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