If you’re reading this on the day of issue (1 May) I will have been walking along my latest Camino de Santiago for the last eight days. This year my camino takes me along the north coast of Spain, from the French border, following the Camino del Norte from Irun to Ribadeo (625 kms), then I go ‘off camino’ and continue to follow the coast for a further 200 kms until I reach Ferrol and join a different pilgrimage route, appropriately called the Ingles, for 120 kms into Santiago de Compostela. If I have made good time and stuck to my walking schedule I will have been walking for 35 days and will have time to walk on to Finisterre and Muxia a further 120 kms, before returning to Santiago and flying home at the very end of May. This is a stunningly beautiful hike with the coastline to the right and mountains to the left. On many occasions it trails across beaches, at other times it’s necessary to take a ferry across a port or the mouth of a river. It passes through some really interesting towns and cities and the region as a whole is renowned for its fabulous food. There are a lot of ups and downs, particularly during the first week and it is considered one of the most strenuous caminos. I seem to have been preparing for this camino forever, but I am feeling totally unprepared. I have plotted my route, downloaded GPS tracks and investigated accommodation possibilities where albergues are not available. A complete day has been spent weighing gear, decanting products into small travel bottles and winding a supply of loo roll for those occasions when someone beat me to it. And I have taken many long training walks in the mountains, some happily alone and others in the company of great friends. This is my fourth camino and you might expect that I would take it all in my stride (pun intended), but I’ve been experiencing many waking hours in the middle of the night and my poor brain is jumping around with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The adrenaline will be pumping just as much on this camino as it was on my first. I am expecting to encounter some serious weather of the wet variety - northern Spain doesn’t get to be so green and pleasant without a very good watering system. And Galicia, where I will be spending fifteen of my forty walking days is renowned for its rainfall. 2016 has been deemed a ‘Extraordinary Year of Mercy’ by Pope Francis. This means that the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela will be opened to receive the faithful who will then be forgiven even the most serious of sins. The Holy Door in Santiago is normally only opened when St James’ day (25 July) falls on a Sunday and this brings a surge of pilgrims to the city. So this special year of mercy is expected to create a very busy year on the camino, although I’m hoping that there won’t be too many extra pilgrims walking on my route - I really prefer a bit of solitude. As usual, my partner David will be collecting sponsorship funds for charity, and this year we have again chosen CUDECA cancer hospice and Save the Children. Last year we collected a magnificent sum of around 1,300 euros from our wonderful friends and neighbours - so if you see David approaching in Cómpeta or Canillas, don’t run and hide - let’s see if we can beat last year’s amazing result. And if you would like to accompany me on my travels, you can sign up to follow my blog. I post live from the camino every day with tales from the trail and accompanying photos of the beautiful scenery. I would love your company - you can join the many supportive followers who give me encouragement with their entertaining comments each day. You can find my blog at www.magwood.me By Maggie Woodward

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