Day21 Seracourt le grand to Bertaucourt – Camping with the Cows

No entry today to save battery. We are well and much encouraged after today’s long walk of 21+mi. Wild camping in a field next to a stream

Tomorrow Laon.  Will fill you in tomorrow. 

Well, actually we tapped into a power source at a nearby house construction site and now have some juice.  How fortunate is that?


Wow, what a day! We started out slowly, taking almost 1-1/2hrs to pack up and leave the campsite.  That wasn’t the plan since we had a long 21+ mile day ahead.  We did consume a rice pudding cup and a hard-boiled egg in that time so breakfast was taken care of anyway.

Late leaving our camper for the night

Well most of you know that we felt pretty down the last two days.  The lack of sleep and miles of unending hay fields and mud were taking their toll on our motivation.  I sent a note to the VF Facebook sight with those feelings and asking for expectations ahead.  They were all very encouraging. It really helped.

Some bits of old Roman road we found ourselves walking along
The Via and Camino share this portion of the way

Anyway I started my hike by completely starting over with respect to my backpack adjustments.  I’d been tweaking them each day to try to achieve better comfort without success.  So I loosened everything and started over.  

First reference to the US casualties in WWI

That seemed to help a lot.   I still had neck and shoulder pain today, but it was sporadic and much reduced in duration.  Allison however had a tougher morning.  Things just weren’t right in her joints and feet.  We stopped for several adjustments, a process that would have driven me nuts years ago (ref our 2014 Camino video “1,000,000 Steps Together” on YouTube).  Before lunch, Allison was getting frustrated with the whole thing.  I think it must have been just like my feelings yesterday. 

Another adjustment

Everything changed after lunch.  We had a coffee at a tabac shop and then stopped for lunch shortly afterwards.  The two breaks in a row did wonders and the last miles flew by. 

She’s smiling on the outside but kind of fed up on the inside at this point I think. 
This is what was missing from our morning.  Life got better after these!  🙂

However before lunch we had quite an adventure. The path I’d downloaded on GPS took us into the village of Jussy and then down along the Canal de St Quentin. We would be following alongside this canal for a large portion of the day. Well the “path” was thick, uncut grass and that didn’t feel right. We’d seen images of others alongside these canals, and they were on a open cinder path. But often these paths change in character so on we walked.

Well, the path did change.  The grass got higher and filled in with nettles.  Ugh.  Then the path got very narrow (4” wide) and then the 4” path got precariously close to the canal edge.   We seriously nearly tumbled-in more that once.  Something was definitely not right.  Finally, the brush became impassable.   We’d done something wrong. 

Looking at my GPS I could see and hear a nearby road so we went all “jungle safari” and slashed a path through a steep bank of vines and nettles on all fours.  It took us an hour but we hacked our way up to a hay field where the road was in sight.  Though we were scarred by numerous nettle stings and briar scrapes, we laughed upon reaching the road at the craziness of the whole detour. 

The GPS track of our jungle-safari

Once we actually found an alternative real canal path, the canal walk was much more enjoyable. The accessibility of the path had a lot to do with that. I was relieved there were no more jungle type scrambling. The canal included several old locks and boat tie ups. We even saw one long boat which looked to be someone’s home at one time or maybe even currently.

Our path took us by a Lidl where we stocked up on supplies for the next 24 hours. We even found the much-wished-for bug spray!!! Take that mosquitoes. While at Lidl, we attempted to arrange our accommodations for the night. It was tough with the language barrier. The only lodging was full. However we did accept their offer to camp in a nearby pasture.

It was the perfect end to a crazy day.

The story for the day ended with our hosts showing us to our spot down the road. It’s…a lovely grassy spot…really nice of them to accommodate us.

Our spot!

Day20 Peronne to Seracourt le Grand – More fields and more miles

It was a rough start for many reasons. For some reason, likely the microwave pizza we ate late for dinner, neither of us slept well. It was hard to get up and get moving. In fact despite getting up easily at 5:30am because we had a long day ahead, we didn’t leave the parish house until nearly 7am.

We began our trip today by walking through a marshland. And yes, it was incredibly muddy as well as buggy. The mosquitoes were everywhere! They especially loved Mark. I could see them landing on his clothes to nibble him.

Clearly in the near future, we will have to add bug spray to our list of must-haves. The last couple of days there has been a noticeable increase in mosquitoes. We are hoping to wait until Italy before we need to purchase bug spray.

