Camino Francés – Logroño to Burgos

I was waiting outside the Bilbao Airport terminal for the bus into the city after my flight from Dublin when I was approached by a young Irish woman who asked me if I had been at that airport in September 2014.

I had indeed, en route to and from the Camino Francés section I had done that year – from Burgos to Léon. Helena – that was her name – had recognised me from that time. She and her friend Gabrielle had also done a section then and like me were now returning in May 2016 to walk from Logroño to Burgos

Many Irish people like Helena, Gabrielle, and myself opt to do the Camino in sections – a week or two at a time – rather than the full route which typically takes about 30 days. The airfare is cheap and not everyone has either the time or the desire to do the whole thing in one go.

People outside of Europe  generally commit to the entire Camino. In most cases it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the airfares from the States, Australia, South America or wherever are too expensive to warrant doing it in stages. Plus there’s the more authentic experience that walking it without interruption for a full month or more provides.


Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum 

I stayed overnight in Bilbao and had an early night as the following day I was catching the 6:30 a.m. train to Logroño, the endpoint of my stage last year, and then a long 30km walk to Nájera.

The journey to Logroño from Bilbao’s Abando station took 2.5 hours. A walk of 30 minutes from the station got me to the Camino which is marked by directional signs all along its length. It was now 9:30 a.m. which was a little late to be setting out from the city – most peregrinos  (pilgrims)  would have left before 8 a.m. Still, there were people – singles, couples, groups – ahead of me and behind me. One is rarely if ever alone on the Camino – if you don’t see anyone up ahead or to the rear you may possibly have taken a wrong turn.


I joined the Camino at this point

There was now a long 30km walk to Nájera. My 2016 Camino had begun.

Which prompts the question – why do it?

The Camino is no walk in the park. It requires stamina, strength and determination to withstand daily walks of between 20 and 30 kilometres. You have to be physically and mentally prepared. It’s often bloody hard work which will leave you exhausted at the end of the day. Physical issues – especially with your feet – that you may not be aware of if you haven’t been doing long training walks will very quickly manifest themselves. The food is just adequate and the accommodation – especially if you stay in the albergues (hostels with mixed-sex, bunk-bed dormitories) – can be spartan, not to mention uncomfortable and noisy. Plus there’s the Northern Spanish weather to contend with – days of torrential rain are not uncommon in the Spring and Autumn, the best times to do it as the heat of Summer can be too intense.

Some people, I think, have unreal expectations of the Camino. There was a thread on the Camino Francés internet forum originated by an American woman who asked: “where is the ecstasy?” She had heard so much hype about it being a blissful life-changing experience that she was disappointed by the reality. It was “just a series of very long walks”.

I met an Australian woman near Belorado who likewise was regretting her journey. She had been attracted to the idea of the Camino but had not appreciated the difficulties involved. Her feet hurt, she had blisters, she found her body didn’t really loosen up until the afternoons but, because of the need to get to an albergue early in order to have a bed for the night, she had to continue setting out early in the day. She “had no idea what it was I was thinking” when she committed to doing it and she regretted her decision.

So why do I do it?

Because I can, is one answer. I am of an age where I am very conscious that the time may soon come when I may no longer be able to do it. Carpe diem and all that.

Then there’s the experience of walking through the often very beautiful Spanish countryside not knowing what’s around the next corner or over the next hill.

And there’s the wide variety of people that one meets, people who are often interesting and/or funny. I think one of the biggest attractions of the Camino historically has been the meeting of minds that it lends itself to. When medieval pilgrims set out for Santiago – in most cases probably the only long-distance journey they would take in their lives – and met others from different countries or provinces the resultant exchanges of views and knowledge must have had a positive seeding effect when they returned to their respective communities. That was a time when travel really did broaden the mind.

The Camino is well serviced by accommodation – everything from the basic albergues to (for an occasional treat perhaps) Parador hotels in the major cities. Nor is there any rip-off. The prices are very reasonable and there is free WiFi in practically every place you stay.

