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…

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

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’

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