Tuesday, 14 May 2013


I've been on the Camino!

When I was here a few years ago I did not know that part of the Camino passes very close to where I am living. I just noticed the other day, on a very sketchy map of a small area, a little dotted line that said Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, and because of the local nature of the map, not much is shown. But it was enough.
And so, a new part of the landscape has revealed itself to me.

And since I first discovered it I've been back several times. I'm not walking it in the traditional way but now that I've found it, I keep going back to it, entering at different points, leaving it at different points, and then finding a different route back home. Sometimes I deliberately leave it or sometimes it leaves me, I 'lose my way' lose sight of the markers that let you know that you are on the right track.

On my first attempt I decided to try to pick up the trail (which begins at Arles, and passes through Saint Gilles) on the way to Vauvert. I cycled a few kilometres to the village of Franqueveau, headed up to the main road, crossed it, and soon found a track which was clearly marked with the GR sign – 2 stripes, one white and one maroon – I'd found it! The track at first ran alongside a canal


And then there was this post with directions. I'm including this picture, despite its strange angle, because it is the same marker post that The Solitary Walker photographed when he walked along the same path, 2 or 3 years ago. 


Only I did not know this then, it was a few days after taking this photo that I read his post and realised this. And this is one of the things that struck me, the realisation that so many people have walked this same path, all with their different stories, yet with the same desire – to walk this pilgrim way.
(In one of these intriguing coincidences, the Solitary Walker has also recently published a post called Reasons to Walk the Camino)

By a line of swaying poplars, the path crossed over the canal which was when I saw my first yellow scallop shell, marking the Camino, the Pilgrim Way – great was my excitement! I was now following paths I had never been on before – and not just any path but The Way!

After crossing the canal I then discovered that in this countryside which I had always thought of as being totally flat, there exist, if not exactly hills, rises in the ground, and woodland areas. Following a path through these delightful woods I felt a great sense of wellbeing, this place felt welcoming... And I so enjoy the way the signs are painted on whatever is available, whether concrete post, metal road sign or tree trunk. 

But after coming out onto a crossroads and plunging down a steep hill, surrounded by woods and with no landmarks in sight, I lost sight of the two stripes and in fact quite lost my bearings and sense of direction and it seemed to me like an utter miracle that I managed to find the road to Vauvert, and then home, which was another 7 kilometres. I'd been out for hours, and was very tired by the time I got home, but filled with a sense of achievement.

Another time, I decided to look for the path after it has left Vauvert, and is heading towards Montpellier. Once again, that thrill of excitement when I came across the GR signs and the scallop shell. Once again, I'm following a trail so many others before me have followed, and one I have never been on before. Through more enchanting woods, over a canal, alongside fields....

This was the last marker I saw, and photographed. The next thing I knew, I was approaching a main road. I hadn't been paying attention, I'd been 'lost in thought'. I got out the map and scrutinized it, trying to work out where I was. Decided I had lost the path somehow, but felt that did not matter. I had not been looking out for the markers because I had been thinking of something else entirely. This is quite common of course, my mind chatters away to itself quite happily, a lot of the time – but this was a little different. This time it was the voice of a character in a story I'm writing, a character I hadn't heard from in a long time. I was so pleased to 'hear from' him that I was happy to head home. So I took the main road heading to Vauvert, and turned off onto the road that would take me home. Sat outside in the garden, shaded by sycamores and acacias, and started writing down the character's thoughts. And so it has continued. The Camino inspires!

When I went back the next day, to pick up the trail I'd lost, I saw it was quite clearly marked that one should turn off, in fact the way I'd gone was marked with the 'wrong way' sign, but I had not noticed it, for my attention was turned inwards. So I continued along the 'right way' and I was delighted to see in front of me, an actual person, someone walking, with backpack and staff. I slowed down to speak to him. During our conversation he said that it was perfectly acceptable to follow the Chemin de Saint Jaques on a bicycle, which is what I'm doing. Well it's good to know that the Pope would give his blessing to my wanderings, but this path, this way, is clearly something that goes beyond any particular faith or religion, but taps into something timeless so it seems to me, in the human psyche, the Way being a way of connecting with oneself or with that greater something whatever name you give it, that we are always part of but we can tend to forget, and not feel. 

Field of poppies on the Camino

If the land holds the energy of the thoughts, feelings and actions that have occurred in it and around it – as seems likely to me – then all the feelings, the fervent wishes aspirations all the appreciation of the nature all around them, of pilgrims who have walked this way for centuries will have soaked into the land and be real and tangible energies.

It certainly feels that way to me.


The Solitary Walker said...

Oh, how wonderful, dritanje! You have certainly, immediately and instinctively, felt the pulse of that great and historic spiritual track. Now, of course, the arms of the camino will not let you go, and you will be called back many times, I can promise you. Be warned – those red-and-white markers and yellow scallop shells are very addictive..!

It gave me great delight to think of you tracing the same route as I did several years ago – and as so many have done before. And to see that marker post again gave me a delicious feeling (though how many glasses of red had you drunk before taking the pic?)

Yes, you can bike many sections of the camino – also you come across pilgrims on donkeyback too...

(BTW, just check out that first link, if you would – I can't get it to work.)

dritanje said...

thank you solitary walker, for your comments, and also remarks on the addictive quality of the Camino, yes, I can feel that it is one of these things that, once inside you, won't let go. But that opens up all kinds of new possibilities!
(By the way I had not been drinking vin rouge when I took the photo of the signpost, it was a deliberate attempt to get all the signposts in - and a glimpse of the canal - and an artistic angle!)
I've also sorted the link, thanks for pointing it out - the internet here is so slow, unpredictable, sometimes requiring fiddling with routers etc, I could write a whole post about that in itself - that getting a post up at all is a major success..hope it works now, it seems to.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, the link works fine now!

Only joking about the vin rouge... I do appreciate the photo is VERY artistic ;)

Just loved revisiting these early stages of the Arles route with you. Yes, those surprising little hills and woods before Vauvert... Had a siesta in one of those woods and feel as if it were only yesterday...

Ruth said...

I love this fabulous experience, and your photos, and I wish I were there!

dritanje said...

Thank you Ruth and yes, you would love it, I just know it would be inspiring for you.

And yes solitary walker I knew you were just joking about the vin rouge - that comes after I've got home!
You say it just feels like yesterday when you were there - I wonder if the Camino also has a way of altering time - wouldn't surprise me...

dritanje said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Forest Dream Weaver said...

I think land must hold the memories of devotion repeated over centuries in the same way as sacred statues are imbued with the energy of prayer.

So glad to see you are happily wandering. Lovely photos!


dritanje said...

I agree with you Ruby and it's good to be reminded of sacred statues. One day who knows they will scientifically be able to show the effects, in the same way that water once it has been blessed, can be seen to have changed.
M xx

Vagabonde said...

You show some lovely photos of your travel on the Camino – you are going on it with a bicycle? I’d like that. I used to walk a lot but now with bad knees it is painful.
Once in Morocco I saw a sign that said “52 Jours à Tombouctou” or 52 days to Timbuktu, Mali and this was on a camel through the Sahara desert – what a journey! That would be the trek I’d love to take.

dritanje said...

vagabonde, that would be a journey I would like to take too, through the desert on a camel. To take 32 days would connect one with the real experience of time...
Thanks for looking in, and your comment!