Saturday, 30 June 2012

What goes up...

This comes to you from Aosta, in Italy where i arrived this afternoon in my usual perfumed state having made the 6,000 foot descent from the Grand Saint Bernard Pass - a bit like a spinning top really at that rate; i ran a lot of it. Easier on the shins. The day started, as yesterday ended, thru deep snow and in thick fog; it finished in excessive heat and high humidity.

The climb up to the Grand Saint Bernard was demanding but not technically difficult; the approach just seemed never ending - things can take on that perspective when you carry the world on your back.

Life on the top was busy; I stayed in a dormitory in the Monastery and amongst many other delights (which I am afraid you will have to wait til October 2013 to discover) I can assure you the Saint Bernard dogs are in fine fettle - they are enormous and bark a lot.

798 miles to date and tomorrow I continue down the valley to Chatillon. My sights now firmly on Vercelli in the Italian rice plains - that will be next Sunday. Six weeks last Thursday and I will be in Rome (9th August); it is wonderful to be here - the Italians love the Via Francigena and are so full of spirit and life, it feels like I landed feet first in the middle of an enormous cocktail party!

Photos: HCB on the pass (note my dainty white ankles!); approach to the Grand Saint Bernard; fog this morning going down, the road going down this morning (I go cross country, one of the joys of being on foot); the monastery from the Italian side of the lake; the dogs and the wedding I inadvertently gate crashed in Aosta Cathedral - er, no, I didn't catch the bouquet!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

A change of scenery...

770 miles walked, 814 miles travelled and this finds me 13 km short of the Grand Saint Bernard Pass which I will reach early tomorrow morning to beat the heat which I walked 23 miles in today while climbing 5,000 feet. I am a little tired!

The scenery is inspiring and despite the demanding conditions I find myself in, it is a joy to be here.

This finds me in the little village of Bourg St Pierre, having climbed up from the delightful town of Martigny which dates back to well before aromas times.

Saturday will find me in Italy and the city of Aosta...

Photos: "La Suisse" which took me across Lake Geneva; mountains and more mountains; the road to the Grand Saint Bernard!

Monday, 25 June 2012

People, places and stuff...

This finds me on the outskirts of Geneva, where you could say I have come for a drink - a two day break at any rate, having gained a day by walking from Orbe to Lausanne in one go which was only 27 miles. I have effectively left the route for a brief moment hence I walked to Ouchy, Lausanne's harbour, where on Tuesday morning I will take the steamer across Lac Geneva to St Gingolph, thence to Aigle and the climb into the Alps begins. This is such an exciting part of the journey and to be in the mountains, quite wonderful.

From Ste Croix, I made the steep rapid descent from the Jura to Orbe where I stayed the night with the delightful Daisy Nicolet, a chaos of a lady whose house was a jumble of gumboots, cats, chickens and post cards laced with the rich welcoming perfume of fabric conditioner throughout. She had hair that would be the envy of an 18th century "perruquier" and was instantly not only adorable but huggable and lovable like the central character from an Alan Bennett play. It was her daughter's wedding yesterday (Saturday).

But before, as I heaved my way out of Vuiteboeuf (and there is a lot of heaving in Switzerland, let me tell you)I looked over my shoulder and cried "Ho, Pilgrim!" as Raul Santiago Goni, a journalist from Pamplona rounded the corner; he is writing the Spanish book of the journey. Funny how two people can go on the same pilgrimage and have such different yet such parallel experiences; for three hours we talked animatedly like long lost friends and parted with great reluctance when the road forced us to separate, he for Yverdon and I for Orbe.

And so, here I am, sitting by the swimming pool, glass of champagne in hand, quite embowered by flowers and the scent of the garden all around me, dipping into normality once again... Or am I?

Pics: descent from
Ste Croix, steamer that will take me across Lake Geneva, lunch under a walnut tree, the chateau of Champvent near Orbe and the Grizzly Adams look that has now gone!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Greetings from La Suisse!

666 miles done and at long last I am in Switzerland crossing the frontier at 1155 local this morning. This finds me just short of Sainte Croix at L'Auberson.

Many of you have replied to my text as I crossed the border saying how dreadful the weather is in Great Britain at present; at the time, it was sunny in Switzerland but, to reassure you, later I got caught in a torrential downpour the likes of which I have nt seen since Hong Kong - indeed, as I type this the sky is alive with lightening, the heavens are growling in anger and the skies have opened with a vengeance. So, Switzerland is, at present, like that biscuit that's been left to dunk for too long... Very soggy indeed!

Tomorrow, it's off to Orbe and a day later a long haul to Lausanne.

Post script... The lights have just gone out and we have had a direct hit!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Last night in France...

