Why I want to walk the Camino de Santiago

It is a wet Wednesday evening and I am sitting wrapped in a blanket beside a log fire, wondering why on earth I decided to walk the Camino at this time of year. If it is cold and wet here then imagine how it will be up on the Atlantic side of the peninsula.  There is still snow near Roncesvalles where we hope to start.

camino de santiago
La route est dure mais je suis forte. Mon âme est sûre, la peur est morte. Je sais quoi faire avec la vie Quand toute la terre sera affranchie.

Reasons behind it

For years I have wanted to do it. I wanted to have time – a lot of time – to think and to review my life so far. I like walking and I always find that the action of putting one foot in front of the other, shifting weight from right leg to left, letting my hips loosen in their sockets, with my arms swinging by my side, this movement when repeated over and over again in a natural landscape can bring a kind of clarity in mind and spirit that is difficult to find in other ways.

I’ve read Shirley Maclaine’s book about the Camino and heard other people talk about transformations in their lives after walking it. I’ve seen the film, The Way and although this wasn’t a true representation of what it would be like, it made the idea more real.

When Bonnie was alive I looked into walking the Camino with a dog but soon realised that it would be hard – for her and for me. Many hostels don’t accept dogs and after reading Spanish Steps by Tim Moore it seems that a donkey would be more welcome along the way.

One day I will have another dog and as I can’t imagine going for a 5 week walk and leaving him behind, now is the time.

I also want to go somewhere I can practise Spanish.


The period before setting off on the Camino is quite powerful. Remember this is not just a very long walk – it is a pilgrimage and whether you see yourself as religious or spiritual or not, something internal starts shifting, well before you set a foot on the road. There are all the preparations of backpacks and clothes and boots and sleeping bags and for a while my mind was only focused on questions like ‘should I take a raincoat or a cape?’    No room for indecision – you can’t throw everything in ‘just in case’.  Everything you take you will carry and so my fuzzy brain has had to be honed to a sharp incisive decision-making tool. This process alone has deeply unsettled me.

I gaily invited other friends to join me along the way but I was also confident that time alone would be good. I like walking alone – or preferably with a dog. Two people have had to drop out and I now have a journey which starts in company – the first week with Pep and another friend, the second week with my sister Caroline. Then, there is a huge expanse of time and space that either I will walk through by myself or I will chicken out and go back home before I finish.

‘Don’t look at the map!’

The scale of it is terrifying.  From Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostella is 759 kilometers or 472 miles.

It doesn’t matter how often I repeat

1. It will be fine.  It will be more than that – it will be beautiful.

2. There are always other people around to help

3. I can stop if I want to and return another year to finish it with a friend

There is an undeniable knot of fear in my stomach almost all the time now and I have to skirt around it in order to continue preparing my bag. I don’t want other people to reassure me. I know it is normal to feel like this and probably centuries of pilgrims have felt the same way.  However most of them with better reason – there were bandits, wild dogs and wolves; they didn’t have extra-light sleeping bags or technical quick-dry trousers and iphones.

All I can think is that these people had faith and I am standing on the very edge of a great abyss. It is right in my centre where my faith should be.  My faith in myself.

camino de santiago
I can fly – I hope!

So I suppose this is why I want to walk the Camino.

I am tired of being too frightened to live fully, tired of how often I avoid something scary  rather than face it, tired of a constant niggling fear that what could go wrong, will.   So I am throwing myself on the mercies of the Camino and hoping that I will emerge stronger and able to trust myself and Life more.

That is the terrified pilgrim that I am.

There is another pilgrim inside me too.

She is looking forward to getting out there and seeing what happens next. She is not so vocal as terrified pilgrim but she is there and she is the one who has got me to this moment, a few days before setting off. She has packed my bag, researched the route, gone out on training walks. I am so glad that she is coming too and I think I can trust her to take it all in her stride.

The most important steps for me will be those first ones  I take when I am alone. If I stop before I reach Santiago de Compostela then that is fine, I only need to face this fear of walking by myself, carrying my own pack, making my own decisions and finding my own way.

Have you ever felt scared to do something but done it anyway? What helped you to face the terror and was it worth it in the end?

I will be away from my computer for the next few weeks but still in contact by phone. I hope to send photos and updates along the way. Meanwhile my interviews with people who made the decision to move to Catalunya will be posting here each week.

If you want to know how it all goes….join me on the Facebook Page or sign up to receive posts straight into your inbox.

Buen Camino!


Jumping bird     Photo credit: Andysam / Foter / CC BY
Romanic bridge Photo credit: alepheli / Foter / CC BY-SA 


The Day I Fell into the River

A long time ago I went punting in Cambridge with some friends and a dog.

We took a picnic  and decided to moor up when we reached a quiet spot on the river. I was the most experienced punter and guided us with ease through crowds of tourists  being punted expertly by young students or whirling in giggling circles as their punt poles got stuck in the mud.

