Intrepid Totnesians tackle the 500 mile 'Way of St James'
PUBLISHED: 15:55 25 September 2012 | UPDATED: 12:14 28 February 2013
Intrepid local husband and wife team Austin & Sally Burn-Jones are in training for their own Olympian effort this year by walking the ancient 500 mile pilgrimage route known as the 'Way of St. James'.
500 Miles to go...on foot
Intrepid local husband and wife team Austin & Sally Burn-Jones are in training for their own Olympian effort this year by walking the ancient 500 mile pilgrimage route known as the Way of St. James.
Austin and Sally are familiar faces around Totnes as they both have businesses in the town. However, they decided to take the whole month of June to cross from the Northern Pyrenean mountains in France to the North West tip of Spain on this well trodden pathway that has changed little since the 7th Century. The Camino de Santiago de Compostela which gained Hollywood status in the the fim The Way starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez will now be the same route taken by the Totnes couples road for charity.
Both long time residents of the South Hams decided to embark on this rather mad cap adventure after being inspired by the film. Austin is a Bowen Therapist so is hoping to help alleviate some of the aches and pains of fellow pilgrims on the walk, Sally will be taking a break from her career as a fiancial planner unless pilgrims wish to question her about the stockmarkets whilst en route! To further enhance their endeavours, they haven chose to raise money for local Torbay based charity Rowcroft Hospice.
When asked about this Sally Burn-Jones replied Our friends and family think we are crazy for doing this. We will have to carry everything on our backs, and we will be staying in hostels along the way (and maybe a night or two under the stars). We are not sure ourselves whether we are missing a marble or two, but if such a worthwhile cause as Rowcroft Hospice can benefi from our folly, then all the better
Follows an extract of Austin's blog -
Training miles 9, Injuries 1
Fully packed and loaded. We set of on our firs extended walk around Devon as part of our training regime for next months adventure across Spain.The 9 miles went quite quickly and the views around Marldon & Compton were spectacular. The only slight flyin the ointment was that I managed to removed half of my nail off of my little toe! Not a good start.Not much Bowen Therapy can do for that. Attached is a little picture along the way.This is also my firs experiment of using my iPhone to blog with, as access to a computer will be a rarity on the 500 mile walkway.
Remember to donate to our chosen cause by clicking on the link www.virginmoneygiving.com/SallyandAustin
Time seems to be hurtling by. With only a couple of weeks to go before our 500 mile trek across Spain. Managed to break the 12 mile barrier yesterday and forced ourselves to do another 4 miles firs thing this morning. Aching a little but nothing major. As a Bowen Therapist I am fiding it interesting to note just how quickly our bodies are changing, particularly posture. The body will always adapt to circumstances. Prior to this we have done little walking, so our bodies have been working hard recently to make what we need to do as easy and efficent as possible - remember that our body is exceedingly clever and is always asking the questions "Fit for What?" & "how can I improve?"
It will be interesting to see how our bodies change over weeks of continuous punishment.
Family and friends think we are bonkers, and I have to say I think we must both be missing a marble or two. However if a great charity like Rowcroft Hospice can benefi from our folly, then at least there must be some method to our madness.
Camino Day 1&2 - UP & UP, then so much down
Our firs day started From St Jean Pied de Port through blistering heat up to the Albergue Orisson. Setting out at 3pm we ascended to beautiful views across the Pyrenees to 800m. Our welcome was warm, but alas the showers were freezing. The food and company jolly and international ranging from europeans; French, German and Polish to folks from the USA and two young ladies from South Korea. Our firs taste of Basque Hospitality was great and highly recommended. We shared a room with 8 others - clean and pleasant (not too many snorers).Our ascent the following day was pleasant as the mountains were covered with mist with visibility down to a few metres. The temperature was just perfect for walking, and the light mizzle was refreshing. The descent to Ronscavelles although beautiful was far more arduous than the ascent, and various tactics were used to adjust our pain levels on knees, back and ankles including a zig zagging dance to the tune of Brazilwhich worked surprisingly well for several kilometres. Sally and I then arrived at La Posada Restaurant and Albergue for a quick cafe con leche and the boon of internet connection. We are now negotiating with our feet as to whether to continue on to Burgette (another 7km) to fid a place to stay for the night.
