Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Final Day, and explanation

Tuesday 9 September

We had a very hearty breakfast with home-made jams, treacle / gingerbread cake ( local speciality to the Dijon area ), figs, prunes, other misc fruit, croissants and sliced loaf.  This would see us well through our final day of walking.

This day was a combination of farmer’s gravel tracks and tarmac.  We were happy with this, as it gave us brain space to contemplate our journey rather than to watch where we were putting our feet ( and wheels ).

We did the usual, ‘ what have you enjoyed most and least, will you miss most and least ‘ chit chat, and summarised various things - examples below :

Wildlife seen - cats, dogs, horses, ponies, cows, sheep, goats, hens, cockerels, peacock, camels ( circus ), deer, herons, geese, mice, lizards, snakes.

Bike incidents ( Rachel ) - 5 punctures, 1 new tyre, a set of pedals, 2 fall-offs, numerous bruises + 1 cut on legs by pedal ( when walking alongside bike on rough ground ).

Walking incidents ( Tony ) - several bovine confrontations in the UK, one pair of walking boots worn down to the sole.

Types of accommodation experienced - camping in people’s gardens, in church yards and in campsites.  Sleeping in town hall annex rooms, nursery classroom floors, a convent, a barn, on camp beds in walker’s refuges, in bed & breakfasts and in hotels.

Our destination today is Citeaux Abbey ( see further down for info on this ).  We reached it mid afternoon. We had an arrangement to meet a Brother ( monk ) from the Abbey this evening, so we popped in to arrange a time to meet later.  We then walked / cycled a further 2 miles ( oh the torture ! ) to our accommodation for the evening.  It was called ‘ Ferme de Saule ‘ Willow Farm, and was a barn owned by the Abbey, part of which had been converted ( in the loosest sense of the word ) into basic accommodation for walkers / pilgrims.  We spread our possessions around and claimed our camp beds ( we were the only people there, but better to be safe than sorry ).  We made curry noodles for tea, and got ready to go out for our evening rendezvous.  

Now that Tony was no longer logging the walk ( destination reached earlier in the afternoon ), he was excited at the prospect of him riding the bike, and me walking.  Or perhaps he could give me a ‘ croggy ‘, or ‘ backy’ for us Scots.  This we did, with surprisingly minimal wobbling, but with a few expressions of discomfort coming from me.  It was fun. 

We met with Brother Benoit, and enjoyed a very interesting and informative discussion with him whilst walking around a small Abbey garden.  We parted company with him at 8pm as he had to attend Compline at the church.  We attended too.  It was a wonderful end to our very special destination day.

Some of you may think that we have been wandering aimlessly through UK and French countryside in a general southerly direction with no particular destination or aim, just because we can.  This isn't the whole story....  

We have walked from Rievaulx Abbey (the first Cistercian abbey in the North), Helmsley, North Yorkshire, England to Citeaux Abbey ( ( home of the Cistercian Order), just south of Dijon, France.  We are creating a new long distance walk / pilgrimage between these two Cistercian Monasteries which takes in other British and French Cistercian Abbey sites.  We will be creating a website in months to come which will have GPS co-ordinates and written text for others to follow who are interested in walking this route, or just parts of it, plus other Cistercian Abbey linked walks in both the UK and in France.  Watch this space / website -

Distance - 17 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 1006.85 miles !!!!!!!

Penultimate Day

Monday 8 September

We had some thinking and planning to do re food for the next few days.  We were passing through small villages only until Wednesday evening, so needed to stock up on staples.  I was at the Carrefour at Pesmes at 8am, and Tony set off in his walking direction.  I bought the necessary, and cycled my way to find Tony on the country lanes that he was striding along.  

Today was all tarmac again.  On these days there are no off-road walking routes ( Grand Randonnee GR routes ) on our map.  We could trail across farmer’s fields, through forests and wade our way through streams in order not to be on tarmac, but that would be far too much effort on these occasions, and also illegal.  

We were heading for a B&B - Aux Mesanges ( English translation - “To the Tits” ), our last of this trip. The sun was doing it’s thing, but we were well stocked with water and goodies.  We had a coffee and orangina break in one village, and wondered if we might actually hit 2 cafes in one day with the next village that we were due to pass through.  To no avail - the next village’s cafe shut a 2pm - we were there 2.10 pm. It was a record, however, that 2 consecutive villages actually had cafes !  Why on earth shut a cafe at 2pm on Mondays ?  I still don’t understand or appreciate or see the logic in the French working week / opening hours system.  Drives me crazy.  

The final straight was straight.  We were at the B&B at a record ( for an 18 mile day ) 3.15 pm.  We were welcomed ( rather than snarled at for being early ) by our hostess.  Tony had a luke warm bath ( just on the cusp of being cold apparently ), and he was snoozing by 4pm.  

I coordinated the washing of our clothes in our kind host’s washing machine and hung them out to dry.  Oh, how good it was to have fresh smelling clothes, know what I mean J & J ?

An early night was again had by both.

