The hoopiness of this frood is in doubt

DSCF2120

In two weeks’ time I shall be on the ferry to Spain, and I have to confess that I still don’t know where my towel is. I’ve taken everything out of the airing cupboard, the hall cupboard, the various boxes of cycling impedimenta, the suitcases and holdalls under the bed… And put it all back again, obviously. But no towel. At least, not the towel I was looking for. The airing cupboard was, of course, full of the things, but they were all the gigantic cotton bath sheet version, which won’t do at all. I did find two other microfibre camping towels. Neither of them are mine, but I’ve been offered a loan of one of them. I weighed them both on the kitchen scales to see which to take.

I also thought I’d lost my very lightweight fleece, but it turned up at the very back of the top shelf of my wardrobe. (It’s that shapeless brown object in the photograph.)

I found my hat and my waterproof (hmm, well, but it’ll do) and my Swiss Army knife and the bandana I bought in the cathedral shop in Santiago de Compostela the last time around. (This was easy. I knew where they all were.)

Also, I tried on all the walking trousers I’ve accumulated over the years. I have one pair that fits perfectly. Everything else is either too small (the ones I wore last time I did the Camino) or too big (the ones I’ve bought since). I’m going to take the ones that fit perfectly and the ones that are too big but don’t actually fall off.

And yes, one of the objects in that photograph is not like the others. Yes, that shoe box does contain shoes. No, I’m not planning on walking 110km in kitten heels from Hobbs. But I am setting off straight after a wedding, and I thought I might as well get everything down off the top shelf of the wardrobe at once.

Cherry trees again

IMG_20170405_124113_377

From a practice walk on Tuesday – this is what Cambridge looks like in the spring.

(Twelve miles, carrying 8.5kg. Nothing to speak of in the way of hills, unless you count the Castle Mound. I’ve obtained the items of kit that I wished I had last time – waterproof trousers, a silk sleeping bag liner – and have come to a decision about the rucksack question.)

Two tins of tomato soup, two bottles of water, and the Oxford Companion to English Literature

_20170311_183801

Three and a half kilograms. I’m practising for the Camino Inglés by gradually increasing the weight I carry with me when I’m out walking. That was today’s load, and the first time I’d been out with the rucksack I bought at university, which I’ve never taken on a long walk. Previously I’ve used my godmother’s rucksack, which alas is no longer in a usable state. (If anyone reading this has ever experimented with re-waterproofing the inside of a rucksack, I’d love to hear about your experience!)

There are other bits of kit on my mind: sleeping bag; socks; sticks. Do I buy new walking poles (I have no idea what’s happened to my old ones) or do I take the more picturesque but less foldable hazel staff? But the question I really need to think about at the moment is: boots? Do I use my old ones, veterans of my university years, and trust they won’t fall apart on me? Do I use the current ones, which were meant to be a stopgap and feel a bit insubstantial, and trust they won’t fall apart on me? Or do I buy a new pair? If I’m going to do that, I need to do it soon, so that I have a chance to walk them in.

At the beginning of April I’m going to spend a long weekend walking the Isle of Wight Coast Path, to get some practice in on gradients. We are severely lacking in hills in Cambridge; I’m currently making do with climbing the stairs to the top of the building I work in. Meanwhile, my brother, who’ll be joining me on the walk, has spent the last few months working at a ski resort and is probably disgustingly fit. He was disgustingly fit before he left, after all. I can console myself with the thought that my Spanish is probably better than his.

It’s been good to think of Spanish as training, too; it’s meant that when I’ve found it difficult to get out of bed (this winter, with the boomerang virus; this morning, with depression) I can do five minutes of Duolingo on my phone and still feel that I’m making progress. I can also take small, practical actions that don’t take much physical energy but that still need to be done.

On Thursday, for example, I booked the ferry tickets. And that’s a momentous proceeding. All my practice walks, all my Spanish learning and my dithering over boots; all that could just be in the interests of general self-improvement. But a ferry ticket, now, you can’t argue with that. It’s going to happen!

Crossing the meseta, a rant that isn’t really a rant, and a status update

The meseta

The meseta

The film The Way follows a baby boomer dentist, played by Martin Sheen, and some acquaintances he picks up along the way, along the Camino Francés to Santiago de Compostela.

I am the worst person with whom to watch it – well, me and every other returned pilgrim, I suppose – because I find it difficult to restrain myself from giving a running commentary on every building and geographical feature I recognise. And, at a little more than half way through, screaming, ‘Where’s the meseta gone?’

The meseta is the plain that takes up a lot of Castile and a significant distance of the Camino – nearly two weeks, at the speed we went. It is day after day of flat, grinding, almost featureless, path. It’s either hot and dusty, as it was when we walked it, or bitingly cold, as it will be when my brother cycles it in November. There is an awful lot of it, and it goes on, and on, and on.