The food is OK if not exactly haute cuisine. A typical pilgrim’s meal available in alburgues and restaurants along the way consists of a starter (e.g. a mixed salad), a main course (e.g. chicken and chips – *very* common) and a dessert (e.g. ice cream – often a choc ice in its wrapper).  To drink you’ll usually have either water or wine and the wine is served by the bottle. All that for about €10. Very good value.

Finally, there is the getting-away-from-it-all feeling, leaving the real world of bills, politics, responsibilities and all that stuff behind, opting out of the normal routine for a while, focusing instead on the day’s stage, how long it’s going it take, where to stop for refreshments, getting into a walking rhythm and generally feeling better every day as the physical exertion releases all those happy endorphins. And at the end there is the sense of achievement of once more having finished it successfully.

That’s why I do it.


This interesting looking man was selling fruit and cakes at a stall nor far from Logrono. He had no set prices – people were free to donate what they wished. A wise strategy , I think – he probably got a lot more than he would have had he charged normal prices.



Vineyards abound in the Rioja region 


Approaching Navarette

Navarette Old Pilgrims Hosp

The remains of an old pilgrim hospital at Navarette


Approaching Nájera – the first day’s destination   

Najera River

The River Nájerilla as I passed over it the next day leaving Nájera

Najera 3

Looking back in the direction of Nájera

Near Santo Domingo

Between Ciruenda and Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The vineyards of Rioja are mostly behind us and we are now in cereal growing country – from wine to bread. 

Near Ciruena

Looking back from near Ciruena

A word of caution in respect of accommodation: the Camino is in a sense becoming a victim of its own success. I have heard and read many stories this year of alburgues becoming full up relatively early in the day. People are setting out often well before dawn in order to be sure of getting a bed for the night at their destination. This can be very stressful and it can rob people of the enjoyment they should be experiencing.

I have always booked my accommodation a few months before travelling and this year I was very glad I did so. I had no worries about where I would stay any night as I had reservations in every place I stayed. (I use – an excellent accommodation booking service.)

One way over the problem is not to do Brierleys. John Brierley has written the definitive guide to the Camino Francés and he recommends daily stages – Brierleys – that people (including me) tend to blindly follow. So, for example, stage 9 of the Brierley guide is from Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 21 kms. The result is an influx of pilgrims into Santo Domingo and if the numbers are excessive there may not be enough beds to go around. What people should do instead is either stop 6kms before Santo Domingo at Ciruena  or continue walking another  6kms as far as Granon. Don’t slavishly follow Brierley; do your own stages and you should have no problems if you haven’t booked ahead.


Alburgue beds. This is the albergue I stayed in at Agés. It was very cold and I did not have a sleeping bag, just a light sleeping bag liner. Brrrrrr!

I also tend to use hostals rather than alburgues. Hostals (not to be confused with hostels) give you your own room and bathroom and so are very conducive to a good night’s sleep. Alburgues on the other hand are mixed dormitory bunk-bed establishments and you can be very unlucky if you are (like me) a very light sleeper and one or more of the other residents are snorers. Or if someone gets up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and make a racket in the process. Or if they decide to set out at an unearthly hour and wake everyone else up while they noisily make preparations. On the plus side, albergues are cheap and the communal evening meal is a great way of getting to know people.

There are travel companies that will pre-book all the accommodation for you and will also transfer your bag from one location to the next. Go for it if such convenience appeals to you but be prepared to pay through the nose. It is much cheaper to do it yourself. Nor is it a problem carrying your stuff on your back. I actually think it’s beneficial to walk with a backpack as it keeps your back straight. Several people who suffer back problems have remarked on how it has helped them. The trick is in choosing a good backpack and carrying only the minimum. Aim for a combined backpack/contents weight of about 7 kgs.


My backpack and its contents; total weight 7kgs.

