I have returned to the Camino de Santiago, following the guidebook, perusing the map, stopping for coffee and tortilla at ten o’clock, meeting pilgrims of all nationalities along the route. I have chosen Albergues for an overnight stay, once more sharing a dormitory in a bunk bed with a mattress covered in plastic. The dark, early mornings, cool and still, walking with a torch have been a favourite time of the day. You hear a rustle, know you’re not alone, catch a flash of light in front or behind, whispered voices, walkers sharing a greeting. And when the sun rises and the mountains and valleys emerge from shadow, life is magnificent.
Yet it isn’t me who is walking, it’s a character in my third book, someone who needs to get away, to find some space to think, to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. So far, it’s working, although issues left behind in Lancashire still rumble on in the background. And it’s working for me. I am delighted to be along the Way once more, even though it is in my head and my heart and through my words, rather than in my own boots pounding the gravel paths.
An extract, without giving too much away.
A glow touched the far end of the room, pink and soft, catching shapes of fellow sleepers, uneven lumps under blankets, an arm hiding a face, a bare foot sticking out. The room was quiet; heavy breathing had replaced the snores.
The walker sat up, eased himself carefully out of his sleeping bag, mindful of the person below him who might wake at the movement of the bunk. Gathering his belongings, he slipped to the floor with a glance to check nothing had been left behind, then padded towards the entrance and pushed the door.
A coolness touched his skin. Breathing deeply freshened the lungs, a relief after the stuffy room with too many people, too little air. He dressed, heedless of the need for privacy. Grabbing his rucksack by the handle, he walked up the short path to the terrace and found a bench and table on which to organise everything with room to spare in the increasingly clear light.
The view evoked strong memories of the Cumbrian fells but it was less crags and peaks, more layers of mountains and hills that swept up and down in a magnificent silhouette. Mist blanketed the valleys in grey shapes and towards the horizon, a strip of orange sky hinted that dawn was on its way. By the time the sun rose in a circle of yellow, perfectly placed between two peaks, he had been joined by more early risers, cameras and phones in hand to record the sunrise.
From: Walking Alone. Proposed publication January 2020