoke a mixture of French and English. At Santo Domingo I suggested that we visit the church before we had a break. I am pleased that we did since we met some English people who had arrived only to find that the lunch break had started!
 I had forgotten just how beautiful the church is. Amede was captivated and took lots of photos. We found a spot for beer and tortilla.I had booked at a convent but they wanted 30€. I suggested to Amede that we walked to Granon. We had no booking but there was an Auberge called the House of Smiles. Sure enough we got a lovely room with only three beds. I suggested to Amede that we have a beer. Paul turned up. In a village it is more intimate. I wandered to the bar and the barman wanted to know how I spoke such Spanish. Over a beer Amede asked if he could walk with me to Burgos. I am having a day off at Burgos he will see how he feels. It is nice to know that we will walk together for the next three days.
Here in the Rioja there are way markers and it is now only 555km to Santiago

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The way of the way

Yesterday in Viana two Australians from Perth asked me to take their photo. On the way into Logrono there is a little house where the lady has sold drinks and stamped creenciales  for years. The lady died a couple of years ago but her daughter, who is 80 herself, still keeps up the tradition. I arrived at the same time as the two ladies and they used me as an interpreter. They wanted to know how I had such good Spanish. When I told them about my 11 years in El Salvador one of them could not believe it  saying that her son is on a gap year trip to Central America and is currently surfing in El Salvador!  That is what happens on the way!
Marcos the Swiss chocolate maker was staying in the same Auberge. It was very clean and a single dormitory with 32 beds. Whilst being quite functional the spirit of the Camino showed . I was doing my washing but discovered that there was no outside drying facilities . A lady whom I had not met previously offered to put my washing into the drier with that of her group.
Whilst resting on my bunk I overheard the lady at the desk telling some other pilgrims  that Logrono is in fiesta. I set off around 5 in the vain hope that I might find Carlos. I had asked about eating and the girl told me that the best thing in Logrono were the tapas. She indicated the best streets. I asked her whether they were tapas or pinchos. If they are on bread she said that they are tapas, if not pinchos!
I was not prepared for what greeted me in the street. They were packed with youngsters who had clearly been enjoying the fiesta. One girl was vomiting violently, two boys were urinating in the street. The cathedral was firmly closed. I headed up a street and passed one of those which is good for tapas. It was packed. I came out at a plaza and was getting some cash from an ATM when I heard a familiar voice it was Geoff one of the two men from Belfast that I had first met in Estella. He said that Rick was sitting on the edge of the road. I wandered over relieved to see a familiar face. I bought them a beer and a Rioja with olives for myself. We had a lovely conversation. Geoff' s wife had received the MBE at the same ceremony as Pete Pos!  They asked me what I was doing for supper and I said that I was heading for tapas. They said that they would be pleased to join me. Before we set off a convoy of cleaning wagons passed by. In the street for the tapas the crowds had gone but their debris was everywhere. We didn't fancy the first place but the offerings in the second looked attractive. Geoff and Rick were amused when I asked to taste the wine!  I had just gone in to order a second lot of tapas when the whole convoy of cleaners appeared in the street. When they had passed by the street was immaculate. Geoff had noticed that another shop had now opened so we went there for our final choice. We parted company and I looked into the cathedral, listened to some panpipes and then headed back to the Auberge.
It was a noisy night with plenty of evidence of the fiesta. I was ready for off at 7.00am. The streets were still full of young revellers. I felt a little vulnerable. One or two of them wished me Buen Camino. I became aware that one young man was following me. At first I wondered if I was being set up for a mugging!  After a few minutes he asked me where I was from and then explained that he had done the Camino last year. I asked him about the fiesta. It is usually the wine harvest he said but the bad weather this year has delayed the harvest by two weeks. Before he left he told me that his name is Ygnace. He also showed me the route out of town.
Eventually I was on a long road heading westwards . There were a whole series of road junctions and, at almost every one, the vehicles stopped to let me cross . Many flashed their lights as a gesture of support . It was a fascinating insight into the pride of the Spanish in the Camino.
 At Navarette I met Carlos taking photos in the Church. He was a little disgruntled that I hadn't found him in Logrono. I said that I hoped that we would have better luck in Najera.
Throughout the walk we were passing through grapes. When I arrived at Najera I went into a bar to find out where the Auberge is. The girl showed me up the stairs and wanted to know why it was that I could speak Spanish so well.
After the shower I went out for some lunch. I had just arranged a place when I saw two grinning faces. It was Amede and and Matthieu the two French graduates that I had first met at Aroue. I think that they were as pleased to see me as I was to see them. Amede gave me a huge hug. Apparently Matthieu has been really suffering with his feet and is leaving the Camino tomorrow. Amede asked if we could walk together. Later as I was finishing my lunch they came and had a beer.