Walking in France RSS feed closing down

Dear RSS feed readers,

A special message just for you.

The vast majority of our subscribers receive our postcards as emails; very, very few as an RSS feed.

We recently changed our email postcard system. It is much simpler and straightforward process for our email subscribers. However, after sending an email from France, there would now be more work for us to create a post for your RSS feed, and given the limited time that we have on the net, plus the rigours of using a French keyboard, we have decided to close down our RSS feed.

If you received an email last week about our 2010 diary and photos then you are an email subscriber and you will continue to receive our postcards. However, if you did not receive the email and you want to continue hearing from us when we are in France, you will need to subscribe using the Postcard box at the top of this post. We hope you do.

With love

Jenny and Keith


2010 Walking in France diary and photographs

Dear All,

Seven months after the event, we have finally finished our diary of last year’s walk on the Way of Vezelay. It has more pictures than words, but if you want pictures only, we have also loaded a selection of our photographs into a Google Photos album .

Press F11 for a full screen display of the photographs. To return to a normal size screen display, press F11 again.

With love from Keith and Jenny

PS We have our plane tickets booked for this year’s trip to France, and hope to start walking south from Cluny on the 19th of June.


A postcard from Auch

Dear all,

We are in Auch, in fact we got here yesterday, a day ahead of our most optimistic schedule. Today, after 27 days of rain either all day or part of the day, the sun is shining in a clear blue sky. We feel quite disoriented, as do all the French, no doubt. So instead of hurrying back to Paris today to get away from the rain, we are staying here for a day of repose. It is a lovely old town on a crag a great height above the river, with a grand staircase going up, enough to test even our legs.

We are in perfect health and our feet are beautiful – not a blister or a piece of plaster in sight. Last night we had a wonderful dinner to celebrate the end of the great adventure, with a bottle of Gascony wine instead of the usual pichet.

It is surprising how the worst of days in France turns out well in the end. Probably our very worst day was two days ago. It began to rain soon after we set off and continued all day. We marched along in our plastic ponchos (what one of our former walking companions called condoms) until one of Jenny’s sodden shoes completely disintegrated and she had to wear sandals for the rest of the day. We got to a large village, Valence, where we hoped for coffee, only to find that it was the day of their “summer festival”, poor sods, and the bar was closed, blocked by trestle tables under the arcades where beer was being served to bedraggled locals. We could not even sit down.

Off we trudged again for another 11 km on the highway (the walking track was impassible because the notorious “gluant” soils of the Gers had turned to liquid in the rain), being sprayed by passing cars and in danger of our life. Somehow we lost our map as well. At last we arrived at the unpronounceable Castéra-Verduzan, where there was a camping ground and a hotel to choose from. Guess where we went?

The hotel owner had a son working in Thredbo (ski resort near Canberra) and took us to his heart. We had a luxurious, dry evening, with dinner in the elegant restaurant, and in the morning our host gave us free coffee and two little bottles of Armagnac.

We set off in fine spirits for our last day of walking and it was a perfect finale. The rain had stopped as we were sipping our free coffees and we even had periods of sun as we walked. Jenny’s legs made a final brief appearance although the air was still cold. Half-way along we came to the beautiful village of Lavardens with its massive chateau and yes, there was a little bar in a laneway and yes, she had croissants also, and yes, she gave us a little tourist map to guide us into Auch by the back way. Jenny’s shoe held together with the help of some more glue and a length of blue farmer’s string.

Another surprising thing is how often we come to a famous village (e.g. Montbazillac) and find it disappointing, whereas we come into other villages that we have never heard of (e.g. Vianne, Mézin) which are breathtakingly beautiful, and with everything a walker could want – in our case mostly a bar.

The World Cup is focussing the attention of the French nation at the moment, and causing much angst and soul-searching (“lamentable! pas d’ame!) and with Australia doing no better, we have transferred our alleigance to our Kiwi cousins.

And now a word from Dataman:

We walked 30 days (no rest days), for a total of 770 km with our packs, plus 73 km without packs. The distance without packs is much less than usual because we stayed so often in gîtes and hotels and did not have to walk miles in search of dinner. Our shortest day was 15 km and our longest 39, with an average of almost 26 km.

We climbed (and descended) 9700 metres, which was a lot given that we never went into the high country, just through the rolling hills of Berry, Perigord and Gascony.

We camped 14 times, stayed in hotels 9 times and gîtes 7 times.

Altogether it was a testing but glorious experience and we look back on it with great pleasure. In due course, when we have written up our adventures on the website, we will send out an email to let know.

