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Photographer Caitlin Mills Takes Us On One Of The World's Greatest Walks

Travel

We’ve been lucky to be working with talented Melbourne photographer Caitlin Mills for the past three years. Over this time she’s captured some wonderful people, spaces, places, and plates for us!

A few years before we crossed paths, a just-out-of-uni Caitlin set off overseas, ‘young and free and ready for an adventure’. She found just that, falling head-over-heels for Spain, and vowing to return.

Well, last year she did! Today, she lets us all join her on journey along Spain’s spectacular Camino de Santiago trail.

5th April, 2019

Baiona, Spain on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Baiona, Spain on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Baiona, Spain on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Caitlin on the trail! Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Baiona, Spain on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Caitlin Mills
Friday 5th April 2019

I’m Melbourne born-and-raised, though I spent much of my childhood at our family house in the High Country. I initially studied graphic design at Swinburne University before following my passion in photography to the Photography Studies College. I had the wonderful opportunity to assist photographer Sharyn Cairns for a few years, which has propelled me into the industry, and I haven’t looked back!

I’m still Melbourne-based, however I love any opportunity to shoot interstate and overseas. A few of my favourites places over the past few years have been a travel feature in Tasmania, Oman, and today’s feature: on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

I first travelled to Spain in 2007 on a year-long backpacking trip, which also took me through Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia), Portugal, Spain, London and Canada. With camera-in-hand, I was young and free and ready for an adventure. I found just that.

I fell in love with Granada and the Southern coast of Spain, and had always wanted to return… This desire was strengthened by the many wonderful things I had heard about the Camino de Santiago. When my close friend Holly and I decided on an active holiday, it was the top of our list!

Although this walk originated as a religious pilgrimage, people take it for many reasons. You definitely don’t have to be religious! It’s an incredibly rewarding way to see the area.

For me, the biggest challenge were some body ailments. I had sore feet, leg cramps, and a slightly dodgy hip (I always knew this would be the case as it’s constantly something I work on at home). Then, there was the lugging of my heavy camera gear, which I couldn’t go without! I chose to only take one lens (24-70mm) and one camera body, and most days I would carry it in my arms the entire time. As I was on foot, it was harder to ‘chase the light’ as you can with a car, however shooting was a lovely way to take in the smaller details along the way. Looking back, it’s all just about good training, management and shoes! I will do more prep next time.

One of the most rewarding aspects was to be able to spend my entire day walking. It’s an active meditation and I often find that my biggest ideas and realisations come about when I walk. Another highlight came at the very end of the trip – I got engaged the day after returning home to Australia (I think I’d get in trouble if I left that detail out!).

It really is a special mix of people that find themselves walking hundreds of kilometres across a country, with locals there to guide them on their journeys. We were humbled daily by the kindness of strangers – directing us back on course, picking us bags of peaches, tending to our sunburn and blisters, buying us local dishes they think that we would like, or sitting with us to go through a Spanish menu when we were struggling to read it!

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Baiona, Spain on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Baiona, Spain on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

OUR ITINERARY

There are many different routes that lead the way to Santiago de Compostela. The most famous is the one that begins in the French Pyrenees and takes around 35 days to complete. As we didn’t have that much time, we decided to walk part of the Portuguese Camino from Baiona on the Western coast of Spain, following the coastline to Santiago de Compostela.

Day 1&2 – Seafood by the sea!

We arrived into Baiona a town situated on the coast of the Monterreal Peninsula which leads out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Our taxi wound its way through the city, underneath a fortressed wall and up to the Parador de Baiona, a beautiful Galician manor.

We spent two days here wandering through the old town, eating seafood by the water, drinking wine and watching the boats sail out to sea.

Vigo, Spain, Camino de Santiago trail. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Vigo, Spain, Camino de Santiago trail. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Vigo, Spain, Camino de Santiago trail. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Day 3 – Baiona to Vigo (26km)

We trekked out of Baiona sharply climbing in altitude along busy roads en route to Vigo. We rose high above the Atlantic mist below, which had settled in for the morning.

It was a shock to the system, as the first leg of any long walk is, and I’m sure the wine in Baiona didn’t help. Getting a little lost we finally found the iconic shell markings along the road that lead you all the way to Santiago de Compostela – It’s like an adult treasure hunt!

