Promotional Blurb: “I’d never done anything crazy like this before – a pilgrimage walk. I was not a hiker, and I wasn’t a Catholic. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian. On the last government census when I had to state my religion, I’d said I was a Buddhist, mainly because they’ve had such a hard time in Tibet and I felt they needed my statistical support.
I was also not an adventure traveller. For me, adventure travel was flying coach. All this backpacking and wearing of heavy boots and flying off to France to walk ancient pilgrimage routes was a new experience, and not one that made me feel entirely comfortable.”
And so Bill Bennett, an Australian based film director, sets off on an 800-kilometre walk across Spain to Santiago de Compostela, not sure why he was doing it, and not feeling entirely comfortable. His discomfort increased markedly a few days later when his knee gave out – so the rest of the walk was a “pain management pilgrimage.” But he kept his sense of humour, and his memoir is at times hilarious but also deeply moving, and insightful. In the vein of Bill Bryson and Eric Newby, The Way, My Way takes you on a unique spiritual journey, and gives you a hearty laugh along the way. Source.
Promotional Blurb: A smart, funny novel of love, self-acceptance, second chances and blisters. Two misfits walk 2 000km along the Camino to find themselves and, perhaps, each other.
Zoe, a sometime artist, is from California. Martin, an engineer, is from Yorkshire. Both have ended up in picturesque Cluny, in central France. Both are struggling to come to terms with their recent past – for Zoe, the death of her husband; for Martin, a messy divorce.
Looking to make a new start, each sets out alone to walk two thousand kilometres from Cluny to Santiago de Compostela, in north western Spain, in the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked the Camino for centuries. The Camino changes you, it’s said. It’s a chance to find a new version of yourself, and a new beginning. But can these two very different people find themselves? Will they find each other?
In this smart, funny and romantic journey, Martin’s and Zoe’s stories are told in alternating chapters by husband-and-wife team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist. Two Steps Forward is a novel about renewal – physical, psychological and spiritual. It’s about the challenge of walking a long distance and of working out where you are going. And it’s about what you decide to keep, what you choose to leave behind and what you rediscover along the way.
My Thoughts: This is one for the camino walkers or the ‘camino curious’. Rather than a super-factual walking guide to the Camino in Spain, it couches the trials and tribulations of long-distance walking in the ebbs and flows of a fictional new relationship.
Martin and Zoe have an inauspicious meeting in Cluny, central France before they set out independently to walk South and South-west towards Santiago de Compostela. Zoe intends her final destination to be St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees while Martin intends to walk all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
What their intentions are and what actually happens are two completely different stories.
I have read Simsion’s work before and did not really enjoy it and, if it the book wasn’t about walking a camino, I would never have grabbed it out of the bargain bin of my local Op Shop.
Camino first, quality writing second!
However, my estimation of him went clear through the roof when I read the jacket blurb to reveal that both he and his wife walked the Chemin/Camino from Cluny to Santiago de Compostela, not once, but twice! That is around 2 038km over 87 days – twice! All of a sudden these authors had street cred! Or serious walking cred!
I may be a little judgmental, but the fact that both authors had experienced these paths firsthand meant that their writing had a little more authenticity. They had walked the endless hard days and enjoyed the warmth of new friendships and deep conversations.
This book will appeal to people who have walked the Camino and wish to reminisce about the Le Puy, del Norte or Primitivo paths. It will also appeal to people who would like an entertaining introduction to caminos in Spain or those who just enjoy a light read.
Prior to the Covid19 pandemic, I was due to fly to Spain to walk the Primitivo (plus a couple of other lesser known paths). I have also long dreamed of walking the del Norte route and now, I have the Chemin from Cluny to add to the wish list.
One of these days we will be allowed to travel internationally again and these dreams can come true.
This is a pleasant, easy read. Not world-beating literature, but it rolls along at a steady pace – a bit like a day’s walk – and the vast variety of characters are appealing and credible.
It is not good for those of us with itchy feet! I gave it 7/10.
Author bios: Graeme Simsion is the internationally bestselling author of The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect and The Best of Adam Sharp.
Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne. She has thirty years’ experience in perinatal psychiatry, and works with the legal system in cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Her Natalie King: Forensic Psychologist series of thrillers are published by Text.
We have had a lot of time this year to sit back and think about our lives and how we may live them differently in the future. My wanderlust remains strong and once bans are lifted and it is safe, the first thing I will be doing will be to book my ticket to Madrid, Spain.
Here are five YouTube clips that I hope will communicate the joy of walking in Spain, the wonderful people you meet along the way and the sheer pleasure of being outside in Nature.
There’s a whole lot of mythology out there about walking a camino in Spain.
To you, it may appear to be an attractive romantic notion – out there strolling across the Spanish countryside, breathing in that fresh country air and restoring yourself at the end of each day with copious quantities of vino tinto.
It may also seem to be something well out of your comfort zone and far above your fitness levels.
This post will remove some of the mystique and hopefully a few barriers stopping you lacing up your walking shoes and joining the friendly flow of folk on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
It took a particularly wet and miserable Autumn day to keep me inside. As a rule I love rainy days as they happen so rarely in Australia and it was the perfect excuse to dust off my well-loved copy of the movie, The Way.
I put my hand up and admit that this is possibly my sixth or seventh viewing of The Way so obviously I am a bit of a fan. It never fails to create a sense of wanderlust and the urge to walk out my back door and just keep going.
But, how accurate is it? Does it really portray the highs and lows of walking the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain? Or is it all glossed over with a thick layer of Hollywood schmaltz?
The Camino Primitivo will be the last official section of my 2020 Spanish Camino adventure.
This Camino itinerary will be a bit like a burger ‘with the lot’ as it combines a number of paths – Caminos Madrid, Frances, San Salvador, Primitivo, Verde, del Norte and then a final stint of the Frances down into Santiago de Compostela on the last day. All combined in an effort to see new parts of Spain and to avoid the camino hordes.
Of late, my thoughts has been focussed on all things walking and I can’t help but fondly remember my three Spanish caminos. I am hoping my next adventure, the Italian leg of the Via Francigena, will be just as enjoyable, or perhaps, ‘same, same but different’.
As I follow in other bloggers ‘virtual footsteps throughout the Iberian peninsula, I thought it may be useful to some would-be pilgrims to share my own experience and to compare and contrast the three separate walks I have completed to date. Hopefully this will help people choose the one that suits them best. Continue reading →
Talk to any camino addict and you will be spellbound by stories of breathtaking sunrises, effortless strolls across the Spanish countryside, and the dazzling taste of that first ice cold beer at the end of each walking day. What they are less likely to share are all the ‘interesting’ things that happen along the way that add colour and challenge to walking 790 km in one go.
In 2013 I convinced The Brave Man* that walking the Camino Francés would be a wonderful holiday and marital experience. As we are not a couple known for, or good at, ‘fly and flop’ holidays, he readily agreed. What is that saying? “Act in haste, repent at leisure”?
Over the 31 days it took us to walk the Camino Francés, we had plenty of leisure time to consider the merits of this type of ‘holiday’. It started pretty much on day one as we clambered up the Pyrénées. Yes, we had trained and yes, we were pretty fit but those damn mountains just kept going up and ^%$#@ UP! We have mountains in Australia, but I had never experienced anything like this before. It was day one, I was jetlagged and carrying around 15 kgs on my back and it would have to be the hardest day’s work I have ever done in my life! That large, cold beer waiting for me on the Spanish side of the mountains was the only thing that kept me putting one foot in front of the other. As it was my idea to do this walk in the first place, I just had to keep plodding away, and I simply didn’t have the energy to throw a tantrum halfway up the mountain!
The days got better from then on as we left the mountains behind, even though only temporarily, and we quickly established a simple routine. Rise early (mostly in the dark), walk a couple of hours, find coffee and a bakery, walk another couple of hours, snack by the side of the road, then find a bed and a beer. Next day, repeat.
The volume of pilgrims walking the same path really surprised us but, being morning people, our early starts meant that we mostly avoided the daily stampede for beds in the albergues. Arriving at our destination around 1pm meant that we had the afternoon to rest, relax, inspect and repair our numerous blisters, delicately remove blackened and lifting toe nails, do some washing, massage sore muscles and stroll around the sights of whichever village we were sleeping in. Not such a good sight or sound was The Brave Man’s* mobile phone tumbling around in a front loader washing machine. Oops! Perhaps it didn’t work anymore but at least it was clean.
