Walking the Pilgrim Routes

By Judith Burke

2002 “The Camino Santiago”.  I was walking half of the ancient pilgrim route with a friend.  The first day after registering at St Jean Pied de Port you are recommended to follow “Route de Napoleon”, a strenuous uphill walk of 15.6 miles with injury likely on the steep downhills to Roncesvalles.  It is longest and most arduous route but most beautiful and spectacular.  It was brutal and we were carrying 10 Kilos packs!

By Judith Burke

2003 return to “The Way of St James” to complete the 500 miles / 800 kms. We encountered various conditions of peoples’ feet.  Pilgrims were nursing sore feet and my friend and I would often stop and either gave advice or treat blisters.  In Santiago quite a number of pilgrims came up to us and thanked us for treating them as they had completed their pilgrimage having often travelled from the other side of the world.

Judith Burke

The British army massage their feet with a smear of Vaseline.  Should a blister occur, burst it, remove the dead skin and immediately apply zinc oxide tape onto the raw area, within a week – Voila new skin!

That year, two days before Santiago we walked through forests of eucalyptus. That aroma will always remind me of the Camino.

2014 I returned to the “Camino de Santiago” same French route – Camino de Frances but on my own.

Three elderly men came out of a pub in a back street of a small town.  On seeing me and without warning one started to sing an “aria” accompanied on rudimentary instruments.  It was incredibly beautiful, I was in tears and even the tenor who managed to hit the high notes, shed a tear.

The Camino has become incredibly popular since the film “The Way”.  It is very busy, full of litter and has lost some of its reverence.  I needed space.  I walked one night under a full moon it was so bright I couldn’t see the “milky way”.  I left behind the built up environment and entered the relative wilderness of the Meseta, walking on earth tracks across the peace and quiet of endless fields of crops.  Around the hills above Burgos, I was stunned by flashing lights, they happened to be attached to the ends of turbine blades of windfarms!

At night I heard the deafening sound of cicadas.  I passed through one village about midnight, the women were still sitting on their doorsteps and a gentleman (the Mayor maybe) came towards me.  I don’t speak Spanish so I mimed what I was doing.  He mimed back walk straight don’t veer right or left and gave me the thumbs up.

My daughter told me about “Four of the World’s Loveliest Pilgrim Trails”, an alternative to the Camino de Santiago.  One is in Japan “Kumano Ko” another “Mount Kailash Circuit” in Tibet, both a step too far.

2017 the third loveliest pilgrim trail which I walked alone in six days is the Tuscan leg of “The Francigena” the main pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome.  It was empty!

I was having a picnic lunch surrounded by rolling hills topped with Cyprus and Chianti vineyards when a tall lady in shorts with a dog stopped and said in perfect English “Hello”.  She continued “I’m Russian and I am married to an Italian and have four children and I have lived here since I was 20 years old”.

“Oh yes” I said, stunned.  I asked her what she did in this “off the beaten place”.  She said she was an embroider; the reply was so unexpected my heart fluttered and she continued that her greatest wish was to see the embroidery in the V and A in London.  I didn’t take her photo, dam! 2017 Finally, the fourth loveliest pilgrim trail is “St Cuthbert’s Way in Northumberland from Melrose to Lindisfarne.  Walking across rich wild landscapes, up high hills with “epic” views and wading in bare feet 2 miles across the sand to Holy Island.  The route wasd quiet and the facilities were limited.  However, one night my sister and I stayed in a “Land Army Hostel”.  We were allocated Eileen Slater’s room; her photograph and biography were on the door.  At the time it was very poignant.