We saw a lovely place under a weeping willow and,handing the punting pole over to one of my friends, I grabbed the metal spike that would secure us to the bank and then did something really stupid.

I stepped onto the grassy bank with one foot while the other still stood on the punt.  You can imagine what happened next.

You are supposed to jump!

I was thinking this morning that my situation here in Catalunya has some similarities with that thoughtless action. Everything has been going  so well, I was confident and steering my course happily through life until,  suddenly and without warning my survival instinct deserted me and I tried to stand in two places at once, not realising that moving from one home to another requires that you make a leap of faith.

And here I am now, not at home in either place. I let go of all that was familiar and supportive in Cornwall and yet kept a firm grasp on my home there.  I still have that house even though someone else rents it.  My mind is partly there at all times, worrying about damp and storms, hoping the grass is cut and the roof is in place.  We go every summer and work hard doing what we can in a few short months only to leave it again and travel south.

Today here I am in Catalunya.   I have a home here  but it was never my own as I moved into my partner’s house when we began our relationship.  It has been in his family for generations.  How could it ever be mine?  Really I am like a long term lodger.  I worry endlessly about how to create a home here in Catalunya but am daunted by the idea of another place to take care of.

How much energy do I want to spend on maintaining houses?

Two of everything but not a home to call my own

Work, friendships, cars, home – I have two sets of each.  Endless keys, two mobile phones, two purses with different money and credit cards for each country.   Two doctors, two hairdressers, two beauticians for god’s sake!   My family are all in the UK but I have friends in both places.  In Britain I feel confident and strong – I know where to find an electrician,  I go to the doctor and it is easy to explain all my vague mid-life symptoms.  In Catalunya my daily life  is great and I enjoy it.  But there is the constant sensation that my feet are not on the ground.

Isn’t it a lovely dream?  New lover, a chance to learn two languages in another culture, Mediterranean food, sunshine, exciting places to explore.  Yes, it is a lovely dream

On the other side it has been a constant challenge. When I look back to my first years here I see how many ‘new’ things  I tried to assimilate in one big bite.

  • New relationship
  • Living with a man for the first time in ages
  • New family – being step mother to an adolescent was never on my fantasy list
  • Two new languages
  • New culture

Writing it like this makes it seem like a small thing.  I hear you say ‘hey, I could do that if I had the chance

But the reality for me was that it totally overwhelmed me.  I have had to lean hard on all my support systems.  I have never before used so much Skype, email, telephone.   This blog is part of my survival package.  Everything seemed so hard and yet I couldn’t decide if it was normal, or my fault, or that I was just in the wrong place.  And also I was happy so how could it be wrong?

It’s the indecision that creates the wobble

I stayed and tried harder, looking for every way possible to make myself a more flexible and accepting and patient person.   In the end I can see how much I have changed and matured in this process. I do feel stronger and brighter and happier and wiser.

But still I find myself hovering in this strange contorted position with one foot on the bank and the other on a moving object. I have certainly learned how to balance but it is not an easy place to be.

I have been here for five years now.  Isn’t it time that both my feet were together in one place.

There is a strange time warp just before you fall

Imagine that moment in the punt – that long moment when I realised I was in two places but fully committed to neither and that as the boat started to move away from the bank there was only one way to go.   It was a very long moment, one that seemed eternal as my mind took in the inevitable consequence that was about to take place. Arms flailing, throat letting out a visceral AHHHHHH,  on that day I fell in slow motion into the river.

And then surfaced again, laughing and laughing.

If it is time to fall then I am ready. My legs can’t hold out much longer!

Why do I write this here?

I am interested in the process of change in people’s lives and how they survive the stress and what they bring out of the experience.   I want to be as honest as possible about what has happened to me after moving to Catalunya.  In many ways I feel I have failed to thrive as I wanted to.   And yet I have gained things I never imagined were possible.  It has been much harder than I expected, much more challenging and I have felt insecure and anxious much of the time. Yet also much happier than I ever thought possible. Strange isn’t it?

If my experience is normal  then I want to write about it in case someone else finds it reassuring. And if in the end it is ‘just me’ then why hide it?

I made a list this morning of all the people I know who are incomers, foreigners, immigrants.  It was interesting to see that many of them arrived with an pre-existing partner or family.  They brought their own community.  Most of them created a new home  from scratch whether owned or rented.  Others who came alone often had a specific job to do or arrived with no intention of making this country a permanent home.

I only know one other person who moved country, changed language, started a new relationship, entered a step family situation and also lives in someone else’s home.  I know we have a lot of struggles in common.

My advice to anyone would be – if possible migrate in families or at least in pairs.  Prioritise your actual home and make sure it is at least half your own.  In this way you have solid ground under your feet and a safe place to gather strength when the inevitable challenges arise.



