Robert Ward


How did I ever come to be a pilgrim? For someone with my secular upbringing, it’s not what you would have predicted. I guess it all started with my legs. They’ve always been restless, moving, tapping, bouncing, even when I sit still. They love to climb and scramble and take me places, and once they get up some steam they want to keep going – just to the top of this hill, just around the next corner, just to the other side of that bridge. I like to think this is some memory-in-the-body passed down from countless generations of wandering ancestors. Who knows. I can only say that my legs always had a long walk in them.

Now if my heart and mind had been nomads like my legs, I would never have needed the Camino de Santiago. I would simply have stepped out my front door one morning, turned left or right depending on which direction seemed to hold most promise, and walked till I got tired, then picked up the next day and walked some more. But I’m not a vagabond. I need some structure and ritual, a coffee in the morning, a bed at night, and people to keep me company in the hours between. I also like the idea of a destination, preferably one that’s foreign, exotic and old.

What I wanted was a journey. An adventure on foot like the ones in books – watching distant mountains grow closer by the day, knocking apples off the trees of autumn orchards, pausing at village wells, huddling around fires in smoky inns to swap tales with fellow travellers. Of course the irony of these yearnings was not lost on me. For ages, we humans have done everything in our power to go faster, striving to be where we want to be without all the time and bother of getting there. And there I was, the thankless inheritor, gazing out the windows of speeding vehicles and dreaming of walking.

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