Anyone walked/cycled the Camino de Santiago?

brit66 Posts: 350
edited August 2017 in The cake stop
Am thinking about it doing next summer. I'm erring towards the cycling option, as I'd be able to start in France and cycle over the Pyrenees, to Santiago de Compostela. However I've not ruled out doing the way the original pilgrims would have done it, by walking.

Be interested to hear about anyone's experiences?



  • mercia_man
    mercia_man Posts: 1,431
    My wife and I gave up our jobs in 1991 to cycle the Camino from home in Shropshire, via Vezelay in Burgundy, one of the official starting points. After riding across England, France and northern Spain and reaching Santiago de Compostela, we rode on to Finisterre and then looped back through Galicia onto the Camino, following it backwards until diverting north through the Picos to catch the ferry home from Santander and then rode back home from Plymouth.

    We were away for three months and cycled 3,000 miles. One of the best experiences of our lives. It was hugely liberating to live simply and carry all your worldly possessions in just four panniers, covering the same terrain as so many people over the centuries. We are not religious but the churches, cathedrals, monasteries and holy sites on the route are fantastic to visit. You can get a pilgrim "passport" - we obtained ours at St Jean Pied de Port, in France, just before the crossing over the Pyrenees - and you get it stamped each day at refuges, bars, tourist offices etc in order to obtain your Compostela at Santiago. This is a certificate entitling you to so many years discount in purgatory. When filling in the form at Santiago's stunning cathedral, you had to fill in the box for "spiritual" or "religious" reasons for undertaking the pilgrimage in order to qualify for a Compostela. Ticking just the "sporting" box was not sufficient.

    We took camping gear and camped through France but stayed largely at refugios along the Camino route in Spain. These ranged from YHA style dormitories in monasteries and a small room with a couple of beds next to a village church to a modern adobe house just for pilgrims in the desert-like meseta and a thatched stone-built "palloza" with a straw-covered dirt floor up in the mountains.

    One of the best bits was meeting fellow pilgrims each evening, sharing food, wine and stories. We never met any fellow Brits. In those days, the Camino was relatively quiet and you didn't have to pay at refugios or book in advance. It was just starting to change when we did it. We came across the occasional supported party of cyclists with luggage-carrying coach and their own field kitchen taking over a refuge. This caused resentment among the "genuine" pilgrims. Many thousands of pilgrims now travel the Camino and I suspect you need to choose your time of travel carefully or maybe consider one of the lesser known pilgrim routes to Santiago.

    The Camino runs through a much more foreign Spain than the Costas. Hardly anyone spoke English when we did it. I strongly recommend joining the Confraternity of St James, a charity which provides advice, details of refugios, guides of the routes etc. See:
  • Zendog1
    Zendog1 Posts: 816
    If nothing else this is worth a read - quiet funny as usual from Tim Moore. ... oore+books
  • brit66
    brit66 Posts: 350
    Mercia Man

    It sounds like you had a great time, and judging by how much you wrote, I'd say it's something that has brought back good memories (you said it was one of the best things you ever did).

    I've done quite a few long trips, nearly a year travelling through Africa, five months in New Zealand, plus a few weeks here and there in many other far flung countries throughout the world. Although my company offer sabbaticals, I don't think I'll be taking one to spend the same time as you did on the Camino, so it will be a week, maybe two to get to Compostela, or rather a bit further to Finisterre, the 'official' ending place.

    I can well imagine it was a little different when you did it, as apparently these days it has become very popular. I guess I'll have to pre-book stuff, unlike in your day. I was aware of the need to get official stamps, and to carry the clam shell donating that you're doing the Camino, although my primary reasons for doing it are seeing the countryside of northern Spain, it's buildings, history and so on, and of course meeting fellow travellers from all over the world.

    As I get older it's these things that matter and that stick in the memory — and make life that more enjoyable, not all the material possessions I've accumulated over the years.

    Thanks for the link too. I'll have a look.
  • brit66
    brit66 Posts: 350
    If nothing else this is worth a read - quiet funny as usual from Tim Moore. ... oore+books

    Thanks for the link too. I'll take a look. I've have read Cycling Revolutions by Tim Moore, so know his stuff can be quite entertaining.
  • shazzz
    shazzz Posts: 1,077
    I walked the final 250km or so, from Astorga to Santiago de Compostela over 10 days in June 2015. I enjoyed it and would recommend - for me it was my first walking holiday so the fact that it is pretty easy from a logistics, navigation and a challenge perspective were all good. A few practical things I remember:
    - we rarely booked accommodation but had a couple of places where we had to just take what was left. Quality was variable...
    - food was pretty good and never a problem to find somewhere decent to eat. One or two real treats along the way as well.
    - the last 100km is much busier, as this is the minimum distance you must walk to receive your Compostela certificate
    - as this is such a major route, you are never far away from a major road. Not a big deal, but that almost perfect view will often have a bridge or electricity pylons in it somewhere...
    - various people told us that they found sections between ~Pamplona and ~Leon a bit uninspiring re scenery; I haven't seen it myself!

    I think I'd recommend walking - especially if you want to meet other folk and really tune out. Walking like this every day was a new experience for me - it is much easier to allow your mind to wander when you don't have to worry about hitting pot-holes or avoiding the traffic on a bike. You'd be more likely to miss things if you're on a bike too - the weird rural churches, carvings in the walls, all the other legacies of 100s of years of pilgrims. It was quite enjoyable experiencing the slow shifts in the environment, the food, etc. The section I did was all enjoyable scenery, rolling hills but nothing too challenging to walk. As mentioned above, most of the overnight towns / villages are very pleasant in a variety of ways. A friend carried on to Finisterre which sounds worthwhile if you can.

    It's well worth reading up in advance on what the different regions have to offer, which may guide you on whether to do the full or part of the route, by bike or by foot. Also worth watching "The Way" with Martin Sheen for a fairly sentimental view.
  • My bother and I have walked Pamplona to Finisterre in three section: Pamplona-Burgos in 1998, Burgos-Leon in 2000 and Leon -Santiago-Finisterre in 2008. About 10 days on each section. We loved it all. As shazzz said above the last 100km before Santiago is much busier and when we were there (August) the hostel accommodation was overwhelmed by the numbers of people; we slept rough several times. In general, the nearer to Santiago you get the busier it is. When we did use accommodation it was VERY cheap eg 1-2 Euros or free (with a donation expected). Accommodation we used varied between a patch of floor through bunk beds in a room of 50 other pilgrims to twin bedrooms.
    The section between Santiago and Finsterre (which I did alone)is much quieter and beautiful.
    Did you know that as well as the main route the are many other marked paths converging on Santiago? When we reached Leon my brother had to go back to work but I had a few more spare days so I took a train to Oviedo and did a few days on the route that runs between the sea and the mountains. In three days on that route I saw 2 other pilgrims (accomadation and facilities naturally much rarer on this route)
  • Alain Quay
    Alain Quay Posts: 534
    They made a film on it too, of course - The Way

    I saw some people doing it a few weeks ago and it looks too hot to do in July. Also, why did they build some of the route so close to the road :) ?