Last year, retired journalist Mike Gardner, who lives in Calasparra, Murcia, walked the Camino de Santiago, an 800-mile pilgrimage across the north of Spain.
Mike, who is 67, was so moved by his experiences that he wrote a book called Miracles on the Camino and this month the Costa Cálida Chronicle, is starting to serialise his blogs, which were followed by thousands of fans across the world.
Here, Mike describes why he made his journey and the anxieties that troubled him as he began his walk across the Pyrenees, from France and into Spain.
I began thinking about attempting to walk El Camino de Santiago around Christmas, but every time I contemplated some kind of fitness plan, the figure 800 would leap inside my head and there was no getting rid of it. That is the distance in kilometres from St Jean-Pied-de-Port, in France, to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, which is the burial place of Saint James the Great, an apostle of Jesus Christ. It is one of the holiest places on Earth and as near as you are going to get to Heaven without actually dying.
I arrived in France on April 25th, on a beautiful spring day, with my green Osprey Kestrel bag and wearing my black Asics trail running shoes.
I decided to write my diary in the form of a blog on Facebook. I thought that it wouldn’t amount to much and that I would abandon it after a few days. It would mainly be pictures, (so I thought), but I was so wrong. I rarely took notes; only the odd word on a folded piece of paper which I often lost. After I had taken a shower, I would sit on my bunk with my iPhone and write what came into my head; my recollections of that day’s events and although I didn’t know it then, they would never be boring and, more often than not, involve unimaginable experiences of friendship and love and help and courage and selflessness and a few events which can only be explained if you believe in God.
To walk 800 kilometres is such a feat that the numbers are incomprehensible. You can begin your journey outside Westminster Abbey in the heart of London, and head up the M1 beyond Birmingham, Carlisle and Glasgow and when you reach Perth, in the heart of Scotland, you would still have 50 miles of your journey in front of you.
Pilgrims have to walk over mountains, between mountains, across rivers on ancient bridges, alongside the greatest cathedrals in the world, close-by Arab castles, Christian castles, viaducts, aqueducts and always among the most beautiful scenery in Europe. It is not so much a pilgrimage as an odyssey.
My posts seemed to gather an unstoppable momentum every day as my pilgrimage unfolded on line. The power of social media is an amazing thing. It began with a few dozen likes from friends, but soon the posts were being shared across the world and by the time I reached Santiago, I was being followed by thousands of people. It was evident that powerful and divine forces were going to accompany me on my walk. Well, that is how it felt to me anyway.
Next month: My drunken first night with a mad Irishman.
Miracles on the Camino by Mike Gardner can be downloaded directly onto your Kindle, mobile, tablet or computer from Amazon books for 4.32€. It has 173 pages and more than 80 pictures.