Camino Day 3&4 - Feel the Heat!
Scenery change as we get further from the Pyrenees. We have discovered that Spanish sign posts lie - in some cases considerably! In the hope of stopping at Larasoana, we were greeted with a rather empty village with the one place of refreshment being closed. After an hours rest for our feet, we (perhaps foolishly) decided to continue on to Trinidad del Arre; another 10km away. Fortunately the path was mostly level until the last 3km which turned out to be somewhat further. 3 hours later we arrived weary and broken at the Albergue set in a 12th century convent. As welcome as the aged guardian was of this beautiful establishment, he was determined to give us the guided tour of the place regardless of our quite evident weariness. Thankfully the showers were hot, and the beds clean and comfortable - best nights sleep so far. The morning was started with a morning prayer in the rather unique basilica, which although sparce in numbers was surprisingly blessed with meaning. With such a start to the day we set out for Pamplona (where they run away from bulls in the summer) where we had ham tortilla for breakfast. The day started warm and the temperature kept climbing. The route up towards the majestic line of wind turbines beckoned, yet the firs understanding of how this pilgrimage can still present dangers to the modern traveller became suddenly apparent. A previous pilgrim had died from thirst on this particular stretch - as there were no villages until the summit and no sources of water! With today's heat we were getting through our supply of water quickly, and with the knowledge of no water available to us in the foreseeable climb ahead we were becoming more concerned at fiding shade and also, because we were worried about the lack of water, we were becoming more thirsty. Fortunately since the death of the previous pilgrims and also the documentation written about the lack of water - a new fountain had been installed near the summit. Needless to say we were rather happy about this, and refiled supply. We continued on through the punishing heat down to the nearby village of Obanos via some spectacular views.
Camino 5 - Flies swallowed : 3
Uphill struggles are made worse when ones mouth remains open to draw in breath. Even gasping for air when stationary can catch the weary traveller, and unwitting fles unawares!Yesterday's trek from Obanos to Estelle was made a little easier by setting out at 7am, as is much cooler before the Sun gets it's act together by about 10am. Unfortunately the previous day's heat and downhill punishment decided to take its toll, with my left knee going on strike within about 30 metres of leaving the Albergue. Walked very slowly trying not to limp until the next village 'Puenta de la Reina' which is a beautiful medieval place with plenty of character. A couple of healing hands and an adjustment or two of my boots and things were looking more promising. The heat once again however was determined to slow us down, and by 2 pm my left ankle had decided to make its presence felt. The Albergue was just beyond Estelle in Aygui based in a sports hall. Cheap, pleasant and clean with good company (but rather too many snorers!). Thismornings adventure started out at 5.30am as we knew the day ahead, although reasonably flt, had very little shade available along the way. As it turned out we were granted a warm and overcast day with a perfect breeze. The going mostly easy with jaw dropping scenery. We covered 30 km without too many aches and pains and found rest in 'Torres del Rio' in a lovely little Albergue "Mari" run by a colourful Spanish lady who waxed lyrical in her native tongue, at speed, regardless of whether the recipients understood or not.
Camino 6 - Pain Negotiation
We have fially completed our firs 100 miles of walking! Our bodies have cottoned onto the fact and have decided to make their presence felt in a variety of different forms. Up until now we have been blister free - but today's 32 km brought with it a couple of sizeable ones on the balls of Sally's feet and a small one just on the end of my little toe - perfectly placed to cause the maximum amount of pain whilst making it almost impossible to place a Compede plaster on it in a way that would do any good.We arrived in the city of Logrono around midday in reasonable high spirits, the weather once again had been good to us by being warm and overcast - perfect for walking. We had had an little break in Viana at a cafe opposite a spectacular church archway where the barmaid decided to have a go at a German Pilgrim for having taken his shoes and socks off whilst enjoying his morning breakfast coffee and Tortilla. We sympathised with our fellow pilgrim but could also see the barmaids point of view, so we sat outside and removed our shoes and socks in secret.Logrono was a very busy city, with a local produce market setting up in the main square when we arrived. We sat and had a light lunch and decided to continue on to Navarette - another 12 km away. As it turned out a good portion of this part of the Camino was tarmac, which although sounds good, is unforgiving on the feet. The landscape once again was beautiful, and having crossed into the Rioja region, was endless waves of pristine rows of Vines. This kept our minds off the growing complaints from our feet.We fially arrived about 4 hours later in Naverette where the firs Albergue was full. There were only two others. Fortunately we found a bed for the night at the third - a twin room, as opposed to the large bunk rooms of previous albergues. Had ourselves our firs real taste of communal pilgrim eating at the local bar where we enjoyed the best pilgrim menu so far with French, german, Swedish and Slovenian Caminoers, all served by the colourful waitress who was prepared to butcher any language at the table in the hope that together we might understand what was on offer. It was all done with great hospitality and good humour and the food and conversation was just what the doctor ordered to distract us from our weariness and bodily aches.
Camino Blur - Time & Date Unknown
Everything has become dependent on our body. Time really has become meaningless as we walk while we can walk, and stop when either our feet or knees or the weather says otherwise.The very concept of time changes on our level of tiredness - 5 or 10 miles can flyby or a single one can drag on for what seems like hours and sometimes can indeed be hours as the last few hundred yards can litterally be shufflng or limping.It is worth mentioning at this point that Bowen Therapy has come in very handy on several occasions so far on this trip for ourselves and a couple of fellow pilgrims. It continues to surprise me that the body, even when weary, can make significnt changes to bring itself back to a state of equilibrium in a matter of minutes. This happened yesterday when we had the misfortune to arrive late at a village and the Albergue was full, and the Albergue in the following village was also full, so we had another 3 miles to walk to the next one. In all we ended up walking an extra 5 miles on top of the 14 we had already done. Sally's feet were in real pain already so I gave her a quick Bowen treatment while seated at a picnic table - just a knee & ankle procedure. Within a few yards she was almost clipping along - still weary physically but walking more balanced and in far less pain.
We arrived in Burgos today, and fially we are impressed with what Spain has to offer. The architecture is truly awe inspiring almost everywhere we look. Although a city it has an air of peacefulness which is refreshing from the frantic busyness of Logrono.
Camino X - The Half Way Point
It may be worth mentioning at this point some of the characters we have met along the way. Having now trudged nearly 400 km, statistically one is bound to come across the odd one or two folk with a screw loose. Having said that it has occurred to me and others that the very nature of deciding to walk 790km, we must be missing a marble or two in the firs place.Our firs encounter with a fellow pilgrim who had a touch of the sun was as we were sitting resting our weary feet at a little village called Granon. This curiously happy Frenchman comes bounding out of nowhere asking us if we know where the Albergue is in the village. We used our best French and told him it was run by the local church and was located nearby. He laughed heartily and said he knew but that he considered the mattresses too thin so was looking for the other Albergue in the village. We didn't know but suggested he ask back down in the centre. After a few minutes of chatting it turns out he had already walked over 1000 km! Each time he expounded a sentence in speedy french he would laugh in a way that reminded us of Dr Frankenstein raising his monster for the firs time! Not a sinister laugh, but the laugh went on for much longer than was normal, and way beyond comfortable. He trotted off and returned a few minutes later having found the second hostel, which was still not to his liking and announced to us as he literally sped away at a run that he would fid another in the next village - some 5/6 miles away. This last cheery goodbye was once again accompanied with a hearty laugh that continued on as he disappeared into the distance.Our second strange encounter was as we were coming into Carrion de los Condes where about a mile outside of town a man in his fities was catching us up. We let him pass, but instead of overtaking us, he began jabberring away in a curious way in what we assumed was Spanish. It turned out that he was both deaf and partially dumb. This in itself made it a bizarre conversation. As much of his communication was justiculation coupled with the occasional Spanish word thrown in. He was not slowed down in the slightest by our inability to speak or indeed understand Spanish. We persevered as he had decided to latch onto to us.Assuming we understood him correctly he used to work on a farm milking cows until hisback hurt. Unfortunately he smoked a lot while doing this and one day set light to a barn when he threw away his fag end thoughtlessly into some hay. His attempts at stamping out the fir came to no avail! He is now retired and watches football and drinks a lot, and bythe way would we like a room for the night, as he doesn't think the Sisters in the convent Albergue are that great!We thanked him for his kind offer - and he shrugged his shoulders and waved us goodbye.
