Camino de Santiago 1: Introduction

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

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

This principle held true for me along the length of the Camino de Santiago, the Way of Saint James, that I walked with my friend Anne in the spring of 2007. A Quaker challenged me, the summer before, about the idea of pilgrimage. God is everywhere: no place can be called holier than any other. What was the point? Actually, I agreed. Santiago de Compostela itself, the Holy City of the Iberian peninsula, held no greater attraction for me than any other place; I had my reservations as to whether it was genuinely the resting place of the mortal remains of Saint James the Apostle, and there were other European cities that would have taken precedence my ‘must see’ list. The traditional way of getting there, however, made it another matter entirely: one’s own two feet; one’s own pace – quite literally; the chance to prove that five hundred years of civilisation hadn’t turned one soft.

The Camino had been on my list of Things To Do One Day ever since my godmother, Héloïse, and her friends Andrew and John had walked it in the year 2000. I was no great walker back then, but something about the idea had appealed to me and it had sunk into my mind, resurfacing occasionally when I purchased walking boots or hi-tech rucksacks, and one chilly Saturday as I picked up a few small, pink scallop shells from the beach at Dawlish. The five mile Out of Doors Society walk was going well enough for me to mention to Anne that one day I was going to walk the Camino. She was intrigued, and I think that was that. We were going to walk the Camino – not ‘one day’, but definitely. We were going to walk the Camino when we’d finished our degrees. We were going to walk the Camino in 2008.

It was a mentality that coloured the rest of our time at Exeter University. We memorised Taizé chants; we kept thinking we ought to learn some Spanish; we embarked upon a weekly swimming regime; when the Tolkien society began debating which Middle-Earth races its members belonged to, we didn’t bother to argue – we knew we were Rangers; we continued to accompany the Out of Doors Society across Dartmoor and to despair at how often they got lost; we purchased a number of small gold-coloured shell-shaped buttons at the closing down sale of our favourite haberdashery; we got quietly excited at relevant articles in the Church Times and the other publications to which the University Chaplaincy subscribed. We were going to walk the Camino in 2008.

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