This book by Bettina Selby (published by Little Brown & Co., 212 pages $15.50) got me to thinking about doing the Camino Santiago.  Following is a review of Pilgrim’s Road.

Since the 10th Century, pilgrims have traveled the ancient roads through France and Spain to arrive at Santiago de Compostela (The Field of the Star of St. James), the legendary shrine of St. James the Apostle.  Pilgrims traveling in the earlier centuries traveled in groups for safety.  They braved marauding Moorish armies, raging torrents and fearsome mountain passes, trusting in the protection that the scallop shell, emblem of St. James, would afford them.

Selby, a middle-aged British woman, travels the Camino (The Way) alone on her bicycle named Roberts in April—the same month as Chaucer’s merry band takes up its travels to Compostela. With the emblem of St. James affixed to her bicycle bag, she finds that the scallop shell retains its power—opening doors to closed churches and cathedrals and providing shelter at various refugios (basic accommodation afforded to pilgrims by various churches) along the way.

Her journey begins in Vezelay, France and what kept her journey “from becoming just any long bicycle ride through France at the wrong time of year was the need to get my pilgrim record stamped.”

As Selby pedals her way through the soft southern lands of France towards Compostela, she experiences the joys of camping out in the rain, the wonderful food and wines of the local villages and towns through which she pedals, and a feeling that Divine Intervention played a part in her successful completion of her journey.

Throughout the book, she weaves her adventures and experiences in with a history of the land and of the pilgrimage.  The warp and weft of Pilgrim’s Road is Selby’s keen mix of the sublime with the ordinary, of her ability to contrast modern times with ancient times, of her quick wit and boundless energy, and of the descriptions of the architecture, landscape, and encounters with people and places along the way.

As Selby says, “The end of a lengthy journey is always an emotional experience.  Either the arrival has been so longingly anticipated that it must prove something of a disappointment, or the journey itself has been so idyllic that its ending is unwelcome.  Either way, few destinations entirely live up to a traveller’s expectations.  This particular journey, however, was like no other I had ever taken.”

I will state the same about Pilgrim’s Road. I enjoyed accompanying Selby and Roberts along the Camino. When I finished the book, I was sorry it was ended; however, I was ready to get on my bike and make the pilgrimage to Compostela myself.

Although I’m not getting on my bike and I’m not going alone, in less than three weeks my feet will be on that Camino.  Can’t wait!

p.s.  Thanks to Pete for turning me on to this wonderful book.  It’s not available in bookstores, but you can check out if you’re interested in it.