Cycling the Camino...

From 25 August to 6 September, I cycled the 'Northern Camino' - a 400-mile bike ride along the north coast of Spain from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela. I blogged in detail about it, but unfortunately not on this site because I can't update this site from the web platform that I used on the road - instead, please click over to https://katycamino.wordpress.com. But, seeing as you're here, I thought you might be interested in knowing a bit more...

Pilgrims have been walking the Camino – ‘the Way’ – to Santiago (thought to be the final resting place of Christ’s Apostle St James) for about 1,000 years. In its medieval heyday, something like a quarter of a million people each year walked or rode from their homes to Santiago, a staggering proportion of the population of Europe at the time. By the 1980s, when I first heard about it, just a couple of thousand pilgrims were turning up at the Cathedral annually; now, numbers in peak season can reach 3,000 a day. But until 100km from Santiago, the routes aren’t crowded – it’s a peaceful and beautiful part of the world.

2018 was my third Camino – all by bike (a form of transport – along with walking and riding – that entitles me to an official credencial, proof of completion). My first Camino, in 2015, was the ‘French’ route from just over the border, the most popular and well-known of the major routes – made famous by Martin Sheen’s film The Way and, more recently, by some somewhat dubious BBC religious programming in which a group of celebrities whinged their way through the final 100km. (You can read about my 2015 escapades here.)

In 2016 I took the route from Lisbon, wending up the Atlantic coast via Porto to Santiago (scroll down here). And this year I was back in northern Spain, on what is generally acknowledged to be the toughest (hilliest and wettest) route: the Camino del Norte, starting in Bilbao.

There really is nothing quite like it. I set off early on my hired mountain bike, usually arriving mid-afternoon. Much of the route is off-road – sometimes on lovely tracks, and occasionally on paths that are sufficiently steep and rocky that I have to ‘de-pannier’ to get up the hill: if I average 10km an hour, I’m doing well. The Camino del Norte is about 400 miles, and I spread this over 13 days. This year I started with a Camino buddy – Greg, whom I met on Camino in 2015. We expected to cycle independently during the day, but hadn't expected that, alas, he would have to pull out half way through because his knees gave out. (I'm counting myself fortunate in being 'bike fit' - thanks to daily commuting in London!).

Obvious question: Why do it? Because I first heard about it when I was 13, and I remain as intrigued as ever. Because I am (literally) in the footsteps of millions of others. Because I am card-carrying CofE and it’s about more than just the journey. Because when on a mountain bike I can’t think about anything other than what is on the track immediately in front of me (the only time I truly get to switch off). Because it’s a beautiful part of the world, because the churches are spectacular, because I want to be fitter )and I'm nothing if not an evangelist for physical activity!), because the food is amazing, and because there is something very profound about being in the footsteps of so many millions. When passing a church that is open, I pop inside, ask nicely (permission is rarely refused), and sing – ancient chant or a song that would have been sung on these routes in the Middle Ages. It’s a glorious feeling to know that the buildings will have heard these tunes hundreds of times…but probably not for hundreds of years.

The weather stayed good (at least, most of the time - northern Spain is notoriously wet albeit, consequently, gloriously lush), the wind was at my back, some of the churches were open - and it hit that perfect combination, like the Francés and the Portugués in previous years, of challenging and relaxing… I had a wonderful time. Bring on the rest of the year!

This is the route I took: 13 days of cycling

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