Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Almost anyone can walk, ride or cycle a camino. You’ll find babies in carriers, little children, octarians well into their 80s, blind people, amputees and people in wheelchairs on the camino trails.
Even healthy, able-bodied people are anxious about walking hundreds of kilometres across a foreign landscape. Many of the camino trails consist of rocks, gravel, shale, mud, dirt and some asphalt or tar – difficult enough for most but quite daunting if you have a disability.
EG: On the Camino Frances, from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, the 798km route looks like this:
Paths/Tracks 505km 63.3%
Quiet roads 202.6km 25.4%
Main Roads 90.4km 11.3%

60 pilgrims in wheelchairs received the Compostela in the 2004 Holy Year.
The same year Nick Hoekstra also received his Compostela – he is blind.
You can read his story here:
So far this year (July 2010) 26 pilgrims in wheelchairs have earned the Compostela.

Advice for pilgrims with disabilities:
Have a complete physical check-up before you go and ensure that you are in the best possible health.

• Obtain copies of any prescriptions you might need and any spare parts of your wheelchair, crutches, hearing aid, visual aids etc.

• Before leaving make sure that you are aware of all the difficulties you may encounter as a pilgrim with disabilities and the accessibility of different places on the Road to Santiago such as accommodation, catering establishments, etc.)
• The best time to do the camino is May/June and September/October. Early spring brings rains, mud and sometimes late snow falls. November is the start of winter and early snow or heavy rains will make the paths impassable.
• Ensure that you have some form of identification on your person with emergency contact details and information about your disability.
• Always face the on-coming traffic if you are on a road.
• Hearing impaired pilgrims must take extra care when crossing the road and at intersections.
• Visually impaired pilgrims should be accompanied at all times.
• Intellectually impaired pilgrims should be accompanied by responsible people who understand their disability and needs.

Pilgrims with physical disabilities
There is very little literature or resources for people with disabilities.
In 2004 Ibermutuar together with several Spanish companies, sponsored a guide aimed at pilgrims with disabilities. The guide was written by people with different physical, psychical or sensory disabilities.
The guide contains information about accessibility and other matters of interest including albergues, suggested stages of 8km per day and restaurants with special facilities.
Three pilgrims that covered the Camino Frances in wheelchairs participated directly in the preparation of the guide which, at present, is only available in Spanish, but which is being translated into French and German.
It provides complete information on the route description , facilities, hostels , hotels and restaurants , access and rules in this matter . There is information about the pilgrim credential and obtaining the Compostela.

An outline of the Guide
The guide was created by a group of people with disabilities who personally travelled stages of the Camino. The advice, suggestions, alternatives and remarks are the result of hours of efforts during the tour, which gives a look at the difficulties that face disabled pilgrims.
The daily stages are not those suggested other guides because it was considered that a person with disabilities would find it difficult to follow a pace of 25-30 km per day.
Each stage is described by the original path, with alternatives for people with reduced mobility where, due to its difficulty, it must be separated from the ancient route. The difficulties described in the different stages refer to those found by a disabled person in a wheelchair, with a reduced physical strength.
It outlines cultural sites, entertainment, basic services in localities where the stage ends and accommodation, describing their conditions of accessibility.

Stage 10:  Granon to Belorado
"The layout of this stage , except for short stretch in appalling conditions since Grañón the border with the province of Burgos, is suitable for people with disabilities, if completed, as is practicable , following the walkway that has built the Ministry of Development on a line parallel with the N -120."

Camino Frances in Galicia
You can download an 8 stage guide on the Camino Frances in Galicia from O Cebreiro to Santiago. It is in Spanish but contains hundreds of photographs of the paths on each stage.

This guide is intended as a support resource for people who have physical difficulties and, moreover, is established as an aid to understanding the Way.
Ultimately, the aim with this guide is that the road is included within the diversity that characterizes itself, the pilgrims also go on foot, horseback or bicycle can also be covered in a wheelchair or crutches.
In these pages we analyze the measures of the slopes, the more complex sections of the final state by proposing an alternative route , we studied also the safety of the track in sections shared with car traffic ... We do all a thorough analysis to help the traveller.

Other Guides:
Pilgrims in wheelchairs or hand-bikes should use both the walking and cycling guides to plan their journey. Many of the walker’s paths are almost impossible to traverse in cycles or wheelchairs.
The ‘Practical Guide For Pilgrims” by Millán Bravo Lozana (Everest) recommends alternative routes on each stage for cycles and includes special profile maps for cyclists in the guide.

You can read about Hollander, Ad Hermans, who did 2 500 km from Akersloot, Holland to Santiago in a hand-biked wheelchair in 2000.

