If you call into Wild Side Sports, there's a good chance you're coming in to gear up for the Camino. With more Irish than ever undertaking the pilgrim routes, the Camino Frances has become an iconic walk that attracts keen walkers from around the world. It was something on my to-do holiday list for a while and so when Philip and Laurie wanted to send me over I jumped at the chance! I flew from Dublin to Biarritz on September 8th.
I spent the first two days catching up with friends and surfing in Seignosse which helped loosen up the body for the walk ahead. I got a train from Bayonne to St Jean Pied De Port on the Sunday night and began my walk on the Monday morning. I finished up in Estella on the Thursday evening and managed to get a surf in San Sebastian on Friday before flying out from Biarritz on Saturday September 15th. Here is my account of the trip.
Gear List :
Total weight of kit with 3L of water was approx 13kg.
This is the kit I brought with me for the Camino :
- Lowe Alpine Airzone Trek 35:45 L Pack
- Columbia Peakfreak shoes
- Icebreaker socks
- Columbia Silver Ridge zip off pants
- Wicking t-shirts (Rab,Columbia)
- North Face Fleece
- Waterproof Shell Jacket
- Berghaus Deluge waterproof pants
- Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket
- Platypus 3l water bladder
- Quicksilver shorts
- Toiletry Kit (sun cream, anti - mosquito spray, bodyglide etc)
- Led Lensor Head Torch
- Spare laces
- Chargers and battery power bank
- Quick Dry Towel
- First Aid Kit (blister pack etc)
- Thermal sleeping bag liner
Camino Day 1 : St Jean Pied De Port - Espinal (32 km) 6am - 2.30pm
I left my hostel in St Jean at 6am with my gear fully ready from the night before. At this time of year it is still dark until about 7.30, which meant using my headtorch to guide me along the way. Monday was total mist and rain in the morning so I had my waterproofs on for a lot of it. This was a great time to get going as you can start the day early out of the midday heat. I had brought snacks to keep me going for the day and didn't want to wait around for breakfast at the hostel. As everyone had told me it is a steep first day and I wanted to get up to the top early. I got to Orrison just before 8am and had a coffee and a bite to eat there.
I continued on after a quick stop and made it to the top before 11 am. Unfortunately there was little views to be seen on account of the weather. I was glad for my waterproofs on day 1! On the way down I made use of the fountain and refilled my water bladder. Going through the forest route the sun started to come out which was a welcome sight!
I got to Roncesvalles just before 12 and got my passport stamped. As it was a small village and I had nothing booked I decided to walk on to Espinal passing through the cute village of Burguete where I stopped for lunch. I arrived in Espinal and bunked down for the night in a super friendly hostel right by the mainstreet.
Day 2 : Espinal - Arre (35 km) 6.30am - 6 pm
I started the day again in the dark with my headtorch going up a narrow tree lined path out of Espinal. As the light came up this area was really beautiful. This section was my favourite as the terrain is varied and there's lots of forests to walk through. The sun was strong this day and got up to around 30 degrees which meant I was drinking more water. I got to the town of Zubiri just before 10 am and had a rest and some food here. This was the biggest town I had seen in a while and felt more commercial than any other town so far.
I walked on to Larrasoana and had lunch here where I tried the super tasty pilgrims meal. Every big stop like this I also changed my socks to keep blisters at bay. I was tempted to stay here for the night as the village was really nice with friendly people and good food but I decided to strike on towards Pamplona. As I walked on through the afternoon the weather again changed to eventually bring thunder and rain down. I reached the Trinidad De Arre 4km outside of Pamplona and decided to stay here overnight in the pilgrim hostel attached to the monastery. I slowed the pace this day to recover the legs and gave myself more time in each stop. It turned out to be a great place to stay as It had the feel of an old pilgrims shelter and was a great location to access Pamplona for the next day!
DAY 3 : Arre - Zariquiegui (16 km) 8 am - 2 pm
This day I used to explore Pamplona, a really gorgeous city and the most built up area you come to in your first week on the Camino. I walked in taking my time that day and used it as a rest day as well. The city has plenty of cafes, eateries and shops to keep anyone occupied.
After a few hours exploring Pamplona I left towards the town of Cizur Menor. I walked on up towards Zariquiegui. As you leave Pamplona it becomes a gradual incline and as you rise up you get fantastic views back of the city. This section is very open with little shade and this day was hovering 30 degrees and above. I got up to Zariquiegui for lunch and decided to stop here for the night as the village had super views to enjoy and really friendly people.
DAY 4 : Zariquiegui - Estella (35 km) 6.30am - 3.30pm
Starting my last day I left again with the head torch on. Walking up to the sculptures at Alto Del Perdon you pass a series of windmills. The lights from Pamplona still shine bright as you head to the top. It really is a super view from the top of this hill as I could see where I had come from and where the path ahead of me would take me down into the next valley. I walked down this path until the village of Uterga where I got a breakfast and some welcome coffee ! After brekkie I headed on down and made it to Puente la Reina for 10.30 where I stopped for another passport stamp.
This section leading to Puente la Reina is big open rolling farmland, a very different sight from the day before. Leaving Penta la Reina you cross the town bridge and head on the track.There is a short uphill section through trees in this but no incline compared to the first day. I stopped in Lorca for lunch, this day was 27 degrees so not as hot as the others. I left Lorca and carried on towards Estella. From here to Estella it began as quiet countryside and the closer I got to Estella the busier it got. I reached my destination of Estella at 3.30pm and was happy to be able to chill for the evening before I headed for San Sebastian. Estella Is a lovely town with a big square which was a hive of activity in the evening time. It was the perfect place to end my Camino journey .
September proved to be a great time to go mainly as the sun and heat were not at their strongest compared to July or August. My kit worked well for me, especially my shoes which are always a key factor on these trips.
Another piece of gear I was happy to have with me was my water bladder as this meant I could keep going and not having to break the rhythm of walking just to keep hydrated. It is a 3 litre so once filled I never had to think about getting to the next fountain. My head torch was also essential to leave early in the mornings at this time of year which meant getting the bulk of walking done before the heat of the day sets in.
The trip was a super experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a good walking holiday or a personal pilgrimage .I know I will be going back to continue on the Camino, it really does become addictive . Whether your considering the Camino for spiritual or personal reasons there will be something for you there, just get booking and BUEN CAMINO !