Tag Archives: Pilgrim Trail

Ireland, Croagh Patrick and The Irish Famine

St Patrick Croagh Patrick

On account of the previous day rain and fearing the worst I was somewhat reluctant to draw back the curtains to reveal the weather but as promised the sky was blue with just a smattering of cloud and just a few miles away I could see the top of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain and major Pilgrim magnet.

I was pleased about that because that is where we were planning to go today.

The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over five thousand years from the Stone Age to the present day.  Its religious significance dates back to Pagan times when people are thought to have gathered here to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season.  Today, when there aren’t so many Pagan visitors, Croagh Patrick is best known as a Pilgrimage site in honour of Saint Patrick for it was on the summit of the mountain that he fasted for forty days in 441 AD and the custom has been faithfully handed down ever since over the generations.

 

Each year, The Reek, as it is colloquially known, attracts about one million pilgrims. So many in fact that the pathway is becoming loose underfoot, unstable and dangerous. On ‘Reek Sunday’, the last Sunday in July, over twenty-five thousand pilgrims visit the mountain which makes it rather congested.  At the top, there is a modern chapel where mass is celebrated and confessions are heard.

We set off immediately after breakfast and at mid-morning found the visitor centre car park which was already quite full and we could see ahead of us a line of people tackling the arduous climb.  A  lava stream of kagools and backpacks making steady progress up and careful progress back down.

The first part is quite straight-forward, a set of steps that ends at the first stopping point where Pilgrims stop to photograph a statue of St. Patrick statue erected in 1928 and paid for by funding from Irish ex-pats in the USA.

Here he is, St. Patrick, the original Fidget Spinner…

St Patrick Fidget Spinner

After that the going quickly began to get really tough because let me tell you this is not an easy climb up a steep glacial valley littered with boulders and sharp stones which makes it difficult to keep safe footings. It is hard enough in a stout pair of shoes but on pilgrimage days some people prefer to climb in the traditional way – bare-footed. Nothing on earth would persuade me to do that I can tell you!

Ireland-Croagh-Patrick-holy-mountain

The climb has two stages. The first ascends up a rocky foothill covered in heather and moss with a narrow stream running next to the well-trodden path. It took us about forty-five minutes to complete. Apparently it gets even more difficult after that so rapidly running out of enthusiasm for the project, we collectively agreed that we were not sufficiently adventurous to try and find out so after a short debate we took our photographs and made our tentative way back to the car park and going down is harder than going up believe me!

I decided that if anyone ever asked me if I have climbed Croagh Patrick I could genuinely say yes just so long as they didn’t specifically enquire if I got all the way to the top.

Back at sea level we visited the ruins of a medieval abbey and walked for a while on a long sandy beach and then visited the National Famine Monument which is a powerful piece of sculpture which depicts a Coffin Ship with skeleton bodies and commemorates the anniversary of the Irish Famine.

Ireland National Famine Memorial Westport

In terms of human tragedy, the famine was probably the single most important event in modern Irish history but to a certain extent they brought it upon themselves.    It seems that at that time Irish people lived almost entirely on a diet of potatoes and that a working man would eat as much as fourteen pounds a day, that’s almost two tons a year or about an average sized hippopotamus, about sixty golf ball sized tubors every day – that is a lot of potatoes, to put that into perspective that is roughly equivalent to about two hundred and fifty standard size bags of potato crisps and that is a lot of crisps (chips if you prefer).

Now, I know potatoes are versatile – boiled, roasted, baked, mashed, chips (fries if you prefer), dauphinoise, gnocchi etc. but I imagine this sort of diet can become awfully monotonous!  The Irish however were so fond of potatoes that they ate it to the exclusion of anything else; they didn’t grow vegetables, keep chickens for eggs or catch fish from the rivers or the sea.  They just grew potatoes!

