Walking to Spain

As our new columnist Ben Nimmo sets off busking to Santiago de Compostela, we await bohemian tales of kipping in barns and sharing austere meals with gypsies and drunk soldiers

This week we are launching our latest new column: writer Ben Nimmo has just set off walking from Canterbury in Kent to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain. His dispatches from the front-line of bohemian joy and despair will appear on a weekly basis in this travel section.

The route will take him across Belgian Flanders, through the length of France from top to bottom, over the Pyrenees, then west for the 500-odd mile stroll across the hills of northern Spain to Santiago. Assuming all goes well, he hopes to file his final dispatch from Santiago some time around the end of the millennium.

Following the time-honoured traditions of the young and heroically impecunious, Ben plans to sustain himself across the continent by busking, putting out a hat in the style of Laurie Lee and waiting for the French francs and Spanish pesetas to clink.

Perhaps his main worry will be that busking youths are no longer the novelty that they were in the 1930s. Villagers in northern Spain are unlikely to be as charmed and entranced by the sound of Ben's trombone as they were by Laurie Lee's fiddle 60 years ago. On the other hand, I suppose, they are much more likely to have pocketfuls of spare cash to throw at hungry buskers.

Nevertheless, I would advise Ben to go easy with his expenditure along the way. In fact, as far as I am concerned, the more time he spends kipping in disused barns and living off the scraps from the tables of Latin farmers' wives the better. Stumbling parched and ravenous into hot walled towns at dusk is what I have in mind, followed by austere meals of tomatoes, dry bread and rough brandy in the company of gypsies and drunk soldiers - after all, what bohemian worth his salt would ever consider walking on a full stomach.

(And, by the way, if Ben is let down by his busking I certainly hope he is not planning to survive off the financial assistance provided by the travel budget of any UK newspaper).

But do not assume that just because Ben prefers to take an arduous eight- month walk to reach his destination (rather than a two-day drive, or even a one-hour flight) that, therefore, he will have made no concessions to convenience and comfort.

True, he will not be eating in expensive restaurants or staying in any remotely luxurious hotels (I hope) but he will be raising money for charity as he goes. He will also be carrying a rather special mobile phone that will enable him to write documents and then send them via e-mail and fax from wherever he happens to be in western Europe.

Laurie Lee might have blanched at the thought of stopping to fire off e-mails to newspaper editors in the middle of hot afternoons in Old Castilla. He might have blanched even more at the thought of his romantic reveries being interrupted by phone calls from curious friends or relatives back home.

But even bohemians have to move with the times.

For the first of Ben Nimmo's dispatches, see page 7

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