In November 1890 the Serpent, a British battleship en route from Plymouth to Sierra Leone, foundered in the shallows of the dreaded ‘Costa da Morte’, off the wild north-western shores of Galicia. Only 3 of the 175 crew survived, and the priest from a nearby village enlisted the help of local people to bury 172 bodies in what is known as the ‘English Cemetery’, a few poignant yards from the sea and within sight of the fatal Punta do Boi headland.
A little further south-west you’ll see two lighthouses on the beautiful but menacing, rocky promontory of Cabo Vilan. The first, steam-powered and built in 1854, is small, set back and its dim light contributed to the demise of the Serpent. The larger, newer lighthouse, moulded to the landscape, was Spain’s first electric ‘faro’, but was only completed in 1896, a few years too late for most of the Serpent’s crew.
These are just a couple of the many interesting features you’ll encounter along the remarkable long distance walking route, the ‘Camino dos Faros’ – the Lighthouse Way – ‘the last unspoilt coast of Europe’, and which can be walked with On Foot Holidays for the first time this year.
In 2012 six local Galegos friends sat with their dogs in a bar by the beach in Malpica, and decided to link this traditional fishing port with the lighthouse at ‘the end of the earth’, in Fisterra (Finisterre), some 200 km south and west along the wild, windswept, fatal Coast of Death, and the reputed last stop before the New World. On foot. With the help of others, they gradually cleared the route and since 2014 have begun to promote it – with a quiet passion – to the outside world.
The full official 200 km Camino dos Faros faithfully hugs the coastline, running through loads of different landscapes always looking at the sea towards the West. Lighthouses, beaches, dunes, rivers, cliffs, forests, estuaries with a great variety of birds, ‘castros’ (hill-forts), dolmens, fishing villages, viewpoints from where to enjoy how the sea breaks in all ways possible, sunsets.
On Foot Holidays, with their usual meticulous attention to detail and desire to offer flexibility to clients, provide several ways to embrace this mesmerising walking route. Each makes occasional strategic inland forays to provide good accommodation options, and to avoid the most extreme parts of the official Camino:
- a 10 night holiday, with 9 days walking almost the entire route
- a 7 night option, with 6 days walking, starting from Laxe and avoiding the challenging and long first few days from Malpica
- a 5 night option, with 4 days walking from Camarinas
We have just returned from walking every inch of the 9 day route. Well, apart from a couple of unintentionally missed kilometres on day 8 somewhere between Muxia and Lires, compensated for by a voluntary extra 2 km on the final day, detouring into Fisterra town for a life-replenishing ice cream, before the final stretch to the end of the world.
Make no mistake, the Lighthouse Way is a challenging route. Look away now if you suffer from vertigo – some days narrow gorse-lined paths – high above the towering Atlantic waves pounding the distant rocks below – are not for the faint-hearted. But on most days, On Foot offers taxi drop-offs or pick-ups to shorten the walk, should you want to avoid the most difficult terrain or just want to spend longer exploring what else is on offer in this enchanting corner of the Iberian peninsula.
Food and drink
If you like seafood, you’ll never want this adventure to end. Eat gambas (prawns), merluza (hake), bacalao (cod), mejillones (mussels), almejas (clams), langostinos (langoustines), pulpo (octopus) and much more, caught a few metres from where you’re walking. Or try the famous empanada gallega, a huge pie stuffed with meat or fish, often tuna, peppers and onions.
For breakfast at the beautifully restored 150 year-old traditional Casa Luz in Lires, host Yolanda fuelled us up for our epic last day’s walk with filloas, typical Galician pancakes, made simply with eggs, flour, water and a little salt. As delicate as lace-like doilies, stuff them with ham and cheese, or go sweet with chocolate spread, honey, or homemade jams.
