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My Camino Hell: Part One

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Some things seem like such a good idea at the time, before the reality kicks in.

Last weekend, I found myself in an unusual situation. Most Saturdays and Sundays, I spend my time slumped in front of the television, watching hours of repeats of Four In A Bed or old ITC serials on ITV4.

On Sunday though, I was in an shop that sells clothing for people who profess to actually liking sport, looking for a pair of trousers that zipped off at the knee to become shorts, and getting increasingly frustrated that there weren't any short enough for my stubby little legs.

The reason for me being in such a situation is because I'm doing something so staggeringly out of character, it's akin to seeing George Osborne caring about the poor.

I'm going on a walking holiday.

Yes. I know.

It all started a couple of years ago when my girlfriend, who has Spanish parents, mentioned El Camino de Santiago - or The Way of St James - a medieval pilgrimage trail that starts in France, wanders over the Pyrenees, through northern Spain, ending in the cathedral city of Santiago. It's a walk that takes about 30 days, walking between 20 kilometres and 30 kilometres a day.

"It's supposed to be lovely," she said. "We could do that one day."

"Yeah, we could," I responded blithely, secretly wondering if the bloke on Don't Tell The Bride was really going to spend so much on a stag do.

I didn't hear anything about it for a while and assumed my girlfriend had forgotten about it. We'd pop over to Spain occasionally to visit her relatives in Galicia, and sometimes go to Santiago, where we'd see bedraggled 'pilgrims' entering the city, looking knackered but happy. Probably ecstatic at the thought they could spend the next day watching eight hours of Ven A Cenar Conmigo (I'm reliably informed that's what Come Dine With Me would be called in Spain), rather than walking another 30 kilometres.

It was a while later that my girlfriend and I watched the slightly mawkish film The Way. It's not the best movie ever made, or the worst (that's still Highlander II: The Quickening, the only film that I have considered throwing a brick through my television for, just to make it stop - the simple logic of just using the off button having been forced from my brain by dint of its sheer awfulness).

Anyway, The Way, directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen, is a film about, yes, you guessed it, the Camino. And with that, my girlfriend's fervour was reignited. Actual plans were drawn up, investigations made, books bought. And all through it, I just nodded along, part of me thinking that it would never actually happen.

On a trip back up to Manchester to see my mum in autumn last year, we ended up going to the cinema to see The Way as well, and I mentioned to my mum that my girlfriend and I had rough plans in place to do the Camino.

Then I did something even more out of character.

I invited my mum to come with us.

And she said yes.

Now, I get on with my mum better than I ever have, but I haven't been on holiday with her for about 20 years and after about a week in her company find myself reverting back my 14-year-old self. And now I was planning on walking with her for miles and miles. One of us is bound to snap sooner or later.

At this point, I couldn't back out, both my girlfriend and my mum were enthused. It was really happening.

For Christmas, one of my presents was a pack of blister plasters. It had gone completely beyond a joke.

Flights were then booked, as was the hotel for the first night - the only saving grace was I couldn't get a full month off work, so we're only going to be walking for 12 days.

I've bought a rucksack, a sleeping bag, wicking tshirts (what the fuck is wicking?), walking poles, an emergency blanket, a head torch and various other items that I only ever thought would be on my shopping list if I knew the zombie apocalypse was coming.

I'm prepared, if not mentally and physically, then at least with all the right gear.

I've called this blog 'My Camino Hell' for two reasons. The first, and the most likely, is that it's going to be awful. I'll be grumpy and moaning about sore feet. My back will ache from carrying a rucksack. I wont have any episodes of Danger Man to watch.

The other reason is I'm worried I'll be converted. Not to Catholicism, obviously, I'm a staunch atheist - but that I'll become one of those people. You know, the ones who actually enjoy walking holidays. The type of person who thinks nothing of scaling Kilimanjaro for a laugh.

So, I'm off to get my Euros and a neat short haircut and I fly out to France later this week and on the first day walking I'll be scaling the Pyrenees. Wish me luck, I'll need it.

And if I don't die, I'll back in a few weeks to give you My Camino Hell: Part Two - The Quickening.

Around the Web

Way of St. James - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage Spain - The Way

El Camino de Santiago | The pilgrimage to Compostela

Camino de Santiago Guide, Your #1 Guide for Planning the Camino

The Camino Santiago Compostela Pilgrimage - Home Page