I walked from Paris to Santiago in 1998 and I wrote this book to share my experience so that intending pilgrims could get a sense of what it is like. Of course everyone's pilgrimage is a unique journey but there are some constants that modern pilgrims share with those who have walked this path in the past hundreds of years. Feet are still feet; blisters still need attention; bones will ache. Pilgrims are subject to the vagaries of the weather. They need food and shelter.
Since I travelled the camino the volume of pilgrim traffic has grown enormously. There are more refuges along the route but at times the demand for a bunk can outstrip supply. The technological revolution has gathered pace this century and electronic communication devices are commonplace so many pilgrims can now phone ahead to book a night's accommodation. Refuge wardens are helpful in this regard. There are more services for transporting backpacks and sometimes pilgrims need to avail themselves of this facility. I wonder what the medieval pilgrims would think of their successors.
In 1998 I walked from Paris to Santiago de Compostela. This pilgrimage dates from the middle ages and has become more popular in the last thirty years. The main pilgrim route through northern Spain- el camino frances- caters to the ever growing number of pilgrims with hostels and refuges in the.major centres and in small villages. There is no particular starting point. Some Europeans simply walk from their homes in Holland or Switzerland or even further afield. Some years earlier I had read a single sentence: “Every year pilgrims meet at the church of St James in Paris and walk from there to Santiago, stopping at convents and monasteries along the way.” (That church was destroyed during the French Revolution- only the tower remains!) That sentence inspired me to start from Paris and I walked south about a thousand kilometers to the Spanish border. I met few pilgrims in France but that changed quite suddenly as I approached Spain. A floating community developed as we headed west, meeting new people each day and seeing many who were proceeding at a similar pace.
There have been changes in recent years. The volume of pilgrim traffic has increased but so has the number of refuges. Some things will always be the same- the vagaries of weather, the aches and pains and strains of long distance walking, the camaraderie that develops among people sharing the same journey.
I kept a diary for the 105 days I walked the pilgrim route and then I edited them and self published them in 2001 under the imprint of Cranleigh House. When my stock was exhausted I put the book on lulu.com which now sells it as a printed paperback or as an electronic download. The lulu version enabled me to make some minor (mostly typographical) corrections, but the originally coloured photos were reproduced in black and white.
I’m gratified to find that the book still sells, mainly by word of mouth as it has had virtually no publicity apart from some early reviews in Australian Catholic outlets.
The book is now available from www.lulu.com either as a download (US$5.50) or print copy (US$14.84 plus postage) to order from www.lulu.com simply enterauthor’s name and book title or order number 309709. The lulu editions are also available from distributors such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
About Mary WilkieI was born in London in 1939 and lived through the war there toting my Mickey Mouse gas mask to school and collecting shrapnel after air raids. After a couple of years at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Willesden I went to St Augustine’s Priory in Ealing. From there I went on to study sociology at the London School of Economics and in 1966 began PhD studies at the University of Wisconsin. In 1962 I went to Bolivia as a volunteer and then spent seven years in Latin America ( Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay). Despite youthful idealism I failed to save the world and became an academic instead. After a brief period at the University of Guelph in Canada I was appointed to the University of New England in Armidale, NSW in 1973. I retired from the university in 1996 and have remained in Armidale. I have four children. The third of my now fourteen grandchildren was born in 1998 as I was going through Pamplona. Since retirement I have written some fiction and have a finished novel searching for a publisher. I play chess enthusiastically, but not well. I still hope to get better at it. I’m still a practicing Catholic. Sometimes I wonder why I am but I want to stick with it. It’s a bit like the pilgrimage…