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Photo Journal

Walking the Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago - Thomas James Parrish

The Camino de Santiago is famously regarded for its euphorically enlightening experience. Attracting thousands of searching folk every year to its various routes, it winds its ways across Europe to the Santiago Cathedral – the burial site of Saint James - offering a home on the road to all. The Camino del Norte, beginning in Irun, in the north-east corner of Spain, stretches west across the countries north coast through Basque Country, Asturias, Cantabria and Galicia, the four provinces of the newest and quietest route to Santiago. For five weeks, I walked the Camino, hoping to discover the answers to many of my unknowns. Perhaps I was naive in thinking it would happen so easily for me, that I would be presented with such answers by simply removing myself from the noise of everyday life in London, but, sadly, expectation remains the let-down of reality.

Beautiful green scenery along the Camino de Santiago trail
A coastal view on the Camino de Santiago trail

Looking back to my time on the Camino, there’s a part of me wants to rush back and spend the rest of my life there, while another part of me never wants to go back again. It’s given me a taste of simple life, the life that I think we are all yearning for, but society has embedded in us the belief that THAT lifestyle isn’t good enough. That it’s not ambitious or adventurous enough. A life with community away from capital. I have scarcely felt more present than whilst on the Camino, living intentionally day to day with an effortless awareness of my surroundings, the weather, my body and myself, all in accordance with a refined and simplified set of values. Without a doubt some of the greatest days of my 26 years were had in those 5 weeks I spent walking across Spain, waking up early, walking across the land, enjoying sunrises, sunsets, good food, good beer, and outstanding company.


Going into it, the prospect of writing a diary seemed like a given, and I expected the wind-down, writing period at the end of the day would offer me some calmness in reflection. However, there’s a significant gap of writings in the last two weeks of the walk as it proved it definitely wasn’t the romantic and soul finding experience I lead myself to believe it might be. It was tough. It rained A LOT. I got sick. Really sick. It was cold, heavy, tiring, long, painful, tedious, and of course, at times lonely. My writing stopped as my mind withered and I attempted to avoid the chaos that ensued within it. Perhaps I, like others, write more when the contents of my mind are comforting or positive to interact with. In those last few weeks however, all I could think about was the end. I walked through my sickness, shedding kilo after kilo as the rain continued and my shoes and socks absorbed it. I was no longer walking to enjoy the incredible scenery or experience what Spain had to offer. My interest in such things had long since washed away.


The thing that ensured I kept going though, were the other pilgrims. You become a pilgrim as soon as you set foot on the Camino, not a traveller or a tourist; a pilgrim, walking the way of Saint James. It was these other pilgrims I walked with, camped with, ate with, and shared my experiences with that are the ultimate highlight of this epic adventure. More than the landscapes, more than the villages and towns and more than I could have imagined, the people I met along the way added a special light to my journey and had me relishing each day of their company.

Looking out the window while taking a break from the hike
Surfers on the beach

As a photojournalist, I visit places in the hopes of learning about the culture, the lifestyle, the people, and their traditions. I wanted to get an insight into what life was like in Spain across the north coast, but that didn’t grasp me as much as the people who walked beside me, shared the bunk beds with me, and clinked glasses with me. I can’t tell you much about Spain, but I can tell you about the Spanish people with whom I walked with and those I had the pleasure of photographing along the way.


I embarked on this journey to raise money for charity. I was inspired to do something about the fires that ravaged across South America at the hands of corporate greed. For capital gain they set the land on fire to clear way to raise cattle and soy for that cattle to eat. This disturbed me so much that I decided to make a point, try to draw attention to it and raise money against it (we raised £2000 for Amazon Watch in support of their aid for Indigenous communities) by walking the Camino. Strangely though I find myself realising that without those fires I never would have done this, and I never would have met these people. People who walked because they were searching for or coming to terms with something. Perhaps just walking because it’s an outstanding thing to do.

My photographs from this project are an ode to those people and the beautiful settings in Spain. I present their portraits as well as a mixture of Basque Country, Asturias, Cantabria and Galicia, a poetic collage of rugged and dramatic coastline, luscious forests of pine and eucalyptus, offensive mountains that don’t know when to quit, and quaint and classic towns and cities. All beautifully engaging, but looking back on it, all that beauty was just a setting for some of the most highly valued friendships I now have.

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