When Bishop Patrick wrote to the clergy in the Diocese, asking them to promote the Share the Journey campaign, I don’t think he imagined it would make two parishioners leave the country! However, when Sue Otter and friend Ellen read about it in their parish newsletter (Our Lady of Victories, Market Harborough) she emailed me to tell me that she wanted to include their miles as they walked the Portuguese Route of the Camino Santiago de Compostela.
My first reaction was envy! This historic pilgrimage is something I have wanted to do for many years and have yet to get organised. Sue told me “Our previous Camino was completed over 3 Easter holidays but now we are both retired we have more flexibility and were keen to try another Camino route, this time we are walking from Porto to Santiago which should take 2 weeks. We heard about Share the Journey this weekend and wanted to be part of it. We are clearly not refugees, we have warm clothing and tough boots, and a bed for the night. Walking long distances is however an opportunity to reflect on the plight of those who may be carrying a child as well as a backpack, and who don’t have the luxury of a bed or the money for a meal, and perhaps worst of all who are not welcomed by the people they meet. The kindness of strangers was one of the most memorable features of our walk and is something we will reflect on this time.
We started in Porto on Wednesday 9 May in bright sunshine having got our Compostela record stamped in the Se cathedral as our starting point. Real walking began on Thursday morning. We decided to take the seaside route, there are three routes, one inland, one coastal and one seaside; this follows a boardwalk where possible. Our first interesting obstacle was the road bridge at Matosinhos which was raised as we arrived to allow cargo ships through so instead of walking we spent half an hour on a bench watching huge ships creep through the narrow space. Then miles of walking along the boardwalk by long sandy beaches. Huge breakers crashing all round and spray everywhere. We met a group of 30 Australians walking the same route and keep coming across them in various places. Walked in to Vila de Conde where there are several beautiful churches (sadly locked) an enormous convent dating from the 15th century and a Roman aqueduct. From there along the coast to Póvoa de Varzim we noticed several large groups of older men playing serious card games in what looked like glass bus shelters. Overnight in a tiny hotel next to a bullfighting stadium! Didn’t know there was bullfighting in Portugal.
Friday walking inland with glimpses of the sea along cobbled tracks – tough on our feet. Through eucalyptus woods wonderful aroma and met a cheerful group of scouts on a walking weekend. Several beautiful churches with statues of St James where we were welcomed by ladies arranging flowers. On to Esponde where a small church had an amazing painted wooden ceiling with 12 Old Testament prophets carved and painted.
Saturday was showery so lots of stops for coffee notably one cafe covered in pictures of Che Guevara. Still not met any UK pilgrims; several American and Canadian and a German girl who was lost and walked with us for a while until she met some compatriots. Into Viana de Castelo where the lengthy iron bridge was built by Eiffel of tower game! Beautiful cathedral church, more statues of St James and a choir for Mass.
Started in Caminha heading for A Guarda it seems the ferry across the river does not run on Monday but a fisherman with a small boat took us for 5Euro. Quite a short walk today so we decided to explore the Iron Age village for which this small town is famous. It is of course up a long hill so we clocked 18.5km for the day not quite a rest day then. The Iron Age village hidden in the mist at the top lots of circular stone buildings discovered in the early 1900s. A kilometre long path is lined by huge stone stations of the cross also shrouded in mist and a tiny chapel at the summit. The mist disappeared eventually revealing a wonderful panoramic view of the coast. The sign outside the church said Mass at 6.30 but it turned out to be the Rosary! Our Spanish is not too good.
Arrived at 6 pm after a long 33km day walking along the coast beautiful scenery and fields of wildflowers. The last 5km always seem to be uphill and today was no exception walking on a Roman road with chariot ruts! Interesting but hard on my feet and needed to concentrate to keep balance.
Baiona is very picturesque seaside town with wide harbour lots of yachts and restored old town with a beautiful chapel next to a huge walled convent. That’s the third convent I have seen today but this one was in better condition. Off to Vigo in the morning. So far we have both walked 187 kilometres – That’s 116.2 miles!”
Thanks to Sue & Ellen for the updates of their first week and I hope this inspires you to join in / organise a parish walk! Find out all you need to know about the campaign and order your organsier’s guide here