Pilgrimpace's Blog

camino of the candlesticks
June 4, 2016, 2:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

As you will have gathered from recent posts, Bharti and I have been on holiday in Spain.  We spent a couple of rich weeks travelling by bus and train between A Coruna, Zamora, Segovia, Avila and Madrid.  I’ll post a few reflections on this but I was very struck by this pilgrim on the marked Camino route in Zamora:



I assume that if you are a very large candlestick and cannot therefore walk, it is OK for you to be carried by your assistants and travel by car.

advent journey – conception

In early September 2009 I walked out of Valencia in the direction of Compostela.  It was a hard first week.  It was hot.  I was the only pilgrim on the route.  I was ill and had no appetite.

What got me through?  There was determination – I had made a promise to myself to keep going unless I was sent home by a doctor or by an emergency at home.  I had huge support from family and friends at home.  People along the Way were kind and caring.

And there was Our Lady.  I set off near to the Feast of her Birth.  As I stumbled into small towns like Algemesi I found banners all around me proclaiming it


If I could, I went to the evening Mass.  It strengthened me and connected me with other people in ways that are too deep to write.  In the small hilltop towns of Xativa and Moixent and Font de la Figuera and Chinchilla, I was welcomed into the parish churches as Mass was celebrated in honour of Our Lady.  Over several days running I bumped into a small group of young Dominican Sisters with beautiful singing voices and a ministry with marginalised young people.

Walking through the heat was testing.  The evenings when I arrived were more so.  I was alone in the pilgrim hostals; it was too hot to sleep well.

I spent a lot of time with Mary.  In Chinchilla the priest took Our Lady of the Snows down from behind the High Altar and allowed me to cradle the exquisite statue.

If I read my journal of that pilgrimage, much of my praying was saying “Thank you”.  I am profoundly grateful to Mary our Mother – and to those who serve her for getting me through, for giving me the strength to flourish and not to turn back.


Statue of Our Lady, Osiera

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  An Advent Day, celebrating God preparing people to receive Jesus; of ‘heaven in ordinary’, of human flesh bringing Christ into the world.

Almighty and everlasting God,
who stooped to raise fallen humanity
through the child-bearing of blessed Mary:
grant that we, who have seen your glory
revealed in our human nature
and your love made perfect in our weakness,
may daily be renewed in your image
and conformed to the pattern of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

– Collect for The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

camino ingles – january 2015 stages, etc
February 3, 2015, 1:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

We spent five days walking from Ferrol to Santiago from January 6th.


We took the evening flight from Heathrow to A Coruna with Vueling.  We stayed overnight in Hostal Mara.

We got the first bus the next morning to Ferrol and began walking using the CSJ Guide.  This is very helpful, especially with accommodation options, background information, etc.  The route is very well marked – you can walk it without consulting the directions in the Guide.

The distances it gives seemed about right and tallied with the gps distances people have given on the Camino de Santiago Forum.  Roland and I are used to walking.  This is not a difficult route.  It is varied and extremely enjoyable.

Our stages were:

Ferrol – Pontedeume.  About 18 miles.  We stayed in the albergue.  It has no source of heating but has blankets.  Some people have reported it being hard to get into.  We rang the number (different for weekends/festas) and weekdays and the hospitalero came straight away to let us in.  It would be possible to walk across the bridge from Ferrol to Fene and cut most of the mileage of this day off.

Pontedeume – Betanzos. About 14 miles.  Albergue again.  This is manned at the times listed.  Heated.

Betanzos – Hospital de Bruma.  About 18 miles.  This has the most substantial climbing on the route.  We did it in good weather and it was far less difficult than I had expected (I have climbed it twice before on the different route from Coruna.  I think that route is harder, but that stage is much longer and I walked in a storm).  If you are reasonably fit, you will be able to do it.

In winter, do not count on the bars in villages being open.  Carry some food instead.

We stayed in the albegue.  Heating and blankets.  Benino, the hospitalero, ordered us food from a restaurant.  He also offered to take us to a supermarket if we wanted.


