Friday, April 27, 2012

Injuries and the weather!

I am about to leave Amiens (by bus!) - because I am recovering from an injury.

Let me begin by describing the weather - because the weather is indirectly responsible for my injury. COLD, VERY COLD, and for a change COLD! Today is the first day where I have felt comfortable in walking clothes since arriving in France. Those who know me well know that I don't (as a rule) feel the cold, and I certainly don't hike in things like polo fleeces, beanies and gloves. Well folks, here these only come off at shower time and the fleece is replaced by my down jacket - the best bit of gear that I have brought with me!

Most days it has rained, often hailed, and there has been a constant, strong, icy wind, with people talking about about the wind chill factor! As you can imagine it has not been the most pleasant conditions for walking, and in one particularly heavy downpour I leapt off the road to avoid cars and managed to seriously injure my left foot. At first I feared it might have been bone damage because of the pain, but it only lasted for a day or so and I think it is tendons. I have been nursing it as best I can by hitching lifts, catching buses for a kilometre or so, and even the train. I have probably walked about 75 percent of my planned route interspersed with other means of travel. 

The most dramatic reult of this was the day I chose to forgo seeing the memorial at Lorette and instead catch a train to Viny and then walk through the woods to the Canadian memorial. It turned out that the train was a bus, not sure why, and when we got to Vimy the drama started!

I am very slow in catching what people say to me and I need time to decode it, which, in this instance, I didn't have! In hind sight the bus driver asked me if I wanted to be dropped off in the main street but when she saw my blank look she headed for the railway station. What fun! She missed the turn, tried turning the bus (a full sized one) on a little narrow road, stopping all the traffic both ways. With all the passengers shouting at her (politely - I think) that we were about to go into the ditch she changed her mind, and she did the same on the other side of the road, with the same consequences! Third time lucky the bus was turned around and I was deposited at a deserted rail line (not even a little station).   I shrank into my seat and I am so thankful that I will never see those people again!

The impressive Canadian Memorial.

It is still potentially dangerous in certain areas

Eventually I made it the 7 or 8 kms up the hill to the very impressive Canadian memorial, where after a picnic lunch I bailed up a couple of Canadians who took me into Arras. They were so pleased they did otherwise they would not have known about this lovely town.

I have also had some wonderful help from other people along the way. Michel, my host on Anzac Eve rose from his bed at 2.30 am to drive me the 10 kilometres into Viller Brettoneux! 

Today it is fine and WARM - at 14 degrees!  I have left my down jacket in my pack and haven't felt cold at all!  My foot is still tender and so my plan is to catch the bus this afternoon to Peronne, have another rest day tolorrow and then, I hope, begin walking.  There are advanteges in everything though - because of all this extra time I have managed to catch up and fill you all in on my tale. 

Anzac Day and the journey to Villers Brettoneux.

The Western Front.  It is very hard to describe.  Walking it, as I did, made it easier for me to imagine the life that the soldiers would have led.  I was feeling cold, but the cold they had to put up with was nothing like what I was dealing with, and I had the luxury of a warm dry bed each night, and dry clothes to put on the next day. 

Even with the discomfort of the icy wind constantly battering me the scenes I confronted were peaceful, rural scenes.  The sounds I heard were those of birds, and distant bells chiming from the belfroi and church towers.  Many of the roads were silent, some I walked on without one car passing me in that time and I could walk along lost in my own thoughts.  Those fighting on the Front though would have been subjected to a constant barrage of sound, always on guard, and constantly uncomfortable. 

I walked beside peaceful fields which, almost a hundred years ago, would have been a sea of mud. I walked past, and through, woods which are peaceful and teeming with little creatures, but were treeless back then. At the sight of the South African Monument in Delville Wood there is an enclosure around the "last tree" left standing after the fierce battles that went on there. Now, it is a place of great peace and serenity.

The last tree - at the South African Memorial, Delville Wood.

