Alison Raju, who died on Monday 2nd November aged eighty-one, guided and inspired a generation of pilgrim walkers. She wrote more than half a dozen guidebooks on the ways to Santiago and Rome, and on St Olav’s Way from Oslo to Trondheim. Her earthy comments and well thought-through instructions in convenient pocket-sized books, with their distinctive maps and photographs, encouraged and enabled thousands of walkers to follow in her footsteps.
Alison’s contribution to pilgrim walking was not confined to writing guidebooks; she was an active and enthusiastic member of both the Confraternity of St James and the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome – of which she was a founding member – and she gave her time generously to the Camino Francés, working as an hospitalera in pilgrim hostels at Miraz and Rabanal del Camino. In recent years, she edited the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome Newsletter.
A chance viewing of a television programme fired Alison’s interest in the Pilgrim Road to Santiago, at that time barely known in Britain; as a keen walker, she set out to complete the 1000-mile Camino from Le Puy-en-Velay to Santiago all in one go. Fortuitously, this was the early 1990s when Cicerone Press was looking for an author to write an original guide in English to the Spanish section of the route. The Way of St James (1994) was the start of a bountiful relationship between walker and publisher which over 25 years led to a succession of guidebooks on the various routes to Santiago and on the Via Francigena to Rome and St Olav’s Way in Norway. Praised for their accuracy, cultural sensitivity and pithy knowledge, her books sold in tens of thousands. The products of many thousand miles of watchful and steady footfall, they appeared to resonate in an increasingly secular age with a surprising resurgence in walking ancient pilgrim ways. Those who walk with Alison’s guidebooks will invariably find her good company.
Having also produced a series of practical guides for both the Confraternities, Alison’s last published book was an update on the French section of the Camino, Le Puy to the Pyrenees (2018). She was working on a revision of her guide to the route from Seville to Santiago, Via de la Plata (2005), when she had a fall outside her home either before or after a brain haemorrhage.
Born Alison Rose on 30 May 1939 in Redhill, Nottingham, where her father ran a building company, Alison was educated locally and then as a boarder at St Michael’s School, Limpsfield in Surrey. She went on to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to study the violin and French horn but left before graduating to work with the International Voluntary Service, which took her to India. There she met and, in 1963, married Louis Raju, a professor at St Joseph’s, Darjeeling’s prestigious Jesuit college.
The couple moved to the United States where they studied and worked at the University of Pennsylvania – Alison attaining an MA and Doctorate in French while working part time at the University library. Her doctoral thesis was on the role of humour in Victor Hugo’s plays and novels.
Alison and Louis came to England in the early 1970s, divorcing soon after. There were no children. Alison set up home in Nottingham where she had a series of jobs, working in a bookshop and with a publisher, and she took a further degree in Spanish Studies at the University of Nottingham. She settled into full-time work as a foreign languages teacher at a college of further education (she had a good knowledge of Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian and Hindi), until in her fifties walking progressively took over. She had a modest and somewhat frugal lifestyle and, up to her fall, she was still editing on her computer, and playing the French horn for local orchestras, including the Nottingham Police Band and the Djanogly Community Orchestra.
Alison was at one with, and at home on the road, her thirst for knowledge forever drawing her over the next hill. Tenacious but without being dogmatic, she understood instinctively that motivation for pilgrimage in the 21st century could be historical, cultural, sporting or religious, or indeed a combination of all of these. More on the spiritual side herself, she talked of the attractions of life on the road pared down to its bare essentials, and she sagely observed:
“Most of those who walk the Via Francigena, like those who have already experienced the Camino to Santiago, and especially those who have been able to do the whole route in one go, would probably agree that it has changed their lives in some way, even if they did not set out with this intention.”
In her unassuming way, Alison helped change the lives of many people.
Brian Mooney, Vice-Chair, Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome
Dr Alison Raju 30 May 1939 – 81. She is survived by a younger sister, Pip, and five nephews and nieces.