Last year, in between lockdowns in the UK, my wife Debbie and I got into conversation with a woman sitting at the next table in a café and mentioned that we were into walking, and walking the caminos in particular. Her face lit up! She had walked the Camino Francés from Sarria with a friend and had had a marvellous time. We spoke about the various caminos we’d been on since we started 10 years ago, and she was amazed that there were so many. She was under the impression that the one she had been on was the only one! Maybe it was the host of pilgrims in that last 100 kilometres that gave her that impression! But her reaction started us thinking. Was there room for a general guide to the caminos among all the excellent camino-specific guides and help books that are on the market?
Where to begin? We started by researching the caminos themselves. The Spanish government have published a superb map which shows a total of 43 ‘official’ caminos. Which ones would be of interest to someone like our new-found friend? There were the obvious ones – the Camino Francés from St Jean Pied de Port, the Camino Norte, the Camino Portugués and the Via de la Plata – but there were also caminos like the Camino del Salvador, the Camino Olvidado, the Camino del Sur, the Camino Inglés – all superb walks in their own right and not as crowded as the better-known routes. So we began there.
We researched the individual caminos and ended up with 16 of them, like a spider’s-web of routes from all parts of Spain, all ending up in Santiago. It was a real labour of love. While we had walked nine of the caminos we chose, there were some we had only read about. What we found made us desperate to get out there again and make our way across the landscape that makes Spain so unique.
We also thought about the questions that might occur to someone walking the caminos for the first time, and came up with chapter headings – What? Where? Who? Why? When? How? How much?
We then tried to deal with some of the practical aspects such as the equipment the pilgrim needs, the kind of accommodation that was available, the food and drink that was best for keeping the body going, how to find the way.
Throughout we tried to personalise it and make use of our often hard-won experience. Being in our sixties when we began walking the caminos we tended to err on the side of caution, but hopefully, being pretty fit, we offered an all-round and considered view of things. As a writing experience it was really enjoyable, so much so that we are currently working on a companion volume – Walking the Lesser-known Caminos: A User’s Guide, in which we look at caminos such as the Camino de los Faros, the Camino del Ebro, the Camino de Sagunto and the Via Augusta – another 20 routes which fill in the gaps left by the major caminos, and which make their wonderous way through superb and often lonely parts of rural Spain.
As we said above, writing these books is a labour of love, love for the rich diversity of a wonderful country.
Buy David and Debbie Mercer’s book Walking The Caminos: A User’s Guide on Amazon