The St James’ Way is a waymarked modern-day Camino in the South of England.  It is approximately 68.5 miles/110 kilometres long.

The route was devised by members of the CSJ to follow a probable route taken by medieval pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela from Reading Abbey.

The Practical Path

Walk information and guidance may be found on this link. This includes route and starting advice, and a summary of the revival developments.

Walk resources are available on this link. This includes an Accommodation List followed by pilgrimage service providers; how to obtain a GPX Walking Route file and two TCX Cycling Route files and a Supplementary Page for early editions of route’s guidebook.

The latest route news can be found on this link. It is periodically updated with news, with old updates retained.

A seasonal Spring flavour of the route is given by the pilgrim vblog part way down this web page.

Historical Background

Reading Abbey, which celebrated its 900th anniversary in June 2021, was at one point the resting place of the Hand of St James.  Whilst its authenticity as the severed hand of the martyred apostle has been disproven in 2018 by radiocarbon dating the living organism to circa 10th century (with a 95% degree of certainty), it was once believed to be the holy relic which was brought back to England by Empress Matilda from Germany in the 12th century.

In the Middle Ages, this elevated Reading to the centre of the cult of Saint James in England.  Pilgrims made their way there to venerate the relic.  This is seen in this impressive ampulla (a small round vessel for sacred purposes, in this case for carrying holy water) depicting Saint James, the pilgrim, and the Hand, with the surrounding Latin inscription: IMAGO . SCI . IACOBI . APLI . DE . RADINGIIS (the image of Saint James the Apostle of Reading), circa AD 1205 – 1350.

From the Abbey, pilgrims are likely to have made their way to the closest seaport, via the ancient capital city of Winchester, to board a boat to the shores of Galicia, and follow the Camino Inglés (English Way) to the city of Compostela where they could see the tomb of St James (“Santiago” in Spanish).

Its Beginnings

The CSJ was founded in January 1983.  Four months after formation saw its first visit to Reading Abbey, and to Marlow, the present location of the reputed Hand of St James.  At the second AGM, in January 1985, the then Chairman, the late writer Robin Neillands, first spoke about the proposed path.  It took many years to reach fruition.

The relevant details are recorded in the CSJ’s Bulletins (No 1 for the Reading visit, no 9 for the AGM).  A complete set of Bulletins are held at the library in our Offices.

Revival Impetus

In December 2016, the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela awarded the City Council of A Coruña (a transit port for medieval pilgrims, 75km from Santiago) with the privilege of receiving Santiago-bound pilgrims travelling from overseas.  The Council presented the request to the Cathedral with a support letter from 12 International Camino Associations, including the Confraternity of St James UK and the Camino Society Ireland.

Pilgrims could now combine a Camino in the UK, such as the St James’ Way, or their home country, with a Camino Inglés from A Coruña, collecting stamps in an accredited pilgrim passport as they go, to make up the minimum distance required to qualify for a Compostela certificate of pilgrimage from the Santiago Pilgrims’ Office.  In effect, you can start your Camino Inglés from your own doorstep!

The route was further revived in 2019 when the Association of Local Councils of the Camino Inglés (ACCI), who invest in the development of the Camino Inglés, was established.  They, together with the A Coruña Provincial Council (CPC), approached the CSJ UK to formally link the St James’ Way and Camino Inglés to form a continuous Camino from Reading to Santiago via A Coruña.

This initiative led to collaborative Zoom meetings in November and December 2020 between interested parties, which included representatives from Reading Borough Council, Friends of Reading Abbey and Reading Museum, to spearhead efforts to raise the profile of Reading as a tourist destination through the St James’ Way as an officially recognised Camino pilgrimage starting point.  With the enthusiasm of CSJ volunteers tangible work commenced in April 2021.

Its subsequent waymarking, the introduction of pilgrim stamps to its pubs (to complement those already in its churches), pilgrimage accreditation (the Via de Sanctus Iacobus certificate is awarded to pilgrims in Southampton who evidence their walk from Reading), publicity, promotion through tourism websites (Visit Reading, Visit Hampshire, Visit Winchester or Visit Southampton) along with further on-going developments, has entered this Camino in Southern England and Northern Galicia for a nomination as a great classic of the Caminos.