Nearly there

In 12 hours time we’ll be on our way and the jaunt which began as a throwaway idea will really take shape. Initially it was a laugh and some fun in booking tickets and then a deal of shopping took place. Now we are packed and gone are the baby wipes and shower gel. “You can wash with shampoo can’t you?” John has had my rucksack out and packed repacked it, asking me to justify pretty much all my chosen Camino possessions.  I think Mr Brierley would be disappointed. I think my pack comes in just under 9kilos and that’s before food and water. But I am planning that as soon as it gets anywhere near warm enough I am going to send home my sleeping bag and gain myself a whole new kilo to waste on … mascara maybe.

I want to write about this and stay in touch but wifi might be hard to find. I am pretty excited and nervous and just want to get going. Thank you for all your good wishes and prayers. I’ll carry them with me. At least they don’t weigh anything.


A brief and slightly anxious interlude before I leave on Wednesday involving a long weekend with kids and grandkids at Center Parcs. Why did I book all my treats at once? Like men and bloody buses I wait all year for ‘something to happen’ then a great flurry of activity happens, which admittedly I planned, but I am left feeling hurried and windswept. Still it won’t affect the hair. I had the pilgrim haircut which means I can use half a teaspoon of shampoo now in the albergue showers. And no fear of the dandelion clock look.

Center Parcs isn’t what it was. We first went in the year it opened,1987 to Sherwood Forest in the week before Christmas when our children were both under three. It was magical. Clean, shiny and full of that continental pre Christmas sparkle. Everything worked and the staff were super friendly. I has never been in a jacuzzi before nor had I done anything like the wild water rapids. The bathroom had underfloor heating and everywhere was warm. It rates as one of the best family holidays we ever had.

To be fair I haven’t had a bad experience of CP. And I have been lots. But this time was different. Taking our children with their children to the swimming complex, not having to get them changed or be involved in the complicated drying and feeding process means that you can just have the nice bits. I do a lot of watching. Watching our kids encourage boldness in their own and feeling so much pride in them all. They do it differently. I was so pressed and rushed keeping to a tight regime of something like Cesar Milan’s exercise discipline affection mantra. They seem more relaxed and although they get hassled of course, somehow the show seems to go on with more grace and less gritting of the teeth.

Parenting styles have changed. Good. But maybe so have I.

And so to Camino

Not long now. Nine days to be exact and despite my best intentions I have done little training, although I have walked to the end of the garden to my washing line and pegged some smalls out to dry. No mean feat after the dodgy weather we’ve been having, but everything seems to springing to life now, a few sunny days and the buds unfurl and the birds begin wooing and building in earnest. My garden soil – clay – turns from shit to bricks, a horticultural term. And a middle-aged woman’s fancy turns to pilgrimage.  I will be one of the 90% of pilgrims who do no training at all. I intend to ‘walk myself fit.’ reassured by the nice Mr Brierley that any reasonably fit person can complete the Camino if they walk at a suitable pace.

Excellent. He suggests 33 days for the 790km. We are allowing 40. That’s a week for loafing lounging and general day dreaming, or maybe treating blisters, shin splints and nursing sunburn.

For some time our (Helen and mine) attention has been on equipment. We consulted the Brierley bible and read that you should aim not to carry more than 10% of your body weight. even though we are both tall and not undersized, that is not much. So we have done lots of research and quite a deal of shopping for lightweight kit. Camino kit and trekking clothes come in a range of dire colours, as if made from offcuts of scout tents and end of line Edinburgh Mill gear. You have to look hard for anything not beige but so far I have resisted the various shades of khaki and taupe and am kitted out in lots of bright blue kit, mostly from Tog 24 which I hope will wick and wear well. I do feel as though I am giving free advertising – maybe they could pay for my flight home?- and I am trying not to buy anything with too vivid a logo, but they do a useful 12/14 size. Why don’t more companies do that? Most of us are between sizes, aren’t we? I hope to be much nearer the 12 end than the 14 by the time I finish.

Anyhow we’ve not yet shaved slivers off our toothbrushes but we have bought lightweight sleeping bags and debated the merits of an all purpose cleaning product. Not Liquid Flash exactly but something that can wash your hair, body and pants and not weigh too much either. I am debating doing an Ann Hathaway with my hair. It’s so thin I could probably give it a wipe over with a soapy flannel to clean it but it is flyaway and, call me vain, but I don’t want all the pictures of me on this walk looking like a dandelion clock. I’ll let you know my decision. Husband says yes do it. Daughter says no, you have to accessorise carefully when you have very short hair – to avoid misunderstanding. And you don’t do that mum. You just put any old thing on. And she’s right I do. But it’s tempting.

So far I have bought nice rucksack,Image

a tasteful blue coat, and a poncho. Helen and I have had prolonged What’s App conversations about wet weather gear and we have, after consulting Brierley and the Camino forum, decided on ponchos. These garments are truly hideous and hers, though blue, has a particularly becoming pouch on the back to accommodate the rucksack. Mine is so immense that if I become too weary I will hire a discreet Sherpa and be carried under its all enveloping folds.

Anyhow our questions have centred around ‘How much does it weigh?’ and ‘Does it wick?’ We’re nearly there equipment-wise and have begun trying out our poles. I feel very silly striding round the lanes near me – at least she lives in foreign parts and is that eccentric English woman – but these poles are good. I have done enough advertising this post so I won’t name them but they make me stand more upright and walk with more energy and purpose. We’ll see, if they don’t help I’ll post them home, but I have a feeling they will be one of my better buys. That and the soap leaves. But that’s another story.

There is another aspect to this venture. The spiritual aspect of the journey. Now the practical preparations are in place I am beginning to look at what I need to sustain me for the next six weeks. Given the weight restrictions an entire book is out of the question, otherwise I would choose Les Miserables. So I will choose some poetry: I’d like to memorise some, so it had better rhyme.  And some psalms. I know many and they address every mood and occasion. Ecclesiastes too will fit, I have always loved it/them. Its lugubrious tone should be appropriate for a pilgrimage. It concentrates the mind wondering what will nourish me for that time. All very Desert Island Discs. Now for a luxury… suggestions please.

Preparing for Camino

It’s been a long time since I posted. Lots of reasons but the long dark cold winter meant that my mood felt dark and cold and that too lasted longer than I wanted. And I didn’t want to inflict that on anyone else.

There have been bright moments of course. Here’s one:Image


And there’s another.

Two small people full of colour, ideas and energy: rascals both and I love them for it. They add those qualities to my middle aged life. I’ve written before about my need for shape structure and this winter has felt a bit flabby. Rather dull and lacklustre. Held together by dinners with family and friends – yum always, a few films – Cloud Atlas stands out in my memory, a half hearted attempt at the 5:2 diet  but frankly it’s been too darn cold to miss meals. There’s been a long wait for spring, but it’s coming, they tell us temperatures will reach double figures this weekend and not a moment too soon.

Anyhow, anyhow my point is that there has been nothing in the pipeline, on the horizon, nothing to aim for. I have completed a few small projects. I nursed some geranium cuttings through a blastingy cold wInter – have I mentioned how cold it’s been? I knitted my grandson a hat, but Lydia told me it made him look like a window cleaner because I’d left the bobble off. And I have been completely outgrannied in the knitting department by the other very competent Nana who can do cables and patchwork and line blackout curtains and suchlike.

Other fun? I have been to an arty lady and experimented in her workshop with paint and ink and tearing up bits of paper (not all in one session). What art I did at school was nothing like this. As I remember it I mostly washed out jam jars and tried to retrieve my paintings from the dirty brown shapes that descended on them. Much prefer this way, but I do have a fixation with brown. My work heads almost unerringly that way.

Fitness has gone by the by, what with the small dog dying and only having a doddery, deaf hound to take out. He’s not silly. He puts his nose outside and gauges the level of activity required for the day. Anything below 5 degrees or in a easterly wind means a very short out and back walk. So what I needed was a challenge, a focus.  And here it is.

My friend Helen and I often walk together. It started when our kids were small and we both had dogs which needed exercise. We met several times a week and stomped round the streets of Rochester or the Kings’ School playing fields, the so called Alps. We talked a lot and once one dog, Billy who lives on, got bored walking round and round the rugby pitches being ignored by the two yattering women, and decided to take himself home. We found him twenty minutes later on my door step when we came back for second breakfast.

Walking progressed and we walked and talked our way through the kids’ adolescence, their exams and experiments, broken hearts and marriages, (theirs, not ours) and and into young adulthood. We found a book of Kentish walks and we’ve done 10 out of 15 or so of them. We walked the Jurassic Coast and round the Isle of Wight and other such coastal delights, and this year we wondered about Northumbria and maybe incorporating a retreat.

And then came a quantum leap: Helen said, “You know Verity, we could do this when we’re 60, 70, 80 even – (here’s hoping) – why don’t we look at something we won’t be able to manage then?” It wasn’t that  – it was much more punchy and clever, but that was the gist of it.

And we did. Somehow, we came up with the idea of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. To be continued. Ha!