As you follow the Camino shells, you wind high above small towns and then through back streets, passing many albergues (guest houses), local restaurants and cafes.

After 25kms, we found our way to Vigo, a bustling city surrounded by a lush mountain landscape. We were weary and very sore, but managed to find a town square that came alive with restaurants, bars and children, playing late into the night.

On the Camino de Santiago trail. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Redondela, Spain, Camino de Santiago trail. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

On the Camino de Santiago trail. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

On the Camino de Santiago trail. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Day 4 – Vigo to Redondela (20km*)

This day was around 20km’s, not including the many times we got lost! But this was when the true Spanish hospitality shone, with locals gently guiding us wayward travellers back on to the track and on our way. It was a very humbling experience!

Day 5 – Redondela to Pontevedra (22km)

By day 5 we were in our walking groove. We headed off in an early convoy of trekkers back into the mountain tracks, with views of the Monterreal Peninsula still peeking through the trees to our left.

We arrived into Pontevedra, a labyrinth of small cobbled stoned streets that opened up into large Piazza’s ready to be filled with the night’s activities. We were not disappointed and again the Spanish hospitality and very loud ‘Salute’s’ were on show.

Pontovedra, Spain on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Pontovedra, Spain, on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Day 6 – Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis (25km)

The trail followed the highway dipping in and out of local vineyards, all of which had an abundance of grapes and made for a sneaky snack!

Reaching our destination, we treated ourselves to a beautiful hotel a short taxi ride out of Caldas de Reis. Torre do Rio’s gates opened and we walked into what was once an 18th-century-textile-factory-turned-boutique-accommodation positioned on top of a hill surrounded by sprawling gardens and a cascading waterfall. It took my breath away.

Caldas de Reis, Spain, on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Caldas de Reis, Spain, on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Caldas de Reis, Spain, on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Caldas de Reis, Spain, on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Caldas de Reis, Spain, on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Day 7 – Caldas de Reis to Padron (23km)

It was hard to leave Torre do Rio, especially after eating our way through the breakfast buffet.

Back on the road, we soon caught up with a familiar walker wearing socks and thongs – it’s hilarious the footwear some people end up wearing after days/weeks of walking!

Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

On the Camino de Santiago trail. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

On the Camino de Santiago trail. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on the Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on the Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on the Camino de Santiago. Photo – Caitlin Mills.

‘In our busy lives, it’s very hard to truly gift ourselves time to stop, slow down and move with the natural rhythm of life.’

Day 8 – Padron to Santiago de Compostela (30km)

Padron is a small and eerie town that we were happy to leave. We slept next to an open chapel, which gave us both nightmares!

This was the hardest yet most rewarding day of the walk. Most of the morning we paced through low-lying fog, cobbled stone roads, past numbers dogs, churches, and cornfields. After stopping for an early morning espresso we powered onto Santiago.

We walked into Santiago de Compostela to the large cathedral square, which was a buzz of energy and excitement. A melting pot of walkers from all around the world were there – some who had walked for months! It was a surprisingly emotional finale to a short section of the Camino. I can only imagine how the others who had been on the road for weeks were feeling.

We sat down in a small and quiet chapel to rest our feet and reflect on our short but inspiring walk. A quote on the wall read ‘Blessed are you pilgrim, if on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart’.

In our busy lives, it’s very hard to truly gift ourselves time to stop, slow down and move with the natural rhythm of life. This experience gifted me that time and I can’t wait to go back for a longer walk next time.

Must-see location

The hotel Torre do Rio, in Caldas de Reis is worth a trip back to Spain. I definitely plan on returning one day!

Must-try local delicacy

The Galician region of Spain is renowned for its fresh seafood. Located right on the Atlantic Ocean the freshest of seafood doesn’t have far to travel and it did not disappoint! We were treated to the freshest oysters, calamari, mussels, fish, and beautiful local wine!

Don’t forget to

…pack very light if you are planning on carrying all your belongings!

If you really can’t, there is always the option to get a taxi to deliver your bags to the next town.

 

When she’s not working for TDF or shooting other commercial and editorial photography Caitlin Mills  (@caitlinmillphotography) is working on a debut fine art series. She also hopes more travel work is on the horizon and is increasingly interested in aligning her work with environmental and sustainable design and living philosophies.

Caitlin soaking up the Spanish history (and vino!). Photo – Caitlin Mills.

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