The Way of St James: just do it!
Despite the mass of information on the net and the plethora of books and guides to choose from when planning your pilgrimage – or your walk if you are not particularly spiritual – there are still some hard practical questions to answer when thinking about walking the Way of St James.
You may not have heard of the Way of St James, but you may have heard of the Camino de Santiago. The Way of St. James is merely one of the English names for the very well known Camino de Santiago. Other names include: St. James’s Way, St. James’s Path, St. James’s Trail, Route of Santiago de Compostela and Road to Santiago.
The Way of St James is a network of many ancient pilgrim routes. The routes stretch across Europe and meet together at the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. When it comes to the Way of St James, by far the most difficult obstacle seems to be psychological.
The toughest hurdle is the belief that the Way of St James is just too hard and complicated. But this is exactly what it’s not – it’s quite easy really.
If you ever think of going, here are three steps to help you take the first step.
Step 1: get your head around the Way of St James
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…
…is how the Chinese philosopher Laozi once put it. Despite what you may have heard, read or imagined, the pilgrim route to Compostela is not a commando course. Specialist mountain or hiking equipment is not required, just a good pair of walking shoes.
The most popular route is the Camino Francés, which is 780 kilometres long. However walking the Way of St James is not too physically difficult, most of the stages are on good paths that are fairly flat.
So it’s more about making the decision to just do it, rather than whether you’ll stand the pace. Walkers of all ages and abilities walk the Way of St James every day.
Step 2: pick a place, a date and a companion
Look at private blogs for the best information on the best places to walk. Choose a route to suit your temperament and inclinations. Avoid the peak months of July and August when the Way of St James is crowded with tourists. And unless you’re putting yourself through a stress test, forget about walking in winter
Now decide whether you want to walk alone or with someone. Although it’s very likely that you will find compatible companions to walk with along the way, travelling with someone you know to your starting point is worth considering.
Step 3: how far?
This is a critical point, but it’s not necessary to pre-book your whole trip before setting off. It’s very easy and inexpensive to plan your walk as you go. Just pick a good guide book with detailed walking maps (e.g. ‘Miam Miam Dodo’) and then decide how far you want to walk each day.
Here’s how it works: let’s assume, after surfing the internet, you decide you’d like to walk from Condom to Éauze (both communes in the Gers department of southwestern France), this will take you about six hours. Get the copy of ‘Miam Miam Dodo’ that covers that area. Now, take a bus or a train to your starting point (the center of Condom) and start walking.
When you set off, simply phone ahead and book the accommodation of your choice in the town or village where you want to stop that night – e.g. from the list of hébergements in Éauze. And that’s it, one step at a time, one day at a time. Starting and ending when and where you want to.
Of course there are all kinds of other things to think about, but you’ll find everything on the net – especially on private blogs. Why not decide right now when you’re going?
Go on. Just do it.
Here are some more tips & links to help you plan…
- The Confraternity of St James
- L’Association Lot et Garonnaise des Amis de Saint Jacques de Compostelle
- The Tourist Office in any town or village in France is always a good place to get information.
Have you ever walked the Way of St James? How did you find it? Ask Ray some questions in the comments below or share your experiences with us on our Facebook page.