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 


A Walk around Ciutadella the ancient capital of Menorca

Menorca in general and Ciutadella in particular show Catalunya at its best. Actually we were in the Catalan countries/ Paisos Catalans rather than Catalunya but does it make a difference?  To me not much.
We were given the use of a flat in Ciutadella and were able to spend the evenings wandering around the old town

Ciutadella is at the western end of the island and we arrived here on the Balnearia ferry. You can also arrive at the other main city of Maó which is where we left from a week later, with Transmediteranea.

Ciutadella was the old capital of the island but the power has since moved east to Maó. A long fairly straight road joins these two towns which are about 45km apart.

Old stones hug you with their warm safe reassuring strength

Arched colonades call you to explore some more

Warm soft colours – everywhere you turn

Walking the narrow streets takes you into another world. I love curved corners

There is a ronda encircling the old town – this square of the two fat ladies is a good orientation point

 On the ronda a lot of the less touristy shops are found. There isn’t really much traffic on the road either!

 I bought my new avarcas here. Tried on three pairs and then….

 when you find the right pair they slip on like Cinderella’s slipper and you never want to take them off!

  An ancient olive tree in the centre of town – cars are banned from the old streets

The sculpture is by Nuria Roman The Awakening

 The Menorcan food is fabulous. The famous Ensaimada has pork fat in it but we still brought a box home

 I couldn’t stop drinking in the colours. Can’t wait to get back to art class and try to create them myself

 We did our main exploration of the town on our last day but I need to go back and wander some more

 Perhaps with a paintbox and paper instead of a camera

 Perhaps these stories of Menorca will tempt you to go there yourself – tell me when and I will come too!

Cala Galdana to Cala Turqueta

There is a long straight road across Menorca linking Ciutadella on the west to Maó on the east. It’s a bit like Cornwall in the sense that when it is cloudy on one coast you can go to the other and find hot sunshine and when it is windy on the north you can go south and the sea will be peaceful and calm

On Day 3 we drove along this road on our way to Cala Galdana and the beginning of a walk along the Cami de Cavalls to Cala Turqueta.  There are several prehistoric monuments along this route and on this day we stopped off at Navetta des Tudons which is a large burial chamber 1200-700BC

One of the most beautiful coves is Cala Macarella

There are lots of little viewing places along the route

Above the bay are some caves

 still used in the summer and fenced off with metal gates

They have the best views imaginable but are not so easy to get to

The smaller cove next door is Cala Macarelleta where we stopped for a rest but even though it looks inviting I didn’t manage to get in for a swim. Most of the beaches are naturist with a mix of clothed and naked bathers. There were dogs too.  Walkers and cyclists but no horses!

 The wind was blowing cold ripples over the sea and even I couldn’t find the courage to go in.
We always had to walk back the same route to find the car but it never seemed to be the same as different things are visible from the other direction

Behind me is a typical Menorcan limestone wall

Back at Cala Turqueta I had the swim I was dreaming of – the water was cold but the wind had dropped and as the sun was going down, birds were singing and the beach was almost empty.
At Cala Galdana you have to face the horror of two huge hotel complexes built without a care for the beauty of the location. Sorry for the poor quality of this photo but the light was going as we arrived.

Even Menorca has these monstrosities although not as many as on the mainland of Catalunya.  Galdana bay is somewhere you would expect extreme care to be taken with building regulations and yet someone somewhere gave permission and others are making money.
Still, it is true that most of the time on Menorca you are looking at this…..

