Sunday, August 30, 2009

Taking Some Stick

At last the temperature has fallen below 30 degrees - some days! It was even pleasantly cool in the mornings a couple of times - 14 degrees when we started our walk to Quillan yesterday.

A week when I found a stick - for the first time I felt need of one as I had to go down an almost vertical bank of loose earth and no handholds, but that was the day before I found the stick! I must dig out Oliver Andrew's list of uses for a stick, which is quite amusing. I can't remember whether the need for a third leg on tricky hillsides was on his list. Surely it must be.

Also a week when I lost a pepper spray. A week in which I walked 101 kms, making 3164 kms for the year and 1807 kms for this pair of shoes. Can't you just tell I have a diploma in statistics?

Don't forget, if you want to be kept informed of progress with the book, specifically to be sent details (eventually) of when it will be published and availability, just send me an e-mail, with the word "Book" as the subject. No need for any text. Send it to:

Friday, August 28, 2009


This morning I walked the 24 kms (via the Voie Verte) from Lavelanet home to Puivert.

Nothing unusual about that - I do it most Friday mornings.

What is unusual is that today I immediately went out again to cover most of the route by bicycle, because when I got home I realised that I had lost my pepper spray en route. I did not find it.

It is a very small aerosol. The most prominent marking on it just says "Protect", so I hope a cyclist does not find it and start spraying it onto his gears! Even more fervently, I hope a child does not find it and decide to press the button. I think I'm pretty safe there as I have never seen an unaccompanied child on that track. In fact I rarely see anybody.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Circuit Training

The heatwave continues - it is in the mid-30s as I write. There are people who like that sort of temperature but I can only assume that they do not enjoy physical activity of any kind. Personally, I think it is unbearable.

This morning Gay and I went round a circuit I have not experienced before, although she has walked it with Mr and Mrs Septimus a couple of years ago. Starting at the house, almost entirely off-road, 11 kms, rising from 500 to 700 metres, mainly through woods and silent valleys. I think it will become a regular part of my itinerary and most of it can be used to extend some of my other routes.

I must have been more tired than I thought - in the last posting I said that after a week of hard work I had sent a synopsis and several chapters of the proposed Book of The Walk to a publisher. That should, of course, have read "after several weeks of hard work" - in fact I have been gathering the material for over a year. That is one of the functions of this blog, as I have mentioned more than once.

Don't forget, if you want to be kept informed of progress with the book, specifically to be sent details (eventually) of when it will be published and availability, just send me an e-mail, with the word "Book" as the subject. No need for any text. Send it to:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Booking My Place

Well, a week of hard work, and I have sent off the synopsis and several chapters of my book to a publisher, and also to a literary consultancy.

If you would be interested in receiving details - with no obligation or commitment - of when the book will be published, please e-mail me at:

Please put the word "Book" as the subject. I will keep all these e-mails in a separate folder and will keep you informed of progress. I will also notify you of publication date and details of how to get the book, if you so desire. This will, of course, be after the walk has finished, which will, of course, be July 23, 2010.

This week I have walked 86 kms, still restrained by the heatwave. 3063 kms for the year to date.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thanks to Usas, and Total France

In the last posting, I said that I am seriously thinking of changing my route through France, probably walking more on the Grandes Randonnées instead of the roads.

I omitted to say that this is as a result of the help and advice I have received on a forum on the Total France website, from Usas. For which I thank him. The route he has suggested will be much safer and more likely to ensure that I arrive in one piece. He even went to the trouble of giving me a list of the detailed maps he thought I would need.

His will be longer - I am not yet sure by how much - but safety is more important than speed. Not forgetting that I have a definite 70-day schedule. Maybe some of the rest days will have to go by the board?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Setting A New Course?

At last - a cloudy day. A day when I walked 24 kms home from Lavelanet without feeling as if I was in a mobile sauna.

Speaking of saunas, which some people use for illusory weight loss, earlier this week I passed through the milestone of 3000 kms walked so far this year. And I weigh exactly the same as I did on the 1st January. Can anybody explain that?

Another item of news today, regarding VBW, is that I am having a serious rethink about walking the length of France mainly on roads. Today I picked up, from the newsagent in Lavelanet (always playing blues records in the shop), more than 300 Euros worth of maps. These will show me not only roads but Grandes Randonnées (long distance walking tracks) for most of the French section of VBW. Watch this space!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Name Of The Book Of The Walk

That sounds a bit like the old Rolf Harris song about "the fascinating witches who put the scintilating stiches in the britches of the boys who put the powder on the noses on the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Catactacus" - doesn't it?

The weather forecast tells us that the temperature this week will "flirt" with 40 degrees. Apparently today is the day this may happen.

It seems an opportune time to take a day off from walking, cower indoors and prepare my book for submission to a publisher. This means to complete a synopsis and a few sample chapters - chapters which can only be, at this stage, about my preparations for Vic's Big Walk.

Another thing to accompany the submission is a suggested title. At the moment I am going with "Vic's Big Walk".

Anybody got any better ideas? Please tell me by commenting on the blog or by e-mailing me at:

Monday, August 17, 2009


The canicule - heatwave - continues here. It has been in the mid-30s almost every day for some time now. The fire danger in the many forests of the area of course increases. But our fire bug has been adding to the peril. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago - what sort of person does this? Not only could the forests be destroyed but the risk to local communities is great.

Not many afternoons go by without the almost constant sound of fire engine alarms, the roar of huge engines, the bombing runs of water-carrying aircraft. One day it seemed that the planes were trying to finish of Puivert Castle, but I think they were throwing water at an area of forest very close behind.

My walks take me past or through several blackened and devastated areas of woodland. Some of these are at a considerable distance from the road, presumably to deliberately make things difficult for the fire crews.

Almost all the fires locally have been started maliciously. The gendarmerie swing into action with a standard plan of roadblocks, but I believe they have not yet caught anybody. A kid on an off-road motorbike could run rings round them, I suspect.

The weather and a certain amount of common sense have combined to keep my kilometrage fairly modest, with 92 kms for the week just finished, and 2977 kms for the year to date.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Juicing Up

This humble vegetable can increase the endurance of long-distance athletes - and of course long-distance walkers - by 16%. This is extremely useful information to me, what with my plans to walk for 30 kms a day for ten weeks. It could make the difference between me struggling at 25 kms every day, and hopping happily on to the 30 kms mark - or a bit further if there is no convenient stopping place at 30 kms.

I love beetroot anyway. If it's the juice you are after, you don't even have to cook the beet. Gay's breadmaker conked out this week, so we had to go for a new one. While at the supplier, we bought a juicer. The raw beet juice, mixed with a few other things such as apple, is delicious. That juicer is now earmarked as part of the crew for the VBW battlebus.

I saw the news in the Daily Telegraph. If you want to read more, it is at this URL:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Thousand Down ...

... Six Thousand To Go. And for a change I am not talking about my kilometrage.

Donations to Pancreatic Cancer through my JustGiving page have now exceeded £1000, 15% or my target, plus over £200 in tax relief.

I am immensely grateful to those who have contributed, especially those who I know can ill afford it. But they can see the benefit of donating early because the money goes straight to the charity to help it in its work. If you donate now, the money is with Pancreatic Cancer by the end of the week, assisting it in the search for earlier diagnosis and hopefully a cure.

Some of those who have donated have very personal reasons for wanting to help, because they have seen a loved one or a friend succumb, always frighteningly quickly, to this dreadful illness.

I know of many people who have told me they will donate, but who have not yet done the deed.

You too can make a difference - why wait? A day earlier than otherwise, and you could ease somebody's pain, or tip the balance on research which can benefit millions. Every little bit counts.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Walking To Defeat Alzheimer's

After a couple of lazy weeks I am getting some decent walking in. We still have 34+ degree heat so I am trying to be sensible and avoiding 30 km walks (although I have one planned for Friday, starting at 6 in the morning) So far this week it has been a 13 kms, a 17 kms and, today, 20 kms.

There was an interesting item in this morning's Daily Telegrarf. It is known that those who are physically active have less likelihood of developing Alzheimer's. Also that those who follow a Mediterranean diet rich in Fruits, vegetables, cereal and fish and low in red meat, dairy and poulty, with moderate amounts of alcohol, are less likely to get Alzheimers.

