What is the Camino Primitivo
The Camino Primitivo (Primitive Way) is the oldest way of Santiago (St. James). It runs between the 313 kilometres between Oviedo and Santiago de Compostela, crossing the western half of Asturias and the eastern half of Galicia.
A little known path until a few years ago, is gaining many followers for the certain difficulty that it entails, for the magnificent landscapes that it crosses, but especially, for the moderate influx of pilgrims (at least, in 2015). In Melide it joins with the Camino Francés (French Way), and some pilgrims do it as a final variant of the Camino del Norte (Northern Way).
The original Camino de Santiago
According to tradition, in the year 813 the hermit Pelayo, who lived in a forest where today is the church of San Félix de Solovio, saw, for several nights in a row, some mysterious lights on a mound of the forest. After discussing it with the bishop, they went to the mound and found an old chapel with the tomb of a person who had his head cut off. The bishop identified it as the Apostle James the Elder, who died in 44, and who was buried along with two other bodies, the two disciples of the Apostle, Theodore, and Athanasius.
In the ninth century, Galicia was part of the extensive Kingdom of Asturias, which in the time of Charlemagne was ruled by the Asturian king Alfonso II The Chaste. When he learned of the discovery, he decided to go and visit the chapel, becoming the first pilgrim in history, and marking what will be the first way of Santiago, the Camino Primitivo (Primitive Way). On the chapel he ordered to build a church, which over the years has become the Cathedral of Santiago.
Very soon, the road that crossed the Asturian mountains was filled with pilgrims who wanted to venerate the remains of the Apostle.
Later, with the expansion to the south of the Christian kingdoms, the ancient Roman route that linked Bordeaux with Astorga, passing through Pamplona, Burgos and León, got under the control of these kingdoms. This route, after receiving some changes like pass it through more populated and more accessible areas, especially in winter, ended up establishing itself as the basis of the classic pilgrimage to Santiago. It became what we know today as the Camino Francés, and left in disuse the old way, the Camino Primitivo.
* A medieval hospital, the only accommodations where pilgrims could rest, take refuge and heal. That is why hostel managers are now called hospitallers.
Apogee, fall, and recovery
Santiago de Compostela became, throughout the Middle and Modern Ages, an important centre of pilgrimage for faithful who came from all over Europe. But after the French Revolution, with the secularization of European society and the subsequent loss of accommodation due to the confiscation of religious property of the nineteenth century, the Camino de Santiago began to fall into oblivion and almost disappeared during the central decades of the twentieth century.
In 1993, coinciding with the Jacobean Holy Year, the Galician government created the Xacobeo 93 campaign, to promote the Camino de Santiago not only as a religious fact but as a tourist attraction, restoring and enhancing the route, improving the signs, promoting the creation of hostels…
Since then, the number of pilgrims has not stopped growing, and the number of variants of the Camino as well, since they have been recovering old roads, until reaching 286, which cover 80,000 km in 28 countries.
The most mountainous Camino
The Primitive Way had been left in the shadow of the most famous roads, such as the French, the North, or the Portuguese. In fact, some pilgrims did so without being very aware, as they thought it was a variant of the final part of the Northern Way.
On the contrary, it was a road highly valued by pilgrims who love mountaineering, since the route is more mountainous than the others, and the fact of being almost abandoned and with very little accommodation assimilated it a lot to mountain crossings. In addition, between late autumn and early spring, it was very common to find considerable thicknesses of snow, occasionally having to rescue some pilgrim or small group of pilgrims who were lost due to weather conditions.
With the recovery of the Camino de Santiago and the increase in pilgrims in its busiest stretches, the government of Asturias began to recover the Primitivo, especially from 2010.
The creation of new hostels and the improvement of the existing ones made that the number of pilgrims of the Primitivo was increasing and that a new profile was incorporated: that of the pilgrim who wanted to avoid the overcrowding of the French way and the north, consolidating itself as one of the Roads, at present, more frequented.
The best time to do the Camino Primitivo
Thinking on the landscape, it is surely the best time after autumn, considering beauty and inclement weather. Perhaps it’s also when it rains the most, but the rain is much better than the snow or fog. As for the influx of pilgrims, it is mid-season.
Good weather and very long days. You can start walking very early and reach the end of the stage before the heat of noon, or you can do very long routes. On hotter days, during noon, it’s better not to walk. It is the time of the greatest influx of pilgrims, something that does not have to be bad.
Undoubtedly, the best time to do it, especially the part of Asturias, with the chestnut trees and the rest of deciduous trees painted of ochre and red tones. Lovely sunrises and sunsets guaranteed. Cool mornings, and more chance of rain. Fewer pilgrims, and also shorter days.
Quite short days, cold, and in the part that passes through Asturias it is very common to find snow. Snow is more physically demanding, and can blur the path, or even hide it. I guess there must also be fog. It is the time with fewer pilgrims, and therefore there may be some hostels closed.