Along the way, I was frequently disappointed by the amount of litter by the side of the path, and the graffiti and/or vandalism of the waymarks. Both local government and voluntary associations appear to have spent a lot of time and money erecting distance markers and other information signs. Why would a person want to write all over them or steal the damn things? How does this help the thousands of pilgrims who will follow in the same footsteps? And isn’t it really bad pilgrim karma?
Another challenge, in the same vein, was the almost total lack of public toilets. In 2013, nearly 152,000 people walked the Camino Francés – providing a whole new perspective on a completely different type of litter. I am not pointing the finger at anyone here, as I also made numerous dives into the bushes, but I can’t help thinking that this would be a fantastic business opportunity. A few strategically placed portable toilets, on a pay-per-use basis, would make someone a fortune!
Each day brought new faces and new conversations as we walked along. The thing I particularly enjoyed was that the conversation could last five minutes or five hours, depending on the personal connection. There was no compulsion to chat or slow your pace if you weren’t so inclined and that was a good thing. Not everyone I met was fascinating, not everyone I met was even likeable. It’s all part of the walk, and a good reflection of life in general I guess.
The albergue, or hostel-style, accommodation can prove to be one of the walk’s major challenges for some people, but it is very sociable and invokes the true spirit of the camino. One day The Brave Man* was feeling a bit fragile, so I sped up and walked ahead to secure beds for us both in the next small village, which is known for having very limited accommodation. I was pretty pleased with myself as I ducked and weaved and overtook more laid-back pilgrims, and eventually pounced on the two remaining beds in the loft of an ancient, cavernous church. Unfortunately, The Brave Man* was less than impressed with the architectural aspects on the building when he found out that the ‘beds’ were gym mats lined up edge-to-edge on the floor of said loft. As we sneaked off into the pre-dawn dark the next morning, he advised me in colourful and no uncertain terms that he was choosing our next effing holiday destination! Oops again.
But the sun always rises and each day brings new joys. Just when I thought my feet would not carry me another step, I walked through a field of sunflowers where some smarty pants had created smiley faces to motivate and delight. I just kept reminding myself that whatever our experience today, it could not be one thousandth as arduous as the journey taken by the pilgrims in the 10th and 11th centuries. Yes, every pilgrim gets hot, tired, wet, sore and hungry, but all that is fixable just over the next hill or around the next bend.
The weird thing is that no matter the size of the disaster or the exhaustion of each day, many pilgrims – and I am one of them – can’t help themselves from starting to plan the next pilgrimage even before they have finished the first. That is where the ‘addiction’ description fits in.
Maybe the strongest, common links between all pilgrims is a sense of misplaced optimism. We know if we keep putting one foot in front of the other that one day we will achieve our goal. Perhaps a need for a clear sense of achievement, or spiritual enlightenment for some, enables us to push through the tough times until we stand in front of that imposing cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Then it all seems so worthwhile.
The Camino Francés is not perfect, but neither is life. Like life, it is totally up to you to find something special in each day.
The Basics Box
What: The Camino Francés follows one of the ancient pilgrim trails that pay homage to the Apostle St James. It is approx. 790km in length.
Where: This camino starts in St Jean Pied de Port (southern France), crosses the Pyrénées mountains and ends at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north-western Spain.
When: We walked in Autumn but you could walk anytime except deep Winter when snow regularly cuts the path and it becomes too dangerous. It took us 31 walking days plus two rest days.
Why: We like active holidays and this trip came highly recommended as a way to meet a vast range of interesting people, get a deep insight into a country, eat good food and travel relatively inexpensively.
How: We flew into Paris and then travelled by train south to Bayonne – connecting to St Jean Pied de Port via an excellent shuttle company called Express Bourricot.
Who: Myself, The Brave Man* and thousands of other people. 500 walkers started out every day from Saint Jean Pied de Port.
Read About It: For a copy of Brierley’s Guide to walking the Camino Frances, purchase it from Book Depository
*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!