What James did for ColaLife

Some people take it upon themselves to do extraordinary things for ColaLife. James went on a trip of self discovery and raised more than £1,000 for us in the process. This is his story in his own words:


On 17-Jul, I set out to walk just over 500km of the Camino Frances in Northern Spain, in 2.5 weeks.

This was a huge personal challenge for me; firstly, the midday temperatures soared to 40C and walking was hot and exhausting; secondly, I had decided to embark on this walk alone having never done anything like it before. I am 17 years old and it was a challenge in itself to take complete responsibility for myself – giving me the first experience of real freedom but also having to cope on my own, sometimes difficult. Finally, I knew people would be interested in my challenge and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to raise both money and awareness for ColaLife.

I soon learnt that a huge plus for being on my own was the ability to meet so many fascinating people along the way, each with such different reasons for doing the Pilgrimage. This ranged from a young Russian girl, who felt motivated to walk the Camino due to having a mental crisis in search of finding a purpose for her life, to a Northern Irishman who told his parents he would be gone camping in Ireland for 2 weeks. Little did they know that he would actually be walking for 4 months from Ireland, through France, and onto Spain, relying on playing his violin to fund his trip along the way.

This is one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in the world, its starting point in the French Pyrenees which ends in Santiago de Compostela with its magnificent cathedral built on the what is thought to be the burial site of St James, one of Jesus’ close disciples. The route walked by millions of people since the middle ages still hosts over 200,000 people from all over the world journeying this route each year.

The route, which I started in Burgos, took me through diverse and amazingly beautiful landscapes. This ranged from desert areas, to mountainous regions and then onto traditional farmland that seemed like it was caught in some kind of 30’s agricultural time warp. Most of the walk is on tracks and stony paths, way-marked by scallop shells, some of which were old Roman roads.

My accommodation really varied too, staying in “albergues”, dormitory accommodation exclusively for pilgrims arriving at any time during the day to take up bunk beds; in some hostels they could host up to 300 people in the busier places. Some of these were relatively comfortable, in fine and historic buildings and others pretty “grim” which looked and felt more like “prisons” and a high risk of being “eaten alive” by the infamous bed bugs of the Camino! You couldn’t book these beds in advance and on some occasions I had to resort to sleeping outside under the stars, as they were full on my arrival, which became quite an issue the closer I got to Santiago. It would have all been rather more comfortable if I hadn’t left my sleeping bag in the Premier Inn at Stansted, the night before my flight out to Spain – I improvised by sleeping in an orange survival bag much to the amusement of some of the other more comfortable pilgrims.

My typical day would comprise of waking up at 5am to beat the heat of the day, grabbing a baguette for breakfast, then marching on, my goal being to reach the next destination by early afternoon for a sleep before heading out into the town for a hot meal and a few beers, joined by the pilgrims I had made friendships with along the way. I found all the locals very friendly and welcoming, hearing the endless greetings of “buen camino, and realised how important the pilgrimage is to the history and economy of the locality.

In general , it was an amazing experience and certainly fulfilled my desire of an independence challenge as well as being the biggest physical test I have faced so far.

James Ellis 1 James Ellis 2 James Ellis 3

Thanks James.