- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Cicerone Press Limited; 2 edition (April 30, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 185284681X
- ISBN-13: 978-1852846817
- Product Dimensions: 4.6 x 0.9 x 6.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,479,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Northern Caminos: Norte, Primitivo and Inglés (Cicerone Guides) Paperback – April 30, 2013
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About the Author
Dave Whitson has walked extensively on pilgrim roads in Europe. A teacher in Portland, Oregon, he has led seven student group pilgrimages, including four on the Franc?s and one on the Norte. He has walked the Norte and Primitivo three times.
Top customer reviews
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I found the book helpful, but not adequate for navigating the caminos. I think there are very good camino guides in Spanish and German -- if you have a working knowledge of those languages I would suggest that you use one of them instead of this book. I had previously used John Brierley's camino guides (in English) for walking the Camino Frances, Camino Portugués, and Camino Finisterre. They are vastly superior to this Cicerone Northern Caminos guide. But if you are walking the Del Norte or Primativo and English is your language, I guess this is the only or best book available.
The narrative for planning is generally accurate and helpful. This is a highly subjective and personal consideration.
History and Culture:
The day by day narrative describing history and cultural points along the way is fairly good. I would personally like a little more, but it's ok.
The book uses copies of maps from the National Geographic Institute of Spain. These are very poor and pretty close to useless. They just don't have the resolution and detail to be useful.
The map for each day is chopped up into short segments to fit on the width of the book's narrow pages. Often the place names, highway numbers, and other labels are chopped up in the process. Also each segment is tightly cropped and the edges feathered so that you don't see much context of what's nearby. Because of this, intersecting roads and highways are often not labeled on the map -- the labeling apparently is cropped off. Sometimes even the road that the camino follows is not labeled! While walking, I could see the sea or a town that was not on the map -- cropped off. I believe they did this because somebody thinks the maps look prettier as small, tight, floaty clouds, with lots of space (wasted) around them but they are maddeningly impractical. On at least one day, the segments are out of sequence -- I puzzled over the segments all day long trying to figure out where I was on the maps.
Also there is little or no information of elevation change. The closest indication is a 1 - 5 rating of the day's terrain difficulty and daily total meters ascent and descent. The guide gives no indication where the ascent or descent occurs. For me, I take this information into consideration when deciding where to start and stop each day, where to rest, where to eat, etc. If there's a 300 meter ascent in the final kilometer of a day, I probably would not choose to have a big meal with wine just before that.
There are NO detailed maps of cities and towns! This is amazing especially because several cities/towns on these caminos have NO WAYMARKS at all. (A fact that the book does not tell you!)
By contrast, John Brierley's books contain distinctively drawn color maps of the route, arranged vertically on the long page in the direction of the walking. There are separate detailed maps of significant towns and cities showing the location of albergues, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.
The book provides a narrative of each day's walk, including the villages, hamlets, cafe bars, albergues, and points of interest along the camino route. Some of this is quite helpful.
The narrative seemingly gives a turn-by-turn description of the walking route, like "proceed uphill, leaving town. After 4.8km turn left and then fork right to Santa Cruz." This sounds ok, except that there may be many places to "turn left" at 4.6, 4.7, or 4.9 km. Can a walker really judge 4.8km -- no. Similarly where should I "fork right"? And to top it all off Santa Cruz is actually named Santa Cruz de Bezana and the locals (and signs) know it only as Bezana. Inquiries about Santa Cruz only bring blank stares and "no se". My experienced guidance is that after walking what seems like 4.8km, if there's a left turn don't even think about taking it unless there's a waymark. So what benefit is the navigational narrative?
In walking through the city of Bilbao there are no waymarks -- the authors give no indication of this. They say "follow Gran Via for 800m, passing the RENFE station. Turn right in Plaza Eliptica ...". Sounds simple except that there are very, very few street signs and the actual name is "Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro" and if you can find a street sign it says simply "Diego Lopez". Also the RENFE station is a couple blocks away and there is no sign to indicate where it is so that bit if information is also useless. Also the Plaza Eliptica is not labeled (that I could find). Thankfully I acquired a city map from a turismo office and it supplied some missing pieces.
My personal journal contains countless other examples of frustrating (but now laughable) examples of the inadequacies of this book's navigational text. So often, it truly seemed that the authors wrote this stuff from a comfortable home-office using Google Maps.
The narrative does list potential albergues, hotels, restaurants, in towns, but it gives little or no indication of where they are in the town. This is important even in a small town -- the destination might be right on the camino route, or maybe just a block off or maybe a kilometer away -- can't tell. It might be at the center of town or maybe at the exit. I missed countless of these, and sometimes wandered tiredly around a little town searching for the albergue at the end of the day.
Buy this book unless you can find a better one. I recommend the digital version.
Visit a turismo office whenever you are near one. They have small booklets that do indicate elevation change, distances, and other insights. They can also sometimes give you better indication of the location of albergues.
When entering a large town like San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Oviedo, Lugo, know that you need much, much more information than this book provides.
"Youth hostels" (Hosteling International) do not cater to pilgrims and might not accept them. They seem to be primarily for high school students taking school trips.
Finally, my camino was rescued by LocusFree, a (free) navigation app available for Android smartphones that works offline, i.e. without cell phone data service. You can download maps via (free) WiFi at an allbergue or cafe bar, and use it out on the camino with no local phone or data service. You also have to download a "track" or the camino path, available (free) from Gpsies.com and probably other sources. It takes a little trial and error to figure it out, but it uses the smartphone's GPS to show you where you are and where the camino is! I removed the SIM card from my phone to prevent inadvertent and expensive foreign roaming charges. When not connecting via WiFi, I also turned my phone to "Airplane mode" which shuts of the various radios and drastically saves the battery.
The pictures and detail of the routes are well organized but varied enough to keep your interest while reading at home. In the field, this guide will be invaluable to those looking for a straightforward description of routes, accommodations, and points of interest while adding insider's tips and historical facts in an unobtrusive manner.
The maps are scaled well and noted with sufficient detail. They and clear and precise and in color.
The back of the guide contains a route summary detailing the distance and total ascent/descent in meters for each stage and an English-Spanish-Euskara translation table.
Overall a great buy that I can highly recommend!
Critical information missing, however it's the only book of the northern camino in English.