Distance - 18 miles

Distance since Helmsley - 989.85 miles ( ooh, can we do it ? )


Sunday 7 September

We rose deliberately early in order to leave for 8 am again.  This was partly in order to arrive at our destination earlier / more resting hours in the afternoon, but also in order to walk more in the cooler hours of the day.  We imagined long ago that we would need to do this, and the time has now come ( late in the day in our trip, but nevertheless … ).  The weather has been constantly very hot for the last 10 days or so.  Lovely for sitting around doing nothing, but too hot for walking and generating ones own heat at the same time.

We walked road together, and then forest.  I decided to brave the ‘ tracks’ with the bike in order to stay with Tony.  I do quite like his company.  It was a gamble, as tracks in forests can mean shaded areas with bogs where I have come very (un)stuck before now i.e. mud gets stuck under rear mudguard and stops the rear wheel from rotating - not good.  Fortunately only minimal dirt stuck to the tyre today so didn't cause friction.  There were some deep tractor tracks to contend with though where much heaving was needed.  

After a good hour of forest work ( and some rather impressive compass and map work undertaken by Tony due to GR signs being hidden from view ), we exited the forest and moved to open field farm tracks, and then onto small country roads.  This is all so familiar to us now. 

We were heading for a campsite this Sunday evening, our last night under canvass of the trip.  I was getting slightly sentimental about the impending event.  The town was another walled medieval town called Pesmes ( pronounced ‘pem’ ).  We were both jiggered by time we arrived in the late afternoon, but knew that if we went straight to the campsite that we wouldn't take / make time later to visit the town itself.  We wandered the empty ( nothing new ) streets and visited the church.  Pesmes was indeed rather a jewel of frenchness - a fortified town on a hill above a river.  

We entered the campsite grounds, and both of our eyes fell upon the static chalets.  Ooh - we wonder if they have any of them available !?  Yes, they did indeed, so we ‘ upgraded ‘ from tent to chalet.  It was the end of another long day, and my sentimentality regarding camping had gone out of the window - stand upright, and not have to be tidy inside a small tent it was then !

Distance - 17.50 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 971.85 miles ( will we make 1000 before the trip is over ??? )

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Nursery night

Friday 5 September

Our hostess of the night before needed to leave for work at 8.30 am this morning so we committed to being ready to leave then too.  An early start ( mostly ) means an earlier finish.

Another hot and long day was ahead of us.  We were ready for it - must think positively, must think positively…
We had plenty of water with us, plus plenty of energy food including left over rice dish from the night before.  Our first stop was late morning at Champlitte, the town where we knew that the Italians and the Americans from a few days before had stayed overnight.  Might we possibly bump into them ?

We then went our separate ways until lunch time.  My route was along a straight main road, long and slow uphill.  A left turn after approx 3 miles took me to the point at which we had arranged to meet for lunch.  The meeting point was a ‘ Lavoire’.  We seemed to be in Lavoire country.  These were roofed wash houses from times gone by, set in the middle of a village.  They were very well preserved and still had running water in them.  We found this cool water always very useful for freshening up and cooling down with.

Tony was late.  Very very late, and I was getting hungry ( not good ).  We spoke on the phone, and he had been having navigation issues - differences between map vs gps vs walking route signposts.  Eventually he arrived, and we tucked into our veritable feast of afore mentioned goodies.  

We separated again for the final stretch of the day.  I went ahead to establish where in our destination town of Dampierre-sur-Salon our accommodation was.  We had booked this through the town tourist office ie the phone number of a lady who worked at a local nursery / infant school where we were welcome to sleep on one of their class room floors.  The lady with the key and I met, and I was shown around the building.  We had use of the kitchen, and any food or drink that was there.  There were showers too.  Perfect.  This was another example of people being aware of long distance walkers who need ( simple ) accommodation and therefore registering their contact numbers with the local tourist office where walkers find them - simples.

I met Tony at a supermarche and gave him the heads up.  We bought provisions for a tasty tea ( including booze - oh what extravagance ! ).  Here we met 2 Brummy walkers.  One had a very nasty blister that had had to be treated by a French doctor.  The other had a very large tummy - we wondered how they would fare on their onward journey.

Tony had suffered today.  The sun had been hot again, and the day long.  We were on the final countdown of our days to destination Citeaux Abbey, just south of Dijon, so motivation was high but the body had just about given up.

A very good sleep was had by both.

Distance - 19.50 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 939.35 miles

Long, hard and hot

Thursday 4 September

This was the 5th day of the final 10 day stint of our trip to just south of Dijon.  There is no rest day planned within these 10 days.  Today was a long and hard and very hot day.

We were together for the whole day again = another tarmac day.  The plan was to simply get down to it, which we did.  

We left Langres behind us and dipped into the valley to one side of the town.  It was pleasantly flat along a disused railway line for quite a few miles, but then the rolling hills returned.  We had plenty of goodies for snacks and lunch today, a result of staying in a town ie supermarkets and patisseries being easily at hand and most importantly, open.  

