which way - the routes (03)
The perfect way to organise a Camino is to choose a route and then make everything else fit around it. Here are some questions to consider before you look at the options
Questions to ask yourself
How much time do I have? Don’t forget, it’s your Camino, you can start and finish wherever you want, there are no rules but knowing how much time you have is a crucial bit of info.
What type of Camino am I looking for? There is no “solitary” Camino, there will always be other people but you can choose a less busy route at a less popular time of the year. The downside will be the fewer amenities and greater cost. A more social route lowers cost but increases the people, your choice.
What time of year do I want to walk? This determines what type of weather you will face and the numbers of people. Remember, more people = more amenities = less cost.
What do I want to experience? Do you want to “feel” the history or feel the wind from the sea? The more history you have on a route the more popular. Wild camping is not allowed in Spain, so accommodation always has to be factored in.
What I loved about the Camino was the time I shared with my new friends. We walked together, we fixed each other's blisters, ate together, and enjoyed the sunsets with a glass of wine, together. I am still in contact with many from my first Camino 7 years ago. We had decided to take a day break in Léon, and spend the day touring the cathedral or wondering about the old city or shops. Entirely unplanned we found ourselves congregating on the square outside the cathedral gates at lunchtime. I went off for bread and cheese, someone else ham and olives, someone else wine. Then, in the sunshine, we sat and enjoyed a congregational picnic, anyone could join. We shared what we had with whoever was there. How can I explain the feeling of warmth and sheer joy, at such a simple experience? I guess you had to be there?
For those who may be considering a Camino for the first time, what can be assured is there are no “long-distance wilderness trails”. Some are slightly more remote than others but you are in for the most part, in northern Spain, it might be rural but it’s not wilderness. There will be some “tough” days, more up than you may be used to but on the whole, these are relatively easy walks, just long. There are always roads, villages, taxis, buses, trains, and phone coverage (nearly always). If you are looking for a serious hiking challenge, I would suggest the GR20 in Corsica or the Pacific Crest Trail in America because the Camino trails will not match your expectations.
Here is a brief guide by length of journey in km ...
if you walk 25km a day (in days) - starting:
Vía de la Plata 1000 (40) Seville (Spain)
Camino del Norte 825 (33) Irún (Spain)
Camino Francés 790 (32) St. Jean Pied de Port (France)
Camino Portugués 616 (25) Lisbon (Portugal)
Camino Primitivo 321 (13) Oviedo (Spain)
Camino Portugués 260 (11) Porto (Portugal)
Camino Finisterre 118 (4) Sanitiago de Compostela (Spain)
Camino Inglés 110 (4) Ferrol or A Coruña (Spain)
The most popular routes are #3 Frances, #4 Portugués, #7 Finisterre, and #2 del Norte.
You have to understand, the Camino is a business opportunity, which brings in much-needed cash to relatively poorer areas of the country. There are tens of thousands of pilgrims who all need a bed, a beer or breakfast, and hundreds upon hundreds of small businesses willing to comply. So the relationship between infrastructure and people is simply market forces. If you want to walk outside of this formula you have to plan for extra cost and inconvenience.
A friendly warning
The most popular route, Camino Francés also has the most popular section. The last 120km is from a little town called Sarria. If you start there and finish at the Cathedral, you are deemed to have walked the Camino and earn the certificate or Compostela. This last section will be busy, it’s the section I walked with my 77-year-old mum. It is quite easy, and many people who, for whatever reason, can’t manage the full walk will choose this option. Just be aware, after four weeks you will be tired, and being bumped by an energetic bunch of teens just off the tour bus, can be quite irritating. Just breathe, wish them “Buen Camino” and keep your peace.
“It's impossible to map out a route to your destination if you don't know where you’re starting from.” Suze Orman
Very important and relevant advice, so start by buying a decent guidebook. There are many guidebooks. I used the John Brierley version, not a recommendation but I found it excellent. Everything I needed to know, and lots of other interesting stuff thrown in. Guidebooks should be regularly updated so make sure you buy the most recent edition.
Next series of blogs - gear, footwear, underwear, what to wear etc