Former High Sheriff of Norfolk tells how he walked 1,500 miles to Spain in support of unpaid carers
PUBLISHED: 10:39 06 October 2018
James Bagge former High Sheriff of Norfolk, made a modern day pilgrimage to raise £60,000 for Norfolk’s unpaid carers. In four months, he walked more than 1,500 miles from Stradsett, near Downham Market, to Santiago de Compostela, on the west coast of Spain. This is his story.
A year ago I was privileged to be High Sheriff of this great county, I knew it all had to end and I was beginning to wonder what next?
As a theme for my year I had chosen to shine a light on those who gave their time to help others. I discovered this large army of people of all ages who are not really volunteers in the sense they don’t really have a choice, the unpaid carers and they need looking after as well and that costs money.
I decided I would walk to Santiago from my own back door, joining the route known as the Camino Way, on which for hundreds of years pilgrims have been walking to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. I reckoned it would be about 1,500 miles on foot and had no idea how long it would take me. If you had asked then why do it, I would have replied that it seemed like a good idea at the time.
One’s perspective on the world changes dramatically when you get out of a car and on to your feet. Every joint, every muscle, every tendon periodically triggers an alarming tweak. Each puddle encountered heralds wet feet and then blisters. Through England in early April after a record breaking cold, wet, late winter, there is little sign of spring.
I headed for Weymouth where a ferry would carry me to Normandy. Walking through East Anglia was tough, the mud was relentless.
Walking along roads takes its toll on the joints, it is strange what a difference a little soft grit can make by comparison with solid asphalt.
I crossed Salisbury Plain with the sound of live artillery shells falling uncomfortably close by. Rain threatened, a decision had to be made. How long do I think it will last? Is it just an umbrella? Do I really need to stop and dress up, remembering balancing on one leg while trying to get one muddy boot through the other leg is a form of ballet not suited to pensioners.
The journey through England ended with a champagne celebration on Weymouth beach to mark the completion of the first leg of 287 miles walked in 18 days, nearly 11 marathons.
On the ferry to St Malo, we approach the security. I am told knives will be confiscated, I had one with me but fortunately I am not included in those selected for a search.
The following morning we arrived in a wet and windswept St Malo and it is still raining heavily and I wonder again what am I doing?
One late morning out of Parthenay and feeling decidedly peckish, I saw signs to an organic vegetable farm which miraculously is on the route. A young farmer and his wife told me to help myself, so I gorged on delicious tomatoes, apples, oranges and strawberries.
I reached Blaye cross the Gironde on a ferry and headed to Bordeaux via Margaux where wine is sold at £1,200 a bottle and disappointingly I had no room in my back pack.
I reflect on my journey through France and one of my abiding impressions is about the creativeness and ingenuity of man.
The route through Spain was divided into three, The cathedral city of Burgos, described as ’physical’, Burgos to Leon as ‘mental’ and Leon to Santiago as ‘spiritual’ and that is not far from the reality.
I was walking longer distances every day, and having been away from home for a while, I was now in the mood to get the job done.
Seventy-nine days after leaving home I arrived in Santiago. It was an unreal moment. I walked in with Andrew, a BBC correspondent, he is a veteran of a number of Caminos but insisted I crossed the line on my own in front of him as he realised it was a very personal and individual experience given the distance covered. It was.
Emotions overcome as I finally began to digest the experience I had been privileged to undertake.
Mr Bagge will be giving two special talks about his walk at the Town Hall, Kings Lynn on Thursday, October 25 (6.30pm); and the Great Hospital, Bishopsgate, Norwich, November 6 (6.30pm) Tickets £15, in aid of Walking4Norfolk’s fund for unpaid carers, from (01553) 763044.