10 years ago, I found myself traveling around Europe on a bucket-list backpacking trip to celebrate the completion of grad school. I can remember enjoying my time taking in the sites and cuisine of Europe’s grandest cities, but also being a little anxious for the adventures I had ahead. To cap off my city visits, I planned to walk the 500-mile Camino Frances, a journey that would take me from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela.
I went into that first Camino pilgrimage without really knowing what to expect. There was a lot less information available about the Camino de Santiago in 2012, with very few pilgrims having shared their experience online. In a way, I’m really lucky that I walked when I did. I hit the trail with an open heart and mind, and didn’t have any desire for a predestined outcome.
After 500 miles of walking through some of Spain’s most amazing landscapes, I sat in front of the Santiago Cathedral trying to process what had happened to me. The experience was far too raw to make sense of at the time, but in the months that followed, I was able to contemplate just how much The Way had changed me. The one clear thought I had in that initial sea of emotions was that I wanted to return in 10 years time. I didn’t have a good reason for it then, but knew that the way of St. James would always be important to me.
I jumped the gun on time and walked the Camino Portuguese with my family 4 years ago. It was an incredible experience walking from Porto, and made me want to visit on the 10th year of my first pilgrimage even more. The crazy Covid uncertainty of the last few years had me feeling like it wouldn’t be a possibility, but as luck would have it, travel opened back up just in time to make my dream a reality.
Looking back four years, my family pilgrimage experience on the 150-mile Portuguese route was quite easy, as my son was close to 2 at the time and willing to ride in a stroller for 90% of the trail. With a precocious almost 6-year old in tow this time around, I selected the shorter (116 km/72 mi) Camino Ingles and broke it down into 9 manageable stages. I spent 3 months planning out the details of this trip, a far cry from my first walk where I mostly ‘winged it’. Apparently parenthood has changed me even more than the Camino Frances!
The starting point for the Camino Ingles is the port city of Ferrol, located along Spain’s northwest shorelines. Traveling to Ferrol from Southern California was pretty straightforward. We flew from LAX with a few connecting flights to Santiago de Compostela, and then hired a taxi for the 1-hour drive to Ferrol. The interesting part of our taxi ride, is that it paralleled the Camino Ingles for most of the drive, offering us a glimpse of what was to come in the days ahead.
Once we arrived in Ferrol, we checked in to our accommodation for the night, the well known and well reviewed Parador Hotel. This hotel was perfectly situated for exploring the area on our 0-day, and for getting us to the starting point of the Camino Ingles the following morning.
After dropping our bags off at the Parador and taking a quick rest, we decided to shake out our legs with a quick walk and found a superb cafe/bar for lunch. This first meal in Ferrol was when the pilgrimage finally began to feel real. A table full of tortilla, raixo, bacadillos, croquettes, and Estrella Galicia pulled us in to the best of the Camino culinary experience. A helado desert was the perfect way to cap things off.
After lunch, we scoped out the starting point of the Camino Ingles located right along the water in the Ferrol harbor. We took an obligatory picture at the ‘Ferrol’ sign near the docks, and appreciated the sun on what was supposed to be a very rainy day.
Ferrol is a fantastic city to launch off on a new pilgrimage. For those that have walked the Portuguese route, you can think of Ferrol as a very small version of Porto. The city has restaurants, markets, and department stores (Decathlon and El Corte Ingles) to load up on food and any gear you may have forgotten at home. There are also some really nice attractions centered around the naval history of the harbor. I strongly suggest a visit to the naval museum, and if you’re short on time, a simple walk around the harbor is equally rewarding.
After leaving the harbor behind, we stopped by the local playground where Owen was able to play on the slide and swing set while practicing his Spanish with some of the local kids. We realized the importance of play breaks while walking along the Camino Portuguese in 2018. No matter how far we walk in a day, Owen always has a little extra energy to enjoy the playground. If you’re planning on walking a Camino pilgrimage with young kids, leave the structured home rules at home, and allow playgrounds, fruit juice, candy, and baked goods to quickly become a part of your daily life.
After the playground break, we put in a few more steps to walk off our heavy lunch and prime the legs for what would be a 10-mile kickoff to the Camino Ingles. During our walk, Owen purchased a flashy little fanny pack to match the one I wear for my camera gear, and we picked up some trail-ready treats to enjoy for day 1.
After a beautiful day in Ferrol, we were primed and ready to take on the Camino Ingles in the days ahead. With tired bodies and excited minds, we wanted to pack it in for an early dinner and bed time so we could start dreaming of the trails we’d be crossing in the days ahead. It wasn’t that simple though. As anyone that has traveled through Spain can tell you, finding a dinner spot that opens before 8:00PM is never a sure thing. We searched for sometime, but couldn’t find anything, so eventually decided to order delivery from a restaurant a few miles out of town. It worked out well, as we were able to enjoy a fantastic dinner of Asian fusion from the comfort of our hotel room with views of Ferrol from the large corner windows.