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

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Bog snorkelling

Friday 8 August

We both slept well under the stars in our tent and managed to get it down before the rain set in for the day. We breakfasted on our favourite Oat-So-Simple porridge ( Summer Fruits + Apple and Cherry ), and departed within 1.5 hours of getting up.  Before we left the campsite we were both in full waterproof gear…..o what joy! I think you can tell I am not a lover of walking in waterproofs.  

Leaving Perone we went our separate ways early on with Rachel in the security of having a solid surface to cycle upon, and me not knowing what kind of terrain I was next to come across.  Well, today was bog snorkelling day !   

I headed onto the first and only track of the day that was not tarmac. The first 5k I followed the old railway line and not long into it wished I had donned a wetsuit and snorkel. I spent most of the morning trying to walk forwards but in reality only managed a left and right movement as I tried to dodge the endless and incessant deep and muddy puddles that countless wheeled vehicles had created. I was now starting to resemble a greasy mud wrestler.  I came across a huge tree that had been blown down and now laid across the track, obviously it has been here for years judging by the lush green canopy. My pole dancing skills came in handy as I battled through the tree, slipping and sliding on the boughs.  In the guide book I am using it mentions that this section is not possible for horses due to the obstacles. Well I think an addendum should be added that mentions not possible for humans unless you are and ex-pole dancing mud wrestler and wearing full wetsuit, breathing apparatus or snorkel.

I did survive…….but only just.   Rachel was shopping in Aldi - it’s everywhere here, while I was battling for my life.  After the railway line we met up in the village of Cartigny and dined on apricot and custard filled croissants for elevenses. 

This day was a relatively short distance day which was something of a treat for both of us.

Distance - 12 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 670.85 miles

The bike tyre is flat …….but only at the bottom !

Thursday 7 August

The next morning I discovered the 5th puncture on my rear tyre just before we set off.  The farm lady looked at my rear tyre and shook her head.  She was doubtful that it would last the distance to  Peronne our next destination ( she was almost right ! )

There is more hair on a billiard ball than tread on my rear tyre. It was so bald now having been worn down with the weight of my rear panniers and me that I was paranoid about going over any surface that had loose gravel or small sharp looking stones on it.  I often walked those stretches so as to try to preserve the life of the tyre just that little bit longer.

We left Beugny in the sunshine - hoorah and rather than head back to Bapuame went off piste again to pick up the official route!  We came across another WW1 memorial and graveyard and again stopped to reflect and pay our respects.  We were walking through The Somme area.  For a few days now we had been through and around fields that had seen such horror exactly 100 years ago.  Now the fields were silent with just a gentle breeze blowing the air.

We past another Calvaire (Religious site often with Christ on a crucifix or other religious statues) outside the village of Sailly-Saillisel. This one was slightly different as the base was adorned with WW1 bombs that had been dug up from the fields, I hope they were all defused! It also shows that to be a farmer in this area you need to have nerves of steel.

I had been given a tip-off of a bike shop at Peronne, where we would arrive later that afternoon.  I phoned ahead just in case they decided that Wednesday was also a day that they should be closed, but to my relief they were open that day until 7 pm.

We arrived at Peronne rather frazzled and flopped at a cafe in the centre of town.  I made purchase of my new tyre and we then headed to our campsite.  It seemed as though the current rear tyre knew that it was soon to be replaced as it threw me a final and 6th puncture at the end of this day.  New inner tube and new tyre were soon put to bike ( the tube with it’s 5 x plasters and 1 hole not repaired was to be kept, just in case ), and it leaned proudly against a tree next to our tent.  Hmmm - would the bike need less maintenance now I wonder ? 

Distance - 20 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 658.85

Town not doing itself any favours

Wednesday 6 August

Bapaume was looming - the stopover point where we had no accommodation booked.  I had a very good relationship with the lady at the Tourist Info at Bapaume by now with her trying to find somewhere for us after my internet searching had failed to come up with anything.  There was 1 x hotel in this town, and it was closed currently.  There was a camper-van site away from the village but it didn't take tents.  What were we to do ! ?

We bit the ‘ we’ll have to go off-piste to find somewhere’ bullet.  This meant that we would travel away from the walking line that we were on, therefore adding another three miles to the end of that day and onto the beginning of the next.  This was the only option.  Poor Tony.