Potato Recipe Book

Unfortunately not only did they rely completely on the potato they specialised in just one variety.  It was rather unflatteringly called the ‘Irish Lumper’ which was a heavy cropper even in poor soil and wet conditions but by all accounts didn’t even taste very nice and was described as a “wet, nasty, knobbly old potato.”  It was also particularly susceptible to the potato blight virus and a succession of harvest failures in the late 1840s led to starvation, death, farm failure, cruel and vexatious evictions by English absentee landlords and eventually mass emigration to the United States.

Interestingly it is most likely that the virus came from the United States in the first place (just like the phylloxera virus that infected French vine crops at about the same time) but regardless of this they blamed the English and five million Irish (80% of the total population at the time) chose to go there anyway.  Today nearly sixty million people in the USA, almost 20% of the population, claim Irish heritage and twenty-two out of forty-five of US Presidents have claimed Irish ancestry.  Not Donald Trump by-the-way, who has a German heritage.

In complete contrast to the previous day the weather was glorious now so we stayed for a while and had a Guinness and then made our way back into Westport.

Ireland Westport Beach

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art

Burgos Pilgrims Weary

I have been giving some thought to perhaps tackling the Camino myself one day and have been looking at the various different routes.  I have to say that I may have a preference for the one that starts in Plymouth in the UK because that would seem to include rather a nice cruise on a P&O ferry across the Bay of Biscay and an evening in the duty free bar followed by a just short stroll from A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbol – The Scallop Shell of The Pilgrim

Scallop Shell Santiago de Compostela

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is located in the most northwest region of Spain in the Province of A Coruña and it was the European City of Culture for the year 2000.  I didn’t know this but after Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Christendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important ninth century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.

Santiago is such an important pilgrimage destination because it is considered the burial site of the Apostle, James the Great.  Santiago was one of the twelve disciples and a devout follower of Christ but in 44 A.D. he became the first of the Apostles to suffer martyrdom when Herod Agrippa I arrested and (according to the story) personally beheaded him (this seems rather unlikely to me) in Jerusalem.

According to legend Santiago had preached for a while in Iberia prior to his execution and after his death his own disciples returned his body by boat back to the peninsula.

On the way they were caught in a storm and almost certainly doomed when a ship miraculously appeared, led by an angel, to guide them to land and safety.  They buried the saint near Compostela, ‘field of stars,’ where Santiago lay forgotten for nearly eight hundred years.

The tomb was conveniently rediscovered in the ninth century in a time of great need when Christian political and military fortunes in Spain were at their lowest ebb after they had suffered defeat time and again at the hands of the Muslims.  Until that is God revealed the Saint’s remains, and inspired them with the confidence that he was on their side, fighting in the battlefield with them through the heroic figure of Santiago and the holy saint became a warrior.

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and can be instantly identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell.   The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travelled, all eventually arriving at a single destination.  It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

A Toxa 1

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge – The Scallop Shell and The Pilgrimage

Scallop Shell Santiago de Compostela

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is located in the most northwest region of Spain in the Province of A Coruña and it was the European City of Culture for the year 2000.  I didn’t know this but after Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Christendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important ninth century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.

Santiago is such an important pilgrimage destination because it is considered the burial site of the apostle, James the Great.  Santiago was one of the twelve disciples and a devout follower of Christ but in 44 A.D. he became the first of Apostles to suffer martyrdom when Herod Agrippa I arrested and (according to the story) personally beheaded him (this seems rather unlikely to me) in Jerusalem.   According to legend Santiago had preached for a while in Iberia prior to his execution and after his death his own disciples returned his body by boat back to the peninsula.

On the way they were caught in a storm and almost certainly doomed when a ship miraculously appeared, led by an angel, to guide them to land and safety.  They buried the saint near Compostela, ‘field of stars,’ where Santiago lay forgotten for nearly eight hundred years.

