Harry Townsend set out from St Jean Pied de Port on July 19th to walk the 760km (475 miles) of the Pilgrim Trail (the Camino Frances) to the Shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela as a sponsored walk.
He wrote his book, THE SLOWEST PILGRIM, about the walk: this is available from Harry Townsend, 6 Manor Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19 1LR ( email@example.com ) for £5.99 plus £1.00 postage and packing, with all profits going to the Charity. Cheques should be made out to the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund. It is an entertaining read, telling of the amazing people that he met and their often equally amazing stories.
The Pilgrim Trail, the Camino, has been walked by tens of thousands of pilgrims for more than a thousand years: they walked from their homes throughout Europe- and then back again! Almost half never returned. Many were already sick, and died, some were attacked by robbers, some killed by wolves, some set up other lives. Walking the Camino was incredibly hard and a series of Hospitals, Hostals and Refuges where Pilgrims could stay overnight were set up by the Church along the route and are still the basis of the Refugios and Albergues where the modern Pilgrims (up to 25,000 a year) shelter each night. You get a bunk (two tier bunks) with mattress and often a pillow, toilets, wash basins, kitchen facilities (sometimes) and a basic sink with rubbing board and cold water to wash your clothes: all for between 3 and 5 Euros a night (£2 to £3)
When you reach Santago, you are granted your certificate (the Compostela). This is given to any who have walked the final 100km, or cycled the final 200km, in one continuous journey. Many Pilgrims will take several years over the journey from St Jean or from Roncesvalles, taking a week of their holidays each year. But I (Harry) wanted to complete what is regarded as a major challenge, the 760 km walk in one journey. So I stayed overnight in the Albergue at St Jean Pied de Port in France: and at 0540 on the morning of July 19th, I set out on the long journey, crossing the Pyrenees into Spain on the first day to the monastery at Roncesvalles with a 38 day walk ahead (no rest days!) to finish on August 25th.
Pilgrims must carry their Pilgrim Passport to gain access to the Refugios: this is stamped at every Refugio (and at many churches, bars etc.) and makes a wonderful colourful record of your progress towards Santiago. If you have an unbroken sequence of these (often very decorative) stamps over a period of at least 100 kms (for walkers) or 200 kms (for cyclists) you will be granted your Compostela (certificate granted by the Cathedral authorities) and be entitled to wear the Conch shell, the emblem of St James. I am incredibly proud to be able to do this, especially after having earned mine over not just 100 kms but over almost 800 kms. I am thumbing through my Pilgrim Passport as I write: 58 stamps which bring so many memories! I met Pilgrims from every corner of the world, who were walking the Camino for such a vast variety of reasons. Japan, Brazil (I met Marco, who had nourished the idea of walking the Camino for fifteen years 'to find the Truth'), Spain of course, France, Italy, England, Ireland, Portugal, many from Germany, Sweden, Slovenia, USA, Canada.... the list is endless, and we all became friends as we shared the hardships.
The trail is well waymarked with yellow arrows, painted on walls and roads, signposts, kilometre markers, many times special symbols: it is a unique walk over trails, tracks, minor and occasionally major roads through villages and occasionally towns and even cities. Everywhere, the Pilgrim (Peregrino) is welcomed and helped: they are so much a part of life along the Camino.
I carried my rucksack, sleeping bag (one season), sleeping mat (you will need it, if you are too late to get a bunk at often overstretched Refugios), basic washing equipent for self and clothes, a single change of clothes, a towel, the essential guide books, medical equipment, a waterproof (although, fortunately, I met rain only for an hour on the last morning, this can be a hazard particularly during the last few days across Galicia) - and the big essential, water containers. Even so, this weighed more than 12kg: and that was after I sent 3kg of unwanted clothing etc. back home from Pamplona. This is such a frequent occurrence that the man at the Post Office didn't even smile: just reached the usual box down from the shelf!
