Kevin Pilley

Every fifty yards along the beach and the cliff-tops are gravestones and memorial statues. Some, little piles of round, Atlantic-flattened pebbles. Others, high crosses. There are cliff carvings too, their inscriptions worn away by the deadly winds.

These crucerios all commemorate the ships dashed against the rocks of Punta Boi and the sailors washed up on the beaches of Reira and Trece along Galicia’s notorious Costa da Muerte (Coast of Death) and treacherous Ruta dos Naufraxos (Route of Shipwrecks).

One hundred and seventy-five sailors from the HMS Serpent, mostly naval cadets out of Plymouth, were drowned in 1890 in the Mare Tenebrosum (dark sea) and are buried in the English cemetery at Camarinas. Along with victims of the Iris Hull disaster of 1883.

Passing ships still fire off salutes over what is now called The Serpent’s Shallows.

Since the 15th century, there have been more than 800 shipwrecks, one major spill (The 2002 Prestige disaster) and several thousand deaths in the waters around the north-west coast of Spain. Not just British, Russian and French mariners and Barbary pirates shipping everything from coal, cement and sunflower seeds to slaves. But Galicians too. There are simple standing stone homages to the “percebeiros” who lost their lives fishing for gooseneck barnacles among the granite outcrops and swirling currents of the outlying islands.

In Galicia fishermen’s wives are still called, viuvas dos vivos (widows of the living). Gooseneck barnacles now fetch from 200-300 Euros per kilo. Four fishermen die each year feeding their families.

The new-ish 200km Lighthouse Way (Camino Dos Faros) takes you around the Coast of Death from the Tower of Hercules in A Coruna to the end of the world. Or, very nearly.

It takes you, your sturdy boots and hiking poles around an infamously dangerous and famously scenic coastline, around headlands, past wind and turbot farms, through dunes, over long white-sand beaches like Mar de Fora, into caves, past fishing boats, pre-Christian ritual places, oscillating stones and shaking logans, outdoor ovens, (rye-straw huts), haylofts, the tombs of Celtic crone goddesses and through fields of blond cows, horses, Angel Tear flowers, furze and gorse and across rivers and around rias – firth-like inlets, long estuaries and drowned valleys.

Treskillions or triskele abound in Galicia, the three interlocked spirals reminding you of the Iberian Peninsula’s Celtic and pre-Celtic roots. They are found not only on clifftops, in churches and cemeteries but also above the region’s iconic horroes or cabaceiros (staddle stone granary houses raised on pillars).

Galicia’s claim to Celtic status rests on such ancient motifs and petroglyphs, the facial features and short stature of the people, fortified settlements called castros such as Santa Tecla in A Guarda, the anta or dolmens (burial chambers) of Dombate and menhirs. Like the Lapa de Gargnans.

DNA markers point to the strong possibility that the Galicians, who came from a tribe called Calleica who fought the Roman invaders searching for metal, are related to the Irish. And the Scots too.

Galicians, although they have no Celtic language, consider their region the seventh Celtic country after Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Ireland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man.

The rose compass set into the earth near A Coruna’s 2nd 57m Torre of Hercules depicts all Celtic nations. Galicia included. The world’s oldest Roman lighthouse may have been one of Hercules labours after he slew a giant and named Coruna after a lover, Curia. It may also have been built by King Breogan, ruler of Galicia, when Coruna was known as Brigantium.

The Irish Book of Invasions (Gabala Erenn Lebor) says the Breogans led the Milesians to Ireland from Galicia. The semi-mythical, pseudo-historical text tells of Galician Celts invading the island. From the tower, Breogan said he could see Ireland which his son Ith visited. He was killed there. In revenge Mil, grandson of the king, conquered Ireland, taking it from the Tuatha De Danaan (people of the goddess Dana)

There are seven lighthouses on the Camino Dos Faros. Naringa (at 1997, the newest), the 1920 Ronando overlooking Corme and Laxe and named after the word for angry-sounding waves, the 1920 Laxe, Muxia and Cap Tourinan (the most westerly point of Spain).

Close by the English cemetery is the country’s first electric lighthouse, the 1896 Vilan lighthouse with its 28-mile beam. It’s still inhabited, has a bar and a permanent exhibition of old optics.

The Lighthouse Way joins villages like Pontesco, Malpica, Ninons, Camarinas , Muxia, Arou and Nemina. If you are doing it by car you can detour to the Ezaro waterfall at Dumbria at the foot of Mount Pindo (the Celtic Olympus).