As I walked I couldn't of course help thinking of those young men who had lost their lives at such an early age - I saw headstones for 17, 18, and 19 year olds - far too young! But, I thought of the women left behind too - the mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives - a whole generation of women left grieving, not only for what they lost, but what would never be theirs. What a tragic waste. 

The cemetery at Dernancourt.
Flowers placed at Dernancourt - the yellow ones say "Autralie de Sud"

The loss wasn't only the enormous loss of life, but it was also the waste caused trhough the destruction of the land where the fighting took place.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to return to a village and see nothing of it remaining!  Pozieres is an example of such total destruction, and yet the people of that village have rebuilt it and now continue with their lives.  One thing I read somewhere is that the destruction was so complete that no living creature lived there - not even a spider, and one commanding officer was said to have said, weeping, something along the lines of -  we sent our man to fight in THIS! 

Of course the Dawn Service was very moving.  To be there finally, in the bitter cold, and to watch a glimmer of a pink sunrise behind the memorial was special - it was also nice to sit and listen without having any responsibilies for a change.  I managed to get a seat very near the front and so could clearly see averything going on. 

The Cross of Sacrifce, with the Memorial tower behind at the dawn service.

Just to prove I was there!

It is an incredibly well organised machine.  We all got a beautiful souvenir programme, a little badge and there was even coffee and croissants available after should they be wanted.  There was seating for everyone too.  I was getting emails for the week before warning of the cold and the day before the maessage came out that the elderly, sick, and very young should re-consider their need to attend!  Apparently sleet / strong winds / rain etc were expected, but only the wind arrived for the service time.  The gendarmes closed the road form both directions and were out in force directing the traffic in the village of Villers Brettoneux.  Just in the time it took me towalk the kilometre or so back to the village &- buses passed me and there were many more before that too.   Reminded me of the infrastructure in a Jamboree!


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wonders - above and below ground.

Wellington Quarry.

When I was in Arras I went, after the belroi debacle, on a tour of the Wellington Quarry.  This is named after Wellington in New Zealand because it was the NZ tunnellers who had a lot to do with this quarry during the War.  There is also an Aukland quarry, which the NZ'ers connected with a very long tunnel. 

The entire quarry is below ground and was begun in the middle ages.  It has numerous tunnels and caverns througout, with the roof supported by various pillars left by the quarriers back in the middle ages.  The stone removed from these quarries - a sort of chalk / sandstone was used for the buildings in the area. 

Along board pathways, there is now a wonderful tour of the quarrry, with a very moving audio visual display throughout (complete with various WW1 songs!).  It was not only the NZ'ers who were in this quarry, but also the "Tommy's".  The pillars have a numbering system on them so that the men could find their way around and also signs to things like the latrines etc.  One wag put a sign up over a very small "cave" calling it the Waitomo Cave which, for the non NZ'ers reading this, is a very beautiful, large glowworm cave in the North Island of NZ! 

At the peak time of use during the war there were as many people (soldiers) living below ground as in the town of Arras itself - many thousands of people.  This was the area where the men left from for the disatrous battle of Arras.

During the second world war the entire population of Arras used this quarry as an air-raid shelter.

Albert Somme Museum.

A wonder because it too is below ground!  The Basilica in Albert (pronounced albear) was almost demolished in the war, but beneath the Basilica is a network of tunnels.  These have been converted to a very moving museum, complete with lifesized replicas of varying war time working situations, with life sized dummies.  The most touching for me was the "men" in a trench in winter time - complete with "snow".  These appalling conditions are hard to imagine, from our perspective so long after.

These tunnels are bricked and the length is over 250 metres!   I am not sure why they were originallycontstred, but like the Wellington quarry, these tunnels were used as the air-raid shelter for the townsfolk during the second world war.

The statue on top of the basilica - now upright.  During the war she was lying at right angles to her present position.

The interior of the restored Basillica
 The front porch the restored Basillica

Des Hortillonnages.

