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At the end of October, a group of pilgrims from Chichester walked part of the historic Pilgrims' way of St James of Compostela - El Camino. Their starting point was 470 miles from Compostela, the possible burial place of St James the Apostle - a route pilgrims have traversed for the last eight hundred years.
Fr Kieron describes the journey. (Group photos by Simon Davenport)
"By means of taxi, plane, two trains and a short walk, seven pilgrims arrived in St.Jean Pied de Port early in the evening of Sunday 26th October.
This delightful small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees was to be the starting point for a five-day walk along the beginning of the Pilgrim Path to Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain
The following morning dawned bright and clear, engendering a false sense of security as we had all seen the weather forecast! The first few hours were steep and spectacular, the sun illuminating vivid autumn colours and being reflected by distant snow and ice.
As we approached the highest point of our journey, just after we had recited the rosary; the heavens opened! It did not stop raining properly until the following Saturday!
The night was spent at the refuge of Roncesvalles in what Judy referred to as a 'cathedral of bunks' - which turned out to be a very accurate description. We were nourished spiritually and physically by the Pilgrim Mass and the Pilgrim menu respectively.
The night rain continued into Tuesday morning as we set out in various styles of waterproofing to find a breakfast stop in the next village. Fortified by excellent coffee and bocadillos, the journey continued in intermittent rain to Larrasoana, where another night in bunks awaited us. We celebrated a simple mass around the kitchen table in the hostel before joining our fellow pilgrims for a communal meal in the local restaurant. If Eurovision were to have a snoring competition, then we had it that night, one of our party even found it preferable to de-bunk and sleep on the floor next door!
Insomnia not withstanding, we were soon on the road to Pamplona next morning. A long morning of rain and mud before we reached the outskirts of the city for a late tortilla brunch. By this time we felt that we had earned a night in a hotel….and so we slept in comfort…this was pilgrimage for softies…but not for long!
After a long and soggy trudge out of the city, we set our sights for Puente La Reina; our guardian angels clearly doing their job as we heard a car bomb exploding in the University area we had walked through less than an hour before. The next day our prayers were focussed on the twenty or so people who had been injured by the explosion
Late in the afternoon, undeterred by the persistent rain, we made time to divert to the delightful 12th century Romanesque church of Santa Maria de Eunate which provided a welcome shelter and time of prayer.
It was dusk as we arrived at the Bridge of the Queen but there was time to settle in to the refuge where we were given a dormitory to ourselves, before attending the local Pilgrim Mass. This was well attended by locals as well as a motley group of pilgrims – it was good to join what was obviously a prayerful parish community before enjoying yet another 'menu peregrinos'.
Friday was our final and wettest day of walking., destination: Estella. Our labours were rewarded by a warm and dry bus ride to Vittoria.
There we spent an agreeable night and morning being tourists. Our last day was a wonderful experience, staying in the Basque village of Otxandio, where we had a house Mass and were generously hosted by friends of the Rangs, now friends of us all.
After a week of life in the slow lane, the Easyjet flight from Bilbao to Stansted gave us a fairly brutal jolt back into the pace of everyday life. However, we had shared a week of friendship, prayer, humour, good food and wine and a modicum of hardship.As Judy put it: "The most wonderful and harmonious group cooperative effort with organisational spiritual input from everyone!"
All the vital ingredients of pilgrimage were there. However, Santiago is still another four or five weeks walk from Estella, but as we kept reminding ourselves; it’s not about arriving, it’s about the journey!