Santo Domingo

Approaching Santo Domingo de la Calzada

SantoDomingo De Calzada

A view from the bell-tower of the church of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

In Santo Domingo de la Calzada I stayed in the Hospideria Cisterciense, a hostal run by Cistercian nuns. And very nice it was too. A notice at reception stated that a daily Mass for pilgrims would be held at 7 pm and I decided to go. I had been expecting a large group of pilgrims to be present at the small church but there was only myself and a French woman – the other dozen or so attendees were elderly locals, mostly women. The priest was very elderly and frail and the poor man was on crutches and had to be assisted to the altar by a nun. He sat down behind the altar to say Mass. Communion was distributed by the nun. At the end the priest gave the usual blessing and, as this was a Mass for peregrinos, bade all walkers a Buen Camino! –  the traditional Camino greeting and farewell that everyone uses.

Santo Domingo Rio Oja

The River Oja at Santo Domingo  

Santo Dom to Belorado N120

Some sections of the Camino are adjacent to busy main roads as at here outside Santo Domingo. This third day from Santo Domingo to Belorado was my least favourite part because of the nearness and the noise of the highway.

Near St Juan De Ortega

Day 4 between Belorado and Agés – a lot of today’s section was through forest.


Myself at a stop in the forest a few miles before St Juan de Ortega. A girl had made these artworks and was selling fruit and juices. It was very cold during this stage but then again the elevation was around 1,000 metres.

San Juan Forest

The path through the forest before St Juan. 



Ages 2

The Camino at Agés 

My last day – day 5 – was from Agés into Burgos. There was torrential rain and it didn’t let up until I was well into the city. I finished about 1 p.m., stayed overnight in Burgos, got the 10:30 a.m. train to Bilbao the next day and flew back to Dublin the following day, Saturday.

Everything had gone according to plan and, once again, it was a most enjoyable Camino.

Next year my plan is to do the stage from Léon to Sarria and that will complete my Camino Francés.

After that, who knows? I may repeat a section, or I may do one of the other Caminos such as the Portugués or the Del Norte. Or perhaps walk from Santiago to Finisterre.

So many options, so little time!


Details of my previous Camino trips can be found on this blog at:











Preparing for the Camino

Camino Landscape

Walkers on the Camino – photo courtesy of Scott Connolly   

I had been thinking about doing a section of the Camino de Santiago for the last year or so. A friend of mine, Rita Scannell, did most of the forty-day Camino de Francés last year – from St.Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostella, the terminal point for all the Camino routes. Reading about her progress on Facebook prompted me to give a portion of the walk a try and I had early 2014 in mind.

Then, a few months ago, a Twitter contact, Rosaleen Fitzgerald (@clonrf), did the 115km section from Sarria to Santiago and she tweeted about it. I was walking in Youghal one day shortly afterwards and Rosaleen’s observations on the trip came into my mind. About five minutes later I bumped into an old schoolmate of mine, Liam Cooper, a  man I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years. Within the first few minutes of our meeting he mentioned, out of the blue, that he did the Camino last year. What a coincidence! (Or maybe an example of Jungian synchronicity?)

The following week  I attended a First Communion ceremony in Dennehy’s Cross Church in Cork City. I spotted an item on the noticeboard in the doorway: “Next Thursday, A Talk on the Camino by David Clifford in the Church Crypt”. The coincidences were piling up! I came to the conclusion that I was meant to do the Camino. It was definitely in my future. There were too many signs for me to ignore it.

The talk by David Clifford made up my mind. He has done the Camino several times and by different routes. Last year he did the Via de la Plata, the 1,000km trek from Seville which takes 6 to 7 weeks to complete. His excellent slide presentation of photos taken en-route and useful advice as regards how much and what to carry etc., led me to decide there and then to do it, and to do it this year, not next. When I got home I booked the flights (Dublin/Santiago) for September and a hotel in Santiago for the last two nights.

I don’t have forty  days to spare for it though and so I’m just doing a short section, the 115 km stretch from Sarria to Santiago. I’ll be away for just a week and will be walking for 5 days with the average daily walk taking about 6 hours. Very much a Camino-lite then in contrast to Rita’s and David’s full-on treks. Maybe next year.

Camino Full Route

The full Camino de Francés route  

Camino Map Sarria

The section from Sarria to Santiago

And I’m walking on my own which is also recommended. Experts such as David say you should avoid walking in a group at all costs – the fast walkers will be annoyed at having to slow down to let the slower ones keep up and the slow ones will feel under pressure to keep pace. Besides, part of the attraction of the Camino is meeting other people and walking a part of the road with them as they tell their stories.

