Over 300 pilgrims have entrusted us with their prayers, hopes and thoughts about themselves and others.
Pilgrims walk and pilgrims pray. It’s what we do. We invite those who don’t pray to reflect on the prayers of others and to think on them with kindness. In the Middle Ages many pilgrims became sick and needed healthcare and rest. Some recovered to continue their pilgrimage to Santiago. Many died on the Way. The iconic town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada is named after the Saint who was born locally almost exactly 1,000 years ago. He is remembered because of his work caring for pilgrims including building a much needed hospital.
Many pilgrims have written to us asking for prayers because they or their loved ones are ill or have serious challenges of mind or body. It was appropriate to stop at the place where pilgrims were cared for all these years ago to pray for the hopes and intentions of the pilgrims of today.
These include prayers for:
People who have, or have had, the Covid-19 virus
Grandparents and Parents who have any form of dementia
People who have cancer, many of whom have had their treatment delayed because of the pandemic
Couples who have suffered miscarriages, and couples who are undergoing a course of IVF
Children who have debilitating conditions
Adults and young people who suffer from mental or emotional instability, and some people who even contemplate suicide
And many prayers of gratitude: from those who have recovered from illness, or are in remission; for healthy babies successfully delivered; and for our heroic front line workers
Loving God we ask your blessing on these Pilgrim Prayers and may we all experience your peace.
Los Arcos – Logroño – Nájera – Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Belorado
Dear Amigos, greetings from Belorado. Like many of you I’ve been worried about our precious Camino and there is no doubt many businesses and facilities are suffering. I have also been worrying about the “Camino experience” whilst the world, and Spain in particular, is still in the grip of the pandemic.
Without pilgrims the Camino de Santiago is just a line on a map or a series of paths between towns and villages. With pilgrims the Camino comes alive, a living Way which I believe has the power to transform lives.
When we three arrived in Los Arcos we heard numerous stories from hostel and albergue owners of how few pilgrims there are. However at supper in the main square it was clear that there were other pilgrims around. I even heard some English voices.
Staying there gave us further insight into Spanish culture. There was a concert in the main square attended by a smattering of older people and mums with young children. The menfolk were crammed into bars to watch the Champions League Final. In fact there were so many people in the bars around the square they spilled out into the street, beers in hand and brotherly arms around each other. There is no doubt in my mind, and there is mounting evidence, that therein lies the cause of the recent worrying increase in Covid infections in Spain. Deep in the Spanish culture and way of life is their need to congregate, to socialise, to kiss and hug.
It was easy to avoid these places and we had a lovely supper in the Cathedral Square and a good sleep before setting out for Logroño next morning. The weather these days has been clear and sunny and hot, very hot by late afternoon. We had two long days ahead as we had elected for stages of 28 then 29 kms. We set off and the four Spanish lads in the “bubble” shouted “Buenos días” as they sped passed.
As we entered the picturesque little town of Sansol we were reminded that when moving from walking isolated country paths into populated areas face masks must be worn.
Stephen drew ahead as the sun rose in the sky. We caught up with him later in his role as the Reverend Lego, claiming he was just putting the finishing touches to a stone sculpture exhibition he had prepared while waiting for us.
As you may have read earlier we had a mission to visit María who sits outside her house just before Logroño welcoming pilgrims. Before her house the route passes from the region of Navarra to La Rioja. A sign we are making progress. Leaving Logroño early next morning I was reminded why I love this part of the Camino as it weaves through the great wine region of La Rioja. At times there are vineyards as far as the eye can see.
Stopping for coffee in Navarette a visit to the Parish Church is a must. This is a local church of Cathedral proportions which is stunningly beautiful and very well restored and maintained. I know the sight of such opulence in a building can evoke mixed feelings. However this is our history, our legacy from the past to maintain for the future. In any event it was a model of good practice in Covid measures and boasts a statue of Saint Andrew, patrón of Scotland!
