People have walked the Camino de Santiago for over 1000 years and this time-honoured tradition is how most people experience their Camino. The concept of the Pilgrimage on foot was largely a necessity for poorer Pilgrims in medieval times as few could afford to go by horseback. For the Modern-day Pilgrim, walking offers the chance to slow down from the hectic pace of modern life and revert to a gentler, more reflective rhythm.
Walking often gives rise to insights as the distractions are less and you have time to explore and notice the landscapes in more detail. Walking is also an intimate activity and the conversation also tends to flow easily with any walking companions. The camaraderie amongst walkers is many people’s favourite experience of their Camino. Not to mention the simplicity of the daily routines and leaving behind outside cares. (Your new cares become about blisters!)
What’s it like to walk?
You cannot characterise the Camino as any one thing as it is enormously varied along its length: sometimes you will be walking through mountains and at other times through woodland & forests or open plains. Most of the route is through rural Spain so you’ll walk by farmland and fields. At other times you’ll be walking through modern towns and cities, whose outskirts can sometimes be less than appealing. Some days you may be on a path through serene woodlands and at other times you’re walking on roads or next to them with cars whizzing by you.
This is the important thing to remember – the Camino is not a wilderness walk nor is it as visually spectacular as walking through the European Alps for instance. Pilgrims who come expecting every part of the 790km Camino to be pretty or inspiring are unrealistic. The Camino is a walk through old and modern Spain but above all else, it is a Pilgrimage and that’s what distinguishes it in nature from other walks. If you’re walking for a week or so then choose the sections that will appeal to you the most – do your research and look at the pictures and descriptions on this site, buy a guidebook and read it to find out what interests you the most – then choose an appropriate section for you. If you’re walking the whole route then take it in your stride that there will be areas that delight & inspire you and parts that may feel like a slog and unappealing. That is the nature of the Camino journey, we take the rough with the smooth and become better people for it.
Plan & prepare
An epic walk of 790km deserves respect, time and planning on how to best undertake it. You should prepare for the Camino with regular training before you go and let your body adjust to walking comparable distances, day in day out. To embark on such a long-distance trail without any prior experience of extensive walking is not a wise idea. For the uninitiated, it’s best to choose a section of the Camino to try first and see how you enjoy the experience and how you cope before you commit yourself to walk long distances on the Camino. This kind of long-distance walk is very much about the mental aptitude as well as the physical.
Go at your own pace
Walking the Camino is not a race and there are no prizes given for the fastest completion time ( other than perhaps the first choice of beds at the Albergues!) so you are advised to take your time and look to build in adequate rest days for the amount of time you are walking. A good rule of thumb is to have at least one rest for each week of walking, though some older people may require more than that. Be realistic also about whether the daily distances of the official stages will suit your ability. There is no requirement to walk long stages each day, only your own timeframe, and you are not judged or praised on how long it has taken you to walk to Santiago – completion is the goal and it very much about the journey within as the external one. This is the true nature of the walking Pilgrimage.
For more tips on walking fitness please see the post on “preparation”
Why do it? Who walks the Camino?
The answers to the first question are as varied as the people who walk it. Although originally a European religious Pilgrimage the Camino now draws people of all different motivations and nationalities, only 20% list their reason as being religious. Some walk for spiritual reasons, others for the adventure or to remember someone, for others it’s an interesting walk through Spain and the chance to embrace a simpler life. This last point is very much part of the Camino’s appeal – the daily rhythm of walking reduces life to its essentials.
The ages of people are very varied, though predominantly in older people who have the inclination and time to undertake such a long trip. Have a look at the Pilgrims numbers post for statistics on who walks the Way. Many more Australians are now embarking on the Camino, awareness has been driven by the movie “The Way” and the tales of returning friends.