A Pilgrimage Walk

In the European Spring of 2014 my partner Janelle and I embarked on a long held bucket list wish, a pilgrimage walk along the coastline of Northern Spain to the pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela, the third largest such site in Christendom. Following is an extract from a daily diary entry tracing our travels…

16/05/14: Day 17…Comillas - San Vincente de la Barquera.

We enjoy our brekkie at an outdoor café, watching as the weekly market is setting up in the main square. We pay the bill and the owner asks if he can stamp our Credentials, or Pilgrim Passports. These passports are stamped daily and on reaching Santiago de Compostela we will present them to Church Officials in order to receive a Certificate acknowledging our pilgrimage.  

This is part of the rich symbolism etched into the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, it is considered auspicious to stamp the Credentials of a pilgrim, to be a part of the process. We feel very privileged to go with this Camino flow…

We buy some treats for the day ahead at the market and set off on what promises to be a delightful Camino journey today. Between Comillas and San Vincente de la Barquera, The Northern Way runs entirely through the National Park of Oyambre. We will walk through wetlands and marchlands of high ecological value later today as we approach San Vincente de la Barquera.

But the trail out of Comillas takes us initially away from the coast and we stop at a café in a hilltop village with the snow-capped peaks looming ever closer on our left. We sit outside the kitchen window taking in the spectacular scenery, while our host makes us dos café con leche - two milk coffees, and hands them through the window to us. We wouldn't wish to be anywhere else in the world at this moment in time…

We walk through another tiny village and the local baker is on the morning pan - bread run, delivering loaves of fresh bread to outlying homes and farms. We flag her down and buy a loaf for our morning tea, as the bakers are more than happy to stop and do business with pilgrims on the Camino…

In such circumstances I hold out a handful of coins, and without fail, the following scenario plays out…the person who I'm doing business with, whether it is a shopkeeper or someone on the trail, such as today, will take an amount of coins, they will always show me what they have taken and…voila…everyone's happy…

We gradually descend from the ridge running parallel to the ocean and are now walking on a path through what appears to be an enormous expanse of tidally exposed sea grass which the abundant birdlife and sea life obviously thrive on…

This estuary, along with other vast wetland areas we have passed in Hondarribia and Santona, is a spawning ground for the sea life that provides the centuries old fishing fleets right along this stretch of coastline with their livelihood. It is a very low tide and the exposed sea grasslands stretch far into the distance toward the snow-capped mountains to the south…

We see our destination ahead; it is yet another town with a glorious medieval past. The town of San Vincente de la Barquera has a rich history as a major maritime trading and whaling port, as do many of the towns along this stretch of the coastline. We cross one of the longest bridges in this part of the world which spans the width of the estuary…we pass an elevated fortified castle right in the centre of town, and we reach our elevated abode to find that we have an amazing aspect across this vast expanse of waterways.

We slip into our après Camino sandals and we do our usual afternoon orientation walk back to the port and we happily settle in for an hour of indulging in gourmet seafood tapas treats and a glass of Camino vino in convivial company…

We put our traveller's hats on for a late afternoon of sightseeing and head directo - directly to the castle which caught our attention as we walked into town. The heavily fortified castle is strategically placed at the main fork of the estuary, facing seawards. It was the King's residence back in the day; it dates back to the 13th Century and overlooks his former domain for as far as the eye can see both seaward and inland. The King of the Castle here would have been a tough nut to knock off his throne back in the day…

The sweeping views from the castle are arguably the most spectacular we have come across on our Camino journey. The tide is much fuller now, below us the fishing fleet is moored around the port area, and looking inland the estuary stretches south to the snow-capped mountains we have walked alongside for the past three days. We wander around the perimeter of the grounds of the castle and there are absolutely beautiful panoramic views in every direction…again we pinch ourselves to be where we are right now…

In the past three days we have walked from Santillana del Mar, regarded as the prettiest, best preserved medieval village in Spain, rich in Camino history, to Comillas, a wonderful seaside university town, and today via a most enjoyable day of walking through a national park to this medieval fishing port steeped in maritime history.

Is it any wonder that we live in the present tense and that we walk and talk one day at a time…Why wouldn't we when there is just so much to take in, so much to soak up?

Postscript: After six truly memorable weeks, trekking more than 650 kilometres through four provinces on three different Camino routes, we walk into the pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela, and to achieve such a long held bucket list wish is a wonderful life-changing feeling…

- Peter Anthony Bugler