Having first walked on part of the Camino de Santiago nine years ago this month, I finally arrived here yesterday afternoon, and have duly collected my "Compostela" from the Pilgrim Office. More important, I have given the statue of St James behind the high altar in the cathedral the traditional hug, and heard the priest saying the noon Mass read out beforehand that - amongst many others from different starting points - one pilgrim, British, arrived yesterday from Salamanca.
It was a strange feeling, getting up this morning and not having to pack my rucksack and walk anywhere today, following the yellow arrows and being greeted with Buen Camino as you go along. Instead, there has been the task - not that easy - of finding the others who have been on the same route, to say goodbye and have a final beer with them. Casa Manolo is the place for a last pilgrim menu, and six of us ate well there after Mass (no botofumero alas, today).
Along with a crowd of people who have arrived on other routes, I´m staying in a fine old 19th Century house, nowadays an albergue rejoicing in the name Roots & Boots (one of a small Spanish-owned chain). The window of my second floor dormitory looks out onto the cathedral´s West front, about 500 metres away: a perfect position, and ideal for joining the queue at the garage entrance of the Parador, where free meals are given to the first ten pilgrims: I had dinner there last night, and breakfast this morning.
None of those who have been to Galicia before can believe that we´ve had eleven consecutive days of sunshine: it´s really too hot today for much sightseeing, so I´m enjoying the peace of the albergue garden and preparing for an early departure to the station tomorrow morning, and my long train journey to the French border.
Being in Santiago at last, I read that 1500 years ago the philosopher Boethius wrote, “To see Thee is the end and the beginning. Thou carriest us and Thou dost go before, Thou art the journey and the journey’s end.” Likewise, “In my end is my beginning”: the final sentence of Eliot’s East Coker is echoed on the exterior of the cathedral by alpha and omega appearing in reverse order. And by the palindrome quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways: La ruta nos aportó otro paso natural (the path provides the natural next step).
So, what now?