Coleraine man Martin McKinney has just completed the challenging Camino de Santiago trail

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A well known Coleraine man has returned home after completing one of Europe’s most famous walks.

Martin McKinney and friend Seamus Dillon – now living in Dublin but originally from Ballymoney – have just completed the Camino de Santiago.

Many readers will no doubt have spotted Martin, Emeritus Professor at University of Ulster, walking the roads around Coleraine over the years.

The keep fit enthusiast had to increase his steps ahead of his big challenge but it was all worthwhile.

“It was an absolutely amazing experience,” said Martin.

The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St James, once offered plenary indulgences to medieval wayfarers. 

These days, a new kind of pilgrimage walk in Spain is tackling the trail. 

Undulating a magnificent 780km, the full length of the Camino trail is a beast, born from the days when the only way to travel was on foot. 

It was a punishing undertaking: a means of earning your place in heaven by making both a spiritual journey and a worldlier one to the Santiago de Compostela, believed to be the final resting place of the apostle St James. 

Today’s pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago trail vary.

Some are seeking a digital detox, away from the pressures of life; some want the challenge and the accomplishment of taking on one of the world’s ancient, iconic routes; for some, the lure of Gothic cathedrals, medieval monasteries and gently rolling countryside is simply too strong to resist.

“It was a fantastic experience but also tough going,” admitted Martin.

“There are different legs and we walked ours in six days, covering about 24 kilometres every day.”

Many view the Camino as a spiritual walk. For Martin and Seamus, it came about as they decided how to originally spend a weekend!

“Seamus’ wife Orla is a conductor and was preparing her choir for an international competition in Derry which they actually won,” explained Martin.

“Seamus suggested doing something different while Orla was away instead of a game of golf. And this was certainly different!”

Flying from Dublin, the friends flew into Biarritz in the South of France before getting a taxi to San Sebastien.

They then covered most of Northern Spain and the Basque country.

“I had done plenty of walking around Coleraine and at the University but nothing prepares you for the climbing in the mountains,” Martin told us.

“We were at 900 metres and walked almost 35k on day one, 49,000 steps.”

Apart from taking cramp on that first day, Martin completed the trek relatively unscathed.

“I invested in good trail shoes and special merino wool socks and they stood me in good stead.”

On occasions when the duo were toiling, the camaraderie of others boosted flagging spirits.

“Everyone we met was so friendly. There were a lot of Scandinavians and Americans and a wide range of other nationalities.”

There is a saying ‘the Camino always provides’.

And on day three it did just that!

“We arrived at a monastery hungry and thirsty and there was a banquet on.

“We asked to buy food and water and we were told there was only enough for the tour party attending the banquet.

“Just as we were about to leave, the gentleman organising the event told us he could give us some beer! What a result.”

The Camino certainly did provide for these two thirsty travellers!

There were some tough times along the way but the friendships, coupled with the stunning scenery throughout, made this a momentous occasion.

It just leaves one question. Next time Orla says she will be away for the weekend, what will Seamus and Martin come up with next?