I walked with bike alongside me for the majority of the day.  This was partly because I found it easy ( my increasing fitness over recent months must contribute to this ), but also because I wanted to keep Tony company on these long hard roads, and try to help the day go by quicker for him with my entertaining and pleasurable chit chat.  I didn't take offence to the fact that he didn't talk much to me…..

We had arranged to stay at a B&B at Coublanc, but we could only check in after 6pm.  We sat for half and hour in a bus shelter ( for the shade ) before checking in.  The accommodation was perfect, and well worth the long walk to get there.  We had a very well equipped en-suite room on the upper floor of what will have been a barn in days gone by.  We had use of a utility / kitchen room below and of the inside / outside bbq + dining area complete with hammock.  We had big bowls of a rice meal for tea on this lovely summer’s evening.  We were in the land of nod before 10pm.

Distance - 18.50 miles

Distance since Helmsley - 919.85 miles 

Town on a hill

Wednesday 3 September

The six of us left the B&B together, but over the next few hours parted company due to pace differences and different routes taken.  The rest of the day was half  ( R & T ) togetherness, and half going our own way.

The landscape was becoming much more rolling and green with rivers and forests.  I thought that I could see a german / swiss influence in the churches and house designs.  

Something happened around midday that has very rarely happened throughout this trip on the French side, and that was that we found a cafe that was open !  We had our coffee + orangina fixes ( I would rather not drink tea, than drink black tea of non-Tetley, Typhoo, Yorkshire, Earl Grey origin ).  

After the cafe stop the rest of the day was hard.  We were heading to Langres, a medieval walled hilltop town.  There were hills and valleys to traverse before arriving there.  I pushed the ups ( with intermittent stops in order to regulate my breathing ), and rolled the downs.  I came across the Italians who were tucking into a bumper size pack of Maltesers for energy ( I still have no idea how they got in front of us ).  

Tony, in the meantime was enjoying walking on forest paths, and on well marked tracks also in direction Langres.

Tony and I finally met each other in the late afternoon, and had our 2nd cafe / orangina break to celebrate the end of this very physical and long day.

Our accommodation this evening was in a flat in the Prespytary belonging to the Cathedral of Langres ( we had heard that there were only 2 beds here and therefore needed to be booked well in advance ).  Our flat was on the top floor of this very old house with wooden floorboards, none of which were flat.  We had a bird’s eye view of Langres Cathedral roof and of the Langres skyline of one particular direction.  We looked out of the bedroom window at one point, and low and behold - our Italian friends were passing beneath.  We chatted briefly and bid them bon voyage for a final time.

We made ourselves a very large carbohydrate meal, with fruit salad and cake for pudding, and watched another film on’t laptop.

Distance - 16 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 901.35 miles

Italians & Americans, and the 3 Whews

Tuesday 2 September

Just before leaving Clairvaux, we had our photo taken with the 2 nuns and Gerard from Rotterdam.  We purchased necessary goodies from the mobile patisserie ( van ) that tooted at 8 am outside our abode.  We were good to go.

The day started with an uphill rocky path for us both that quickly went down the other side.  From then on it was fairly gently ups and downs and some very long straights.  We spent the whole day together = Tony was on tarmac all day.

Later in the day we came across 2 Italian walkers who were doing the same route as us.  They were older gents, and only one spoke English.  They walked slower than us, but they had been walking since Calais in early August, so respect.  One can’t judge a walker by his / her pace.  We parted company from our new Italian friends when we came to the B&B that we had booked for the night.  The Italians were walking a further 4 miles to the next village of Mormant.

We felt very pleased that our walking day had ended so early ( 3.30 pm ), and since there was no reply at the B&B we made ourselves comfortable on some flat grass and read / snoozed in the sun.  An hour or so later the gent of the B&B arrived from having walked his dog.  We greeted each other and confirmed that we had a booking for the night………..but it turned out that we didn't !  Straight away shock waves went from top to toe at the thought of a night wandering the streets and / or sitting on church steps awaiting Christian kindness. 

I consulted my trusty notepad for the info about this evenings accommodation, and the man confirmed that we were indeed at the address that I had noted, but that the phone number was not his.  He kindly phoned the number that I had booked with, and fortunately he recognised the answering machine voice of being that of another B&B down the road at  Mormant ( of 4 miles away ).  I had to break the news to Tony, who's feet were already tarmac-ed out. The news was not graciously received.

In order to be sure that the B&B at Mormant actually existed ( what other mistake could I have made ? ) I felt it necessary to cycle ahead to see the place with my own eyes.  In my state of peddling panic, I caught up with the Italians.  I relayed our story to them.  I was very much comforted by the fact that the phone number that they had booked their B&B with was the same number that I had in my notepad.  Whew number 1.
I cycled on, and arrived at the B&B in Mormant.  I had indeed booked this one.  Whew number 2.

Tony arrived in due course ( mood having lightened slightly ), and so did the Italians, and 2 Americans.  All six of us shared a meal together ( prepared for by the lovely B&B lady ), and had a fun and interesting evening.  It seemed that Tony forgiven me by now for my earlier administration error.  Whew number 3.

