ITS title is somewhat self-deprecating in the case of this newly updated, seventh-edition guidebook: in actual fact it describes in almost-literally-step-by-step detail not just one but 10 variations of the pilgrims’ pathways that wend their way northwards through mainland Portugal.
While writing on the infinitely better-known Spanish routes to the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela (originally a Roman town; Santiago is the saint’s Spanish and Portuguese name and compo stellae is Latin for “field of stars”) fills several feet of shelf-space in the pick of travel-focused bookstores, the Portuguese caminos are almost ignored in many quarters. Brierley’s sensitive, thought-provoking and motivational introduction to these less-travelled options is a perfect pocket companion for anyone intending to set out on the walk but at the same time delivers an entertaining and informative armchair experience for those not able to actually make the trip.
Beginning with an overview of modern-day pilgrimage, Brierley leads readers through the 10 alternatives, all of which start at Lisbon’s cathedral (the Sé) and head northwards either shadowing the coastline or traversing the country’s agricultural interior before crossing the international border at Valença. The background to the overall pilgrims’ trail is rich with Celtic colonisation, maritime discoveries and Medieval knights Templar crusades.
The production might not be of coffee-table-quality but the accuracy of the text and maps more than compensates for any lack of eye-catching full-page photographs.
Every stage of the possible paths is described succinctly and in the context of Christian belief, with explanations of the significance of religious sites, practical advice on the physical necessities of traversing more than 600 kilometres by foot and prompts for personal reflection during the trek. Lined space is included at the end of each stage chapter, enabling this guide to double as a journal kept by those who take up the challenge.