This post is about the resources I found most useful when planning my pilgrimage.
Planning the route through southern England
I used the 1:50,000 OS maps, including the online version available on www.bing.com . Recent editions show long distance cycle routes.
Sustrans.org.uk have an online map of long distance cycle routes. This can be expanded to a very large scale. However, there was no convenient direct route from St Ives to Hertford, and the London-Brighton route headed too far west for me as I wanted to reach Newhaven. So I plotted my own route, using the official cycle routes for only part of the way. The Lea Valley route proved to be very rough for several miles, and was the cause of the problems I had with my pannier bag disintegrating. Signposting on these long distance routes was erratic and confusing. For example, I lost the route in the Isle of Dogs, at Catford, near the Croydon Tramway, and in New Addington.
Planning the route through France
IGN maps at scale 1:100,000 show all minor roads and contours, and are ideal for planning a route avoiding hills as much as possible. 'Tourisme et Decouverte' series www.ign.fr
At an early stage, I tried the online version http://www.geoportail.gouv.fr/accueil but ended up buying printed copies from Stanfords bookshop in London, which I carried with me on the journey. I used a standard road atlas of France for the macro planning i.e. establishing a direct route between Dieppe and St-Jean-Pied-de-Port broken into days covering approx 60 miles (100km). I was keen to visit Amboise, final home of Leonardo da Vinci, and also to call in on my cousin near Marmande. Both these places are off the regular pilgrim routes. Having established the ideal stopping points, I sought campsites at these locations using a Google search. In fact, most town and many villages in France have a municipal campsite and it was possible to simply turn up and pitch the tent. The only major place we visited in France which didn’t have a campsite was Mont-de-Marsan.
Planning the route through Spain
I used the German-language guide Jakobs-Radweg von Pyrenaen nach Santiago de Compostela. 2009. Radingersdorf: Verlag Esterbauer. 978-3-85000-166-3; and The Way of Saint James : a cyclists guide from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela (by John Higginson). 2nd ed. 2005. 978-1-85284-441-7 Milnthorpe: Cicerone. The German guide has details maps of each section of the cycle route through Spain, with a very approximate gradient profile, list of accommodation and other facilities in towns and villages en route, including campsites. But both books were quite old and so some of the information was out of date. Although the Higginson book has the advantage (to me) of being written in English, the maps are less detailed than Jakobs-Radweg. Gradient profiles were better, but still it didn't give enough detail about certain hilly sections of the road. I didn’t try to cycle on the walkers’ path, which is often very rough, and used normal roads instead.
Another cycle pilgrim showed me the guide book he was using - St Jacobs Fietsroute (by Clemens Sweerma). It’s in Dutch, but the layout and detail looked excellent. The guide is in 3 volumes - Haarlem to Tours, Tours to the Pyrenees, and the Pyrenees to Santiago. Available from Europa Fietsers. I plan to buy a copy out of curiosity.
The Junta de Castilla y Leon publish a series of booklets describing several of the pilgrimage routes into Santiago. I have Route de Santiago: the silver route: a practical guide for pilgrims. This route comes up from the south via Salamanca, so only part of it was relevant to my 2014 journey. The booklets include tables of distances, facilities at towns or villages, photos, websites, what to see, gradient profiles, list of useful addresses. And they are very compact, so don’t add much weight to your pack.
The ‘Maps with me’ app proved handy as it could be enlarged to show local roads and street, marked campsites, shops, and hotels, and functioned independently of a wifi connection. http://mapswith.me/en/home
Before setting out from home, I located campsites by internet searching, and took a printed list of them with me. I did this because I wasn’t sure how reliable internet access would be (it varied). Booking ahead is unnecessary, at least at the time of year I was travelling (May/June), and you need to allow some flexibility to cope with weather conditions, injuries, accidents, and breakdowns.
I varied from the suggested routes in several places because I found that the main roads were generally quiet, having been bypassed by new motorways.
Confraternity of Saint James.
The Confraternity is an association of pilgrims and others interested in the Camino. It publishes the Bulletin, a magazine with news, informational and reflective articles, about 4 times a year. The Confraternity will supply members, on request, with a Pilgrim Record which can be used to collect evidence of places visited en route, and presented to the Pilgrim Office in Santiago in order to obtain the 'Compostela' or pilgrim certificate.
The Yahoo group santiago_bicicleta was worth joining as it put me in contact with other cyclists who had made the pilgrimage.
What to take - a friend gave me a copy of her packing list when she cycled the Camino 17 years ago. It gave me some useful hints (e.g. about having some string and wire for emergencies). There are plenty of examples on the internet of what different cyclists have taken with them. My toolkit was the one I carry every day when cycling near home. However, because I had a support team (i.e. Brendan in the car), I didn’t need to carry a tent or sleeping bag or indeed my spare clothes on the bike. On the Camino, I noticed that some cyclists were loaded with a huge amount of stuff. Others were travelling light, either because their belongings were being moved for them by a van or minibus, or because they were staying in hostels, refuges, or hotels.
For an idea about how little it’s possible to travel with, visit the blog of Frank Burns, on http://frankburns.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/the-final-detail/ and you’ll see photos to show what minimal luggage looks like.
Insurance - I joined CTC and used their insurance scheme. My bike is valued at more than what the household insurance will cover.
Mobile phone and internet access
Mobile phone coverage was excellent throughout rural France and Spain. My internet provider promised free online coverage in France, but this did not materialise. Most campsites, restaurants and bars had wifi access. Just ask.