Sunday, 12 August 2012

Walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela from Seville - Vía de la Plata

I am sure most of you know of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, although the most popular route and the one most known, is the Camino Francés.  There are in fact many Caminos, and taking a quick look at the map below will show you where many have started from over the centuries.  Basically it starts from your doorstep, but this map shows just how many of the documented routes cross Europe.
This is not about how to do it, what to take and how to prepare - there are many websites that will give you that information, but I wanted to share our ideas and the fact that both Michael and I plan to undertake this journey.  I will list below some of the sites that you might like to visit should you wish to walk the Camino yourselves.  Everyone I have contacted has gone out of their way to help and provide information quickly and easily.  Within Spain there is a connection between all those who have walked it and even those who have set the intention.

The map above is taken from one of the sites that I would thoroughly recommend -  They are the Confraternity of St James and the website provides books, maps, information on what to take and how to prepare, history, advice about getting to/back from start and finish points, healthcare, distances per day, what to expect and much, much more.  For those who wish to become members of the CSJ, they issue Pilgrim's Passports (Credenciales) and have a library service of books and DVD's.  However, it is also possible to obtain the passports from various start points, churches and accommodation.  Within Spain, the Spanish can apply from some local town councils and government offices, police stations and so on.  We have applied for ours through the Asociación Amigos Camino Santiago CV (Valencia Community) and there are a number of these through Spain who provide lots of help and advice and some information in English.  There are translations of the sites, but for those wishing to walk from Valencia or from Seville it is preferable to have a working knowledge of Spanish.  One piece of advice that seems to come up on most sites however is that Pilgrims should ideally get their passport well in advance - especially if they are traveling from overseas.  They also warn that the Camino Francés is getting as busy as it was in the Middle Ages (!) and that it can be a tad overcrowded.  They all advise that the Seville Camino should not put off first time Pilgrims and that it is a good route to take and it allows time for reflection and meditation, peace and a way of experiencing the rhythms of life.

We are walking daily and building distance and today did around half a day's walk.  The first book of maps and directions should arrive this week and then I hope to do some practice around Xàtiva on the Valencian route - day and two day walks to get the idea of distances and how it feels in the climate here - the humidity here is so much higher than in RSA and that makes a big difference when walking.  Once we have the feel of that, then the same will be repeated with back packs.  The nice thing about both M and I planning to do it supporting each other is that we will walk alone (with one dog) and the other will have the support vehicle to carry dog food (weight one might not wish to add to the back pack!) and offer a place for the dog to stay where hostels won't accept them.  The plan is that both the younger dogs will do it (also often with a back pack) - one week for one, one week for the other and so on.  The distance is 1000 km and usually takes over 7 weeks.  Many Spanish people walk the route over a number of years, walking sections of it during their holidays and it is not unusual for Pilgrims to even take 6 or more years to complete a Camino.  Many also walk it several times in their lifetimes!

We are not sure how timing and so on will work out yet - especially in relation to guests and busy times here - but ideally we would walk in two week stretches.  The problem comes when one gets further from Seville as the drive time to the start point gets longer!  Even from here to Seville is 7 hours and 21 minutes by car.  The other limiting factor is "when to go" as the best times for sensible walking temperatures, good weather and good daylight hours is April/May and Sept/October.  There is not a website I have found that has not warned of the perils of trying to walk in July or August - so "don't do it"!!  Just breathing during these months is quite a challenge - let alone doing anything active!  Any walks we do need to be from around 07.15 to 09.30 latest and for those back in RSA who suggest we go earlier - it's pitch dark here before 07.00, remember the daylight is at the other end of the day up here in the Northern Hemisphere!  Walking in the evening is quite pleasant - after about 20.00 and so for practice purposes and once the bicycle arrives we will be training with that too so that we can get the dogs moving out a bit faster.

Today we did around 7.5km (4.6 miles) in an hour and a half and not walking at a ridiculous pace - and this is about a third of a daily Camino walk.  Sometimes there are longer distances between overnight stops, but this is about average.  There are a few 25 to 30km walks around Xàtiva so that will be good practice and there are a few hills around here so that will help with fitness.  The Camino as it heads into Galicia it becomes more hilly with some challenging elevations - but hopefully by the time we get there we will be ready for them.

Anyway, check out the various links and I will post more here as time goes on, but this is the start.

The Vía de la Plata is the longest of the pilgrim routes in Spain, starting from Seville in Andalucia, and running northwards through the proviinces of Extremadura and Castilla y Leon to Salamanca and Zamora. 

After Zamora, the pilgirm has to make a choice - whether to continue on the Via de la Plata in the same northerly direction to Astorga, and then to join up with the Camino Francés to continue to Santiago, or to go directly to Santiago along a route known as the Galician variant or the Camino Sanbrés which turns to the north-west and goes through Ourense to Santiago. Both routes are around 1,000 km. in length.  

The route is very rich in Roman remains (the milario milestones, aqueducts and bridges especially) and in churches and monasteries. The larger cities such as Merida, Caceres, Salamanca, and Zamora have much to offer including excellent museums and are well worth a rest day if you have the time.

(Information taken from the following site which is dedicated to this route - what is lovely about it is that it also lists each stage of the route and includes a photo journey of it)

Lots of good advice and nice information and journey reports from someone who has done it!

And the inspiration for going with a Ridgeback - or two... beautiful YouTube clip, well worth the watch.

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