Camino - Top Tips
We passed through Leon today. Apart from the Cathedral and the spectacular design of the Paladour Hotel, we found the city a little ordinary compared to Burgos. Having said this the shop windows in the main street of the Old Quarter were beautifully dressed. It seemed to take an age to walk out of the city through the seemingly endless industrial suburbs.
A few top tips for any who wish to set out on a trek of this sort:
1. When pushing needle through wife's large and very painful blister on heel - firsly make sure needle is a) sharp, b) the right size for the job, rather than two sizes too large, and secondly that there is cotton already threaded prior to surgical operation! This can be tricky when attempting to thread cotton through eye of needle while said object is still inserted in beloved's foot - removal & reinsertion not being an option.
2. When filing up at a water fountain do not allow wife to turn lever tap off the wrong way, resulting in a soggy husband. Secondly do not let her then leap to the rescue and throw the lever tap the other way resulting in an even soggier and less amused husband given that it also happens to be 6am and a cool misty morning with an icy breeze!
3. Do not be fooled by innocent looking croissants, donuts and the like as they are often filed with evil banana flvoured custard!
4. When seeking shelter for the evening firsly check that the bed is a) long enough for folk other than Hobbits, and b) Wider than the average stick insect. Secondly when falling out of said bed, do not, I repeat do not use sore & weary left knee to break fall with!
Camino - A bed for the night
It is perhaps time to mention the accommodation available to the average 'Perigrino'. We have almost always made use of the Camino Albergues which are only available to Pilgrims (special Camino passport needed for trip). A night stay ranges from 5 - 10 Euros per bunk. These places a not dissimilar to Youth Hostels. Initially we were a little reticent at the idea of bunking in a room with possibly 30 or more folk in one room. Surprisingly apart from 2 exceptions (so far) these albergues are spotless and provide more than adequately for the weary traveller. And to be honest the service and general convivial atmosphere of these places is considerably better than many 'low budget' motels/hotels we have stay in, in the UK & Europe that charge significntly more.The flyin the ointment can be when one is in a room with one or more snorers. Armed with earplugs this problem can be reduced somewhat. However yesterday we had the double misfortune of entering a village with only one place to stay, it was raining, and our bodies refusing to go any further. Sadly this particular Albergue was, shall we say, tatty and unkempt. The outdoor loos had no seats or paper, and we decided not to venture into the outdoor showers for fear of coming out less clean than when we went in! The room was not really large enough to swing a cat, yet it had 6 bunk beds crammed in. However onecould argue that for 6 euros each we shouldn't complain, and beggars can't be choosers. Weary and a little disgruntled we made an early night. Alas we were later blessed with a snorer of the firs magnitude that managed to penetrate through earplugs and vibrate through the somewhat thin mattress.We arose grumpy and still very tired.Yet the world has this rather marvelous way on balancing things up a little.We had completed our ascent to Astorga with just a few miles to go. We planned to stop at the top for a break. There before us was a splendid little shack/bar unattended laden with the most fantastic array of organic nibbles, teas, muesli, and hot coffee dispensers. Plus an array of juices and a variety of milks, ranging from cows milk to soy, rice or nut milks. All this, set out just for Pilgrims, with a sign saying 'self service' and a little honesty box at one side. We were truly honoured and humbled by the generosity of whomever had decided to create this marvelous oasis for those on their way to Santiago.
Camino - Highest Point
The long ascent to just under 5000 feet brought us to the highest point on our journey. Frankly the Crux de Fero is a bit of an anticlimax, but some of the messages and tokens left by the pilgrims are quite touching. The ascent may have been long and shallow but the descent to the next village 'Acebo' was steep and treacherous. Sadly my left shin decided to make itself known, to the point of bringing me to tears and the only way of descending was for me to walk backwards! Slow going indeed. We fially reached the beautiful mountain village of Acebo, where we stayed for the night as I could proceed no further.The heat had been increasing already by the time we had arrived.Later in the afternoon the sun had really started to get in gear.At around 6.30pm we came across a fellow pilgrim from Belgium whom we had met the night before, and had set off at about the same time that morning. He looked quite sunburnt and in an exhausted state.He explained that half way up the mountain he had dropped his water bottle and it had spilt the contents. He had spent the rest of the journey with no water. Due to the lateness of the hour - as few pilgrims travel during the heat of the day - he didn't encounter any other pilgrims on foot. Desperate he tried to flg down some of the pilgrims traveling by bicycle. Alas no one wanted to stop.Eventually an older cyclist stopped and generously gave him all his water!It was a stark reminder once again to all of us how something a simple as the availability of water can still present such a problem so quickly to those of us who are so used to surfeit in every other aspect of our lives.
