Our forebears in the Middle Ages believed that Finisterre at the outpost of Galicia in north-west Spain was the end of the world.
And they would carry their penitential pilgrimage, the 87kms to Santiago de Compostella on to Finisterre.
Well, if this is the end of the world I’m jumping right off. Gladly!
Here’s your ‘cut-out and keep’ guide to everything you want to know about Finisterre and the Camino…
Piper at the gates of heaven
Santiago to Finisterre, 87kms: What else would you expect at the Edge of the World? A Galician piper belts out a Celtic tune by the lighthouse at Finisterre, the westernmost post of their world.
A sign with the Camino shell, marks 0,00kms.
Many pilgrims continue on by foot from Santiago to Finisterre.
Wendy, my fellow peregrinos, take a three-hour coach ride from Santiago (€26 return) on our last day, Wednesday.
Any trip to the Edge of the World should not be rushed, there is much to see, from quiet coves to golden beaches and coastal villages.
With azure and terracotta-washed cottages.
As I look out on the horizon from atop the cliff on the clearest of clear days I can see why my Celtic predecessors refused to countenance that there could be anything beyond or above this.
The legend of the Camino
Santiago de Compostella, or ‘St James of the Field of Stars’, the name derives from the belief that the bones of St James the Greater were taken here from the Middle East to Spain.
Where he is reported to have preached earlier in his mission.
In 814AD Bishop Theodoric of Aria Flavia, is said to have been guided there by a shepherd who had been led to the bones by a star.
A church was built over the bones and later replaced with the Catedral de Santiago.
Pilgrims have been walking the Camino, originally from their own homes as a starting point. ever since, as a penance and to gain indulgence.
The Scallop Shell
When St James’s disciples were shipping his body to the Iberian Peninsula a storm is said to have hit the boat and his body was thought lost to the sea.
However, it washed ashore undamaged, coated by scallop shells.
Pilgrims display their shells for identification and are rewarded still with charity from locals.
Medieval pilgrims would also use them to scoop up drinking water: pilgrims take them home as keepsakes.
When to go
April-June, September-October: Galicia is at its most colourful with spring and autumn hues and the temperature is warm without being baking (late teens to early 20sC).
Winter is quieter and temperatures can dip to the early double figures.
Galicia is so verdant because of the rain so be prepared.
What to bring
Walking boots and socks, picking trousers (convertible with zip to make them shorts).
No jeans, they’re restrictive and will weigh you down in the rain and mark you out as a newbie.
Shirts (long-sleeved and t-shirts).
Walking stick (depending on agility and age).
Light rain jacket and polar fleece.
Sun hat, sunglasses, sun cream.
Water bottle, first aid (Paracetamol, competed blister plasters and anti-inflammatory cream).
How to prepare
Caminoways.com hold training walks throughout the year for different levels of walker.
Alternatively avail of the many walkways around the country which can be similar to the Galician terrain.
And do your basic stretching exercises before and after walks.
Where to eat/drink
Breakfasts in designated Caminoways.com hotels are buffet style. The large range of fruit is healthy and refreshing, bacon and sausages are thinner than Irish tastes while scrambled eggs are constantly light, fresh and tasty.
Cafe/bars on the Camino are well priced, a range of filled baguettes are around a fiver.
And wine and lager range from around @1-1.50 and while the costs increase the nearer to Santiago you get they are not prohibitive.
Hamlets and towns are well served for eating places.
And if you do stumble across a Queimada (a Galician ritual involving stirring a brew in a fiery cauldron) as I did at the Mandala restaurant in Rua Cima Do Lugar, Arzua then that’s a bonus.
I had their equivalent of an early bird of skag bol and wine which filled the plate, all for €6.
I always seize on calamari where I find it, but it’s pulp (octopus) which is Galicia’s speciality.
Sit on a stool and eat with fingers, mopping up the tomato sauce from the bowl with bread and swirling it down with a large red (at La Puerta, Santiago, €6.50).