Mitja Marató Granollers

February 2nd is my mothers birthday. She would have been 103 today.  I woke up this morning feeling cosy in bed and thinking about how she loved to stay cosy in bed in the mornings. It made me feel very connected to her.  That and all the books and notebooks  and diaries and letters that were around her bed. I am like that too.  I don’t usually feel similar to my mother so it was a nice way to start the day.

There was music outside so I got up and dressed and went up to stand on the balcony and watch the first runners passing on the final part of the Mitja Marato – half marathon. A small band had set up on the raised stage on our little square and the street was lined with people clapping and cheering.

This could have been Bonnie’s last day – I wasn’t sure but it was possible and so I was feeling a mixture of intense sadness and tense foreboding. The music was exciting though and I wanted to do something to celebrate the day so I went out to buy cakes.

I find the marathons very moving.  Every year I surprise myself by starting to cry as I watch all those different and ordinary people running along with their vulnerable humanity so visible.
Staggering, red faced, smiling, gasping, floppy arms, sweaty faces, young, old, in groups or alone.
It is as if all the world in its incredible diversity is streaming past me. Such effort, hope, despair, pain, joy, confidence, friendship, determination……. you can go on and on and there is no end to it.  Imagine if we put that effort and love and human power into changing the world!

And the people who cheer them on are also part of the spectacle. It is one of the things I love most about being here – people really get animated and shout encouragement – Venga!  Molt BéMuy bien! Bravo!  Que falta Poc!   They really get involved and today I felt the energy that was passing between spectator and runner. Every time the music paused, the clapping and shouts got louder. Children put out a hand for the runners to touch as they passed – another way of sharing energy.

I have learnt since being here the importance of groups and community. The way you can give and receive support just by being with caring people. I come from a more individualist culture and have a tendency to go it alone, but here people really understand the power of groups. I like that. But still I have that British self consciousness that makes it difficult to join in and call out with gusto. I want to be able to do that and suddenly thought – this is something I love about here and I won’t leave until I can do it!  I want to be like the woman next to me on the street this morning, she was alone but it didn’t stop her calling out to all runners who were flagging ‘Well done!  Almost there!  Go for it!”

This must be the third or fourth time there has been a half marathon passing our house and it has taken me this long to realise that I love them and I want to spend the morning watching the runners and the musicians. Why have I never planned for this day and invited friends round for breakfast so we can hit the streets together and see them set off, follow the route and then be there for the end then go for coffee in a bar?  Next year – this is my plan.  Next year I will not stand there alone with tears streaming down my face, clapping awkwardly and longing to shout “Anims!  Molt Bé! Venga!!!!”

And today was NOT Bonnie’s last day – probably.

Coming closer to the edge

When I am out walking I have lots of ideas for things to write here but once I sit down in front of the computer my mind goes blank. It is a strange and unusual symptom for me, usually so verbal.

If you have been visiting this blog for any length of time you will know that I have a dog, Bonnie, and that she has cancer. Sometimes I write about this and sometimes I leave it alone – this blog is supposed to be about Catalan life and not to be a record of my dogs illness.

And yet.

I am here in Catalunya. And this is my life. Some of it would be pretty much the same if I was still in Cornwall and some of it is particular to here and now and this place I am calling home.

The photos that follow were taken on the hill above Granollers a few days ago and today on our trip to the beach at Premia. Bonnie is wearing the fluffy coat because it was raining and she is rather thin now and vulnerable to cold and damp.

 Why I am glad I am in Catalunya while my dog is ill

  • The weather is good. We can go out and sit in the sunshine in what might be her last days
  • The vets I use are wonderful. They are a 24 hour hospital so I can relax around the idea that Bonnie could take a turn for the worse in the middle of the night or at the weekend. If we bundle into the car we can be at the clinic in five minutes, no problem parking, open night and day.  It is also the first time in many years that I have felt welcome and cared for by all the staff at a vets clinic. Everyone knows Bonnie and greets us when we arrive. It makes all the difference.
  • We have been going regularly to Sant Nicolau for rest and respite from city life and the walks there are better than any I had near home in Cornwall. The place is reached by small quiet rough lanes and you can walk straight from the house without having to see a car.
  • The weather – no excuses for putting it twice as it is so important. Sunshine and warmth mean we can be outside where Bonnie is happy.

Why it is hard being in Catalunya while my dog is ill

  • It can be hard  explaining things in another language
  • I had to order all herbs and supplements from the UK and US and it took ages!
  • I wish I had a wider circle of friends here to keep me company on walks, vet visits. I am used to spending a lot of time alone here but right now I do miss so many friends from home.
  • It is hard being in Granollers because of having no garden. Poor Bonnie has to race across the road to the square for her toilet needs – no fun when you are poorly.

