Friday, 31 October 2008


Yesterday as part of our Christmas preparation we took the car on the ferry across the English channel or "La Manche" as the french call it. Our mission to search out bargains and quality wine, this was made harder by the exchange rate for the English pound (damn those bankers).
Unperturbed we headed north from Calais to just over the Belgium border ( tobacco products and Belgium chocolates) back down through Flanders, a beautiful part of France synonymous with war to the town of bergues famous for its bell tower and its carillon also the setting of the biggest grossing film ever "bienvenue chez les ch,tis" welcome to the sticks.

The film is about northern France and its strange dialect,a "big hearted place where tough centuries have bred not crime and desperation, but warmth ever-open doors and a propensity for simple pleasures" That's what the Internet says, and surprisingly this northern English cynic found it to be true, people smiled spoke to us on the street,the rough looking bar and its chorus of "bonjour madam bonjour monsieur" as we walked in.

This wasn't just Bergues,Our next port of call "cassel" was the same,the town is built on a hill, the only hill for miles in this flat Norfolk like landscape,so much so that the locals call themselves "mountaineer's" its supposedly the hill that the grand old duke of york walked up in the English nursery rhyme, so bearing in mind most of the wars fought here where with the English I've never sat down to a meal with so many people wishing me bon appetite.

I've always hurried through this part of France before in my rush for the south and the sun,i won't make that mistake again.

and now to the main reason for the trip "citi europe" the large shopping centre and hypermarket on the outskirts of calais,the girls (Rosie and Emily our youngest) left me in the wine section while they went in search of the more mundane
but my mind was on other things
early this year i gave hurried advice in the pilgrim forum of the road to Santiago, on the topic of chafing i recommended a particular brand of pants with polypropylen, other recommendations were made including seamless Lycra from any carrefour supermarket in france.
the pilrim took my advise and set off to walk the camino, this sadly gave me enormous pleasure that while i could not yet do my own camino my recommended pants could.
Intense testing as since proven me wrong, pants with seams are not the way to go,I feel guilt and hope the pilgrim didn't curse my name too much.
the giver of the advise on seamless Lycra was Sil someone who i now know to be wise in all things relating to the camino and whose advise you ignore at your peril.
so having got my Christmas supply of french wine i went in search of Lycra in gents underwear.
bearing in mind my youthful experience of walking was rugby shirt jeans and baseball shoes in summer and replace the baseball shoes with doc martins in the winter this year has been a steep learning curve, apart from a new language-(wicking-elaston-cool max-dri-fit and gore-TeX) I have had to get my head round smart wool?? micro fibre-day bag-bivy bag and that somehow rucksacks come in litres- plus worst of all my great trekking socks from lidls are marked left and right-when did that happen? so the concept of lycra and gents underwear is a bit alien to me and was not a big topic in the Yorkshire of my youth.
to say i like a bargain would come as no surprise to those that know me,i can take months searching charity shops-car boots-Internet sites for that one item i need-just last week i found a nearly brand new "Dri-fit" stretchy Nike top that i have worn as a vest on nearly every walk since and is the first peace of clothing that is defiantly coming on the camino with me, so to see the bargain bin and reductions at the end of the isle made me a very happy bunny.
So i am now the proud owner of three pairs of "Athena sport pro"with "cool max" for sechage ultra rapide for 9 euros.
The new metro sexual me was proud to walk through check-out with my lycra nestled among the "crozes hermitage" and "saint-emilion"
Having been away in London and France for three days to get back to walking was a sheer pleasure and armed with clothing with enough wicking ability to dispel all that Norfolk could throw at us, was slightly disappointed with the fine morning .

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The story so far.

'What book are you reading?' an innocent enough question to ask, but one that has brought me and my wife here, halfway through preparation for the longest walk we are ever likely to do.
"El Camino Frances" the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela from St Jean Pied de Port in France across the breadth of northern Spain a distance of 780km, that's like 500 miles in real money.
The book was "Spanish Steps" by Tim Moore, a good book but hardly one to make you follow in his footsteps. but more research and we were hooked plus it seems the Camino is the new black, everybody and his brother we meet seem to have done the walk or plan to do so in the future. Most seem to dip in and out doing the walk in stages, it can take up to a couple of months doing it slow walking, a walk for people with time on their hands, the young or the old.
They say that the moment you plan to make a pilgrimage you become a pilgrim - a term known to me only through John Wayne films and a song sung at school, as it was never my vowed intent to be one I'm quite surprised to find myself thus.
Approaching 25 years of marrage and our children reaching maturity ( lol) we were looking for a big challenge, something to mark this new chapter in our lives, something for us!! So pilgrims we are.
We started slowly having not done any serious exercise for years, I'm from the north of England and did a lot of walking in my youth (Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District) while Rosie is from South London and did no walking.
So 3 days a week we walked a circular route from our house just short of 6km. If it rained we didn't go.
I discovered the pain of splints and that playing lots of sport in my youth-rugby-cricket-badminton can play havoc with your knee joints plus maybe smoking doesn't help.
I was soon outstriped by Rosie who started running the course and entering us for 10k runs, or walks in my case, culminating in Rosie doing a half marathon while I watched with pride from the sidelines.
Due to the pain and maybe the need of a hip replacement, Rosie's plans of a London Marathon are now on the back burner, but nothing Rosie does surprises me. Two years ago she applied to go on "Extreme Makeover UK". No chance, I thought, but gave my support and had to continue giving that support during 5 weeks of filming and £36,000 worth of plastic surgery laser eye surgery and new teeth!
So now the training got serious - walks most days including packs and the distances got longer - now 12km. I gave up smoking, put on weight and lost it again.
We got a tent and then a caravan so we could travel to places with more rugged terrain than Norfolk where we now live.
As a publican I never got out of the pub unless to go to other pubs to play darts, dominos, pool, crib. So discovering Norfolk for the first time and rediscovering other parts of England was a sheer pleasure. King John lost his treasure in these parts while crossing the Wash so who knows - can't be that hard to find. In the meantime what we have found is a new zest for life and each other, and we look forward to what the future holds. It's not training for the Camino any more, but a way of life. "We're on a road to nowhere. There's a city in my mind Come along and take that ride and it's all right, baby, it's all right And it's very far away But it's growing day by day".