By Barbara Down & Ruth Hewett
Barbara Down & Ruth Hewett
In September Ruth Hewett and Barbara Down, embarked on a thrilling journey to walk the Camino de Santiago, starting in the charming village of O’Cebreiro and concluding at the” edge of the world” in Finisterre. The purpose of the walk was partly pilgrimage, partly for the challenge of a 145 km hiking expedition, and was filled with laughter, discovery, and the breath taking beauty of northern Spain.
Barbara: With backpacks slung over our shoulders and spirits high, we set out from the rustic village of O’Cebreiro. This picturesque hamlet, with its quaint stone cottages and stunning views, was the perfect starting point for our Camino adventure. After a hearty breakfast at a local café, we hit the trail, guided by the iconic yellow arrows that mark the Camino route. The air was crisp, and the landscape was like something out of a fairy tale. It felt surreal to finally be walking the Camino, having come up with the idea nearly a year ago!
We had booked the trip through a travel agent who arranged for our suitcases to be transported from one overnight stop to the next and had the fun of staying in a different hotel each night until we reached Santiago, enjoying the local cuisine and many café con leches along the way!
Along the way, we encountered fellow pilgrims from around the globe. Conversations flowed as easily as the local wine, and friendships were forged. We shared stories and swapped travel tips, as we hiked through the Galician countryside. It’s amazing how the Camino brings people together.
Amidst the serene surroundings, we contemplated each of our life’s journeys, their twists and turns, and the clarity we sought to achieve. The Camino had become a canvas for quiet time and sharing.
After a week of trekking through lush forests and rolling hills, we reached Santiago de Compostela. As we approached the grand cathedral, we found that the bustling square contrasted with the inner stillness we had experienced throughout our pilgrimage. The awe-inspiring Cathedral of Santiago, with its ornate architecture and history dating back centuries, was the perfect place to reflect on our physical and spiritual journey. We attended the Pilgrim’s Mass, our hearts filled with gratitude. Arriving in Santiago was an emotional moment. We had come so far, both physically and spiritually. It’s a memory we’ll cherish forever.
Our adventure didn’t stop in Santiago. We were determined to follow the Camino to its end, which led us to the coastal town of Finisterre (this time travelling by car rather than on foot). Known as “the end of the world” in ancient times, it was a place of myth and legend. The views of the Atlantic Ocean were breath-taking, and we felt like true explorers standing at the westernmost point of Europe.
Our Camino and Finisterre expedition was an unforgettable adventure filled with laughter, new friendships, and moments of reflection. As we made our way back home, we carried with us not only memories but also the profound sense of fulfilment that comes from embarking on a journey of a lifetime. We were reminded that life’s greatest adventures often begin with a single step.
Ruth: My name is Ruth Hewett, previously an ordained Church of England Minister in Newcastle Diocese. I lost my husband John last year and moved south to be close to family particularly my new grandson George born six days after John died. When Barbara suggested doing the Camino I was delighted; John was a keen walker and so I wanted to walk it in his memory.
Like many pilgrims over the years, I too was searching for ‘something’. An adventure in a new place to find myself. I wanted to see where God was calling me next. A bible passage (Acts 1:8) picked up on a slip of paper in a small Romanesque church along the way helped me to reflect on the very first disciples and how they were sent out to spread the good news “…. to the ends of the earth”. They faced challenges. Walking the same paths, we found that most pilgrims we met spoke Spanish, and so it was not always easy to communicate, let alone spread the word of Christ.
One of the things that pilgrims do is place stones on way markers of which there are many at unclear points in the track. Armed with a trusted Sharpie pen I started to do the same but, on every stone, I drew a fish: the Ichthys was often used as a secret sign by early Christians to identify as followers of Jesus. The simple fish seemed at odds with the ornate crucifixes and golden figure icons we found in the Catholic churches especially the opulent Cathedral of Santiago. Only at the very end of our journey, looking out at the amazing sea views with trawler boats passing by at Cabo Fisterra, or as we call it Finisterre, did the fish make sense! The Romans believed it to be the end of the known world. We had literally gone to the “end of the earth” and delighted in every minute.