There has been a dearth of negative articles on the camino - which has made me think that the majority of people who do not end up on cloud nine by the time they reach Santiago either feel that they've missed something and are, therefor, somehow lacking in spirituality, or they just keep quiet rather than go against the euphoric flow!
You asked a couple of questions and quoted a few stats that need a comment.
The Camino Norte from Hendaye or Irun is one of the less populated routes that enlisits the most gripes about road walking. You asked a local why alternate paths haven't been created to avoid walking on roads. I would guess that its because a very small percentage of the total number of pilgrims who walk a camino, take the northern routes. (They are not historical routes, do not attract the same investment, and therefor do not have the same infrastructure as the camino frances - which is the Jacobean pilgrimage route).Only about 1% of El Camino is a narrow dirt trail
The full stats for 2009 are not available yet but of the 110 236 pilgrims who earned the Compostela between Jan and August 2009, only 2,341 walked the Norte. Most of the funding for rehabilitation of paths has gone into the more ppulated paths and if John Breierly's camino Frances guide is to be believed, of the 749km from Roncesvalles to Santiago, 505 km consist of dirt paths/tracks, 202.6km on quiet asphalt/tar roads (mostly through small villages) and 90.6km on main roads in and out of cities and towns. A completely different scenario to the Camino Norte.
Where does the Camino Frances start?
Modern guide books usually have stage 1 in St Jean-Pied-Port but in the middle ages pilgrims started from their homes and even Walter Starkie claimed that the Camino Frances started in Paris - a 1800km pilgrimage. I walked the Paris to Spain route in 2004 - a Holy Year - and did not see even ONE other walking pilgrim (just 3 cyclists with Santiagoishells on their paniers) until we reached Ostabat in the south.
Beware of the bitch at the end of the world Her logic was funny, especially since she might be able to smell that I hadn't taken a shower in a couple of days. She might have noticed my disheveled clothes that I've been had for the past 18 months of travel.
Gees!! I hope that wasn't me! Hospitlaeros are trained not to judge pilgrims by their smell, or the state of their clothing (or soles of their shoes) but by the number of sellos in their credentials. You might have walked 50 000kms to Santiago and then hitched a lift to the end of the world (as many do) the only way hospitaleros can tell the walking pilgrims form the transport pilgrims is by those little little sellos!. There are hundreds of vagrants, of all nationalities, trolling the camino trails in search of free bed and lodging. I too would have been suspicious if I had opened a credential at 3pm to find no stamps between Santiago and Finisterre. (I used to do ultra-mrathons but was a very middle of the road runner and could never do the Comrades marathon, 90km, in under 11 hours.)
At Corcubion - just up the road from Fistera - we had frequent visits by 'professional pilgrims' and my policy was - wait until 7pm, if no more pilgrims come and there is a spare bed, it is yours.
The Federation of Friends of the Camino is a hodge-podge of regional, municipal, church and volunteer groups, held together by spit and sello tape with a few do-gooders and a few movers-and-shakers. When pilgrims whinge and say 'why don't they do this or that.." I wonder who they are referring to?