Monday, 10 June 2013

A Book To Read On The Camino - Summer Holiday Idea #1

Posted by Daisy

Summer's coming and with it thoughts of holidays. Why not try the Camino de Santiago - a holiday where you rise at 5 a.m., walk all day, rarely drink alcohol, sleep in the same room as hundreds of strangers every night, and regularly feel blisters popping inside your shoes - what's not to like!

'I'll always dream of this' (Miriam)
'Would ye ever get up, Miriam and Daisy, it's 6am and we've 35km to walk today' (Lou)
'I'll never have buns of steel' (Daisy)

All amazing photographs by Lou, Director of summer festival, Vantastival

I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2005. Starting at Roncesvalles (just over the border of France), we walked 750km in five weeks.  We trained by walking around the Lough in Cork twice before we left.


On the first day, we emptied our rucksacks out in the middle of a park and realised we’d have to dump all non-essentials - fake tan, make-up and earrings. That night, we slept under gothic chandeliers in a converted monastery with a hundred other pilgrims in double bunkbeds – and were treated to a cacaphonic symphony of snores and grunts all night. If you bring one thing on the Camino, make it earplugs.

The first day we walked 22kms through fields and forest paths, running up hills and congratulating ourselves on our marvellous fitness levels. The pain came the following day.

We rose at about 5am every day, and walked towards the nearest town for breakfast. One morning, we stumbled upon a running of the bulls in Puenta La Reina – at 8:30 a.m.

We slept in a hostel in Estella that resembled a Thai prison. Thirty triple-decker bunkbeds, one window, and one windowless shower. My waking view was the long arm of a stranger dangling from the bunkbed above.

We were lucky to meet Pablito, a well-known Spanish man of the Camino, who showed us how to use our wooden sticks properly. By the end of the five weeks, my stick-bearing arm was Michelle-Obama-like toned.This juggling man tied a different bell to his rucksack everyday, so he could make his own music as he walked. He was walking from Spain to Scotland, and back again.

 Every morning saw us hunting for the yellow arrows spray painted on walls, and the yellow and blue Camino markers.

We walked through many different regions; the beautiful Rioja and lush green Galicia. In the searing heat of the treeless Meseta, we plodded on, blisters popping inside my shoes until the village of Hontanas appeared like a mirage in the distance. Would it take an hour or five to reach it? Hard to tell. Everyone shouts ‘Buen Camino’ or ‘Animo’ or ‘Ultreia’ as they pass – new pilgrims were obvious by their lack of greeting.

 Even though I had proper footwear and high-tech ‘1000km socks’, I got blisters on every toe. Every morning I dosed myself with painkillers and walked on. Every evening, I sterilised a needle and threaded string through new blisters to pop them, and plastered them up. In bed at night, it was common to wake up in pain and feel the throbbing of blisters old and new.

Other pilgrims knew we had arrived at a hostel when they saw our three pairs of Asics lined up outside the door. One morning, one of my shoes was missing from the doorstep, and after an hour of running around the tiny village, I found it in a dog's kennel!

Opening the wrong door at the outhouse toilets in Manjarin - arghh
The lovely lady who found us a bed for the night - serendipity!

We usually stayed in the pilgrim hostels, where bed and board was about €10 per night. In Arzua, there was no room at the inn, and just as we were about to sign up to sleep on the ground of a sports hall, we met a friendly Spanish lady on the street who found a lovely apartment for us.

We heard about the cool ‘hippy’ hostel in the middle of a deserted village at Manjarin and decided it would be a fun experience, man. On arrival, we were told there was no food and shown to our beds - ten dirty mattresses pushed together in the attic of a cowshed. We sunbathed for a few hours (with flies buzzing constantly around our heads) until we realised that we were lying in the dogs’ toilet area. At last, one of us nervously suggested leaving, and as the sun set, we hotfooted it down the mountain to the nearest B&B.

Pilgrims place stones from their home country at La Cruz de Ferro - apparently one man lugged a 3kg stone all the way from Switzerland.
Most days we walked together. We sang lots. Some days, without needing to discuss it, we split up and walked alone. 
We dragged our feet for the last 5km to Santiago, no-one really wishing to reach the destination. Pilgrim's Mass at the cathedral and receiving our certificate was lovely, but bittersweet.  After a few days relaxing in Santiago, we took a bus to Finisterre – the end of the Earth – and had paella on the beach where pilgrims used to throw their boots into the ocean.

I currently know two people who are walking the Camino solo right now. And my friend Grace will walk for ten days next month with her 72-year-old mother. A definite bucket-list experience.

'The Camino taught me that everything seems impossible at the beginning, but if you break it into small steps, you can achieve anything' (Miriam)
'A Rural Affair' by Catherine Alliott
Having arrived at the tail-end of a two-month manic work stint, I don’t have the energy to read anything at the moment. ‘A Rural Affair’ proved ideal sleep-time material after emailing yet another feature to my editor at 2 a.m.
Poppy Shilling is always fantasising about her prissy husband’s death. When all her friends were getting married, Poppy panicked and ended up with boring, anally-retentive Phil, who insists on wearing Lycra and going on cycling holidays to France. Now she wants him and his trophy cabinet and ghastly brown leather sofas gone. But be careful what you wish for , Poppy….
I loved this book and the descriptions of ‘Valley of the Squinting Windows’ English country life. The friendships amongst the women is lovely, and the description of the hunt ball sounds fabulous. However, a friend recently went to a hunt ball in Adare with an ex-boyfriend, and described it as ‘fierce country-ish’.
Next Monday: Farting lambs and lame chat-up lines in Galway.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. What comment was removed, Im very curious. What does your description of the camino and that book have in common? Ill be pursuing neither. The camino story was hilarious though

  3. Thank you for your blogs.I always look forward to reading them.Many of the books that you recommend I have read and enjoyed and if I haven't I put them on my to read list.

  4. Thanks both anonymous-es- it's just lovely to know that someone's even reading our little blog:) Daisyxxx