THURSDAY, 2ND SEPTEMBER 2010
Brendan’s trek raised sponsorship of €16,000, which will benefit CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young). Here he gives an account of his journey.
The Camino Ingles, The Way of St. James, has been a pilgrimage route for 1,000 years, since pilgrims began walking this Camino ~ from Ferrol in Northern Galicia to Santiago de Compostela. The route began when English and Irish pilgrims could not walk through France
during the 100 years war and so sailed to Curuxeiras Docks at Ferrol, the nearest port to Ireland.
It was from here that my journey began on July 17th. The Camino walk was to mark the 4th
anniversary of our son Conor, who at 32 had died of (Sudden Cardiac Death) on July 25th 2006.
Holy Year was to be celebrated in Santiago on July 25th, the same day as Conor’s anniversary; and at a family dinner we decided that, in addition to the walk, we would raise sponsorship for CRY.
A lot of research was put into the route. Maps, boots, socks, a 26 litre pack etc. were acquired. I
began to walk 10k at 6a.m. each morning with the 10kg pack, made up with two house bricks wrapped in a tea towel. My weight began to drop and despite an injury in June, which slowed things up, on July 16th I flew to Spain, feeling a lot lighter and ready to go. The next morning I left Ferrol to begin the walk.
Day 1 – Ferrol to Pontedeume
I began to walk at 7.am. with three Swiss/German ladies. Krtstina, a botanist, spoke fluent
English and we marvelled at the heady smell of sage, oregano and wild mint growing as high and as profuse as nettles by the roadside. The ladies stopped in Neda. Fene was my fist stop. I planned to get my credential (Camino passport) stamped with a sello there. The town’s sole occupant was a scrawny cat with heat stroke, sat in the middle of the main street. Everywhere was closed including the church – so no sella Summer hibernation. I half thought Antonio Banderas was going to walk onto the street and challenge me to a gunfight. The temperature hit 35c and the route got tough as it went up rough steep mountain tracks washed out by recent rains. The 10kg backpack weighed a tonne (they’re metric in Spain), but the only way was up. I had seen no sign of a soul for three hours and I to me that if I fell, I would never be found. I was struggling and was low on water when the phone rang. “Granddad this is Alice, we are very proud of you”. Alice is my 4 year old granddaughter .She then put her sister Lucy, who is 17 months. I heard my son Fintan whisper: “Where’s Granddad Lulu?” “Gone walking” the tiny voice said. It was better than 2 litres of water. I walked on for a further gruelling 8 hours. When I dragged myself across the medieval bridge into Pontedeume I was exhausted. I had a cold bath, dinner and packed for the morning. I was asleep at 9 pm. The mantra of the Camino is: Walk, Eat and Sleep!
Day 2 – Pontedeume to Betanzos, 22 km
Bright sunshine. No aches or pains, I really felt great. I got Mass and my sello from the priest. Everyone called out ‘Buen Camino’ as I walked past. The 10km walk to the beautiful town of Mino, overlooking Betanzos estuary, was fine. As I passed two ladies, who were having lunch outside their traditional house, called me. Esta indo na direcci6n incorrecta’. Direction and incorrecta are the same in any language, I had taken a wrong turn. They were Magdalena and Carmen and in no time I was drinking a glass of red wine and eating lunch Serrano ham, cheese, sweet tomatoes and black olives had materialised. We spoke in Spanish/Galiego for a time until they revealed they worked in London for years and so had perfect English. The impromptu lunch went on for 30 minutes but then I had to leave. Kisses on both cheeks saw me off. I crossed the riverbed at O Porco and despite being on tarmac the hills were steeper than yesterday. The heat was rising from the ground and it was like walking on a griddle. My pack was giving me balance but at one point I stood up too quickly and almost toppled backwards. Then my phone rang – “Granddad Brendan are you on top of a mountain’?” It was my 4 year-old grandson Cian who must be psychic. “Yes Cian I am. I just climbed a 500 metre mountain”. His sister Niamh, who is 2 came on and told me she had a new teddy. Cian summarised “Granddad will I tell you something – what? (prompt from the wings) – oh yeah! We’re all proud of you – byeee”. There was a palpable sense of achievement and relief when after 24km I marched through the Pont Velia and up into the medieval town of Betanzos. The tourist office had a bed in a barn booked for me in Viones for the next night. No one knew where it was and I had dropped some of my maps on the way, so tomorrow would be full of surprises.
Day 3 – Bethanzos to Viones, 17Km or thereabouts
7.15 am. I left for Viones. I crossed the bridge at Liminon meandering uphill through trees from there. I passed the beautiful old San Tome de Vilacoba. The Camino way marking (a scallop shell points the way) is very good. Some helpful locals paint yellow arrows in electricity poles and even on the road when there is any doubt about the way forward. Nothing much was moving in the heat, even the flies were staying indoors. I had walked 21km and I knew Viones could not be too far. I came to a fountain with fresh, clean and very cold water and spoke with a local man. It was from him that I learned villages have more than one name and next stop Vizofio was indeed the ‘lost village’ of Viones. However hope turned to despair – the barn was full. Plan B. I called Antonio at my stop in Meson do Vento to collect me at the bottom of an infamous hill 5km further on. He would drive me back next day to complete the walk. His father checked me in with a litre of ice cold draught Estrella. Dinner at 8 was with the family. Madre had prepared pulpo – octopus tentacles. Delicious – honest, I will be demanding them at home all the time now! No packing – I was going back uphill the next day Bliss. I slept the sleep of the just or something akin to it.
