My wife, Sandy, and I walked the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago in 2016 at the end of winter. We started on March 12th and finished around the first of May, 46 days at our own leisurely pace. At the time I was 68 and Sandy was 67. We decided before we began that the three things we would not talk about on our journey were politics, sports, and debts.
The “Napoleon Way” from St. Jean was closed due to deep snow accumulation and continued snowing, so initially, we had to take the path that followed along the road all the way to Roncesvalles. Actually, we spent our first night in the village of Valcarlos and proceeded the next day to Roncesvalles where, of course, we stayed at the Hostel Roncesvalles – Orrega. The following day we headed out about 8:00 in the morning, our normal time to start our walking.
We encountered about ten straight days of snow, cold rain, sometimes sleet, and occasionally high winds. But we were resolute in our desire to keep going, and never once considered stopping our journey (it had not yet become our pilgrimage as we now claim it). Every day we looked forward to finding our evening resting place, taking a hot shower, eating a warm meal, drinking a beer or glass of wine, perhaps visiting with strangers or newfound friends for a short while, and then climbing into a warm bed —- always comfortable enough to quickly fall asleep. Probably because of our age, more often than not we chose to stay at pensions or small hotels rather than albergues.
After that first week and a half of precipitous weather, the sun broke through the clouds, and spring literally exploded all around us. The weather was comfortable and beautiful, birds were singing throughout the day, flowers of all kinds were blooming everywhere, and baby animals of all types were abundant to be seen. Time just slowed down to a crawl in our perceptions, and evidence of the salts of the earth was everywhere.
A transformation had begun in our journey, in our lives. We had begun to feel God in our presence, communing with us daily, walking along by our sides, asking us to pause and take notice of the creations and beauty around us, pointing out how we could hear the cuckoo birds throughout the day although never saw them, pointing to the storks nesting at the top of church towers and steeples, and allowing us to see the daily blessings that we previously had been in too much of a hurry to take notice of. Our journey had indeed become not only a historical and cultural way, but it had also become a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage.
As we neared Santiago de Compostela, the number of travelers on the pathway increased significantly, some on their own pilgrimage, others on a personalized journey of other importance, some coming the way we had come from St. Jean Pied de Port, others have begun their journey at Sarria. Ultimately, it made no difference, our journey/pilgrimage had taken on a meaning that was reserved exclusively for us, while others were to become absorbed in their own revelations. At Way’s end in Santiago, though having bittersweet feelings about reaching the end of our sojourn, we also knew that we had received an inspiring satisfaction that we could keep for the rest of our lives.
Related: Best time to walk the Camino
ps. Once this coronavirus has run its course, Sandy and I are planning another Camino, probably from Lisbon to Santiago. Although I must admit, I have thoughts of beginning our second journey, our second pilgrimage, in Le Puy, France, traversing through St. Jean, and repeating our previous journey from there to Santiago. Now, can I just convince Sandy that we should do this? After all, we are in our seventies now. Author: David Bennett.
If you want to walk the Camino in winter, I also suggest checking out my guide to winter hiking.
I love hiking. 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.