8 Day French Way (Sarria - Santiago) | Magic Hill HolidaysAs a very young child, I remember my granny bringing me on a pilgrimage to Knock. The long train ride, the station in Claremorris and transferring to the bus, walking around singing hymns, they are still very clear memories.  In more recent times, it was the Camino that grabbed my interest. Illness and mobility issues meant that it was never more than a dream. This year, however, new knees, improved health and the anniversary of surviving sepsis in 2014 meant that it was now a serious plan. I thought Holy Week would give the spiritual aspect to ‘pilgrimage’ that an ordinary walking holiday might not have. Initially booked out, I jumped at the opportunity when a cancellation arose. My enthusiasm was further fuelled by a visit to thhe Camino office in St James Church on Thomas St.


Sarria to Santiaga, the last 100+km was the proposed route. Despite the offer of shorter daily walks, I started out the first morning with certain dreads and fears. We had Mass in the Monastery of Sta Madelena, a ‘start of journey’ photo shoot and then the steep descent into the valley of the Rio Pequeno. The enthusiasm was palpible. However, every down will have an up and the climb out of the valley certainly taxed both my legs and my breathing. The pain, was quickly forgotten walking across the plateau with its farmland and little villages. By the time I got to Barbadelo, I was even prepared to go off route to visit the little church. I purchased my CAMINO SHELL in Mouzos and shopkeeper gave me a lucky Camino wrist band. walking was becoming a rhythm and allowed for an appreciation of the surrounding beauty. Ferreiros at 13km was the designated lunch stop. I decided at this stage that I would like to walk into Portomarin, our destination for the day. Knowing it was nearly 10km away, I took the coach to Vilacha. What a feeling of accomplishment to make it down the very steep path into the Rio Mino valley, cross the bridge and climb the old steps “the staircase” into the town. (15km today)

The coach took us all back to our hotel in Lugo where after a fine dinner I was only fit for bed.


Portomarin to Palais De Rei: I started this stage on the coach, unwilling to start the day with a climb. The coach took me 7km out to Gonza. There was still quite an ascent into Ventas de Naron. A little old blind man sat in the Capela Da Magdalena stamping the Camino passports. I must have made an impression as I was the only pilgrim there at the time to receive a medal. The weather was glorious and the 4km to Ligonde for lunch seemed an easy task.  Its difficult to get going again after a rest, but I felt that another km to Airexe was withing my capabilities. And it was. However not much further on Michael and the white Fiat appeared and I was glad to catch a ride into the canopied plaza of Palas. (12km today)


Palais de Rei to Ribadiso da Baixo: I took the coach this morning to O Coto (the halfway point on our camino). The planned out-door mass was deferred till evening due to the change of weather. So with no need to wait, I proceeded through Leboreiro, Furelos to the lunch meet in Melide. The forests of oak and Eucalyptus saved me from the worst of the weather and a cup of coffee and some chips revived me enough to walk on to Boente. the last place to pick up the caoch before the end. At this stage I was wet and cold and so the coach was a no-brainer. I’m not sure if it was the rain or the tranquility of the forest paths, but today I found myself thinking of the three James in my life – father, brother and hubby- the three of them gone but not forgotten. It was great to have the time and the solitude to consider their different qualities and their effects on my life. Very appropriate reminiscence on the “WAY OF ST JAMES”. (12km today)


Ribadiso de Baixo to O Pedrouza: I could not believe that the noise outside my window this morning was driving rain. As we drove out to our starting point there was snow/sleet around the edges of the fields. There was little admiring scenery today – the main purpose was just to walk. With conditions underfoot slippy, I was delighted to walk alone and keep an eye on the ground. The walking poles were certainly a necessity to day. interestingly some pilgroms with two poles shared with our older walkers in the real spirit of Buen Camino. I never imagined there could be so much rain or that it could be so cold in the North of Spain. The scent of the wet eucalyptus was amazing and the forests did provide some shelter. The terraine was mostly flat – another help on a miserable day. Most pilgrims were availing of the bars and cafes in the little hamlets to change socks, dry our hats or have some warm drink. I was glad to see Fonzie, the driver in Santa Irene. I joined some of our group to have the much advertised Lasagne in the local bar.  Having completed 15km today, I was delighted to take the coach into O Pedrouza. We transferred hotels this evening from Lugo to Santiago. I have never welcomed a shower so much and a chance to get into dry clothes. Accommodation in Santiago was not as good as in Lugo but the food was way better. A bowl of Paella was a welcome end to the day…. then sleep in a room that closely resembled a laundry (15km today)


O Pedrouza to Santiago de Compostela: The only change to the weather this morning was that the rain was joined by strong winds. I decided to start the walk in Labacolla, 10km out from end. I wanted to be part of that “great approach to the shrine”. It was the least interesting walk as most of it was by roads, roundabouts and city streets. We were saturated. We gathered together when we entered the old town so that we could walk as a group into the Plaza Obradoira at the front of the cathedral. It was an awesome feeling – wet and cold and soreness forgotten – we’d made it.  Some cried, we all hugged. Photos were taken. We were glad to follow Michael to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes.  I returned to the Cathedral later in the evening. (14km today)


The highpoint of today was a tour of the Cathedral, seeing the saint’s tomb, ‘hugging’ the saint and attendance at Holy Thursday ceremonies in the Cathedral. We also took time for some retail therapy (an umbrells was top of everyone’s list), a hearty lunch and a small train tour. Luckily the poor quality of the tour was more than adequately compensated for by the laugh we had.

Will I walk the Camino again – probably not. But I am so glad to have had this experience and unique journey. I will remember the many people i met along the route and the stories we shared. I have received my Compostela cerificate having walked further than  I ever dreamed. My scallop shell, the iconic symbol of the Camino, will remind me of the ‘vieira’ painted on trees, paths, walls, tiles pointing the route to Santiago.

I would love to come back to Santiago, a beautiful old town and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Next time I might take a train out to  Finisterre. But for now, the end is the beginning. The goal of el Camino is to start a new camino, a new life journey. .


Lord we ask you to watch over us on our journey to Santiago de Compostela. Be for us: a companion on our journey, our guide at the crossroads, our strength in tiredness and out stronghold in danger, our light in darkness, be the inspiration for our walking, our shade in the heat, our consolation in dejection, and the power in our intuition. So that we may reach the end of our journey without harm, and return to our homes safely, joyfully and with pleasant memories of great achievement. AMEN – BUEN CAMINO