On the way to our next stop in Nájera we made a slight detour to Ventosa. I’m very glad we did, because we followed the “1km of Art” they have installed. It was wonderful.
During this day, and the following to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, we noticed more pilgrims and that the people seemed friendlier. Locals stopped to chat and people in cars waved. We met two French pilgrims at a rest area who got out their sleeping bags to lie in the sun for a siesta.
Just as we were a few kms from Santo Domingo I looked back to see a runner approach. “Impressive in this heat,” I thought. This turned out to be Daniel, an English man living in New York who has been travelling the world for 7 months with his wife, Abra. They met up with Abra’s sister, Alexis from London, and Catherine from Canada. Daniel ran ahead and a while later the three women overtook us walking strongly. Our first other English speakers! Soon we were in normal pilgrim conversation. Abra was very forthright.
“We’ve been travelling for 7 months from Peru to the UK, to Turkey, then France and Spain. The pandemic started as we travelled and we made a decision to be very careful to keep our distance from other people. We’re doing the same on the Camino. Talking from a reasonable distance is OK, touching and contact is not.”
Yesterday evening in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, that great iconic Camino Town, we all met in the square in front of the albergue. The hospitalero confirmed that 25 pilgrims had checked in. The English speakers were at a table and had been joined for a drink by a couple of Germans. The two French women strolled past and stopped for a chat. The lads who formed the Spanish bubble called me over to complain they hadn’t seen me during the day. “You sleep too late” one of them teased in broken English. Everyone laughed. I’m the oldest in the group – by a mile! In the restaurant I met another two pilgrims from our Facebook group. At least 40 if not more pilgrims making their way along the Holy Road to Santiago.
Today has been wonderful. In Grañón people shouted “Buen Camino” and all day we met and met again familiar faces, some of whom will be friends by the time we reach Santiago.
Let me finish on a serious note. Many pilgrims simply cannot travel this year because their country does not allow it, others do not want to run the risk of having to quarantine when they return home. Others worry about the escalating spread of the virus in Spain. I understand and respect all of this. However, walking the great open spaces of the Camino and talking and joking with fellow pilgrims at a slight distance, and wearing masks, and being careful entering and leaving accommodation and towns has made us feel very safe indeed.
As Abra said – keeping distance and no touching is the best way to remain safe. As she said this I realised that the last time someone kissed me was Sunday 15 March in Zamora Bus Station when a French pilgrim I had been chatting to spontaneously kissed me goodbye.
It may be some time until I give or receive a kiss or a hug but, until then, I’ll keep on walking the Camino routes to Santiago.
Dear Amigos, greetings from Los Arcos. We are now Three Masketeers, as friend Billy (Willemijn) joined us in Puente la Reina.
Billy is Dutch and, having walked to Santiago from her home in Holland, became a volunteer in the Pilgrim Office. Billy is also a writer and speaks 6 languages, so it was a natural step for her to become a guide with companies who organise walking holidays, including pilgrimages on the Camino. Since Covid the companies have no customers, so Billy has been exploring the lesser known routes and has joined us for a time. Gemma is now in a “bubble” with two other women, walking happily and sharing suitable accommodation.
Everyone is asking the question “is the Camino safe?” All of us certainly feel safe, but I must emphasise again my view that on Camino, like at home, you are only as safe as you make yourself. Stay distant from others, cleanse your hands frequently and wear a facemask!
I have been very impressed with the preparations made in hostels to keep guests separate. Gemma and her bubble have felt safe finding rooms where they can share at a distance. Billy has already complained in one albergue and refused to stay in another because too many people were packed into one room. This highlights the problem – the huge reduction in pilgrims walking makes it easier to stay safe, but the private albergues are starved of business so when some pilgrims come along the temptation is to be blind to the recommendations and pack them in. I say again, no matter what is offered, it is your responsibility to stay safe.
