Tag Archives: The Way of St James

Writing from Roncesvalles – Day 2

My first pilgrim meal. My first night in a dorm since … actually I don’t even remember. A sunrise reminiscent of those East Cork mornings and a day of mountain magic!

Days on the Camino – 2

Kms – 17.1 kms = total 25.1 (blister free).

Starting point today – Orrison in The Pyrenees, France.

End of the day – Roncesvalles, Spain.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 17

Total funds raised so far $5,255.00 If you’d like to contribute you can do so here. Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – Today I stepped for my husband in The Netherlands! This kind of hike with 4 school age kids is not possible without some selfless support. I am where I am because that incredible man is a dream nurturer.

Accommodation – The refuge in Roncesvalles is an old monastery. It’s €8 per night, we added breakfast €5 the one with fruit added and €10 for the 3 course pilgrim dinner. Two bunks per cubicle – I’m on the top bunk tonight ;).

Food highlight – Oh this is a hard one! The 3 course pilgrim meal last night was pretty fine – but the breaky . A bowl of coffee and two pieces of leftover baguettes from dinner toasted with jam.

In a word(s) – Bursting with amazement.

My first pilgrim meal was a three course family feeling affair in this French auberge at Orrison. At around 6 pm the tables were pulled together to form long shared dining tables … hogwarts or Henry the VIII style. I’d have to come out of the shadows and my corner table for this one. Time to join the pilgrim community ;).

After a deliciously simple 3 course dinner of soup, roast pork, beans, veggies and rice pudding we had to follow a ‘pilgrim tradition’. We had to introduce ourselves, our nationality and our purpose for walking. I actually ended up finding this more enjoyable than fearing it. Standing up in front of 30 strangers talking about myself is pretty nerve racking for me.

There are sisters walking, solo walkers, repeat walkers, mother and daughters walking, many ‘transitioners’! That’s a thing – people moving from work life to part time or retirement life.

There was also 23 year old Lucas who has just finished studying and is doing a Camino before he starts his work life. I think he’s going to be well equipped. Do you want to know something really cool? He’s doing it with his dad who having just finished his work life is seeing walking to see what’s next!

Sleeping was fine for those of you who cringed at yesterday’s post … happy to report there were no snorers in our dorm :) we got lucky. Not everyone was, the lovely British mother and daughters team shared stories of snoring woe over breakfast. They’ve checked into the hotel here tonight. If they’re lucky they’ll meet the Brilliantly inspiring Canadian lady I met the first night (the sprightly one, remember her?). She is staying there tonight I recall.

There are plenty of different ways to do a Camino friends! Plenty of ways to mix it up. I must admit I didn’t sleep the whole night, I think that will take time to ease into. Or maybe some longer hiking days.

We awoke to that sunrise I stopped overnight for! What a treat. You know it’s going to be a cracker of a day when you wake to a sunset like this … and it was. Choosing the Napoleon route to walk into Roncesvalles was the right choice for us. We hiked in sun, alongside snow, under the trees on all kinds of trails, surrounded by magnificent wonder as far as the eyes could see.

There was a point up on the mountain where we stopped for a break when Sally from the UK and Melinda from Canada approached me. At last night’s pilgrim dinner where they heard about my One Girl walk and they wanted to be a part of the change! They donated to my fundraiser and we talked girls education. I walk with spring (the season) but can I tell you this absolutely overwhelmed me. I had not expected this.

In a day many things can happen. On this day on the Camino in the vast beauty of this Pyrenean mountain leg, the hiking built strength, the community build hope, the space built the courage to be and the time with my sister built joy. Not to removed from the good things in normal life hey?!

Speaking of good things I thought I’d detox from coffee but it’s quite a simple pleasure on a Camino and in life … so I’m keeping it! Although when and how I’m drinking them is different – less habit more pleasure like.

Buen Camino from Roncesvalles.

Fran x

Writing from Orrison – Day 1

Today is the REAL beginning! It’s drizzling in this charmingly historic town of St Jean Pied de Port but our spirits are not dampened. We’re in the foothills of the French Pyrenees and there’s a spring in our step.

Days on the Camino – 1

Kms – easing in, 7.7 blister free kms.

Starting point today – St Jean Pied de Port, France.