Distance - 22 miles ( oops ! )
Distance since Helmsley - 885.35 miles

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A prison in an abbey

Monday 1 September

We were off before 9am this morning.  We had a fairly long day ahead.  The first part of the day was together along small country lanes and through small villages as usual.  We did notice, however, that the villages we passed today looked much more ship-shape than ones of recent days / weeks.  We can’t work out why some villages look like they have been abandoned ie houses are shabby and farm barns are practically wrecks, and others clearly have lots on money spent on them.  Wether shabby or chic they are still all so quiet, even on this Monday morning - 1st day of the working week.

We had our lunch bread and patisserie goodies at Bar-Sur-Aube, followed by a system boosting piece of fruit each. There were 2 sections of separate walking and cycling this afternoon joined in the middle by 5 minutes sitting on a wall together comparing map routes and wondering if it was too late to apply suntan cream.  

We had hills today.  We were still in Champagne country, but the vines were on very much hillier terrain than in recent weeks ( yes weeks ).  My hills meant that I had to push up them - good for the right arm muscle which had been resting rather too much I thought.  Tony, no doubt, will have steamed up his like a train.

We met and arrived at Clairvaux at around 5 pm, just in time to visit the Abbey ticket office before it closed.  The guided tours of the Abbey had finished so we wandered around the open courtyard ( car-park ) and imagined lots of 12th to18th century happenings.  

Our accommodation was a house on the main road of the village which takes in walkers, but mostly accommodates female family visitors of the inmates of the prison which takes up part of the Abbey complex across the road.  The house was owned and run by a Sisterhood of Nuns which originated from Alsace.  We had our evening meal with 2 of the nuns and another walker from Holland.  Around the table we were from England ( us ), Holland ( male walker ), Alsace ( 1 nun ), and Slovakia ( t’other nun ).  Around the table we spoke English ( us ), German ( us + man + 1st nun ), French ( me + man + both nuns ).  It worked.  

We were not allowed to help with the washing-up, so happily had an early night.  

Distance - 17 miles
Distance since Helmsley- 863.35 miles

Back to it

Sunday 31 August

We arrived back at our hotel in Brienne le Chateaux the night before ( where Napoleon was stationed for 5 years you know ! ) after a very enjoyable and eventful 8 days in the UK ( hence lack of blog entries recently ).  I had left the bike and panniers at the establishment with the permission of the owners.  It was a great relief not to have to take bike + related gear to the UK.  I only had a small day rucksack for the journey home - it was so strange to have my hands free.

We were pleasantly surprised that the patisserie round the corner was open on this Sunday morning, first day back.  We purchased our usual and headed off.  We only had approx 10 miles to travel to our destination village of Jessains today - a deliberate plan in order to break ourselves back gently into the truly physical days that are this trip.  

Landscape was slightly rolling, with intermittent forests.  Our pace was leisurely, and we revelled at the fact that we arrived at our campsite destination before 3 pm. 

We were staying at the Jessains Municipal campsite.  It was basically a toilet + dish wash area block with rain cover section at front and a strip of land ( appropriately flat ) alongside.  It was on the outskirts of this small and picturesque village.  The campsite caretaker welcomed us. He said that he lived in the ( only ) caravan on site, but I don't believe him - think he just stays there when they know people are camping etc. 

This caretaker was surprisingly popular with the local 13 - 15 year old boys.  They arrived on their scooters ( high pitched motors etc ) and parked up outside the toilet block.  There must have been 6 or 7 of them all chatting with a very animated ( and presumably hip ) 50-something man.

We snoozed in the tent ( only the 2nd time that we have done this in all our camping stays, and not very effectively due to the intermittent scooter motors), made our broccoli and cheese pasta dishes for tea ( thank you uk and Bachelors ! ), and watched a film on’t laptop before officially ending the day.

Distance - 10.5 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 846.35 miles

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Chocolate Eclaire …..mais oui!

Monday 18 August

Well after such and early night for both us, surprisingly neither of us opened our eyes until 7.30am. Although we weren’t cold during the night it must have been a cooler night as the tent flysheet was dry inside and out. We had a leisurely breakfast as the walk miles ahead were only 11.5, but with rapidly approaching dark clouds, we soon hastened our pace to pack things away. Unfortunately not soon enough as a quick heavy shower soon put and end to the dry tent. We continued packing everything away, Rachel sat in the dry of Mrs Songe’s outdoor conservatory shelter and wrote a wee thank you note, waterproofs on and off we went.

Today was going to be the same as yesterday, following the Roman road but passing through two villages. The first village was just like all the others we have encountered, nearly as dead as a door nail. One local I think came out of the house for a nosey and there were some farmers working. We  past through and continued to the next village. By now the rain was just light mizzle, but enough to get you wet without waterproofs on.

