Meet George, George is my grandad and he absolutely loves walking!
Unfortunately, his sportiness did not pass down to me, but when your 87yrs old Grandfather wants you to walk a 100km from France into Spain on a pilgrimage even though he’s an atheist? You can hardly say no.
My brother, however, is a lot fitter and thrived on this walk, even stopping and dropping to-do push-ups while he waited for us to catch up (show off!).
I can not even express how much I was dreading this walk I am so unfit and would much rather be eating a takeaway or out at the pub with friends.
We walked from St. Jean Pied de Port to the city of Pamplona, famous for its bull run, which I’m glad to say was not going on at that time. Poor bulls.
Rocks on a Camino marker
So a little bit about the Camino!
The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage route that runs more than 790 km across the top of Spain, all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
Starting from St, Jean Pied de Port which is just across the French border the Camino became popular in the middle ages with over 250,000 pilgrims walking it every year making it one of the most popular along with Jerusalem and Rome.
The first thing that I learned on this trip was that old or young, the men in my family can and will sleep anywhere.
My Brother and George had walked part of the Camino previously when they had gone to the wrong part of the country and ended up sleeping in bushes on pieces of cardboard.
As I said, they can and will sleep anywhere!
Make art, not war
We started off in the city of Biarritz on the Bay of Biscay, which is known for surfing and beachfront Casino.
The beach was beautiful and there were many shops, I took the time we spent waiting to book into our room for the night attempting to interview my grandad about the Camino.
Please bear in mind I have no experience of interviewing anyone!
George on the Camino
2 Good boys
The next day we caught the train from Biarritz to St, Jean Pied de Port where we would be starting our actual walk.
At this point, I was already massively regretting my decision to say yes as I was exhausted from lack of sleep and starting to realize how unfit I actually was.
George was raring to go after sleeping on the top bunk and pretty much beating me there on the long walk to the railway station.
We were joined for the first part of our journey by my mum and her partner, which worked out brilliantly as I did not realize how quickly a bag would get heavy even with hardly any contents and managed to dump a lot of my belongings on them!
Hill number one
The first hill as we looked for the pilgrim’s office in St, Jean.
As you can see we had all put a lot of thought into our hiking outfits!
A pilgrims meal.
On arrival at St. Jean, we quickly realized after visiting the pilgrim’s office that it would be silly of us to set straight off especially if we went the way grandad wanted to go which was over the Pyrenees!
So we found a church-run Albergue run by a mother and daughter for that month, the Albergue itself is run by different volunteers all through the year. Most people that have stayed there before and come back to help for the passing through pilgrims completing their journey.
The Albergue that you stay in on the walk are generally priced between 10 and 20 euros a night and provide basic accommodation with cooking facilities.
We shared a beautiful meal with the other pilgrims who all came from different places in the world, the conversation was hard but fun and ended with a sing-song and George teaching all the ladies how to dance!
Being the well-seasoned traveler that he is, George was very happy to join in the meal.
As long as it was potatoes! They very nicely made him a massive bowl of mashed potato to accommodate.
St. Jean from the citadel
I love how from up high the town looked like a toy town.
Another good boy
The route that we took led us down into some woods which led to some beautiful scenery and paths along the side of rivers and streams.
It was lovely until we realized we had to get back up over the top!
This guy had the right idea!
Stop and drop!
As I may have mentioned, Zeph is far fitter than me and George.
The first day was by far the worst terrain wise, we went up and down, through woods and lanes, every corner we turned there was another hill.
I am not a very religious person but I definitely prayed that day for a flat road around the corner, maybe there is something to this pilgrimage business?
Our first morning waking up after our first day of hiking, The mist in the air and the coolness of the morning was so refreshing that somehow I felt ready for the day ahead.
There is something so nice about the fact that the only thing you have to worry about is walking, getting to the next bed.
Although I am not a fit or sporty person and for me, at times this walk was hell I started to appreciate it and the way it made you feel, so free and un reliant on anything or anyone else. Just feet to walk and the path to follow.
George was not impressed by the local cuisine. We managed to get him eggs and chips.
Time for a rest
I think we literally walked on every kind of terrain apart from sand and snow during this trip!
Beautiful views and open scenery, but unfortunately nowhere to hide when you needed a wee!
At this point, I was just glad we weren’t walking right to the end!
Along the way we saw memorials and piles of rocks fairly often, there have been deaths on the Camino over the years and we would come across these shrines.
This was a pile of rocks on the floor and hanging from a tree with inspirational messages which really helped that day.
We finally arrived at Basílica y albergue de La Trinidad de Arre.
A medieval monastery/Church?
This Albergue is a church and we stayed in a building at the back of the church which was previously a pilgrims hospital from what I could gather online, the building was amazing!
But the many bunk beds were very noisy and wobbly, I decided to sit outside for a bit and enjoy the night while I read about the place. I am not ashamed to say I ran back into my bunk after reading about it being a hospital, I did not fancy meeting any ghosts and my mahoosive blisters wouldn’t have made for a quick getaway from spooks!
Oh but the best thing about it, they had been in the drinks vending machine! UK churches, get with it! In fact all UK vending machines, Beer? Pretty please!
Red wine with meals!
One of my favorite things about our journey? Red wine with meals at eateries!
Wine or water? as if you need to ask!
But do not, I repeat do not, think that you can drink everyone else’s allowance of meal wine and your own and then walk to the next town without constantly having to find bushes and having a mouth dryer than the Sahara.
Take the wine with you in a flask to avoid this problem.
Entering the Citadel, Pamplona
We made it! Te final city! George had managed to only lose one hat, we’d probably added on around 10km in the distance that we’d had to go back on ourselves looking for his hat but we had made it to the walls of Pamplona.
Zeph was already at the top waiting for us and had been for, well I’m embarrassed to say how long but a little while.
As we went up the slope and round the corners suddenly a town/city seemed to appear from nowhere, it was amazing, civilization! We got coffee and I took it upon myself to book us a nice room online.
George wasn’t happy about spending the extra but I was paying so he had no choice.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Starring Zeph
Bull run town
We stayed at a beautiful hotel in Pamplona although a shed would have been beautiful at that point! George approved once we got in and got to rest in comfort without the snores or smells of any other pilgrims.
My feet had the biggest blisters I had ever seen in my life but I and Zeph managed to find the energy to go get pizza.
3 in a bed
We made it, we reached our goal and personally I could not believe that I had done it, I am so unfit, overweight and unhealthy but we did it, together with a family trip without falling out or killing each other.
I did not want to go on this trip I could think of nothing worse but getting to spend that time with my brother and granddad was amazing and an experience I will never forget.
Would I do it again? If you asked me that then I would say not a chance, ask me now? Maybe!
George is 88 and already planning his next trip, They keep telling me the next part is flatter, not sure I should believe them.
Although I am told that there is a red wine fountain along the way next time? Maybe I will go.
Things that I learned while walking.
-A big stick can be your best friend when you feel too tired to step.
-I’m too shy to use my Spanish or French even the bits I know.
-Always carry water, pop is not a good substitute!
-take some anti chaff for the dreaded chub rub.
-You really do not need that many clothes.
-I really, really, really like wine.
-Pizza’s are weird in other countries.
Last but not least,
-I can do more than I give myself credit for.
A suave good boy
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