Well I arrived in Oviedo yesterday evening for the latest chapter in my Camino addiction , a serious affliction that I have passed on to others since I walked the Camino Frances in 2012. I returned in 2014 and spent an idyllic week walking the first section of the Frances with our youngest daughter Sally but did not update the blog then for fear of repetition. As this is a new route for me and is walked by relatively few Pilgrims in comparison to the Frances I have brought the mini iPad and will write a few pages as I go along . By all accounts it is a hard route through the Cantabrian mountains with a great deal of climbing and descending so I will light a candle for my knee joints when I visit the Cathedral in Oviedo later this afternoon.
So what is the Camino Primitivo ? ( the ” Original Way ” ). Put simply it is a walking route starting at the Cathedral in Oviedo and taking you through the Asturias and Galicia ending at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela , which holds the relics of the apostle St James. It is one of the alternatives to the now very popular Camino Frances and is said to be the most challenging of all the Spanish sections of the various camino routes. Given good weather there should be some spectacular scenery. The route is 320 km in length and reaches heights of 1200m so I estimate it will take me 11 or 12 days assuming the old carcass holds up. Drugs may be required …….
How did this route come into being ? By the 9th Century most of the Iberian peninsula had been conquered by the Moors aside from a small strip in the North that included the Asturias. King Alfonso 11 ( the king of the Asturias up until 842 ) fought back the Moors and kept the region and Christianity on the map in this remote corner of the Iberian peninsula. He built the new capital city of the Asturias in Oviedo , a strategic place in the mountains. It was during his reign that the remains of St James were discovered in Galicia. It is said the king himself travelled to Galicia to help the Catholic Church determine the authenticity of the find. When the discovery was confirmed to be St James the king ordered the building of the original basilica in Santiago to store the apostle’s remains. He the established the first pilgrimage route from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela , hence it became known as ” The Original Way “.
In 840 Alfonso took possession of the famous Shroud of Oviedo , another great attraction for the medieval pilgrim and those walking the Camino Frances in that period would often make a detour at Leon and travel the 121km north to Oviedo to venerate the shroud and thereby gain extra indulgences. The shroud is believed to have covered the face of Jesus at his burial and is housed in the ” Camara Santa ” or Holy Chamber in the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo. My guidebook tells me that in those days it was said ” Quien va a Santiago y no al Salvador, visita al criado y deja al Señor ( “ Whoever goes to Saint James and not to the Saviour, visits the servant and misses the Master ” ).
If you want to travel to Oviedo from the North of England it requires either a journey to Stansted to take the once daily flight to the Asturias Airport ( a 30 minute bus journey from the city ) or as I did , taking a flight from Manchester to Madrid and then boarding a train at Chamartin station for the 4 hour journey to Oviedo. The trains in Spain knock those in the UK into a cocked hat for space and comfort so it was a pleasant journey and I even managed to sleep for a spell. I hope I wasn’t snoring ……