Review from Confraternity of Saint James in London

Book review
Thatcher, Guy
A Journey of Days Continues. Mud, Mountains and Mindfulness on the Camino of St Jacques.
GSPH Inc. Canada 2013

This is the story of Guy Thatcher’s attempts – ultimately successful – to complete his half-finished walking pilgrimage from Le Puy to Santiago. From the moment I picked up his book, I was hooked. A pleasure to handle with coated paper, attractive layout, good photos and type-face, I found it to be one of those ‘don’t want to put it down’ reads. Written in the present tense Guy’s account retains an immediacy throughout the 210 pages. The Canadian author already has a book under his belt, ‘A Journey of Days’, and his confident, authoritative and fluent style is evident – he knows how to construct a sentence, to pose rhetorical questions, research and present informative background information with a light touch and give the reader little ‘cliff hangers’ to keep one reading on. He is always outward looking, a keen observer of his fellow travellers and his sometimes drole observations of the life of the camino are both sensitive and often self-deprecating.

Not that there isn’t a handful of mildly irritating typos….eg Decazeville mysteriously adds an ‘s’ to become Descazeville; Conques abbey is 950 years old on one page and 750 years old a couple of pages later and Monistrol morphs into Montrisol. Annoying though this is to the observant reader, I don’t want to be ungenerous – this is definitely ‘a Good Read’ with capital Gs and Rs!

Guy is a now you see it, now you don’t pilgrim. He had to abandon the Pyrenean section of his first pilgrimage as all his luggage was lost by the airline, so although he achieved Santiago, he has hankered after the walk to Pamplona from St Jean Pied de Port. Several years later – and this is where this book commences – he starts to walk out from Le Puy with the intention of continuing to Pamplona to complete the gap. Defeated by ill health and appalling weather he abandons this walk at St Chely d’Aubrac. Third time lucky and in good health, he completes his circle by a month’s walk from St Chely to Pamplona.

At various significant points in the book he reflects on the big questions of life and death and the lessons that events in life offer us. The ‘mindfulness’ of the title takes this account further than a mere recounting of the walk, the weather and people encountered. In search, like so many, of his own brand of spirituality, he finds it in just being in the moment and in the goodwill, kindness, generosity and friendship offered along the way. He takes to task the pointless questioning about ‘authenticity’ and hierarchies of pilgrimages….cycling ranking below walking etc, yet berates himself for his own insensitivity to others and over hasty judgements. His is a humble pilgrimage of personal growth and in a totally non-didactic way, he offers his thoughts on how difficulties…and pleasures…give us opportunities to develop as human beings. He condenses these reflections into firstly a bullet point focus on his reasons for walking this camino and secondly, his ‘Lessons Remembered’ at the end of the book, which offer us thoughtful and honest ideas about how to ‘walk our own chemin’ whatever it is.

A lively and engaging read which carries us with a light touch along the paths from the Auvergne to Pamplona, with sound and practical advice from a wise and mature pilgrim.

Helen Willson

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