We left the village and returned to the Roman road, this is certainly one of the longest ones I have encountered, at the moment we have walked fifteen miles on it. As we neared the next village it was getting on for lunchtime, I sent Rachel on ahead to scout for a cafe and the possibility of either  a sheltered spot out of the rain to eat our lunch or somewhere for a coffee. She returned to say there was nowhere for coffee but there was a bus shelter albeit with no seats, but covered and out of the rain. As we neared it I mentioned in desperation and slight madness that I was prepared to walk naked to anywhere that served coffee as I had been without it now for more than three days.

Rachel mentioned that she had not checked near the church and off she ventured, not long later returning to say there was no cafe but she had found somewhere. In the village there is a residential establishment that provides work and respite care for mentally handicapped adults. Rachel had asked one of the staff, whom she had come across, if they knew of a cafe in the village. He had promptly replied no but we could use the coffee machine in their staff canteen. Another gesture of how hospitable some people are to the walkers on this particular route. 

Now I did not walk naked to get my coffee, now that would have been foolish and I have never been called that……..well at least not today!

We were guided to the rest room and with coffee / hot chocolate in hand we sat in the warmth and dryness. We were asked if we wanted a meal but we politely declined as we had our own food. After two hot drinks each we put our waterproofs back on and proceeded to bid our hosts au revoir, at such point we were both given a chocolate eclair to take with us. Aren’t some people so nice and generous with their hospitality - why can’t we all be like that as a norm to each other?

With chocolate eclair in hand we left and returned to the Roman road. After a further six miles we arrived at our destination. Tonight we are undercover and Rachel had been frequently talking to the Mayor of Corbeil - our venue. It transpired that we were to use a room in the mayors town hall building, I think used by the local children has it had a table tennis table in it. 

Our room for the night was furnished with two camp beds, microwave oven, fresh coffee which I soon had switched on and an all important loo. Our host arrived later to greet us and then returned early evening with his wife the Mayor and our food for our evening meal and breakfast. This we had not expected and had some provisions ourselves, but once again this is the generosity shown and given to walkers on this route. 

With two meals, fresh fruit, a bottle of red wine and soft drinks, bread, cheese and jam for breakfast all we had to do in return was make a donation to what we thought was appropriate for the hospitality we had been given. The walk diaries completed by others since July 2011, including quite a few English and Scottish all extol the generosity and hospitality shown - it really is quite heart warming.
Suppliers of hot drinks + chocolate eclairs

Simple but perfect for our needs

Distance - 11.5 miles

Distance since Helmsley - 817.35 miles

Roaming the Roman road

Sunday 17 August

Today was going to be a long days walk so we were up early at 6.30am, breakfasted, packed, room made tidier so it did not look like a hurricane had gone through it, and walking out of the hotel door by 8am. We had to return to where we had left the canal on Friday to continue that days walk to the end point - Chalons-en-Champagne. Route and walk diary notes completed by 9am.

We stocked up on our now obligatory pain au chocolat for elevenses and a fresh quiche for lunch at a Boulongerie and then set off for the day’s walk. The start of the walk followed the river Marne which had various information boards, in English, explaining some of the history of the river area.

In the early 19th century there was huge encouragement for the villagers to grow their own produce so big swathes of the land close to the river were given over to allotments. These were extremely successful at the time but now due to urban sprawl over 45% of the land has now reverted to housing - a sad demise given how there is a resurgence in growing fresh produce again.

There were also tales of the various bridges across the river being blown up first by the French, the Germans and the Americans to disrupt the occupation of the City.

We soon left the river and villages behind and before we knew it we were in the middle of nowhere, literally. Our route today took us across country in a very straight southerly direction along the original Roman road. The fields around us had been stripped of all the hedge boundaries so the wind howled around us all throughout the day. To say it was hard going is an understatement, we just put out heads down and pressed on.  Rachel spent most of the day walking and pushing the bike as it was too hard to cycle.

After 17.5 miles for this section and the previous 2.5 miles completing Fridays route we finally arrived at our venue for the night. 

Now at various sections of the route, usually churches, walkers on the Via Francigena are given accommodation information for future villages along the route. Our venue would have been a B&B provided by a very enthusiastic French Lady - Mrs Songe, unfortunately she was on holiday. After a previous, lengthy conversation in French and English she was still very keen for us to stay there and camp in the garden….

We arrived, and met one of her family who said “Bonjour” and walked off with phone stuck to his ear, most likely calling Mrs Songe to say that we had arrived. Hopefully he wasn’t ringing the Gendarmerie to say some dodgy looking people were camping on a local’s lawn….well they didn't arrive and we didn't get arrested, although some neighbours were very interested in what we were doing.

We found a site close to the vegetable patch and sweet smelling dahlias, pitched the tent, cooked tea and were settled in our canvas abode before 7pm. Rachel caught up with writing the Blog notes and Tony read his book on his phone. The very windy day and endless straight road must have taken more out of us that we first thought as Tony was all snuggled up like a baby and unconscious by 7.30pm and Rachel followed suit at 8pm.

Distance - 17.5 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 805.85 miles 

Rest day

Saturday 16 August

Tony woke up at 10am, I think he must have been tired. Today was to be a lazy day catching up on diary pages for the Blog and the walk routes. We had the luxury of breakfast in bed - well not literally we did use bowls to put the cereals in.

The morning and early afternoon was spent completing the various diary pages and then Tony suggested we go for a walk ( funny ) Well some fresh air. The town centre was only 2.5k away and an easy direct route. We headed to the Cathedral, another impressive building with evidence of early Roman occupation in the form of part of an intact and complete Roman floor visible in one of the side chapels. We then headed to the church where all the walkers head to to seek accommodation in the town. Tony acquired another official Via Francigina stamp.

We strolled back to our hotel via the supermarket to pick up a few supplies for the next few days walking as the next three days there would be no shops for water or food.

Once ‘home’ Tony came up with the naughty but nice idea of a takeaway pizza……so I scoured the internet (laptop once again coming in very handy to have) and at 6pm we ordered not one but two. This must have been a regular thing for the pizza supplier as they knew all the details of the hotel and explained they would deliver in 45 minutes……oooo the excitement of having a meal cooked and delivered to us.

I sent Tony outside to collect and smuggle the pizzas in, well if he was challenged by the reception staff he would just smile and walk on by as he can’t speak French. Pizzas delivered, we both sat and consumed our feasts, washed down with liquid grapes with relish and occasionally giggles, and watched another itunes movie…..well this one was not worth air time.

After the rubbish film, and with full tummies we settled down for the night and had the mother and father of another fantastic night’s sleep.

Distance - 0

Short day

Friday 15 August 

We had changed our rest day this week to be Saturday rather than Sunday so our destination today of Chalons sur Champagne was a two-nighter.  Today was a treat also as it was only 11.5 miles in distance.  

As a result of this short distance we rose fairly late ( ooh, alarm for 7.30, out by 9 - what a treat ) and looked forward to the day.  Today was August 15th, a Bank Holiday in France.  Well, to us this day would feel like any other  that we had experienced on this side of the pond so far i.e. we would see very few people, see practically no cars, and no shops would be open.  Nothing new. 

We had supplies left from the day before so we wouldn't suffer from malnutrition today. We set off from the village and onto a different canal, as we reached it the sky decided to empty itself on our heads…..literally. We quickly donned our waterproofs and continued to wade along the towpath trying not to slip into the water - heads down and all the way to our destination. 
We arrived at Chalons en Champagne in the early afternoon, and spotted an Intermarche Supermarket which had Sunday opening times, we had struck lucky.  We stocked up on lovely foody goods, including puddings and some liquid grapes for our 2 night stay and packed it all well inside our bags.  We were not sure if the hotel staff would object to us having 5 meals in total over the next 2 days in our room, but we didn't want to risk them objecting.

We had tea, and pudding and watched a film from iTunes before having one of the best nights sleep that we had had in weeks.  

Distance - 11.5 miles

Distance since Helmsley - 788.35 miles  

More vineyards, and the fleecing frenchman

Thursday 14 August

After finishing our hearty breakfast in our room ( porridge and tea, made using our ‘travel kettle’ that we acquired in St Quentin ) we set out on a second 25 miler in two days.  Today we were on our own, so it was heads down and get on with it. 

The canal towpath was our start route which continued for some easy miles, and then we left it heading to some more rolling countryside.   The rolling country side was covered with vineyards, quite a different sight to the same old same old that we had got used to in recent weeks.  In Verzeny we passed the old windmill, see the photo for a wee story of its history

The village itself goes back to the Gallo-Roman period, in 849 its name was Virdunacus. The area is one of the best for Champagne with 250 wine growers over the 500 hectares of vineyards 

It is also on the route of the St James's way.

We came across an Italian couple (en-route to Rome) who had stayed at the same place as us the night before, and who had spent some days with J and J a week or so ago, but we overtook them in no time ( inner smile of proudness ) as they seemed keen to drink coffee every few miles when they could find a cafe open.

We had a good stretch ( walking period, not muscle stretch ) in some woods, and then we were back to flat open country side again. The day was progressing well.  We had our eye on the miles, and the kilometres, the map and on the GPS.

The final section of the day was alongside another canal, so flat and easy walking, but tiring all the same.  A hotel ( a very loose definition of the word it turned out ) at the village of Conde sur Marne was our destination.  This we found, and to our great surprise also found the Italian couple who had arrived before us even though we had left them hours and miles ago.  They had taken quite a few shortcuts, and had walked on roads between villages rather than the hardcore off-road routes that we had done. They were also using an Italian written guidebook with extremely poor maps and descriptions of the route, they mentioned they frequently get lost. 

The evening ended with a meal that we would both rather forget.  Without going into detail, we were ‘ fleeced ‘ and are still angry about it.  Appropriate Trip-Advisor action has been taken.  