Day 4 – Climb Every Mountain
After breakfast of hot black coffee, glazed donuts with custard in the middle (some diet), Antonio dropped me at the bottom of the hill. It was steep but manageable. Halfway up an old lady leaning over a gate shouted ‘Buen Camino Senor’ and then gave a raucous Woodbine laugh. I took the laugh to mean “You nut case”. I strolled down to Hospital de Bruma where there is a beautiful renovated auberge built beside a fast flowing stream and, as the name suggests, it was a hospital for pilgrims going back 1,000 years. I walked to Meson do Vento and – my family and friends will laugh – I had to force myself to eat or I wouldn’t have had the energy to walk. The sun was still high in the sky when the wind rose. It bent the eucalyptus trees double. Meson do Vento means ‘House of the Wind’. I drifted off to sleep to the sound of wind whistling through the trees. I dreamed tomorrow would be cool and all downhill.
Day 5 – Meson do Vento to Ordes
Antonio took my photo for the record and I was off before 7a.m. Dreams do come true -all downhill now and the temperature had dropped to a mere 28c. The view was magnificent. Fields of corn, as high as the proverbial elephant’s eye, rolled out before me. Pine and eucalyptus trees lined the horizon. The road meandered in a long ochre ribbon in front of me for miles. It was the first opportunity I had to reflect on what I was doing here. My son Brian had loaded some of Conor’s music on to my iPod. It began with Bob Dylan’s nasal tones singing Forever Young.
May God bless and keep you always / May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others / And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars /And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young / May you stay forever young
This verse is on Conor’s headstone. It’s how we will always remember him – Forever Young,
I walked to Ordes listening to Conor’s eclectic mix on the iPod: Ron Sexsmith, The Beatles, The
Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Simon and Garfunkel, Nina Simone, Kris Kristofferson, The Eagles.
The day got hotter, 38 degrees – I didn’t mind. When I arrived in Ordes I bought some fruit for
lunch – two peaches, two bananas, a bag of cherries and strawberries – all for 1.37 ! Every cloud
Day 6 – Ordes to Marantes, 20km
Ordes was sleeping as I left at 7 am. Local people had no idea where they were on a map but then I was the one who was lost. No one seemed to know where the Camino was so I trusted in my sense of direction. I was not really lost, I just didn’t know where I was there is a subtle difference After an hour of rambling I came to a Camino way mark shell and I was on my way. I had a text from my sister Rhona saying “Enjoy coffee at Buscas”. I was puzzled how she knew where I was. Then I realized she was tracking me on a map. I turned the corner and there was the coffee shop in Buscas. Coffee, a bottle of ice cold water, double expresso for pep, served with 2 slices of lemon cake and biscuits – 3.80. The double expresso made walking effortless. It was a case of enjoying it and the wonderful scenery, not unlike Ireland, except every square centimetre was planted even by the margins and the hard shoulder on the roads. I reached Sigueiro and walked on to stay in a small hotel in Marantes, 10km from Santiago. The owner was a kind, gentle spoken man who sat with me while I had a beer. I had learned enough Gallego
to relate what I was doing and why. Goosebumps rose on his arms when he heard how the
date of Conor’s anniversary coincided with the feast day of St. James. He said “It’s not a coincidence Senor, this was meant to be”. I asked about dinner “Fish?”, he said. Excellent.
When I came down there was one place set. The waitress, an elegant elderly lady, who looked
about 85, had dressed up in all her jewellery and make-up and she served a home – cooked spread. She was gracious and served without haste. Each time I thanked her she replied ‘A usted Senor.” “And the same to you Sir”. Her genteel manner was wonderful. I discovered the following morning, when I asked to leave a tip for her, that the hotel did not do dinner but the manager had arranged for his elderly mother to come in and cook. Galecian hospitality.
Day 7 – Marantes to Santiago, 12km
I’m back safe and sound. The people of Galicia were outstanding in their welcome. It was a wonderful and worthwhile experience. Another milestone for all our family In the process 16,000 has been raised in sponsorship for CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young). This was done by family, friends and neighbours who filled sponsorship cards, by personal donations – big and small from a wide variety of people and by businesses and companies who made contributions to the fund. A sincere thanks to all for your generosity. Many people helped me walk the Camino. On Sunday in Santiago, as promised, I remembered all of you. I walked the Camino and though I was alone in the physical sense there were many, many people, family, friends, neighbours and sponsors and our son Conor, who had walked with me. Deus bendiga a todos. God bless you all