Walking on a cloudy day, dreaming new dreams

On Day 1 we walked on the south coast from Cala Turqueta to Son Saura

Day 2 was cloudy and we went to the north coast and walked from Algaiarens to Cala Morell where there is a white almost ghost town of an urbanisation on the hill above a glistening sea. We didn’t go down to the cove as the little town looked so artificial and the carefully designed houses were all too much of a muchness to feel inviting. Someone had tried to make it pretty but somehow it just felt de-humanised.
The walk to get there was beautiful though. And with a cloudy sky it was so much more comfortable

On the south coast we had passed many other people walking or cycling but here on the north west it was peaceful and quiet and for most of the day we were totally alone

It was rockier but still with inlets and small bays

The rocks kept changing from sandstone to limestone and something was very porous at the end that was almost impossible to sit on comfortably to eat our sandwiches. This one was streaked with white in a pattern which always makes Catalans remark see the four bars of their national flag

There was more variety of wild flowers

The gates of Menorca are made from olive wood

On the way back – we always have to walk out and then return to the car – we stopped to create a cairn. 

Back in Ciutadella we had supper in the Ulysses cafe beside the old Fish Market.

I really feel like I am on holiday!
Even wondering how it would be to live here – it is so familiar even while being new and strange.
It is an island where you can imagine creating new things.

Walking to happiness in Menorca

We have been thinking of coming to Menorca for several years but the sticking point for me was how to get here with Bonnie. I read that the conditions on some of the ferries were very poor for travelling dogs with dirty cramped cages, times where you were not allowed access to the animals and in one story the cages were in a lower deck that was hot and noisy close to the engines.  I asked the ferry companies, wrote on travel forums and got in touch with people who live in the Balearics but the stories were mixed and in the end I never trusted that it would be comfortable for Bonnie so we didn’t come.

Now of course Bonnie is no longer with us so we decided to come to Menorca for Easter.

First the practicalities:

Balearia and Acciona-Trasmediterranea are the two ferry companies that take you between Barcelona and Menorca. 

We came out on Balearia to Ciutadella and will return from Mao on Trasmediterranea.  One of my tasks is to look for myself at the dog accommodation areas so that in the future I will know what to expect. You never know – one day I may be travelling again with a dog!

There were a lot of dogs on the crossing to Menorca. They were housed in portable cages in two different sizes. The cages were lined up on a small deck with an area for exercise which was protected by a roof but otherwise open to fresh air. The cages were basic and small and the area was not large and could be noisy if there was barking – which there was. But there seemed to be no restrictions on visiting and letting your dog out to sit with you in the exercise area. I was glad that Bonnie wasn’t having to travel there but I could imagine doing it with a younger dog. The journey is 10 hours so it could be stressful but it wasn’t impossible to imagine doing it.

We are staying in Ciutadella in a lovely flat lent to us by a friend of a friend. We were met at the harbour, given a key and a place to stay and a beautiful reminder of the ancient art of hospitality.  Both Greek and Celtic cultures are known for the sacred practice of hospitality to friends and strangers and it is alive and well in Menorca too. 

We are walking the Cami de Cavalls, exploring different parts of the island.
The beaches are sandy and clean

The water is an incredible turquoise

The path – which is for walkers and bicycles and horses – winds around the island and is well marked

There are cliffs

Sand dunes

And many beaches covered in seaweed

which the action of the wind and the water turns into thousands of small hairy balls

What do you do while walking?   Here is what I do…..
Singing, thinking, listening to music, talking, pretending my dog is with me and calling her or throwing one of these little balls for her to chase.  Thinking some more. 
It is strange to be on holiday without Bonnie but it is also much easier of course.  I feel bereft and sometimes the memory of her comes at me like a punch in the belly and tears surprise me running down my cheeks.  But there is also a new freedom that comes with loss.  I am free to come and go as I please.  With no-one dependent on me, I am alone again and this is both sad and liberating. 
I spent day 1 thinking of this and many other things, of people who have gone, of times that are past, of my own family and childhood.  Swimming on one of the golden beaches I suddenly had a strong sense of being alive and living the life that I always wanted to find. Ever since I was young I had a dream of living abroad and learning new languages.  And here I am!  It has not been just a series of accidents although sometimes I see it that way.  I have actually created the life that I dreamt of.  Surely that must be something to feel good about?   My next step – self confidence for real!