Which one shall we walk?
The Camino Francés (French route) is the most popular pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It runs from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, to Santiago for a total of 791 km. Sixty per cent of pilgrims who receive their Compostela (certificate) in Santiago walk this route. Many do not walk the whole way but, at the very least, walk the final 100 km which is the minimum requirement for receiving their Compostela. The Camino Francés is the route Dave and I walked in the autumn of 2015.
The Camino del Norte (Northern Road) is slightly longer than the Camino Francés and runs 817 km from the city of Irun on the French/Spanish border to Santiago. It follows the coast for the better part of 620 km. The highlights of this route are diverse, with hilltop bluffs overlooking the Bay of Biscay, ridges dotted with medieval towers and castle ruins, walks on sandy beaches, and albergues in medieval monasteries. This route is much less busy than the Camino Francés with just over 6 per cent of pilgrims walking this way.
The Camino Primitivo (Original Way) was the first major pilgrimage route to Santiago and it originated in Oviedo. Even after the Camino Francés emerged, many pilgrims viewed Oviedo to be a mandatory detour. Today, the Primitivo feels largely untouched, with long stretches of rugged countryside dotted with occasional small villages and towns. Only 5 per cent of pilgrims walk the Camino Primitivo, probably because of the elevation challenges.
Arriving at a final decision on what Camino to walk and even whether Dave would come at all was a complicated process. Dave and I had originally planned to walk the Camino del Norte together in the spring of 2019 until a health issue arose last summer/fall which put his journey into question. He is fine now, but still doubtful about doing it. Thinking there was a good possibility that I might end up walking alone, I researched the Camino del Norte on the Camino Forum.
One deterrent for taking that route might be the weather, although good weather really is the luck of the draw. One pilgrim wrote that the mud was so thick on the trail last May that it could almost suck the boots off her feet; however, that part of Spain experienced an extraordinary amount of rain at that time. Some said the del Norte route was more of a hike than a pilgrimage. Others said people who ran businesses in the little beach towns preferred to cater to tourists rather than pilgrims and seemed less friendly. It is a little more expensive, too.
After mulling over all of this helpful information, I decided on walking the Camino Francés again instead of the del Norte. I am familiar with it and, because a much greater number of pilgrims walk that route, there would be little chance of loneliness. Even though it is the same route Dave and I walked in 2015, it will be different: spring instead of fall; alone vs. with my husband; I would stay exclusively in albergues (dormitory-style hostels) as opposed to mostly private rooms and B&Bs that Dave preferred. The cameraderie that evolves from staying at those albergues where they often serve communal meals is a bonus!
Like the first time, I will walk the Camino Francés from St. Jean Pied de Port but, after walking about 450 km to reach León, a decision has to be made: continue to Santiago de Compostela via the Camino Francés or take a two-hour bus ride north to Oviedo and walk the Camino Primitivo instead. Both routes are approximately the same length and would take 18/19 days.
What will influence this decision might be: (1) energy level since the terrain on the Primitivo is more physically demanding; (2) people I meet to whom I don’t want to say ‘good-bye;’ (3) whether I would miss revisiting places between León and Santiago which I loved the first time, such as Cruz de Ferro and O’Cebreiro; (4) feeling regret about not visiting Samos with its enormous 6th century monastery – a place we missed seeing on our first journey.
On the other hand, after walking 450 km on the busy Camino Francés, the Camino Primitivo might have a strong attraction. The more I think about it, the more I like that idea: 23-24 days walking the more populated Camino Francés followed by 18-19 days of walking the quieter Camino Primitivo – the best of both worlds!
Three months later… Dave is fine now, thank heavens, so we have a new plan. This is how we hope it will unfold, I will walk the Camino Francés from St. Jean Pied de Port to Leon alone (448 km) from April 19 to May 12. Dave will walk the first section of the Camino del Norte alone (116 km) from May 5 to 12. We will travel by bus to meet each other in Oviedo on May 13th and walk the Camino Primitivo (the Original Way) together to Santiago de Compostela (321 km). We should arrive in Santiago on June 1st.
On our first Camino, Dave and I didn’t go to Finisterre because it was bucketing down rain. They do say, however, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. So no matter what the weather conditions are this time, we would like to go to Finisterre. Because we have only two full days in Santiago before we head home via London on June 4/5, we will have to go by bus to Finisterre. No matter! We want to get to the end of the earth however we get there!
Taking into consideration the eight-hour time difference between Victoria and St. Jean, getting from here to there will take a total of 43 hours including an overnight-jetlag-recovery-time at the Cote Basque Hotel in Bayonne. This all begins when I hop onto that first flight on Tuesday morning, April 16th, 2019.
Planes, trains, and buses will get me from Victoria in Western Canada to St. Jean Pied de Port, Southern France: three WestJet flights from Victoria to London; National Express coach from Gatwick to Stansted Airports; Ryanair to Biarritz; bus to Bayonne; and train to St. Jean Pied de Port, the starting point of the Camino Frances.
It is in the early afternoon of Thursday, April 18th, when I finally arrive in St. Jean that a transformation should begin to happen. The traveller who has been planning for weeks where to go, how to get there, and what to take, transforms into a pilgrim to whom the journey IS the destination. I’m not sure how easy it will be to shrug off expectations and fears, to take it all as it comes, to stay present to the experience, and never stop moving forward, but that’s the plan.
Dave’s journey has some minor differences and begins 16 days later on May 2nd when he travels from Victoria to Biarritz and then to the French/Spanish border at Irun, the starting point for the Camino del Norte (Northern Road). His overnight-jetlag-recovery-time will take place at London Stansted Airport Lodge. His flight the following day to Biarritz is early enough that he should arrive in Irun just in time for his first pilgrim dinner on May 4th.
May 5th will be the first of eight days that Dave will walk the Camino del Norte. This first stage of the Camino del Norte is spectacular with views of land and sea from a ridge high above the Bay of Biscay, dotted with medieval towers and castle ruins. He’ll be in his glory, taking pictures and enjoying nature.
In the meantime, will I wish I was there on the Northern Road, too, or will I be having a different but equally marvellous time on the Spanish plains?!