Via the medieval fishing village of San Vicente de la Barquera with its 15th century stone bridge, we travelled onward through verdant hillsides, past the long, yellow sandy beach of Comillas, to the quaint, but heavily touristed, village of Santillana del Mar. From here we sourced the longest, most picturesque and undoubtably most arduous stretch of the Camino del Norte that we could find in this area. A 23km pathway via back roads, tiny hamlets and forest tracks between Santillana and Comillas. A fitting ‘endpoint’ for our journey!
Meetings with a range of local people along the route helped us to navigate our way and inspired us to continue on despite the obstacles of unclear or non existant way marks (that we needed to read backwards), temperatures in the low 30s, pathways disappearing into rough, clay tracks and finally a steep, three kilometer stretch on a busy asphalt road.
An old man sitting outside his house in a tiny stone village, making a collage from newspaper cuttings, ‘to keep his mind active’. Three tradesmen building a brick house, amused that we were walking in the opposite direction to Santiago. An elderly woman who got up from her lunch to tell us to avoid a particular forest track, then sought advice from her son and grandson about the best direction for us to go. The grandson who walked with us until we were on the correct path. The man in a bar where we stopped for a drink, who encouraged that we did not have far to go now (perhaps deliberately not saying that the rest of our journey was all uphill along a busy road). And the woman who served us in the bar who gave us complimentary tapas with our soft drinks, then ran after us when we set off to give us some sweet biscuits and to point out that we would not reach Santiago the way we were headed.
As we walked, we discussed various aspects of our journey, reflected on this final moment on the ‘official Camino’, promised one another that we would continue to walk and keep fit on returning home and shared our surprise that no significant revelations had ‘changed our lives’… So far! But we had found the tranquility of the sun speckled pathway that is pictured on this blog, experienced the kindness of many people whose paths had intersected with our own and enjoyed the company, support and merriment of being part of a small group of like minded people each with their own life stories to share.
These thoughts mirrored an exhibition that we witnessed the following day at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The artist had filled the four walls of a small, semi lit room with hundreds of black and white photos of different people. The underlying message being that the world is filled with people of all shapes and sizes who live their lives, interact with others and eventually pass on. At a deeper level, the message says something about being a minuscule, but significant part of humanity and endeavouring to leave a positive mark on those we meet along the way.