Santiago is noted for Padron peppers, usually green where the random one is very hot…. Galician Roulette. I chickened out.
Where to stay
Alfonso IX, Rua Do Peregrino 29, 27600, Sarria (close to the river) Good starting point, good hotel sundries.
Pousada de Portomarin, 27170, Avda de Sarria, Portomarin. A welcome archway after the first day. A cosy stay, and ah, a bidet!
Complejo la Cabana C/Dr Pardo Ouro, 27200.
Palasd de Rei: A bit of a hike up town so a walk to restaurants if you choose not to eat at the hotel. There was a wedding on when I tased which was good of them to arrange for our evening entertainment.
Teodora, Avda de Lugo, 38 Arzua: Centrally located, comfortable and friendly.
Amenal 12, O Pino: One-horse hamlet but that’s OK after a 30km trek, and the stew is filling.
Santiago: HOtel Geimirez, Horreo 92, 15702: Ideally located close to the historic old town. A welcome and deserved bottomless tube at the end of your Camino.
The different ways
The French Way: Saint Jean to Santiago, 770km. Las leg: Sarria to Santiago, 116kms.
Caminoway organise guided and self-guided tours on the many routes across Spain, Portugal and France.
Prices start at €560pp sharing for a six-night Camino trip, walking the Camino Frances from Sarria to Santiago, including half-board, luggage transfers from hotel to hole and holiday pack with pilgrim passport and route information.
Airport transfers, hotel upgrades and bike rental are also available.
This year is a Holy Year for Pilgrims as declared by the Pope The Holy Door of the Cathedral will be open for the Year of Mercy.
It’s 5.40pm in mid-October in Medjugorje and everyone and everything stops… for Our Lady, although check your times as I’m told it’s 6.40pm in the summer.
The fast-praying, gesticulating Italian priest (I’ll call him Fr Luigi) in his open-necked dog collar… it’s a balmy late afternoon.
Fr Leon, the wise-cracking, whip-cracking Chaplain to the English-speaking Community.
And the Irish Franciscan brother and pastor to the young, Brother Columba.
Who thankfully isn’t standing too close to the candles – he admits that he once burnt his navel-length beard at a procession.
We are all marking the moment 38 years ago in 1981 when Our Lady appeared on a cloud to six children from the village.
She can’t be much of a fan of teatime television then or maybe she had Neighbours on record.
It was certainly a half-time break back in 1981 in the big Yugoslavian basketball game which helped draw the two boys out.
Ivan Visionary (our guide Daniella’s nomenclature for him) will join us later in the week at the Blue Cross where Mary first appeared.
Although when I say join us, he is two rows of heads in front in a circle of worshippers.
I had hoped to see him in the ecstatic trance of those childhood photos on the boards in the grounds of St James’s Church.
Or heard some speaking in tongues. I know I’m unlikely to see Our Lady or hear her but Ivan Visionary has been on speaking terms with the Mother of God for 40 years.
I’ve every chance of seeing her though, or at least feel her presence, around Medjugorje which has expanded a millionfold since 1981.
From that two-towered hurling posts-looking church, some tobacco fields and vines, to what it is today, a Marian resort dedicated to the worship of Her and Him.
And as with everywhere, Commercialism.
Our Lady is there in every shop on every corner, as are her beloved rosaries,
Where you can get your own name engraved on them.
There are holy water bottles aplenty and any amount of religious paraphernalia including your own cassock.
But Our Lady is also here in the minds, in the souls and the hearts of the pilgrims, of which I am one.
A mother and daughter in our 20-stong Marian Pilgrimages (www.marianpilgrimages.com) group when we visit in October ask expectedly if I smelt the roses, Mary’s flower, as I make my way back from 10am Mass.
Try as I may, and maybe that’s where I’m going wrong, I can’t raise her.