We’ve been walking through beautiful Navarra but the area has had several “rebrotes” or new outbreaks of the pandemic. On Friday we walked into Pamplona, our first major city. We met a friend who lives there for dinner. It was a great reunion but I was staggered at the way bars and terraces were jam packed with customers. The waiters were wearing the symbolic facemask, but the clients were singing, shouting, hugging and kissing. Just like a normal Friday night in downtown Pamplona. I wondered why people are so blind to the fact that it is our own behaviour which spreads this virus.
It was with some relief when we marched out of town the following morning, through the lovely University campus. Onwards and we were soon at Cizor Menor and then making our way up and up to the Alto de Perdón. The Reverend Long Legs forged ahead, clearly emboldened by having scaled the Pyrenees. I huffed and puffed up to the top to enjoy the magnificent views and the cooling breeze. There were only two other pilgrims there but soon the “bubble” of young people from the previous day arrived in slightly diminished number. They were impressed that the Old Guys had got there first. The descent is difficult and we took our time because the temperature was also rising.
The names of the next villages will be familiar to many reading this: Uterga, Muruzábel and Obanos. However these, and many others, are not as you remember them, or as they would be in another year. At this time they are like ghost towns with bars closed or, if open, terraces empty and lacking the chatter of hundreds of pilgrims. During the day one Italian pilgrim who is walking for a few days stopped to chat. As for the heat, we are carrying lots of water and, of course, Stephen Keep Me Kool just had to demonstrate the traditional method of cooling down.
Puente la Reina remains as charming as ever and going in through quiet streets and leaving in the morning in silence I realised that we are seeing the Camino Francés in a state that just last year would have been unimaginable. We walked towards the very picturesque town of Cirauqui, the streets of which seem laden with history.
I was sitting in the shade in the main square when an argument got up between two men and a woman. As it got louder and louder I realised the men were protesting about the restrictions the government has imposed to control the spread of the Coronavirus. The latest of these is to ban people from smoking outdoors if they are doing so within two metres of another person. “It’s the limit” said one using very colourful language. “It’s like the dictatorship all over again,” agreed the other. The woman interjected, “why can’t you see that it’s right to stop people blowing smoke in other people’s faces and perhaps spreading the virus?” she asked, and went on “and why are you two bothered anyway, neither of you smoke.” I exited through the arch and they were still arguing as I made my way out of town.
As we went down the path we were followed by three wee girls. We assumed that they were local youngsters perhaps going to a swimming pond in the river. However as the hours wore on, and we made our way through lovely countryside with the hay drying waiting for the bailer, and the sunflowers darkening ready to yield their harvest, our paths crossed a few times. We only met one other pilgrim that day, Geoli (Joel) another Italian who is walking to Sahagún, halfway along the Camino. He hopes to return next year. Just outside Estella we met the three young girls again and I wondered if they were walking 22kms to see their grandparents. There must be buses I thought.
These three youngsters were polite and friendly. Not so some of the locals we passed. Several times my “hola” was ignored. So much so I wondered if local people were becoming apprehensive about “foreign” pilgrims? “Not at all, ” said people in the hostel, “around here they’d be the same with people from Madrid!”
We were very tired. The Mass with Pilgrim Blessing in the Church of San Miguel appears to have been discontinued, so we just had dinner before bed. After breakfast we checked out. We’d had three drinks before dinner the evening before. Stephen The Ever Honest One said to the lady at the desk that he thought we hadn’t paid for those. She went off to enquire and came back with a till receipt. “You may not have paid, but someone did” she replied. It appears the locals still like us.
Stephen (Who Likes Wine) was excited about visiting the wine fountain at Irache, which sits on the route just outside of the town. As we left the outskirts we saw a man and woman ahead. He had a kind of satellite dish sticking out of his rucksack and he was speaking into a recorder. The two were engrossed in what they were doing so we passed on. They caught up with us just as we went uphill to the Bodega of Irache and the gates to the Fountain of Free Wine came into view. Just then the three young girls from the day before staggered out into the road swaying and holding on to each other for all the world like drunks. The man and woman burst out laughing as soon we all did. The children had been lying in wait for their parents. We took the traditional photographs and we all carried on walking at different speeds, the youngsters yet again forging ahead.
