Rohan customer Mr. Britton sets his sights on the Camino Norte
The seeds of my trip were sown two years previously when I completed the Camino François. I had such a wonderful experience I knew I had to do another one – The Camino Norte or Northern Camino.
So I teamed up with Steve Boyle, an Australian I met on that trip, and we arranged to meet two years to the day we both started the previous Camino. He brought with him his friend Bernie Cronin, both from Melbourne.
Our journey started in Irun, on the North-East region of Spain and would finish nearly 875km later in Santiago Compostela. Slightly longer than the official route, but with the odd planned (and not so planned) detour…
We would walk through The Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and finally into Galicia. The regions were very different in culture and history. The Basque region was the most unique, culturally very different with their own language, history and not a Spanish national flag to be seen – plenty of Basque flags hang from many public and private buildings.
The first six day stretch, Irun to Bilbao was very tough, on average 800m of ascent and descent every day – like walking up and down Snowdon each day. But the coast scenery was superb, plenty of little coves, camper vans and surfing dotted that part of the coastline.
As we walked out of the Basque region into Cantabria the scenery was still magnificent. Plenty of Eucalyptus trees imported from Australia provide timber for harvesting. We found the local people very friendly to the peregrinos. When we were lost they would walk us to the route, provide food along the way and the odd glass of local wine or cider, which was very welcome.
The accommodation at time was very basic, Albergues, either municipal ones, or privately-run ones provide the backbone of our beds for the night. Though we did stay in a convent and a Monastery on a couple of occasions. On average, the cost for a bed was 10 Euros per night, breakfast 5 Euros, lunch the same and dinner perhaps 12 Euros, though we did use supermarkets and never paid more than 3 Euros for a bottle of wine. Pintxos for lunch was fairly inexpensive.
The Camino Norte is a lot quieter than The Camino Francés, perhaps only 10% of people walk this route compared to 65% for the Francés. Hence facilities are fewer and Albergues further apart, there is certainly room for development along the route.
One of the most noticeable occurrences was the number of empty and derelict houses along the route through Cantabria and Asturias, due mainly to depopulation of small villages and towns. Perhaps the Camino can provide an income to people in these areas and reverse the decline.
There is a point where the Camino splits. We stayed on the Camino Norte but you can follow The Camino Primitivo to Santiago and some people do, perhaps that’s one for next time.
At Ribadeo we crossed into Galicia and said goodbye to the coast. More mountains to walk through but not as hard as the first part – again very scenic, plenty of Gum trees, agriculture and mineral extraction.
At Arzua, the Camino Francés and Norte join. It was difficult to get used to the increase in perigrinos. The walk into Santiago from here 39k, we took our time and didn’t rush the last stretch. The pilgrims Mass at the Cathedral is always spectacular, with the swinging Botafumeiro filled with burning incense.
We managed to find accommodation in the city near the Cathedral, perhaps too close – the bells are struck on the quarter hour, half hour, three quarters, full hour and then the number of hours, so at midnight…
Overall an excellent walk. It took 37 days to complete the journey and 1.2 million steps. We met so many interesting and humorous people of all ages (15-70 years old), from all over the world.
Thank you to Mr. Britton for sharing his wonderful journey with us.
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