Ash Barker (53) has walked the Camino Portuguese, completed four St Cuthbert’s Way pilgrimages (Scottish borderlands to Holy Island) and completed the Jesus Trail (Nazareth to Capurniam, Holy Land).
Here he takes five with Great Walks and offers some sound advice for anyone wanting to take on a pilgrim walk.
GRW: How much preparation and training did you did do prior to your walks?
I was very unfit before I started preparing for the Camino. I had a three month sabbatical and so built up to walk 20km a day so that my final two weeks of the Camino itself were not too painful! I did get fitter as I walked the Camino itself, however!
GRW: A lot of people find the long hours of daily walking gives them time to reflect on their lives. Did you find that?
Yes, I found a kind of re-booting. It took a little time to let go of the ‘monkey mind’ but found a peaceful place and became more aware. Came back with convictions to focus on five priorities in my life.
GRW: A lot of people talk about the camaraderie of other walkers. How did you find it?
Yes, I did it in the winter, so it wasn’t as full of other Pilgrims. Still I met some wonderful and interesting people, especially toward the end.
Diary entry: “Day 8: Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis (22km). Blue sky walking all day, but no cafe or shops for food open until I reached Caldas de Reis late afternoon. Met a few fellow pilgrims today, including Gill, a tour guide from the Highlands in Scotland. She is writing a book about Celtic saint inspired pilgrimages in Scotland and has climbed all 282 Munros (mountains) in Scotland! Last two hours flew by as we swapped stories and then went our separate ways. I booked an accommodation special on bookings.com, but I’m afraid it’s more a motel that can be paid for by the hour. Still I have my own private room with a big bath, towels, bedding and breakfast, all for €15. Tomorrow is my last night in an alburgue before I hit Santiago on Wednesday.”
GRW: What footwear did you have on your Camino and did you have to deal with blisters etc?
I wore Keen low-rise walking shoes. They are extra wide for my fat feet! I also had diverse Marino hiking socks. I wore flip flops at night. I didn’t have any blisters.
GRW: What advice would you offer someone planning to walk a Camino?
Be open to the experience, travel light as you can. I am sure I missed some profound moments stuck in my head! Make sure you also go to Finnestre, even if it’s on a bus! Also download The Wise Pilgrim app. It was so helpful and took a lot of extra stress out of it.