With love from Keith and Jenny


A postcard from Bergerac

Dear All,

When we set off on this expedition, we hoped to have enough time to get to Bergerac, to link up with a previous walk, and here we are, with nine days to spare! This is a glorious moment for us, joining the Loire with the Dordogne at last. Our new plan (we have a new plan every day) is to press on to Condom, and possibly even to Auch, both points of linkage with other walks also.

We spoke too soon in our last email when we said the rain had passed. It did stop, but only for a day. Once again we have been wading through muddy farm lanes and forest tracks, but on the other the other hand, most of our blisters are gone, and we have no more toes or heels left to develop any new ones. We have been staying a lot in refuges provided for the pilgrims, which we greatly appreciate on rainy nights, although the food is hardly cordon bleu. They are subsidised by the commune and/or the church, which makes us feel slightly fraudulent.

At our last refuge, one of our fellow walkers, with whom we had been walking for a few days, came in hours after the rest of us, sat down and started sobbing like a child with exhastion, pain and misery. The doctor was called to look at his blisters, which were deep, old and disgusting. She ordered him to the hospital in Perigueux and his pilgimage was over. It was hard for him because he was very religious.

We are about to finish our traverse of Perigord – we crossed Perigord Vert (farms and forests), then Perigord Blanc ( chalk mines and the pearly white city of Perigueux) and are now in Perigord Pourpre (vineyards). The only bit we are missing is Perigord Noir (truffles). We asked at our latestgîtefor foie gras and truffles for dinner, but the guardians said they had already had that for lunch! We got a sausage and some mash. On the bright side, cherries are now a daily part of our life. The big black ones are now ripe on the roadsides.

We still have not met a single native English speaker on the track. Our companions have been either French or Dutch, and very good companions they are. We had a memorable dinner in Perigueux with two of them, in a beautiful old square.

We are back to camping these days and we have left the main Way of Vézelay, although some of our chums are coming to Condom too, to join the other pilgrimage. Our tent has been thoroughly tested and found to be waterproof! Tonight we are camping on the banks of the Dordogne and all the campeurs have been ordered to move as high as possible above the rising floodwater – a swift brown mass carrying all sorts of debris and sweeping through the lower trees.

We are hoping our equipment will hold together for another week and a half. We have mended packs, sewed on buttons, patched Keith’s airbed, darned Jenny’s shorts, not to mention the morning ritual of glueing her shoes together for another day’s punishment. We may walk onto the plane barefoot, in rags.

With love,

Keith and Jenny


A postcard from Limoges

Dear armchair walkers (mostly),

Well, we are half-way through our ramble across France,  just coming up to 400 km on the hoof. The region of the Centre was new to us and very interesting, filled with the spirit of George Sand and her coterie (the French equivalent of Bloomsbury), and the landscape school of Crozant. It is truly la France Profonde.

Summer arrived punctually, or a fashionable few days late, only yesterday, and Jenny’s lily-white legs were revealed to the world at last, after two weeks walking in long pants because of the cold. The rain has stopped, but it has left us a legacy of blisters. There is no way you can wade through long wet grass day after day, as we did on canal towpaths, without succumbing to a good crop of the hated things. Fortunately our packs are lighter than ever before, 6.3 kgs each at Sydney airport, which is not bad for five weeks’ walking and camping.

Walking on the pilgrim way from Vézelay has proved very sociable and we have made a lot of transient friends along the way. We see them mostly in the evenings, in the bars and restaurants of the villages, all hobbling with blisters after the rain. It has been a surprise to find no other English speakers so far – they are all Dutch, German, Belgian and of course French, so it has been a lot of fun sometimes in the gîtes at night, with everyone trying to speak each others’ languages.

So far we have stayed in four hotels and a few gites, for lack of camping grounds, but on the other hand it has been an unexpected luxury. The exchange rate with the Aussie dollar is so favourable this year that we subtract 20% from the price of everything and feel we are getting a great bargain.

Whilst sharing a bottle of wine with a French couple in a gîte in Cluis, we found out something new about walking in France, at least on the pilgrimages. It turns out that there are now two different paths, marked with different symbols. One is designed by the French Walking  Club and is often annoyingly circuitous, while the other is for real pilgrims who want to get to Compostela as quickly as possible. We have promptly converted to pilgrims, but unfortunately we do not have the maps for their route so it is all a bit hit and miss. Nevertheless we are now three days ahead of where we thought  we would be.

On the same convivial evening in Cluis, our French friend said that to speak English it was necessary to have a hot potato in one’s mouth. We would have replied that to speak French it was necessary to have a peg on one’s nose, except that we couldn’t think of the French word for peg. He apologised for not having learned English while at school. He had a very pretty young English teacher and when she sat next to him, he found himself incapable of learning.

