At the end of September, our supporters Angela and Martin Wills from Reading came back from their Spanish challenge of walking the last 100 miles of the Camino de Santiago with CAFOD!
Angela sent us a report of their experience – she said:
“What made you decide to come on the camino?” Five of us were relaxing in a bar in Galicia in Northern Spain after walking about 15 miles that day through some of its lovely countryside – part of the Camino de Compostela, the ancient pilgrim journey to Santiago de Compostela. It was the fifth day of our journey together and we had got to know each other quite well as we shared meals and dormitories – and lots of laughter.
There was a common thread: the Camino had interested us all for years, but this year the call was more insistent and the chance to raise sponsorship money for CAFOD by walking the last 100 miles of the Camino finally decided us to take the plunge. My 65th birthday was just around the corner, so I thought I had better go while my knees still work.
Our target of completing the 100 miles to Compostela in 7 days meant we had to cover about 15 miles each day. We usually set off before dawn and reached our destination town in the afternoon. The hostels were very cheap but it meant sleeping in bunks in large mixed dormitories. It’s amazing what you can get used to; we were just glad to have a bed. A carbohydrate-packed “Pilgrim’s Menu”, red wine, ibuprofen and blister plasters soon restored us for the next day’s walking.
Rucksacks provided another challenge. Carrying everything on your back soon teaches you what you really need and what you are just clinging onto.
Finding the Way is easy: you join the stream of back-packed figures dotting the path ahead of you and try to dodge the mountain bikers hurtling along behind you. You learn to keep your eyes open for yellow arrows painted on walls, houses, fences and for shells, the sign of the pilgrim to Santiago, set into pavements and signposts. And wherever you stop, at churches, hostels and bars, you aim to get another stamp in your pilgrim “passport” or credencial. These prove that you have really done this journey and allow you to claim your certificate of completion when you reach Compostela.
Although it was sometimes a struggle to keep going, it was a powerful experience walking along each day, sometimes with others, sometimes alone; it was a great time to pray and reflect on my life. Most evenings, we attended a Pilgrim mass in a local church and were blessed again for our journey. I especially remember being reminded at one mass that: It’s never too late. This became part of my personal prayer.
We often noticed all sorts of parallels between our physical journey and the journey of life; not least that all of us are always “on the way” somewhere; that life is a shared experience and we really need each other’s support along that way.
Arriving in Compostela felt like an anti climax because we were exhausted, but sleep and fresh clothes revived us and it was a joy to attend the Pilgrim Mass in the Cathedral with others from all around the world, most had travelled much further and longer on the camino than we had. The sight of the famous thurible / botafumiero, which requires several men to lift and set swinging far above the congregation, never failed to move me.
Two things capture the spirit of the Camino for me: The regular sight in the hostels of people tenderly caring for each other’s feet and the moment when, Christine, one of our group, gave her seat at mass in the packed cathedral to an older woman, a total stranger to her, who had just arrived and was clearly exhausted. Although they had no language in common, they embraced and wept together. We discovered later that the older woman had walked from Bavaria, covering thousands of kilometres (putting us to shame).
Has doing this short part of the camino changed me? I don’t know yet. I do know that I can manage days of strenuous exercise with much less food than I normally eat and I have briefly experienced the kind of journey many people around the world have to do every day under much harsher and more dangerous conditions. I also have a renewed appreciation for the lovely people who shared my journey, especially my own husband.
Would I do it again? Oh yes – as long as the knees hold out.”
Angela and Martin have already raised an amazing £904 for CAFOD from their pilgrimage! You can still sponsor them by visiting their justgiving page.
Huge congratulations to them both for completing the challenge – and a big big thanks for raising such a fantastic amount!
Have you been inspired by Angela and Martin’s experience? Keep an eye on our blog and the CAFOD website around sprintime next year for details of the next pilgrimage!