Since the Middle Ages, the roads that lead to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain have sustained their popularity.
I undertook this journey in July 2015 from St Jean Pied du Port in France. After four weeks, I arrived in Santiago to a glorious fanfare.
Santiago is a city steeped in history and beauty. The buzz here is infectious. Pilgrims are in a high state of elation, having completed their Camino. It is easy to lose oneself here for a few days among the meandering old streets and outdoor restaurants and simply soak in the atmosphere of this beautiful city.
Two days after I arrived, I took off again at 6 a.m. to undertake the less popular but equally amazing Camino Finisterre, ending where was once believed to be the end of the world.
I walked through the square of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in search of the yellow arrows that would lead me on the final leg of my journey towards Muxía and then onto Finisterre. I met many peregrinos who were journeying to their beds and with the shadow of the Cathedral behind me, I headed west.
Walking away from Santiago, the path was noticeably quieter than before Santiago. My pace slowed, and my awareness of all senses was heightened once again by different experiences. As the morning dew dried from my hair and backpack I was met by farmers guiding their herds of cows.
The Galician countryside is very like Ireland and as the sun rose and burnt away the morning fog, vast green landscapes and smells that reminded me of my childhood summers arose. I began to encounter people who had come from other Camino routes such as the Camino Primitivo, the Camino del Norte, and the Camino Portuguese.
On arrival in the sleepy Galician villages, I spent time with new and old friends. At Negreira and Olveiroa we turned in later than during the previous weeks. We knew that the end of our journey was very close so we were prolonging each moment, and living in it, as best we could. At 6 a.m., I rolled out of bed and headed west again.
Two days after departing Santiago, there it was. Viewing the Atlantic Ocean as we neared Muxía, stillness came over me. It was still very distant but it was there. The high trees in the woods played a game of hide and seek with this mighty ocean and on arrival into Muxía I stopped walking and ran to the Atlantic.
For me, the ocean was what I hoped would be the final destination on my Way, not Santiago. Muxia, a beautiful fishing village full of history, had a local festival honoring the sea on the Sunday that I arrived.
The hysteria of this, after two days in quietness with my thoughts and the company of people on the same wave length, was shock inducing. That evening, we packed up a picnic and made our way to The Shrine of Our Lady of the Boat.
Nestling against a rock and facing the deep blue Atlantic, the scenery is wild and dramatic. The following day I was going to Finisterre, my last day walking. As the sun set, stillness and silence were broken only by the crashing waves.
For weeks we had set out with the sun rising behind us. We saw the world wake up and come to life through ever-changing scenery.
Tonight I saw it setting in front of me over a very familiar ocean, and a sense of accomplishment, ecstasy, and the familiar sheer happiness that this journey was filled with, overtook me again. I felt myself smiling and at total ease with the ocean and my continuing life road that lay ahead.
Catherine O’Brien, October 2015, www.carryoncamino.com
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.