The eating has improved since the low point of the inedible pizza. Lately we have had splendid French food and last night in Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat (beautiful little town on a hill), we ate outdoors for the first time this trip. We look forward to even better gastronomical delights as we come into the Dordogne, especially if we can keep away from gites!

Now it is time for us to attend to the serious matter of choosing a restaurant, after which we will retire to our hotel and hope our blisters repair themselves miraculously overnight. We don’t know who the patron saint of blisters is, unfortunately, so our prayers may have gone astray.

Love from Keith and Jenny 


A postcard from La Châtre

Dear all,

This is part nine of our French Long March, for the benefit of those readers who have only found our website in the past year.

We are in a really beautiful town today (home of George Sand, as they constantly remind us), on top of a hill with a huge stone church steeple dominating a maze of streets. There was a market in town just closing down when we stumbled in, so we we were able to buy provisions for lunch, otherwise we would have starved until the normal shops opened at 3.

We started in Cosne-sur-Loire a week ago, following one of the four classic pilgrimage routes in France, the Way of Vézelay. It was a real treat to be met off the train by a friend who lives in the area. So far we have gone about 175 km, on all sorts of tracks – canal towpaths, minor roads beside the Loire, an abandoned railway viaduct high above a valley, stony paths through vineyards and lots of grassy wheel tracks. Everything is green and abundant, but the cherries are not ripe yet, so we have not been living off the land as much as usual, but we hope we soon will be.

We have had plenty of French language practice, starting in the bus to Sydney (a French woman living in Booroowa!). We have camped most of the time, on the manicured lawns of French camping grounds, and the weather has been mild and fine, except on the three occasions when we could not camp (a hotel and two gites), when it has poured with rain each time, so we feel that St-Jacques has our interests at heart, good pilgrims that we are.

The gastronomical experience has been mixed, ranging from the elegance and hushed gentility of our Logis de France hotel in Sancoins to a tin of sausages and lentils warmed up in a gîte in the depths of the countryside near Saint-Amand-Montrond. We have eaten pizza on a balcony looking over the Loire to the great abbey at la Charité-sur-Loire, pasta on a sort of bridge over a millpond full of ducks at Cosne-sur-Loire, beautifully cooked rabbit and guinea fowl in an old riverside inn at Saint-Thibault, dinner in the kitchen of a chatty old widow in a crumbling mansion on the Canal de Berry, and last night, stodgy, indigestible pizzas (not the ones we ordered) in a shambles of a brasserie in Châteaumeillant, dominated by the television. Most of this meal ended up tossed over a hedge this morning, in case the wildlife have stronger constitutions than ours. We are hoping for a meal worthy of the French nation tonight.

We are in great health and good spirits, and if we have had the odd blister or equipment failure (shoes, mattress), we are not admitting to anything.

Finally, we love receiving your emails, but given our limited time on the net, plus the rigours of using a French keyboard, it is very difficult for us to reply. So if you don’t hear from us directly from France, we will reply when we get home.

You can contact us either via the email link on the top right hand corner of this page, or just reply to the email that originally notified you of this postcard.

With love from Keith and Jenny


2009 French walking photographs

Dear all,

We have loaded our photos from this year’s walk onto Google photos.

The Picasa default setting for the duration of each slide is 3 seconds. If your download speed is too slow, the photos will appear fuzzy. You will need to increase the duration time to overcome this problem.

So you can see we did have some lovely walking this year, despite the shortness of our trip.

With love

Keith and Jenny


A postcard from Canberra

Dear All,

Walking in France: Morning above the Vezere
Morning above the Vézère

The disappointing truth is that this year’s expedition has gone the same way as last year’s  – namely, to an untimely end. Jenny’s eye problem was not something that could easily be fixed in France, and she was finding it very demoralising, so after considering various options such as soldiering on, hiring a car or staying in a village, we decided the best thing to do was to come home and see a doctor. It was not so much an eye problem as an eyelid problem, not life-threatening or even sight-threatening, but very upsetting all the same.

Walking in France: Farmland in Correze
Farmland in Correze

Nevertheless, we had an excellent week-long walk in the south-west, an area that we know quite well and love dearly. It is such a beautiful part of the world and there are well-maintained walking tracks all through it, freshly mown and newly signposted, but we are constantly amazed at how little these tracks are used. This year, apart from a group of local day-walkers and a British couple, also out for the day, we met no other walkers. Cyclists are much more common but they only go on roads.

Walking in France: Second breakfast in Vigeois
Second breakfast in Vigeois

We have noticed that it is getting harder to go from village to village and find a functioning cafe and shop. The smaller places are gradually dying as people now drive to bigger towns for their shopping at the increasingly prevalent huge supermarkets. This is making it more and more difficult to enjoy the sort of walking tours that we have had over the last eight years.