Bruma to Sigueiro.  About 14 miles.  We stayed in the new Hotel Sigueiro Hostal.  €46 for two of us including breakfast.  This is quite upmarket and is very good.  Hostal Mara is closed.  I am not sure if this is for refurbishment or is permanent.  Mass was earlier in the evening than the time listed in the Guide, so you may want to check – I suspect the priest changes it periodically.

Sigueiro to Santiago. About 10 miles.  The route is much better since it was changed a few years ago to keep it away from the main road.


This is a great little Camino.  Let me know if you have any questions.


As well as the laughter, I prayed as I walked. It is easy to catch a glimpse of transcendence when you walk through this sort of beauty


but there are also the times of plod, of tiredness. I prayed for all those who had asked for prayers. I prayed for the world. I spent time with the thump of my feet and the rasp of my breath as I quietened down. One of the things I brought (again!) was for grace to trust more, especially in the future.

We went to Mass if we passed a Church at the right time. We went into open churches. Here is the Church of Santiago in Betanzos


Inside the arches bow at an alarming angle, although the priest assured us they are now stable. We saw this beautiful stained glass


The shell is of course the symbol of the Camino. It is often used to pour water by the priest in Baptism. This sums up for me a great deal. The journey of life and the journey of Spirit combining and somehow being made a bit more visible in the space and grace and walking of Camino.


I hope that in the steps that I take and in the choices to be made, there will be always a deepening and an opening and a loving.


I think there need be little disconnect between the Camino and the rest of our life.


¡Buen Camino!

fork handles
January 30, 2015, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

We arrived in Betanzos.  After settling into the wonderful municipal albergue we went to look for something to eat – it was that tricky time between dinner and tea.  The plaza major had a row of bars.  One had a bocadillo menu outside and people inside.  When we got inside, it became apparent they all worked there.  After a while our beers arrived.  They weren’t the best we have drunk.  We tried to order bocadillo.  The barman didn’t have most of what was on the menu, but we settled with ham.  Another wait.  A man appeared with bread.  Once we had finished, we decided it was best to leave.  I went to pay.  There was no money at all in the till.  We waited.  Change arrived.

After a wander, we found an an excellent bar down some stairs.  They were cooking.  We worked our way through plates laden with good simple food washed down with good local wine.

After a siesta, Roland went out in search of sticks.  He found a shop rather like the one in this sketch.  For a small consideration he came back with broom handles and ferrules (from Ferrol).  These did us great.  We were even able to put the broom heads back on when we needed to clean up.


There were one or two times we passed very fierce creatures.  Knowing we had sticks to defend ourselves was a comfort.


Shortly after passing this we stopped for coffee in a bar.  At the next table, a spherical man slowly ate ten churros.


This interesting fungus is called Devil Fingers.

Walking along a street in Santiago I glanced into the window of a clothes shop and saw a pair of pants with the words “The chorizo from hell” printed on them.  I waited a while to tell Roland this; the moment he put a spoonful of chorizo stew in his mouth was the right one.

January 26, 2015, 7:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

We walked on, over the hills, by the sea, through woods and farms, villages and industrial zones.


We passed egrets, storks, sea crows sunning their wings.


I love the contrasts of Spanish Caminos. Here, a wild orange tree grows next to a flyover for a major road. We passed peacefully underneath. We bought oranges in a small supermercado. The woman who served us asked for our credencials and gave us a sello. We ate the sweet fruit sitting on a bench watching the sea in warm sunshine.


We stayed in albergues at night. We were the only pilgrims. The heating was usually on.




We breakfasted on cafe y churros, got power from bocadillos, quenched our thirst with estrella galicia, albarino and ribeiro.

We didn’t fancy the sleeping facilities at the Albergue of St Laurence


Travelling light we had no sticks. Roland picked up a hefty one from the forest floor. This made him veer to the right which was undesirable. A solution needed to be found …


As you will remember, the Intrepid Pilgrims had arrived in Ferrol on the morning of Three Kings …


Fortified with coffee and – praise be! – a fresh and tasty magdalena, we made our way through Ferrol and found the Camino route.

There was some debate at this point about whether we should walk across the bridge to Fene, which was something of a Short Cut. Looking at our route guide, we decided that the short cut was so large that we might arrive in Santiago before we left A Coruna.


