Monday, March 24, 2008


Here begins the journey
now begins the day
with one step upon the path
my soul is on its way!
© JS Selfe

Chemin du Piemont Pyreneen

Decisions, decisions.
el camino calls and we dream about returning but we are like curious, sentient beings searching, trying different paths, different routes, all to the same destination - ourselves?? I couldn't resit the call and am planning to walk the Chemin du Piemont Pyreneen from Narbonne - on the Mediterranean coast - to Pamplona in Spain via Lourdes and St Jean Pied de Port. Well, maybe that route - maybe not!

Perhaps I will walk the first half of the Piemont and then swing left at Oloron St Marie to the Somport Pass and over the Pyrenees onto the Aragones route which joins the camino frances at Puente la Reina.

This is, by all accounts, a stunningly beautiful route and it would be a pity to miss it. After the Somport Pass and Jaca, we will visit the monastery of San Juan de la Péna with it's massive overhanging rock (that gives it its name). Here is a legend about San Jaun.

"One day in about 732 a noble Mozarabic youth from Saragossa went hunting deer in these mountains and he chased a steer until it fell over the cliff. The young man almost fell over as well but he was able to rein in his animal. Looking over the edge he saw the dead steer lying next to the entrance of a deep cave. Inside the cave was a tiny shrine and on the ground, lying dead with his head on a stone was the venerable hermit Juan de Atarés. The youth buried the hermit, sold all his own wordly goods and with his brother came to live in the cave. Before they diedm, they handed over the hermitage to two disciples and thus the fame of this saintly place reached the outer world. In this tiny sanctuary was born the Kingdom of Sobarbe which gave birth to the Kingdom of Aragon." (Walter Starkie - The Road to Santiago)

As there are no English guide books for the Piemont section, I have bought the French Guide - Le Chemin du Piemont Pyreneen: de la Mediterranee a Roncevaux.
I have also downloaded about 32 Google Maps as well as a couple of profile and stage maps. I have received the brochures I sent off for the Languedoc Roussillo region and also for the Midi-Pyrenees.

For now, it is my two old walking buddies Val and Marion who will be joining me and perhaps Linda, who hasn't done any long distance walks but is a good walker and who we have known for many years.
In 2001 Val, Marion and I walked the Wainwright's Coast to Coast in England. In 2006 we walked the Via Francigena from Switzerland to Rome.. Marion and I walked the Camino Frances from Roncesvalles to Santiago in 2007.

Friday, March 21, 2008


I think about the camino every day - dream about it at night - and yearn to be back walking those well trodden paths. I can understand why some people return time and time again - not only to walk different paths, but to walk the same paths. It is as though the camino hasn't finished with you yet; hasn't taught you all the lessons that need to be learned; hasn't revealed all its secrets or truths, and so you keep returning, searching..........................
What makes the camino addictive?

The camino is basically just a long, hard hike through the mainly rurual north of Spain. There are only four large cities of note - Pamplona, Burgos, Leon and Santiago. Many of the little villages are run down, partial ruins, empty churches and converted monasteries. But, there are so many things that make it unique that unless you have walked it it is difficult to understand the pull to return. Not everyone who walks it has this call, but if you do experience it, it is almost impossible to ignore. Perhaps it is the adrenaline rush of the physical, mental and psychological test that one goes through walking over 800kms, day after day for a month or more, crossing mountains, rivers, difficult paths, through all kinds of weather. Perhaps it is the energy one becomes addicted to - the endorphins that are released by continual exercise. On the camino I can walk up mountains with a backpack on - at home I tire just walking to the shop!Our ancestors must have had this basic survivial rush every day but we no longer need to fight off wild animals to survive or kill for our food, following the herds or seasons to feed ourselves. Perhaps walking the camino duplicates this 'genetic memory' of being vulnerable nomads.

Perhaps it is....

the adrenaline rush you get on the way to the start ... it is a new beginning.. the start of a wonderful adventure.... embarking on a journey through history and of self discovery
The first stamp in the credential marks the beginning ...
The first step on the way ..... and starting most days with a stunning sunrise... (How many of us, in our busy lives, see a sunrise every day?)

Yellow arrows and shell markers that lead the way ... you rely heavily on these and once back in your own suburb or city, you find yourself still searching for arrows and your heart misses a beat when you glimpse a yellow blotch on a street. Crosses are found all along the camino - they are a testament to the passion of those who went before and even though I am not religious, I find crosses to be a comfort symbol - a warding off of evil spirits perhaps! Breathing in fresh mountain air ..... no pollution, traffic, billowing chimneys, just clean air.

Spectacular wildflowers in the spring

and bountiful harvests in the autumn.

spider webs glistening in the morning dew
White and Black European storks on their nests
and deep blue skies with white jet stream trails
Brilliant green vineyards and bodegas

Quaint villages and tiny pueblos with straw and mud buildings
Romanesque churches and ancient monuments

Communal meals in the albergues
Singing for your supper in a renovated church Caring hospitaleros at the pilgrim refuges
Watching the sunset with other pilgrims and singing pilgrim songs before supper
Eagerly anticipating each new day - unsure of what you will find over the next hill
Approaching the last village of the day as though you have come home
The freedom of walking every day, leaving yesterday behind, no concern for tomorrow.
The simplicity of a physically strenuous but uncomplicated lifestyle
Stepping off the treadmill of our ‘real’ life, with no television, telephones, newspapers, meetings, deadlines or bills to pay.
Watching a shepherd leading his sheep
or people working in the fields
cows being led to pasture Walking on a Roman Road or bridge
Simple crosses in a wire mesh fence
Hugging a tree
Angels in the sky .... Stained glass windows

Witnessing the daily progression of dawn to dusk

Walking through history every day
The charm of going back to basics - no en suite bathroom, no electricty, no running water

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Spiritual Path

"You cannot travel the path until you have become the path."
Gautam Buddha

"It is not the road ahead that wears you out. It is the grain of sand in your shoe". Arabian proverb."My turning point was my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was then that I, who had dedicated most of my life to penetrate the 'secrets' of the universe, realized that there are no secrets. Life is and will always be a mystery." Paulo Coelho "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign." Robert Louis Stevenson
"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home." James A. Michener "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not." Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart." Helen Keller

"It is the people on the camino that make it so special....."

House by the side of the road - Samual Walter Foss

THERE are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat
Nor hurl the cynic's ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.