I don’t have any doubts about my ability to do it. I’m in good physical condition and I enjoy walking and hill-climbing. Still, I’ve started to increase my daily walking routine to about two hours per day with two four-hour walks per week. My walking speed on the flat is 6.4 kms (4 miles) per hour which is not bad. (A useful app for keeping track of your walking distances and times is RunKeeper.)

Camino Map Killeagh Youghal

Camino Map Carrig

Photos from the RunKeeper app of two favourite routes of mine – one from Killeagh to Youghal and back and the other around my home place of Carrigtwohill. Both avoid busy  main roads for the most part.  

I should certainly be well prepared come September. One of the biggest problems walkers on the Camino have is blisters. I figure that regular walking at home before you go and having your walking shoes well run in should minimise the risk of getting them. Still, I’ll be packing the Compeed just in case. (Liam, my schoolmate mentioned above, recommended Merrell hiking shoes and I bought them. They are on the expensive side – I paid €145 – but shoes are probably the most important part of your kit so it’s as well to get a good pair. Avoid the bargain offers in Lidl and Aldi! I have a pair of good Brasher mountain-walking boots but hiking shoes rather than boots are better for the Camino.)

Camino Shoe

The Merrell Interceptor Hiking Shoe

There is a wealth of information on the web about the Camino. David Clifford recommended two sites in particular: and (for downloading the route to a smartphone).

The guidebook for the Camino de Francés that everyone recommends is John Brierley’s “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago” and it is easy to see why – it is packed with helpful information for every stage of the walk.

Camino Brierley

Another book just published is “The Dance of Christian Life – Reflections on the way to Santiago de Compostella” by Scott Connolly. Scott is a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Seattle and in 2012 he did the full forty-day Camino de Francés. He kept a journal each day and took numerous photos with his iPhone. He was convinced by Rita – who he met on the way – and others to publish his journal and photos as a book and it is a sumptuous publication. It was designed by Rita and printed by Watermans of Cork. As the title suggests, it is informed by a deep religious belief – he is a priest after all! – but it will be of interest to anyone who either has done or is thinking of doing the walk. It is full of interesting and funny anecdotes. He set out each day with a carefully chosen scriptural verse to inspire him but also used the music of Rhianna, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez to put a pep in his step!


The cover of Scott’s book – check out that cool hat!   


All proceeds from the book will be donated to a new Cancer Center in Scott’s parish of Bellingham, Seattle. Not only is it great value for the minimum suggested donation of €20 ($25 in the States), the money will be going to an excellent cause. It has a limited print run however and is expected to sell out quickly. A small number of copies are available in Ireland through Rita Scannell and she can be contacted at 0876823498 or at . In the US you can buy it by PayPal from this link: <;hosted_button_id=6VUX7NV7HSTG8>

Scott’s purpose in doing the Camino was a specifically spiritual one – to renew his vocation to the priesthood and to his vocation as Pastor of the parish he serves. Why am I doing it? I’m simply looking forward to the challenge – such as it is (I’m already feeling a certain regret that I didn’t sign up for a  longer walk) – and of trekking in the beautiful Galician countryside.

I’m looking forward to meeting other pilgrims on the way and of listening to their stories. I like the fact that the Camino is more than just a long-distance walk. It is primarily a pilgrim route and has been for hundreds of years.

I like the fact that something that should be an anachronism in the modern age is increasing in popularity every year. This isn’t evidence of some religious resurgence of course – people of every religious persuasion and none do it – but it does betoken, I think, something beyond the mere long-distance physical challenge.  John Brierley in his book urges readers to find a spiritual purpose for taking the journey, whatever form that spirituality may take. David Creedon talked about the different mental mode he finds himself in, how after a week or two he finds himself living fully in the now and how liberating that is. Alas, my short week is unlikely to result in such enlightenment but I have every confidence nonetheless that I will find it a richly rewarding experience in ways that will probably surprise me.