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Tarn et Garonne to Santiago de Compostela

I have always enjoyed a good walk and climbed most of the fells in the Lake District with my dad when I was younger.   We also walked in the Ribble Valley and the Yorkshire Dales.

My friend, Selena Bean (Purssey) e-mailed asking if anyone wanted to come with her to walk the Camino and the challenge really appealed to me.  We did the walk in stages, starting in April 2015 and finishing in March 2019.  On the whole, we had two walking holidays each year in spring and autumn.

We started at our houses in Castanet.  At first, we could do days, then short breaks and our husbands took us to the start and picked us up.  The further away the next starting point, the more challenging the travel became.  For most of the Spanish stages, we took a car, left it, walked for nine or ten days, then returned to the car using public transport and taxis.  To get to Sarria to do the final stage it took us ten hours of driving.

In all, it took approximately 45 days of walking.  If you do the most popular trail from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, it takes roughly 30 days.

 

Selena and Catherine en route

There are so many memories as we met some very interesting people of all nationalities and enjoyed incredible scenery.  The friendship and hospitality of the French and Spanish people along the route was amazing.  When you are weary, a friendly face, cold drinks, fruit (often free) is a real boost.

We met a young Chinses girl along a forest path.  She was carrying a ukulele.  Although she spoke very little English, we stopped for a break and tried some conversation. We asked about her ukulele and ended up singing English songs as she played. I think one was Kumbaya.

Our most unusual lodgings proved to be a disused church, Chapelle des Ursulines in Aire sur L’Adour. We slept in the vestry and we ate our meal at a long table in the church itself.  The owner explained that he was restoring the chapel as he could not bear to see it falling into ruin.  He said that letting the dormitories out to pilgrims was paying for the restoration.

One of the most memorable days of walking was when we walked from Refuge Orisson on the French side of the Pyrenees, to Roncesvalles in Spain.  The views were crystal clear under a blue sky and sunshine, the mountains stretching out below us and around us.  It was a tough day, helped along by a caravan selling very welcome hot chocolate near the summit.

We are now looking for other, similar pilgrimage walks.  Our next plan is to walk from Le Puy en Velay, where many French walkers start, to Castanet

 

Tips for Pilgrims:

  1. Buy a decent rucksack that is light, has airflow between your back and isn’t too large. We carried everything and tried to keep our luggage to 6 kg. It can be done! I am happy to share my detailed list with anyone who intends to walk the Camino.
  2. Choose boots or walking shoes carefully. They don’t need to be expensive, just well-worn in and comfortable. Mine had already walked many miles and I knew they would take me all the way.
  3. Plan ahead but be flexible as things change as you go along.
  4. Stay in all the accommodation on offer, from a €6 hostel to a five-star hotel, and don’t be afraid to treat yourself every so often!
  5. Have a completely open mind about the walk. Don’t expect anything, accept that it will be tough, exhilarating, frustrating and incredible, all in one day.

I am a novelist using my name, Catherine Finch, with two books published. My website is www.chaffinchbooks.co.uk. My second novel, Holding On Letting Go is set in the Tarn et Garonne. I am currently working on a third novel using the Camino as setting for part of the novel. It’s a sequel to book one, Walking Apart.

Images: Catherine Finch