Writing the Camino began with a workshop led by Creative Writing professional, Heather Wearne, in Porto before we set off on the first stage of our pilgrimage. We began with a discussion of the long and well-established history of the practice of writing and walking, and the pleasure that can be discovered in this combination. We talked about Wordsworth’s concept of seeing into the life of things and with a quote from his wonderful poem:
‘While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.’
~ Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey.
The poet himself was said to have walked possibly one hundred and eighty thousand miles in his lifetime, always using his walks in the natural landscapes of the Lakes District in England, as a space for deep thinking and for developing his creative responses to his art.
In our first workshop we discussed ideas for Writing the Camino and the ways in which our own writing practice might engage with Walking The Way. Having read the preparatory workshop material, participants had already begun to collect characters, faces, experiences and were eager to develop some short pieces for our next workshop when we would share some work done as we made our Way towards Santiago de Compostela.
What follows here are a few short extracts from the writings of two of our tour participants as they encountered life along the Camino Portugues. Firstly, like Henry Thoreau before her, it was as if Penny agreed with the great nature poet; ‘Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow’. The second writer included here is Wendy, who after warning us that she had not written anything since she was a high-school student, delighted us with her wonderful and intimate images of life on The Way.
Further extracts from the work of other some tour participants will be published in a separate blog.
9 May – Shopping at the big fresh food market… The vendor is an old lady with missing teeth – a gap several teeth wide in the middle of her top row! Huddling into her space, keeping warm in her knitted green shawl and reddish brown scarf, knotted under her chin. Peasant style. We could be in Eastern Europe somewhere. Seemingly reluctant to attend to us. She stares away, prefers to sit and huddle onto her seat behind her wares and forget that we exist. But when I later reflect on the photo I cheekily took… shows her smiling warmly at the camera!
On the Camino Portugues
10 May – Cobblestoned streets flanked by stony mossy walls, some with a delicate lacy cascade of freshly flowering wisteria. Mauve and white. Empty streets flanked by white walls and houses, terracotta tiled roofs, wrought iron balconies. Many with pots of cymbidium orchids flowering abundantly and so lush leaved! What is their secret? I feel envious as I think of mine with their paltry two or three spikes and how often I have to trim them of their dry yellowing leaves…
11 May – At Barcelos … Granite mosaic paving in the town square. I see them from my hotel room… glistening wet in the soft yellow glow of street lights… Ceramic cockerels in the window of every shop, each one unique and quirkily artistic.
12 May – … Gentle pathways, weaving amongst lush farmland, rich ploughed soil, recently planted corn. The young plants, small bright green stalks planted in neat rows contrast to the dark brown loamy soil…
The sounds of gracious… Ponte de Lima: Church bells ringing across the river, pigeons cooing, dogs barking, prayers spoken and hymns sung – the sounds spread around the town and across the river on a loud speaker, bells chiming again, right outside my window… The next day cocks are crowing. Sun is shining on the church and bridge. My hotel room has a box seat!
13 May – I come across a woman walking towards me… She is from Alaska and we walk together and share our journeys. Her name is Nancy and she has already walked 30 days from France… My first personal encounter with a ‘genuine peregrino’ with all her possessions on her back. She carries a small pack not much larger than my day-pack containing even a sleeping bag… With her blue Crocs dangling off the back I am in awe of her travelling so simply. Perhaps this is what I have come to discover about myself on the Camino. To simplify my life…
The sky is a stunning crystal blue. We took tram ride to the mouth of the river where we saw beautiful blue hand-painted tiles on the walls of ancient buildings. Fisherman’s cottages and the Atlantic Ocean – almost touching each other. Green lawns make for an unexpected landing from the tram – the tracks run through the softness.
Walking along The Way
…Tiny villages in the distance. Rushing water crystal clear on the paths next to our feet. We greet women who stop their washing in ancient stone wells in the town-centre to wave to us. Clothes hang in small lane ways above our heads …Cobblestones, churches and arches, pyramids of yellow hay, gardens of colour and food and green cut lawns.
We’re playing follow-the-leader and the yellow arrows of The Way play hide and seek with us – who will spot the next one first? Our talk is shared with the clicking of poles and Camino greetings: ‘Buen Camino’ we call out to other pilgrims on The Way. I feel a part of something more than a walk in the countryside…
…It’s hot today and we hug the walls of the buildings through the village as we ric-rac from side to side. Out on the road again we look like giraffes with our poles – making our way along pestling stones beneath our feet.
…The bell from the tower or the herdsman’s hand in the stone village of Rubais, leading the goats to the pastures beneath. I listen to his voice calling to his dog as they pass the place were we are sitting and drinking our wine. His day is not over yet but ours is done and we are all proud of ourselves – and each other.
A city encased by thick stone walls and as we approached the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, the sound of a choir singing seeps out into the large city square through the doors: We are here!
The pace was fast today; it was our last walk and we felt no pain as we entered with the company that has arrived that day in Santiago de Compostela. A group photo before we entered the Pilgrim’s Mass – filled with fellow pilgrims, inside it was divine – that’s the right word. I felt, again, a part of something so very special.