Memories of my Walk across Spain- 2014

February 2020, saw the world reeling with the Covid 19 Virus. Two months later, still in lock down, I realized my planned attempt to walk the Camino again , was not going to happen. This is when I had the idea to walk a Virtual Camino. I will walk the kilometres from Lourdes in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, but walk them from my allocated area in lock down, along the way I will share memories of my 2014 Camino. So off I go, out the front door like a Medieval Pilgrim, marking the K’s off as I go.

The Camino de Santiago, or Camino Frances is a medieval route from France over the Pyrenees into Spain. From St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. A journey of 780 Kilometres, but this is always debated amongst the pilgrims who have walked ‘The Way.’

2014 Leaving St Jean Pied de Port 2014
2020 Virtual Camino


As I set out on my Virtual Camino due to Covid-19, I will recount the footprints I left on my 2014 Camino de Santiago.

My walk across Spain

As I walked out the front door to start this journey, the same thought came back to me as I started the 2014 Camino. Will I make it!

A family member recently had asked me “did I think I was the same women I was when I started my 2014 Camino Journey”. I had to think about this for a minute and an emotional wave came over me. I certainly wasn’t that woman. Many kilometres have come and gone under my boot since then. I had grown physically strong, mentally tough and emotionally …… Well I still cry over sad movies, sunsets, sad songs etc, etc.

I had peeled back many layers on that Camino. Just like a snake shedding its skin, I too, had shed layers as I continued to reveal my true self. The Camino had also given me the love of long distant walking. The moments of solitude, sense of accomplishment , all had strengthen my endeavour on how much I can achieve, if I set my mind to it. How much we all can achieve, if we set our minds to it.

So lets travel down memory lane of my very first solo long distant walk.

Walk, Wash, Eat, Sleep.

Not necessarily in that order.


As they say one foot in front of the other. How hard could it be. I lay on my bunk in an Albergue at Saint John Pied de Port, contemplating how my day would evolve. My ears pricked up as I heard a sound which would become very familiar to me , the Click, Clack of hiking poles as they hit the cobbled streets on the Camino. Even if I hear that sound today it takes me straight back to my first morning on the Camino. Time to get up and start putting one foot in front of the other.

Overweight backpack on my back, with my scallop shell attached, I started. Feelings of awe hit me as I realized what I was about to do. I popped into the Parish Church to say a little prayer, surely it can’t do any harm, to send me on the way. I was surprised to find the Church quite full of people, mainly Locls obviously at choir practice . The deep voices of the Men circulating in the back as the Womens voice soared from the front. It was quite amaing to hear. Oh no, surely not a tear already rolling down my cheek. It was a magical start to my day.

My dream for many years was to see the Pyrenees and today I was going to walk over them. After passing the urban area of SJPdP, I saw before me a hill, well at least I thought it was a hill, a very big one though! As I walked, the hill just kept going and going all the time going up. Many people were moving past me with a Buen Camino, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to savour this moment. My senses are on fire, in the distance I hear the bells of the sheep moving around the hills. The smell of the fresh herbs and grasses on windblown air. I start my climb over the Napoleon route. The blue sky and the rolling green-blue mountains of the Pyrenees stretch out in front of me. They are majestic. I can hardly contain my excitement . I am actually walking across the Pyrenees.

The wind is pushing me backwards and whipping around my ears. I put on my Beanie, nothing can deter me from going higher and higher. I have a smile across my face that can’t be erased. Nearly to the top, I stop and lay down on the damp green grass. My eyes are closed and I feel the footprints that have walked before me, centuries of tales. I gradually open my eyes and I watch a Griffon vulture soaring with the wind currents. It’s mighty wings spread so wide and sure, carrying it to new heights. I feel like I am flying, spreading my wings, getting carried away to new heights, I am in awe .

And this is just my first day!

Looking out over the Pyrenees


Or should I say lack of it. It’s amazing how you can function on the Camino with lack of sleep.

Lets start with the beds, several different types. Double bunks, triple bunks, single beds. Rooms with 2 people, 10 people, and those with up to 30+ people. Mattresses , soft, hard, on the bunk or on the floor, lined up so close you can hear the person next to you breath. We won’t talk about bed bugs because I didn’t see any. Oh, the luxury if you find a 1 star hotel in a little village.

