Local Heart, Global Soul

September 26, 2010

Camino de Santiago de Compostela, sign-posting the Way of St James.

Filed under: SPAIN — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , ,

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

As we drive around this area of Spain we frequently see people on the side of the road.

These are no ordinary pedestrians, they are loaded up with rucksacks, some have tall walking sticks and all are pacing themselves in the heat of the Spanish summer.

These are also not  casual “walkers” or “hikers’ in the way you might usually associate with the word: these are Pilgrims and they are, some of them, walking very long distances indeed.

They are walking the “Camino de Santiago de Compostela” (“The Way of St. James”)

So what exactly is the “Camino de Santiago de Compostela” ? Well, it’s not just a single walk way for a start, it’s a multitude of them that traverse over vast distances within Europe, and they are marked by one feature: they are all pilgrimage routes have Santiago de Compostela  in north western Spain as their end point.

And even more stunningly, Pilgrims have been walking these routes for approximately one thousand years.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Some research turns up some interesting facts: there are five main routes…

– The Camino Frances. (the most popular) 780 kms.

– The Via de la Plata ( the Silver route),  follows an old roman road, starts in Seville or Granada, about 1000 km long.

– The Northern Route,  follows the coastline, and at 825 km is the most dangerous as it’s not well sign posted, covers rough terrain with many climbs and descents.

– The Portuguese Route, starts in Oporto (Porto) and is a shorter route at 230 km in length.

– Camino Ingles ( the English Road), starts in  either A Coruna , 75 kms and Ferrol, 110 kms.

I have to admit that I thought I had good knowledge about the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, I knew that it ran though France and into Spain, I knew where it ended, and who St. James was.

I also knew that there was more than one route, and that there are a myriad of hostels and stopping places and facilities especially for Pilgrims,  (reduced rates if you have a special “pilgrim passport” ) but there is also an awful lot that I didn’t know.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

We had seen some signs on the coast road in Portugal coming north from Oporto and that was the first that I knew that the Camino de Santiago de Compostela also had links that faced southwards as well as north, and east.

We stop at one of the signs and I grab some photos.

Wiki tells me:

Besides being the mythical symbol, the scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela.

The scallop shell served practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago as well. The shell was the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl.

Also, because the scallop shell is native to the shores of Galicia, the shell functioned as proof of completion. By having a scallop shell, a pilgrim could almost certainly prove that he or she had finished the pilgrimage and had actually seen the “end of the world” which at that point in history was the Western coast of Spain.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Thus  you see on the modern road signs the stylized  “ribs” of the scallop shell….

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

One thing that I was a little disappointed to see was how many walkers we see on the edges of what are almost motorways…industrial areas, and general heavy traffic areas.  I assumed the routes would take quieter, more serene routes … and whilst yes they also do, it was alarming to see just how exposed to traffic some walkers were since there was often next to no footpath area.

That said, I missed a photo of a lovely sign what suddenly pointed off the road and right angles into a path that went through a vineyard.

There is a massive amount of information on the internet about the Camino de Santiago de Compostela,  if you are interested in knowing more then some excellent places to start would be in the following links.




1 Comment »

  1. Camino Buddies has enjoyed your post … and photos, too. Don’t stop blogging. Buen Camino!

    Comment by Camino Buddies — September 26, 2010 @ 2:23 am | Reply

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