The Camino mozarbe
As well as the northern coastal route, for example, the Camino aragons over the Somport pass to Puenta la Reina, routes from the east coast of Spain and two roads through Portugal, there was also the Camino Mozarbe or Via de la Plata (so named, it is now thought, not because it followed the old Roman silver road from Huelva in the south to Astorga but as a corruption of the Arabic
"Bal'latta," used to describe wide paved or public roads).
This was the route taken by pilgrims from southern Spain once the reconquest of Seville had taken place and led north, in more or less a straight line, via Seville, Zafra, Mrida, Cceres, Salamanca and Zamora. After that there were (and still are) several variant routes, one of which, described here because it is the waymarked one, it joined the Camino francs in Astorga. Others went through Verfn and Ourense and straight from there to Santiago or joined up with one of the Portuguese routes through Braganza
The Via de la Plata is reliably waymarked with yellow arrows from the outskirts of Seville to Astorga and is easy to follow.
At present, however, not many people take it, presumably because it is not yet very well known (The author of the guide went in May-June 1993 and did not meet any other pilgrims at all, though she was assured by people she met along the way that there are, in fact, some, though not all complete the entire route in one go).
The walking is, in the main, easy, with no very stiff climbs but because in some sections there are very long gaps between places with accommodation, particularly between Cceres and Zamora, pilgrims without a tent or backup transport will need to be very fit and able to walk long distances (i.e. upwards of 20 miles a day) on a regular basis as well as carrying all their food and water.
The route is very varied, both in climate, scenery, history and architecture (you are very much aware of being in Roman Spain though there is no dearth of Christian monuments or churches dedicated to St. James) and differs from the northern road in a number of practical ways. It is much warmer
(July and August are definitely not recommended) and the best time is either April/May/early June (when a large part of the route is a paradise of 'wall-to-wall" wild flowers) or in the autumn.
In the south there is very little water (and very few public fountains) so you will usually have to carry with you everything you need for the entire day. In Andalucia and some parts of Extremadura there are a lot of very large properties (farms known as "cortijos") and few tracks or paths other than the main road so that in some places this unavoidably coincides with the camino.
Later, though, you may spend complete days in the countryside on old tracks, never meeting a single person or passing a single village from morning to evening and for this reason you will have to carry not only water but also adequate supplies of food. A better than basic knowledge of Spanish is also essential.
The distance between Seville and Astorga is approximately 690km so the amount of time you need will depend on your pace, stamina and the number of rest days you want to take. Even for very fit walkers a month is probably a minimum to complete the journey.
The Camino Mozarbe or Via de la Plata is at present
the only book about the southern route to Santiago.
The book is available from Telegraph Online International Book Club by mail order.