Due to poor reception yesterday I couldn’t post this so…here ya go.
Day28 St Martin sur la Pre – Coole – Working on that tan!
Well that was a hard day.
We walked a full 20mi today, most of it without shade on a day that ironically we had our first cloud-free day since arriving in France. We were blessed however with only moderately hot temps 84F.
Still, the sun exposure and the weight of the backpacks made the day tough for both of us.
The scenery was unchanging, great expanses of wheat, sugar beet, onions, and one sunflower patch stretched from horizon to horizon. The lack of trees allowed a slight breeze during the day but our water soon got warm. There’s nothing quite like drinking warm water when you are thirsty.
This should have been a 19mi day, but head down and steadily moving forward I missed a turn, one of only three that we had to make during the day. The rest of the day was on ancient Roman roads which are straight as an arrow and relentless.
Maybe I’m building it up too much. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’ve described so far.
By the end of the day we were weaving from one side of the road to the other like drunken sailors as we instinctively sought even the tiniest piece of shade.
The last few miles were on a heavily trafficked asphalt road. By heavily trafficked, I’m talking about farm tractors towing huge flatbed trailers loaded with hay. These tractors were driven by teenage boys traveling at warp speeds along the 1-1/2 lane roads. We counted two sets of boys that passed us over 6 times with alternating empty and full loads.
We’d been advised in advance by our hosts that they would not be available until 7 pm. However to beat the heat, we did start out our regular time. Once we arrived at our hosts house about 4pm, we propped ourselves up against a fence in the shade across from their house to wait out the clock. To our relief and surprise the husband and grandson arrived at 4:15pm. However I don’t think they were expecting us. Graciously they let us in and we started the shower and laundry routine.
It feels so good to be clean after the tough day. I think we will sleep well. After showering a minor event took place that cemented in my mind that we’ve been on the road a while. This family graciously allowed us the use of their washing machine. So as we were gathering our clothes to be washed I started to put on my clean shirt … it reeked. After a while hand washing clothes in a sink with a bar of soap just doesn’t cut it. Luckily my last shirt stunk less.
Day26 Reims to Trepail -oooh…now we’re famous!
All rest days must come to and end.
So we packed up our bags, took a few parting shots of the Reims Cathedral and hit a grocery store on our way out of Reims.
An honest moment
We immediately came to the Ainse/Marne canal full of dog walkers, joggers, and bikers. Well, the path adjacent to it was full of them..not the canal itself.
The canal was mostly void of anything more than a few fishermen, but we did see a working grain barge and two pleasure crafts as well.
Walking along a canal is pretty for the first few miles but then it becomes a bit monotonous. The path is level and mostly straight and, at least it was shaded. The weather was quite warm today so we were happy for the shade as long as it lasted.
At Sillery we diverged off the canal and headed into the direct sun and away from shade. The path directed us into the heart of the Champagne vineyards. These are absolutely huge and their expanse is awe inspiring. I guess when you have to supply the whole world with bubbly, you need a lot of grapes.
The trail climbed into the Montagne de Reims becoming a stiff climb in the hot sun at times. The major climb ends at the windmill of the Mumm Estate known as Moulin. From this point on you are in the boutique champagne region, an area of small independent champagne vintners hidden around in pockets of small villages. One day when I have time I’d like to visit the area again.
We stopped in Verzy for our lunch of tuna salad and avocado sandwiches and chips and then stopped in at one of those boutique vintners for a taste. The owner Jean Paul Morel offered us each a glass as a gift to pilgrims. How could we refuse?
There used to be a railway running along the Verzy Forrest between these small villages. They form a crescent shape of primarily east-facing vineyards. The railway, long since dismantled, provided a welcome shaded walkway that was also relatively level and broad. Other than the bothersome mosquitoes (a result of all the recent rain), it was a perfect end to our day.
We arrived at our host’s house in the small village of Trepail. The entire evening was completely in French. I’m happy to report that despite undoubtedly horrendous grammar, we had a good multi-hour conversation exclusively in French. It was fun,…tiring, but fun.
Our host is Mme Jacqueminet . She has a family label of her own and a glass of champagne was our first course for dinner tonight. After a pate we were treated to fresh garden vegetables and a veal and tomato main course. After this was a local goat cheese course that was very creamy and had a mild blue cheese flavor. Allison is no fan of either goat cheese or blue cheese, but I was in food heaven.
Tomorrow is our last day in this area. The department doesn’t change but the landscape does. We will be going through a desert – not a sand desert, but a village, food, and water desert. This will be a physical and mental challenge. We appreciate your prayers and well wishes for the next 5 days as we make our way through.