Distance - 24.5 miles

Distance since Helmsley - 776.85 miles

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A very long day, but chatting makes it easier

Wednesday 14 August

Today all 4 of us wanted to get to Reims ie put 2 days walk into 1.  This was going to be a challenge but knew that it would be easier doing it as a group of 4 using chatting as a major distraction technique.  

We were on the road before 8 am and had covered 8 miles by 11am ( long straight road - easy to do the distance but hard on the feet, they told me - hee hee. ). As we approached Bruay-au-Bac we passed a Memorial to the French Tank Corp, as this was where, in 1917, tanks were used in battle for the first time.

Cycling and walking routes were not the same today, so I rolled alone for some time.

Later in the day we could see Reims ahead of us in the valley plain.  It was a very welcome sight.  It seemed to take forever to reach it.  One one particular stretch of track there were 3 fallen tree branches we had to negotiate - successfully thank goodness, otherwise unwelcome detours would have been necessary.

The last stretch into Reims was along the canal tow path.  The heavens opened for us ( very kind ) and we arrived into the city centre very wet bunnies.

We had a plan - we were going to make pesto pasta for tea this evening at the Youth Hostel style accommodation that all 4 of us were staying in.  We purchased the necessary ingredients, headed to the accommodation, checked in, showered, and then met again in the kitchen.  This self catering kitchen was dreadfully equipped - we had to bring our own camping crockery to the kitchen to use eat from due to the lack of crockery there.  The pesto pasta was delicious, so the world was good again.  

Tony and I said farewell to Jenny and Jess as we were moving on the next day, but J and J were staying for a rest / tourist day.  We had really enjoyed their company over the last few days, and were sorry to say goodbye. 

Reims Cathedral
Reims Cathedral

Distance - 26 miles
Distance from Helmsley - 752.35 miles

Title - meow !

Tuesday 12 August

It was a cloudy and cool start this day, but we were happy with that.  We meandered back into the old town of Laon to pick up our route from yesterday.  We bumped into our new best friends Jenny and Jess who were doing the same but were ahead of us, so to speak.  

We descended from the hill town down a very long, steep and bumpy cobbled street.  My bike had been rained on the night before and the brakes were wet so it was a very noisy / screechy descent.  The ground soon evened out and we were back onto familiar flat country lanes.  Flat didn't last long.  

We were heading for Corbeny.  The afternoon route countryside became quite rolling, with regular steep and winding hills.  My right arm sprang into action taking the majority of the bike’s weight and heaving it up the hills. It didn't ache as much as it had in the past - just shows what big muscles I now have !

Tony and I went our separate ways mid afternoon for me to check out an abbey ruin to see if it was worth Tony doing a detour to see it.  It wasn’t.  During the time that we had spent apart that afternoon Tony had met up with J and J again ( he had found them snoozing in the woods ).   It was good to see them again and to have different chat to the standard R and T …

After an hour or so of walking two by two we heard what sounded like a cat’s meow coming from a corn field.  We stopped in our tracks - it was indeed a cat, in fact a lovely black and white rather thin kitten.  Kitten came over to us very quickly and continued to meow with great purpose - that purpose was for us to help and feed it ( we assumed ).  We were in a very rural area so this kitten had become very very lost.   We continued to walk, but kitten followed us almost tripping us up with getting between our feet.  We walked faster, and it trotted faster to stay with us.  To cut a long ( and heart string pulling ) story short, the kitten was having a last ditch attempt ├čat survival and we decided to help.  I carried wee kitten ( who seemed very happy for the rest ) for about 2 miles until we came to our destination village.  I approached various strangers in the street with kitten in arms asking if they wanted or knew anyone who wanted a kitten, but to no avail.

When we arrived at the hotel a lovely English family were having a pit stop before driving on to Calais, Molly their daughter was very keen to take the kitten home to England but it was explained that it was not very practical. The landlady at our hotel didn't want the kitten, neither did the lady who worked in the Ladies Wear shop, or the man and woman who were sitting in their car drinking cups of coffee outside the church.  The church was closed.  We had a problem.  Then I spied some teenage girls !  Jess, Molly and myself bounded across the road with kitten still in my arms and explained the predicament to them.  They informed that the Boulangerie had recently lost a cat.  I spotted my opportunity and asked the girl if she could possibly take the kitten to the Boulangerie and explain the situation to them ( french not good enough etc etc ), to which she agreed.  I quickly passed wee kitten to this girl and we made our escape before she changed her mind. 
We saw the 3 girls walking through the village an hour or so later carrying the kitten like a baby - that was a good sign we thought.  Job done. Molly was keen on the idea of having her own kitten and drew a picture of it while we all chatted about our adventures in France. 

The four of us dined that evening at the hotel restaurant (three courses), as part of the walkers hotel deal (£53 DB&B), we ate everything and had a great evening together.  We had a day together planned for tomorrow too.


Distance - 16.50 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 726.35 miles

August Pilgrims a plenty

Monday 11 August

Today was another long walk - 20 miles and one of the longest so far. After getting up to catch an early train back to Tergnier for the start of the walk, we set off just after 8am. Rachel cycled alongside for the first five miles as we made our way out of the town along the roads and to the village of Deuillet. By this time it was getting on for mid-morning so before we parted company we refuelled on the obligatory Pane au Chocolate. Rachel then heading off on the roads and me going across country heading into the woods before we next met some four miles later on the road again.