The last couple of days have been exhilarating, challenging and the scenery inspirational. Heavy rain last night rendered my climb thru the Loue valley more akin to time in the Borneo jungle than the Jura Mountains as I walked along streams, alongside waterfalls, clambered up sinewy trails and dodged rockfall, landslide and tumbling trees - not to mention chamois too, who avoided me more. Thank heavens for new boots and my stick!

I am now about 10 km from the Swiss border in Pontarlier; nice town with an ornate gate that reminds me of Alnwick.. Although methinks Pontarlier gets more sunshine somehow. Tomorrow night will be in L'Auberson which is just short of my destination, Sainte Croix, there being "no room at the inn". This is all very well, til you factor that the next day, Orbe, my lodging is a further 5 km out of town which adds a nice 15 ish km on to the day which in car terms means nothing but for a bipod like me.... 3 hours plus on the road, a 7 hour day potentially now a ten hour day. That can be a real ball breaker to put it bluntly!

Pics: the yellow markings I follow at present (ear piece is my iPod, music as Confucius said is a pleasure the human soul cannot do without); waterfalls in the Loue valley; scenery approaching the Loue and (pine forests) before Pontarlier; gnome waving at me and pony in his dormobile keeping out of the flies!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Special people, special places...

A sharp climb out of Besancon into the hills, cross a main road and suddenly the cows all wear bells; such a reassuring noise to hear the constant melody of the gentle animals grazing away.

Higher up now, mine is a world of enormous falaises of limestone outcrop and steep ravined valleys with raging streams and rivers galloping their way precipitously to the relaxing plains now way below. This is exhilarating and challenging country; a welcome break from the tedious monotony of the French flatlands.

And then, in a flash, a wheel chair shoots past me on the other side of the road - Sylvane from Lintz is also on her way to Rome, having left London on 25 May. For her, the journey is but by road and never once, while we chatted and ate wild strawberries on the roadside, did I ever see her not smile. A remarkable and humbling person to be in the presence of.

Tonight, I am in Ornans, a delightful town where mountain fuses seamlessly with river and every other person is a duck; birthplace of the nineteenth century artist, Gustave Courbet who shook convention with his enormous tableaux like the Stonebreakers and Burial at Ornans which took after van Rijn's famous Night Watch.

But today, for us, is a special day; it is Appel du 18 Juin, the day after France capitulated in 1940 and de Gaulle, with Churchill's support and the BBC at his disposal, called the Free French to arms and set the Resistance to their work. Dark times in the history of the War, we stood alone in the face of the Nazis and, as such it is a key date in Anglo French relations.

"Quoi qu'il arrive, la flamme de la resistance francaise ne doit pas s'eteindre et ne s'eteindra pas." (Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not go out and will not go out)

The Duke of Wellington was victorious on the field of Waterloo, 197 years ago this evening...

Sunday, 17 June 2012

This made me laugh...

... So I had to post it up!

Bothersome mapping....

Besancon is a delightful city, loaded with history most of which seems to be found at the top of the place; as seems to be the norm nowadays. The citadel which dominates the Doubs river is a fine example of Vauban's masterful engineering and is a remarkable sight to behold. There are, however, dark secrets within. I, typically, had to climb the thing with a hangover as, this being the first big city I have been in since London, celebration was in the air when I arrived - what can I say other than Guinness, rose and vodka simply don't mix. So, I spent most of today with my head in my hands looking for a UFO to get me off this planet. Better. Now but once again I have taken my vows of sobriety.... Probably until next Saturday when I arrive in Geneva!

The road here has been a delight, as I walked from Gray to Marnay and finally Besancon itself. Foothills they call them
Here but in fact no more big shakes than Hambledon Hill at home; that said, you have to start somewhere and as of tomorrow, when I head towards Pontarlier and the Swiss border (Thursday), the map gets very cramped and bothered with contour lines. Up into the mountains we go... The Grand Saint Bernard Pass on 29th June and Italy on 30th June. It's all go from now on!

Photos: Marnay high street and lake; astronomical clock in Besancon cathedral, Besancon from
The ramparts; pretty house I was invited into in Hugier; a sign that I am getting there and the perfect end to a day!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

In the foothills of the Jura Mountains...

It's not quite Julie Andrews time yet, but today I crossed the majestic Saone and there is a definite change in the air; am now in the foothills of the Jura, a steady ascent ahead now for the next 15 days. I am very excited at the prospect as the Via Francigena takes on added personality and more adventures lie ahead. Besancon by Saturday!

Crossing the Saone at Gray.

Out with the old... with the new! Smart new Salomon GTXs to get me to Rome!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Haute Marne views...

A recent photo of my passport with the different stamps to prove my journey along the way; spot the beaver on the canal (that one's for Brian!); mare and foal outside Chateauvillain (for Ma, Kate and Tess!); Haute Marne country and the Chateauvillain Forest....a wonderful day's walk in deep woodland.