Saturday, 12 September 2009

I'm Gutted

Friday 4th September

I slept really well last night and must have got about 9 or 10 hours in total! I still woke up a couple of times during the night though and, interestingly, at 4am again! I managed to get online for about 20 minutes this morning before François provided coffee and breakfast! I was about to ask for the lift back into Hesdin when François told me he was having some problems fixing his son's car but, if I wanted, I could haev some lunch and then he would drop me off there. I had no idea how to get back there and it was a really kind offer so I accepted and took the opportunity to update my blog and Facebook photos and this was where I had left off at the end of the last post.

It took me an absolute age to update everything and I was dreading using a French keyboard - I remember reading on Benedict Protheroe's blog how much of a pain they are but I found it alright once I had gotten used to it. If you were wondering why there was the odd rogue 'q' instead of an 'a' in my last update then now you know why!! I think there were only about 10 mistakes though so that wasn't too bad considering the length of my update...

In the end I departed from Hesdin at about 2pm after we had eaten. François, and his family, really were brilliant. They made me feel really welcome from the first moment and were really kind. I just hope I meet more people like that along the way. It was a good thing I had only planned a normal day of walking today given the time I set off but I knew I could get 15 miles done in about 4 hours if I walked at a good pace. I stopped off in Anvin to get a much needed cup of coffee but only stopped once more to take in some water along the way.

The weather was changeable for most of the day but, luckily for me, it didn't rain at all. It was constantly alternating between cloudy and sunny but the rain would have been a real pain as it would probably not have rained all day meaning I would have had to have changed in and out of my waterproofs all day long!! The wind picked up in the late afternoon and it became a little chilly by the evening. I arrived into Saint Pol at around 7pm and mananged to find a campsite fairly quickly. The reception was closed so I just pitched up for the night before going off to get some food. I had meat and chips - it was a massive portion and I ate the lot, although it was really poor quality food and I wouldn't want to have to eat that very often - it still cost €6 though...

I went to bed early at about 9.30pm for two reasons - it had got dark and I had absolutely nothing to do and I also wanted to try and get an early start in the morning as I was hoping to reach Arras which is about 23 miles away. I needed to make sure I paced myself properly on these sorts of days as I had been really exhausted the day I walked from Boulogne to Montreuil and was on the verge of feinting. I checked Google Maps, incidentally, and discovered I actually walked 30 miles that day!!!

Saturday 5th September

I got up at around 7am this morning and packed up once I had showered. Reception was still closed so it looks like I got a free night! I could do with a few more of these along the way to keep costs down - things have been more expensive than I had originally hoped when planning this walk and I would need to try and keep an eye on the finances. I headed into the town centre and got some pains chocolats before heading off on the days walk. I left Saint Pol at about 8am and set myself a target of reaching Arras by 4pm - this meant I could have plenty of rests along the way. It would be nice to find a youth hostel tonight as France are playing Romania and I would like to watch the match.

As I left Saint Pol I saw a sign that said Arras was 34km away. At 9.20am I saw another sign that said Arras was 22km away! Let me tell you, road signs in France lie...a lot! There is no way, as quickly as I walk, that I had covered 12km in 80 minutes. About 5 minutes later I saw another sign that said Saint Pol was 9km behind me - that sounded more feasible and proved that the road signs do in fact lie! I had a break at the first café after this as I had just walked about 3 miles of dual carriageway and fancied a break from the constant zooming of cars, motorbikes and vans.

The weather had been glorious this far and the sun had been out all morning. There was a little cloud about but not very much and it didn't interrupt the sun very much. It had been warm up until this point but not hot as of yet, although it looked like it would certainly get hot this afternoon - northern France seems to be quite cool in the mornings but it really warms up in the afternoon. To be honest, this morning's weather has suited me - plenty of sun to give me a tan but cool enough to not be uncomfortable walking in it.

I arrived into Arras, amazingly, at 1.30pm - this is partly my problem. I can't pace myself, I just go at everything 100% and never slow down! Luckily, it had only just started getting hot so I hadn't exhausted myself! After leaving the café I had really upped the pace and, using the road markers, I calculated that I had been walking as fast as 5mph in places, even with a bloody heavy bag on my back! I think half of the time I just want to arrive so I don't have to carry the thing any more!

I have been wearing my boots again today but will be changing back to my trainers as soon as the opportunity arises - I can feel some pretty nasty blisters on my heels again - just as I thought my feet were toughening up too! It's funny but the trainers seem to cause blisters around the balls of my feet whilst the boots cause them by my heels, at least this means I can alternate every few days to keep the pain and discomfort down though!

The first eating place I came across just happened to be a McDonald's again so I ate there, got some funny looks of the diners in there as I walked in with my huge bag on my back and dripping with sweat! Once I left there I headed off into the centre to find a tourist office. It was another couple of miles to get there so I was glad I had stopped at McDonald's as all of the food places seem to stop serving between 2pm and 6pm in France! I finally found the tourist office and discovered that the local youth hostel had closed down! Luckily there was a similar establishment in the city that I could go to so I went there. It cost €16.70 for the night which was slightly more than I had been paying at the campsites but it had a television for me to watch the football!

It was another mile to find that place and I made a point of having a shower as soon as I arrived! I had been sweating a lot in the heat and felt distinctively dirty. It's amazing also how much good a power shower can do for aching shoulder muscles, it's almost like a massage! I then decided to head back into Arras and see what the place was all about - despite the long walk it would be a shame to not make the most of my spare time in the city. It seemed like there had been some sort of military^procession in the city today but, by the time I arrived, it had pretty much finished.

I saw some people dancing in one of the squares to Michael Jackson songs and recorded it - it wasn't good, it was embarrassing but the French seemed to be loving it as they had quite a crowd! Personally, I was openly laughing at it but I think I may have been the only one - strange bunch, the French! I then went in search of more food but, typically of France, everywhere had closed for the afternoon! Do they ever work in France? I eventually managed to find a Subway that was open so decided to eat there - at least I could have as much salad as I wanted on my sandwich there...

I managed to get hold of a phone card to ring my parents but not before I had bought a top up voucher for my Virgin phone. A word of advice, don't buy a voucher abroad - I had read every word of the terms and conditions and information included in my sim pack to check for anything to say about buying credit abroad but there was no mention of it. Anyway, the voucher only had 14 numbers on it instead of 16 and I couldn't speak to anyone at Virgin as I had no credit! Grr!

I rang my parents to let them know I was alright and had arrived in Arras and also to give them my planned destinations for the next few days. My dad sent an email off to Virgin to see if they could add the credit to my phone - it was a €20 top up. He contacted me a couple of days later to tell me that they couldn't do anything but had put a quid onto my account - I can tell you now I will never be using Virgin again, I thought that was disgusting! I spoke with my mum and asked her how my gran was doing - she had been ill when I left so wanted to check she was alright. I also asked after my gramps - he checks this every day apparently to see how I am getting on so 'hi gramps!'

I continued my tour of Arras and took some photos but I think I arrived about a week too late to be honest. There appears to be loads of history here but the guide book I had said most things were only open throughout July and August! Again, do they ever work in France? I noticed there was a Roman site here that I would have liked to have visited but, again, it only opens in July and August! I headed back to my accomodation to watch France against Romania but fell asleep 5 minutes before the end! I have since found out that the score was 1-1 but it was frustrating not knowing the result!

Sunday 6th September

I got up nice and early again today at 8am and had breakfast. Yet again I was greeted by stale bread and jam with coffee. The French need to get with the program and start offering a full English but unfortunately they seem to love stale bread! I studied some maps for a while and decided to change my plans and head for Bapaume - after walking so far yesterday I didn't want to commit to another long walk with no decent sized towns in between. Cambrai was 35km away whereas Bapaume was only about 22km. Also, if I got to Bapaume and decided to continue then Pérrone was only another 20km down the road and it is a short cut on my travels to Saint Quentin anyway.

