Taking My God for a Walk
Church Times Bookshop £8.10
PILGRIMS walking to Santiago de Compostela tend to be either young or around retirement age. Tony Collins was the latter when he wound down his frenetic work routine and left for northern Spain.
His account of 33 days on the road is published by an imprint that he launched during a busy publishing career. This book is the story of an Evangelical on the camino. The older pilgrim tends to reflect on the past. Soon the account of meals, washing, bunk beds, and spotting storks’ nests is being interweaved with flashbacks. He wishes that he had undertaken his first pilgrimage when young.
But by Roncesvalles he is into a survival routine and has given up texting home. He learns that pilgrimage is not a race. At Santo Domingo, his Hastings home is fading from his immediate memory and his new identity is at last that of a pilgrim and not a tourist or sightseer.
He follows the yellow waymarks invented by Don Elias, parish priest of O Cebreiro in Galicia, who found some tins of highway-department paint and personally began reawakening the ancient route as Spain passed from Franco to democracy.
Some time after Pamplona, Collins begins to fall in with the pace of a French lady who is one of several now familiar faces often setting out from the same hostel. He writes candidly about the sharp hurt he felt at Los Arcos when a fellow walker referred to Nicole as his “girlfriend”. Although a convivial character, Collins feels obliged to insist again on walking not just sometimes in silence but completely alone, as many pilgrims do.
Approaching Santiago, this Evangelical confesses to feeling as if he has “been mugged by the Almighty”. He kneels before the relics of St James. Collins’s useful advice includes the suggestion that on arrival one should stay a little. So the destination does matter as much as the journey.
Leigh Hatts is the author of Walking The Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury from Winchester and London (Cicerone).