Two years ago I was fully trained and ready to set off from St. James’s Church in Porto to walk the Camino to Santiago de Compostela taking the coastal route. The global pandemic and lockdown put paid to all those plans. But with some kind of normality returning to our lives, I decided to give it another go, but this time doing the pilgrimage in 3 stages. So it was that on Thursday 3rd March 2022 I set off.
A Credencial or Pilgrim's Passport is essential if you want to get your Compostela once you have reached Santiago and I acquired my Credencial in Lisbon as it was more convenient, but Porto's Sé has them available together with a scallop shell that you can tie on to your backpack indicating that you are a pilgrim. You have to get the Credencial stamped as you go along so that on arrival they can see you have really made the pilgrimage. Luckily, St. James's has a Pilgrim's Stamp so with this duly done and signed by Olivia Cobb I started my walk.
I cut down to the coast, hit the sea at the Castelo do Queijo and started heading north. At the time of writing I have only made it as far as Viana do Castelo, but I cannot tell you how impressed I was with all the signs that they have put up indicating which way you should go and the many kilometres of boardwalks they have constructed along the coastline, these are so much kinder to walkers’ feet than calçadas or stony paths. Obviously a lot of investment has taken place and I hope this is rewarded when many more pilgrims start returning to do the Caminho da Costa.
This article is not going to be a blow by blow account of what I did each day, but I will tell you that I had 4 days of glorious walking in perfect weather and covered almost 60 kilometres. I came across two places where incidents involving the British took place, I had never heard of either of them. And it is these I am going to describe.
Having reached Leça da Palmeira and got to the end of the promenade there, heading North I came to the Boa Nova lighthouse. This I read is Portugal’s second tallest and came into operation in 1926. It was much needed as the coastline here was called Costa Negra or Black Coast due to the many shipwrecks that had occurred there over centuries. A short walk on and the boardwalk passed a pretty bay referred to in a plaque as the Baia do Veronese. This piqued my interest, what on earth was a bay doing here with a name that was obviously Italian and in my case brought to mind an Italian Renaissance artist? Further reading and research was obviously needed.
16th January 1913 the conditions off this coast were appalling, stormy seas, high winds and thick fog. The 7,063 ton Liverpool owned SS Veronese had embarked passengers in Vigo and was en route to Leixões then South America when it hit the rocks and ran aground in the bay depicted. It was 5am and nothing could be seen until daylight arrived and the fog had lifted. There were 232 people on board and its Captain, Charles Turner. Locals and different organisations rushed from surrounding areas to see what they could do to help rescue everyone. The waves were enormous and by this time driving rain had arrived and as the ship was over 250 metres offshore; it was a difficult rescue operation. The locals fired rocket lines from the shore but they were difficult to catch and the ship could not get its own rocket apparatus working before 4pm that day. Eventually a pulley system with a Breeches buoy attached to it was put in place and used to bring some of the passengers to shore. Some drowned in the process particularly when the lines broke but quite a few people did make it safely. Lifeguard rescue boats and tugs were deployed and also managed to save lives. The rescue efforts went on for 3 days and 2 nights until everyone was off the ship, the Captain being the last to leave it. Accounts vary a bit as to how many lives were lost, possibly around 40, but the tragedy sent shockwaves along the Portuguese coast and it made headline news in the UK as well. There are many tales of heroic deeds performed by rescuers one such being of Patrão Lagoa from Povoa do Varzim who battled through the waves in his rescue boat and brought many Veronese passengers safely to shore.
When I reached Povoa do Varzim on Day 2 of my Camino, I came across a long tiled wall depicting locals scenes and heroes – obviously Patrão Lagoa and his boat featured in it!
Day 2 of my walk continued northwards along the coast where I passed the Praia do São Paio an area of much archaeological and geological interest. By this time I was out of the concelho of Matosinhos and in that of Vila do Conde. Then I reached Praia do Puço in the Vila Chã area. Here I was intrigued to see a well-kept stone monument and went over to read what it had to say.
On 17th September 1943 an Avro Lancaster III bomber, RAF 619 Squadron took part in a bombing raid in the Antheór region near Cannes, the object being to cut the railway line there linking France to Italy. It got hit by anti-aircraft fire and was damaged. Visibility was bad when it tried to return to the UK and when the crew was able to work out their position, they found themselves over the Bay of Biscay and Northern Spain. Without enough fuel to get back home to their base at Coningsby or to reach Gibraltar, they decided to try and land in Portugal and after two low passes, came down on the Praia do Puço. The 7 crewmen managed to destroy any secret electronic equipment before the local fishermen rushed to help them to safety. All survived and their names are inscribed on the monument along with details of the aircraft and of the bombing raid. The crew was transported to Porto, then Lisbon and taken to Elvas where they were interned for almost 3 weeks before they were sent home.
Avro Lancaster III bomber - 1943
Apparently in 1942 a Vickers Wellington IC, registration Nº HX390 of the 1st Overseas Delivery Unit on its way to Gibraltar and thence to Egypt also crash landed here. Two of the crew of this aircraft did not survive and are buried in Porto’s British cemetery. There is no monument to this incident in Vila Chã that I saw on my walking route.
Carol Rankin Mason – March 2022
Having almost got to Viana do Castelo on the first stage of my Camino to Santiago de Compostela, I decided to resume my pilgrimage over the Easter period. And so it was that I set off again from the exact spot where I had left off, getting my Credencial stamped there if any proof should be required.
I left Viana do Castelo on the morning of April 13th, taking the coastal route as opposed to the higher inland main Camino. As I passed Viana's historic church of Nossa Senhora da Agonia, imagine my surprise when a Carillon of bells rang out playing the Easter Hymn: "Jesus Christ is risen today". So I sang along with it as I went on my way. Nice of them to play it for me, I thought.
Nossa Senhora da Agonia, Viana
If you are interested in rock formations and archaeology, this is the walk for you. There are lots of rocks dating back to time immemorial and layers where experts can tell how the earth evolved in this area. Being rather ignorant in this respect I was glad of the information signs. And I rather liked the area where salt was made in natural rock tanks from the Iron Age onwards. There is always much to learn on a walk like this and further north I was lucky to bump into a local man who was photographing all the flowers and wildlife and told me about the plans they are making to remove the invasive species of plants, trees and shrubs and replace them with indigenous grasses. I was most impressed with what they are already doing in this respect along the Ecovia Litoral Norte. By lunchtime I had reached Vila Praia de Âncora, my next stop. I had now realised that there were quite a lot more fellow pilgrims doing the same thing as myself than I had encountered in March. This time I met Scandinavians, Germans, Swiss and some British to name but a few. For me, part of the joy of doing the Camino was meeting such different and interesting people.
View ahead to Mount TegraI knew that I had to cross the River Minho into Galicia the following day, Maunday Thursday. I could already see glorious views of Mount Tegra ahead rising up above the mist . I was informed that the ferry service had not been operational for a year, but was provided with the name of a boatman, Sr. Mario, who would transport me across the river for a small fee, so armed with his mobile number I set off for Moledo where I rang him whilst having my morning coffee. "Problem is", he told me, "My brother has taken my boat out to go fishing. What time to you want to cross?" As I was uncertain as to how long it would take me to walk to Caminha I asked him when his boat would be returning. "No idea," he replied, "It depends on the fish." Hilarious, so I wished him Boa Páscoa and continued on my way where I met up with a British couple who I walked with through the pine forests. We came out of them, found ourselves beside the River Minho and within 100 metres there was a water taxi taking pilgrims across the river. "Há espaço para mais três?" I called out. There was and before we knew it we had shot across the river at high speed and landed on the beach opposite for the princely sum of 6 euros. Galicia - and it seemed Santiago was ever closer: next stop La Guarda, an easy walk. Obviously it was tapas and Albariño white wine for lunch on arrival!
Crossing the River Minho
I had planned the whole of my Camino to allow enough time to relax, recuperate, explore and enjoy each of my destinations. Early that evening I had noticed people gathering in strategic spots around the town so realised that a Semana Santa procession was due to take place. Holy Week is very important in Spain. Catholic religious brotherhoods and fraternities perform penance processions in the streets of cities, towns and villages. So I found myself a place and awaited the start of this one. We could hear the funereal drumbeat approaching and then the first of the brotherhoods came past, hooded, dressed in black all over and some were barefoot – the design of these costumes comes down from the times of the Inquisition. This first group was carrying a large cross with the image of Christ nailed to it, and as they walked they banged their sticks on the ground in time to the beat of the drum. I found it all very sombre, rather macabre and somewhat disturbing, but perhaps that is just what was intended. Quite a few other groups followed on, all the palanquins they bore on their shoulders were decorated with flowers and each carried a different image, Christ, the Virgin, a Saint and so forth. I rather preferred the simple procession I encountered the following day on Good Friday as I descended into the pretty small town of Oia with its formerly magnificent Cistercian monastery right by the sea. But without a doubt doing this Camino over the Easter period added another spiritual dimension to the whole experience, something I had not entirely foreseen.
Baiona is one of my favourite towns in Spain. Situated at the mouth of the river leading to Vigo, it has a wonderful fort and an attractive historic centre. It was here that the caravel Pinta made landfall in 1493 and brought the news that Columbus had discovered America. Having climbed up and descended a few hills from Oia to get here, the most strenuous on my Camino to date, a restorative lunch and siesta were needed before I went and did some exploring myself! I was intrigued when I came across a Misericordia church with its familiar symbol, as this was a charitable organisation founded in Portugal in 1498 by Queen D. Leonor and I was in Spain. I went in to find the church housed the flower-decorated palanquins with their holy figures that had been carried round Baiona the day before. Flowers decorated every inch of the altar and its surroundings too, all a lovely sight. A delightful elderly lady was acting as guardian, and gave me a leaflet which confirmed that yes, this was a church of the same Portuguese foundation. Quite why or how, I did not discover, but I did find the tomb of an Irishman buried just beneath the altar in 1595!
I walked along Baiona’s waterfront after breakfast on Easter Day in a lovely light and was fortunate to bump into a British mother and son who invited me to join them. Our next destination was Vigo, some 28 kilometres of walking with some steep uphill sections to negotiate. I was not sure I would be able to manage it but in the event we all encouraged each other, enjoyed some lovely views, peaceful wooded areas and arrived at tea time. The last section walking uphill along hot, busy streets in the middle of a city was extremely tedious as was the climb uphill again out of Vigo the following morning. Not to be repeated I thought to myself!
91.380 kilometres to go!
The final day of Stage 2 of my Camino did not go entirely as I had anticipated. I had decided to walk from Vigo to Redondela, thereby covering a bit more distance before finishing the last kilometres to Santiago the following month. Having got the uphill part out of the way, I had a pleasant morning's walk with fellow pilgrims, parts of the route afforded great views to the river beneath us, others took us through very pretty wooded areas, then we descended to Redondela. This was as far as I was going but we all needed some lunch. We spotted a nice looking restaurant the other side of a large plaza that was in the midst of renovations, with nothing boarded off, and we had to pick our way through all the works. I did not notice a large wire sticking up, tripped over it and went flying! A bit of grazing and a fractured wrist was the result of this incident, so having got home to Cascais in Portugal was put into plaster for 6 weeks and had to postpone the last 85 kilometres or so of my Camino until the autumn
Carol Rankin Mason – November 2022