Snoring, it is constant. You lay awake listening to the high pitch sounds waiting for it to stop , and then when it does stop, you lay awake wondering if the person is still alive. At last you hear it again and you relax, their alive. If only you had your walking poles, which were left at the front door. Prodding would give so much satisfaction. I remember one night it was so bad, that the man in bunk opposite me, would have finished up looking like a pin cushion if we all had our poles with us.

Then there is the late comers, who think it is okay to stay out after 10.00 pm, when lights should go out in the Albergue. Thinking no one can hear them as they stagger in. Their head torch light waving around the room. Oh dear, and they haven’t unpacked their pack yet, let alone cleaned their teeth and had a shower. Then there’s the early leavers. Some Albergues say depart 6.30 am – 8.00 am. What’s that I hear just as I’ve got to sleep , it’s an alarm! I must have overslept, it still seems dark outside looking through the closed window , oh it’s only 5 o’clock. We start the routine again, torch light flicking around the room. Plastic bags rustling as items are packed back in them. Better still, lets put all the lights on, surely everyone wants to leave at 5.00 am. My head goes down into my sleeping silk as far as it can, I’ll try to get another hour or 2. Eventually I give up, it’s not going to work, so up I get with the other starry eyed stragglers.

The day begins!


Now this depends on whether it’s washing your clothes or washing yourself. First lets talk about washing yourself. Most Albergue do have separate showers for men and women. Some have curtains, some don’t. Signs indicating to have short showers, as well as asking you to mop floors for the next person. This sign doesn’t always get read. I find it easier to wash my limit amount of clothes out as I have a shower. There is a sign for that too, Don’t, wash your clothes in the shower. The trickier showers are those that don’t have a screen. The water goes everywhere. You try and put your little bundle of clothes to change into, in a corner so they don’t get wet. But somehow they always do.

Lets talk about being nude in front of strangers. When I first started the Camino I was very conscious of the fact that I was quite reserved about this. Although plenty of people from European countries are not. Not uncommon for men and women to walk around the bedroom in their underwear. I would always glance away. But by the end of the Camino it was whether I got into dry clothes by leaving them outside the shower or put on damp clothes so strangers won’t see me in my undies. I chose strangers to see me in my underwear. Most of the people you will never see again.

Washing of the clothes can be fun too. As I said before I mainly did mine in the shower, but there is the basin. In the Monasteries beautiful old stone sinks outside, as you scrub your clothes with a slippery cake of soap , taking the skin off your knuckles as you scrub away. Drying the washing can be an issue too , I carry with me nappy pins. With these I can pin my clothes onto a clothesline if there is one, or to tree branches or even wire fences. Just remember to take your washing of the line before going to bed for the night, not like I did one time and had to go back outside in the dark to find it to bring it in. In the mountains things can get a bit damp over night left outside.



Food glorious food, and can I mention the Vino Tinto.

This is just a sample of the food from the French side of the Pyrenees, I can’t wait for the Spanish selections.

Anyone that knows me , knows I love food. I love to look at it, eat it , photograph it and work out ways that I can cook it. Some of the food on the Camino didn’t bring those thoughts to mind, but most of it did. From the amazing Tapas, breakfast Tortilla, the inventive communal meals which are made by the volunteer Hospitaleros, from the money received from pilgrims donations on previous nights . Each region brought it’s own speciality.

Starting out in St Jean Pied de Port, and as I was still in France I had to try a savoury square crepe. The filling was a whole egg in the middle with cheese and bacon, very nice.

The dry fruits in the picture above came to be one funny story. I fell in love with everything in the store. Pointing my finger to the brightly colored contents of the jars to the shop owner, my bag got bigger and bigger. STOP ! my brain said, “You will be caring all that” Oops , whats another kilo. During the trail I would add to my bag of trail mix. I found some little chocolate buttons once that I thought would go very nicely with my trail mix, only to find walking in the heat over a few days turns it into one hot chocolate blob of mess. It might not have looked to good but it still tasted good. At least that’s what I told myself.

Fish was often on the menu, trout and potatoes or you could have chicken and potatoes. These were both what you called Pilgrims meals. There was usually a lack of green stuff on the plate called vegetables. Further on in the Camino, I realized I could order a tuna salad for a little less in price and I got a whole plate of gorgeous salad vegetables with it.

My favourite meals of all, were the Communal Meals at the Albergue. Some of the best meals and company were had on these nights. Good wholesome food, local jugs of wine made for a very remorable night .

When reaching the larger towns like Pamplona, Burgos, Leon etc , was where Spanish food came to the fore. The Tapas, what can I say . My eyes would go up and down the rows of plates as I walked back and forward trying to choose. Fish, egg, cheese, potatoes, vegetables all cut perfectly into small bight size pieces, all out shining each other. Thank goodness I’m walking 800 kilometres I would say to myself or anyone within ear shot.

The one cake I would see a lot of on the trail, was the Torta de Santiago. A specialty of the Camino. It is an almond tart topped with icing sugar and marked with the cross of St. James. This, I was saving till I walked under the arch into Santiago de Compostela!

Lets not forget the tiny little villages where Pilgrims would arrive on mass in the morning looking for breakfast and a great coffee. Tortilla made from the heart , beautiful golden color from the eggs of free roaming chickens, large soft potatoes pieces oozing with butter and oil. A nice big chunk of bread to wipe the plate clean with. It became my staple breakfast unless I was tempted by a chocolate croissant .

Food is a big part of the Camino. It brings it’s Pilgrims together. Whether it’s a wave as you pass a bar by someone you know, Buen Camino. A Salutue to each other for having a great day or cheers to tomorrow, your blisters will get better. Sharing plates at the table with people from all around world is one special experience. Buying food on the Camino whether it’s at a Bar, a Supermarket or just in a little store that might sell you some fruit and hard boil eggs. Or the Lady who stands outside her house and sells you one delicious homemade pancake just when you need it.

The Camino brings economy to these small rural villages. They are so proud of their produce and their cooking. Sometimes they may appear a little grumpy as they are making potato tortillas for 20 or so wet and grumpy pilgrims, who drop their backpacks at the door, spread there things out over the tables and leave chairs ajar, all calling out for “sello” and ” wifi ” .

Always remember a smile and a Gracias goes a long way!

My Camino Family

I start out on my Camino solo. I had heard the stories about your Camino Family and I wonder if I will have one, or even if I wanted one. I’m walking this Camino to be on my own. Will I want to get close to people or will we be like ships passing in the night..

As I start walking up the trail towards the Pyrenees it wasn’t long before I was asking for help. My Camera had a problem. Looking around for the person who had the most camera gear hanging around his neck , I soon spotted my victim, and he spoke English what a bonus. I would have struggled explaining what was the problem was if I had to use sign language. Problem fixed in a jiffy, my first Trail angel.

There are lots of these trail angels along my journey, where is the best coffee, oh, the lentil soup in that cafe is the best, where to get groceries from, which Albergue is good, where the next one is if you have missed out on a bed. The man in a van who appears just when you are fading and sells hot coffee and treats in the middle of know where. The man who offers juicy pieces of watermelon on a scorching hot day, and wont take your money. Lots of things are achieved by these trail angels. But your Camino family is special. People who you see off and on through out the trail, sometimes even to the very end.

My small Camino family was made up of 1 Australian, 1 English, 2 Americans, 4 Danish and 3 Amigos (British, German, Dutch). My 3 Amigos were travelling together but didn’t come to the Camino together. They were always looking out for me, a distant call from a Bar, Cafe or Albergue window ” Helen, you okay?”. This was probably for about a quarter of the Camino and then I never saw them again. Their quicker pace certainly out walking my little legs.

The Australian Rae , we walked together off and on for a couple of weeks . She was a faster walker on the flat and would pace off in front, I would see her turquoise shirt disappearing into the distance. Often reaching a town she would be sitting under a tree patiently waiting for me to join me for lunch or find an Albergue together. Once she had got word that I was struggling with tendinitis and by the time I had got into town she had arranged a place to stay, a meal for the night, even getting a room with a bath, so I could have a good relax. We met again the day she arrived into Santiago de Compostella, we had celebratory drinks and a meal. The following year we walked the Via Francegina from Lucca to Rome. Having more laughs than I thought possible. That certainly is another blog post for the future. We also walked a small section of the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia together . We are friends still to this day.

I walked into Santiago de Compostella with my English friend Nicky. We had walked a couple of weeks together, sharing rooms in Albergues. We had a lot of fun together. One day we stopped and had a cold drink at a little bar, after walking a few kilometres on she realized she had left her hat on the table. It was a grueling hot day and no hat shop in sight, so, she decided to retrace her steps. I kept walking and we said our good byes, not thinking we would see each other again. As I said the day was grueling and I wanted to press on to a town quite a few kilometres away.

Arriving in the square I met up with and had a cold drink with other pilgrims. I found a bed in an Albergue, showered and washed and about to go out for dinner and who should walk in, hat in hand and very hot and tired, my friend. I was pleased because she was a pleasure to walk with. We did have a lot of fun together too. There was a Canadian Author who we would see often on the trail . He was writing a love story involving the Camino. We would have drinks at the end of the day sometime together enjoying the Spanish Gin and Tonic. We would sit and have chats but mainly, stirred the heck out of him. He said he was going to put us in the book. I did read the book some years later and the Australian and the English woman both got a mention. Not our real names of course , thank goodness.

The day we walked into Santiago de Compostela together was one of the best days of my life. We are still friends and when I walked the Coast to Coast in England a couple of years later, it was wonderful to spend a few days catching up with her in London.

The Americans, sounds like a movie. From memory I meet them about half way through the Camino. From the moment we walked and talked I knew we were connected. We often stayed at the same Albergue, ate at the same bars, and a call of ” G’day Mate” from Dave somewhere on the trail.

If anyone has seen the Movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen, you will know the story of the night his Camino Family hit the Parador in Leon. Rae and I lived that story at the same Parador with Dave and Janet. So much fun. I remember running down the passageways of the Parador with Rae , both of us giggling like school girls about to get into trouble. I will add we had , had a Spanish Gin and Tonic, or two by this time . This is where also when we booked into the Parador, I asked not only for the Pilgrims price but for a room with a bath. His very posh reply was “Madam , all our rooms have baths!”

Towards the end I got a little in front of the Janet & Dave, but they would message me just about everyday and ask where I was on the trail, and asking where was a good place to stay or not to stay. Unbeknown to me they were trying to catch up to me at the end. One cold crisp misty morning as I stood at the statue ‘Mount of Joy Monte do Gozo’, where you look out to see the first sight of the steeples of the Cathedral , and you sudden realize your journey is nearly to an end. I hear the familiar voice. “G’Day Mate”..

Walking on the cobblestones into Santiago de Compostela , I was truly in the moment, my feet felt like lead weights as they landed on the stones, I could hear the distant sounds of the bagpipes calling me to the square. The echoing sound of click clack of my walking poles ringing in my ears. My heart was beating faster and faster. Everything seemed in slow motion. I remember the sky was blue as blue with streaks of white clouds leading me closer and closer to the Cathedral. Tears are now streaming down my face, down the stones stairs I go, around to the front of the Cathedral. Surrounded by Pilgrims standing in silence, some cheering and hugging their Camino Family, others in groups singing a joyful song.

I am now in awe, of what I had just achieved.

Now to find my Husband ‘the Reluctant Pilgrim’, he had flown in to meet me. It was so wonderful for him to be there. He was and is my biggest supporter of my long distance walks . After much celebration in Santiago de Compostela, we traveled with Dave and Janet out to Cape Finisterre, ‘The end of the World’, Here we watched as Janet and Dave spread some of Janet’s fathers ashes into the sea, at the end of her journey. We all sat and paused looking out to the endless sea with the thoughts of our Pilgrimage just gone, thoughts of our loved ones we had lost and remembered our journey of ‘The Way’. It felt such a privilege to be able to join them in this experience, the celebration of Janet’s fathers life. I’m very happy to say that we are still great friends and will be connected for life.

The Danish, the first time I meet them was in Zubiri. It was a very wet, cold and miserable day weather wise. I was in my own little world walking along through the hail, river trails and it wasn’t till I got to my Albergue I realized I must have been about the last in for the day. Lucky to get a bed. I walked into my room and it looked like a laundromat. Wet clothing hung everywhere, boots with paper stuffed in them, lots of lively chatter and it was like a steam room. One even had a hair dryer, drying her guide book. The hairdryer wasn’t hers , but the funny thought was ‘who would carry a hairdryer’. I immediately took a liking to this group of 4. Later I was to learn they had met at the airport and decided to walk together. They were so much fun and a constant during my Camino.