It was wonderful walking, often in sight of the water. The weather was kind. We were very warm in the January sun.

We listened to the sounds of Mass as we rested outside ancient churches. A man called us over when he thought we were lost (we were heading off piste for a coffee).

Along the way were constant reminders of last year’s Camino in appalling weather which began with a visit to the Shrine of St Andrew at Teixedo. Here is where the Way there and the Way to Santiago diverged:


Arriving in Fene, we needed to eat. The restaurant we found was more upmarket than we had first thought. We feasted on a Menu of the Kings. It was very good. I may have eaten a whole lamb. It certainly took me a day to digest it. Those who have walked in Spain will note that postre was flan and that it was wonderfully good.

We were back on the road and followed the coast into Pontedeume with its ancient bridge.


We found the albergue open – we were the only guests. After a shower and a change of clothes we went for a beer and prepared for a day which will include tales of new walking sticks and a bar that was so bad it was funny.
¡Hasta luego!

Camino of the Kings – Prelude

This truly was the Camino of Kings. Roland and I met at Heathrow and took the evening flight with Vueling to A Coruna.

It was January 5th, the evening before the Three Kings. By the time we got into the city the parade was over but the streets were crammed. We left our rucksacks in the excellent Hostal Mara and went for a wander.

It was incredibly mild. We sat outside of ‘El Rey de Jamon’ drinking albarino, eating soft blue sheeps cheese and jamon. This week was going to be such a good Epiphany present.

A little earlier in another bar we were recommended empanada de pulpo. This was not a hit.


Our paseo took us to the Church of Santiago, the start of the Camino on the Coruna leg. I asked the Saint’s blessing and protection, along of course with Our Lady.

A room at the front above the street meant noise. I was excited to get going. We were up early. Fortified by cafe con leche y churros we made our way to the Bus Station and caught the first bus to Ferrol.

The early start after the festival meant it smelt like a proper Midnight Mass congregation. One of the passengers spent the journey doing a good impression of the Laughing Policeman.

At 9.30 we were off the bus. We had a first sello in our credencials and made our first steps through Ferrol …


I’m lucky enough to have a few weeks of Study Leave early next year which will fall into two parts. There  will be a pilgrimage and retreat with a group of friends to Santiago for a week or so.

During the rest of the time I will be doing some reading and thinking and writing about the Spanish Carmelite Mystics – Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross – specifically looking at why they speak to me so much in my context as a parish priest in urban areas of deprivation.

Can anyone suggest anything I ought to read around this?  There are obviously the works of John and Teresa.  Ken Leech and Rowan Williams have touched on this.  I really enjoy Peter Tyler’s books on the Carmelites.  Anyone else?  Particularly any women’s perspectives?

If anyone has any thoughts, comments or suggestions, I would be extremely grateful.

roads to santiago

I’ve just finished reading Cees Nooteboom’s wonderful Roads to Santiago.  This is a stunning book. Read it if you love Spain, love pilgrimage, love reading, love life.  It is not a guide to the Camino de Santiago and it is not an account of a straightforward pilgrimage.  But it is such a deep exploration of the Camino and Spain and pilgrimage.

Here’s a flavour:

“Introspection – could it be that you turn further and further inward so that, even if the roads lead south or west, you feel as if you are plumbing the depths of a country’s soul, and that you will find something there that you will never find anywhere else, however widely you travel?  This affair spans forty years and, along with writing, it is the most constant feature of my life.  And it is physical, too: a year without the emptiness of this land, without the colours of the earth and the rocks is a year lost.

“Ten years ago I resolved to drive to Santiago, and so, eventually, I did – not once but several times – but because I had not written about it, I still hadn’t really been there.  There was always something else that needed thinking or writing about, a landscape, a road, a monastery, a writer or a painter, and yet it seemed as if all those landscapes, all those stories of Moors and kings and pilgrims, all my own memories as well as the written memoirs of others pointed steadily in the same direction, to the place where Spain and oceanic west come together, to the city which, in all its Galician aloofness, is the true capital of Spain.”