At lunchtime on the day’s walk between Laxe and Camelle, we stopped at the Café Bar Os Espinos in the small pueblo of Mordomo. As the locals slammed down dominoes on the table next to us, the owner brought us – unbidden – small earthenware dishes of chickpea and ham stew, oily, salty, comforting and very Galician.
Wash all this hearty food down with Estrella Galicia beer, or local wines: white Ribeiro and Albarino, or a muy bueno Mencia red. And if you’re really lucky, entertaining host Julio at Casal de Cereixo will wheel out his collection of interesting grappas after dinner.
Flora, fauna and birds
Whether you’re on the rocky clifftops of the Costa da Morte, heading inland for a brief rural foray or eating your packed lunch on a deserted beach, you’ll feel closely connected to nature throughout this walking adventure.
Early in the route, between Corme and Laxe, the sand dunes and salt marshes around the Estuario de Anllons – protected by a long, curling tongue of sandspit – provide the natural habitat for a vast array of birds, including curlews, oystercatchers and kittiwakes. Later, in the completely different wave-pummelled terrain by one of the many lighthouses, you might be lucky and spot a few guillemots. Ever-present seagulls squawk and mew along the whole route, especially at the mouth of the the Ría de Lires, where they swoop into the water gushing from the fish factory, hopeful of food. And the occasional song of skylarks, high above you, is always a welcome harbinger of dryer, warmer weather.
We would frequently spot the havoc caused by foraging wild boar, particularly in the dense inland forests. Or perhaps it was foxes. Or even wolves?
Gorse bushes cling to the side of the clifftops, like Corsican maquis, their bright yellow flowers one of the most vivid memories of this springtime walk for me. And venturing away from the pounding ocean, the powerful scent of giant Eucalyptus trees and dense pine forests would come as a welcome contrast to salty sea air.
Everyone you meet along the way, whether at your overnight stays or just by chance on the Camino, will make you warm to Galicia and its people.
We chatted for a while with a weather-beaten 71 year-old man collecting snails on a remote part of the route, close by mountainous sand dunes. He was protective of his patch and asked us not to share his name or photograph with the outside world, but he was so engaging. In the tiny fishing port of Santa Marina, Josep was happy to pose for a photograph and share his day’s plans with us.
And when we arrived a little earlier than expected at our overnight stay in Camelle, a neighbour poked her head out of the window, checked who we were and phoned the keyholder to come and open up for us.
But really, as the Trasnos – how the proud founders and local supporters of the collaborative project Camino dos Faros call themselves – say, the route is all about the sea. Defining this corner of Galicia – and the whole Iberian peninsula – the full force of the Atlantic is unleashed on the rocks close by your feet. Shipwrecks litter the coast. Fishermen risk their lives every day.
Everybody is welcome and there is only one goal; to make this Camino dos Faros a reality, so that people can walk it with the maximum respect for nature.
On Foot Holidays
It is hard to overstate the quality of travel experience that On Foot provide, if you decide to walk this scintillating route.
Whichever option you choose is self-guided, but it will feel as though On Foot are with you every step of the way. On-the-ground support is offered by friendly and professional Aznar Fernández de Pinedo. Each overnight stay has been chosen with careful consideration. The famous ‘blue book’ contains much more colour than I can offer in this brief article, providing information on local history, culture, the economy, architecture, language and practical advice on transfer options, what to take, and eating out options.
And for each day, you will have meticulous step-by-step directions from On Foot, together with maps of the route. Combine that with the lime green splodges, arrows and 4-toed footprints of the mythical mascot ‘Traski’ etched on rocks, trees, signposts and buildings and you won’t stray far from this truly awe-inspiring, energy-sapping, breath-taking Camino.
But go soon, before the Camino dos Faros secret is out.
Andrew’s lunch stop on the final day of the Camino dos Faros – Lighthouse Way – walk in Galicia with On Foot Holidays.
Yet another deserted perfect beach on the wild, unspoiled Galician coast walking the Camino dos Faros – Lighthouse Way – with On Foot Holidays.