I feel very content that I have managed to complete the one thing that I had on my list for Amiens that I really wanted to do - that was to go on a boat trip of the Hortillonnages, or floating gardens. 

This is an extraordinary 300 hectares of cultivated land only accessible by a network of canals.  Originally this land was marshland, and it is thought the gardens are over 2,000 years old.  The soil is very rich, peaty soil, and the banks need constant maitenance by the Hortillons (gardeners).  There are small market garden plots on some of the land, and even a small orchad on one block.  The water is constant, and controlled by 3 locks (fed by the Somme and the Avre Rivers) and these days there is a real push to reclaim the area and conserve the gardens and canals. 

About to board the boat for the Hortillonges boat tour.  Unfortunately this is the only photo as, for the first time ever, I somehow ended up with TWO flat batteries!

It is full of wildlife and very sheltered in amongst the trees.  The properties are only accessible by boat - a special flat bottom boat, and a network of little footbridges going from one property to another in some places.  As we floated by I saw numerous people working on there plots.  The tour took just over an hour by boat which gives you some idea of the size of it. A must see if you are in Amiens!


I have been "collecting" belfroi along the way.  These are a common site in this part of France.  Their carrilions ring out in the towns as I go through.  I have been lucky enough to hear some "concerts" in some places and in others I hear them ringing out the hour or part thereof.  When this happen though, there is likely to be a clash of sounds at some point as the nearby clock is also likely to have some sort of chime ansd so there can be quite a deluge of sound at times! 

 The view from the Belfroi of the Grande place, Arras, with the market spread throughout.  The market spread out into the streets beyond, and in the square behind too. 
                                                   The same view - but from street level. 
Many of these houses around the square were destroyed in the (1st) War, and have been faihfully restored.
                                                   The Town Hall and Belfroi, Arras

I climbed the belfroi in Arras - what a mistake!  I was fine at the bottom and at the top - it was just getting there!  The lift up to the bottom of the stairs was OK but the 40 steps after that were for me terrifying - not so much the going up, but the thought of coming down.  Added to that I somehow managed to get caught up in a group of German tourists.  I went in the lift with the first 6, had a quick look at the town from the top, and the massive market that had arrived in the early hours of the morning, and then headed back down, knowing that somewhere on the tiny spiral staircase I was going to meet another 6 Germans coming up! I didn't take my eyes off the the stairs going down, because I was fearful of the massive drop down!  I managed to get to a stopping point and waited for the 6 clomping their way up the stairs before dashing down and catching the return lift.  My one and only belfroi visit I am afraid - I will admire them from the ground in future, though I am just about out of the area where these lovely landmarks are. 

The first belfroi I saw - the Town Hall and Belfroi in Calais

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Snapshot one.

....... is what I need when using a french keyboard!

It is also the word I think of most when I look at the villages and towns that I have walked through over the past 10 days or so.

The city of Iper (old spelling - Ypres) was almost completely destroyed, but they rebuilt a replica of what stood there previously.  The Cathedral looks ancient, but it is less than a 100 years old. The only way that I could tell by looking at it is that great flagstones in the passageways were even, not worn down over the century's by the millions of feet that have trod the indents in them that are found in the authentically ancient Cathedrals.

The hotel I stayed in was also destroyed, and rebuilt from the rubble.  Again, it looked as if it had been there for centuries, with an upgrade in the plumbing!  I was told that an architect, some years before the war started, took it upon himself to record / draw all the old buildings in the city as a personal project, which is one of the reasons why they were so successful at the reproductions.  They also didn't stop there - they even used the old street plans.

Moving down the Western Front to Arras and Albert the same flair for restoration / reproduction can be seen.  The old building lining the square in Arras were destroyed and rebuilt in the original style.  In Albert, the Basilica was almost demolished.  It was famous during the war for the gleaming gold Madonna, who now sits proudly atop the Basilica spire, spent the war years balanced precariously on her side.  She didn't toppleduring that time, and since then the Basilica has been completely restored to it's former glory.

