In March 2020 our family were counting down the weeks to our long-planned pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago. Enter a worldwide pandemic and, like millions of others, our travel plans were halted—we thought—for ever. We were still processing the disappointment when, just as abruptly as the trip was cancelled, the planets aligned and 2022 became our year. So we dusted off the plans and in July 2022 our family set out from South Australia and made our way via Paris to St Jean-Pied-de-Port to commence our long-awaited Camino Francés.
We became known as the ‘Australian Family’ -Claire (42), Callum (33), Molly (15/16) and Jethro (14) – and this is the Diary of our Family Pilgrimage.
Day 0 – Paris to St Jean-Pied-de-Port – 0km
We packed up our Parisian apartment: we had a wonderful stay and felt like it was a true home away from home. We had seven days in Paris which gave us a flavour of the city and helped us get over our jet lag before our real adventure begins. We arrived in St Jean-Pied-de-Port pilgrim’s office and receive our second stamp of the Camino, our first being our AFotC stamp. The staff in the office are wonderful. We picked up a couple of bumbags for the children, arranged for our luggage to be sent ahead to Santiago and found a lovely spot for dinner. Tomorrow the hiking begins.
Day 1 – St Jean-Pied-de-Port to Orisson – 9km
We had a short day planned, stopping at Refuge Orisson for the night to soak in the Pyrenees. We set off and made it 500m before needing to stop… for croissants and coffee. This would set the tone for how we started most mornings for the remainder of the pilgrimage. We got to participate in the famous Refuge Orisson community meal and, to our surprise, there were 9 Australians in this bubble of 25 people! One Australian, Peter, we would end up hiking with on and off throughout our Camino. The air was clear over the Pyrenees and we finished the day with a spectacular sunset.
Day 2 – Orisson to Roncesvalles – 18km
We hiked over the Pyrenees out of France and into Spain making it to 1450m before our descent. We were in Basque country. We barely saw the children today except when we called them back for a photo. We made new friends and walked with people from all over the world. The albergue looked recently restored and was great value, they even offered a laundry service for a small fee. I thought he was joking at first… turns out it was legitimate!
Day 3 – Roncesvalles to Zubiri – 21km
This was an easy day as we descended into Zubiri. We are slowly building our rhythm of eat, hike, sleep and we are enjoying this lifestyle. We are quickly learning we need to leave a little in the tank for the end of the day to explore the villages, visit the mercado and find our albergue. We were entertained in the evening by a talented musician from Germany who was walking with her ukulele.
Day 4 – Zubiri to Pamplona – 22km
Day 11—on the Meseta
Our earliest start to date, we were out the door by 6.15am. Well done teenagers. We headed into Larrasoana for breakfast and met a shop owner who had completed the Camino Francés 11 times! We easily completed our kilometres into Pamplona before lunch time and we were blown away by the vibrancy, colour and architecture of Pamplona. We were glad we had booked a day off tomorrow to explore.
Day 5 – Day off in Pamplona – 0km
The children elected to stay in the air-conditioned comfort of our hostel but Callum and I spent the day exploring the city. The Bull Ring was quite confronting: so brutal, but a unique and important part of their history and culture. We didn’t enjoy the day off as much as we thought and we were keen to keep walking. Friends we had made in the first few days are now ahead of us. I’m taking comfort in the thought we will catch them again at some stage.
Day 6 – Pamplona to Puente la Reina – 24km
Jethro declared this a “great day”! With a day off yesterday we were in a new little bubble and met a lot of new pilgrims. It was awesome seeing Alto del Perdon (see photo above) and we had a clear sunny day to see it set against that beautiful backdrop. We were saddened when saw the memorial to recognise 92 people from the surrounding villages in the Sierra del Perdon who lost their lives in 1936/37 in a brutal way. We parted ways with some friends we had made from the Canary Islands who had come to the end of their five-day Camino.
Day 7 – Puente la Reina to Estella – 22km
Church of St Martin de Fromista
Molly was out in front leading today off strong! Callum had his first mental struggle day but powered on through. It was a long, hot, dusty day but the villages did not disappoint with the food. I love the local pinxchos and Navarre tortilla!
Day 8 – Estella to Torres del Rio – 30km
Oh no. We were too early. Wine fountain empty. We didn’t even know there were hours of operation! No Fuente de Vino for us. Nevertheless we had a great day walking through wheat fields and stopping in villages. We took the suggested alternate route today for 7km which took us over the mountain instead of around it. We arrived in Los Arcos at midday (our planned stop for the night) and felt pretty good so decided to press on for another 8km to Torres Del Rio. Good call, this albergue has a pool!
Day 9 – Torres del Rio to Navarrete – 32km
Our biggest day yet! Molly made a new friend, Lydia from Germany and Jethro is entertaining himself by learning how to twirl his hiking poles. I have found myself drinking coffee, something I never drink in Australia, but it has become part of our family ritual in the morning. We are off the guide book now so there are fewer pilgrims and we are enjoying the quieter albergues.
