We are very keen walkers and have done many long distance hiking routes. When we retired we began in the UK with the likes of the Pennine Way, West Highland Way, Great Glen Way and South West Coastal Path. We found that accommodation on these walks was becoming expensive, we did try carrying a tent and camping but the weather tends not to be very accommodating.
We then heard about a pilgrimage in Spain, the Camino de Santiago. A really long distance, about 700km, from St. Jean Pied a Porte on the foothills of the Pyrenees in France over the mountains and across the north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela where the remains of the apostle St James are kept. This route, the most popular, is known as the French route but there are many others. The original pilgrim's route started when they left their homes and they usually returned on foot as well. During the Middle Ages the various ways of getting to Santiago became more organised with cheap accommodation or 'hospitals' along the route with better security from robbers and brigands. The Camino became popular again over the last 20-30 years and thousands walk the various routes each year. The tradition of cheap accommodation is maintained with hostels, called albergues, with dormitory type sleeping facilities in most towns and villages along the routes. The directions to Santiago are also well way-marked with yellow arrows.
We have completed another two popular routes over the last three years, the Via de la Plata starting from Seville in the south of Spain, and the Camino del Norte along the north coast of Spain beginning at Bayonne. Having completed these main routes we were looking for some more challenges and all that was left in Spain were side routes joining the main ones from various other towns. We did a branch from Grenada, Camino La Mozarabe, to join the Via de la Plata at Merida. But we wanted something longer and unusual. That was when we heard about the Via Francigena.
The Via Francigena is another pilgrimage and goes from Canterbury in the south of England to Rome, the Eternal City. The route is very long, about 1800km, and will take nearly 3 months to complete if we attempt it all in one go. But, we were determined to take up the challenge and set about planning. Originally we were going to spend a few months in South Africa at the end of the year after the birth of Margaret’s second baby, our third grandchild in August. This meant doing the pilgrimage in the spring of 20125 but the plan changed, we got word that somebody wanted to rent our house in south Africa for 8 months so we decided to plan now for starting the trek in September.
We did some research and got the Cicerone guide book for the first section of the pilgrimage from 'Canterbury to the Great St Bernard Pass' from Amazon. We discovered that through France the route isn't way-marked and there isn't the cheap albergue type hostels of the Camino de Santiago, so it could be expensive staying in B&B's and hotels. We thought about how we could make use of our motorhome but would need a driver who would drive each day to where we planned to stop for the night. But where do we get a driver who would have 3 months to spare and happy to do it just for their accommodation in the 'van and their food, which we would supply. This idea was also abandoned when our start date was advanced.
Our next thought was why make this effort and challenge just for our own satisfaction. Why not do it for charity. Many people do fund raising walks, runs, etc. and managed to benefit their favourite charity, sometimes, with thousands. This year our daughter Suzanne's father-in-law died from pancreatic cancer. We discovered that there isn't a great deal of research into this form of the disease. So that was our charity: PANCREATIC CANCER UK. We set up a website for donations with 'Just Giving' and our Internet address is www.justgiving.com/suzmar.
With our previous walks and pilgrimages it was just a matter of catching a plane or train to the start and get going. This time with attempting to collect as much as possible for 'Pancreatic Cancer UK' it requires a lot more work. We have to publicise our venture as much and as far as possible. This we will be doing over the next month. If you read this please go next to www.justgiving/suzmar and make a donation.