But I do see Her in the eyes of eager Eddie who buries his head into his brother’s chest at the Blue Cross.
And who shoots a smile towards me from his wheelchair by Our Lady’s statue at the 5.40pm remembrance.
A million flock to the Bosnia & Herzegovina village every year to feel the grace of Our Lady, to ask her to intercede on our behalfs to Our Lord.
And to climb up to the Blue Cross, Apparition Hill and Cross Mountain.
Many leave changed by their visit while many return year on year.
Marie from our group is back for her 60th pilgrimage.
She is in with the bricks at Mileina, our boarding house for the week, where she embraces Ines’s daughter at the breakfast table, whom she has known since she was a baby.
Ines looks after us all like her very own babies with breakfasts to set us up in the morning, the best of which is the steaming porridge.
And for dinner where we settle down, after Grace Before Meals obviously, for big plates of family food, hearty soups and meaty feasts, chicken, lamb chops, potatoes (we are Irish after all) and veg.
With jugs of her own house wine.
I swear that ‘permanent’ house guest Marie gets an extra portion!
Like Marie, Medjugorje drew Scottish pilgrims Magnus and Fergus MacFarlane-Barrow back time after time following that first visit.
To set up a support system for the village during the Balkan Wars in the mid-Eighties.
And then a charity for disadvantaged people around the world, Mary’s Meals, which feeds 1,000,000 children around the world for a €15 donation which energises them to then go to school.
It feels infectious this Christianity in action.
Mother Elvira runs a rehab centre, Comunita Cenacolo, near the village while there is also an orphanage nearby.
We hear the testimony of Italian Twentysomething Andre, a dyslexic who suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder as a child and felt swamped in a family where his two brothers were super-achievers.
And whose life spiralled out of control, landing him on the street, in trouble with the law and twice overdosing.
Before Mother Elvira rescued him and is now setting him and others like him back on the right path.
Andre is now looking after maintenance in the house and serving the greater community, all of it underpinned by Christian observance.
Which is also the watchword for Medjugorje as a whole where your whole day is framed by Christian worship.
Mass in the morning followed by a talk in the hall (we heard the extraordinary story of a priest who was an ISIS captive).
Those walks in the hills with Stations of the Cross along the way, the 5.40pm pause, an International Mass and an Adoration of the Host.
There are though respites from your religious observations around the village.
And a coach out of town to Sarajevo for just €16 return where you can visit the spot where Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and triggered the First World War.
And the Museum of Crimes against Humanity and Genocide which chronicles the 1,425-day Siege of Sarajevo in the 1980s.
At the heart of this beautiful city on the River Miljacka in the apron of the Dinaric Alps is the Old Town, the centrepiece of which is the Bey Mosque.
Turkish shops, cafes and restaurants fan out, showpiecing authentic Bosnian food (I’d recommend the Bey’s chicken and vegetable soup, in the dainty adorned pots).
Back in Medge, The Irish Centre serves up more familiar fare.
From home at under a tenner and Herzegovina beer (at just 5 B&H Marks or €2.50, they take both).
And you’ll find an old new friend there, Columba, in with a fellow Fransiscan Brother to watch the Ireland v New Zealand rugby match with us.
As well as mending your soul he can fix the TV too when it freezes.
And it’s always good to have your own Franciscan monk on hand to say a prayer for Ireland to turn over ‘those New Zealanders’.
Our Lady is obviously busy though somewhere else with someone more deserving (really).
Up by the Blue Cross, Apparition Hill or Cross Mountain.
Asking us to pray more rosaries!
Do: The bus to Sarajevo costs €16 return (remember to bring your passport for money exchange).
Bey’s Mosque in the centre of Sarajevo and the Museum of Sarajevo for everything on the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
Seven-night trips including flights from Dublin to Dubrovnik cost from approx. €585pp, departing May 15. For packages see www.marian.ie and www.medjugorje.org.