After a nearly two-year-long hiatus I’m reactivating my blog, “Short Thoughts on Long Walks.” The reason is that I’m about to embark on another long walk, the Camino Invierno, through a mostly rural portion of northwest Spain’s Galicia region. This will be my third walk on one of Europe’s historical pilgrimage trails, historically aimed at visiting the human relics of Christ’s disciple Saint James (Santiago) held in the grand cathedral of the Spanish city that bears his name.
The best known, and most heavily traveled of the pilgrimage trails is the classic Camino Frances route – generally referred to as the Camino de Santiago – starting in the small town of Saint Jean Pied de Port, on the French side of the Basque region, crossing the Pyrenees into the Spanish side and then across several distinct regions of Spain toward the Northwest city of Santiago de Compostela (SDC). I walked this route with an old friend, and soon multiple new friends, in 2015 (a link to the slideshow of photos from this experience is at the bottom of the blog’s home page). Along the way, I posted photos and stories to a closed group site on Facebook, and many regular followers came along, virtually.
As happens to the vast majority of “peregrinos” who undertake this long walk, I caught the fever, the mix of good feelings that motivate us to repeat the experience as many times as our bodies, calendars and budgets allow. Two years later, in 2017, I walked again, this time choosing the Camino Portugues, starting in Lisbon and again ending in SDC. My individual posts of photos and stories, appearing in reverse chronological order, make up the blog which I created for friends who hadn’t been able to follow my first Camino since they weren’t on Facebook. Surprisingly I continue to see regular traffic on the site although I haven’t walked or added to the blog since late September of ’17. I guess that’s the miracle of the Internet.
But now I’ll start up again, both walking as well as posting… more photos and more stories. The path this time will be shorter than either of the other two, 250 km (155 miles), vs. 790 km for the Frances and 620 for the Portugues. It’s called the Winter Camino (Invierno is winter in Spanish). It was an alternate route for the last stages of the historical Frances route which goes over a mountain range near the end that is impassable during the snowy winter months. This alternate route follows a river valley – the Rio Sil – for much of the way, and although it too undulates over hills and valleys, it isn’t the barrier that O Cebreiroi represents in the winter on the Frances. Surprisingly, though, the Invierno is a very lightly-travelled route, hence it’s frequently referred to as the “Camino Solitario.” If the statistics are right, I’m likely going to spend twelve days of walking from village to village alone. And since these are mostly tiny and fairly remote places, I’ve been warned that speaking English won’t cut it. Hence I’m trying to learn Spanish – using Babbel – at a furious pace.
Like the other Camino routes, the Invierno crosses through stunning scenery, as well as rich culture and history. Rather than describe those here, I’ll post along the way and will share both the sights and the historical and cultural contexts as I pass through them. If you’re fascinated by history, as I am, stay with me. Even if you’re not, I hope you’ll follow, and if you can share a word of encouragement, I’ll cherish that. The journey will begin in Ponferrada, a small city on then western edge of Spain’s “Castille y Leon” region. It’s a former mining center as suggested by the name, “Iron Bridge,” but I’ll write more on that later. The plan is to start walking on September 3rd, and the destination that day is a hamlet called Orellan, Southwest from the starting point. Look for my first post from there and then please stay with me for the next twelve days until I arrive in SDC.