What about going in winter ?

If you are thinking of going in winter, remember that the meseta is on average 800m above sea level, and that the passes over the Pyrenees, the Montes de León and O Cebreiro on the Camino francés, and the passes of A Canda and Padornelo on the Via de la Plata all reach about 1,400m. It can be very cold, foggy, wet, and windy, and you can meet deep snow.

Accommodation may be less plentiful, since not all the albergues operate in the winter.  Those that are open may have little or no heating so a good sleeping bag is essential.

However, with sensible planning and precautions, winter pilgrimage is feasible. Please follow these guidelines:

  • ALWAYS take local advice about weather conditions; disregard it at your peril.  We cannot emphasise too strongly: MOUNTAINS ARE DANGEROUS and LOCAL PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT.  We know of four pilgrims who have died while attempting to cross the Pyrenees in bad weather and there are more who have run into severe difficulties in sudden blizzards or fog.
  • Avoid going alone if you possibly can.
  • Take warm/waterproof clothing and boots and equipment appropriate for the conditions, bearing in mind these can change abruptly and without warning.  Wearing a reflective vest is a legal requirement for cycling or road walking in dark or poor visibility conditions.
  • Take a compass and mobile phone.
  • Tell people what your plans are, arranging for them to call the emergency services if you haven't phoned by an agreed time to report your safe arrival.

If you are starting at St Jean Pied de Port, ask for advice about weather and conditions at Acceuil Saint-Jacques but remember not all volunteers here are local and check the local weather websites:

Meteo France for St Jean Pied de Port

Aemet.es for Roncesvalles

If in any doubt at St Jean Pied de Port, always go by the lower road, it is less attractive than the higher-level route, but since it follows along the road in many places and goes through villages, much safer in bad weather.

Click here for an interview with a pilgrim who walked from Roncesvalles to Santiago November - December 2009.

Click here for a 1996 article "Winter Pilgrim" by Alison Raju.

The Confraternity also has a booklet Winter Pilgrim, also by Alison Raju and filled with practical advice, available in the shop.

PLEASE NOTE: The Route Napoléon which passes over the Pyrénées between St Jean-Pied-de-Port and Roncesvalles is closed until 31 March 2016.  All pilgrims will need to take the lower Valcarlos route, and even that can be difficult in foggy, windy or snowy weather. Take local advice before setting out on this route.

©CSJ

Confraternity of Saint James,
27 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8NY, United Kingdom.
Tel: (+44) (0)20 7928 9988
Company Limited by Guarantee, Registered no. 4096721 — UK Registered Charity no. 1091140
Founded in 1983 to promote the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela

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