Sunday, 11 May 2014

Why cycle to Compostela?


I first visited Santiago de Compostela in 2003. Until then I don't think I had even heard of this pilgrimage destination. But as we drove towards Compostela, we got our first glimpse of pilgrims, trudging along the side of the main road. We visited the shrine of St James in the cathedral, then stayed in the cathedral for the mass. They called out the names of pilgrims who had arrived that day, which was very moving.

The idea of completing my own pilgrimage to Compostela grew over time. I discovered that it could be done by bicycle, and started planning to see if it would be possible for me. I found a number of useful websites, but most interesting of all was Frank Burns's blog Serendipities of Life, and especially his Celtic route to Compostela. I joined the Santiago Bicicleta group on Yahoo.

Another good source of information, and inspiration, for me was my colleague Rosemary, who cycle form Cambridgeshire to Compostela with her daughter a few years ago. Rosemary gave me a list of equipment she took, her itinerary (with daily distances) and we talked a lot about the journey.

Initially, I imagined the Brendan and I would both cycle the whole way, but being realistic about the state of Brendan's knees (too much kneeling  for prayer as a youngster?) we decided that I would cycle, and Brendan would be my back-up crew in the car. Brendan decided to walk the final 120km from Sarria to Compostela - assuming, of course, that my knees, and stamina will hold up. If we only make it part of the way, then we'll continue another time.

I reckoned I could do the 2000km in 3 weeks, aiming to cover 100km a day. My recent training runs have been building up to that distance from the 50-60km that up to now has been my normal daily total. Training has taken me round many parts of Cambridgeshire and adjacent counties which I did not know and the longest runs have been to Kimbolton, Saffron Walden, Fotheringhay Castle and Potton.

Some of you may know that when I was 17, my brother David and I cycled from our home in the south of Scotland to Cromer, where our family was having a caravan holiday.  That journey passed through Kings Lynn, so one of my training runs involved me cycling to Waterbeach, catching the train to Kings Lynn, and cycling back from there through the Fens. In this way, I have linked my 2014 pilgrimage into that journey from Scotland 45 years ago.

So why make this pilgrimage? It's partly a physical challenge taken at a point where I was forced into retirement earlier than I had planned. Therefore I now had the time for it ( not having to consider annual leave). I suppose it's partly a 'rite of passge' too - about entering a new stage in life where paid work no longer dominates what I do.

Perhaps it was a 'sign' that last Sunday at our church the address was given by one of our young members, Dean Reynolds. Dean has twice walked the pilgrim route to Compostela, starting one time from St Jean Pied de Port and the other time from Leon - on foot. You can read Dean's address here.

I'm not expecting to find the answer to either my problems or the world's problems en route. But I'll take Deans word's to heart: ' there was so much space, times of quiet, times to reflect, no escape from yourself or those around you, forced to confront your body hungry and weary and your mind full of ideas and fantasy'. 

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