Mount Joy was not joyous that morning. Low cloud and light drizzle obscured the distant cathedral. Having completed our final climb we’d been walking along a wooded ridge that seemed to go on forever, past a vast timberyard, past the sprawling campus of TV Galicia, and now we were resting in the shadow of a large and hideous monument commemorating the visit to Santiago of Pope John Paul II.
Sarah’s shin had been growing more and more painful. I’d realised fairly early on that being solicitous was no help and that the best thing was just to keep going, since that was clearly what she was determined to do. Some of the time I walked in front, some of the time behind. I would never have thought that the sight of a bedraggled figure plodding doggedly along in the drizzle, head bent beneath a backpack, grimacing at every other step, could stir such strong feelings; but as the kilometres passed my admiration grew and grew and my heart swelled with it.
Our Spanish friends, Helen and Blas, daughter and father, caught up with us as we rested, sitting on a low wall. They were struggling too, they admitted. But there was something uplifting about their closeness to one another and I think we drew energy from it. We set off again, down into a valley on whose opposite side Santiago sprawls across the shoulders of another plateau. We crossed over a motorway and into the outskirts of the town and all at once there were brass scallop shells set into the pavement, beckoning us along the final leg of the camino.
Over the last twenty-four hours we had also been keeping an eye out for our young Australian friend. We had seen her a couple of times during the early part of the journey and each time her warmth, openness and cheerfulness had spurred us on. At our last meeting, with nearly five hundred miles under her belt, we’d asked her what she was going to do next. ‘I’ll just have to keep going to Finisterre,’ she’d replied with a smile.
Cape Finisterre falls short by sixteen kilometres of fulfilling its claim to be the end of the earth; Cabo da Roca in Portugal is actually the westernmost point of continental Europe. But for pilgrims who find they can’t stop in Santiago, the extra eighty kilometres lead to an unequivocal terminus in the form of a rocky headland pounded by Atlantic breakers.
By now our Australian friend had come to embody the spirit of the journey for us, and we both felt that we needed to see her one more time. Meanwhile, there were still a couple of kilometres of hard pavement to go to the centre of Santiago. It felt odd to be dragging ourselves through busy city streets, carrying our packs and poles, travel-stained and exhausted, while people in everyday clothes walked by on their way to the shops or to work – though we were by no means alone. A gathering stream of other pilgrims, singly, in pairs or in little groups, threaded their way through the crowds, their compasses similarly set on the cathedral square.
To be continued…