End of the day – Orrison in The Pyrenees, France.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 15

Total funds raised so far $4,755.00 If you’d like to contribute you can do so here. Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – Today I stepped for my friend in Wales. Sometimes we need to take a bit of weight for each other. I admire her willingness to share her struggles and her ability to know exactly where joy lives. A beautiful and courageous woman sharing her story.

Accommodation – The refuge in Orisson €36 per night dinner, bed and breakfast. Three bunk beds per room :)

Food highlight – Lunch. Soup of the day €5 (bean I think!) with cheese on baguette made from breaky leftovers.

In a word(s) – Happily soggy

There’s a spirit in this town that has endeared itself to me. I already know I’ll be back to share it with my husband and children. Staying at our B&B there was also a French couple who had returned to St Jean Pied de Port for a visit. They did the Camino last December over winter … that’s the kind of town it is, people fondly return. Little pieces of hearts are left here. There’s a good energy vibing from that don’t you think?

The next main stop on the Camino is generally Roncesvalles in Spain. It’s 25 kms away and one of the most strenuous legs. There are two routes. This house is the crossroad where you choose. The Napoleon route to the left or along the road around to the right. Choosing the left is weather dependent and that’s the one we chose today.

We opted to stop at Orrison, the last French refuge on the ascent up through the Pyrenees (you need to pre-book this one). I had read of this refuge in Ger’s Camino blog and decided early on that if we took this route we’d stop here. One, to ease into the Camino and two because if I’m in the Pyrenees I want to see the Pyrenean sky at night, the morning sunrise and spend a few days enjoying one of my favourite mountain ranges.

My husband who is an experienced outdoorsy type joked that navigation (especially in fog) would be my only risk. Ok maybe not joked, I tend to get lost in the walking and missing an arrow is something I could definitely do. No fear I took the advise of the pilgrim’s office – this week the Napoleon route is safe (last week it wasn’t). It’s drizzly and foggy today and it felt a lot like being on the movie set of ‘The Way’. Tomorrow, for the harder part of the trek into Roncesvalles the forecast is beautiful!

We arrived at the refuge after 2 hours of hiking up the hill – nice and soggy. It was a welcome sight and the restaurant was packed with walkers. We checked in and received our little piece of gold … that token up there, the 5 minute warm shower! We were shown to our 3 bunk dorm room. The Aussie bloke who also arrived told us he has a machine to stop him snoring :), he’s not really blokey, more gentlemanly seems like a good kind of roomie. I’m the older sister so I got the bottom bunk – not sure how long I can pull the big sister thing off ;).

A warm shower, socks and sandals and a long afternoon to write my journal. I’ve also shared some laughs with my sister. There are many pilgrims around but we’re enjoying a quiet corner. It goes in waves, it’s quieter now but I’m surrounded by people meeting and chatting and it’s quite lovely to notice but I’m happy in the shadows today. If you like company or are worried about doing this on your own – don’t. You won’t be alone on a Camino! If you like quiet corners you can find them too.

Walking one foot in front of the other today was a familiar and homely feeling for me. Wandering amongst the rustic French countryside with the beginnings of the Spring blossoms and the lush green’scape of this region, even when it’s drizzly is worth celebrating.

Everyone likes to tell me it will be hard, that there will be hard days. If there are, I’ll write about them, I promise. Today I thought about hard. It’s relative don’t you think? Last night I met an inspiring woman who is back for her second Camino. She called herself elderly, I called her young. I think she’s living more than most. Her sprightly exuberance and willingness to live without excuse and regret is something that moved me a little. The friend she was due to travel with couldn’t come – she received a serious health diagnosis. That’s hard.

A steep mountain, feeling soggy and a shared dorm … that is all part of my experience. It makes the 5 min hot shower, the toasty dry woolly socks, the fresh air, the magic and peace of the mountains and the genuine comeradery amongst this crew I’m watching even sweeter!

Day 1 and I smiled inside and out. Just as another ‘one’ girl in Africa will when she hears about her scholarship! Without an education her life is hard. I also walked for her today as the tally in my fundraiser gave her that gift – thanks to some more MASSIVE generosity.

See you tomorrow from Spain.

Writing from St Jean Pied de Port. Day minus 1

Here I am! In St Jean Piet de Port the beginning of my Camino into Santiago de Compostela. It has taken me two days to find my way here and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I’ve journeyed via Brussels and Bayonne, caught buses, trains and a plane. I’ve eaten from a French cave and dried my socks in all sorts of weird and wonderful places. My backpack has the 8kgs I’ll live with for the next 5 weeks. The simplicity of that is quite honesty one of my favourite layers of this adventure.

Days on the Camino – 0 (Tomorrow!)

Kms – 0

Starting point today – Bayonne, France

End of the day – St Jean Pied de Port

Number of girls in Africa educated – 14

Total funds raised so far $4,395.00 If you’d like to contribute you can do so here. Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – From tomorrow I’ll be dedicating each leg to someone who has or becomes a part of this journey.

Accommodation – Bed and breakfast €30 pn – traditional basque house.

Food highlight – Home-made preserved from the family ‘cave’ duck spread on French baguettes. Apéro – The French good life!

In a word(s) – Bursting with good feels

A lot of people ask about how my children feel about my adventure. They’ve sent me off adventure ready adorned with flowers from the garden, lovingly plaited wrist bands, hugs and kisses and a ‘have a good time mum’! They think I’m off to do a One Girl hike.

One Girl is a part of our family and a mum who hikes is their ‘norm’ so I like to think they feel proud. I’m proud of my mum for working hard, standing for what mattered to her and achieving her dreams.

After checking into our B&B we (my sister and I) made our way to the official pilgrim’s office to have our credential’s signed. It’s official!

The pilgrim’s office was more exciting than I anticipated. We were given a map to Roncesvalles and a list of all the towns on the way and what facilities they offered. Handy for planning food stops, cash withdrawals etc. I wanted to hug that gentleman who stamped my passport! Being on the cusp of an epic adventure is bloody euphoric.

It’s happening – it hit me there in that moment. I get to hike everyday through France to Spain and across an entire country meeting fellow hikers and travel types. I will be amongst landscapes and history my two great passions. I am lucky.

This medieval village and ancient capital of the Basque-Nevarre region is one of those delightfully charming European experiences. It serves a melting pot of nationalities and today it seemed mostly the walking types. Over dinner we chatted with an Irish couple and a Canadian lady who are here with their own stories and Camino dream.

Of course my story isn’t only about the hike it’s about One Girl. A few of my dearest have begun sharing my adventure on their SM feeds and my husband (man of few words) wrote the most beautiful call to support on his page too. I thought I could cruise now that I’d exceeded my goal of $3,000 – but where’s the challenge in that?!

In honour of this new wave of support I can’t help but want to stand a little taller for One Girl. So … I’ve come up with a new goal. It’s a 769km walk so how about $10 a km? That’s just 2 coffees right. It’s also scholarships for 25 girls, less than the average class size.

YEP! I’m dreaming larger – I’m already halfway there to $7,690 and I’m only at day one of his Camino. So spread the word – ask around see if anyone’s keen to give up a coffee or two.

Buen Camino friends I’m heading into the Pyrenees tomorrow.

F xx

Day minus 5 until Mi Camino to Santiago De Compostella. Some basics.

A few of you have asked for updates along the way and a map to visualise the route (Jolanda/Lisa/April this is for you with your morning coffee x). I will try to update daily here and a photo on my IG account if  like me hiking/travel photos and stories are your jam. It’s quite something that so many of you want to join this trek in spirit. I hope this inspires many of you to take your own camino one day ;). And if armchair travel is one of your favourite things then this is for you (dad x).

Days on the Camino – 0 (5 or so days away)

Kms – 0

Starting point today – Still in The Netherlands

End of the day – As above

Accommodation – Home

Food – Getting ready to detox from winter comfort eating and maybe coffee ???

In a word – Ready

Buen Camino – You will see this in my messages with fellow pilgrims. It’s Spanish translation is ‘Good Path’ and is shared between pilgrims to express kind wishes, good luck and happy travelling.

Ultreya – A Spanish word that comes from the Latin meaning ‘onward’ and is also shared between pilgrims. Its meaning is a bit deeper – to go further, beyond.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 12

Total funds raised so far $3,620.00 If you’d like to contribute you can do so here. Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress. 

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – I’m giving this one to … each stage I will dedicate to someone who has been or has become a part of this journey.