We pushed ourselves really hard this morning or at least it felt like that. We had to take several short power breaks. Neither of us was feeling the groove, but Mark was struggling with some additional neck and back pain.

The majority of the day’s trip was covered prior to lunch, thank goodness.

Lunch. Really tired by this point.

The agricultural fields are beautiful, but it seems to be endless at times. The flat land seems to go on and on. Landmarks in the distance never feel like they get much closer. The walk can be discouraging at times.

We finally stumbled onto the campground! We were not sure that it even existed, but hallelujah it does! It is a really nice place too. We ended up renting the pilgrim camper for the night. I have no idea if this is a normal place or luxurious, but my observation so far is the French know how to camp. There are cabins to rent, a nice restaurant on the grounds, a bar on the grounds, laundry facilities, shower facilities that are way beyond clean, and even an indoor pool.

Cool architecture tower at Roupy
Finally arrived.

And yes, I did take advantage of the laundry facilities. A working washer and dryer are never something to be overlooked I have learned. The blessing of clean clothes is one of many little things I take for granted at home but not when walking long distances.

Day19 Bapaume to Peronne – Crossing the Lines

Our 32km day found us walking through more open fields and across the German Hindenburg Line into territory primarily controlled by the Germans for the greater part of WWI. In fact, our destination for the day, Peronne was itself part of that famous defensive work.

An early morning start.

Since we had a long way to go, we set the alarm early for 5:30am and began walking by 6:15. Making an early start is critical when hiking longer days.

French Slugs love the damp grass
They are actually quite striking.

We had the hotel make us some hard boiled eggs as a take-away for our breakfast, and we had purchased an eclair each…(ok, it was two each) as well. The air was crisp as we started off, and the blue skies were a refreshing change from the past week.

The early start however meant that whenever the trail went through overgrown areas we would get soaked with the dew saturated grass. This, as well as a way to avoid the ever present nettles, is another great use of waterproof pants.

All in this cemetery were from the British Manchester regiments
The Boys from the Manchester Regiment

Our feet, however, became soaked in just a matter of minutes. The high grasses and weeds were still nice and wet from dew and rain the previous evening. Not even waterproof shoes are immune to the amount of water we trudged through. But you continue on because that is what pilgrims do.

We once again saw no other pilgrims which is not surprising on this part of the VF. Our feet hit the pavement in anticipation.

At each small village there is a crucifix. This one was interesting with the cross created to look like a tree.

At Rocquigny the church and village were destroyed as part of the Hindenburg line of WWI. After the war ended, a church was built. The style is unique. It is now considered a transitional architectural style. Unfortunately, the construction was sub-par and the building itself was falling apart. So much so that in 2000-something it was scheduled for demolition. I’m glad it was saved. I found it pretty cool. It looks like it was supposed to represent a church steeple damaged by war. Well, that’s what I saw in it. Just before arriving in Peronne, we left Pays du Calais and entered the Somme department. Tomorrow we will leave the Somme and enter the Aise.

The church at Rocquigny
The steeple of the church in Rocquigny
Crossing our first canal the Canal Nord

We stopped at Perrone for the day after calling and reserving a donativo to stay near the city center. Actually we arrived a little earlier than expected, so our hosts were not home. We called and told them we had arrived and would be in town having a cold drink. Our two hosts showed up personally to chat and provide us with the key and instructions. Somehow we communicated with our poor French and their small grasp of English. I am thankful for patience and see God working in my weakness.

Crucifix nearing Peronne. A significant battle took place here near the end of 1918 that was critical in the re-taking of Peronne which had been in German hands since 1914
The Church of Jean-Baptiste -Peronne with battle damage from WWI
Inside the church of Jean-Baptiste Peronne

Mark pulled another mark-ism by asking if we were to stay at the “casa Blanche” mixing Spanish and French. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to to with that man! Haha.

Remember dinner last night…that fancy feast we had? Well, we’re making up for it tonight with a microwave pizza. You can’t live high all the time.

Tomorrow and for the next two days we have some slogging to do. Our goal is to camp tomorrow night, with another 20mi day the following day and near Laon the day after. That’s aggressive, and we’re both ok if it doesn’t work. But this section is a little sparse of things to do and see and places to stay.

Mr and Mrs Longshadow say “Hi!”

