Well, then, here we go, the final countdown. I've had a pretty busy 10 days; lots not going smoothly; pretty frustrating. Unfortunately, there is still masses to do, due as a result of the best laid plans not quite going accordingly. But, that's all part of this exercise, isn't? Preparing me for more of the same.
Having said that there have also been some wonderful occasions in these same last days: my farewell lunch 'do', for instance, 6 days ago. Loads of people came, with food and drink and overflowing with good wishes. After everyone had partaken of the delicacies, I called them all to order for a question and answer session about my trip. Last week, I was invited each evening (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) to come on my bike and talk a bit about my trip to the uniforms: Scouts, Cubs, Beavers. I thought the same format should be adopted on this occasion. It works a treat; and means as little preparation as possible. I felt a bit like it was An Audience with Astrid. My elder brother filmed the proceedings and sent me an edited version. It was great fun; I hope everyone who came enjoyed it as much as I did. Here are a few pics (mainly of interest to those of you more locally based, I dare say :-) ).
My room is slowly being packed and cleared away, ready for when we find a lodger (a potential one coming tomorrow). I have yet to sell my car, update my will, finish buying 'necessities', paint the kitchen, plant 100 bulbs (yes, I really thought I'd have time to do them before going!), sort the rest of the house, keep my website and group mailing list updated; talking of which, I have not yet sent an email to this group, cos I am trying to make sure everyone who has responded has been added to it.
I was interviewed and photographed by the local rag a week ago; it came out yesterday; half a page of coverage. :-) I was also interviewed on Radio Bristol a week ago. Well, it's all good fun, isn't it.
I think I need to wax lyrical a little, cos there have been some beautiful sights: bluebells and cherry blossom; both abounding in abundant beauty. Glorious to see.
I am now signing off for today, cos it's late. Good night.
Hectic or what? I left home on 6 May at 10.15, to cheers, photos and good wishes of family, friends and neighbours, most of whom I shall not see for a couple of years. Both strange and sad.
My two brothers and my son accompanied me for the whole day, which was lovely. The weather was almost balmy: warm and sunny, with a light breeze.
We arrived at my work, 8 miles later, for a coffee and cake break and another touching send-off, with balloons, poppers and more photographs (and a reminder from a colleague that she will be joining me in North America for some of the final leg).
After which we joined the Bristol to Bath cycle route; lovely easy gradient, traffic-free (the first Sustrans cycle route in the country), good level of pedestrian and cycle traffic, especially considering it was a weekday. We took longer than expected to arrive in Bath, where we had a steep, oh so very steep, hill to friends' house, where we met up with my daughter (she does not cycle). I really felt my 30kgs of baggage! But that was forgotten when we were greeted with champagne and hugs.
As it was about 3.30 by the time we arrived, I realised it was too optimistic to think I could carry on to Frome within a reasonable time (we had done 28 miles; Frome was about another 20). Therefore, I accepted gladly the offer of an exclusive campsite in my friends' garden; what a view over Bath. Final farewells to my children and brothers. Oh dear, this is difficult.
I left at 8.30, striking for Bournemouth (another friend's house), realising that it was a bit of a tall order (about 75 miles) and prepared to stop short for the night.
I started along the Kennet and Avon canal - if only the whole trip could be so easy and pleasant! There was a stillness in the air, as you only experience near such water places. I loved looking at the names of the many narow boats: Just So, Lady of Mann, Utopia, Chaos (?!), Crinkly Starfish.
The day turned into a much longer one than I had hoped: 13.5 hours, arriving, after 83.6 miles, at my friend's house in Buornemuth. I was feeling very unwell, almost in a stupour, extremely hungry, immensely tired adn glad to be with a familiar face.
Next two days, until now, have been rest days. My elder brother came down from London yesterday to film me (it might even get onto the website!). I shall be cycling to Poole later today, meet up for the (definitely) last time with my children and friends, who will be waving me off on the lte-night ferry to Cherbourg.
This is my seventh day in France, and tenth of the trip. The few days in UK were definitely like a holiday. The first two in France definitely were not! I really thought I had done the most stupid thing, planning the trip and actually setting out to do it. How could I have thought it was something with which I could contend: the notion of me cycling round the world - just because others had done it before me! I tell you, it was really hard going; I certainly missed my children! I really, really hated those two days.
