Valenca in Northern Portugal, on the Rio Minho, was a truly wonderful place to start our Silves Rotary Club fund-raising pilgrimage, the purpose of which is to fund a sensory room & garden for autistic kids and others with learning difficulties.
We set off from the ramparts of the magnificent Starfort, the origins of which dates back to the 13th Century, it is the site of many important battles through the ages.
As we trudge along the well worn pilgrims way towards Santiago de Compostela we can feel a sense of history all around us. Pilgrims have been walking this very same route since the 12th Century – all drawn like magnets towards the holy site. As we walk inevitably we are overtaken my many youthful travellers who smile at us and we exchange “Bom Caminho” as they swiftly disappear before us.
We have now finished day 2 of our 6 day journey and are at present resting at the Convento de Vilavella founded in 1554 in Redondela, Galicia. Our stay at this historic convento was sprung on us as a surprise by our leader Phillipe – a brilliant piece of planning, so totally removed from the run of the mill hostels available to pilgrims like ourselves.
We are pleased to say that all 10 of our members are holding up well under the challenges of the terrain, not one complaint so far of any aches & pains. The first aid backpack, which we pilgrims take turns in carrying, has remained unopened – so far – AND we’ve been blessed with ideal walking conditions through shady woodlands. Perhaps the mascots given to us by the schoolkids are indeed lucky charms!
Although our leader has just told us that the closer we get to Santiago de Compostela there is an 80% chance of rain….
During the Caminho’s heyday in the 12th & 13thC, pilgrims would continue westwards to the shores of Finisterre (the end of the earth) to collect scallop shells as physical proof, and a souvenir, of having completed their pilgrimage, the lines on the shells reminding them of the rays of the setting sun and the different caminhos all leading to Santiago de Compostela.
Todays modern pilgrims can collect their shells along the route which can come in very useful if, like us, you have forgotten to bring a spoon for your yoghurt or a cup to scoop up water.
You cannot help but notice that you see no returning pilgrims – they are all going in one direction only. Just a thought, when they reach Finisterre do they drop off the end of the earth – in ecstasy.