Photo Essay - Hiking El Camino Frances

El Camino Frances, or the Way of Saint James, is one of several pilgrims' paths to Santiago, which was declared a Holy City by Pope Alexander in 1189. Here the remains of the Apostle, patron saint of Spain, are said to lie. After Turks captured Jerusalem, making it inaccessible, Europeans, especially the French, seeking penance or blessings, crossed the Pyrenees at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and made their way across northern Spain to receive their Compostela, a certificate recognizing the completion of this 788 km. pilgrimage. The route, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993, is well marked with yellow arrows or scallop shells (the symbol of St. James) and is generally easy walking on paths or wide tracks, though it does have some strenuous ascents. The landscape varies from mountain passes to river valleys; from vineyards, stretching over the rolling hills of Navarra and Rioja to grain fields of the meseta, the high central plateau of Castilla y Leon; and finally to the rainy, coastal province of Galicia. Since pilgrims have been walking the Camino for about 1000 years, villages with chapels, refugios, inns, cafes and bars have been built along the way to fill their needs. Evidence of the earliest humans in Europe from 900 000 B.C.; bits of Roman roads; medieval crosses and bridges; monasteries, hermitages, and shrines; wine bodegas and welcome water fountains; Templar churches and fortresses; Romanesque chapels and the great cathedrals of Burgos, Leon, and, of course, Santiago; and in spring, families of storks and a profusion of wild flowers greet the hundreds of walkers, who daily shoulder their packs, pick up their walking sticks, attach their scallop shells, and set out, whether for spiritual reasons or simply for the joy of walking and exploring.  Elenore Baylis