Towards the end of the Camino realized I hadn’t seen my Danish friends for awhile, sadly I thought was this going to be the only Camino family I wouldn’t see again.

It was wonderful when I was waiting in line to receive my Compostela, I often would hear a call from the crowd “Helen, congratulations, Buen Camino”, but no matter how many times I looked through the oncoming faces of the Pilgrims arriving into the square, I never saw them.

Walking back from Cape Finisterre with my American friends and The Reluctant Pilgrim, I mention how sad I felt, that I would not be able to see my Danish friends to say goodbye. I just couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see them. And just as they say “The Camino provides”, here the 4 of them came, around a bend in the road. All 4 of them, smiling, calling and waving to me. They had started the Camino together and finished the Camino together. I had met them on the first day and again on the last. Of course lots of hugs, tears and joy were felt by me at that very moment.

My Camino Family was now complete.

The Walking Traveller
The Walking Traveller

The Scenery


Is all I can say. From the first day to the last. From the magnificent rolling blue misty mountains of the Pyrenees to the Sunrise and Sunsets over the Plains of Spain. The fields on fire with flame red poppies. Wildflowers waving in the breeze as I brush past them along the path, alerting my senses to their smell . Medieval bridges with their stones moulded by bygone footprints, stories untold among their cracks . To walk along the ‘rastro blanco’ of the mysterious Meseta was a privileged. It has such a sense of quietness as the land stretches out as far as the eye can see. The dry fields searching for rain. Watching and hearing thunderstorms roll around me, scared, but excited at the same time.

Walking through the vines of the Rioja and eating a dusty handful of grapes washed down by the last of my water until the next fountain.Knowing tonight the table red will be wonderful with dinner.

To stand in a Pine Forest where time has stood still for 104 people, buried in a mass grave here, side by side, in 1936. The sobering quietness fills the air, and as the tall pines stand tall outreaching their limbs over the grave, protecting them, when humanity couldn’t. A very fitting place to acknowledge what a lucky life I lead.

Walking alongside buildings so old it is unimaginable. They may have a little lean on at times but they are strong and stand their ground. Seeing the arched sprouting Plane Trees of Burgos, just waiting for the leaves to burst from its branches. They provide shade in the coming heat for the residents as they stroll under them in the evening breeze. Walking in the misty mornings, watching the foxgloves bow down with the weight of the dew. Passing country villages with an open window to view the lives of these wonderful hard working people. The simplicity of life is one to be admired.

Seeing and feeling the first of the cobblestones that led me to the sighting of the Cathederal, towering over the city of Santiago de Compostela. They still have an emotional pull to my heart whenever I think of them.

I know, my footprints will be here on ‘The Way’ forever.

Sunrise at Orrison
Camino 2014
Camino 2014
Camino 2014
Camino 2014
Camino 2014
Walking the streets of Burgos

The Way – The Camino – The Field of Stars – The French Way

Whatever you choose to call it , is one amazing journey. Not in a million years as I sat at Melbourne Airport in 2014, tears rolling down my cheeks, think that I would have the experiences that I was about to have. Yes at times I was a bit scared, apprehensive but something in side of me told me that I was going to have this journey. A journey of self discovery, one that would make me rethink who I am. A journey that would test my endeavour of will power, mental strength as well as my physical capabilities.

Little did I know in 2020, that a Pandemic of World ramifications would have me re visit my 2014 Camino. I have enjoyed reliving the journey back. Reliving the moments, I am surprised that they are as clear to me now as they were when I experienced them. I can see, smell and feel those experiences so clear. I have since walked four more Caminos since then, this one, I will always carry in my heart.

“A journey I gave to myself”

I did enjoyed my Torta de Santiago at the end of both my journeys, sharing it with friends and reliving new and past experiences. It is a symbol to me of my achievement of walking across Spain.

Buen Camino.

Me eating Torta de Santiago


Me eating Torta de Santiago

On my Virtual Camino I walked 1,034 Kilometres in my Urban area during lock down. Walking out my front door like many Pigrims still do. I discovered new trails, new people to meet, new sights and sounds, and conquering new challenges that are in place in this Covid 19 Pandemic world I am living in.

Buen Camino to you all.

Buen Camino.