Monday, January 03, 2011


In 1994 I started walking for leisure and fitness.  In 1996 I did my first long walk, a two-day 90km charity walk on the famous Comrades Marathon route from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.  Things progressed from there and I was soon looking for other long walks to do but I never, in a million dreams, saw myself walking multi-day half marathons in different countries!
Its amazing how becoming a Camino pilgrim opened up a whole new world of trails and travel, traditions, history, folk-lore, art and architecture and other pilgrim friends and pilgrimages. I never imagined in 1999, when I was researching the possibility of walking from Leon to Santiago, that I would still be walking and talking el Camino 12 years later! Until then I'd never heard of 'The Camino' and was more interested in doing different marathons to long distance walks.
I did the London Marathon in 1998 with Clare and heard about the 'Coast to Coast' walk across England so in July 2001 I organised for a group of 10 local walkers to do the CtoC from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay.  That was my first experience of walking with a group.
As things turned out, I didn't get to walk the Camino until 2002. By then I'd read Shirley Maclaine's rather frustrating book 'The Camino' and Paolo Coelho's metaphorical (metaphysical?) account of his search for his sword in 'Pilgrimage' - neither of which I found very inspiring! I wanted the nitty-gritty bits about walking a camino - trail conditions, distances, accommodation etc, - not stories about previous lives or masters of the universe.
My first Camino was in May/June 2002 with two walking buddies who belonged to the same athletic club. Clare was a career woman and could only be away from her job for 30 days so I planned a 27 day walk, averaging 28km per day from Roncesvalles to Santiago.  We did it - every inch of the way - but even though we did it fairly comfortably (I had trained a year earlier to run the gruelling 90km, Comrades ultra-marathon and kept up the level of fitness after the marathon) it was a bit of a slog and there wasn't any time for detours or rest days.   We sometimes walked up to 40km and had a 'rest' day by walking a shorter distance the following day.
 In 2003 I joined the newly formed Confraternity of St James of South Africa and soon became the contact person for local pilgrims, arranging St James Feast Day celebrations at my home and annual practical pilgrim workshops.

In March 2003 I really walked-the-talk when I joined the Open Door Crisis Centre's 'Breaking Free' team of 16 people from Durban and walked from Durban to Cape Town (± 1800km) in relays for 2 weeks to raise awareness of abused women and children. There were four teams of four walkers and each team walked 15km in the morning and 15km in the evening or at night.
There was a team on the road every minute of the day and night. When we weren't walking, we drove the camper van or seconded the wealking team.  We only had 6 hours sleep a night but rarely managed to sleep that many hours. It was a long, hard walk with very little sleep but the purpose and the goal made it worthwhile.
In May/June 2004 I walked from Paris to Roncesvalles on the Via Turonensis with my friend Joy and then from Sarria to Santiago (so that she could earn a Compostela).
That was a groot trek! Long, flat days, lots of walking on roads and, until we reached the south of France and Spain, not much pilgrim type accommodation. 2004 was a Holy Year but only 40 pilgrims started in Paris that year.

In June/July of 2006 I arranged a walk on the Via Francigena from Lake Lausanne to Rome with Marion and Val, my Coast to Coast companions, and Kathy and Rayna from our Athletics Club.  Some
days were scary (like hanging on chains in the rock face whilst perched on a ledge above a precipice on the way to the Gr St Bernard Pass) and some days it reached 40°C - in the shade.   It was a very scenic walk and I'm pleased I've done it but I don't think I'll walk it again soon.

In August/September 2007 I organised another walk on the Camino Frances with Marion, and Anneliese a Dominican Nun from the Holy Trinity Church in Durban.  It was a new season for me and I loved that it was harvest time and not as crowded as in spring and summer.  Many places on the Camino had changed in the 5 years since I'd walked it, new cafe-bars and shops had opened, some albergues had closed and lots of new private hostels opened.  Finn met us in Sarria and walked the last section with us to Santiago thus earning his first Compostela. We hired a car in Santiago and spent a week after the walk driving back to Pamplona, staying over in Lugo, Oviedo, Castrojeriz, Roncesvalles and Pamplona.

In June/July of 2009 I oragnised  a walk with Marion and Val from Lourdes to Somport and on the Aragones route to Pamplona.  Val had to leave us in Pamplona and fly back home but Marion and I continued on to Lugo and el Ferrol where we started the Camino Ingles to Santiago.  Marion left me in Santiago and I walked on to Finisterre where I met with Bejo and spent two days at the Fistera albergue learning the ropes of registering and showing pilgrims around. 
From 1st July to 15th July I served with Isa, a young Basque woman from San Sebastian, at the San Roque albergue outside Corcubion as hospitalera for two weeks.  It was an amazing experience to be on the camino, but not as a pilgrim, and I loved serving the pilgrims from all over the world who stayed at our albergue.

March 2010: In March I was invited to spend a long weekend with Camino pilgrims Pam and Franklin Stern in Cape Town. We had corresponded via email and spoken on the phone but had never met. It was a wonderful weekend and whilst there, we discussed the possibility of taking people on the camino who did not want to walk alone or who needed someone to organise the walk for them. We decided that if we did this we would do it properly so that people could have the best possible experience of their Camino walk.
amaWalkers Camino was formed and a three week, 19 day "Best of Both" walk on the best three sections of the camino was planned.  12 people quickly signed up for the walk and Pam and I are now looking forward to walking the Camino with them from Roncesvalles to Logroño, a night each in Burgos and Leon, walking from Astorga to Villafranca del Bierzo and then from Sarria to Santiago.  We will top it off with night trip to Finisterre to watch the sunset over the Atlantic.  I can't wait!!


  1. Sil, enjoyed your chronology post. I thought I had read all of your pilgrimage journals, but I don't ever remember seeing anything on your Paris to Roncesvalles journey. Did you ever put that online?

    Susan and I have talked about that trip from time to time, but never found enough info online to give us launching courage.

  2. We actually wanted to walk from Paris but the CSJ guide only starts in Orleans so we spent some time in Paris and then got a train to Orleans and walked from there. I did put a post on the blog:
    I'm not sure how useful it would be now - almost 7 years later. Gareth Thomas walked the route from Paris a couple of years ago. Perhaps he could give you more info?
    Try these websites:
    • Via Turonensis starts in Paris ± 1800km to Santiago.

  3. since my initial e-meetup with Amawalker, the moon has circled over many a time ~ your sum up of your walks and thoughts in it's compact form will keep me visiting this Blog for inspiration. Buen Camino