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Three Days Before We Go

So, we are off on our pilgrimage to Santiago on Tuesday. At about 8am we will close our door in Villereal and head off via Biron Castle to our first destination. It will take four days and then we will reach the pilgrim path (one of four in France). We have a tough few days to start since finding places to stay on our route was tricky so think of me this first week.

On Monday night, I am deleting all my social media apps, my email alerts, and all my notifications on my phone. My phone will become that old-fashioned thing called a phone which I will use in emergencies to speak to someone. And alas, I have had to take my tablet out of my bag because it was simply too heavy. This means there will be no blogging while I am away. At first, I was very disappointed but then I realised that I had been creating a pressure for myself which just didn’t need to be there. If you want to know how my adventure is going, have a look at my Justgiving Page once a week where I will post very short updates and a few photos.

I have had a wonderful summer this year. Very different to the last few here in France since this year we have been focussed on preparation both mental and physical. We have had a few visitors including the last week spent with my cousin and her family which was very special, but otherwise I have been teaching lots to make up for my absence and we have been walking. We have covered lots of (beautiful) terrain in the Lot-et-Garonne and the Dordogne, reduced our backpack weight, worked out what we really do need and what we don’t, and got a sense of how it feels walking 30 km up and down in the heat and in the rain. None of it can truly prepare us for how it will actually be to get up day after day and walk, but at least we have a few ideas. And otherwise I think the most important thing for me is that I am open to whatever this adventure will bring us.

Thank you for all your support so far. As I write, we have raised £2646.31 from 65 donations for the ME Association. My initial target was £500 which I quickly put up to £2000. I am delighted to have exceeded this second target before we have even left. Please keep donating. I have also been touched by the comments on my Justgiving Page, on Facebook and from real people, face to face or via letters and phones. People seem to have understood something of the significance of this journey for us and that support has been so valuable and very inspiring for me. I have been particularly happy to see that ME sufferers who have found my project via the ME Association have felt encouraged by my story. I didn’t know anyone who either had had ME or who had got better when I was ill so I am pleased that some other people will know that not only can they get better but they can also set off on a 1340 km walk with everything they need on their back.

I had planned to do lots of reading about the Camino before I left but I didn’t. Alex has read quite a lot of history about it, I have read a travel guide, a food guide, an account of a medieval pilgrimage and a sequence of prose-poems about it. All have inspired me, all tell completely different stories.

Here are a few snippets from my readings:

1. A history of the Camino in one paragraph.

The remains of St James were discovered in 814 in what is now Santiago. They were blessed and King Alfonso started to build a church around them. It didn’t really matter that James had been beheaded in Jerusalem in AD44 and had probably never been to Spain. Legend now has it that James had been evangelising in Spain during his life time and saving lives there after his death; his remains came across the waters from the Middle East in a ship without a sail, in a ship without a sail made of stone no less. Alfonso encouraged the creation of a pilgrim route to Santiago since it strengthened his kingdom and so monasteries were set up along the way to house the travellers and protect the land. In the Middle Ages, doing a pilgrimage was a way to guarantee you eternal life so up to half a million made the journey each year.

2. Three women pilgrims.

The Wife of Bath did the Camino, even if she was a fictional creation of Chaucer. I still love her for all her faults and her non-existence. She doesn’t talk about it herself but the General Prologue tells us that:

…thries hadde she been at Jerusalem; She hadde passed many a straunge strem; At Rome she hadde been, and at Boloigne, In Galice at Seint-Jame, and at Coloigne. She koude muchel of wandrynge by the weye.

Margory Kempe, a real person – a religious scholar and writer - went in 1416 by boat and stayed in the city for 2 weeks. Although she wrote at length about her many other pilgrimages elsewhere, she doesn’t actually say anything about her time in Santiago other than “ther had sche gret cher, bothyn bodily and gostly, hy devocyon, and many gret cryes in the mende of owr Lordys Passion, wyth plentyuows terys of compassyon.”

Finally Anne Carson, the Canadian writer, went and wrote an exquisite sequence of pieces about her journey called “The Anthropology of Water.” I could quote much from her sequence but I am choosing this line: “It takes a long time to arrive from not very far away.”

Thank you for reading this and see you 1340km and a pilgrimage later.

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