Walking in France: A second breakfast
A second breakfast

We had some days when the village cafes were wonderfully plentiful, and others which were completely decaffeinated until we arrived at our destination. On the other hand, the pleasure we got after one of these tough days, arriving at a beautiful spot, sinking into a chair, ordering coffee and lunch under an umbrella, was so great that it made all the hardship worth while.

Walking in France: Uzerche
Walking in France: Metro
One of the two remaining Art Nouveau Metro entrances, Porte Dauphine 

While we were in Paris trying to make up our mind what to do, it was almost a continuation of our walking tour. There was nothing wrong with our legs and we covered more than 20 km every day, with the aid of a little book called the Walking Guide to Paris. Every day we took the metro to some far-flung, little-known oddity of Paris and then wandered back towards the centre. We stayed at the camping ground in the Bois de Boulogne, which was packed out, but they never turn away people on foot – you just have to find a square inch of ground for your tent.

Walking in France: One of our favourite places in Paris - St Michel
A coffee in one of our favourite places in Paris – Place St Michel

The restaurant at the camping ground was run just like Faulty Towers. On our last night there, we were asked to move to another part of the terrace, then requested to move back. We declined to move the third time. Our order was taken, our wine was served and then nothing came out of the kitchen for an hour and a half except the chef, who emerged from time to time to have a smoke and a snack, and the two waiters who rushed out, looked round wildly and disappeared inside.

Walking in France: Beside the canal St Martin
Beside the canal St Martin, Paris

Everyone round us was having the same problem. We were all starving. At last a waiter dashed up and offered us the menu, so I said loudly that we had ordered long ago. He asked us what we had ordered and I said chicken. “There is no chicken on the menu tonight!” he said, then changed his mind when he saw our faces. Half an hour later we rose with dignity and left, unfed but without paying for the wine. By the murmurs of approval from our fellow guests, we got the feeling that there was about to be a mass walk-out.

In summary, our visit to France was short but full of delights, which unfortunately were overshadowed by a problem that could not be ignored. We will send another brief email in a few weeks’ time, when our photos are up on the net.

Love to all from Keith and Jenny


A postcard from Paris

Dear all,

Welcome to the start of part eight of our French Long March, and welcome to our new system of sending postcards.

We now have three types of readers: our stalwart friends, some of whom have been receiving our emails since 2003 (thank you for changing over to the new system); people from Denmark, New Zealand and the US who have found our website and are interested in walking in France and with whom we have exchanged some very interesting emails; and others who have anonymously subscribed to our system. To you all, it’s nice to have you along.

We planned to walk for six weeks. Over the past seven years we think we have made just about every possible mistake that can be made when walking in France. We hoped we had learned from these experiences and this year would be trouble free.

As you can see from the provenence of this postcard, this did not prove to be the case. Jenny had trouble with her eye which caused her to panic a bit, and may result in our coming home early for medical treatment. Meanwhile we have decamped to Paris.

We had a quite delightful week of walking in the department of Correze, following the beautiful Vezere river, from Terrasson to Treignac. We arrived from the depths of a Canberra winter, plunged into a heat wave, and ended up in a second ice age. The good thing was that we spent the hottest day of the year in a luxurious air-conditioned hotel at the village of Saint-Pantaleon, or Saint-Pantlin as we fondly call him (Keith’s surname).

The countryside is unbelievably green and fertile, sprinkled with charming villages, cherry trees, riverside cafes, and friendly, hospitable people. The camping grounds usually have cafes and are often beside artificial lakes, so we are well looked after.

We left the river at Treignac and walked 20 km to the hamlet of Lacelle, then impulsively decided to dash off to Paris because of Jenny’s eye. There was neither train nor bus out of this tiny place, so we were reduced to hitch-hiking. After a short time, a car stopped and to our amazement, out jumped some people we knew! We had met them at the camping ground at Treignac, at the “pot of welcome” put on by our genial host. These excellent people took us into Limoges and half an hour later we were speeding towards Paris. Six hours after starting to hitch, we were in the Paris camping ground eating a fine meal at the restaurant.

Since then we have had a couple of very enjoyable days being tourists in this familiar, beloved city. What lies ahead is as much a mystery to us as it is to you!

Finally, we love receiving your emails. However, given the time restraints we have to get on the net plus the rigours of using a French keyboard, it is very difficult for us to reply to all of them. So if you don’t hear from us directly from France we will reply when we get home.

The easiest way to contact us is via the email link on the top right hand corner of every page on this site.

Finally, we send our best wishes to our various sick friends – Peter G, Chris C, Mike L, Lyn W, Maureen M, and anyone else who has got sick in the last two weeks!

With love from Keith and Jenny