AN 82-year-old grandmother has trekked nearly 500 miles (800km) across Spain – just for fun.
Elena Mansell, from Garstang, completed the Camino de Santiago with her granddaughter Carla Gallagher, 36, in under a month and says it was “the experience of a lifetime”.
The Wyresdale Park resident walked over 25 miles a day, starting August 28 until September 27, and travelled through hundreds of towns and villages meeting lots of interesting characters who knew her as “the grandma of the camino”.
The pilgrimage leads to the shrine of the apostle St James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many take up this route as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth but Elena says it was just a bit of fun.
Elena said: “Carla lives and works in Spain as a teacher and because I’m a keen walker she just asked me if I fancied doing it. At first I was only going to do 100km but then I thought I probably won’t get many chances to do this sort of thing so I said let’s do the whole thing. Lots of people take loads with them but we decided to just take a few clothes and the bare essentials. We didn’t plan or book anything, we just started walking and worked out where to stop along the way.”
Elena, who is a member of Garstang Ramblers, and Carla began their journey from Pamplona in the north east and made their way through the country until they reached Santiago, in the north west close to Galicia. The pair stayed in hostels, or albergues as they are referred to in Spain, which they booked by walking in and asking for vacancies. And Elena, whose family originate from Italy, said she thought her age only helped her on the walk.
She said: “It was funny being known as the grandma of the camino and people would recognise me and tag along. When we were staying in the albergues we had French, Italian and Spanish men offering to cook us food which was great. There were loads of big burly men dropping like flies because of injuries but I didn’t understand what they were complaining about. I had a couple of blisters throughout the whole walk even though it was very different to walking in Lancashire as the roads are so gravelly. We walked from around 6am until 2pm, mainly because of the heat and then just sunbathed and explored after that. The adventure was amazing but it’s something I won’t be doing again and I’m really glad to be home.”
Camino de Santiago fact file:
n There are many Camino de Santiago routes, starting in France, Portugal and Spain.
n Traditionally pilgrims used to start their ‘Camino’ from their own homes.
n The yellow scallop shell and yellow arrows mark the way to Santiago. Careful: the scallop might be facing different ways depending on the regions.
n The most famous Camino route is the Camino Francés or French Way starting in St Jean Pied de Port, in the French Pyrenees.
n You need to walk at least 100km into Santiago to receive your Compostela certificate.
n Over 200,000 pilgrims arrive in Santiago each year and receive their Compostela certificate. Many more walk different sections of the routes.
n Walkers who complete the route for religious or spiritual reasons receive the Compostela certificate. Anyone else receives a certificate of welcome.
n Walkers must also get at least 12 stamps in their ‘pilgrim passport’ to qualify for the certificate.
n It is estimated over 2.5m walk different parts of the route each year.