Above is an image of the route I’ll be taking for those of you who asked and some stats I’ll be updating. My pack is packed (7.3kgs). I won’t post a ‘what I packed’ list until after … then I’ll know what I got right and what I got wrong! On that – it’ll be breathable hikey gear mostly from my mates at Wilderness Wear. Oh, one question: What do you think of a packing light summer dress? One for when we are having a day out in one of those awful Spanish towns … you know the ones awful-ly quaint. Or should I just stick it out and be a merino clad hiker type.

My route – The Camino Frances is also know as The Way of St James and begins in the French town of St Jean Pied de Port and weaves its way across to the northwest of Spain through rugged mountains, vineyards, medieval villages and vast open meadows to its end point, Santiago de Compostela. Stories of this legendary camino pilgrimage route date back to the 8th century. It is the most popular route with the best supported infrastructure into this medieval town where the remains of St James the apostle are reputedly entombed.

There are 8 main pilgrimage routes leading into Santiago de Compostela and the number of pilgrims who receive the Compostela is growing.  There has been a 15,000% increase over the past 30 years!

Here are some 2017 stats*

  • Women 49%
  • Men 51%
  • Walkers 93%
  • Cyclists 7%
  • The 30 – 60 age group makes up 55% of pilgrims, 28% are under 30 and 17% are over 60
  • 44.01% are Spanish
  • 60.04% of pilgrims walk the Camino Francés (the one I am walking)

*Statistics, including monthly breakdowns, can be found at the Pilgrim Office in Santiago.

Year Number of pilgrims
1987 2,095
1997 25,179
2007 114,026
2017 301,036 (summer is apparently CRAY-CRAY)

Traditionally, pilgrims took the route for religious reasons and now as writer Leslie Gilmour says ‘modern Pilgrimages seem to be a lot less about religion and more about peace, finding something in life, a time to think, and for some, a challenge.’

My journey started as that of a modern pilgrim the challenge, the adventure, a way to share travel combined with humility, the chance to be a voice for what matters and to show my kids that standing for something is important. While it is still ALL that I also feel that their is a spiritual aspect of the journey and time to go a little deeper waiting for me on the trail.

The scallop shell is iconically and anciently associated with the camino and there are many myths and legends as to why this is so. You can read more here. The shell is often painted on signs with a yellow arrow and leads the way towards Santiago de Compostela.  Medieval pilgrims attached their shell to their cloaks or hats and still today modern pilgrims attach shells to their packs. My husband painted a shell on a journal for me which is how I will be honouring this ancient tradition.

My credencial (Pilgrim Record) is packed! It was easily purchased online from the pilgrim office here in The Netherlands. Along my walk this passport will be stamped in the towns I stop in overnight. Once I arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago and my credencial is authenticated I will receive my  Compostela (a certificate written in Latin confirming the completion of the pilgrimage) . Walkers need to have walked at least the last 100kms into Santiago. So I’ll be good if I walk my 769kms ;).

The only book I will be taking is John Brierley’s Pilgrim’s guide book. Whoever wants to do it after me – I’ll send it to you (keastjrI’m thinking you ;)). I don’t plan to carry other books or a kindle. I’m travelling light, in both kgs and distraction. I want to be open to the experience and use this time to practice a bit of discipline and write my own daily words (if the day allows).

As you see I am quite into honouring tradition so I will be packing a small stone to leave at the cross Cruce de Ferro. This large Iron Cross is located between the towns of Foncebadón and Manjarín  where it is tradition to throw a stone. This stone is brought from the pilgrim’s place of origin and it’s thrown with his or her back to the cross to symbolize their journey. There are of course myths and legends in regards to this tradition and you can read more here

I expect my walk to take around 30 days and each day the distance will be around 20-30 kms, some longer, some shorter. If a rest day is needed I will take it. My sister will also be on the trail. What a special experience to be able to share with her.

Mostly I expect my accommodation to be ‘refugios’, low-cost / no-cost pilgrim-style accommodations that often serve pilgrim meals. I do plan every now and then to opt for a guest house.  My food will hopefully be as seasonal, from scratch and local as available. The whole adventure is an exercise in minimalist and sustainable travel, while of course fundraising to make a difference.

I am ready!

Please let me know if there is another stat or daily tidbit you would find interesting if you’re following along! While I write mostly for myself I hope to create a meaningful record here for future pilgrims or to look back on from my armchair.

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Buen Camino,

Fran xx