I set off at about 10am by the time I had sorted all of my stuff out and taken some photos around Arras. It's a shame I didn't have more time in Arras and it was not the high season as I think it is a place I would really enjoy spending a little more time. I set a good pace again once I had left Arras and kept it up for most of the day. I had very little pain from my new blisters - my plan to switch footwear seemed to be paying off! I popped the worst one last night and plastered it for the evening and that seems to have done the world of good.

I reached Bapaume at about 2pm but there was really very little to see or do. I couldn't see any hint of a campsite and most places were closed and I couldn't find anywhere to eat. These factors pretty much made my mind up for me so I decided to press on to Pérrone - I would have had to wait around for about 5 hours to get something to eat and I would have been so bored! I will have to make a mental note that nothing happens in France on Sundays!

I put down a good pace once I left Bapaume and arrived into Pérrone at about 6.30pm - there had been little of interest since leaving Bapaume anyway so I just pressed on. I had a few 10 minute breaks on the way but that was more to take in water and have a breather than anything else as well as to let my shoulders have a rest as they have been getting sore more often lately. My left shoulder in particular has been giving me real trouble over the past couple of days so I have to stop every couple of hours now anyway to get some pain relief!

I found a municipal campsite fairly shortly after arriving into Pérrone and that cost me €7.50 - I was surprised to be told I had to pay €1.10 for a token for the shower, cheeky buggers! I pitched my tent for the night and decided to go in search of somewhere to eat to help relieve my hunger pains! Pérrone, luckily for me, seemed much bigger than Bapaume despite how it had appeared on the map. There was quite a lot open in Pérrone and I managed to find somewhere to eat quite quickly although, again, it was poor quality food!

I was sat around fairly bored afterwards on a bench in the campsite at about 8pm half considering going to bed as I was so bored when I got chatting with an English couple. They went out to walk their dog but kindly offered me a cup of tea on their way back which I was delighted to accept - you don't know how good a cup of tea made by someone English tastes after having to drink the stuff in France!

Their names were Barbara and Alan and they were travelling back to Spain after a couple of months travelling around the UK. We sat talking until about 10.30pm and it was nice to have an English conversation for a change - my French has really improved since arriving in Calais but the language barrier does make it difficult for me.

Monday 7th September

I got up at 9.15am today - I guess I needed the sleep after walking so far yesterday! I had a shower and headed off to find a tourist information and a boulangerie for some pains chocolats for breakfast! I studied the map of France and decided to try and reach Troyes by Saturday night so that I could have a rest day there on Sunday in the hope that there would be some internet access there to update my blog and photos.

I left Pérrone at about 10am to head for a place called Saint Quentin. It was only a 25km walk to Saint Quentin and I arrived shortly after 2pm. The first thing I noticed was how busy the streets were - it seemed that I had arrived on a day when the centre was shut off to vehicles and instead the streets were full of market traders! It took me an absolute age to get through the centre before I found a tourist information office, totally by chance!

The weather has been superb today with the sun pretty much uninterrupted and temperatures at around 25 degrees all afternoon! It's not the nicest weather for walking in but I appreciated the sun nonetheless - being from a country where summer lasts about as long as a football match I like to enjoy the sun when it is about!

I got a city plan and a department map from the tourist information office and asked about campsites whilst I was there. I was directed to a youth hostel that had a campsite about 2 miles outside of the city centre. I was staggered to learn that it was only €8 for a room for the night so opted for a little bit of comfort for the night and the hope of a good night's sleep. I am hoping to get to Laon tomorrow - about 50km away - so felt a good night's sleep was essential.

I had not been able to find anywhere to eat again today but managed to get hold of a pretty basic meal at around 4pm before deciding to relax outside a bar having a few beers before finding somewhere for tea. I had to go back to the hostel to get some more money for my evening meal so that added another 4 miles onto my day's walking! Checked out a few restaurants before finally deciding on one and ordered myself a 3 course meal to try and get some decent nutrition for a change.

I called Emma tonight to see how Roman was getting on and it seems I had made the correct decision in leaving him behind. Not only had his paw not got better but it had actually worsened slightly and he has needed over 100 quids worth of treatment so far. The vet, who I actually went to school with, said he was glad I had made the decision I had as it would have been really unfair on Roman to have made him undertake such a trip whilst not in full health. I offered to give Emma the money for the vet bills but she declined which I thought was nice of her.

Tuesday 8th September

Got up really early this morning at 6am so that I could get a headstart. I really hadn't wanted to get up at 6am but I forced myself to get up. Yet again I had woken up a couple of times in the night, this time at 2am and 4am. I had been thinking that waking up all of the time might have had something to do with the tent and the noises but it seems not as I have been waking up every night no matter where I have slept.

I had a quick shower before going to find a boulangerie and got 4 pains chocolats and a can of Fanta to wash them down with! I set off from Saint Quentin shortly after 7am and must admit to feeling slightly disappointed to be leaving another town so quickly. Saint Quentin seemed another charming place with plenty to take in but I am sure I will find a few more places like that along the way too.

I was glad I set off so early and set a really good pace in the morning - I managed 30km by lunchtime, partly as I knew it would be a hot afternoon and I wanted to get as far as possible as quickly as possible before it got too hot! As a result I have some new blisters on my feet but these are on the balls of my feet as I have been wearing my trainers. I will see how my feet are tomorrow but may have to change into my boots for a couple of days.

I managed to find somewhere along the way to get something to eat and had a pizza for lunch. It made a difference for sure and I felt that I had more energy in the afternoon. I decided to slow down a little from this morning's pace, partly due to the blisters - the quicker I walk the more sweat there is so the more I blister - but also due to the heat. Again today it has been pretty hot and the afternoon was no exception. The heat really takes it out of you when you are carrying a heavy bag on your back. The pain in my left shoulder has not been so bad today but it is still there. My right ankle has now started hurting and I am worried it may be a strain so that was another reason to ease up a little.

The next couple of days will see me having to walk over 20 miles each day so it is important I look after myself properly. I never thought I would say this but I hope it is a little cooler for the rest of the week - at least while I am walking anyway! I am not sure I could regularly walk 25 miles plus in this kind of heat.. Today has, once again, been 25 degrees all day and it was about 20 degrees when I set off this morning!

I arrived in Laon at about 5.30pm and went in search of a tourist office. I couldn't find one but saw some signs for a campsite so decided to follow them. They ended up taking me across lots of hills for about 3 miles before I managed to get to the campsite but, on the bright side, it was in the direction I would be walking tomorrow! The camping only cost €6 for the night but the only place close by to eat was a McDonald's so I headed there to get some food - I was so hungry I actually ate two large meals one after the other!

I got back to the campsite at about 9.30pm and decided to get an early night as it was pretty dark on the campsite and there was literally nothing for me to do. I had spoken with an English couple for a few minutes so that I could work out where I was exactly so I could try and set a route for tomorrow but they were pretty much on their way out anyway.

Wednesday 9th September

Pat, the bloke I had spoken with last night, woke me up this morning at 10am - he said he was worried as he hadn't seen me get up and it had been a chilly night last night!! To be honest I think I had just been exhausted after such a lot of walking yesterday but it was a nice gesture. He offered me a cup of tea so I accepted - it's a nice thing to wake up to for a change! Again I didn't have a great night's sleep - I woke up several times through the night and really didn't feel comfortable at all.

Chatted with Pat and his wife for about half an hour before they were ready to set off - it took him as long to hook his caravan up as it did for me to pack up but he had a remote control for his caravan!! Pat was insistent on giving me something, first of all he offered me money but I declined and asked that he gave it to charity instead. He said he would donate anyway but wanted to give me something, after about 5 attempts I finally accepted some cigarettes! I don't really like taking things from people but he really wanted to give me something and, after so many attempts, I found it difficult to say no again!

I left the campsite at about 11.30am after checking the map again. I had noticed that my originally intended route would be pretty much all dual carriageway so had been keen to find an alternate route. I managed to find a better route down country lanes that would be less busy despite adding a few kilometres to my walking but I had already saved these yesterday walking to the campsite anyway. I could see there were no decent sized towns on my way so stopped at McDonald's so that I knew I would definitely eat something!

I managed to get to Soissons by 5pm and found a tourist office pretty quickly. I was hoping for a youth hostel after a pretty poor night's sleep but could only find a municipal campsite so headed there. It was pretty cheap and the staff there were really helpful. They advised me of a couple of decent places to watch the France - Serbia match. I got a shower and pitched my tent before going in search of more food! I ate in a kebab house of sorts before heading off to take some photos of Soissons.

I rang Rich tonight who seemed happy to hear from me although he sounded very surprised when I was talking French to him! My French is really improving all of the time and I am getting more confident in my ability to converse with people. I was telling Rich about the differences over here and how expensive everything was, it has certainly been costing a lot more than I had originally thought it would.

I returned to the campsite for an hour or so to waste some time as I was waiting around for the football and didn't just want to sit in a bar. I headed out to find a bar at about 8.15pm and found a pretty nice one quite quickly. I got chatting with the bar staff in there, who commented on how well I spoke French. A little later I got chatting to a couple of French lads; Abdel and Aurelien. They also commented on how good my French was and were also impressed with both my knowledge of French football and my ideas for their national team! In a world of language barriers, football is the one universal language!!

I returned to the kebab house to eat again as I was starving once more to be greeted by a French guy called Christophe who insisted on paying for my food as I was 'a welcome visitor to his country!' He then insisted that I join him in the bar next door for a drink once I had finished my food. Being English, I have been sceptical on occasions when people have been so nice to me - usually in England these people want something from you. In France people seem to be genuinely nice.

I went to the bar next door for a drink with him as I thought it would be rude not to after he had paid for my food and been so nice to me. I actually ended up sitting in the bar until 1.30am chatting with Christophe, some other locals and the barmaid, Laetitia. My French has really come on leaps and bounds as I managed quite a bit of conversation with them. After the bar closed Laetitia offered me a lift back to the campsite but ended up giving me a guided tour of Soissons in her car for about half an hour! She spoke good English and seemed happy to have the opportunity to practise using it. I finally went to bed at about 2.30am safe in the knowledge that tomorrow would be a tough day!

Thursday 10th September

Got up at about 9.30am and had a shower before packing up and heading off to look for an internet café. The only one I could find charged €6 for an hour, cheeky buggers! I had no other choice though so had to pay it. I wanted to try and work out exactly how far I had come and how far I had left to go and also see if I could formulate a plan of where I hoped to be heading for the following couple of weeks. It was at this point that it dawned on me that I still had almost 1,800km to cover.

At the rate I had been going, about 40km a day, it would take me about another 52 days if you included a rest day each week. A quick calculation meant that I had covered about one sixth of the distance but a check on my money revealed I had already spent a third! I calculated that to make it on the money I had with things being as expensive as they were would mean I would have to walk about 65km a day without having any rest days! To do this I would need to walk every minute of daylight and wouldn't even have chance to stop for lunch.

I thought about the situation for a while and rung my family to discuss the problem. My dad recommended that I take a couple of days out to think about things and relax but I couldn't even afford to do that as it would mean even less money to be able to continue with. I thought about things for a few hours and made a decision. As gutting as it was for me to do it I decided that I would have to concede defeat. I had thought about the repercussions of this decision and realised that there may be some people who are unhappy to have donated for me not to have completed so have decided to offer to personally reimburse anyone who has donated money provided they can send me evidence of the donation. I am feeling totally gutted about the whole situation and it's very difficult to sum up my exact feelings.

I have quite a bit more to update but I really need to eat right now. I will try and update again in the next day or two to let you all know what I have been up to since I made that decision but thought that maybe that was a good place to finish for tonight. I have been sat in front of a computer for about 4 hours now so could do with a break anyway.

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