The main reasons for the angst I have felt are the techie problems I am having: firstly, trying to buy a french sim card; then to register; then to be able to buy credit; then to receive the extra credit that came with the purchase.
The next techie problem is a biggy: the charge connector for my camera battery has broken; for the day I was at Le Mont St Michel, I had 2 camera batteries, neither of which were charged! It has taken me 30 years from the first time I tried to visit it to do so - only to be unable to take any pics. :-(
I met my first fellow tourer; we crossed paths on the road to:from Le Mont St Michel. Johanne has been touring Europe for 2 months of her 8-month trip. She left her home country in Germany in March, having gone through Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, France, en route now to England and then Norway (good for her).
Good news is that I seem to have sorted the phone and, after a great deal of searching Rennes, found a lovely chap to solder (at no charge!) the necessary bit for my battery charge connector (need to wait for the sun to shine before I can see if has been a successful job).
From Cherbourg I cycled along the Normandy beaches coast. I have never seen a war cemetery before; I went to an American one at Colleville-sur-mer. I have to say, the fields of white crosses were hugely emotional. The cemetery overlooked Omaha beach.
I saw the Bayeux tapestry. What a piece of work! Absolutely amazing. It is 70 metres long x 25 cms high. There was a wonderful english commentary on the little audio device that comes with the entry fee.
I have camped every night. The last three have had rain, thunder and lightning. At one site, I could see the water visibly rising up from the ground in the porch area of my tent! I really thought I was going to be floating. But last night was the real test of my tent: the rain was just so intense and full on, as though a fire hose had been turned on full power pointing down from above; plus continuous rumbling thunder and flashing lightning. But, the tent, the bike and I made it, somehow.
I arrived in Rennes last night, the final 20 miles of the day by the side of the canal d'Ille et Rance. I have spent my first two nights in the same place (ie in France), most of which has been spent trying to sort out my camera, but I've seen the old timber buildings, which a load of character to them.
The municipal camping ground is good ( these seem to be the only ones that provide loo paper; none of the private ones have so far! Thought you'd like to know that little snippet).
Enough for now. Oooh, the sun's shining brightly now.
BTW, I tried including photos, but couldn't handle the compression of them via french language instructions and so there are none for the time being.
I am currently in La Rochelle; the sun is shining again, having been overcast and spotting a bit with rain this morning.
I camped on the Ile de Ré last night, accessed by a 2-3 kilometre bridge from La Rochelle. I did a mammoth 80 mile ride: 68 to L.R., but the first campsite was closed, the second one, there was no-one at reception, nobody responded to the great big huge bell one was asked to ring and I could only leave a message on the phone number given, saying I was waiting at the front door. Nobody came, and so bloody-minded or what, I carried on to Ile de Ré, even though I was tired. I became lost (a recurrent theme), but finally found the cycle route over the bridge. On the way past La Rochelle airport I saw a Ryanair plane, watched it take off and thought, oh, don't they fly into Bristol? I felt close to home and how easy it would be to pop back. I finally trudged to a campsite, feeling that it was not quite what I had had in mind, then cried when I couldn't push the (some bent) tent pegs into the ground.
However, after a shower (wonderful restorative powers) and my fish 'bouillabaise' and apple turnover, I felt much better.
This morning had a wonderful surprise! No wet tent! The first time ever, no dew, no nothing. Great.
I met a fellow cycle tourer yesterday morning at the campsite in Nantes. He had a trailer and was following the Mont St Michel route. He has cycled the Santiago route three times, from
3 of the 4 French starting points. We cycled out of Nantes together and then split, having exchanged the usual, with an invite to England in 2 years' time!
On my own again, I was going along a busy road (according to the road on the map I thought I was on, it was far too busy), congratulating myself that at least I hadn't made the same mistake as last year in Brittany, when I ended up on the (really nice) hard shoulder of a motorway (I even tried to convince to passing policeman that it couldn't possibly be the motorway - they were incredibly patient).
