Bonjour! 3,500 miles clocked up yesterday. Zut Alors! Celebrated with the lovely gang at Les Sapins Campsite.
Last 10 days kicked off in rain but have mostly been hot, hot, hot, especially downtown Paris. Basted myself in Factor 50 and sported a bandanna. Gentle breeze has prevented spontaneous combustion as have occasional plunges in rivers. Hats off to the Women’s Footy World Cup teams playing in this heat.
Can’t complain though, I may look like gammon on legs but it’s lovely walking country and perfect for camping…In fact I am writing this outside my tent in the tiny town of Dormans, by the River Marne. After nine days hiking on the trot it’s been great to have Sunday off.
Wanted to get a haircut but nowhere was open, might try doing it myself…ok, maybe not, would end up looking (even more) like Baldrick.
Day 269 to 272
Google Maps took me on the wildest of wild goose chases yesterday and tested new Koko to the brink.
We plunged through forests, across fields (maize, linseed, beans) and over hills, some gentle and undulating, others steep, sludgy tracks still slicked with rain.
It was on one of these slippy trails, clumsy as a cow on skates, that I completely lost control of Koko. Rather than let her cascade to the bottom of the hill, I flipped her over – brilliant emergency stop, before toppling myself headlong into the bracken. Not clever.
The new Koko copes well with all sorts of terrain but is devilishly tough on very steep slopes, both up and down. Need to work on my zigzag, downhill technique.
Earlier in the day I had struggled with a gnarly uphill in the woods north of Rouen. After losing my footing several times in the mud, my temper snapped and I charged up a final time, howling in fury like a potty mouthed loon. Rage does have its uses.
I thought I was the only hiker for miles, but was horrified to chance upon a young woman walking her dog, as I crested the top, mid yodel. I apologised for all the noise I’d made, she smiled nervously, said a muted ‘bonjour’ and darted off sharpish. My turquoise shorts and wretched French grammar probably didn’t help matters.
That night I camped in a lovely, poppy strewn spot by the River Seine and tonight after a breezy, flattish 21 miler I’m in a little campsite, Camping de Criquet (as in the bug, not the game) about 50 miles from Paris.
In Rouen, the site of Joan of Arc’s martyrdom, I saw the striking church, built in her honour, marking the spot she was burnt, aged 19.
I stayed in the local Youth Hostel where I met Fred and Bev, an amazing Aussie couple, touring France on their push bikes. They are nudging 80, though certainly don’t look or seem it. It was a joy to yarn with them and one of the few times I was not the oldest guest in a hostel!
Thanks for reading, by Sunday I hope to reach a friend’s place on the outskirts of Paris.
Day 273 to 275
Oh Notre-Dame, Our Lady of Paris, even after that raging fire, you are still a show stopper, magic in your stones.
This photo is championing the stricken cathedral’s best side (Koko’s too!). No Entry barricades, scaffolding everywhere.
The first Mass since the fire was held last week, albeit the Archbishop of Paris and the congregation donning protective helmets.
Big hurdles still loom: the possibility the rest of the cathedral may collapse, poisoning from all the ruined lead, fears a new build will not match the magnificence of the old.
But, for all this, most French I’ve met believe that in time Notre-Dame will rise again, Phoenix-like, local craftsmen breathing life back into the stone, wood, glass and Quasimodo’s immortal bells.
After my night at Camping de Criquet it was another two lovely, if sweaty, days walk until the Paris suburbs.
Strangely, I didn’t see a single sign post to Paris itself, just to all the city districts. It was as if Paris is so strong in the imagination, like a fabled mountain or a great sea, that it needs no introduction.
I was lucky to be put up by old friend, Sophie, her French doctor hubby, Eduoard, and their three children, Henry, (who helped me lug Koko up several flights of stairs), Isabelle and Hannah. Hannah even sweetly drew a Tom’s World Walk picture with me on a globe pulling Koko, the likeness to Koko is uncanny, the likeness to me, less so!(pic).
A very happy reunion. Merci beaucoup Letellier family.
Today, I spent whizzing Koko between Paris landmarks – Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, the River Seine and later my favourite, Sacre Coeur in Monmatre near to my buzzy hostel called ‘Generator’ – nicer than it sounds!
Tomorrow I walk on east, happy to have seen Paris again for the first time in over 20 years, when I rode my bicycle through back in 1996…amazing to think, no Instagram then, or mobiles, or emails – it was all landlines and postcards. Another world away…
Day 275 to 278
On a world walk it’s all about the people. Sometimes even the most fleeting encounter will lift the spirits.
Meet road workers Remi, Jeff, Francois and Medi, alias The Big Fromage.
They dashed over to tell me about a trail through the fields avoiding a busy road and invited me for breakfast which included pate, cheese, baguettes the size of baseball bats and white wine! They even had a roadside table and chairs set up.
‘We only drink a sip of wine first thing,’ said Remi. ‘You start the day with a happy heart. Cheers! Sante!’.
They certainly do things differently in France! But what a top bunch of fellas.
The night before I’d walked into Le Parc de Paris campsite just as it was closing.
The big hearted receptionist, Lucy, who has a striking tattoo of one of Savador Dali’s melting clocks, showed me my secluded camping spot, very different to the previous night in east Paris, where the sweaty campground was chock full. She then supplied me with bread, cheese, ham and Orangina, which made me the happiest of campers.
The previous evening I met a lovely Colombian family and prior to this I met Bristol lad, Colston in a Paris hostel dorm.
Colston was bursting with nervous energy. He’d once been a drug addict but had now been clean for over seven years after finding God.
He works as a labourer and, when he has time, travels to share his faith. His ultimate aim is to set up a homeless shelter in Bristol.
‘I was such a mess before,’ said Colston. ‘Coke, crack, barbed wire tattoos, the lot. But now I’ve seen the light.’
I don’t share this fierce faith but I’m always inspired when belief, rather than sparking arrogance, leads the Colstons of this world to shine and help others. Top man.
I also met the singer, Edith Piaf, passing her statue on the outskirts of Paris.
Brought up in a brothel, unlucky in love, dead by 47, but with the soaring, punch the heart voice of a raw and smoky angel, she’s still much loved in France. Chapeau, Edith.
Yes, it’s always the people who keep me going, the living and the dead…
Thanks for reading and if any of you feel like supporting any of the three terrific charities I’m walking for, every pound, euro, dollar, zloty, bean etc is hugely appreciated. To all those kind souls who already have – Merci beaucoup.
Until next time, all the best and keep on keeping on…