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Camino de Santiago - Frances (St. Jean Pied-de-Port) (Spain)

Camino de Santiago - Frances (St. Jean Pied-de-Port) (Spain)

Postby jonathan - norfolk » Sun May 31, 2015 10:37 pm

Date walked: 20/05/2015

Time taken: 32 days

Distance: 800 km

Ascent: 10030m

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The Camino de Santiago Frances (The Way of Saint James from France) is an ancient route from the southern tip of France that crosses the Pyrenees into Spain. It then continues for a total of almost 800 kms across northern Spain, traversing the High Meseta, and crossing the Cordillera Cantabrica mountains before continuing on to Santiago de Compostela.

The route became the first European Cultural Itinerary in 1987, and a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site in 1993.

Although the route is usually completed without actually walking to the top of any mountain summits, it is possible to include one or two by leaving the main route and returning to it, or by making a detour or two. This I choose to do, only having myself to please, and not being in any particular hurry (hence my total distance walked, and ascent undertaken, both being slightly greater than the "official" distance for the walk.

I completed the route backpacking it, walking it in 32 consecutive days, setting out from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France on 19th April, arriving in Santiago on 20th May. I walked the first week with a partner as far as Logrono and then completed the final 25 days on my own, averaging around 25 kms day, plus an average of c. 300m of ascent/descent day (although this did vary quite considerably from day to day). I then continued my journey to Finisterre and Muxia, before walking back to Santiago by completing further Caminos (described separately).

Generally finding accommodation along the route was fairly straightforward, provided a little planning was done beforehand, and no forward booking was necessary at the time I completed the walk, however, the route now gets very busy in the summer months, particularly onward from Leon, and much more so from Sarria. As it was, around 1000 pilgrims a day were arriving in Santiago by means of the different Caminos at the end of May, most by means of this route. About 70% start from Sarria, perhaps another 10 < 15% from Leon and it gets much busier in the summer months! The number who start in France is much, much, smaller by comparison. As a result, there is a much greater sense of community and companionship amongst those who set out from St. Jean or Roncesvalles. The personal commitment is much greater (800 Kms, as opposed to 120 Kms) and the vast majority walk in pairs, or on their own, and there are fewer options in terms of accommodation, so meeting up again at the end of each day, or two, is more likely. Larger groups were very rare until much further on, but organised educational or commercial groups of 10 < 15 were seen from Sarria onwards, and these tended to keep to their own company more (they weren't unfriendly, or unsociable, but they were already with friends who spoke the same language - much simpler than trying to conduct conversations in three languages!) Although almost all the walk is in Spain, and the ability to speak some Spanish is essential in some of the cafes and hostels (and helpful in all of them), a large proportion of the pilgrims speak French (the clue is in the name of the Camino: Frances!) so an ability to use French is also of considerable value where many fellow travellers are concerned. Many of the pilgrims do have the ability to speak English though.

I used the John Brierley guidebook "Camino de Santiago" (check that it is the one subtitled "St Jean - Roncesvalles - Santiago" as he has written other guidebooks) published by Camino Guides and I found it very good for this walk, undertaken in this direction, (it may be walked in the other direction, west - east, but this is undertaken by very few people, and for good reasons).

I've now completed a Sketchbook of my walk, to be published by Camino Arts in November/December 2016. Just stuff that caught my eye: churches and cathedrals, waymarks, wildlife, monuments and bridges. It's a very personal selection of subjects, but in total there's about 150 pen/ink drawings in it. I think it does give a feel of the Way. The book also includes a few pages of sketches of things seen on the Camino Finisterre.
Last edited by jonathan - norfolk on Fri Oct 14, 2016 11:44 pm, edited 4 times in total.
jonathan - norfolk
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Re: Camino de Santiago - Frances (St.Jean Pied-de-Port) (Spa

Postby Mal Grey » Mon Jun 01, 2015 11:38 am

Having come across parts of the walk in France, or variations of it, I've always been slightly intrigued by this, so its interesting to hear from someone who's done it. There's some stunning countryside and amazing history along the way by the look of it.

You may be interested in this slightly bonkers variation, on a pilgramage to Santiago di Compostela! http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/forum/ ... Finisterre
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Mal Grey
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Re: Camino de Santiago - Frances (St. Jean Pied-de-Port) (Sp

Postby cookie » Sat Jul 14, 2018 8:06 pm

Hi Jonathan,
What were your excursions to add a couple of hill tops?
Heading to France on the 25th July, to walk in your footsteps.
Cheers Bill
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Re: Camino de Santiago - Frances (St. Jean Pied-de-Port) (Sp

Postby kazuhart » Thu Jul 19, 2018 2:17 pm

Hi Jonathan
I walked tha Camino last year leaving St Jean on the 1st of August and arriving at Santiago on the 7th September, I really enjoyed it and would definitly say to anyone to do the walk. It’s a great accomplishment and the memories that were made with my Camino family are special. My favourite section was between Astoria and Sarria but it was the friendships that were made with people from all over the world that made my experience amazing and gave me the support to continue everyday.
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