The 800km walk can be completed in a month by anyone who is fairly fit and likes to visit places of interest along the way.
In France, for example, there were four main departure points.
The route from Paris, the Via Turonensis, passed through Orle'ans, Tours, Poitiers, Bordeaux and Dax. From Vezelay pilgrims took the Via Lemovicensis through Limoges, Pe'rigeux, Bazas and Mont-de-Marsan while those from Le Puy took the Via Podensis and passed through Conques, Cahors, Moissac, Aire-sur-l'Adour and Navarrenx. All three routes joined up near Ostabat on the French side of the Pyrenees, to continue over the mountains to Roncesvalles and on across the north of Spain as the Camino Frances.
The fourth road, from Arles, known as the Via Tolosana, visited Saint-Gilles du Gard, Toulouse, Auch and Oloron but crossed the Pyrenees further east at the Col de Somport, from where it is known as the Camino aragone's. before merging with the other three at Puenta Ia Reina.
Other important routes included the northern one along the Costa Cantabrica on the north coast of Spain, passing through Hernani, Zumaya, Guernica, Bilbao, Lareda and Casten ada before tuming inland to reach Santiago via Oviedo and Lugo. This was the path taken by many English pilgrims, who went by ship as far as Bordeaux and then continued on foot, whilst others sailed to La Corufia and then walked the rest of the way along one of the Rutas del Mar one of which was known as the Camino ingles.
The Via de la Plata or Camino mozarabe, on the other hand, was the way taken by pilgrims from the south of Spain once it had been reconquered from the Moors.
The book is useful, whether you start on the French or the Spanish side of the Pyrenees.
Roncesvalles is in Navarre (and not in one of the three provinces making up the atonomous region of the Pais Vasco), but a great deal of Basque culture is evident, for example in local architecture. On both sides e Pyrenees the large Basque houses with overhanging eaves, are ornately decorated, outside staircases and balconies running the whole length of one or more sides of the building are common, as is also the fronton or pelota court, to be found in almost every village of any size.
After the high mountains and deep valleys of the Pyrenees, where sheep are a common sight, the landscape changes, flattening out to become more undulating as the camino makes its way down to Pamplona, a fortress town set up on a hill in the middle of a wide, fertile plain. It also gets hotter and dustier in summer, when it rarely rains, and the older vernacular houses are brown, built in adobe with red pantile roofs. This area has much in common with the landscape of Castille-Le6n, though you remain in Navarre until the outskirts of Logrono.
La Rioja, like Navarre, is both a province and an autonomous region (Spain is divided into seventeen of the latter, each containing one or several provincias) and is well known for its excellent wines. It is also characterised by a deep red clay soil, contrasting sharply with the golden corn in summer, the bright blue of the sky and the dark green of many of the trees, particularly in the early morning and evening light, and you will come across a number of potteries or alfarerias especially in the section between Logroflo and Najera. From here to Burgos, before it climbs up into the woods in the Montes de Oca, the camino continues its way through undulating countryside where you will encounter, in common with many other parts of Spain, large flocks of sheep and goats.
As you continue into Castille-Le6n, one of the largest autonomous regions (with nine provinces), After Burgos the camino wends its way up onto the meseta, the high plateau where the walker often has the feeling of being on the "roof of the world", after which it descends through the rolling countryside of the province of Palencia into the flat plains of Leon.
After Astorga the camino enters the Montes de Leon, slowly, at first, through the area known as the Maragateria. There are different theories as to the origins of the people in this area, who have their own distinctive customs, traditions and music, one of which is that, because of their isolated situation, they are the descendants of a very ancient race who escaped the effects of successive invasions. There are many abandoned or semi-abandoned villages in this section, although some are now coming to life again, due, in part, to the revival of interest in the Camino de Santiago.
The camino now climbs up and up, through chestnut woods and then out into open country up to El Cebreiro at 1,300m, shortly before which it enters Galicia. From here the route changes dramatically in character.
Galicia is the autonomous region comprising the provinces of Orense, Pontevedra and La Coruna.
Galicia is a very green, lush area for the most part, with the highest rainfall in Spain. Unlike the south of Spain with its enormous latifundios (very large properties) the land in Galicia is divided (and subdivided) into tiny, often uneconomic individual holdings (minifundios), the result of centuries of sharing outland between its owner's descendants.
As a result you will frequently see people (many of whom are women) working in the fields doing tasks by hand that would elsewhere be done more economically by machine. Unlike parts of Navarre and Castille-Le6n, too, where villages are often very far apart but whose buildings are tightly concentrated together, those in Galicia are often tiny, not far from each other and much more spread out so that you are not usually very far from a building of some kind. Another characteristic feature of the Galician countryside is the long rectangular granary, of stone, or sometimes brick, raised up on pillars and used for storing potatoes and corncobs. They have slightly pitched roofs with a cross at one end, a decorative knob at the other. Horreos vary greatly in length, from those that are only three or four metres long to enormous structures, with two or three compartments, that stretch for twenty or thirty metres. Galicia is also a very heavily wooded area, many centuries old, and as a result is very pleasant to walk in the height of summer.