As we were having a breather later the Dad, Rafa, arrived along the path. He explained that the Spanish National Association of the Blind have commissioned a new guide to the Camino which not only has directions but also descriptions. The satellite dish is a GPS tracker and he was narrating what he saw. Truly the blind shall see the Camino in the Holy Year and beyond.
As we walked in the afternoon heat towards Los Arcos we remarked to each other how beautiful is this part of the route and how privileged we are, not only to see it, but to see it at this special time. Let’s hope everyone has the opportunity to do the same very soon.
Please continue to send your prayers, hopes, wishes and intentions to:
Over 300 pilgrims have entrusted us with their prayers, hopes and thoughts for others. This precious cargo is the reason we walk – as well as to tell you about our Camino.
Pilgrims walk and pilgrims pray. It’s what we do. We invite those who don’t pray to reflect on the prayers of others and to think on them with kindness. As we climbed the Route Napoleón from Saint Jean Pied de Port we came to the statue of the Virgen of Orisson which the villagers have placed high on the mountain overlooking the valley. The image of mother and child was an appropriate place to stop and pray for the intentions we have received for families and relationships. These include prayers for :
Parents who are ill and infirm
Parents concerned about their children
Relationships in difficulty
Children who are estranged from their parents
Friendships which have broken down
And many prayers of gratitude for lives and loves sustained over the years
Loving God we ask your blessing on these Pilgrim Prayers and may we all experience your peace.
Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles to Zubiri to Pamplona
Hello amigos, First, thank you to everyone who has sent messages of encouragement and prayer requests. These now total over 300. Your requests are encrypted and held on this datastick which will be carried every step of the way to Santiago. Every day we add to it. Keep them coming!
To carry it every step of the way we had to take the first step, so on Monday night before setting out we went to Mass in Saint Jean Pied de Port. The church was peaceful and the few local people there were very friendly. We had hoped to engage with other pilgrims but at the end when the priest invited pilgrims to the front for the Pilgrim Blessing only 8 of us stepped forward. The priest spoke in French and it turned out all of the other pilgrims were French apart from us. When it was our turn to say where we were from I said “Scotland” and Stephen said, “Ecosse”, “Ah, Scotch” said the priest. Summoning up my schoolboy French I replied, “Oui, s’il vous plait” Yes, please! It took a moment for the penny to drop, then the priest led the laughter which broke the ice.
The few pilgrims at the Mass was replicated next day. We started at 7.15, first light, and during the day encountered maybe 20 or 30 pilgrims. “These days” said Marisol in the albergue in Roncesvalles, “only 40 or 50 come over the hill”. “Hill” is the understatement of the century. The ascent to almost 1500 metres is over a long and gruelling 20 kms with a further 5 into Roncesvalles. As the sun rose so did the temperature. When we reached Orisson some 8kms into the stage we were already on nodding terms with some other pilgrims, all either Spanish or French. We greeted a family who said they were from Valencia. We assumed they were Mum, Dad and two teenage daughters who already looked exhausted.
After Orisson we climbed steadily, the road rose more steeply and it got hotter. Stephen was ahead of me as usual when I came slowly puffing round a corner, walking in step with the mum and dad of the Valencian family. As I stopped for a rest the mother sat down to get her breath back. As an encouragement the Big Man uttered the immortal words, “Don’t worry, wee man, we’re higher up than we are lower down.” I started to laugh at this nonesense and I translated it for the dad. He started to laugh. “What are you laughing at?” asked his wife, sweating profusely. As the man tried to explain she erupted letting forth a stream of expletives which almost singed the grass. In summary, she was blaming her husband for the fact she was halfway up a great hill on a path that never seemed to end. No laughing matter. We beat a hasty retreat and we were soon turning off the road. With one final push we followed the path over the summit into Spain, at the marker for the province of Navarra. We paused for a break and reflected on the way Spanish people swear using religious profanities shocking to our ears. Just at that the family turned the corner, “Welcome home to Spain!” we shouted as we applauded them across the border. The hill was over, the mother was smiling. The dad looked relieved.