In 2002 he went off again, this time to Rome, 2250 km accompanied by his wife, her sister and brother-in-law, and a couple friends, all on bicycles. On their way they camped.

A disabled pilgrim using a hand-bike and family members completed the Camino Norte in August 2009

Most people in wheelchairs have vehicle backup. In 2004 I met a pilgrim in Arzua who had started in Pamplona. His wife was following him in a camper-van. Where possible, she parked next to the albergues at night where he could use the facilities such as showers and kitchen.

Granon Albergue in a bell tower
Many of the albergues on the caminos are not fully accessible to disabled people. Dormitories are often up flights of stairs, bathrooms and toilets might also be upstairs. It would be advisable to phone ahead and check accessibility with the accommodation before deciding on where to stay.
Here you will find a list of private albergues where you can send luggage ahead and where you can reserve a bed in advance. Check first on accessibility:
It is possible to book hostales, hotels, small inns, casa rurals and paradors ahead of time.

Walking pilgrims
Disabled pilgrims who want to walk the camino but might rely on walking aids such as sticks or crutches should consider having their backpacks transported between stages. Many towns have reliable taxi services that will do this for you.
On the Camino Frances there are luggage transport services that will transport you and/or your luggage from town to town. All you need to do is book accommodation a couple of days in advance and send you pack ahead.
If you prefer to cart your own pack you might consider the ‘Carrix’ a backpack trolley with a special harness. It will allow you to have your hands free. If walking on the road, remember to face the on-coming traffic and wear bright, visible clothing.

Recent rticles on the Internet:

Pilgrims with Multiple Scelrosis walked the camino:

A total of 515 people with intellectual disabilities from six different Spanish autonomous communities made the Camino de Santiago between 14 and 20 June along its seven routes to promote " greater integration and harmonious relations" between them.

July 2010: About 80 people paticipated in a program " Satellite Road , "which aims to facilitate the Camino de Santiago pilgrims with disabilities become " technological pilgrims . Thus, with audio guides, signals and the most popular communication services such as GPS or mobile phones , they will join other ltechnologies such as smart clothing or labeling BIDI (a service of labels whose reading is done by phone mobile.

Advice for people with diabetes
• Use a product called Frio, a crystal-filled pouch that comes in several sizes, to keep the insulin. When submerged for five minutes in cold water, its crystals turn to gel and keep the pouch at an insulin-friendly temperature.
• Take two insulin pens instead of syringes because the needles and vials for a pen are much smaller.
• Take two blood sugar meters, a glucagon kit, and extra prescriptions for your medicines.
• Obtain a doctor's letter for customs, airport security, and anyone else who might be alarmed by all those needles.
• Jet-lag: Spend a few days getting over jet-lag and acclimatising before starting to walk.
• Carry extra bottles of water and juice

Read about Dudley Glover, an insulin-dependent diabetic with coronary heart complications who walked the camino in 2004:

Useful websites

Phyiotherapists advise pilgrims how to get to their destination in good health

Disabled pilgrims and the Compostela:
  • Disabled pilgrims with helpers and vehicle support are generally welcomed in albergues. However not all have access for disabled people - even the Pilgrim´s Office own new albergue in Santiago is not suitable for disabled pilgrims.
  • If a pilgrim with disabilities makes as much effort as is reasonably practicable to make the pilgrimage with as much help as is needed and if their motives are spiritual etc then they will recieve a Compostela - however each case will be considered on its merits.
  • The Pilgrims´Office is neutral about support vehicles and whether or not pilgrims carry anything themselves. The only requirement is that they walk (or journey in their wheelchair for example) for the last 100 kms.
The Pilgrims´Office itself is not accessible. On arrival if a disbaled pilgrim cannot come up to the office they should seek sassistance or send a helper to ask one the staff to come down to the pilgrim.

Friday, August 06, 2010


Ever since a French pilgrim walked from Bordeaux to Jerusalem and back in 333AD, ordinary people with an extraordinary wanderlust have trekked long distances to sacred places.
The Anonymous Bordeaux Pilgrim

My good friend "Little John" is one of those extraordinary pilgrims who is planning on walking from Santiago to Rome next year. He has already done most of the Camino routes - Norte, Ingles, Frances, Primitivo, Via de la Plata, Madrid, Portugues etc and the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome and from Brindisi to Rome in the south.

John now wants a new challenge and has decided to walk the Jesus Trail from Nazareth next year and then fly to Santiago to walk to Rome. John will be 77 years-old in October and is walking the Annapurna Circuit in Tibet in November. Quite an inspiration!)

Why not walk from Rome to Santiago?
 The route to Rome isn't that well marked and John feels that it could be difficult to follow it in reverse. The Camino is so well marked that it shouldn't be too difficult to walk it the other way.