I did some cooking, but it was easier (and even cheaper!) to get a Menu Peregrino (Pilgrim's Meal) that almost every cafe/bar or restaurant along the Camino offers. Three courses, including wine and bread, for between 5.5 Euros and 8 Euros (£3.50 and £5): you can't grumble at that! It's too heavy to carry cooking equipment, of course: you carry the food, and hope that the kitchens that you find at many Refugios will have enough pots, pans, plates and utensils. Many do.
You try to start by 0600 and to complete your day's walk by midday or at the latest by 1300: because after that, the temperature is well into the 100F range and in fact, at Logrono, it was still 106F at almost six o'clock in the evening. The sun is at your back throughout. Three mountains to cross: the Pyrenees, the Cruz de Ferro (almost 5,000ft), then the feared O Cebreiro, a five hour demanding climb from the wonderful little Refugio at Ruitelan, after which you carry on down, up, down and up the steep Galician 'green lanes' (no Spanish hill counts along the Camino unless it lasts for 3km or more!) to the peak of the last major mountain, the Alto de Poyo. But there's lots more long, sharp peaks after that: they are just as punishing, but not so high!
You have to cross the Meseta, the wheat producing lands across the centre of northern Spain, for eight days. Flat, no shade anywhere, the road stretches in a straight line into the distance between the yellow empty wheat fields, with the temperature reaching the usual 100F by 0930 or 1000, and sweat drenching you for three or more hours until you fall into your shady bunk at the Refugio (after having washed your clothes, because if you don't make it your first priority, there will be no room on the washing lines, and after having tried to get a faintly warm shower!) Got to get your priorities right: wash clothes first, self second!
The Camino, if you want to follow it on the map, goes through Estella, Logrono, Najera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Castrojeriz, Frominta, Carrion de los Condes, Sahagun, Leon, Astorga, Ponferrada, Villafranca, Cebrero, Sarria and Melide to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest corner of Spain, close to Finisterre which in mediaeval times was thought to be the end of the known world. These are all towns through which we as a family used to drive in our Commer dormobile every May more than thirty years ago when I was plant collecting in the remote mountain areas of central Spain for the British Museum!
The area is a hotbed of history: and the Cathedrals in the cities and towns are so magnificent as to be undescribable in simple words.
I felt such a wonderful sense of achievement when I reached Santiago after 38 days non-stop walking (no rest days!) and received my Compostela: so many of us had been together day after day, not walking together necessarily, but meeting and eating at Refugios night after night, and supporting each other through the long days of the Camino. It was like the 'last day of term' when we all reached Santiago separately, and then met up in the huge square outside the magnificent Cathedral: and at night, groups of musicians played until well after the warm midnight to large crowds sitting on the steps as we all celebrated our personal achievement.
Sadly, I raised virtually nothing in sponsorship: a total of £112.50, but the experiences and friendships formed along the Camino almost made up for this disappointment. So I'd like to thank some of my many friends (nobody mentions surnames, we only introduce ourselves by our given names): Renata, Dieter, Maggie, Rachel, Julia, Francesc, Thomas and his wife, Marco, the English family from Crawley who lent me a T shirt when I left mine on the line, Ada (who gave me a razor when mine broke), Popeye, Virginia, Jose Antonio, Itzia.... they will recognise themselves if they visit this website and there are many many more whose names I don't know but whose faces are so well remembered. I say 'Thank you for your help and friendship' to all of them.
But if you can help us to obtain media publicity, even after the event, that will be great: because without such publicity, nobody wll know what we are doing and why. The Main Page tells you this: and also tells readers that, thanks to their help, we have already donated £23,000 to establish the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Laboratory
If you want to walk the Camino, you should join the Confraternity of St James, 27 Blackfriars Road, London, SE18NY. Their website is www.csj.org.uk They will be delighted to welcome you as a member
Thanks to Sam Lambourne, The Jog Shop, Brighton for his help and support
Powered by WebDesigns Ltd