However, it slowly dawned on me that, actually, I had done the same!! When realisation hit me, I just pedalled to the first exit as soon as I
could. It was horrible. Even so, when I was going along, it was only calling itself a D road, not an E or an N road!! Not fair, I thought. :-)
I don't want to go on too long, cos you might get bored. Suffice to say, that, on the whole, I am enjoying myself immensely. I'm certainly getting into the swing of things rather more than at the beginning. I am also developing rather peculiar tan marks, as all cyclists will know about. I have had some lovely encounters with people, such as being given a mains lead for my camera battery charger by a lovely chap called Patrick in the FNAC store in Nantes.
I passed the 500 mile mark on the 14th day, and so am on target of 250 miles per week.
I am currently heading towards Bordeaux; weekend break before or after that arrival, then to St Jean de Pied de Port, for the start of the Camino to Santiago sometime next week.
A toute à l'heure.
26 May - Bordeaux
I met another cycle tourer a few days ago; he was sitting outside a café. Mind you, I spotted the bike first, then the Brooks saddle - could he be a Brit? Indeed he could and was. And his bike was from the same shop in Bridgewater, Somerset. Ken was great, bought me a tea and we chatted about our various trips. He gave me lots of food for thought about mobile packages (I'm spending much thqn I had thought I would be). I met his 3 friends shortly after we split and they gave me lots of advice on bike c re, plus a present of a can of the best cure-all WD40. How kind is that! :-)
Since then, the weather got the better of me and, having woken up surrounded by a pool of water through which I had to paddle to leave the tent, I spent the next 2 nights in a mobile home on a caravan site. It was brilliant! Just what I needed to restore the spirits. I even dined out on the Sunday evening in the camp restaurant: the only one there, which was a shame because it was a really pretty restaurant and the food was lovely.
This morning, I crossed paths with the French guy, with the trailer bike; we were both taking the ferry across the Gironde to go to Bordeaux. We travelled together for a bit and then took different roads as he was not going into Bordeaux itself.
I am currently trying to acquire a pilgrim passport, which would then enable to stay in certain places at a much cheaper price.
I expect to arrive in St Jean Pied de Port by Friday, for the start of the Santiago de Compostela route.
Thanks for emails and encouraging comments about my trip and my journal.
31 May 2008 - St Jean Pied de Port
I am a bonafide pilgrim. :-)
Four days ago I acquired my carte de credenciels (pilgrim passport) from a pilgrim refuge in Gradignan, just south of Bordeaux. For one thing, it means I've not been camping since, cos it gives access to stay in these wonderfully welcoming refuges, at a pretty good cost. They vary hugely: from just a microwave to heat up anything from water for a drink or a microwave meal; to being able to have a bath, clothes washed and dried, 2 hours looking on the internet with the refuge proprietor for best travel back from Santiago. This latter refuge was last night in a Franciscan monastery in St Palais. I have also left about half my baggage there (tent, camping stuff, party outfit, spares and such like, to pick up on my way to Toulouse after returning from the Camino. My bike is SO light - well, in comparison. Wonderful!
I've met some great pilgrims en route! Three lots of donkeys, loads of walkers and a few cyclists.
It's been a wonderful few days; and made all the difference to how I feel, especially not having to camp in this incessant rain.
I shall set off on Monday from St Jean Pied de Port, for Roncesvalles and beyond, expecting to take 2 weeks to complete the route.
I have been spoilt for over a week, regarding the terrain, as it was flat, flat, flat through the Landes, with all the vineyards and chateaux.
Since yesterday, there has been a marked difference, up and down, as one might expect approaching the Pyrenees, of which I had my first glimpse yesterday! Pretty exciting stuff.
Today was a very wet start, but I had a refuge booked in St Jean and so it didn't seem to matter. It also wasn't a long day, arriving at 1.30pm. Jean, the French guy with the trailer bike, again appeared en route and we cycled into St Jean together.
I have a scallop shell, the symbol of the pilgrim of St Jacques de Compostela, on my basket; I receive calls from people in the street wishing me a good pilgrimage. Also, all pilgrims greet each and often we stop to chat a bit or walk together a bit. It's great; I love it.