Monday, 25 August 2008

Burnt offerings

It’s pilgrim tradition going back through the years that people burn their boots and articles of clothing when they get to Finisterre. There’s even a grate built into the mountainside to accommodate this.

“I’m burning Daddy’s grots,” says Matthew, peering into a pannier and pulling out a pair of well worn cycling undershorts. “No, lets burn his cheesy socks,” says Cameron fishing out a couple of grey socks while we park up the bikes next to the lighthouse at the end of the world. But although we always seem to end our trips at a lighthouse, this one doesn’t have the eerie atmosphere of New Zealand’s Cape Reinga, or the unkempt beauty of John O’ Groats. From the car park to the edge of the ocean it’s packed full of tourist buses, motorbikes, cars, people and cyclists, all snapping themselves against the sea. The end of the world is overrated – unless you want to buy a statue of an octopus eating witch, a blue and white striped china lighthouse or some end of the camino memorabilia. It seems to have long ago lost any awe inspiring significance it might once have held. Even the monument of the pilgrim boots sculpted in metal isn’t what it promised to be. “Someone’s nicked one of the boots!” Cameron cries.

So we decide to have our ceremony on the deserted beach, back towards town. After a freezing dip in the Atlantic, we gather together some of our most well worn possessions and make a hole in the sand. Then we find shells to place around the edge. The motley collection of shorts and socks are put into the homemade grate, and Stuart adds some of the meths from our stove. As they go alight we cheer. In the distance the sun sets and the sky turns pink. Seagulls make a dash for the cliffs and the beach is empty. Just a puff of smoke indicates the end of the cheesy socks and smelly undies. We stir up the ashes and bury them with sand, smoothing out the beach. It’s like we were never here.