Camino - Grub & Dodgy Wine
Almost every day for the past 3 weeks we have been eating the available 'menu peregrino'. This is almost always a 3 course menu including wine and water for about 10 Euros or less - so really good value.The quality varies somewhat depending on each restaurant / bar. In general we have noticed that in the Navarra & Rioja region where a lot of wine is made, the wine (often a whole bottle) included in the menu is pretty good, and sometimes great. The food however, although plentiful and good value, is mostly quite plain.Almost as soon as we entered the Castilla y Leon region, the food quality improved but the wine deteriorated dramatically. This is not to suggest that Wine from Castilla y Leon is bad,just simply that pilgrims are not granted any of the good stuff.On one particular occasion the local eatery was happy to admit that their wine was so terrible that they would be including a free bottle of sickly sweet fizzywater with the menu, so as to make the wine drinkable - it didn't help!The standard main course that appears on every menu, so far, is Lomo Cerdo, which a version of Pork with chips. This staple dish can be anything from a sliver of leather in grease to the most fantastic triple chop delicately pan fried in garlic & herbs - every meal is an adventure.Ironically each time we have ventured away from the set Pilgrims Menu, we have been quite disappointed, and ended up making (comparatively) an expensive mistake.Where in the UK could you get a 3 course meal with wine for under a tenner?
Camino - Last Legs
Tue, Jun 26 2012As we approach Sarria, it is with a certain sense of achievement coupled with trepidation that we begin the last 100 km of our Journey.The town of Sarria is the great junction where the 'wearied and blistered' encounter the 'fresh faced and excited' as this is where many new pilgrims begin their adventure to Santiago.For those of us who have done a few miles already this could make the last leg much more busy and frantic compared to the comparative quietness of the trail so far.There is also something of a pecking order that one notices on the path.Egos tend to be pricked a little when one comes across folk who have done less or more miles than oneself. And there is always someone who has done more! We met a couple from Holland who had walked from their front door, and a Swiss gentleman who had set out from Krakow. We foolishly thought this couldn't be beaten until we encountered a chap who had started in Poland and went via Rome before heading back to Santiago, clocking up a staggering 6000 km, all on foot and with his loyal dog! Our feeble 800 km effort pales into insignificnce.
Camino - Holiday or Punishment?
Wed, Jun 27 2012One of the key oddities of walking the Camino is that we are continually in pain day after day, and at the end of almost every day we are utterly exhausted physically and emotionally. Washing our clothes by hand is a must at the end of each day, with the hope that they will be dry the following morning.It cannot be described as a holiday, nor can we say that we are enjoying ourselves. Yet we are somehow glad to be here, and we keep getting up at 6am every morning to do it all over again.
There are some who have done this more than once, and others that do the Camino every year!
A German gentleman we had met in the firs few days of the journey, who was in his 70's, walked the Camino 2 years previously with his wife. He enjoyed himself so much he wanted to do it again. Sadly his wife developed a heart problem so she was unable to come along. However so that he was not alone on his voyage she has signed his right boot, so that she is always present wherever his feet take him.
He wakes every morning at 5.30 and walks at a steady pace until about 2pm to avoid the worst of the heat.He has been outwalking most of the pilgrims.We had lost touch with him after the firs week, he spoke no English but expounded in fast German with his ever present enthusiasm.Today while approaching the town of Melide, we noticed a large note tied to a telegraph pole in full view along the pathway. It was a note addressed to 'Sally & Austin' wishing us all the best from our jolly german friend. Deeply touched it spurred us on, and restored our smiles.
