Two Steps Forward – along the Camino Santiago

Thursday, 5 October 2017

I had the pleasure on Tuesday night of launching the new Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist novel Two Steps Forward. In alternating chapter as Martin (recently divorced English engineer) and Zoe (recently widowed Californian artist) they set out to walk the Camino Santiago. From their starting point in Cluny in Central France the Way of St James is a 2000km pilgrim trail leading to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. They don’t start out together and the intriguing question which carries you along in this novel is will they ever get together? Mistakes, misunderstandings, fate, everything seems destined to keep them apart – Martin generally in a rather nice hotel, Zoe often in a backpacker dormitory. As I drew closer and closer to the cathedral where the walk ends I began to worry they’d never find their way into the same bed at the end of a hard day’s walk.

The Camino Santiago has become amazingly popular in recent years and although all the footsteps converge on the cathedral, and have done since the early middle ages, there’s no single route. In fact you could start almost anywhere although there are handful of popular and ‘official’ routes, marked by the scallop shell symbol of St James. Collect enough official stamps in your pilgrim passport and you can claim to be a real pilgrim after you arrive at the finishing point. Cyclists can also qualify as pilgrims, but they have to collect more stamps than walkers.

◄ Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela

I have to confess that although I’ve visited the cathedral, back in 2002, I arrived in Santiago de Compostela by car. Never mind, walking the Camino Santiago is definitely on my bucket list although I suspect having visited by car will mean my pilgrim passport starts with a negative balance and I’ll have to collect more stamps than a purist walker.

This was not my first Camino Santiago book encounter either, a few years ago I found myself on a writers’ festival panel with Tom Trumble whose book Unholy Pilgrims is very much a backpacker’s account of the trek.