How long will it take?

It is about 2 800km from Santiago to Rome. John is a good steady walker and plans to cover about 25km per day. With a few shorter days and rest days it should take him about 4 months. He has a British passport so can take as long as he likes. Anyone needing a Schengen visa would have a problem with the 90-day maximum time allowed.  Its not impossible to walk it in 90 days. In the summer of 2009 Herman walked from Rome to Santiago in 78 days averaging more than 35km per day. You will find some info on his blog in English even though most of it is in Dutch.

Live on the trail!

Babette Gallard and Paul Chin have been on the Arles to Rome trail on horseback since April with the idea of writing a guide book on the Santiago to Rome route and also to raise funds to build a classroom in a school in Burkina Fasso. You can contact them through their website Pilgrimage Publications:  

Dan and Hilary are walking from Rome to Santiago and then potentially back across Spain (different route) and up the west coast of France.

Rome to Santiago

OTHER PILGRIM TALES Bike from Rome to Santiago

Ann Milner walked from Santiago to Rome in 2006
She started on 4th April in Santiago and arrived in Rome on 2nd September.
Her Route
Camino Frances to Puente la Reina
Camino Aragones to Somport.
A detour to Lourdes 
Via Toloana at Maubourguet all the way to Arles:
Via Domitia to Montgenevre
Via Aurelia heading south-east to Menton.
At Genoa she walked inland joining the Via Francigena at Pontremoli and then on to Rome from there.

 Assisi to Santiago

Starting from Assisi, north along the Via Francigena: From Sarzana along the Italian Riviera, crossing the border into France before following the Cote d’Azur and heading west , passing through Arles, Montpellier, Toulouse, Auch, and Pau. Then cross the Pyrenees into Spain along the Camino Aragonese to Puenta La Reina, onto the Camino Frances, and finishing at Santiago de Compostella


Santiago to Puente la Reina:
You can follow any of the Camino Frances guides - CSJ, John Brierley, Pili Pala Press, or just follow the arrows.

Puenta la Reina to Somport:
You can follow the directions and arrows for the Aragones route to Somport - CSJ, Rother, Miam Miam Dodo - or follow the arrows.

Somport to Lourdes: 
From Somport to Oloron Ste Marie and Lourdes you can follow the Chemin du Piemont Pyrénéen.

Lourdes to Arles:
From Arles:
From Arles, there are two routes to choose from.
North east towards Montgenevre or South east to Menton.
Some websites suggest that the Montgenevre route is easier.

This website offers information and maps from Arles to Italy:

La Provence - Alpes - Côte d'Azur is the natural pathway, both for pilgrims coming from Italy or southern Europe towards Compostela, and those who sailed from Spain or France en route to Rome. Founded in 1998, the Association "Provence - Alpes - Cote d'Azur - Corsica" Friends of Pathways of St. Jacques de Compostela and Rome currently has over 600 members in seven departments of the region.
  • Help and advice to prospective pilgrims (information, documentation)
  •  Support for pilgrims crossing the region;
  • Creation and Maintenance, in association with the French Federation of hiking trails, routes between Arles and the Italian border;
  •  Looking for accommodation with the municipalities, parishes and individuals;
  • Studies and research on local heritage and history of pilgrimages;
  • Promotion of pilgrimage by organizing exhibitions
  • Maintain links with associations pursuing the same goal, in France and abroad, especially in Italy;
  • Maintenance of friendships between former and future pilgrims through periodical publications and events (meetings, visits, walks, lectures.
Somport Pass between Spain and France

Discover the way to Arles , Italy (Col du Montgenèvre Mortola or near Menton) to Spain over the Somport pass using maps and map the paths and their alternatives.  This site will inform you of routes and associations that can help you in your pilgrimage to Compostela and Rome .

This site has a description of the route from Montginevro Pass to Torino

Guide Books

Guida alla Via Francigena
A 900km walk from Montgenevre to St. Peter's, from the border with France to Rome, through Piedmont, Lombardy , Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Lazio. 

La Via Francigena, Cartografia E GPS -
The first complete and detailed mapping of ViaFrancigena - over 900 km on foot, in 38 stages , retracing the journey from ancient Rome to Montgenevre . Step by step through Piedmont, Lombardy , Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Lazio : the maps and all the data necessary to navigate.

For accommodation on the different routes

Once you get onto the Via Francigena at Pontremoli (or elsewhere) you can follow the
VF signs and guides - such as the Lightfoot Guides published by Babette and Paul.

Useful website for the Via Francigena  Check their extensive list of links to VF organsiations including the two main Italian Via Francigena organisations in Italy and the VF Forum on Yahoo.

And a few blogs: