Ceridwyn Parr reviews A Slow Walk Across Spain: Walking the Camino de Santiago by Karen Manwaring
Published by Watermelon Press 2010
In 2008 I took a short walk at the top of Spain – 115km over 6 days, on the historical Camino to Santiago on the north west tip of Spain. The moment I arrived in the ancient cobbled city of Santiago, I knew I would have to go again. And do the whole 1000km next time. Now I have found the perfect book to prepare me for the second trip, so I won’t get lost, and I won’t get the terrible shin splints which took me staggering into the cathedral in Santiago.
Australians Karen Manwaring and her partner, Angela, first walked the Camino Francés, across the north of Spain in the spring of 2004, then again in 2006. The first walk took them through snow, wind, rain, fog, as well as days of sunshine and warmth. The second trip they were much better prepared, even with gaiters for the snow and mud, which they did not need as the weather was so much milder – in fact sunburn was the problem. But they were much fitter, less driven and much happier.
All their findings they have put into a most attractive and compelling book, A Slow Walk across Spain: Walking the Camino de Compostela.
For anyone with even a glimmer of desire to walk this famous route, A Slow Walk provides information about the practicalities of walking – clothes (not many) packs (small and light), food (don’t eat too much), toilet stops (always carry toilet paper and a plastic bag), walking shoes and poles, accommodation and even the process of getting the essential Pilgrim Passport or credencial (it must be from a church, not a commercial outlet).
The main routes to Santiago are the French, Spanish, Portuguese and English. Because the author has twice walked the French route from the Pyrenees, she provides considerable information about that route, but wisely refers readers to other books for more precise information about other routes. The Confraternity of St James in UK is a major source of information. The routes are marked by Scallop shell signs.
What Karen Manwaring has achieved in this book is a mixture of facts, impressions, history, and advice. There are also sidebars with excerpts from her journals; ‘My feet pretty painful but the mountain scenery was a good distraction…’ and ‘the first few hours of our last day were a heady mix of exhilaration and sadness….had a few cries together’. She includes her poem which hints at the spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage:
Day by day
to lose all will
and then to
gain it again
to be emptied
with a new reserve
found in sleep
drawn from the stars
and the black soft night
by the dark
There are plenty of photos, charming route maps, and at the end of every chapter, a recipe of the region.
Walking the Camino is both an outer journey and an inner journey and Karen Manwaring deals honestly with both aspects. Her book is not one to take in your pack, (remember to conserve weight and take the lightest guide book only) rather one to read and re-read in preparation.
My suggestion to the potential pilgrim is setting aside an evening to cook Manwaring’s recipes. Start with pilgrim scallops, then garlic soup, trout with ham, and potato tortilla. Drink a glass of Spanish red wine, and read this book at the same time. Even if you never get to Spain, this book conveys much of the experience.
My own pilgrimage ended as I limped along the ancient narrow streets of Santiago de Compostela. Outside each cake shop stood a smartly dressed young woman, handing out samples of tarta de Santiago. The recipe for this delicious sweet almond meal cake fittingly ends A Slow Walk Across Spain. It will surely whet the appetite for a most significant journey.
To purchase the book, and find out more go to Karen’s Website – Camino Calling