Day18 Arras to Bapaume- Struck

When you walk for days and days, sometimes they blur together. Despite what I say in this update, it was day 18 and not 17.

Today will be a short post for two reasons:

First, it was a tough day of slogging through some mud and honestly I’m kind of tired.

Second, we passed our first true WWI cemetery, and I was personally struck by it. Please watch this video.

If you find it is a bit too long, just remember that this is one row of many in a relatively tiny cemetery in a somewhat insignificant battlefield in a smaller section of WWI.
Each stone is someone’s son, husband, father, brother, or sister.

I knew nothing of the “Sunken Road”, but I learned today. If history is your thing, I’ve copied over some information and posted it on the History Bits page.

We’ve passed other memorials and private cemeteries before this one, but this was the first of many military battlefield cemeteries. It was the sight of a military hospital. It’s location was such that I could imagine the whole battlefield laid before me as we walked through the area.

“That field would have been a trap.”

“That hill would have been significant.”

“The stream here would have been red with blood.”

It was all very close and shockingly very real.

As I mentioned, it was muddy. I’d read about the mud sucking soldiers and animals down. I can believe it! It was a sticky kind of mud. The inch or two that we trod through wrapped around our shoes and latched onto them mercilessly. I can only imagine what a field turned upside down by artillery could have been like. I almost felt ashamed at the inconvenience the mud was to us.

The Sunken Road Cemetery near Arras

The boys that lived through this were no different than us. To say they were superheros is wrong. Most wouldn’t have wanted to be there. To live through it was all they could strive to do. But the fact that they suffered here is enough – they and all of those have given all or a portion of their lives in military service deserve our deepest respect and gratitude.

So to my Father and Father-in-Law, to my brother and brother-in-law and to all the other veterans that I know – Thank You.

Day17 Villers Chatel to Arras – Digging History

On the road. Ruins of Monastery of St Eloi on the horizon.

We started the day after a light breakfast. Our host, Jean, was so gracious to walk with us into a nearby town to find an ATM. He continued with us acting as tour guide for a bit before breaking off to head back to the chateau. Our route would eventually connect us back with the VF.

So after our trip to the bank and a quick stop for some groceries, we bid goodbye to our host and began our day of walking.

A friendly pal

We saw many interesting sights: fields of wheat and flax and green beans and beets and corn and sunflowers. We also saw the crumbling remains of the monastery of St Eloi, lots of cows and horses, and even some miniature ponies. Let’s not forget the cackling fowl: ducks, geese, chickens, quail and partridges. The rolling hills of the country side were beautiful especially against the ever changing sky.

Mr Hedgehog

At the head water of the Sainte-Bertille, just outside the village of Maroeuil, we stopped for lunch. The spot is the site of a 7th century miracle. Here, Bertille, daughter of Ricomer and Gertrude, was caring for the serfs and peasants working in the area. The nearby river Scarpe had dried-up in a drought. After prayer she struck the ground with her staff (similar to the story of Moses) and water sprung from the ground and flows to this day.

On the sight of this miracle there is a tiny chapel and some benches…a perfect spot for lunch.

Our lunch consisted of …drum roll…bread, ham and tomato all washed down with water. It was relaxing to kick off our shoes and “prop up the toes” while eating lunch. The main reason we stopped was because it was hard to hear anything over my rumbling tummy.

Routes to Rome (Via Francigena) and Routes to Santiago (Camino) go through this area. Note the VF trail and the Camino Shell and yellow arrow.

The walk into the town of Arras was uneventful. As we approached we called our contact at the Tourist Information Center. She was excited to talk with us about our pilgrimage, and she helped us arrange our arrival at the youth hostel in town. She was so eager to help us onward and even took the time to meet us around dinner. That extra measure of kindness really encouraged us.

Cat on a fourth story balcony.

Before we took dinner however, we strolled into the main square of Arras called the Place de l’heros. The history of this area is so interesting that I’ve included it in the History Bits page as it’s own entry.

We also stopped by a stereotypical French cheese shop. I know you can’t appreciate it without the wonderful smell, but a clip is included in our video compilation.

Flemish Architecture of Arras
The square
Town Hall..underneath our feet is history.

Tomorrow we head south again along the VF and something tells me the surroundings will transform. Already we’ve left behind the chalky coastal area. We’re seeing more and more signs for WWI cemeteries and more war memorials. This area witnessed some of the bloodiest and terrible events of two world wars. The scars are evident everywhere.

