The Throng

The Camino Primitivo was quiet when we walked in April, but joining the Camino Frances at Melide the atmosphere changed as the numbers increased dramatically. Americans, Irish, Spanish, French, Italians, young and old, moved along- there was chatting in the evening and when meeting up along the road with people we had met before. We met pilgrims from Ireland, Denmark, Slovenia, France, and the USA as well as Spain. The Confraternity of Saint James keeps monthly statistics via the pilgrim office in Santiago. In 2017 there were 301,006 pilgrims recorded, compared to 93,929 in 2005, with around 60% coming from the Camino Frances.

So many people as we move towards Santiago- a mixed blessing if quiet contemplation is preferred, but exciting as you are swept forward. Music, singing, groups of youths mainly interested in their mobile phone. This pilgrimage is nearing its goal with a sense of anticipation and also a sense of returning to the “real” world.

Was this atmosphere experienced in Bury St Edmunds? If there were enough people and things going on, then Yes! It is difficult to be certain of numbers, which varied with popularity and was probably declining even before the Reformation. There were fairs, including one for St James the Apostle in July https://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/gaz/suff.html  which would have encouraged numbers. 056

Staffs, staves, sticks and rods

I have never tried a “trekking pole” until now, and can report it helps a lot. I stand more upright and can push up hills and balance across streams more easily. A fellow pilgrim agreed, describing his stick as his “friend”.

Psalm 23 verse 4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

I had never understood the difference between a rod and staff, but am advised the rod is a stick which can be used as a weapon ( spare the rod and spoil the child) whereas the staff is a shepherd’s crook used for controlling sheep. The stave is the stick used by pilgrims and referred to in Pilgrim’s Progress as something to lean on when weary.

Food

The food in the Asturian region was magnificent. A “pilgrim’s menu” cost between 10 and 15€, which produced several generous courses of home-made food with red wine. Favourites included Fabada, a thick soup of ham, cabbage and potatoes with chorizo sausage and black pudding, stuffed cabbage, or braised beef and a caramelised cheesecake.

A lot of energy is needed to walk 30km. I cannot imagine how this could be done whilst fasting as penitence. Self denial may be a feature of faith taken to extremes, reinforcing the idea that the bodily self is unworthy. Margery Kempe describes a scene where other pilgrims complain about her refusal to eat meat. The doctor supports her: “I will not make her eat meat while she can abstain and be the better disposed to love our Lord… and while our Lord gives her strength to abstain”

The food was part of the region- “knee- strengthening “ and repairing to manage the hills. It is a pleasure to eat knowing the food will be used as fuel for the body.

Where did the pilgrim’s eat and stay in Bury St Edmunds? I imagine this would be in the town rather than the abbey complex, and would have produced a substantial amount of work.

 

Thoughts, dreams, and visions

I am aware that my thinking is altered through walking. The rythmn and the exercise allow thoughts to tumble out. On an expedition such as this journey to Santiago there is lots of sensory input of new sights, sounds, smells, tastes. Inhibition is loosened, sensation heightened. I have also noticed dreams are more action-packed- as if the traffic in the brain has speeded up. It is hardly surprising this feels therapeutic. Not all my dreams have been pleasant or easy, as if old memories suppressed are dredged up and processed.

Thinking could be further affected by the pilgrim’s health: Margery Kempe had fourteen children and was likely to be malnourished. She practiced fasting regularly. I wonder if this explains her emotional lability and easy tendency to cry? It would be easy to imagine  visual hallucination following on from this state, moving beyond the rational or tangible world into a waking dream, or vision, with supernatural or divine explanation. 354D0A27-1F92-4D85-907A-906ADB5E1FF39A4387C5-0A1A-4A9F-A3CC-612AC0037A7776C96C75-DBEF-4805-B87C-503926EE20A0B90B6833-C4B2-4315-8A56-F4F4D81F67C1

Ups and Downs

We climbed in the Cantabrigian hills along from Pola de Allande to the village of La Mesa. This involved a steep climb across Puerto del Palo at 1146m. This pilgrim was begging for mercy, staggering up Hill Difficulty and feeling thankful once the summit was reached. My husband, however, is particularly challenged by going downhill or crossing awkward streams, with much complaining along the way. The views at the top were awesome, but I was glad of the journey’s end.

Weather, seasons, light and shade

Walking through the Asturian hills in April made me think about the seasons and their influence on pilgrimage- the mud South of Bury St Edmunds would have made travel difficult before roads were paved. How delightful, however, once things had dried out a bit and the sun was shining.

I am struck by how much our language uses sunshine for happiness and clouds and/or shade for sadness or uncertainty. In a hotter country the shade is desirable, especially when travelling. It is much easier to walk in the cool of the morning. When the sun shines through, however, the effect feels truly beautiful. Contrast of light and shade is sharper and the view literally lights up. Dappled shade adds infinite effects.

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Flora

 

The wild flowers in the hills, especially the woodland between Grado and Salas in the Asturian region are truly spectacular. Everything was so lush, so green. Banks of purple nettle or red clover; orchids, violets, deep blue Pulmonaria and clumps of Solomon’s seal. This was, presumably, how the Suffolk countryside once looked, too. I am saddened we have lost so much of our local flora around Bury St Edmunds to intensive farming and building. – this is something which should be acted on before it is too late.