Summer rumbles on. My summer job is over, the Edinburgh Fringe draws near. It’s going to be a tough one, but I believe in my group. It may well be the last time in years that I find myself surrounded by such capable musicians, and I’m not about to let something like a ticking clock get me down. We’ll rise to the challenge, and we’ll do it spectacularly. We’re the Lights – it’s what we do.
Breaking like the rainclouds overhead, I’ve just vanquished a dragon that has for a long time been lying in wait outside my door. I want to travel. I want to be free. And I want to see the real world, beyond the one put out on display. But for just over a week I’ve been hitting hurdle after hurdle in my preparations. And, like so many episodes of my life, it all centres on Spain.
Four years ago I set out on a mad solo trek across Spain, from Santander to Amería. The plan, insofar as one existed, was to walk from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean. I was eighteen, bored out of my mind on a rather-less-than-successful second half of my gap year and anxious to be free of the shackles of jobseeking or the threat of going on the dole. How that converted itself into ‘I know, I’m going to walk across Spain’ still eludes me. It was just one more of my crazy ideas, only this one I actually carried out.
In a manner of speaking, I succeeded. Armed with little more than a sleeping bag, a compass and a map of Northern Spain printed in 1967, I made the trek, busing some of the more tedious legs, and taking some notable diversions via Ávila and Olvera, before arriving at last at the deserted beaches of the Cabo de Gata. Along the way I almost caught hypothermia in the rainy mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama, procured a golf ball-sized blister on my heel and slept in forests, olive groves and under a lighthouse on the Mediterranean coast. It wasn’t a very well planned adventure – I came home dangerously underweight and with a face swollen to basketball proportions courtesy of the Almerían sandfly population – but I made it. And it was a real adventure.
Four years on, I’m itching for another shot. Now that I’ve done more research, however, it cuts me deep just how difficult it is to do that kind of thing anymore. Spain is, all bias aside, an absolutely magnificent country, one of the last great frontiers of Europe. But unlike Scotland, Romania or the Scandinavian countries, it’s not possible to just pitch a tent in the wilderness, wild as it may seem. The laws are fiddly, and vary from country to country, but where grey areas linger, the economic strain of twenty-first century Europe has been cruel. Tied together with irresponsible fire-starters and botellón fanatics, the future of free-camping looks bleak. Where there’s money to be made and taxes to be levied, there’s little time for the vagrant – even less so if he or she be so irresponsible a citizen as to be a vagrant by choice.
Beyond my own annoyance at the legal difficulties of wild camping – in my belief, the true camping experience – there’s a darker, more sinister side to this intolerance. How will we ever encourage our children to look away from their screens and rediscover the natural world around them when it’s illegal to let them wake up in the countryside once or twice a year? Televisions, computers and videogames are the present and the future, I’ve no doubt, but in a shrinking world, is it not all the more important to encourage our children to see the real world and learn from it? Five may have had their time, but there’s so much to be said for the joys of a night in the middle of nowhere, far from the bustle and false escape of a campsite.
There are, of course, instances when you can pitch up. People tend to be more accepting of Camino pilgrims doing so. But that’s a privilege only the Santiago lot profit by. What do those who wish to follow the other GRs (gran recorridos, or great routes) of Spain do? Spain is ripe for the wild camping route. It’s just a shame that a country so perfect for walking is so intolerant of camping.
And so begins my resistance. Come September, before my second post begins, I’m bound for Spain to explore what routes I can. It’s not the same country Laurie Lee traversed when he set out one summer morning, but I refuse to believe the people have changed that much. I’m going storyhunting, and I will not be denied. BB x