Camino - Final Approach
With less than a day to go before fially arriving in Santiago, we are still being surprised by our bodies ability to come up with things to moan about. We had hoped that after nearly 500 miles they would have gotten used to the continual punishment.Sally has resorted to using sanitary pads as cushions for her heals, and I have a collection of Compede, Elastoplasts & bandages around various toes on my right foot.Time is having to creep back into our lives once again, as practicality dictates that we need to start planning our return journey.Although one part of our journey is coming to an end, there is yet another one to begin.We had both thought that walking so far would mean that we might lose a pound or two, and that I would certainly reduced the size of my 'muffi tops'.At home we might have some wine at a weekend, and at a social occasion. Here we have had a bottle of red wine with every meal, and a cool beer is nectar of the gods in this heat - I don't normally drink any beer at all.Hence we don't think we have lost any weight, and I suspect we have both become alcoholics!Personally I feel a bit like I have been on a busman's holiday, as I think I have used Bowen Therapy nearly everyday - sometimes it has helped a little, sometimes a lot. Needless to say it has been a huge learning experience for me, watching the body 'in situ' break down and repair both in others and myself.Once again all these experiences will be applied in clinic.Writing this we have less than 23 km (14 miles) to go, yet it is not getting any easier, and it seems a long way to go. Tomorrow we will arrive in Santiago, this in itself raises a lot of personal reflction for us both.
Camino - Brand Blue Day
The last 20 km into Santiago took forever. We seemed to be deliberately taking our time.Our arrival and offical stamping and 'Compostela' certificte didn't really register until much later in the day.We have been walking every day for a month, sometimes for as long as 12 hours at a time.We have met folk from all over the world. All strangely on a similar but very different journey than ourselves.We smile in recollection at the Englishman who had invested in an expensive brand name sleeping bag for the trip, only to be rewarded with being dyed blue due to the humidity. The dye, although easy to be released from the material took 3 days to come off the skin. Alas this happened several times on his trip, and due to the heat he slept in the nude!It comes to something when one goes to bed an Englishman, but wakes up a Smurf!
Camino - Trip Home
It was strange to be driving back across Spain, most of the way, passing the towns and landscape we had walked through over the last 4 weeks. What has taken us a month to do on foot, took us a day by car.For the firs time on our voyage we saw a Sunset. This struck us as particularly odd, as we had seen so many sunrises, but were in bed before dark.Symbolically it seems appropriate that as the Sun was setting on the last day of our time in Spain, having crossed the country from east to west on foot, now hurtling in the other direction at 100 kph with the aid of the internal combustion engine, we watch the last golden rays of fir light up the mountains of the Pyrenees. These same peaks which we faced at the beginning of our trek - fresh faced, intrepid and no clue what lay ahead.In hindsight, we might suspect that we were watched over and kept safe by the millions that have travelled the same path over the centuries. Our way was not easy, but help was always at hand when needed. The human spirit was always evident, and prevailed in all we met, from every nation, creed, and background. We learnt a great deal about the basic goodness, and natural generosity of man when operating in simplicity. Cynicism and complexity only seemed to enter into our lives when time and planning were forced upon us.Our return journey was just such an occasion where we have been thrown head firs back into what now seems like a strange reality.It may take us a little time to adjust - everything seems such a rush, and incredibly expensive. A bed for the night is 50 euros, rather than 5. Transport from A to B now costs money. And worst of all not only are starters the same price as what used to be for a whole meal, but we now are expected to pay for Alcohol as an extra. What is the world coming to!
Camino - Refections
English soil is fially under our feet. A few more hours and a real double bed awaits, with cotton sheets and a duvet, as opposed to a bunk bed with a plastic covered mattress and a sleeping bag.
The possibility of a 'Full English' beckons, as to be quite frank an expresso and a dry biscuit every morning for a month just doesn't cut the mustard.
I neglected to mention the chap from Israel who noted at one Albergue that an American girl had left several items from her pack behind. With pilgrim generosity in heart, he loaded his not already inconsiderable laden rucksack with the additional items, and set off in pursuit.Two days later he came across the young lady resting at a bar by the roadside. With joy in heart he presented the goods back to the surprised American. He continued on his way to Santiago.The young American girl had not had the heart to explain that she had left those things behind deliberately, as her pack was too heavy for her!
Several people have asked us if we would do it again. Initially our reaction would be NO, yet as the madness of western living kicks in, the simplicity of the Camino way of life is bizarrely moorish. During the drive home we were chatting about another Camino route that starts in Tuscany and fiishes in Rome.
Oh dear, are we fially going native?Does a padded room await all those pilgrims who swear they will only walk 'just one', yet end up addicted?
Perhaps we should buy shares in Compede...