P.S. Oh…and by the way, an Italian online magazine has picked up our story…so now we’re famous! Link below.
Day25 Reims Rest Day
Day 25, wow. Today is a significant milestone. We are 25% through our Pilgrimage. It’s also our first rest day since Dover, and it is coming after 5 consecutive 20+mile days. So…great timing!
We slept in late … what a blessing… and had a leisurely morning before heading to the French treasure in Reims, the Cathedral. In my opinion the outside was more impressive than the inside. But then again, we’ve yet to see a cathedral that impresses as much as the one in Burgos Spain.
The Reims Cathedral does have the bragging rights of being the traditional site for the coronation of French Kings going all the way back to Clovis in 509 AD…so that’s cool.
After a good salad back at our hotel apartment, we went to Pommery Winery for a Champagne tour. The cellar pits were dug by Romans to mine the chalk and later joined with tunnels to make the famous cellars of Reims. It was cold in the cellars and the tour was interesting but expensive.
The real highlight of the day was dinner with Yannick and Agnes, the couple we met yesterday while hiking. It was a fun night until I broke the tooth back off and later progressively whacked Allison and then Yannick in the head with my camera attempting to take a bullet time shot.
So much for international relations between the French and Americans.
Enough for a rest day. We’re off again tomorrow.
Day24 Pontavert to Reims – What a haul…pop the bubbly!
Waking up in the country after a good night’s sleep is a wonderful thing. We had breakfast on the glassed-in patio overlooking a lovely yard and a huge vegetable garden. Our hostess, Nadine, even sat and had her morning coffee with us after her husband poured Mark and I the largest cup of coffee we have ever had. I think Jean-Paul read our blog post about where I missed my morning coffee. No such complaints this morning. I am caffeinated and ready to roll.
We walked along the road in the crisp morning air. The road had quite a bit of traffic, so we opted to venture off-road/off-the-VF and take a “short cut” which actually was a true short cut! We did cross a few countrified “keep out” signs. We joked that if this was West Virginia there would be several stills with their guard armed with his trusty shotgun. Luckily we saw no one, no one armed that is.
Back on the Via Francigena, we went through an area that had recently experienced a strong storm. The path was completely blocked, and we struggled to make our way through the downed trees.
While eating lunch in the village of Merfy, we saw two other backpackers coming toward us. Of course we looked super cool sitting on a street bench with our socks and shoes off and me with my feet propped up on my pack. Of course I mean the “opposite” of cool, but my feet felt great! Anyway, the young couple was polite enough to stop and chat with us. Agnes and Yannick were on a short adventure together and were spending the night in a local monastery. Wow did they seem like us a few decades ago! I even spied them walking together hand-in-hand as they left….I thought WE were the only ones to still do that! 🙂
After lunch we checked the time and distance to Mark’s dental appointment. Fortunately, or ironically, the appointment was 1hr55min away and google’s shortest route matched it exactly. We needed to get moving.
Unfortunately the google shortest walking route takes no account for safety or practicality (it is a computer after all). We found ourselves walking at top sustained speed of 3.7mph. That is so fast we were both breathing heavy and sweating buckets as we were throw into the ditch repeatedly by high speed oncoming traffic.
We would have been terrified, but there was no time for that. We just soldiered on and dared the cars/trucks to hit us. I pictured the two of us diving into a ditch at the last minute to avoid an incident. Honestly, the drivers were mostly polite and tried to pull over when they could.
Anyway, after trudging through what seemed like and endlessly long suburb, we made it to the dental appointment with 2min to spare!
While Mark had fun getting his tooth super-glued back in temporarily, I just waited in the waiting room wondering when someone would kick me out due to Covid rules or the stink factor. Mark already mention that we had worked up a little sweat as we walked into town. My conclusion…the French are beyond patient and kind.
After leaving the dentist office with only a 39euro dental bill, we headed in the direction of our lodging but got side tracked by a wine bar. Seriously, I think we deserve a glass of wine and some tapas after today’s 22.5 mile adventure. I mean, look at Mark’s smile. That smile says it all!
We hit up a grocery store moments before it closed and then finished our walk to the hotel. The hotel was near the train station and was an ExtendedStay type of place. Most of the clientele seemed to live there more permanently than two pilgrims and we felt a little out of place. Still, the room was clean and we were so tired we didn’t really mind.
Tomorrow is a rest day! This will be our first since Dover two weeks ago and although we don’t feel too bad I think some time to chill for a little while will be welcome. There is so much to see here. More about Reims tomorrow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was so tired this evening I ordered water in Italian, but we are in France. I was very confused when our multilingual waiter responded back in Italian. Allison got a good laugh out of that one!
Regardless, dinner tonight was yummy.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.