The less traveled Camino Inglés or English Way, gives you the real opportunity for experiencing the Galician culture. Despite it's name, I found very, very little English spoken on the English Way!
“The boat is safer anchored at the port; but that’s not the aim of boats.” ~ Paulo Coelho, "The Pilgrimage"
In the northwest corner of Spain is a region known as Galicia, the home for the Christian sacred site at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The entire Camino Inglés stays within this region, a lush and humid, temperate marine climate. Rain can be expected in this very Celtic-influenced part of the world, in almost any season. The dialect spoken here is a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese, a dialect they call Gallego.
Almost all place names in Galicia have two different names, one Spanish and one Gallego, so reading maps can at times be confusing. The port city into which we flew, is known as A Coruña in Gallego, and La Coruña in Spanish! I know only a bit of Spanish, yet I could recognize the difference between the two languages. In fact, to me it seemed that Portuguese was more influential!
I must say, like with all true pilgrimages, this one took me outside of my comfort zone! I had read that one should learn as much Spanish as one can, before going on your Camino, because it will enhance your trip. However, I never thought I would need Portuguese as well! However, I adapted as best I could, and except for some consistent spelling variations, the words were often very similar in both languages. I was intrigued by the whole language mix.
As I was to discover, later on the Camino to Finisterre (Fisterra in Gallego), it is all too easy to migrate to English-speaking people, to stay in your comfort zone. However, on the English Way, we ran into only a few English speakers, forcing us into experiencing the culture in a way we would never had otherwise! Once I adjusted to using my Spanish, I was thrilled and fascinated with our cultural exchanges. I really could do it! I could be a true pilgrimage traveler!
The Christian medieval pilgrims from the North, who were mostly English would disembark in the ports of A Coruña or Ferrol, on the north coast of Spain and begin their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela from there. Hence, the name, the English Way.
The above map, from the Eroksi Consumer is the best map of the English routes that I could find. There are two possible starting points, A Coruña or Ferrol, on the north coast. However, as I discussed in The Way of St. James, in order to receive an official Compostela, from the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, one has to walk at least 100 kilometers. However, as of December, 2016, the Cathedral made an exception for the Camino Inglés from La Coruña, based on the tradition from the past of many pilgrims having arrived at this port. One can now receive the Compostela from A Coruña, with only 75 kilometers distance. For full details, see this article.
We, of course, chose the route starting in Ferrol, since we were walking in 2015, prior to the new ruling. The route goes essentially southward, around the Ferrol Estuary, south to Pontedeume, through the incredibly beautiful countryside, on small roads, paths through the woods and country lanes through Betanzos, Bruma and Següeiro, on the way to Santiago.
Even though the Camino Inglés is the shortest of all the Caminos, don't be fooled! It is not easy. In fact, the Spanish friends that we made along The Way told us that the English Way is known in Spain for its difficulty! It is because of the long stages, with significant elevation changes.
For our Camino, we started out in Ferrol, from the docks there. The official start of the Camino is directly across from the Tourist Booth, at the docks on the street called Paseo da Mariña.
Because we had such an incredibly difficult time finding the exact location of the start of the Camino Inglés, I will relate very specifically how to find it.
You first walk or take the bus to the docks, on the west side of the naval area. We arrived by bus, and needed to walk westward, and south towards the water. After securing our hostal for the night, we decided to locate the start of the Camino the evening prior to our first day, to get the best lay of the land.
The first landmark, to know that you have arrived in the right place is this Port of Ferrol sign. It is a beautiful waterfront, and we arrived close to sunset, so the light was serene and low. Made for a wonderfully lit seascape to set the ambiance for our Camino!
In the beautiful evening light, we walked down to the docks, pretending that we were disembarking from our boat from England and walking up the steps to start our Camino!
We ambled around the docks, looking for a plaque, a shell, or something to signify the start of the Camino Inglés. I read and re-read my guide from the Confraternity of St. James, and I wasn't able to figure out specifically where we were to start. We even asked several locals, and they weren't even sure!
I knew to look for the Tourist Booth, and sure enough, we found it just beyond the Port of Ferrol sign, above. Of course, I knew it would be closed, so when we found it, it was no surprise that indeed it was closed. We had already gotten our Credential stamped at our hostal, to document our start in Ferrol, but if you are lucky enough to arrive at the tourist booth when it is open, you can get your first sello, or stamp here.
Here is a photo of my Camino partner, Shelly, taking a photo of the Ferrol Harbor map that turned out to be helpful.
The map on the tourist booth, shows, "You are here." Then, if you look directly across the street from the tourist booth, the Paseo da Mariña you will see the large stone marker that marks the official start of the Camino Inglés.
Here we are posing with the official marker at the start of the Camino Inglés. Shelly and I had raciónes and Estrella Galicia, the local beer, in the restaurant behind the plaque.
After having such a difficult time wandering around the docks, looking for the start of the English Way, we treated ourselves to the local cuisine. The menu itself was a disorienting experience, because there was nothing listed in English! At least I had my translator on my smart phone available! I had to translate almost everything on the menu!
I soon discovered that a ración is a portion of food. It is bigger than a tapa, which is bigger than a pincho. All terms which one should be familiar prior to any trip to Spain. These portions are not supposed to be dinner, but the before-dinner appetizers! Because they eat dinner so late in Spain, we often used the raciónes as dinner!
The mixed salad we chose had egg, beets, carrots, olive, and surprisingly, tuna! No greens at all! It was an interesting taste experience for us. The mussels, were a bit strong, so we loaded up on the delicious bread instead.
During dinner we contemplated the beginning of our Camino the next morning. We determined that we should walk the actual Way, back towards our hostal tonight. Then in the morning we would pick up the Way at the point where we left off. Because we wouldn't have to backtrack, we figured that this would trim a good kilometer or more off our journey in the morning!
It was difficult to understand where the Camino Inglés went from the official marker. As it turned out, if you look up from the street, the first building behind the marker wields the first waymark, as shown below! We were now beginning our first Camino steps!
We made our way in the dark, thru the streets of Ferrol, to begin our Camino. Even in the dark, we found our waymarks, and also with the help of the guide by John Walker, from the Confraternity of St. James.
I felt giddy from the many months of anticipation of this sacred journey, and here I was, walking the steps of many pilgrims before me. It was surreal, walking on my Camino cloud! The buildings with their Moorish influences, were lovely, flanking the narrow streets with their soft glow of light.
I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to the Camino Inglés. I hope you journey onward with us pilgrimage travelers, through the full 116 kilometers, and it's five stages. May you also feel full of anticipation, like a true pilgrim as you experience the journey with us! Join us on day one...
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