CAMINO DE SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

As a follow-up to my article in the April edition of this magazine I can proudly report that my daughter Ella and I successfully completed the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. We walked for 34 days without a break, averaging 27 km per day, our longest day being 37 km and the shortest 20 km. The individual stages added up to 910 km, but when we take into account a few wrong turns and the daily reconnoitre of the villages where we stayed, our total distance walked would be nearer 950 km.

We walked every step (no buses or taxis), and carried our packs on our backs (about 8 kilos). We stayed in albergues, sharing dormitories with up to 30 other people, many of whom were competing for the 'loudest snore' award.

We encountered all terrains - up and over the Pyrenees and many other ridiculously steep hills, to the totally flat land of the meseta. We met with every type of weather- snow on the ground at the start together with lovely sunshine for a few days, then drizzle, then howling gales that almost knocked us over, then we had to battle through a hail storm followed by snow and a heavy frost, then severe rain, then a mixture of cloudy sunshine which was ideal walking weather, then back to heavy rain for a few days towards the end of our journey.

The scenery was stunning. We walked alongside many rivers, through pine and beech forests and along tracks running between lush green fields of waist-high crops rippling in the breeze. I discovered the absolute beauty of the tiny stone built villages of Galicia and the amazing variety of wild flowers growing alongside the tracks. But we also had to slog through endless kilometres of industrial and commercial areas to pass through Burgos, Leon and a few other cities.

It was a journey of contrast and discovery. I particularly discovered how well the body recovers from exertion, how walking uphill is only painful until you reach the top, and then you have the wonderful views to admire while you catch your breath. I learned to listen to my body and give it a rest when it was tired. I found that one needs very little to be comfortable, and that comfort is so much more important than appearance.

There were a few low points amongst the many highs. Walking in the rain became harder on the second and third days when there were no facilities to dry our clothes overnight. And the food on offer in many places was devoid of fresh fruit and vegetables which Ella and I craved.

My ultimate high points were reaching Santiago and attending the pilgrims' mass at the cathedral. Although I am not religious I was transfixed by the beauty of the ceremony. Then we walked for a further five days to Muxia and Finisterre, and after three days the rain stopped and I had my first glimpse of the sea in glorious sunshine. I spent my first rest day in five weeks strolling on the beach and in the evening I walked to the lighthouse to watch the sun sink into the sea. It was magic.

Meanwhile, my partner David had been raising sponsorship on my behalf from the wonderful and generous people of Cómpeta and Canillas de Albaida. There was also a raffle for two prizes of a meal for two, kindly donated by Oscar of Taberna de Oscar and by Sergio of La Casona. The winners were drawn at a presentation of my camino, made to the Axarquia Garden Club on 11 June. Thanks to such amazing generosity we have now raised 875 euros for Cudeca.

Whilst on my journey I wrote a daily blog which many people have found interesting. If you would like to take a look you can find it at http://magwood.wordpress.com.

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