Paul Dowling: A Pilgrimage

June 11, 2013
Always be careful what you promise on a night out… Our Ambassador Paul Dowling has just completed a 3,600 mile trek to raise money for Renewable World – agreed to under somewhat unusual circumstances. Below, he shares a few of the highlights and important moments of the last leg of his momentous journey from Skelligs, Ireland, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain… 
Some time ago, I attended the RenewableUK conference with some old friends and colleagues from the renewable energy industry.
One evening, we gathered for a catch-up, swapping jokes and anecdotes, and of course enjoying a few beers.
I woke the next morning hoping that my friends had been affected more by the beer than I had, because I was sure I could remember making a promise to them that I might have preferred them to forget.
I should have known it was not to be. When I next saw my friends Louis Fitzgerald, John Crowley, Megan Arnold and Steve Cowie, the four of them confirmed their memories were intact, and that as a result I was now committed to walk 3,600km from Ireland to Spain.
The route from Skelligs, in the far south-west of Ireland, to Santiago de Compostella is an old pilgrim’s trail, taking in some beautiful countryside and interesting places.
And, as part of the point of a pilgrimage was often to help those less fortunate than yourself, combined with the place I’d made the promise and the close connections Louis Fitzgerald and I have to Renewable World, I decided I should make the walk to raise money for the NGO.
Renewable World works with some of the world’s poorest communities, delivering energy produced through sustainable, renewable resources, to enable those communities to improve their health, education, training and income levels.
It’s a cause very close to my heart, combining environmental responsibility with a genuine commitment to ensuring people’s birthplace doesn’t restrict their potential and opportunities.
But it can’t do this without help, so by following the pilgrims’ trail, I hoped I could contribute to its ongoing work.  
I cut the journey into several sections, to allow me to spend time with my family and at work, and by January 7th this year I had fewer than 1,000km of the 3,600 to go.
In late March, (20th-26th) I took on the first stage of the Camino Frances pilgrim route, from the Pyrenees to Burgos, and as a result I met numerous pilgrims from Canada, the UK, the USA, Australia and Ireland.
The weather was perfect for walking – 15 degrees centigrade or thereabouts and no rain – and I passed through the Rioja region, so while the days were long, averaging 10 hours per day, the wine, evening meals and company more than made up for any tirednesss I felt. And progress was good!
On the walk…
I began in Roncesvalles, at the foothills of the Pyrenees in Northern Spain’s Navarra region and finished in the Castilla Y Leon region in Burgos. Finishing that stretch meant the end was ‘in sight’. Well, almost. Only 500km left to complete!
On 16th May, I travelled back to Burgos to start the final stretch, finishing in Pamplona.
I set out the following day, walking the final stretch of the route followed by pilgrims for more than 1,000 years, since the 10th Century AD. 
The route is one of the most beautiful walking routes in Europe, crossing from the North East to North West Spain, taking in mediaeval ruins including many former shrines, some of which are still in good condition, and travelling along a mix of ancient footpaths and modern roads.
In the final section of all, taking me deep into the Galicia region from Sarria to Santiago de Compostella, I was joined by one of those to whom I’d made my pledge all those months ago. 
It was a far cry from a conference of those of us engaged in the Renewable Energy Industry, but a great feeling to cross the ‘finishing line’ on 2nd June with Louis Fitzgerald!
Louis Fitzgerald (left) and Paul Dowling
I’d like to thank everyone for their support throughout my journey, and offer a special thank you to Louis, as well as Brian, John, Megan, Alice, David and Mark, who also joined me for part of the final leg.
The team at the trek's end
Paul Dowling’s 3,600km walk has so far raised £2,944.97. But his justgiving page is still open for donations.
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