It has been a while since I updated last and quite a lot has happened!! I have been keeping a diary of sorts to help me remember all of the events so am now typing up from notes I have made. One of the benefits of keeping a diary is that it means I am able to write this up on a day to day basis.
Sunday 30th August
My final day in England was almost a total disaster for many reasons. The first problem that I encountered on the day was a phone call from Nathan to tell me that he had broken down on the M25 and didn't think he would be able to make it all the way to Dover. This was a fairly large problem as Nathan was bringing me some more money to enable me to fund the next leg of my journey!! I didn't panic though. I asked him to try a few different things and call me back with updates whilst I continued on to Dover. At the same time I also got in touch with my brother, Rich, to see if he would be able to drive down and pick Nathan up and bring my additional belongings to Dover if the need arose to which he agreed immediately.
As it was, there was little that could be done for Nathan's car at the time so Rich set off from Chester at around 11am. I had to check in for the ferry by 6pm so I was praying that he didn't run in to any traffic along the way or get lost!! I took a good look at the map and gave him what I thought were the best directions and just hoped for the best. He arrived to Nathan at about 3pm and they met up with me at around 4.30pm in Dover. Disaster number & averted!!
The second problem I ran into was one of miscalculation. I didn't want to walk along the A2 as it is a main carraigeway with cars and trucks speeding along at up to 100mph. Instead I decided to use a couple of B roads through the countryside and go via Folkestone. This sounded simple enough and I was confident that I had located a decent route. My confidence was misplaced however as I ended up walking about 5 miles out of my way as I missed a turning! In total I think I must have walked about 20 miles to get to Dover when it should only have been around 15! I got there eventually though so both potential disasters were avoided although there were some extremely dangerous sections of road along the way and I nearly got killed a couple of times!
I was a little disappointed with Folkestone - sorry if you live there or like it! It reminded me of Blackpool if I am honest although the beach was probably a bit better than in Blackpool! I think after a hard day of walking through dangerous sections of road I was maybe hoping for a little more for my troubles. I rested a short while on the beach there and took the opportunity to walk in the sea to try and help the blisters on my feet.
I met up with Rich and Nathan in Dover with time to spare before check in so decided to go through my bag again and shed any more weight that I absolutely did not need. I decided to leave my MacBook behind as I could not really justify carrying it. Laptops weigh more than you think when you have to carry them 20 miles in the sun! I also got rid of some toiletries that I hadn't used as this stuff can be picked up along the way and I also got rid of some suncream - I now have factor 10 for my body and factor 30 for my shoulders and head - carrying a bag would not be nice with sunburnt shoulders! I immediately felt more comfortable with the new weight of the bag. I had been experiencing a sore neck and sore shoulders over the last few days and felt that the bag was just too havy.
Nathan tried carrying the bag as I had been carrying it and almost fell over backwards a couple of times such was the weight. We then decided to take some photos around Dover before Rich gave me a haircut in the street - people passing gave us some odd looks but it didn't matter - I want a suntan on my head by the time I reach Rome! We took some good photos but they corrupted on my camera which I was disappointed about. Ah well, such is life!
We then had a bit of a mix up when we went to collect my free ticket kindly donated by P&O Ferries - Nathan got the reference number for me from my email inbox but then decided to give me his insurance reference number instead so the lady at the desk at P&O Ferries was slightly bewildered! We had a laugh at Nathan's expense for a short while but the lady managed to sort everything out for me in the end. I then said my goodbyes once more to Rich and Nathan before getting on the bus that takes you to the boarding point for the ferry.
I took the opportuntity to make the most of what little time I had left to use the internet with a flurry of Facebook messages before I passed out of English seas and the service was no longer provided for my mobile by Virgin in the UK. As the ferry left the port I took some photos of the white cliffs of Dover before heading to the food court for some much needed grub. I decided to have the chicken tikka masala and was not disappointed.
I began to feel a little nervous as we crossed the English Channel - I had not used French in about 11 years since I left school and was unsure as to how much I would remember once I needed it. Ah well, no turning back now I thought. I would just have to do my best! The crossing was a fairly good one and we arrived into Calais at 9.30pm local time. It suddenly dawned on me that a morning crossing may have been better - it was dark, I had no idea where to go and I had no idea whether I could converse in French!!
I managed to find my way into the town centre fairly quickly and was delighted to see lots of signs pointing out the direction to the hotels! I found one fairly quickly in the end and checked in - I had no idea at all where I could have pitched a tent so thought a hotel would be the safest option. The room cost €38.70 and breakfast was €5.00 on top of that. It was certainly more expensive than I had hoped for but at least I had a bed for the night! I turned the TV on and found that they have English channels so watched a few episodes of The Office before going to sleep.
Monday 31st August
I got a good night's sleep but woke up at about 5am - strangely I have been waking every night at 4am in England too! I got up at 7.30am and breakfast was brought to my room at 8am. I was a little disappointed with the breakfast to be honest - €5 and all I got was half a baguette with butter and a choice of jam, marmalade or fromage! I did get a coffee too but it was still a bit steep! I showered and left the hotel at about 9.30am to begin my day's walk to Wissant. I remembered that Benedict Protheroe had also headed this way on his first day in France.
Before I got very far I encountered some English people waiting to see the vet in Calais so got talking with them. They offered me a cup of tea and even gave me some sandwiches! I must have been there for about 45 minutes altogether before heading off again. I spoke to a French guy on the beach who assured me that I would be able to walk all the way to Wissant on the beach as the tide was going out - I think the total distance was about 12 or 13 miles. Everything went well for about 7 miles but then I reached a section where the tide was still in and I had nothing but rocks and cliffs to my left!
I decided to climb over the rocks as I had little idea where I was and didn't want to get lost on my first day!! It proved quite dangerous and I nearly fell face first into the rocks on several occasions! There were times when I questioned my sanity in trying to climb over the rocks with a heavy bag on my back but I had reached the half way point so it seemed daft to turn back. I managed to get to the other side (somehow) unscathed and continued the rest of the way along the beach until I arrived in Wissant.
All day the weather was fantastic - the weather report in the morning had forecast 28 all day in Calais and I think it may well have gotten hotter! I managed to catch the sun auite a bit and there is now a definite difference between the colour of my arms and the rest of my body! I will have to have a few rest days on hotter days to sunbathe so that I don't have a t shirt tan when I arrive in Rome! I used the factor 30 on my head every few hours and it seems to have worked well as I did not burn at all - not like me at all, I am usually terrible in the sun!
I arrived in Wissant shortly before 3pm and was very pleased that I now had my trainers - they made the walk a hell of a lot more pleasant and I have now decided to wear my trainers on softer ground or more consistent ground and my boots will be for in the rain as they are waterproof and also where the ground is very uneven as they offer my feet and ankles more support than my trainers do.
Wissant was like a maze to me - I went seqrching for a campsite and it took ages! I finally managed to locate it with the help of a French builder who spoke no English - another chance to improve my French! It only cost €8 to cqmp there for the night, a lot cheaper than the hotel the previous night! I pitched my tent and headed back to the beach and stayed there for about 3 hours to try and top up my tan. I also spent some time walking in the sea to try and help my blisters heal.
I found a restaurant after that and decided to have a pizza and a beer - it's really expensive over here, about €5 or €6 a pint! I will have to stay away from beer in restaurants and bars otherwise my money will quickly run out! I found a shop on the way back to the campsite so got a couple of cans of Kronenbourg - €0.80 per 330ml can - and returned to the campsite to listen to some Italian on my iPod and drink my beers. I went to bed at about 10pm as it had gone dark and I was bored! One thing that I have noticed so far in France is that there are a lot of pretty girls about - I knew I should have listened better in French class!
Tuesday 1st September
I had a bit of a lie in today and didn't get up until about 8am and set about packing up once I had washed and had a cigarette. I was woken up several times in the night due to the wind and also once at about 3am by some people talking quite loudly. It was a bit of a dismal morning but didn't rain at all - it was overcast and very windy throughout most of the morning. I bought 10 pains chocolats from the local Spar (they really do get everywhere!!) and waited for the tourist information office to open at 9.30am.
I explained to the lady about the mishaps on the previous day and requested some help finding a safe way to get to Boulogne. She recommended that I use the GR route and explained how to keep on it - red and white markings dotted along the beach and also down roads through towns. I left at 9.45am and reached a town called Audresselles at 12pm feeling very hungry after walking up and down lots of sand dunes and lots of hills also! I ordered a cheese and ham omelette with chips and they brought out the biggest portion of chips you had ever seen - being typically English I polished the lot off along with all the salad and all the bread they brought me!
I had a cappuccino afterwards to provide me with some sugar and left the restaurant at about 1pm. I followed the trail again for a while and then there was a sign that made no sense at all so I had to guess which way to go. I chose the wrong way and pretty soon found myself on the beach once more! Ah well, Bouolgne is on the coast anyway so I thought I would get there if I just followed the coastline. After about a mile of walking along the beach I had my next near death experience as I encountered more rocks where the sea was still in!
These rocks were much steeper and mostly covered in seaweed and were definitely more dangerous than the rocks I encountered yesterday. I didn't want to get lost again though so I decided to just go for it, maybe not the most sensible decision in my life but what would Ray Mears do? I had to traverse about half a mile of rocks like this and it was heading around a cliff face so I couldn't even see where it would end. I was dreading the tide coming in even though I knew it was on its way out!
I got to the other side of the rocks feeling very relieved only to find the steepest steps in the world to return me to road level. The last 2 miles and the next mile there was a very sheer cliff so I thought I better take the steps rather than risk my life again! I ran up most of the steps, partly because I wanted to get back to a safe place and partly because I hate walking up steps. I got to the top and was happy to see that I only had about a mile left to wakl and it was all down hill, just a shame I didn't have roller skqtes!
The beqch in Boulogne was really nice, very clean white sand and also a pretty decent size. I walked in the sea for a while again to help my blisters and then sunbathed for a while before going in search of a campsite again. I put some factor 30 on my ankles today as they had got sunburnt yesterday! The weather has been really good this afternoon - the sun cqme out at about 3pm and was glorious until about 6pm or 7pm.
I asked a Frenchman who, again, spoke no English but managed to get enough out of him to know where to head for. I had to walk another 2 or 3 miles to find a campsite. I am not sure how many miles I covered today. I think it might have been as much as 15 but it's hard to tell as so much of it was along the coast whereas the roads are more direct. Also, it was a difficult day as the wind was so strong and most of my walking took me directly into it!
The campsite was just outside of Boulogne in a place called Le Portel which seemed nice enough but the camping cost more at €11.20. I managed to practise more French whilst I was talking with the lady at the reception. I feel like my French is improving day by day although I have a very long way to go before I can hold any decent form of conversation - at least I am managing to get by though!
Once I had pitched my tent I went in search of somewhere to eat and settled for a bolognaise at one of the local restaurants - strangely they were just opening as I arrived and were closed when I passed it about half an hour after I left! People just don't seem to work over here! I had a walk around Le Portel for a little while after my meal before heading back to the campsite and decided to get an early night at 9.30pm as there was nothing to do and the wind was so strong that I didn't want to get out of my tent!
Wednesday 2nd September
I had a terrible night's sleep last night as the weather was pretty horrific for sleeping in a tent! The only are to pitch was at the top of a hill and I was very exposed up there to the worst the weather had to offer. I was worried that my tent was going to fly away so struggled to get to sleep - a couple of pegs kept working loose so I had been replacing them but decided to give up in the end and sleep in a wind tunnel! I decided right then that I had to get away from the coast as soon as possible!
The weather has been dismal again this morning and I have had to deal with both a strong wind and intermittent showers. It's a real pain having to get changed in and out of my waterproofs as it is far too hot to walk in them when the sun comes out. I found a cafe in the centre of Le Portel to get some more pains chocolats and a pot of tea before braving the weather. I also took the opportunity to try and read a French newspaper to help jog my memory of French - I headed straight for the sport section as football is a universal language!
I decided to head for a place called Montreuil-sur-mer after I had visited the tourist office and was informed that the walk would be about 40km (that's about 25 miles). I took some photos around Boulogne before I left and I made sure to eat as I passed a McDonald's at about midday! About 8 miles down the road I stopped at a cafe in Condette for a coffee and got speaking to the lad in there - again he spoke no English but it was another chance to practise my French. The conversation flowed surprisingly well and I am feeling more confident now everytime I get the chance to converse in French!
The paths were pretty good pretty much all the way to Montreuil-sur-mer, certainly a damn sight better than they had been in England anyway! France, as a nation, seem to be quite keen on jogging, walking and cycling and provide decent paths for people to be able to do this on. One thing you do have to watch out for though is the odd motorbike flying up the path - I am not sure whether it is legal or not but it is certainly common!
I stopped a couple more times on the way to rest and drink water and also get a coffee when the opportunity arose but came over all dizzy on my last break about 3 miles outside of Montreuil. After realising how many miles I had to cover when speaking with the lad in Condette I had upped the pace considerably so that I could make it before dark. I think maybe I pushed a little too hard but got plenty of water and energy tablets down my neck to help.
I arrived in Montreuil-sur-mer at about 7pm and found a campsite fairly quickly. It was only €8 to camp here so I was happy about that! I went in search of a restaurant only to discover that everything was in the 'high town', meaning lots of hills to get there! I finally managed to find somewhere reasonable to eat and ordered a lasagne with an extra portion of chips - the bloke there looked a little bewildered but I ate every last bit - I'm doing us English proud! I also had a few Fantas to help replace the sugars in my body as I think this might have been why I had felt dizzy earlier.
As I finished my meal an English family approached me who had noticed I was wearing a t shirt stating I am walking to Rome and we chatted for about 20 minutes. They seemed really interested in what I was doing and they were very nice. I gave them my blgo details and they even took some photos of me!! I left the restaurant at around 9pm to head back to the campsite as I had noticed a sign stating that they closed at 10pm each night. I am glad I left so early - everywhere looked completely different in the dark and I almost got lost a couple of times!
To make matters worse I had come out in shorts and t shirt and it was now pouring down quite heavily - it's funny but I have seen more rain in 3 days in France than I saw in the whole of my 2 weeks travelling across England! I eventually managed to find my way and arrived back at the campsite soaked through at about 9.45pm - just in time! It took me until around midnight to get to sleep due to the noise of the constant downpour of rain on my tent but at least the wind had died down!
I have been trying to find a way to phone home for a couple of days now too but none of the telephone boxes seem to accept cash over here. I am trying to get hold of a phone card from somewhere but everywhere I have tried either does not sell them or can't seem to fully understand what I am asking for!! The search will continue...
Thursday 3rd September
I got up at about 8am this morning and headed off to get a shower and freshen up before packing my stuff up. Just as I started to pack everything up it decided to rain, bloody typical! It stopped after a couple of minutes though and the sun came out so at least I didn't get soaked again. Just as I finished packing everything up it started raining again and this pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day - rain one minute, roasting the next!
I headed into the town centre of Montreuil-sur-mer again so that I could try and find an internet cafe and a launderette. There was no internet cafe, I was reliably informed at the tourist information (which was only open from 10am-12pm and then 2pm until 7pm!), but there was a pc shop pretty much next door to the launderette where I could use the internet. Such is my luck that the shop was in a bit of a mess and there would be no internet access all day!
After my laundry was done I decided to head for a place called Hesdin which I think is about 15 miles away. I left Montreuil-sur-mer hoping that I would find an internet cafe there but not really expecting one. The walk was another difficult one, mainly due to the changin weather and me having to change in and out of my waterproofs constantly! I stopped off at an Aldi to get something to eat as my route had not taken me near anywhere suitable to eat.
I had a massive stroke of luck as I arrived in Hesdin that afternoon - I got speaking with a guy called Francois as I was enquiring about getting access to the internet and also about finding somewhere suitable to camp. He informed me that there was nowhere that he knew of for me to use the internet but I was welcome to use his internet at his house if I wanted. Even better, he offered me a place at his table and a bed for the night!! I fell really lucky speaking to this guy I think!
He lived in a village just outside of Hesdin so gave me a lift to his house and offered to drop me back in Hesdin on Friday so that I can continue on my way. He speaks no English at all, as do none of his family so this has been a really good opportunity for me to develop my French also. When they are speaking with each other I can barely understand a word but I have managed quite a bit of conversation with them provided they speak more slowly with me! It's surprising just how much French I cqn qctually remember and I am learning more all the time.
I am planning another 15 mile walk tomorrow to take me to a place called Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise and have another mammoth day planned after tha of 23 miles to take me to a place called Arras. I am hoping that Arras will also have internet access as it is a much bigger town than any of the others I have visited so far so I will hopefully be able to update my blog again on Saturday and upload any additional pictures if I have the time.
I must say I am really enjoying my time in France so far despite the initial nervousness about the language barrier. It is proving difficult at times but I am getting better all the time so I am sure that I will be able to converse quite well by the time I reach the south of France. I just hope that my Italian also comes on this quickly as I need to be as fluent as possible by the time I reach Rome!