It rained all day - full waterproof gear on for both of us in the hot humid air.  We walked through the sites of the World War 1 battlefields, stopped to pay our respects to the brave and the fallen, eventually making it to Bapaume like drowned rats. Tony rested in a cafe while I shopped for provisions. We then travelled another 3 ish miles to our Farm Stay B&B. 

We were welcomed by a lovely lady who regularly had walkers stay with her who had the same problem as us i.e. were walking to Bapaume hoping to stay there and had to jut out the extra 3 miles along a busy tarmac heavy lorried road in order to put their heads down.  Tony and I couldn't understand why there was no B&B / Gite type accommodation in a town where there was clearly a demand - hmmm - a business opportunity perhaps ?

We shared our converted barn accommodation space with 5 manual workers who were stopping over too.  We nodded and exchanged politeness and shared facilities well together.  

Distance - 23 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 638.85

Let’s do some of yesterdays walk again!

Tuesday 5 August

As we left our village this day we stopped at the now derelict church that was blown up by the French Army during WW1 to stop the Germans using the tower as a look out post.  It transpires that over 100,000 people lost their lives in this area during the first war. This area is also littered with military cemeteries.

We had a few miles of country road tarmac to traverse before getting back onto our route.  I pedalled ahead in order to use a wifi hotspot that I had spied the day before.  We had no accommodation booked for the next night, and this had to be rectified.  The hotspot was at a tourist office near a large and popular 1st WW memorial.  To my dismay, the tourist office and therefore the hotspot was not in action.  This was Tuesday -  we are finding that shops and services ( those that we need ! ) are closed on the 1st 2 days of the working week - we simply don’t understand this logic - most inconvenient to the intrepid traveller who needs things when he/she needs them !

Tony caught me up, we past the ruins of the Abbey of Mont Saint Eloi and continued our day in what was turning out to be another very hot day. We were heading for Arras, which, as we had been informed was a very beautiful city.  All very well, but our main aim of the day was to get to the Orange ( mobile phone shop ) in order to sort Tony’s replacement phone out ( thanks Simon ! ).  We had managed for almost a week with Tony being phone-less.  He had coped very well ( outwardly ), and we had had no ‘ we can’t find each other in the French countryside’ disasters, but we would both give a big sigh of relief when he was back in the modern world.

We rolled and strolled along farm tracks and riverside paths towards Arras, and then through suburban parks and housing estates until we reached the city.  It was indeed a lovely historical and clearly beautiful city.  We did the Orange deed, and then found the city’s main square where Tony had a beer and I an Orangina to celebrate ( the city, the phone, life, everything ).

Our hotel ( no camping was to be found ) was on the outskirts of the city heading out the other side.  We were both very tired at this point and it was still hot.  We route-marched with great purpose and arrived doggedly at our destination.   Tony went out on the bike ( yes, he walked all this way and I made him cycle - I will be struck down I’m sure ) to the local Carrefour and we had a banquet tea in our room.

Distance - 22.50 !
Distance since Helmsley - 615.85

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

road walking = not good

Monday 4 August

Tony arrived back at my hotel on Sunday evening after his bus-man’s holiday walking weekend in the Dales with pizza in hand ( good boy ! ).  Shame that it was a chicken pizza when a vegetarian one was asked for.  Tony bravely removed the morcells of fibrous-ness from his portions and we both polished it off in no time.  

I bid my oasis of comfort for the last 4 days and nights farewell, we clicked back into our default positions on our respective modes of transport ( feet and bike ) and headed off towards Ablain-Saint-Nazaire.  It was a cloudy day to start with but soon became a blue sky hot sunny day - oh the familiarity.  We were together for the whole of the route ie Tony did road walking for the full 20 miles, and he felt it.  Today was the first time since leaving home ( over 600 miles ago today ) that I have seen him in discomfort, and almost refusing to go any further.  The farm b&b that we had booked had better be worth it !   

It most certainly was !   It was a working farm, that rents accommodation, has a farm shop on site and also has what looks like a very large cafe on site too.  We were the only guests on site this evening so everything was quiet.  Our hostess had offered to put some cold food items in the fridge for us for our evening meal, obviously knowing that there were no shops for us to do our own shopping and that we would be hungry upon arrival.  And what a feast it was too - ham, pate, hard boiled eggs x 4, green beans with lovely herby dressing, bread, 2 x types of cheese, 4 x large vine tomatoes, a bottle of water, and 2 x pieces of gorgeous plum flan for afters. We would have been totally snookered without this food.  And - we could make packed lunches with what we couldn't finish for tea = even better !