To be honest there were times when I thought it was too much for me. I cursed my pride for opting to walk it all in one day and not sleep at Orisson. I swore “never again” several times – with emphasis on the word “swore”. However the truth is that every time I just had to look around me at the magnificent views of the majestic Pyrenees, which I had been unable to see for clouds last time and that made it all worthwhile. So too the grunts and grimaces of fellow pilgrims as we inched up the hill, early bonds being forged. At one point Stephen remarked, “this is more beautiful, more vast, more wondrous than the Scottish mountains”. Now there’s a compliment.
In Roncesvalles we wanted to meet with the Dutch volunteers who staff the huge albergue. We’ve had a long standing connection with the Dutch association since we helped them start their Welcome Centre in Santiago some years ago. They were glad to see us but sad that their season was coming to an abrupt end because the Dutch Government has imposed a period of quarantine for citizens returning from parts of Spain, including Navarra. They spoke about the changes over the last few years. Until a year or so ago they had 300 albergue beds and regularly had to call taxis for pilgrims they could not accommodate. Then the local authority cut the number of beds to 185. The consequence of the pandemic is that they have reduced the number of beds to 90 but “this year we are never full”. That night 60 pilgrims were in the albergue. The reduced numbers was further confirmed when we counted 22 pilgrims at the Pilgrims’ Mass who went forward for the traditional “start of Camino” blessing.
That evening I had a long conversation with Teresa who runs one of the hotels. “The situation is desparate on the Camino”, she said, “we have 10 % of the pilgrims who would usually stay. We’ve had to make staff redundant, freeze modernising work we were going to do for the Holy Year and winter is still to come. Mark my words, many of us will not be in business in one year.” A depressing thought. My mood was lifted by being reminded how beautiful the route is from Roncesvalles. Unlike before there was no great procession of pilgrims making their way to Zubiri. We met a few Spaniards walking for two or three days and a solitary French woman who was planning to walk to Santiago then Finisterre. Buen Camino!
In Zubiri we learned another lesson. We all must accept now that accommodation either has to be booked or you should at least phone the albergue to check availability – because of anti-Covid measures everywhere there is reduced capacity. So too in the bar/restaurant in Zubiri. Their tables are reduced by half and so they ask for a 10 euro deposit which is returned when you arrive.
The gentler walk to Pamplona was a joy today. Not long after we set off a group of 12 Spanish young people passed. We saw them on and off all day. They all know each other and have formed a “bubble” to travel together. We saw few other pilgrims. It strikes me that younger people form groups and older people keep themselves apart. The couple from Pamplona walking for a few days, the man in his 60’s walking to beyond Logroño, the couple from Madrid… All friendly, but sitting more apart than the younger people.
We decided, all three of us, that if we were to walk to Santiago we had to accept it is our own responsibility to keep ourselves safe. Everywhere we’ve gone the routine has been established – wear a mask before entering, use hand gel on entry and frequently and keep away from other people. Last night the waitress asked a man who sat at the next table to move to keep his distance from me.
Today on arrival at our hotel in Pamplona we were asked to walk on a disinfectant welcome mat, use gel and had our temperatures taken. I was impressed. I’ve been speaking with Gemma and others who are using albergues – these more sophisticated measures aren’t available but generally it seems people are trying their best. It reinforces the point that our own actions are our best protection. A word on masks because this has been unnecessarily controversial in some forums. Wearing a proper face mask is compulsory in Spain. Walking alone out on the Camino most pilgrims remove their masks. However even in the smallest hamlet local people wear masks – so it is essential that pilgrims do the right thing and do likewise.
Today some 10 kilometres from Pamplona we could hear the whoops and laughter of children and young people in the distance. It was coming from a riverside recreation area where families were sunbathing and children were paddling. The teenagers were dropping and diving from the bridge into the deep pool below. It was a delightful sight. Starkly normal in these strange times. I make no comment about social distancing, it is their country and it was in the open air. However, we looked but didn’t join in!
