So you wanna be a rambler
Updated: Jul 7, 2018
“I’m going to walk the Camino de Santiago” you say. “Ah, but which camino?” the initiated will reply. For they know there is not One Camino but many caminos; a plethora of paths winding their way across the continent to converge on the Compostella. A thousand tracks trodden since time immemorial by the legions of the faithful, by those in search of meaning and - lately - a cheap holiday.
With just over a week to go till C-Day - and realising that rising pre-dawn to beat the clinically insane to a bed next hostel is simply not going to happen - I’ve decided against the increasingly crowded Camino Francés in favour of the Camino del Norte. This rugged variant hugs Spain’s north coast, winding up green hill and down verdant dale, through the Basque Country and Cantabria to Asturias. I’m planning to start from St Jean de Luz across the French border as it’s a mere stroll of a starter at just 14 km. Where I wind up will depend on how far my little legs can carry me in a week to 10 days (hopefully as far as Bilbao where I can collapse onto a train home).
While the ‘vegan revolution’ probably hasn’t washed up on Cantabrian shores yet, the Norte does take in fashionable San Sebastian where an impressive number of veggie eateries are listed online. In the interests of scientific rigour and drive-by gluttony, I shall attempt to visit as many as I can while I’m there.
It’s grim up north
Apart from scoffing the vegan ice-cream, however, the Norte itself is not to be scoffed at. There’s a good reason this road is less-travelled: a reputation for long, challenging days (due to the aforementioned hills). And then there’s the weather. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, is it? Whoever came up with that was clearly proficient in tongue-twisters but woefully deficient in the basics of meteorology. Like everywhere else, the rain in Spain falls mainly on the coast and the higher ground, which should bode well for a walking route that heavily features both. To make matters worse, in true Spanish fashion April has finally arrived, two months late. The land is green and pleasant, but how pleasant will it be when those raindrops keep falling on my head, and down my neck, damping my boots, backpack and morale? Luckily I cut a Clint-like dash in my rain poncho and thousand-yard stare. And if not the Man with No Name, then maybe I’ll be mistaken for an ancient mariner fallen on hard times and be taken in by kindly fisherfolk.
The Camino holds even greater horrors than the heavens, however. In the interests not overloading my middle-aged frame, I’ve decided I’m going to have to do without non-essentials like make up, conditioner or retouching my roots for the duration. In order to prepare myself psychologically I have been experimenting with this new look (grey is not the new black, let me tell you right now). To prepare myself physically, I’ve been walking in the rain and with wet feet (this not by choice). So if you happen to spot a big-haired, bedraggled, pin-eyed silver tabby limping by, fear not, it’s just me in training.