After tea I went to pump up my bike tyres which had felt decidedly bouncy this day.  As I pumped I was aware that the farm family ( mum, dad and at least one twenty-something farm lad ) could see me from their kitchen window whilst they dined.  I felt quite proud that I was being viewed as a female ( with rather a good tan at this point ) who was taking responsibility for her steed in the form of performing serious necessary maintenance, and who looked as though she knew what she was doing.  Ignore the fact that it took me 3 pumping sessions of the front tyre to get it right ( it is just so hard to remove the pump from the inlet without letting all of the air out again ! ).  The rear tyre pumping went to plan.  I also covered the bike seat with a plastic bag as’ it was looking black over Bill’s mother’s ‘, as Tony would say.  We both hoped that the forecasted rain stayed away.

Distance - 20 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 613.35 miles

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Farewells until Sunday

Thursday 31 July

Today we were heading for Bruay La Bruissiere, a town on our route from which Tony was travelling back to the UK for a walking weekend in the Yorkshire Dales, of all things !  I had a hotel booked for the 3 nights that Tony was away, and couldn't wait for the tv, en-suite, wifi, air-con and no fresh air.  

The majority of the day was on the flat, where we met easily at points in villages.  We then finished the approach to the town together.  We checked into the hotel and had a few hours before we headed to Bethune train station to see Tony off.  Tony very kindly left me with his dirty washing ( expecting it to miraculously turn clean for when he arrived back on Sunday ) and other misc gear that he didn't need for the weekend.  

It was bus to Bethune, then train to Lille for Tony where he was booked into a hotel that evening ( then Eurostar to London the next morning and train to Leeds … ).  We said our farewells at Bethune and I made my way back to my lovely quiet hotel room.  I decided that during the next 3 days I would only go out to get food and to the bike shop down the road to get a new rear tyre since it was letting in so many sharp objects of late.  

Distance - 17.70 miles

Distance since Helmsley - 596.05 miles

Another Abbey stay

Wednesday 30 July

We rose, we packed, we had breakfast, we had our photo taken by our hostess, we left.  We were heading for Belval Abbey hoping for another memorable stay at a Living Abbey.  We both had maps, and Tony had his GPS, but I was still nervous about not having phone communication. 

We made sure that we both understood our meeting points and approximate timings of them.  Meeting point number one went to pot - there was a calculation error regarding distance and time. I left the meeting point thinking that Tony must have changed his route, but it turned out that he simply hadn't yet got there.  Meeting point 2 worked out fine as this was our lunch spot and since I carry all of the food ( apart from Tony carrying his own emergency snacks ) I thought it wise to wait there until he arrived whenever that might be otherwise he would have a difficult rest of day.  We lunched and then parted again.  

We met later close to Belval Abbey and walked in together.  It was a huge complex that is now more of a commercial concern ( with shop + advertising posters ) rather than a Holy one as our last Abbey had been.  The building had become an Abbey in the late 1800’s from having previously been a stately home, so there wasn't the sense of ( religious ) history that we expected.  We had a very comfortable stay nevertheless, but were both inwardly disappointed I think.

We had muesli, fruit salad and biscuits for tea in our room, a perfect example of a ‘ no shops en-route’ day.

Distance - 18.20 miles

Distance since Helmsley - 578.35 miles

Rest Day

Tuesday 29 July

Rest day had come, and we were very pleased about that.  We had plans to do some more booking of accommodation amongst other admin for the days and weeks ahead.  

The sandblasting workmen were back to create another dusty day, but we were lucky that our room was away from the noise and disruption so we settled in there.  

We did need food for the day though, of which I had been unable to find any the day before.  We have regularly found that even though it’s clear that a village may have 500 inhabitants there are practically no shops.  I have rolled through a village that had a butchers shop but no bakery - seems very odd to us, but obviously not to the french.  Fortunately I had indicated to our hostess that we were in need of nourishment to see us through the day and she offered me a lift to the ‘local’ supermarket.  I jumped at the invitation.  We drove what must have been 5 miles to an Aldi ! It’s clear that almost everyone must have a car to be able to fill their cupboards with food, or they need to grow or bake it themselves.   

The rest of the day was good - we had did things we needed to do ( including put a plan in place to replace Tony’s phone ) , we ate, and we watched a film from ITunes for the first time since leaving home - it was refreshing to be taken to another world for a few hours.  