In these last days the temperature has reached 36 degrees. Hot. Very hot. However relief has come in a frequent cooling, gentle breeze. A roadside vendor, having lamented at length at the lack of pilgrim customers, said the breeze comes from Storm Ellen. I’m not convinced, I think it may be sent from the hundreds of you who have already written. Please keep the emails coming:
It’s 11 years since I was last here. This is a charming little French town with narrow streets and houses festooned with colourful window boxes. Nowadays there are many more “Pilgrim” and “Camino” signs and being the holiday month of August the streets are jammed with visitors.
We arrived last night after what turned out to be a 10.5 hour train journey direct from Santiago to Pamplona then a shared taxi to Saint Jean. The health measures were evident from the first moment – on arrival at the train station in Santiago although everyone was wearing masks I saw people being asked to put them on properly. Every second seat in the waiting area is closed off and before boarding as tickets were checked through a screen we were passed sachets of hand gel.
Here in France things are perhaps a little more relaxed but face masks everywhere and hand gel when entering and leaving places remain the order of the day. We had been looking forward to meeting our friend Kate from the USA again. Alas that could not be. However on the same day Kate told me her flight was cancelled I got an email from another pilgrim pen friend to say she was going to begin from Saint Jean Pied de Port at almost the same time. So, last night we had dinner with Gemma. She is a health policy consultant with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. It also turns out this is her first Camino! Gemma is walking ahead of us at times but will send regular notes of her experiences and impressions which I’ll relay to you.
Gemma was excited to be setting out. We made her promise to leave early and take her time crossing to Roncesvalles. I’ll hear from her later today. We make the same journey tomorrow. But first I wanted to visit the Pilgrim Office in Saint Jean. 11 years ago a small crowd of us queued before being assembled and given a talk about the route then credenciales were issued and stamped. This year there was no queue and no assembly. Hand gel and masks and the ever helpful volunteers are working behind screens. “Usually by this point in the year we welcome 300 or 400 pilgrims daily and up to 600 on the busiest day, ” said Henri as he stamped my Credencial. “Now if we see 100 pilgrims it’s busy. Tomorrow maybe 30 or 40 pilgrims will walk the route you are walking.”
There maybe few pilgrims but there are certainly lots of visitors and we made our way down the busy street to the Church which stands just at the city gate, the “Port” through which we’ll pass to start our Camino early tomorrow morning. The 14th century church is beautiful in its simplicity and although Saint Jean was never a main starting point for the Camino Santiago until more modern times the stones of this old building have heard many prayers over the centuries.
It was here in the silence we laid the petitions and messages we’ve received before the altar with the Pilgrim Bible which now has the first stamp of the journey. Candles were lit and prayers offered for everyone… and for ourselves that we may walk safely (and blister free!) on the Way to Santiago.
Today Johnnie and Stephen travel from Santiago to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Before leaving Johnnie made this video to convey again the reasons for this important Pilgrimage in 2020 and in these unusual times.
Over the coming weeks there will be regular blogs and videos from along the way which will be posted here and shared on social media platforms. In the meantime, watch Johnnie’s message and please keep in your thoughts and prayers Johnnie, Stephen and the intentions of all the pilgrims who have sent messages to be carried and also all pilgrims who have been unable to walk their Camino this year.
The Coronavirus epidemic has ruined the plans of many pilgrims who hoped to walk to Santiago this year. The Camino was closed for some months but gradually as restrictions are eased in Spain and in other countries pilgrims will walk the Way again.
If for any reason you can’t walk this year veteran pilgrims Johnniewalker, Stephen, Kate and Sean will carry your thoughts and prayers with them in August 2020 when they walk both physically and virtually from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago.
They are making this pilgrimage to rebuild confidence in the Camino and to carry with them the intentions of others.
