Jimmy Barry, Hill walker and author of the book, ‘Under Galtee Skies’ took on a new challenge in April in the south of France when he completed the ‘Camino de Santiago de Compostela’ or The Way of St. James. This ancient pilgrim path takes you over the majestic Pyrenees that divide France and Spain, along tracks and roads through town’s villages and large city’s for around 800k until you arrive at Santiago where St. James is buried.
The Nationalist caught up with Jimmy on his return and asked him to share his journey, his observations and his reasons for completing the walk.
On April 8, I and five friends arrived in the small town of St. Jean Pied-de-Port located at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains in the south of France. It’s the main starting point for the “Camino de Santiago de Compostela” or The Way of St. James. We were only doing around the first 200k of the Camino: eight days walking and then two day’s travelling out and back to Ireland. In the months before we had trained on the Slievenamuck hills just outside Tipperary town - you could say our way started there.
We started walking the evening we arrived in St. Jean. First we had to go to the Camino office in the old part of the town and get our Pilgrim Passport. Everywhere you stay at night your pilgrim passport is stamped and dated, this is your proof of doing the Camino when you finish in Santiago. On our way out of the town it started to rain; it was like being at home. Our first stop was in Hunto a small “Albergus” or hostel where we stayed the first night. Here we met other pilgrims from all over Europe who were also starting. Two from Austria, the four Belgium, the Spanish girl with the crooked stick, people we would meet on and off over the next eight days. As we left early next morning the mist was rising out of the valleys showing us what we had to do and where we were heading for. All that morning we climbed into the mountains with spectacular views and vistas around every corner until we were finally looking down into Spain and our next stop Roncesvalles. The Pyrenees had been good to us; we had warm sunshine and a light wind at our back. The snow on the high mountains had not covered our way like it did a few days after.
We had made a good start and were happy with our days walking when we arrived at the monastery in Roncesvalles to stay the night. We had our pilgrim meal and our first glass of Spanish red wine, and then to bed. Up at 6.30am and out the door to start the next day, it was raining again but we talked and walked along the track until we found a small café to have a coffee and get something to eat. Here we met local people who greeted us with “Buen Camino” (have a good Camino). In the next few days we would say it often to our fellow pilgrims and also receive this blessing from the locals with a big Spanish smile - ‘Gracias’ we replied and we were on our way. On day three we reached the historical city of Pamplona, running of the bulls and Hemingway. We were walking through the province of Navarra with its rolling hills and idyllic scenery.
Pamplona was where Ernest Hemingway stayed when he was here in the 1920. I was on a mission to find the café he sat outside every day before he wrote the book “The Sun Also Rises”. This we did in the old part of the city and in a few minutes we were seated in the Iruna Café and had a bottle of wine opened. Northern Spain is a beautiful place at any time of year, but this was spring and everywhere you looked life was returning to the countryside. We walked through wide-open fields of corn or old vineyards and olive groves that have been there for hundreds of years. You can feel the history of this place in every step you take. That night in Pamplona we toasted our first few days and enjoyed the atmosphere, soon we would be back on the road but tonight we sat back and watched Pamplona go by.
For the next five days we walked between 20 and 25k, met people, shared food and stories and became part of the Camino way of life. It’s a simple routine, get up early (around 6.30/7am) walk a few miles until you see a café, get food and water, walk until around 3.30pm, find a place to stay, wash your clothes, look after your feet, turn on the phone or not, dinner and bed by 10 or 11. Some days were hard especially when it rained or the wind was in our faces but that’s all part of it.
The people we met along the way were varied and interesting, from the mother with her eight month old baby to the man from Japan, the Korean chap who done yoga every day, to the brothers from Belgium. Like life, it’s not the final destination that counts but the journey getting there and so it is on the Camino. We all had to do our own Camino, like the song says “I did it my way” and that’s exactly how it is. For me it started out as a good walk and a place to take lots of photos and looking for a plus. When we finished in the Logrono, my friend Pat asked me of I was a pilgrim? Yes I said, but not in the religious since. Unbeknownst to me I was a pilgrim on day one when we started walking but I only realised it when we had to stop and say good bye to all our friends we had met along the way. My ‘plus’ was found in the people and if I could have, I would have walked to the very end of the 800km walk with them all. Will I go back? Yes I can’t wait and to anyone going - “Buen Camino”. Go to Facebook, Jimmy Barry