Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Picture time!

Some pictures of the last few days - Laon cathedral, Reims cathedral (trees in front), crossing the River Aisne, yours truly, the smiling angel of Reims cathedral and his very unamused neighbour - who wouldn't be given he was so mutilated?! And the atelier where the great windows of the cathedral are repaired and restored.

News from Reims....

326 miles down the Via Francigena and only 1,200 miles to go! The weather,and mood consequently, changed from
Nuclear winter to bright sun and I am now in Reims, the architecture has now noticeably changed from
The Pas de Calais; red brick for limestone, slate for pantile and agriculture for viticulture - I am on the edge of champagne country which is precisely where I am
Headed tomorrow. It is great to be in Reims, a wonderful cathedral city with al the majesty and splendour you would expect of the seat of the coronation of French monarchs for centuries. Laon was equally spectacular perched high on its plateau with views seemingly of all France - I reached there after a gruelling 11 hours on the road including the punishing climb up to St Gobain.

So tomorrow I head to Epernay, through the Foret de la Montagne de Reims, to linger for a few days and to stay with Pol Roger... There have to be some up sides to hauling oneself across Europe in a heat wave!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Breaking news....

Some rough planning on the kitchen table where I am staying is that I will reach the French - Swiss border by 21 June and the Italian border (St Bernard Pass) by 1 July. That is a very long time!

Canals and fine weather!

The Canal de la Somme, yesterdays' route.

News from Ham

The weather has finally turned; from
The most appalling freezing fog and a bitter North wind which lasted three days and chilled to the core, I am now sweltering in 35 degrees of heat (100 fahrenheit approx). The fog, the battlefields and the cemeteries all added to a sense of deep gloom but now well on the way to Laon and then Reims by Monday. Today i set off for Tergnier and then a long haul to Laon of 25 miles tomorrow which will be up hill and down dale and a lot through the Forest of Saint Gobain.... In the shade I hope!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Week in Pictures: Calais to Arras

So far, according to my reverse cigarette box technology (back of a fag packet), I have walked 195 miles of the 1,500 mile Via Francigena; it is, as lovely Wheezie Cottrell so succinctly put it to me, as she kindly dropped me off at Barham before I made for Dover, "an awfully long way indeed!" and, indeed it is, in fact it is nearly twice as far as the Camino de Santiago, that doyen of Pilgrim routes and if you look on the big map (I rather not at this stage), you will see that I have hardly even started down the Via. BUT, that said, slowly slowly I am getting there and I have to say that as an adventure, the journey is living up to every inch of expectation and some!

I am now in Arras, having walked 100 miles this last week. Funny how you get used to the mileage and even pity the motorist, hell bent as he or she is invariably on getting somewhere at speed for a meeting or other which, frankly when all is said and done, is probably of little import. Ok, I stagger about with all my worldly possessions on my back and the weather has been very British indeed of late, but it's just so liberating an experience.

Night in a convent, night in a campsite, night in a school sick bay, night in a farm, I am now on a rest day before heading off to Reims which, I should reach by Monday 28th May, via Peronne, Ham, Tergnier, Laon and Corbeny. Please pray for the rain to stop.... Frankly the plants have had quite enough in my book, as have I!

Bon week tous!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

That Hangdog Expression....

With which greetings from France; assuming you can hear me say that above the din from the hail that beats down on both sides of the Channel right now. It's freezing and it's wet but after what can only be described as a grim morning where I learnt what it is like to be a post box, dressed overall in my delightful red kagoule with only a slit to look out from, and one of the most impressive barrages (of thunder) I have endured since Bosnia, I am now in Licques on my way to Arras for the week end. The meteo is all of a sudden growing in importance; tomorrow is set fine but after, indeed for many days after, the whole country may just disappear under water - in which case I will dissolve. It's off to Wisques in the morning and a night in a convent - so that's a first!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The German Press...

My great uncle, Walter, was fatally wounded while fighting near Arras with the Northumberland Fusiliers on 3 May 1917; he died a few days later in a German Field Hospital after being cared for by a Professor Mueller, Dr Schutinger and Sister Erma respectively. It is only recently we discovered that there is no known grave; his remains lost in the fog of war as so often can be the case. But on this walk, I wanted to see if it would be possible to connect with the relatives of those who tried to help him - and I still hope this may be the case; the German newspapers have kindly lent their support.

The Keys!

Why am I carrying the beautiful keys made for me by Mike Marshall?

The key is the symbol of the pilgrimage to Rome, in just the same way the scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. In this case, the key is for St Peter, who holds the keys to the gates of Heaven - as you all know. I am carrying two keys as one of them will return with me to go on the wall of our village church in Childe Okeford.

The keys are not, I very much regret, able to open some enormous Vatican wine depository solely for the use and succour of much needy pilgrims (like moi) at the end of their journey (and tether?!) from London....

I might add, they ain't light these keys; Mike made them to last (you tend to if you build steam locomotives as a past time) and to give you an idea of their size, they are roughly the width of an iPad screen. Mike, being an old Light Infantryman ensured I also travelled with suitable cleaning materials so they wouldnt get dirty... Dirty brasses simply don't rub!

Questions & Answers!

Some of you have asked what my route is, so I am attaching a map for you to peruse; deceptive things maps as the half way point on the route is the St Bernard Pass, where I enter Italy. God willing, and allowing for the odd glass of wine and hunk of cheese along the way, that should be in about 5 weeks time - about 20 June I guesstimate.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Leaving Saint Paul's Cathedral, London

Under way...

72 miles from London and all seems to be bearing up as I get into routine and back into the swing of things. It's very like being on operations again and I suppose I shouldnt really be too surprised. Remarkably, even the map reading isnt too problematical - so far. Oddly, the bad weather hasnt been as bad as people might expect; I think from a car it seems worse on the outside than it actually is. Juggernauts make for an exhilerating time however. Have put in a lot of mileage over the last few days, 21, 24 and 27 respectively - as Alice Warrender forecast, the first blister appeared at the end of Day 3 but given the mileage, I am not too concerned. Tomorrow I enter Canterbury, I will stay as a guest of the Dean and visit the shrine of St Thomas a Beckett. Canterbury is technically the start of the Via Francigena; I would like to point out that it was here that Chaucer, quite sensibly, turned round and headed back to London...

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The keys made by Mike Marshall that I will carry to Rome

A Quick Catch Up.....

Forgive me, the last few weeks have been hectic as I pared my very full life from home, dog, job and friends into the contents of a solitary rucksack ... That, at times not easy, process has seemingly been achieved with a lot of help and support to numb the pain along way. I have said farewell countless times and will, no doubt again and again as I make my way across Europe meeting all manner of great characters along the Via. So, here I sit, in the peace of the Dorset countryside, Spring in rude awakening all about - lambs in the fields, swallows on the wing and the place vibrant and green with life. I am waiting like the patient knight before his next move, for church, where the village will send me off - as Chaucer would almost have it, "tis time for pilgrims to seek distant lands...." Let the adventure begin, for that is surely what it is!