As I walked through the village of Bertacourt-Epourdin I saw what I presumed was a French man looking in the hedges and grass for something on the opposite side of the road to me. As I walked by I bid him Bonjour and he reciprocated then asked if I was walking. A silly question if you ask me given the house that was strapped to my back. I replied Wee in my best Yorkshire French accent. He then mentioned he was Italian living in France and where was I from. I replied England - Leeds and his eyes lit up. Agh Leeds United and then proceed to extol the virtues of some Italian player who has or plays for Leeds. I bet you can tell how much I love and follow the game. We continued back and forth gesticulating and babbling away trying to get the other to understand before we said  “Chow, arividerci, goodbye etc.

I carried on heading towards our meeting point, as I reached the crest of the hill on the road I could see Rachel chatting away to two people and thought nothing of it given she speaks the lingo. As I neared I distinctly heard the utterings of a very familiar language……English. Formidabla… they were mother and daughter from the Peak District walking the Via Francigina route to Rome. Well the daughter was and the mother was only completing the first 900k due to having to go back to work.

As we were all heading in the same direction we continued as one group chatting away as the miles flew by. We passed the Abbaye de St Nicolas au Boix an 11th century Cistercian Abbey, now not inhabited. As we neared our destination of Laon we could clearly see the Cathedral perched on the hill, a very welcome site after pounding the tarmac for most of the 20 miles and didn’t my feet know it.

We parted company ( the 2 parties ) and headed for our respective accommodation for the night. For us a campsite and a night under the stars and our fellow Pilgrims - who knows where as they had nowhere booked. Their philosophy being to head to the church or the Tourist Information office, whichever was open and ask for a bed for the night.

Our campsite was a typical French one, bring your own loo roll and don't expect a seat.

Laon Cathedral

Jess, Jenny, Rachel & Tony

Distance - 20 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 709.85 miles

A kettle is a must !

Saturday 9 August

We had stayed at a Gite for travellers at Trefcon the night before - a cow barn on a farm that had been converted to a self-catering unit that could house 15 or so people.  We were alone in there which was good.  We hung the inner tent to air and outer tent to dry over the banister ( from when we had camped in Perrone and had packed it up wet ).  

We cooked using the luxury of gas oven and dined on another one pot meal, our signature dish now. We both slept like logs.

The next morning the bread lady arrived at our Gite / Farm just as we were leaving - perfect timing so that we could purchase our now very much looked forward to sticky / choclatey croissants for our mid morning snack.  These bread vans are quite common in small rural villages ( we have seen and used a few now ) you know, the ones with no shops at all.  So now we know how inhabitants of these rural villages who don’t drive get their food ( well, bread at least ).

Today was to be a long road walking day again.  We started early in order to finish early.  We were finishing the walking day at Tergnier, but our accommodation was at Saint Quentin, a 20 minute train journey from Tergnier.  Plan was that I be alongside Tony until lunchtime, and then would cycle directly to Saint Quentin and get to the ( much longed for ) laundrette.

We lunched at a town that had a canal and benches alongside.  Here we heard and saw our first Brits Abroad.  The landscape was becoming slightly more rolling and varied ( woods, valleys, canals ) indicating that we were getting into holidaying territory.  
Tony and I parted company, and I headed for Saint Quentin.  Tony finished his 20 mile walk at around 3 pm ( early finish as planned - hoorah ! ), and headed for the station at Tergnier to hop onto a train.  Nope - not possible for another 3 hours !   So, in this ‘ one horse town’  Tony entertained himself by drinking much needed coffee in a very rundown and neglected bar until the train time.    

I, in the meantime, had been to the laundrette where I had had some very difficult ( and no doubt comical to any non-participating observer of which there were thankfully none ) conversations in french with locals in order to establish how to get powder for the machine, make the machine work, and make the dryer work ( eg. non, j’ai dit pas fermer la porte ! ).   I had done a food shop, and had checked into our Ibis Budget ( yes, more budget than standard Ibis ! ) Hotel.  We were staying here 2 nights in order to have Sunday as rest day.  

One thing that was missing in our Ibis hotel room was a kettle.  I asked if reception had one that we could use, but no.  We couldn't bear the idea of not having our cups of tea, or indeed of not having our favourite porridge for breakfast for the next 2 days, so I headed out on the travel kettle hunt.  After much supermarket staff eye-brow raising, and mmmmm-ing when asked if they sold ‘ travel kettles’ ( the French simply don’t get tea ! ) I finally found a regular sized kettle of suitable Euro cost and took it back to our room.  Tea + porridge here we come …..

Tony finally arrived at Saint Quentin just before 7 pm, and we had salad and things for our meal, and of course cups of tea.  An early night was had by both.

Distance - 19 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 689.85 miles