Watching pilgrims walk into the cathedral square is a bit like the final part of Love Actually, with all the pictures from the arrivals hall at Heathrow. There's a fair bit of tiredness, confusion and a variety of other emotions. At this time of year, pilgrims are outnumbered by school parties of teenagers, being herded in and out of the cathedral museum on timed tickets. Between these, university students moving between classes and local residents going about their business, the newly arrived seem dazed that in this moment that is so significant to them, the world just carries on. There's no welcoming committee, in fact you can't even enter the cathedral through the main door at present because of restoration work. So what greets you, to the soundtrack of Gallician bagpipers busking, is a somewhat mundane scene and at the same time, a stream of moments that will, by someone, be remembered forever. Through the confusion, whether under- or overwhelmed* what you see mostly is a realisation of pride in this thing that they have done. I know that walking 800km is inherently pointless. But at the end it does feel like something.
Sit in the square long enough and everyone begins to look a bit familiar. You recognise the red trousers of the short girl you followed up that hill in the rain, the bow-legged 'chafing' walk of the other girl she's with. People that are really limping are mostly unknown - shorter-distance folk whose blisters are peaking after 100 or so km. The more comfortable looking pilgrims, those who walk freely and are muddy and a bit faded - those are the ones I'm most likely to have spent a night or two with.
You also see the slightly stiff walk of those who arrived yesterday, now partially transformed by a shower, a good night's sleep and some semblance of civilian clothes. Those who have just arrived keep their rucksack on even as they squat down for a better photo angle. Those who have been without it for a few hours sit down and put their feet up as often as possible. All are dismayed that the sun is behind the cathedral in the morning, ruining the victory photos.
* just for Ruth 'but can you just be whelmed?' 'I think you can in Europe..'