Walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela has been something I've been pondering for the last few years, but it was only when I realised that with a little rejigging I could create a six week slot in my diary from late May through to the middle of July that I might actually be able to do the 800-odd kilometres across northern Spain this summer. The great thing about the Camino is that it doesn't require any special equipment or training - just the time to complete what is one of the world's great long distance walking routes.
Committing to walking the route was a slightly spur of the moment decision - I booked my flights as I'd managed to find a really good deal, and it then dawned on me that I had to go through with the whole plan!
I've chosen to start in Lourdes, the Catholic shrine I've been travelling to with my family on pilgrimage for the past few years (and you can see some of my photos here). I'm an atheist, but my annual trips to Lourdes are wonderful experiences as you really get to see how people's belief fuels their commitment to helping others. Lourdes adds another six days to the walk (and takes it to around 1000km) but will mean that my journey will have a starting point that means something to me. I'll be waved off from the town's Domain by my friend Alex, hopefully after we've had coffee at the Italian café on the Rue Sainte-Marie, more commonly known to the Pilgrimage as the 'Red Route' that wheelchairs, voitures and stretchers are taken on from the Accueille St. Frai (the pilgrim's hospital that we are based in when in Lourdes) en route to the Domain.
During the course of the walk I'll also be raising money for two charities: Motability and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
A decade or so ago Motability helped my cousin Richard buy a specially adapted Ford Transit van - he has muscular dystrophy, and his van is controlled by two hand levers, which completely unnerves his passengers the first time he drives them, as the steering wheel seems to have a mind of its own! The van has been a massive part of his life, both in visiting the family in Tunbridge Wells and Sussex, but also in going on holiday down to Cornwall. Motability helped make the van happen for Rich and it's a pleasure to be raising funds for them.
CPRE's work is very close to my heart - I grew up in the High Weald, a wonderful part of the English countryside that straddles the Kent and Sussex border: rolling hills, old woodland, lots of deer and a few wild boar. CPRE's work is based on trying to persuade successive Governments that concreting over our rural spaces isn't such a clever idea. I really don't want the country to be an endless sprawl of suburbs, and if you're interested in reading some of the articles I've written about this then have a look at my journalism blog.
I'm heading off in late May, and once I'm on the road I'll be doing my best to blog semi-regularly. In the mean time, I have to track down a decent pair of shorts and a couple of maps - and some of my beloved Kodak TriX 400 film!
Please feel free to support Motability and CPRE - you can see the fundraising page I've set up here. They are both excellent charities that will make the most of every pound that you can give them.