Whether for spiritual, religious, or cultural reasons, walking El Camino de Santiago is high on the wish list of many travelers, including mine. I hope to take this journey with my family when the kids are a bit older. There is something special about following a path walked by pilgrims for more than 1,000 years. Going farther back to pre-Christian times, El Camino was also the site of a popular spiritual walk that followed the stars of the milky way.
The Way of St. James, or El Camino de Santiago, is a pilgrimage route in Northern Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where tradition has it that the remains of St. James are buried. Because of this, it was one of the most important pilgrimage routes in the Middle Ages. In fact, from the 9th to 16th century, up to two million people a year walked hundreds of miles from not only Spain, but also France, Britain, Germany, Scandinavia and Italy to worship at the burial site. The route continues to be popular today for modern-day pilgrims and travelers of all ages and from all over the world. According to Wikipedia, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
There are five main Spanish pilgrimage routes with hostels and hotels offering walkers and their tired toesies a place for rest and food along the way.
There are many people who have chronicled this journey and each experience is unique.
Jack Hitt, author of “Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route Into Spain“, describes the experiences and challenges of hiking El Camino with his daughters in this recent NY Times article Hiking through History with your Daughters . (like he describes, I can only imagine the moment when my kids give up and then realize there’s no going back. ) He describes the family’s adventures and gives additional resources for believers and non-believers wishing to make the trip.
Fellow blogger, gifted travel writer and brave soul Michelle at her blog Love Mondegreens – from Southern Spain to Northern Ireland writes about walking El Camino solo last Spring, and highlights in this post the people and stories she experienced along the way with some excellent photos that offer a firsthand peek into her journey. For her, the experience of hiking it alone was liberating.
Today’s pilgrims can carry a credencial or pilgrim passport and upon completion, receive a compostela , an official record of accomplishment. I’m sure it provides some satisfaction, but I imagine many who have made the hike would say it wasn’t about that.
Because it’s all about the journey, right?
Photos courtesy of Love Mondegreens