Caminos del Norte and Primitivo, 2019 and 2021

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!

Day 1, high above the ocean.
San Sebastian
Up and down along the coast
Hikers’ shoes in an albergue
Heading inland to Bilbao
In Basque Country
Lunch with fellow hikers
Old Bilbao
Unusual car ferry on the river out of Bilbao
Leaving Portugalate. Bike and ped path over a maze of expressways.
Old railroad tunnel repurposed for bikes and walkers
Resort town of Laredo
Ferry across an inlet. Saves a lot of road walking.
Rocky headland
Very old road and walls, probably Roman.
Colourful apartment balconies
San Vicente on an inlet from the ocean
Walking an unofficial track by the coast
Early morning leaving Llanes.
Roman bridge
On the Primitivo. Cathedral in Oviedo.
Selfie. I’m the one a bit to the right of centre, about half way to Santiago.
Hilly damp day on the Primitivo, but great views.
Sharing the path.
Not happy to share the path with these guys.
Camino Frances. Feels like Main Street!
Arrival in Santiago.
Robin felt we should celebrate arrival with Spanish wine from scallop shells.
Leaving Santiago at dawn.
Ponte Maceira, a lovely spot on the way to Muxia.
Sharing the way with sheep.
By the ocean in Muxia. Robin is taking a photo of Shari who is holding her companion Flat Stanley.
End of the walk. By the ocean in Finisterre.

15 thoughts on “Caminos del Norte and Primitivo, 2019 and 2021”

  1. Amazing photos…great variety, backgrounds and colours…makes me so want to do this so bad!!
    So whats the deal with drinking wine from scallop shells…is there a significance..or was someone having trouble finding a wine glass??

    • The scallop shell is a camino emblem, relating to various myths and legends about St. James. Many people who walk the Camino Frances carry a shell. Drinking wine from a scallop shell in the square in front of the cathedral in Santiago is a perfect way to celebrate the end of a pilgrimage.

  2. Having walked on the Norte and Frances, and having shared that great three days to Muxia with you and Shari, your report and stunning photos stir great memories.

  3. Wow, beautiful photos. I had a mini ‘escape’ just looking at them……sigh……..

  4. Amazing. Such a wonderful travelogue. Really enjoyed that and your descriptions. The selfie was really non-typical so that was nice too ;^). Here’s to many many more trips. Xo Sandra

  5. Hey Roy,
    It’s so nice to be reminded of that elusive thought – travel. We enjoy your write ups and photos very much.
    Take care and Love to you and Inge.

  6. Great photos Roy! Brought back some good memories of many of the same places from my walk on the Norte and Primitivo in 2016. Hope you and Inge get the chance to enjoy some new adventures this year.

  7. Lovely to see your pictures. Brings back old memories. Did not know you were at it again even Covid cannot stop you
    Have a great New Year

  8. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures. Great photos. Happy new year to you and Inge.

  9. Thank you for sharing your adventures with such glorious photos. You could just about feel that morning sunlight…magic.

  10. Beautiful pictures, indeed (the one with the horses is stunning). Glad to see that you’re still trekking, despite Covid…

  11. Hi Roy,
    Thank you smooch for including us in your travel postings. We absolutely love to read about your fantastic travels with gorgeous photos and interesting historical information. The hanging car ferry was a thrill, have they ever had any accidents? It’s especially educational with your detailed maps that show your routes and how many miles and days each section took. We see why you prefer the coastal route, with its’ magnificent scenery and ocean views. Your ID on all photos is greatly appreciated. Loved the repurposed train tunnel, we cycled through one in Germany but it was not so well lit as yours.
    Aloha and Happy New Year to you and Inge. Bill and Gretchen, Honolulu

  12. Beautiful pictures Roy. Brings back memories of our trip to Northern Spain a few years ago. We drove though!
    Happy New Year to you and Inge.

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