Day 10 – Navarrete to Azofra – 22km
The amazing cathedral at León
Today felt a bit like we were walking on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It was mostly flat and the trail meandered through vineyards and small villages. As we walked into Azofra, a local man came out of his home with a bag of blackberries and plums for us. They were juicy and delicious and really hit the spot after another hot day. The local people we have met don’t appear to have much but they are so generous and proud of what they grow. It is wonderful to be able to immerse yourself in a culture away from the typical holiday tourist destinations.
Day 11 – Azofra to Grañón – 22km
Still no blisters between the four of us but today was one of ‘those’ days. It started with me falling down the stairs as I left the albergue at 5.30am. These are the days we know will be the most memorable and we were already laughing about it by dinner. We are staying in our first donativo tonight… how much are you supposed to give?? I don’t want to be too cheap but we are also a family on a budget. We settled on €10 each for the bed and another €10 each for the meal although there wasn’t enough and it was very basic so we have all gone to bed hungry. Bring on breakfast!
Day 12 – Grañón to Villafranca – 27km
Beautiful day today, we were all in a much better headspace. The day was slightly cooler and we also had a little more canopy to walk under. We had our favourite lunch of the trip so far.
Day 13 – Villafranca to Cardeñuela Riopico – 24km
Cruz de Ferro in the fog
Today was the type of day you picture as a mother when planning a trip like this for your family. The four of us walked and talked for the whole day about 1980s NBA, funny primary school stories, and things we’d like to do when the Camino is over. We passed a couple of interesting memorials – one dedicated to 300 people who were executed during the Spanish civil war and the site of the oldest human remains found in Atapuerca. So proud of the children, 268km in and they are soldiering on.
Day 14 – Cardeñuela Riopico to Burgos – 14km
Today was all about the Burgos cathedral. What a stunner of a building, it felt much more of a museum than a church. We start the Meseta tomorrow and a few people are skipping ahead via bus over this section so we will part ways with some of our Camino family tomorrow. We are looking forward to this section and think it is an integral part of our Camino.
Day 15 Burgos to Hornillos – 21km
cracked the 300km mark today. It was an easy walk. We let the kids loose with the GoPro so we will see how that footage turns out! Still no blisters but a hot day so we elected to take a short day… time is on our side.
Day 16 – Hornillos to Castrojeriz – 22km
Walking out of Villafranca del Bierzo
We had the most lovely day. The ruins of San Anton convent were amazing. Beautiful landscapes of wheat fields and sunflower crops with a scattering of trees made it a picturesque walk and one we won’t forget. The kids and Callum are powerhouses and the walking is becoming easier and easier each day.
Day 17 – Castrojeriz to Fromista – 26km
Another beautiful day! With a forecast of 34C we left at 5.15am to tackle the climb out of Castrojeriz. With the sun rising the views were amazing. Wonderful swirls of pink, orange and violet painted the sky and we took a moment at the summit of this climb to soak it all in. We are still adjusting to the Spanish time-table (siesta is a real thing!)
Day 18 – Fromista to Carrion – 20km
Today was a day of contrast. We couldn’t find a single place open for food so we walked the day on an empty stomach and got into Carrion at 10.30am feeling pretty ‘hangry’. We found a little place open who were happy to give us some watermelon while we waited for our albergue to open. Pilgrims poured into the albergue until it was full and we caught up with friends of days past. We ate, drank and sung our way into the evening with a group of super talented, multicultural pilgrims. The kids loved it and stayed up with us until the end and Callum won them over with his perfect timing in the Karaoke.
Day 19 – Carrión to San Nicolas del Real Camino – 32km
Shell fountain in Galicia
Today we tackled the 18km stretch out of Carrión with no towns and flat terrain. With the previous day’s experience we loaded up Jethro and turned him into our human supermarket so we were covered for breakfast and lunch for the day. We passed by the bodegas and felt like we were in a hobbit village! Also the kids ended up on the wrong path today. Lord knows how that happened but it was pretty easy to get them back across the ditch and onto the Way.
Day 20 – San Nicolas to Bercianos – 17km
all accidentally slept in today (7.15am). It is a strange feeling waking up and the albergue is empty! It was a beautiful spot so we were happy for the extra time and slow start to the day. Lovely easy day of walking.
Day 21 – Bercianos to Mansilla de las Mulas – 26km
This morning greeted us with the most amazing full moon, which was still high in the sky when we left. We caught up with Peter, our Australian friend from our first night in Orisson, and enjoyed an evening down at the river in Mansilla de las Mulas.
Day 22 – Mansilla to León- 18km
Walking at sunrise in Galicia
We made it into León! What a beautiful city and the Gothic cathedral is worth the entry fee. We stayed in the Benedictine monastery but the stone walls and limited windows are making this a very hot and sweaty night.
