My husband, the pilgrim, returned from a long walk of 863 kilometers across northern Spain. He walked westward from the Spanish-French border to the Atlantic Ocean. He followed the Camino De Santiago (the Way of St. James), a pilgrimage that has been walked by thousands before him since medieval times.
This was his trip, not mine, so I cannot write about its spiritual significance or the physical endurance required to make the trip. That is his story to tell, or not, in his own time. What I can relay are snippets of experiences and sights that he shared with me along the way.
The first day was the hardest. It was an uphill climb through ankle-deep mud in the pouring rain and winds that blew horizontally along the path. He told me that there were crosses and makeshift memorials covered in stones marking the places where pilgrims had started and ended their walks.
On his way from Roncesvalles to Burguete, he walked through the Sorginaritzaga Forest. Before entering, he came across a sign written in four languages. The caption read “Brujería” or “Witchcraft.”
The Sorginaritzaga forest, whose meaning is “oakwood of witches,” was where some of the most well-known witches’ covens of the XVI century were held, …
As he walked through the forest, he came across the White Cross placed there to protect the pilgrims from witches.
Despite this ominous beginning, he found time to send me photos of the countryside and of sheep grazing in the fields. He spotted this flock of sheep near the Basque town of Zubiri.
He told me these were Manech sheep. They are black-faced free roaming sheep known for their milk and from which “ossau-iraty” cheese is made.
He even snapped photos of some of the yarn stores he happened to spot in the towns he came across. Mercería Nhilos is in Nájera; Lanas Lany in León.
Along the way, pilgrims stay in albergues. The albergues provide a bed and usually a meal, sometimes a community dinner or a light breakfast. Curfews are strict so as not to disturb the weary pilgrims. The bunk beds shown below are in a pilgrim’s shelter attached to a local church in Belorado. The albergue was run by German nuns. The bed was free although a contribution of 5€ to the nun’s fund was recommended.
Another albergue was at St. Mary’s Nunnery in the city of Carrión de los Condes. According to my husband, one nun will tend to your feet with an extensive first aid kit and all the patience in the world. That evening, they held a pilgrim’s mass with a blessing of the feet followed by a community dinner and some singing and entertainment for the weary travelers. The following day would consist of a brutal 20-mile walk in desert-like conditions.
Within 58 kilometers of Santiago de Compostela, my pilgrim made it up the side of a mountain in the province of Galicia where this stone marker is located.
This albergue was situated near Itero de la Vega in a medieval structure run by an Italian religious fraternity. The simple refuge had no electricity, only candles to light the way.
In Burgos, he had a clear view of the magnificent cathedral.
Halfway between León and Santiago de Compostela, he stayed in the town of Vega de Valcarce, population 800. It was there he spotted this statue of an old woman knitting.
From Ezcaray, arriving precisely on my birthday, he shipped this exquisite blanket woven with 73% mohair and 27% wool from Mantas Ezcaray.
When he returned – a little sunburned, a bit achy – he came bearing gifts. For the boys, beautiful picture books about the Camino de Santiago and a myriad of stories, both funny and painful. For me, this book, Tejeduría Tradicional Galicia, or roughly translated, Traditional Weaving of Galicia. To complement this gift came a bookmarker knit by a local artisan made from a linen yarn spun from locally cultivated flax.
We hope our boys make this journey some day. Perhaps my pilgrim and I will travel it together.