Edmund completes 11th Camino

Edmund completes 11th Camino

1 September 2021

IT was a walk with a difference for Downpatrick man Edmund McCullough who has just returned from completing his 11th Camino.

It was the first time he had done the spiritual trek known as the Camino De Santiago with all the complications of travelling to Europe as Covid restrictions begin to lift. 

While Edmund has said he would not plan to do another pilgrimage in August again, he has vowed to return to do a trek each year for as long as he is able to.

“The Camino never ends,” said Edmund. “While you’re got to be realistic about your abilities, I’m not finished with the Camino yet.”

People from around the world walk one of several routes from France or northern Spain to the shrine of Saint James the Great, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition holds that the remains of the apostle are buried. 

Edmund was joined on the trip by his friend, Hugh O’Connor, his brother Jim, daughter Fiona, and her boyfriend Tommy Graham.

They walked 380 kilometres — or 236 miles— over 16 days  from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, including the Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino and then onto Finisterre, an extension of the Camino which only starts at Santiago.

He said: “Walking the Camino in Covid times was always going to be a challenge but we overcome the obstacles and focused on the true meaning of the Camino experience and achieved our objective.

“We left Dublin on August 1 with all of the new requirements of vaccine passports and passenger locator forms and Randox tests on our phones and hard copies for back-up. 

“There was very rigorous checking of the paperwork, but we had been well warned to arrive early. It was a relief to finally touch down in Porto airport despite torrential rain storms that soon dissipated to provide three weeks of glorious sunshine and heat. 

“Once we got going on the coastal route, we realised that the mask wearing was not mandatory as the Camino was classified as a sporting activity.”

Edmund’s group decided to come off the stretch of the popular Portuguese Way after the city of Pontevedra to do the Variante Espiritual del Camino Portugues route.

“This is the original route taken when the body of St James was returned from Jaffa in Palestine to the town of Padron on the Ulla river estuary in northwestern Spain,” explained Edmund.

“This year the walk was very unusual due to the Covid circumstance and it made it very different.

“The real difference was the massive crowds of walkers, mainly Spanish people and Italians, doing staycation holidays, so it was quite challenge to find somewhere to stay and to eat.

“As it was an outside walk, there was no limit on the numbers of walkers which was crazy. Once we took the Variante Espiritual route, it was more like the previous Caminos, peaceful, quiet, tranquil, a more traditional environment.”

Taking the alternative route meant a boat journey for the group which turned out to be in a 35km high speed RIB taking them into the town of Padron in just 65 minutes, which Edmund described as “an experience of a lifetime”.

He said that once they got to Finisterre, the so-called end of the world, the group were rewarded with the breathtaking beauty of the place.

Edmund last did the full Portuguese Way in 2019 and despite the extra travel hassles and precautions, he was desperate to return to the Camino this year. 

“We had a bit of apprehension and anxiety was in trying to get the NI vaccination passport and there was a lot of issues with the app the weekend before we left,” said Edmund, who did not need to quarantine before or after this trip due to travelling to a green-listed country.

“Despite all of the restrictions, the Camino will always give you an opportunity to step back and look at what you’re got and where you are going.

“It’s still possible to travel to do the Camino, don’t be discouraged but don’t go in August.”

Edmund’s advice is to walk during the early autumn or early spring.

He said there was some disappointment waiting for in a long queue get the Compostela accreditation and there only limited numbers allowed into the cathedral for the Pilgrims’ Mass.