As someone already with a love of walking you may have already been aware of and caught BBC2’s recent programme “Pilgrimage – The Road to Santiago”. If not, don’t despair it can still be caught on BBC iplayer and it’s worth a watch as it may inspire you to give it a go. The show follows celebrities such as Neil Morrisey, Debbie McGee and Heather Small as they attempt parts of the 500-mile pilgrimage from St Jean Pied De Port in France to Santiago in Northern Spain.
Regular Nordic walker Julie has walked parts of the Camino and is going back to finish it this year – we asked her about her thoughts on the show and what it’s really like.
I must admit when I first heard about it my thoughts were not positive ones and I thought “not another celebrity reality show” and “why can’t they leave the Camino alone.”
However, on watching it, I was pleasantly surprised, and I didn’t automatically dislike all the celebrities! Instead, due to the magic of the Camino, it actually drew out their personalities as they coped with the trials and tribulations of walking mile after mile, day after day with all their belongings on their back. (Although to be fair they only did 15 days when it’s actually 35 – but still an amazing achievement for the unaccomplished walker)
So was the show true to life?
Well, I would say yes. To the novice who had never done this before, the first day on the Camino was as much of a shock to me as it was the celebrities. Day one, and with the sun beating down and the climb out of St Jean up the first mountain (1450m high) I remember thinking “oh my god what have I done” and had to count steps up to 10 and rest over and over again – it was that steep and that hot. Thankfully, I had my poles (I don’t know how people do it without them) and we had also chosen, like the celebrities to stop at the Orisson refuge about half way up.
This is an experience not to be missed – although it’s almost a rite of passage/bragging point to go up and over the mountain in one day, that would mean to miss out on one of the best experiences I have ever had. Sitting sipping Sangria, discussing the climb with virtual strangers (soon to be friends) while eagles soar around you and later a double rainbow forms over the mountains is something I will never forget. The group meal shown on the show was also not just for the cameras. I can confirm it happens every night at the Orisson, and it brings every nationality together as you introduce yourself to fellow walkers from around the world – some of whom you will end up walking with for days and some I am still friends with now and plan to visit at some point.
The show also touched on the bonding and camaraderie between the celebrities as well as other walkers – you experience it in your Nordic Walking Groups, but this is magnified on a global scale! Rucksack wearers draw other rucksack wearers to them like magnets, and soon, as shown on the show with Debbie McGee, you find yourself sharing stories with strangers in a way that you don’t with people at home. Why? I don’t know exactly, but it’s very liberating, and miles pass quickly when you are sharing life stories with people from different backgrounds from all over the world. Of course, it’s not all serious, and I recall having a long conversation with an American guy over British comedy and in particular the merits of Black Adder!!
So, what about the actual walking?
Well to anyone setting off, yes, of course it sounds daunting knowing you will be walking anything up to 19 miles that day over hills or across the Meseta – but to be honest you don’t really worry about it too much. Every day is a new challenge and experience of what you will see and who will you talk to. You just get up early and put keep putting one foot in front of the other (and importantly focus on the next coffee stop – there are many!!).
There are days where you feel you can carry on walking forever and others where you feel you can’t walk another step and you are praying for the next town to be in sight soon (another tip – the signs lie, I’m sure 1km in Spain actually means 3 miles in English). But at the end of the day, your fellow pilgrims get you through, whether that is talking you down the mountain when you are struggling on your first day or paddling in the stream together at the end of a long day with a bottle of wine to hand!!
It’s hard to put down in words, and it may be just me, but the comradeship on the Camino makes all the difference between an amazing experience I wish to repeat over and over and just going for a very long walk. Hopefully, the TV programme will inspire others to do the same.