Resilience too was shown by those who returned to their villages when there was absolutely nothing left!  Nothing, save mud, shell holes, and great pools of water.  As I have passed by the smaller villages I have been struck by how "new" they look.  One chap proudly took a photo of a "typical" French village and I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and say - go south young man, that is where you will find typical villages - but I didn't.

They look new, because they are.  They have been built from scratch  - many of them after they had been razed to the ground.

That is all I have time for now - more snapshots to come!

Canterbury to Dover, and beyond.

Looking back the day I spent wandering along the path to the Coast and Dover was probably one
of the best days weather wise of my trip thus far.  Yes I had very strong head winds, but the sky
was only lightly cloudy, no sign of rain, and in hindsight - I felt warm!

The path was easy - mostly down with "ups", there were pleasant things to see along the way,
and some good views looking out across the countryside.

I was surprised by Dover.  I was expecting a drab town, not sure why, but found it quite pretty.  I
had a lovely B&B and was greeted by name by everyone in the bar - I guess I was the only crazy
one walking from Canterbury on that day!  Comments like "you made it"! - does a lot for one's

After the usual ablutions I set off to explore.  I was too late to look at the Castle, butwent up the
hill anyway to look from the outside.  It is massive, and one day I would like to go back and
explore it - but it would need a whole day to do it justice. 

On the way down the hill I started chatting to a strange man (as in unknown) - I find I do this often
while I am on the road.  He invited me to walk with him along the shore - he was going for a
nightly constitutional, though I didn't really need that!  As Patrick and I walked along we chatted
about what I was attempting to do, and by the time we parted ways I think that he had heard the
Camino "calling" him - all you Camino people reading this  will know what I talking about.  I hope
he has found this blog-site - I was a bit tired and couldn't remember the address properly!  He also
gave me the tips on how to get to the ferry which was very fortunate because I would have gone
down on a different side of the road and that would have made things very difficult for myself.

Not only did I get to see the "White Cliffs" in the evening, but the sun shone on them the next
morning as I was leaving, and Patrick was right - they are very bright in the sunlight.

We had an uneventful crossing - thankfully, but for some reason my balance went a bit awry.  It
may have been the Kwells I took or having an off day, and so after walking about 2 hours out of
Calais I decided to return and just catch the train to Dunkerque.  I enjoyed the few hours in
Calais.  It is, like Dover, a much nicer town than I thought.  There was some sort of running race
in the square in, which meant that the toilet facilities in the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) were open. 
This was a bonus for 2 reasons - one because toilets are really hard to find(!) and the other being
that I got to see the interior of the Hotel de Ville!

After staying the night in Dunkerque I set off towards Iper.  I went through the town of Bergues, a
medieval town that is still in an original state as it avoided destruction during the wars.  There was
a market in full swing in the town and I had to weave my way through the stalls, while listening to
the sounds coming from the Belfroi (belfry);  I actually walked into the town to the carillon of
the "Loch Lomond"!  I stopped opposite the tower in a bar so that I could listen to the carillons
which went on for the whole time I was there. 

Bergues is very close to Belgium, where most people speak English!  That night I had the luxury
of a 3 star hotel right in the heart of Iper.  Again I was greeted with "you made it", and went to
my luxury room complete with a king size bed and a bath!  Bliss!  This day was to be the last that I
walked in my shirtsleeves.  From now on it is fleece, beanie and gloves!  (plus poncho often!)

Canterbury, and all its great wonder.

Well I said that I would talk about Canterbury next time - little expecting that it would take me so
long to get to a computer to be able to do so. 

My hotel was quite a way out of town, and so when I left in the morning I decided that I would
spend the day exploring and not return till evening. 

My first task was to find some brekky, and then get a stamp for my pilgrim record, but it didn't
turn out that way.  As I walked past the Cathedral I was a bit horrified to see that it was going to
cost me 10 pounds to explore it and so I flashed my pilgrim passport and was admitted free!  I
went straight to the office to get my stamp and was told that the duty chaplain that day was from
Australia and would be saying prayers in the nave shortly.  As I walked through the door the
clergyman behind me, who I held the door open for, thanked me.  My response was "You must be
the Australian vicar" - his was " they call me the Vicar of Oz"!

He was a delightful man, introducing me to his wife organizing an audio tour for me, and then
after that, taking me on my own personalized "Australian" tour of the Cathedral showing me
various things of particular interests to Australians, including a bust of Gipps (Gippsland) and a
shoe print of John Blaxland who went to the Kings school in Canterbury before doing his exploring
bit in the Blue Mountains.

The real name for the "vicar of oz" is the Revd. Ken Childs, and after our tour he took me out to
the departure point for pilgrims on the Via Francigena and gave me a very special blessing - I just
wish I could have recorded his words!

The rest of my time in Canterbury was filled with general exploring, and mundane housekeeping
thins - including my breakfast about 4 hours after I had intended.  I turned that into brunch and
had a long chat to the barman who was also a chef.  He gave the recipe for "Eton Mess";  equal
quantities of whipped cream, crumbled meringue and strawberries.  It is best to either fold a little
castor sugar into the whipped cream of else roll the strawberries in some castor sugar.  We
debated the merits of castor as opposed to icing sugar, he preferred castor!

That's all of Canterbury.  I am having trouble being able to put pictures on, but will do so at my
first opportunity. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hills, missing paths, and thunder storms

Since leaving London I have traveled predominately on foot, though I
succumbed, after leaving Greenwich, to catching public transport to
Gravesend.  It was a journey that did not save time though - it took three
and half hours to travel there, though in hindsight I probably could have
walked it in nearly the same time.  However, by doing this though, I managed
to avoid most of the industrial area which would have made the walking very

I had to catch two boats to Woolwich Arsenal, they call themselves the fastest
clippers on the Thames, and they were that - ignoring the 20 minute wait to
change ferries!.  A very old restored place on the river front, luxurious
apartments, pubs etc., but a different story on leaving that area!.  Then
there was much walking to and fro to find the railway station, only to be told that I
would have to catch the train, then change to a rail replacement bus and then
back to the train.  Imagine my surprise when, after about 3 minutes, the
train ground to a halt and we all had to get off for the replacement service.
At Gravesend I relented and had a luxury hotel room - it was so late, it was
getting dark and nothing was open.  Interestingly the hotel manager was a
scout leader - a commissioner in International and so I was able to give him
a Onkaparinga badge when I left. 
The next day I had a good look around Gravesend taking photos of various
statues - Pocahontas, who is buried in the churchyard there, and General
Gordon of Khartoum, also from Gravesend and a man with a great social
conscious by all accounts.  There are two lovely piers on the Thames, which
also took my time up with photographing.  Leaving town I had a good hour of
industrial walking before getting into the countryside. 

I began the day on the Saxon Shore Way, but somehow ended up along a path
beside the Medway canal and also the no. 1 cycle path.  I tried, a number of
time to get back onto the Saxon Shore Way, each time losing it quickly - it
was a very elusive path!  A pleasant (and flat) path none the less, and had
chats with the locals as I passed, including a bunch of canal volunteers who
were out mowing and such like. 

I had a lovely stay in Rochester with Sian my hostess, and really enjoyed the
town.  The Cathedral didn't have a stamp for my pilgrim record and instead
gave me a sticker that they use for the children!

The next day to Charing was a tough day.  The terrain is quite hard going
with a lot of ups and downs and it wasn't helped with the weather either.  At
one point I was walking through a hail storm so thick that the ground looked
as if it had snowed.  I thoroughly enjoyed the wildflowers - daffodils, blue
bells, and primulas (or were they polyanthus?).  The down side was the
constant drone of traffic from the motorway a good mile away.  It started to
get on my nerves after a while.    This was another day where I resorted to a
train ride - successfully though this time!

I had just finished a late lunch in a cosy little pub where I "entertained"
(they bailed me up with questions) a group of English out for the day, and
was planning to head back onto the downs.  I could see in the distance a
group of walkers silhouetted on the skyline and was bracing myself for yet
another climb when the sky show started!  Lightning flashing and thunder
crashing everywhere and I decided that I was not going to be the highest
point on the highest point, and decided to take the train instead the next
few kilometres to where I was staying in Charing. 

This part of the world is steeped in history - various Kings have stopped in
the villages on their way to somewhere and my hostess that night told me that
Henry 8th stayed in the village with 6,000 soldiers on his way (I think to
Canterbury) and that the locals were expected to feed them. 

The North Downs way to Canterbury was much more pleasant and mostly flatter,
though still a long hard day.  I could only occasionally hear the traffic
(relief!), and frequently walked through woods that were carpeted with a blue
haze of blue bells - not quite at their best, but a picture for these eyes
nonetheless.  I was very relieved to find that my hotel was on the path into
Canterbury as by the end of the day I was feeling pretty tired. I also had
the bonus of a free upgrade to a double room that had a bath!  oh, how good
that felt at the end of four pretty tiring days!

Canterbury?  that will have to wait till next time - I have to hit the trail

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The journey begins. 

It now seems an age since I was in Adelaide.  I had a good flight, even managing some sleep as well as watching a couple of movies.  One of the movies was Hill 60, which seems very approriate as in about 8 days I will be walking past there.  This is the site where the Australian Tunnelers dug 90 metres underground, actually below the water level, and blasted a huge crater in the ground as part of the offensive on the western front.  |Many of the men were in this unit because of their mining background - one of them was from Broken Hill - good training there! At the time the blast was the largest blast ever and could be heard in London and Dublin. Enough of the History lesson. 

Yesterday  I met Pauline and we spent the day wandering around London.  I met her at the crypt in St Pauls which I really like it is such a lovely space, and even though there were quite a few tourists wandering through it was realtively quiet.  We then went to Southwark Cathedral and had a good browse around all the historic tombstones etc there.  There are a couple of beautiful stained glass windows and a lovely reclining bronze of the bard himself .  Shakepseare had a bit to do with the cathedral, which is just around the corner from the Globe theatre, and his brother was buried there.  After a leisurely lunch and a hike back to the room I am staying in we stook the tube to Marylebone for a coffee in a coffee shop above an antique market (and I didn't even contemplate buying a thing!).  When Pauling caught her train home I then meandered through Regent's Park, and back home.  I had managed to stay awajke all day thanks to the company of Pualine and the fresh air .

Today I went to chuch at the Methodist Hall.  ;I am getting plenty of walking in even though I have yet to formally start my pilgimage, as it took me an hour and a half to get there.  I guessed correctly too - thay were all singable hyms, and well sung.  It was like old times I imagine the whole congregation sang in harmony - but instead of being of Welsh and Cornish backgrounds they were many were of African origins, the women beuatifully dressed, and in many cases in a traditional style. 

I was taken up onto the 4th floor of the building and out onto the baclony where I got a splendid view of the Abbey and the clock tower of Paliament house.  Some useless information for you:- the basement of the building was the largest air raid shelter in the war, hodling over 2,000 peopl.  The organ has over 4,000 pipes (can that be right?). The dome on the top of the building is the second largest dome (I think my guide said in the world, but I am not sure about the domes in Florence and in Rome - I will have to check that one out!) - perhaps he meant England. 

Tomorrow is the day!  The start of around a 2,2000 km trek!  The forecast is for rain and it is quite cold.  Indeed I have had my 2 jumpers on for some of the day.  I will pack my poncho on the top if per chance I don't start walking in it!