There are superb restaurants en route. Like Alberto Prieto’s El de Alberto in A Coruna and the waterfront Alborada (Dawn) at A Guarda with specialities like lobster and rice, scallops ventrescas (belly flesh) and piquillo peppers with cod. Elsewhere, it’s lubina con navajas (sea bass with razor clams), Mariscades (shellfish medley), Tarta de Santiago (almond cake), pig’s ears, lacon con grelos (ham and turnip heads) and meat pies (empanadas).

Perhaps the best restaurant is Sefa and Francisco Insua’s O Fragon at San Martino de Arriba, Finisterre. Which offers a seven-course tasting menu with accompanying Galician wines and rare Puco Feito dishes (meaning, the pinnacle of homely, ill-favoured and rare ) like Alina de escarapote fritida (fried scorpion fish wings ). All for E5O pp.

Walkers stay in family-run guesthouses like Playa de Laxe and Pension Rural As Eiras in Lires. The best places to based – if you are not on an organized tour – are the Serotel Blue in A Coruna, the Parador Turismo in Pontevedra or the Parador in Baiona, a manor house set in a medieval walled fortress on the Monterreal peninsula, looking out over the Cies islands, where Columbus’s “Pinta” arrived in 1493 with news of the New World. There is a replica in the port.

If your Celtic shoots are showing you might coincide with a pagan festival. Like June’s “Arde Luce” which celebrates the Celtic and Roman history of the city of Lugo with recreations of Celtic weddings and a Roman circus. There is also the “Noite de San Xoan” or “Noite da Queima” which welcomes the summer solstice all over Galicia, a ritual dating back to the Celtic period. Bonfires ward off “miegas” or witches. There is also July’s Festival de Ortigueira. ,another celebration of Celtic culture.

So plenty of bagpipers.

In the early Middle Ages, Galicia was the piping centre of Europe and many melodies played on a three-drone “gaita” are similar to Scottish and Irish reels. The Gaitereiros consider their instruments symbols of Celtic brotherhood.

Every July, there is a popular pilgrimage (Romania) to the Near Death Festival and the tiny L’Iglesia de San Jose church in As Neves, near the Portuguese border. Three thousand attended this year’s event to give praise to the patron saint of resurrection, Santa Marta de Ribarteme, sister of Lazarus.

Those who have survived death in the last year – either illness or accidents- are paraded in open coffins. Thanks is given for surviving death and to touch the sister of Lazarius. Vigil candles and votive offerings of yellow wax in the shape of body parts – hands, heads, hearts and even feet – are sold from stalls. As well as bobbin lace shrouds and octopus cooked with sea salt, olive oil and pimento (cherry peppers). The wine flows after mass. It is a festival celebrating life in a region of death.

The Near Death Festival probably began in the twelfth century. Some think it was an attempt by the Catholic church to adapt to deeply ingrained pagan rites. There are always empty coffins standing in the church. Those who take part in procession donate them to the local community. They are for people who can’t afford to be buried. So they can “die well”.

Everyone ends up in Finisterre which the Romans considered the end of the world (finis-terra). In fact, the most westerly point of continental Europe is Cabo da Roco in Portugal. Overlooking the Robeira islands, the lighthouse was built in 1853 and its light goes back to 1879. It overlooks the spot where, in 1596, 25 Spanish galleons went down in a storm leaving 1706 dead.

Now it has a fog siren called Vala Fisterra (the cow of Fisterra).

It is the final destination of the Way of St James, a 90-km walk inland from Santiago de Compostela. In acts of purification , pilgrims burn their boots on the headland. Walkers of the Lighthouse Way tend to have a beer overlooking the Devil’s Rock.

Celt nor not, it’s hard to celebrate completing the best and toughest coastal walk in Europe. Your quasi-Celtic jig may not be as sprightly as you may wish.

Because it’s hard to River Dance when your feet have lost it and death has nearly got the better of you. So forget the acts of fertility too. the walking and cycling specialists offer a seven-night self-guided tour of the Lighthouse Way (Camino dos Faros) from around £700 per person sharing, including half-board accommodation, luggage transfers and holiday pack with route information. Walking from Ponteceso to Cape Fisterra. Details:

Vueling fly daily to A Coruna from London Heathrow and to Santiago from Gatwick

Stopover: offers accommodation at Heathrow Terminal 4. From £37-56. (Bookings for minimum of four hours and then by the hour) With beds, TV and en suite bathrooms.