LOS CAMINOS DEL NORTE
Church of Santullano de los Prados, Oviedo
A few thoughts for those contemplating the journey.
The notes below were first written in the year 2000, luckily things are gradually altering and they do not accurately reflect the situation today. I am leaving them unaltered however as the improvements are not uniform over all the routes and there may well be sections where my warnings still apply.
One thing that still does stay the same is the conflict between altering the route to make it simpler to follow and trying to keep it as historically correct as possible. Just enjoy it, it's getting better all the time.
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If you have visions of a gentle walk along the edge of the beach, always staying within sight of the sea. If you think you will be using a well defined route, without the exertions necessary for overcoming the hills encountered on the Camino FrancÚs then these routes along the coast are not for you. They are equally hard.
The routes do have historical validity, there is an increasing awareness of their existence, many of the regions are seriously trying to promote their use and they have much to offer to those pilgrims who are looking perhaps for an alternative route for their second visit to Santiago.
The early pilgrims themselves did not create the roads which they used to reach Santiago, they simply made use of those parts of the existing communications network which suited their purpose, following the various through routes which went between the different centres of population. At the present time, because alternative routes have often been created or because there have been shifts in emphasis in land usage many of the tracks which formed the Camino are no longer used as through routes.
Today the principal use of much of the old Camino is to give the local farmers access to their land. This means that as it leaves a village or hard surfaced road it will , initially be quite a well defined track, pleasant to use and relatively easy walking; as it gets farther from the village however it will gradually deteriorate because the rate at which the traffic on it is diminishing is directly related to the number of fields which still need to be reached and serviced from that particular village.
On many of the sections of the Camino, usually at about the mid point between two villages, because it is no longer used as a through route, a short section will be found where the track is so overgrown that it is almost impassable or at least very difficult to negotiate, escape into one of the fields alongside is often the only way to make progress. If the mid point is in a wooded section there may be mud, fallen trees, brambles, nettles, gorse and overgrown bushes to overcome.
Because much of the original Camino has fallen into disuse in this way or has been interrupted by more recent road or rail building schemes the various groups who are trying to rekindle an interest in the old ways are faced with a dilemma. Should they still try and promote the use of the original and probably more satisfying route even though it may include some quite difficult sections, in the hope that usage will ensure its survival? Would it be better to suggest an alternative which follows the spirit of the journey as closely as possible but makes it easier for the present day pilgrim, probably heavily laden, to complete the journey? This second alternative will of necessity increase the amount of road walking on a route which already has enough of this, as well as ensuring that even more sections of the Camino will disappear for good. (The presence of clear and precise yellow arrow markings at the start of a section of the route does not guarantee an easy passage through that section, however clear and well defined the track appears to be at the start).
Accommodation along the route can also be a problem, especially where it leaves the sea and passes through the rather more sparsely populated areas which lies between the coast and the Camino FrancÚs. The summer season along the coast is quite short and very well defined, many of the campsites for example closing down completely at the end of August. At the height of the season, near popular places such as Llanes or Cudillero it can be very difficult to obtain a room and some form of tent or bivvi bag can be a godsend.
You must be prepared for the fact that all the way along the coast, apart from a few very enthusiastic groups devoted to promoting the Camino who exist at various points, most of the population, both locals and visitors, will be unused to the passage of pilgrims, you will be a very rare specimen indeed. Often it will take a fair amount of imagination and perseverance to obtain a sello.
These notes have not been produced with the aim of discouraging use of the Northern Routes, they have so much to offer, but simply to try and make sure you have an adequate knowledge of what it involves. If this is your first journey to Santiago I would suggest that this is not for you, you would be missing so much, which the more usual Camino FrancÚs has to offer.
If this is for you, " Buen Viaje", I wouldn't have missed it for worlds.
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© Eric Walker
Last edited: 2/04/2015