I think guilt is part of the process when someone is dying. It almost can’t be avoided no matter how much we try to talk ourselves out of it. These last days I have been trying to get past my guilt about so many things.  I left Bonnie in the UK for two years when I first came over here. I hated leaving her – and Blue my other collie – but I didn’t want to bring them over until I knew I would be staying.  When I did bring them, I slid smoothly into guilt about that!  One friend from Cornwall even voiced it to me “How can you take them over to Spain, where it is hot and different and they won’t have a garden and all the sounds and smells will be alien?”  She didn’t even mention the tick borne diseases which exist here and got Bonnie last spring, almost killing her.  Or the need for rabies jabs…

Decisions we make have their consequences but I know guilt is not useful. Except that sometimes it makes us behave better in the present.

 So I feel I have done my best since Bonnie got sick. I look after her as well as I can.  I have researched and read and learnt about canine cancer and treatments. I take her to the countryside when possible. I feed her the best diet possible. I sit with her at home. I manage a whole array of bottles of pills and powders that all need to be given in different ways.  In far too short a time all this will be a memory. As will be the feel of her soft silky coat slipping through my fingers. I love this dog with all my heart – too much perhaps – and I fear what will come after she goes. There will be change I am sure and it will be OK and so will I. But for now, I feel I am dangling my feet over a precipice and hoping that when I leap, or fall, or am pushed…. I will find wings and fly.

“Come to the edge, he said.
We are afraid, they said.
Come to the edge, he said.
They came to the edge,
He pushed them and they flew.

Guilliame Apollinaire

Falling into the Moment

Do we always have to search for the upbeat?
Is it ok sometimes to write about how bloodly unfair life is and how painful and how it is a struggle just to get through the next moment?
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about cancer and dogs. There is a lot of information to plough through and it is good to get informed. I am now almost an expert.
I know about the survival rates with and without chemotherapy for the different cancers but especially lymphoma which is what Bonnie has.  I know that without chemotherapy the average dog dies in 4-6 weeks.  I know all the commonly used supplements and what is the best cancer diet.
In the process of reading this information you also find hundreds of stories about people and their dogs.  Dogs are getting cancer in their thousands. Perhaps it is millions. People are making decisions, trying their best, agonising over side effects and when to call a halt and let their dogs go. There is a mountain of pain there.   And a mountain of love.  It is interesting that we know so much about cruelty and abandonment of dogs but what is invisible until you start searching is the incredible love.
I have cried and sobbed my way through so many blogs and emails and yahoo group stories about dogs and their owners dealing with cancer and dealing with death.
And in a funny way it helps me to feel these other peoples pain. I don’t need them to find the positive or end their stories with what they have learned from the experience. It is just something horrible that happens and we try to deal with it and if we can reach out to others in the same place then it sort of eases the pain.
Sort of.  In the end there is one day after another and I have been really struggling to find my way through. I feel I am being squashed beneath a gigantic roller. It wants to squeeze out my stuffing.
I want to accept and be strong and keep cheerful and stay calm. For Bonnie. For everyone around me. For myself for Gods sake.
I keep asking ‘How do people deal with awful things?’  Human beings have had plenty of practice.  Illness, cruelty, war, torture, loss. What are the ways and means of putting one foot after another? You never know which experience will push you to your edge.  I’ve been through bad times before of course but there is something about this experience that is threatening to flatten me. Being in this ‘other’ country, not having my friends call round to the house to chat or give me a hug, Bonnie having a death sentence but being at the same time weirdly healthy, wondering if I somehow caused the cancer, wanting to get out into nature but not wanting to be alone there, still having this bloody ankle problem which makes walking so difficult. Oh you know what I mean!  I am not trying to say this is the worst life can throw at a person but for some reason it has exactly the ingredients that give me meltdown.
Anyway, having said I don’t need to end on a positive note I just want to say that today I did catch a glimpse of something that helps.  We walked back from town through the park. Bonnie had her first attack of diarrhoea which I instantly decided was ‘The Beginning of the End’. We found a bench and sat in the sunshine and I tried to breathe slowly and calm my racing thoughts. Bonnie jumped up beside me and as I watched her, trying to memorise her every curve and the exact colour of her hair, wanting to stretch time so it would never move on, she was just watching the birds
Her nose was in constant movement. She was receiving smells at the rate of a hundred a second. She was not the slightest bit concerned about her health. She wasn’t worried or sad. She just watched the people, the children playing football, the pigeons and sometimes turned and looked at me.

I tried to tune in to her.  To tune out of me. I felt myself almost falling into the present moment. Each time I managed to just be there with her, there was at last a sense of peace, of something eternal. Then my mind would try to analyse and it would be gone.

Over and over I let myself fall into the moment.

Just Bonnie and Me.

Sitting in the sunshine.

Nothing more