Where we follow the scallop shells to the field of stars
This weekend my friend Steff and I embark on what we hope will be a grand adventure (that’s certainly how we’ve planned it). We’re off to Spain via France to walk the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St James. The Camino is a popular and long established pilgrim route through northern Spain and, depending on your choice of start point, France, Switzerland, Germany or really anywhere in Europe. People have walked the Way for over 1000 years and its long history has seen it designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The route we will be taking through Spain is the most popular, known as the Camino Frances due to its common starting point on the French side of the Pyrenees in St Jean Pied de Port. The Camino finishes in Santiago de Compostela, resting place of the apostle St James. The 780 (ish) kms from St Jean to Santiago are waymarked with images of scallop shells, a symbol traditionally associated with St James. And the field of stars in the post title is one of the possible meanings of Compostela (Campus Stellae) in Latin.
I first heard about the Camino over ten years ago in one of the Medieval History classes I took at the University of Queensland. My favourite history professor filled one of those end-of-semester classes with a slideshow (I’m not that old – slides were a little dated even then) documenting his walk along the Camino. It seemed like such a fantastic idea to just take some time and follow in a millennia worth of footsteps. And luckily a few years ago I had a flatmate who also thought that spending five or six weeks walking across Europe was an excellent idea. So, after years of talking about how great it would be – we’re finally going.
I found this waymark outside of Chartres Cathedral last year and it is similar to the ones we will find along the Way. It was exciting to stand outside the Cathedral and think that some hardy pilgrims must walk past this symbol on their journey south to the French border before crossing the Pyrenees into Spain heading for Santiago. It made me realise how much closer I was to the Camino now that I live in London and that I would definitely have to get myself to St Jean and start walking one day soon.
I’m hoping to blog our trip across Spain although that will be dependant on computer and internet access but mostly I’m looking forward to walking through the villages and towns, seeing more of Spain and, of course, having an awesome time.