Day16 Amettes to Villers-Chatel – OMG!!

Actually today’s 26.7km was from Amettes to Villers-Chatel, but you won’t believe the ending of today’s story.

A meager breakfast. Haha.

Honestly today’s walk wasn’t hard, but it had its moments. We awoke to a checkered forecast of 80% chance of rain, and it was quite cool. So, we once again battened down the hatches on our bags.

  • Electronics in waterproof bags – check
  • Phone in plastic zip lock – check
  • Waterproof pants and socks on – check
  • Rain jacket covering it all – check
The village of Amettes

Before heading out, we joined our hosts and enjoyed our “simple” country breakfast of prosciutto, croissants, toast, 4 homemade jams, yoghurt, juice, apples, bananas cheese, butter, cream cheese, coffee and tea….and leftover apple tart from dinner. Regarding the tart, we were told we had to finish it before leaving. Yes madame!

Allison and I took turns rolling each other out of the breakfast room to collect our packs – and we were off. As we walked out of town, the many signs reminded us of the importance of Saint Beniot Joseph Labre to the village of Amettes. More about him is included the History Bits tab.

The morning was cool and grey, but we were happy to find that the French weather forecasters are no more accurate than our own. It misted a few times and threatened to downpour more than once. But other than a two minute torrent we stayed dry.

After taking several pictures, I noticed I only had about three minutes of recording time left on our SD Card #2. So I took the opportunity to interview both of us…(yes, I interviewed myself). I asked a series of questions that I would repeat on several other occasions along our journey.

Soon after that video was shot, the clouds broke and the day ended in sunshine. It actually got a little hot. We walked primarily on roads today because, shortly after heading out of the village of Amettes, we had broken away from the “official” route. We took a detour toward our intended destination.

All along this portion of France we’ve been seeing private chapels. These simple structures sometimes have a small worship space large enough for one or two people. Sometimes they are exterior altars only. They are quite interesting and varied; some are plain and some ornate.

Since I was wayfinding using my GPS app (Gaia), we walked mostly on tarmac. The “official” route likely included more fields. Tarmac is hard on the feet, but it does allow you to go quite fast. We were booking! We ended up averaging 4.8km/hr over the whole day. That’s just under 3mph over 16mi. That’s a fast average for us carrying loaded backpacks, But we were not intentionally trying to go fast. Those of you that don’t know us should understand that Allison and I are both a little competitive. As a result, we often find our pace quickening as one unconsciously tries to get ahead of the other. Normally Allison wins.

Speeding along didn’t stop us from meeting this exuberant man, Maurice Johnson. He was joking around with us about the approaching rain. He insisted we approach St Peter’s square on our knees and whisper to Pope Francis that “Maurice is a good man”. Haha


We reached the village of LaComte and stopped at a bench to eat our chicken salad sandwiches for lunch. A short way down the street from our bench was a sign that I could almost read. It looked like it said Hobbit Town. I was sure that I was not reading it correctly, but the font was quite Tolkien-esque. So I walked over to read it.

Sure enough, the village of La Comte claims Hobbits to be real and to be their ancestral home. I couldn’t understand all the words but there was an old map, c 1400’s with Hobbitebourg clearly marked just adjacent to La Comte. Hmmm.

Ok…now for the grand finale. Why did we divert off the formal Via today? Well, we’d heard about this special donativo run by Jean (John) and Maria, two fellow pilgrims. They’ve actually done the pilgrimage to Rome as well as a bucket-list item of mine, Rome to Jerusalem. Oh…and their donativo just so happens to be in a nice house…ok…it’s a chateau.

It is crazy, but this is where we are staying and being fed tonight…for a donation.

Our donativo
Crazy to be here.
My damsel reclining in her castle.
The Chateau

Our dinner was such fun and mostly came from their own garden. We had a cantaloupe as a starter followed by zucchini, roast potatoes, and omelets. Next was a course of 5 cheeses, and finally a lemon meringue tart. The conversation was almost exclusively in French for the second night in a row but I pretty much caught only words and a phrase or two. Allison did much better.

After dinner we browsed through their book of photos from their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Dominiq was with us again for another but final night.

Well, that’s it for today. Anything I can add now would be anti-climactic. So au revoir and good night.