SEND YOUR THOUGHTS, PRAYERS, HOPES AND INTENTIONS
No matter what you believe or what faith you follow, or none, the pilgrims will carry your messages, prayers and hopes every step of the way to Santiago and they will be prayed for at Mass every day.
Most of us are wondering what the Camino will be like in light of the pandemic. Will it be safe? Will there be enough accommodation? Has the experience changed?
Sean will make this pilgrimage on the internet following Johnnie, Stephen and Kate as they walk. There will be regular reports live from the Camino posted on this and other sites. Look out for the “where they are now” feature.
HOW THEIR CAMINO IS ORGANISED
Taking into account age and the general precautions being put in place to stop the spread of infection Johnnie and Stephen will stay in private rooms in hostels, hotels and albergues along the Camino Francés. They have booked some accommodation themselves and they are also accepting the generous assistance of Camino Ways, the travel company who will ensure accommodation is open and is Coronavirus prepared. Kate will be staying in albergues along the route and reporting back on the conditions and the new procedures in place to ensure a safe Camino for the Pilgrim and the albergue host.
Camino Ways is one of a number of commercial companies who arrange pilgrimages in Spain and other places. Using them is not essential. Many pilgrims book their own accommodation either beforehand or as they walk along. However companies such as Camino Ways play an important part in the economy of Spain and many pilgrims to Santiago use them. For this particular Camino we acknowledge that Camino Ways has donated 1000 euros to the Camino Fund which will be used to help donativo albergues and they have offered their assistance for this Camino on a not for profit basis.
ABOUT THE PILGRIMS
Johnnie and Stephen both hail from Scotland where they became friends over 20 years ago. Kate is from the USA and met Johnniewalker on her first Camino in 2007. Sean is from England. He met Johnnie when he became the first volunteer in the Amigos Welcome Service in the Pilgrims’ Office in 2012. In total they have walked many thousands of kilometres in Spain, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.
Johnniewalker is retired and lives in Santiago where he writes and plays the church organ. He has so far written 15 books about the Camino to Santiago including a range of guidebooks and three Spiritual Companions for pilgrims. In his professional career he was founding Director for Scotland for the National Lottery Charities Board, Chief of Staff to the First Minister of Scotland and founding Chief Executive of UnLtd the UK wide Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs which was awarded the Millenium Legacy of £100 million.
Stephen Shields works in the field of educational support for disadvantaged children in the UK, where he has also been a church cantor for over 40 years. He is a Trustee of the charity SHINE, of which he was the founding Chief Executive. Semi-retired, Stephen walks to Santiago as often every year as he can. He also sings in church when he is there. His early career was as a social worker, working with the young single homeless. After this he studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Universities of Rome and Salamanca, before being ordained a Catholic priest.
Kate Stephens is from Dallas, Texas and works as a consultant in the mortgage industry and worked on the Making Home Affordable program with the U.S. Department of the Treasury after the U.S. housing crisis in 2008. Kate met Johnniewalker on her first Camino in 2007. There is a story to be told about that meeting. Keeping in touch over the years, Johnnie and Kate met up on each of her Caminos since.
Having completed five Caminos, Kate plans to volunteer much of the 2021 Holy Year as a Hospitalera, her way of giving back to the Camino experience. She has a long background in volunteering having volunteered in nursing homes, as a Girl Scout Summer Camp Leader, and with Challenge Air, a program that lets children with special needs fly an airplane, helping them realise “the impossible to be much more probable”. Fun fact, Kate travelled the Camino with her father three times and her mother once and encourages everyone to walk a Camino with a family member at least once.
Sean Hampton was the very first volunteer in the Pilgrims’ Office in Santiago when the Amigos Welcome Service was launched in 2012. He is a veteran pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago and has collaborated with Johnnie many times by producing maps for his guidebooks. Sean and his family are frequent visitors to Galicia. They have family connections to Verín and they have all walked the Camino. Sean is an IT specialist as well as being a keyboard player in a rock band! He will make this pilgrimage virtually and will post as the other three walk along the Way.