Distance - 0

Tony smashed his phone

Monday 28 July

Well, it absolutely wanged it down the morning we left our comfy clean spacious modern hostel.  It was another full-on storm.  This was actually only the 3rd time in about 2 months that we had donned our full waterproof gear, so not worth a moan really, but it was a very unpleasant morning.  We set off in different directions, if you know what I mean, with the plan to meet up later in the morning.  

I made my ( what is becoming a common mistake ) of thinking that I would have loads of time to wait for Tony at our meeting point.  I tootled around small country lanes ( had deliberately chosen these rather than the direct straight road route ) aiming for our rendezvous point.  I soon felt sure that I was very very lost.  The rain didn't help my feeling of well-being, in that my ( reading ) glasses were puddled with drops of rain, and that my map was starting to disintegrate ( I had leant Tony my map case and had not, as instructed, used a fruit/veg bag from the supermarket as a map case for me ).    And, I was sure that I was heading for Belgium ….

At a point where I thought Tony should know that we wouldn’t see each other ever again, I phoned him.  He answered, but that was it.  I phoned him back, but the phone was ‘ not available’.   Then as if by a miracle, I saw Tony appear from round a corner - our timing couldn’t have been better.  ( Might I say that at this point that I was very pleased with what seemed to be my natural sense of direction. )   Tony was not a happy bunny though.  On answering my earlier call he dropped his phone due to wetness and it smashed on the ground.  It was broken - kaputt - gebrochen - - en panne - deed ( Scotch )This was a problem.   

We both tried not to think of what issues being phone-less could cause us, and ate our lunch in the relative shelter of an overhanging house roof.  We both had maps ( just, in my case ) so we could both still get to our destination Gite for the evening, just perhaps not together if plans didn't work out.  

My imagination started to do it’s usual thing in imagining the worst case scenario…..we don’t meet up at our arranged meeting place, we can’t contact each other etc. How did we manage without mobile phones before ?

We arranged to meet at Amettes Church - a fool-proof plan, or so we thought.  I arrived mid afternoon and waited for almost 2 hours, 1 hour longer than I felt was ‘right’.  Tony, it turned out had also arrived at Amettes Church at the time that I had expected him to arrive, but was waiting at the other side.  Yes, this was a big church - one that in fact went round a corner, so some tense words were exchanged upon greeting each other once found and we then headed to our Farm Gite accommodation.  

The farmhouse was being sandblasted for maintenance as we arrived, so we were greeted with much dust and noise and a flustered farmer’s wife.  She was very apologetic about the works and welcomed us well to our ( not very peaceful, but lots of space and excellent internet connection - hoorah ! ) Gite.

Distance - 12.70 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 560.15 miles

Sad to leave Sister Lucy

Sunday 27 July

Would you believe it - it seemed that the puncture that I had fixed the night before had gone down overnight !   I made best use of the half hour before breakfast and donned my rubber gloves and located my spectacles.  I bruised my legs ( again ) whilst turning the bike upside down ( is it possible not to bang ones shins when performing this exercise ? ) I executed all necessary actions as required and located yet another puncture - that’s 4 x puncture plasters on this one inner tube now - looks great !  

We had breakfast in the guest house with the other guests hosted by Sister Lucy.  It was toast and ( homemade by the nuns ) jam and tea or coffee.  Fine with us.  There was again much informal chit chat and lots of hilarity around the breakfast table this morning.  
We said our farewells and left Sister Lucy and our very memorable stay behind us.

Onwards and upwards to Therouanne.  Weather was unsettled - my fleece was worn for the first time in weeks.  The distance today was not as big as some so we felt relaxed and pleased that we would have some down-time later in the day.  We criss-crossed another major road and then settled at one side of it.  Our approach of our destination village was from on high so the end of the walk / cycle was an easy one.  

We arrived at our ‘ Pilgrim’s Hostel ’ in mid afternoon, and were the only inhabitants = good. The place was great - fully equipped kitchen, washing and drying machine, wet room and loads and loads of toilet rolls - aaah the luxury !  We had planned to stay here 2 x nights but despite all these great facilities and the space to ourselves there was no internet / wifi connection.  We had much internet activity to do so we changed our plan and stayed only one night instead. 

Distance 7.7 miles

Distance since Helmsley - 547.45 miles