You wouldn’t know this from The Way. Oh, there are some shots of cornfields and what have you, but they come nowhere near conveying the sheer thirsty tedium of the meseta. In The Way, you get the mountains at the beginning and the hills at the end, but you don’t get the long, long plain in the middle. It’s like one of those greetings cards that pulls out from both sides to reveal as much again in the middle. It’s an oddly truncated pilgrimage.

Of course, a hundred kilometres of nothing would have made The Way a very different film. Havi Brooks talks about the slow motion montage, how practice (or any repetitive activity, really) feels like you’re not getting anywhere, and how in a film it would be over in a flash, except you’d still have the sense of time passing.

In terms of the current book, I am in the middle of the slow motion montage, half-way across the meseta. Slogging away. Cranking out another hundred words, another page, another five hundred words. Catching sight of a snippet, and thinking it’s terrible. Re-reading a page, and thinking perhaps it isn’t so bad. Re-reading a chapter, and counting the holes in the fabric.

Filling the holes.

Another hundred words. Another fifty words. Another sentence.

I am beginning to see a line of hills in the distance.

I want to do that

20161010_121312

Unexpectedly, I had lunch with two of my brothers last Thursday. If I’d thought about them at all when I got into London on Thursday morning, I’d have assumed they would be minding their own respective business on the Isle of Wight, but I got a text message at about half past ten asking if I had any plans for lunch.

It turned out that one of them had come up to London to get ski boots fitted and, while he was in the area, to visit the Confraternity of St James and see if they had any advice on cycling the Camino de Santiago.

Why do the Camino?

When one arrives at Santiago de Compostela, one is asked to give one’s motivation for doing the Camino, choosing from religious, sporting, cultural, historical, spiritual, and so on. Well, I am a fairly religious/spiritual sort (often coming down more decidedly on one side of the balance or the other, depending on my mood), and so, when offered a choice by the pilgrim office at the cathedral, I went for that, and got my certificate in Latin. But really, I can’t claim that religious and spiritual reasons were what sent me off down that road.

Why do the Camino?

Because it’s there.

But it’s more than that – at least, it is in my experience. The Camino isn’t pure nature, pure challenge, the way that Everest is. The Camino is a human construct, human roads leading to a human city, and it’s often the human connection that draws us to it.

My brother wants to do the Camino because I did the Camino, back in 2007.

I wanted to do the Camino because a group of family friends did the Camino, back in 2000. The postcards, in Andrew’s spiky or Heloise’s scrawly handwriting, arrived over the course of several weeks, bringing with them the sense of space, of adventure, of time, and leaving me with a tiny seed of a wish.

I wanted to do that.

I did it.

The way I get into most things is by hearing somebody else talk about them, and thinking, I want to do that. I bet I could do that.

My brother wants to do the Camino. He knows about the Camino because I did the Camino, and because Andrew and Heloise and John Murray did the Camino.

I want to do the Camino again because I did the Camino before, and my greatest regret is that Anne, my companion of my last Camino, is not well enough to join me again: my best friend, who, when I said, ‘I want do do this,’ said, ‘I want to do that too,’ and came with me.

As for my other brother’s reason for coming to London? He just thought it sounded fun.

100 untimed books: steps

92. steps

92. steps

I’m going to walk the Camino Inglés to Santiago de Compostela next year. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so they say. The Camino Inglés isn’t anywhere near that long – it’s less than a hundred miles, in fact. Last time round I walked five hundred miles of the Camino Francés, but these days I have a full-time job.

Anyway, I reckon the journey starts with a decent guidebook.

100 untimed books

All roads lead to Santiago

Buen camino!

Buen camino! (ignore Falconer’s Lure; it just happened to come in the same batch of post)

Over the next few months I’ll be writing about my preparation for walking the Camino Inglés, from the north coast of Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela. I’m planning to do the walk in May next year, fitting it in between my stepsister-in-law’s wedding and my father’s seventy-fifth birthday party. We’ll see how that works.

I walked the Camino Frances in 2007, between university and the real world, and have been wanting to do it again ever since. However, taking eight weeks to walk it isn’t really compatible with having a full-time job, and so I’d assumed that I’d have to wait until retirement – which is a way off, and maybe even getting further away. It only occurred to me fairly recently that I could fit the Camino Inglés into a fortnight.

As always, the things I most need to work on are physical fitness and the language. Living in Cambridge, I don’t get much practice with anything steeper than the bridge over the Cam, so I’m thinking about nipping down south to stay with my parents and walk the Isle of Wight Coast Path. As for the language, I suspect that the (Castilian) Spanish that I learned last time around will come back to me, but I’d also like to learn some Galician as well, since my pilgrimage will be entirely within Galicia.

I’ll write more about this as my plans crystallise. In the meantime, my friend Jo is cycling the Camino Frances, along with her husband and another friend, as I write, and so I’m going to send you over to her blog, Wheels Along the Camino, for some stunning photos and thoughtful reflection.