Practical Pilgrimage on the Camino Frances in Northern Spain.
If you are thinking of undertaking a pilgrimage yourself then here are some hints that might help. Click to download a powerpoint
Walk the Camino - with Tour company
Much more do-able than it might first appear.
Average health and fitness is sufficient and equipment required is readily abailable.
There are a large number of Hostals (Refugio, Auberge) providing dormitory style accommodation and basic washing facilities for Pilgrims. No booking required. But also plenty of private B&Bs or Rooms for rent. So just a sleeping bag required.
Do you want to organise a group of 12-24 people?
Probably best to talk to a tour company who will be flexible. We used Tours For Churches and found them very helpful. If you want to walk the whole way they will arrange coaches and flights from home to your starting point(s) and the return trip too. They arranged our first night's accommodation and then left us to our own devices as we requested. www.toursforchurches.co.uk
Ten days would be sufficient for travelling to Spain and back and walking 100 - 165 km at your own pace, giving you a day in Santiago de Compostela itself.
Walk the Camino - DIY
For a smaller group - or just an individual it is quite easy to go it alone. Using public transport you can get to a UK airport by flight bus and fly budget airline to Santiago or La Caruna or even Bayonne or Bilbao and pick up bus or train to your start point. Or Paris, Le Puy, Tours....
The accommodation is plentiful right across Spain on the Camino Frances. To access the Pilgrim Hostals you will need a "Credencial" a card passport that proves where you come from and that you are walking, cycling or riding the whole way as a pilgrim. These are availaible from larger Hostals but also via the UK Confraternity of St James in London.
This organization promotes the Camino and produces an invaluable booklet each year with details of food, facilities and accommodation in each town or village as well as helpful guidelines for the route - distances, terrain, alternatives etc. You can join as a member and access their very helpful website. www.csj.org.uk
If you are walking the golden rule is "travel light". You will need a waterproof layer - jacket and overtrousers or a Poncho which covers your rucksac as well. A hat and gloves. Sturdy comfortable footwear. A change of clothing - you can wash them each evening and hope they dry! You may like a walking pole. Take a sleeping bag - but make it a backpackers one, as small as possible. A small first aid kit and, if you must (though it takes away some of the challenge) a mobile phone.
The best advice I had was to get a 25L daysack and limit your equipment to what you can fit in that. You'll thank me later! Be obsessive about weight saving - no wrappers or boxes (some people even cut off half the toothbrush handle!) and use the smallest of everything. you can always buy another en route. One billycan or metal mug will suffice to make a hot drink or instant meal in extremis (refuges sometimes have facilitiers). And don't forget to carry enough water and keep drinking as you walk.
If there is a Bar or a fountain or a shop - use it then and there. Don't carry out.