I recently completed the final seven stages – 117.3 km – of the Camino Francés. It had been ten years since I had walked this stretch and though I’ve hiked numerous other Camino sections in between, the Pandemic prevented travel and depleted confidence in both ability and stamina.

However, in early May, this sector was re-accomplished so I’d like to share some reflections. Both the famous camaraderie and hospitality are stronger than ever; “Buen Camino”, the traditional greeting, is on everyone’s lips. Conversation is always forthcoming from fellow Caminantes, one of whom I remember particularly: he was a critical care nurse during the Pandemic. He walked alone, but struck acquaintanceship with many groups en route. Dialogue with him revealed that he felt the need of this trek to help him reconcile all the sadness he had witnessed during Covid. I noted that there were far more Central and South American pilgrims than before.

The spirituality is ever present, both in believers and those of no faith. Many times strangers would remark how incredible it felt to be walking in the footsteps of pilgrims on a path which had been trodden for many hundreds of years. As we “built the stones” on the frequent way-markers in memory of those we’d lost and those who need our prayers currently, we could pray for them to the exclusion of all other thoughts.

Climbing a steep, demanding hill where I felt that I was sharing the Cross (a little), pilgrims were heralded by a friendly Knight of the Santiago Templario. He handed out flyers which declared “the early pilgrims would not miss a chance to share the Eucharist each day” and listed all the 7pm Pilgrim Masses in the villages leading to Santiago. To my delight, the list included the small and beautiful church of Santa Eulalia whose magnificent altar is constructed in the shape of an enormous Conch shell – the striking symbol of Santiago pilgrimage and a reminder that this shell was used as a drinking vessel by the early pilgrims. I had been praising this church to the members of my group – all new to The Camino – but I could not remember where it was. S Eulalia turned out to be 1 km from our next overnight accommodation.

In the picturesque village of Arca with a very appealing tapas bar round the corner from the church. The welcoming parish priest wanted to know the country of origin of everyone in the congregation before Mass began. If my very basic Spanish serves me well, he then invoked the wonder of so many different nationalities coming together in this little church in the name of God and Santiago. It felt truly unifying – a tonic for the heart and the soul.

If you are thinking of walking the Camino, this affirmation of faith, this beautifully scenic route, this path of warm sociability, this land of excellent and reasonably priced food and wine, this elevation of the spirit and the soul, then Carpe Diem!

Barbara Dilworth