Introduction. The Camino del Norte - or Ruta de la Costa was the route used by Christian pilgrims once the Moors had invaded far enough north to make the Camino Francés difficult and dangerous. Sections of it were also used by those who arrived by sea at one of the northern Spanish ports. Much of the route follows the line of the old Roman road, the Via Agrippa. If you are looking for a longer, slightly quieter first camino, this would make a good alternative to the Camino Francés.
The Route. After crossing the border from France, at Irún, the path follows the coastal plain, usually as far as Galicia before turning inland towards Santiago. The main towns on the route are San Sebastián/Donostia, Bilbao, Castro Urdiales, Santander, Ribadesella, Gijón, Avilés, Luarca, Ribadeo, Mondoñedo, and Sobrado dos Monxes, joining the Camino Francés at Arzúa. Total distance from Irún to Santiago de Compostela 825 km (depending on route chosen).
Some pilgrims leave the coastal route at Villaviciosa to visit the largest Asturian monastery, and church of San Salvador (El Conventín), at Valdediós. They then continue to Oviedo where they join the Camino Primitivo to Lugo.
What’s it like ? The first week in the Basque country takes you from the coast to a hinterland of hills and woods towards Gernika. After Bilbao the route returns to the coast and is a mix of beaches, sea-side towns and the roads that connect them. Between Aviles and Ribadeo (the start of Galicia) you are often near to or by the sea and there are few hills. At Ribadeo you head in land and the country becomes more undulating. The highest point of the route (710m) is shortly after the CSJ albergue at Miraz, and before the monastery at Sobrado dos Monxes. But it is easy to miss, as the slope is gentle and the point is not marked.
Terrain. Being parallel to the sea means that there are numerous rivers to be crossed. There are typically three places where you’ll need to take to a boat (ferry) – at Pasajes, from Laredo to Santona and from Somo to Santander. There are great views in places but you are often not within sight of the sea for many kilometres. There is more walking on tarmac than on the Camino Francés,but some good walking sections that make the journey worthwhile.
Waymarking. Overall it is very good, especially in Galicia and the Basque country, but occasionally confusing in Cantabria and Asturias. Alternative routes for cyclists are often marked as ‘bici’. On some coastal sections the usual yellow arrows may be found alongside the red & white bars of a GR Route (Sendero de Gran Recorrido). Some areas very good and include the ceramic EEC type scallop shell on a small concrete post (moonlit).
Weather/When to go. The weather can be very changeable, ranging from very good English summer conditions to very damp and cold English autumn conditions. Along the coast it is very unusual to find the very hot dry conditions that are encountered further south. From the point of view of the weather, any time from May to early October is optimal.
Accommodation. Pilgrim accommodation is not as plentiful as on the Camino Frances but there is enough. Quite a few places only open for the summer months so it is worth researching opening times if you are walking towards the beginning or end of the year. In the height of the (short) summer season accommodation can be at a premium near some of the more popular places and you must be prepared to be adaptable. There are numerous campsites, many in Asturias with tent hire for pilgrims. Often, the bus or train (FEVE) can be taken to an accommodation site that is a few km away from the busiest resorts.
Website www.camino-norte.co.uk The homepage of Eric Walker, a CSJ member and the author of our guide to the Camino del Norte. It includes some basic information about the pilgrimage, practical advice for those contemplating walking the coastal route, and detailed descriptions of all branches of this less frequented route to Santiago.
Discussion Forum. Visit the Camino de Santiago Forum to join in the current conversation.
Cyclists. Can be very good for touring cyclists. The first week in the Basque country is hilly but new motorway building means that there are some almost deserted parallel roads with extremely good surfaces. There are a number of interesting off-road possibilities for all-terrain bicycle riders as well.
Confraternity of Saint James,
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Tel: (+44) (0)20 7928 9988
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Founded in 1983 to promote the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela