Blisters, exhaustion, an infected foot and numerous other challenges have been overcome by a Haverhill man who has completed an 800km solo trek to honour his late father’s wishes.
Liam Staples, of Park Road, took 37 days to complete the Camino de Santiago from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, in France, to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, arriving on July 12.
The 27-year-old landscaper had completed part of the walk in 2014 with his dad Mark.
They had to abandon their walk when Mark suffered a ruptured hernia and their subsequent plans to return last September were scuppered when it was discovered Mark had cancer.
He died on December 18, aged just 52, but Liam returned to take on the trek because he wanted to carry out his late dad’s wishes and while doing so he decided to raise money for St Nicholas Hospice Care, where Mark had spent time during his illness.
Speaking from the Spanish coastal town of Fisterra, where he was recuperating after his gruelling journey, Liam said: “It was my way to honour my dad, who brought me up for 27 years. I just wanted to do something to honour him.”
Fisterra was also where Liam was also able to say a prayer and throw a stone, of religious significance to Mark, into the ocean.
One of Liam’s toughest days was the very first one, when he walked from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port up into the Pyrenees only to find the hostel he had thought had been booked for him was full for the next 15 days and his name was not on the reservation list.
“I had a decision to make”, said Liam. “I had no food, no water. I said to myself I’ve got to either go down the mountain again or do I just trapse across the Pyrenees, so I walked across the Pyrenees for 12 hours with no food or water.
“I got to Roncesvalles at 12.30 in the morning in the pitch black, I had no torch and I got myself down with my walking pole with a 300ft drop below me.
“They say its hard enough in the day time let alone at night.”
Having arrived at Roncesvalles and with just seven per cent of power left on his mobile phone Liam rang his mum and said ‘you’ve got to book a room at the hostel.’
Liam went on to say of his mum Sue: “My mum has been a rock and nothing but supportive.”
More tests of Liam’s determination were thrown at him, but he overcame them all, as he explained: “I had blisters and had a severe infection in my left foot. I was on a ten-day course of antibiotics and I was told by the doctor not to walk for ten days and I carried on walking after three.
“I had this voice in my head telling me ‘just keep going.’ I had so much trouble. I had everything thrown at me but I managed to fight through and I got to the cathedral.”
Liam gave special thanks to the owner of an auberge (inn) called Casa Susi, who treated his blisters for two days and ‘got me to carry on for the final 150km.’
Having reached the cathedral, Liam attempted to get a certificate of completion for his late dad.
Although he had Mark’s Pilgrims Passport, which he had stamped at all the stops en-route to authenticate it, certificates are not given to the holder if they are not there in person.
Luckily, the intervention of a volunteer at the cathedral made it happen, leading to tearful hugs between the two of them.
“I was welling up and she said ‘do you want a cuddle and I said I’m not going to say no’, said Liam.
“She whispered in my ear, she said ‘Liam, your dad has finished, now he is happy and he’s told me that you should rest’ and it still breaks me down now, those words, those most beautiful words.”