The tomb was conveniently rediscovered in the ninth century in a time of great need when Christian political and military fortunes in Spain were at their lowest ebb after they had suffered defeat time and again at the hands of the Muslims, until that is God revealed the Saint’s remains, and inspired them with the confidence that he was on their side, fighting in the battlefield with them through the heroic figure of Santiago and the holy saint became a warrior.

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and can be instantly identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell.   The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travelled, all eventually arriving at a single destination.  It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

A Toxa 1

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement

Pilgrims Way of Saint James

Walking the Way of Saint James

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and can be instantly identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell.   The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travel, all eventually arriving at a single destination at Santiago de Compostela.  It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to their final destination.

I have been giving some thought to perhaps tackling the Camino myself one day and have been looking at the various different routes.  I have to say that I may have a preference for the one that starts in Plymouth in the UK because that would seem to include rather a nice cruise on a P&O ferry across the Bay of Biscay and an evening in the duty free bar followed by a just short stroll from A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela.

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Read the full story…

Northern Spain – Pilgims and the Way of Saint James

Pilgrims' way Santiago de Compostella

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Burgos lies on one of the principal pilgrim routes of the Camino or the Way of Saint James and during our visit we had to share the streets and the restaurants and the hotel with dozens of foot weary walkers all sharing their hiking tales as they walked towards their ultimate objective – the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Read the full story…

My Personal A to Z of Spain, G is for Galicia

Santiago de Compostella

Galicia is a popular holiday choice with Spanish people living in the south because they like to holiday in the north to escape the oppressive heat and enjoy Galicia’s famous seafood. In August alone, eight million Spaniards travel north from cities like Madrid and Toledo to the more temperate climate of Galicia with its green scenery and spectacular beaches.

The climate though is changeable and the region is often referred to in Spain as the wet or rainy region. The local geography is also dramatically different from that of the central and southern regions with meadows, hills and mountains and is known affectionately in Iberia as green Spain.

In 1998 I won a competition in the Times newspaper for an all expenses paid weekend to a chateaux in Cahors in France. This was the result of answering three simple questions about the Apostle Saint James and the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, which were about pilgrimages and seashells. I was glad that I knew the answers and ever since had the place on my ‘to visit’ list.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Chrisendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James. Santiago is such an important pilgrimage destination because it is considered the burial site of the apostle, James the Great and legend holds that his remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where they were buried on the site of what is now the city.

Santiago Cathedral

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and there were many here today who could be identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell. The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travelled, all eventually arriving at a single destination. It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

The day after visiting Santiago de Compostela we drove north and we were heading for the coast and the beach. Without a map we inevitably got lost almost immediately as we attempted to negotiate the busy town of Padrón and this involved a couple of u-turns and, to be perfectly honest, quite a lot of uninformed guesswork.

Finally, after wasting twenty minutes or so, we found a brand new road that had only recently been opened and we were driving effortlessly towards the Atlantic and the town of Santa Uxia de Ribeira, which is a fishing town famous for the quality of its shellfish. The reason for Galicia’s seafood reputation is the unique flavour that results from the fresh water from the rivers that create the rías and it is claimed that the cockles, mussels, octopus and squid have a taste that is unrivalled anywhere else in the world and because of this, the price of shellfish harvested in Galicia, is almost double that of the rest of Spain.

Galicia Beach 1

On the recommendation of the owner of the hotel we were heading for the coast at the Dunes of Corrubedo National Park that he assured us was an unspoilt beach with large sand dunes and unique wild flora and fauna that could be found at the very end of the Barbanza Peninsula just past the town of Ribeira. We arrived at about eleven o’clock, parked in the shade in an empty car park and gave the staff in the café a bit of a wake-up shock when we sat ourselves down for a drink.

Later we walked through the pine trees and through the sand dunes and arrived on a magnificent sandy beach with its blue flag fluttering proudly in the breeze. It seemed almost endless, lush golden sand dipping away into the sea where the gentle breakers were rolling in and crashing onto the beach in a most reliable way and the best thing was that it was practically deserted with plenty of personal space available for everyone.

