In August 2021, when COVID seemed to be in decline, Inge and I went to Europe. In the Netherlands we spent three pleasant weeks which included a family wedding and a one-week cycling trip. In September I went to Spain to finish a walk I started in 2019 while Inge stayed on in the Netherlands.
The walk in Spain was mostly on two old camino routes: the Norte and the Primitivo. In 2019, after our GR5 walk in France, I walked six days on the Camino del Norte from Irun to Bilbao. In September 2021 I returned to Bilbao, finished the walk to Santiago, then continued to Muxia and finally to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast.
Here’s a map of camino routes in Northern Spain. Irun is on the right, on the French border. Villaviciosa, where the Primitivo splits off from the Norte, is on the coast in the middle of the map, and the Primitivo joins the Camino Francés on the left, just before Santiago.
The Norte and Primitivo routes are strenuous and predate the more popular and easier Camino Francés route to Santiago. The Norte follows the Atlantic coast, climbing over headlands, following long sandy beaches and sometimes heading inland where the coast is too challenging. The Primitivo, a very old route, is hilly with a few days involving over 1000m ascent and descent, but the views are spectacular and I enjoy alpine walking. At the small town of Melide, a bit before Arzua, the Primitivo joins the Camino Francés for two easy days of walking to Santiago. Muxia is a three-day walk from Santiago and Finisterre is a day from Muxia.
Overall, Irun to Finisterre is about 900km—36 days at a 25km/day pace. I did six days of the walk in 2019 and the remaining 30 in 2021.
It was a great walk, less crowded and more scenic than the Camino Francés. For most walkers on the Norte and Primitivo, it is not their first long walk so conversation focuses on the pleasure of walking rather than the novelty of walking a long distance, and many have stories of other walks to tell.
The short section I did in 2019 was pre-COVID. I stayed mostly in albergue (hostel) dormitories which are cheap and a good place to meet fellow walkers. There was plenty of accommodation available so I could easily plan only a day or two ahead. With COVID in 2021 it was a different situation. As I wanted a private room each night and many places were not open, I booked everything in advance. I still met people but there was not the usual feeling of camaraderie.
In Santiago I met up with Robin, Shari and Leah, three people from the Vancouver Camino walkers group. We had discovered that by coincidence we would all be in Santiago at roughly the same time and arranged to meet. Shari, Robin and I then walked together to Muxia.
Below are some photos from the 2019 and 2021 walks. Enjoy!