5 minutes with... Ed Byrne
Irish comic (and devout atheist) Ed Byrne has been walking Spain’s Santiago de Compostela for upcoming BBC show The Pilgrimage. He tells us why he isn’t a convert to the world’s most famous religious trail and why he’ll never go solo…
The Irish comic turns pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago
Which part of the Camino de Santiago did you walk?
We all did little bits, and then the last 100km to get our certificates. I hiked the Pyrenees from Saint-jean-piedde-port over the course of two days.
You’re not religious at all, so what attracted you to this pilgrim trail?
I’d heard it was a really good hike. Whenever a TV company says, “Would you like to go for a walk?” I’m all over it.
What did you think of Galicia’s scenery?
It’s not a walk I’d choose. It’s very busy, following motorways and roads for a lot of it, with graffiti and litter all over the shop. It’s everything I go walking to avoid. And for all the people who say it doesn’t have to be a religious experience, that aspect is fairly rammed down your throat every step.
Did you speak to any other hikers who were doing the longer version?
What was interesting about most of those I met and spoke to, particularly when I spoke to them on camera, was that they played down their religious views. Most said they’d just heard it was a good walk. Then, when the camera wasn’t rolling, they admitted it was because they’d watched a film starring Martin Sheen called The Way. It was weird.
Would you do another pilgrim walk?
It completely put me off. I didn’t go into it expecting to have a spiritual experience – I’m aware of my limitations in regards to being able to experience that – but I did expect it to be a fun, fulfilling, communal experience. But it just felt super touristy because everything becomes a tradition. There’s a cross at the high point of the walk where people are meant to have carried something then unburden themselves. Some left a beer bottle or a toy, or literally any old s**t. Then right next to that, someone had left a headstone they’d had made for the journey to remember their dead relative. It’s clearly a very solemn, meaningful symbol, but it’s just sat next to frivolous litter, and you’re stepping on it to get to the cross. It just felt uncomfortable.
What makes a good long-distance walk?
Anything that involves finding your own route, with lots of wild camping. But I love long distance treks. I enjoyed the Haute Route in Switzerland, and I think doing one of the GRS in France will be my next challenge.
You’ve done a lot of TV travel shows with Dara O’briain. Which of the places you went to really caught your eye?
I think Nicaragua. The disparity between what you’d heard about it and the reality was quite marked. The idea of volcano tourism being an industry is really quite attractive.
Do you prefer travelling on your own?
I don’t mind going for a hike on my own, particularly when it comes to camping. But one night will do before I get annoyed with my own company. I prefer to go with one or two others, but I don’t like too big a group because then you’re no longer nimble.
The Pilgrimage is a three-part series, starting on BBC Two in March. Ed is currently on a UK tour, see edbyrne.com. For the full interview see wanderlust.co.uk
‘I didn’t go into it expecting to have a spiritual experience – I’m aware of my limitations’