Galicia is keen to encourage tourism but I hope that they do it in a sensible way and places like this don’t get swept away in a package holiday tsunami. The Parliament of Galicia has introduced a range of initiatives aimed at increasing foreign tourism to the region and in recent years overseas visitors have started to visit Galicia, exploring its scenic countryside and its cities, towns and villages, but as yet this is only a trickle and currently less than one thousand ex-pat Brits live in the Province.

We enjoyed a couple of hours or soon the beach but as we sat and enjoyed the natural beauty of the place it slowly began to fill with families and although there was still plenty of space for everyone it felt much busier now so we decided to leave and try and find somewhere for lunch. There was a fishing village on the other side of the bay that we thought looked most promising so we set off to try and find it.

Corrubedu Fishing Village Galicia

To reach Corrubedu was quite straight forward and half an hour later we drove into the unspoilt fishing village that had some new properties under construction but at its heart was a port and a backdrop of traditional houses and pavement restaurants that probably hadn’t changed very much in years. In the port there were a collection of small colourful fishing boats, some had been left to rest but on others men were still working gutting and filleting fish accompanied by flocks of excitable seagulls.

There were three restaurants to choose from, all with similar menus, so we choose the one with the best view over the harbour and we joined the local people and the fishermen who were enjoying their lunches. We selected Galician style squid, tortilla, salad and cerveza and enjoyed a traditional meal in the company of the noisiest people in all of Spain. The next table was full of an animated crowd who were gesticulating and shouting to such an extent it was impossible to ascertain whether they were just having a good time together of falling out with each other. They left after a while and the peace and quiet was deafening.

This place was excellent and we finished our meal and explored the back streets and the traditional houses with their elevated granite grain stores in the gardens, called borreos, with their distinctive Celtic crosses and elaborate carvings. It is an interesting fact that Galicia has a culture, which is both unique and distinct from the rest of Spain, and the core of this difference is centred upon Galicia’s identity as a Celtic, rather than a Latin or Hispanic sub nation. Galicia along with Andalusia, Catalonia and the Basque Country are acknowledged as independent historical nationalities under the Spanish Constitution and as a consequence enjoy special rights and privileges.

Because of its Celtic roots Galicia doesn’t have sombreros or flamenco and back in Santiago de Compostela later that afternoon in a side street adjacent to the cathedral there was a man squeezing the life out of some bagpipes that sounded as though he was castrating an extremely uncooperative cat. It was excruciatingly painful so we moved on and walked around the streets for a second time, looking for places that we hadn’t been to before and eventually, after an hour or so, we arrived in the little square with the Restaurante de Buen Pulpo where we had promised ourselves that we would eat again, but neither of us was especially hungry because of our splendid lunch so we just had a drink and then returned to the car park and drove the short drive back to Pontescures and the hotel.

A Toxa 1

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G is for Galicia but it could well have been:

Gaudi

Golf

Goya

Guadalest

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St James and Santiago de Compostela

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is located in the most northwest region of Spain in the Province of A Coruña and it was the European City of Culture for the year 2000.

Read the full story…

Santiago de Compostela, Cathedrals and Pilgrims

Santiago Cathedral

“The twin towers of the Cathedral soar into the blue in a sensational flourish of Baroque, covered everywhere with figures of St James in pilgrim guise, crowned with balls, bells, stars, crosses and weathercocks speckled with green lichens and snapdragons in the crevices and exuding a delightful air of cheerful satisfaction” – Jan Morris

There was certainly no mistaking that this is a very holy city indeed and the route to the Cathedral was lined with churches, monasteries and seminaries and finally we emerged into the central square, Praza de Obradoiro, where the Cathedral (which is depicted on Spanish eurocent coins) loomed high above in a most spectacular and impressive way.  Inside, the Cathedral is nearly a hundred metres long and over twenty metres high and is the largest Romanesque church in Spain as well as being one of the biggest in Europe.

Read the full story…