Day 23 – León to San Martin – 25km
A lot of road walking today: a number of pilgrims caught a bus through this stage but we are glad we sucked it up and walked it, we feel this is all part of our journey. Despite the mediocre scenery the past few days we are having so many laughs and enjoying our adventure as a family.
Day 24 – San Martin to Murias de Rechivaldo – 29km
Clocked over 500km walked today and it felt good. We loved Hospital de Orbigo. We had breakfast with some very interesting looking birds and we hit some nature trails today for the first time in a few days. It felt good to get some elevation into our legs: sometimes the flats are harder than the up and down.
Day 25 – Murias de Rechivaldo to Foncebadón – 21km
Nice views today and some decent elevation. Back to beautiful villages with delicious food though we are noticing it is starting to get more expensive again as we near Galicia. Cruz de Ferro tomorrow!
Day 26 – Foncebadón to Ponferrada – 27km
The entire Camino family outside the cathedral at Santiago
The rain finally caught up with us today and we had to make use of our ponchos for the first time. We almost missed Cruz de Ferro as it came upon us quite suddenly through the fog. The descent into Molinaseca was steep and slippery but the village itself transported us to other parts of Europe: we felt we were in Switzerland. Just beautiful.
Day 27 – Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo- 23km
Pretty uneventful day today but we hit our first milestone marker with a 1 in front of it. Less than 200km to go! I love the simplicity of this life. Eat, hike, sleep, repeat.
Day 28 – Villafranca to La Faba – 26km
Stunning day with stunning views! We took the alternate route out of Villafranca del Bierzo: the elevation was tough on the calves but the views were worth it. We had lunch surrounded by cosmos, roses and the largest wisteria I have ever seen. The trail then wound up through a fairytale forest where we called it a night in La Faba.
Day 29 – La Faba to Triacastela – 26km
We are not in Kansas anymore… we are in Galicia! This region is stunning. We got up early to watch the sun rise over the hills. The pain and weariness are all worth it for the views, the peace and the uninterrupted time with family.
Day 30 – Triacastela to Sarria – 18km
Today felt like we were on a movie set. It was moody and misty with gorgeous villages. The walking in Galicia is beautiful. We saw our first pilgrims completing their pilgrimage by horseback today.
Day 31 – Sarria to Gonzar – 30km
Welcome to the pilgrim highway. We made the mistake of starting our journey from Sarria on a Monday, in August. I am excited for new pilgrims as they started their journey but as I grapple with my own emotions of having come so far and this journey coming to a close, it was challenging to now share this space and this trail with hundreds upon hundreds of new faces. We couldn’t get accommodation in Portomarin where we had planned so we walked an extra 8km and thankfully snagged four beds in one albergue. We were introduced to some new personality types and tensions ran high between a Spaniard and a Frenchman regarding beds and the poor volunteer was called to sort it out. This was in total contrast to the gentle and giving atmosphere we had grown accustomed to in the albergues to this point. It will be tough to adapt to this new culture and we feel we are on a completely different pilgrimage.
Day 32 – Gonzar to Casanova – 22km
Well the Camino is certainly ‘throwing up’ some challenges late in the piece… quite literally. Poor Callum started feeling unwell yesterday and couldn’t walk today. The kids and I went ahead and he caught a taxi to our next destination. We are not sure what this will mean for our Compostela but the kids are adamant we need to finish walking the entire Way!
Day 33 – Casanova to Melide – 10km
After a rocky start this morning Callum came good and we planned a short easy 10km day. We booked an AirBnB so we could have some privacy and a re-set before our final couple of days.
Day 34 – Melide to O’Amenal – 37km
A message came though What’s App from our Camino Family – everyone was meeting at 10am tomorrow at the park at the start of Santiago to walk the last 3km together. So we had a choice to make: do we push out a big day today and try to make the meet time tomorrow or do we wish every one well and see them the next day? We set off and managed a 37km day to give us a chance to meet up for the finale. Callum is a machine! We had to book a hotel way from the Camino as everything was booked up. We managed to get a taxi to the hotel and arranged for him to drop us back tomorrow morning at the same spot.
Day 35 – O’Amenal to Santiago de Compostela – 16km
We did it!! It is done! So many emotions right now. I am so proud of my children who walked the entire 778km with their packs, without complaint and proved to themselves they are capable beyond their belief. Also to Callum who came home strong on a delicate stomach to give us the chance to walk in with our Camino family. We have had a wonderful journey and we are just taking this time to soak it all in. We finished with a group dinner with 33 of our friends joining for a kebab to celebrate our journey.
We go on to complete the 90km to Finisterre and met a wonderful American family who shared in Molly’s 16th birthday celebrations on the final day. This was a lovely way to end our Camino, at the 0.00km marker at the ‘end of the world’.
The experience is one we are so grateful for. To do this as a family and create lifetime memories and meet people from all over the world… we don’t take this for granted. Thank you to our family back home to looked after our house and our Welsh terrier Marty McFly and helped make this dream achievable!