The reasearch set out to quantify the beneficial effects of these two lifestyle choices, separately and together. It seems that exercise means you are 33 per cent less likely to develop the condition. The Mediterranean diet reduces your chances by 40 per cent. Together they reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer's by a whopping 60 per cent!

This is good news for a vegetarian (only missing the fish) who exercises a-plenty. And a great incentive to anybody to change their lifestyle.

The complete article is at:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Full Time Job

I am looking for a motorcaravan manufacturer or supplier to loan me a campervan for the duration of the walk, with an option for me to purchase it when the walk is done. This is an excellent opportunity for such a company to receive wide exposure. The publicity is obviously hotting up - I was asked for more information by a newspaper yesterday. Another newspaper will have something about my walk in September. Columbia have said their design team will come up with a design which will cover the vehicle head to foot, obviously including details of my major sponsors. My wife Gay will be driving the vehicle as our temporary home and office during the walk.

I am also writing a book of the walk. Clearly I can at the moment only write about a third of the book, about inspiration and preparation. I need this to send with a synopsis to prospective publishers. The chapters about progress on the walk itself will be done each day, in the aforementioned campervan. As will daily updates of my blog.

The blog and various other forums and websites which cover my progress, are already receiving thousands of readers each week. These are from all over the world, almost every country, with large concentrations in France and UK, which one would expect, but almost as many in USA.

As you can see, what with the training for the walk (up to five hours a day, plus getting to the start point - my wife drops me off), running the blog, writing the book, managing the donations page - VBW is for me a full time job at the moment.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Where Are You, Al?

I promised some moving pictures. This is the first one on the blog. I am still experimenting with the camera and its output.

It's when I see things like this on a walk that I really wish my smallest grandson Alessandro (5 years old this month) was with me.

He has always loved horses and has recently taken to riding them.

But who could not love such beautiful animals, especially recently-born foals.

Lightening Up

This week I walked only 63 kms. The plan was to lighten up a little, but the trot I had planned for Sunday would have brought me to 80 kms for the week. In the event the weather turned a bit nasty at the weekend. Extremely heavy rain, but the thing that really put me off venturing forth was the thunder and lightning - I am not very keen on wandering around in that.

So far this year I have walked 2885 kms in training for VBW.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Returning to the topic of the week - walkers/joggers being attacked by dogs.

That story from New Zealand was horrifying. If you haven't seen it yet, just Google "Jogger New Zealand" and you will have a vast choice of news reports about it. It seems to have been covered by every newspaper in the world.

I have already asked if pepper sprays are legal in France. I don't know how effective they are against dogs, but I should think much more so that the Dazer, which is an ultrasonic device which may or may not puzzle a dog on its way to your throat.

Another thing which has been suggested to me is a tazer. Met an interesting man who had a stall at Mirepoix market the other day. He was selling a wide range of splendidly made marble Buddhas. He had a very interesting life story to tell and I would be keen to hear more of it. However, the relevant bit of our conversation concerned tazers.

He had been on a market somewhere and on an adjacent stall someone was selling tazers. Probably not the full monty type as used by the police but, he said, just the sound they emitted was enough to deter a marauder, human or animal. And that's before the ultimate sanction of applying the electricity to the beast.

Does anybody know anything about these, whether they are legal in France, where they can be acquired?

The Buddha man is called Howard Owen and his website is:

Friday, August 7, 2009

A New Sponsor

I have a new sponsor! First the might of Columbia Sportswear, with a turnover of more than $1 Billion. Now a small family-run vineyard in the Corbieres.

Gay and I were in Lavelanet this morning. Normally on a Friday I walk home from the market there - a distance of 23 kilometres. In keeping with my new policy of moderation and (hopefully) common sense during the extremely hot weather we are still experiencing, today I shall be walking 10 kms instead.

We were attracted to a stall which we have seen many times before, selling wine. We talked to the man - Gerard le Jan - about his wine, then about my walking. When he heard what I am planning to do next year, he, as many people do, shook my hand. He also said that he would give me a case of wine on completion. He realised that in keeping with the 70 years, 70 days theme, he should be giving me 70 bottles of wine, but he could not afford that.

The website of the Finca Narraza, run by Gerard and his wife Corinne, is:

All their wine is biologique, in English, organic.

The engraving is of a stone found on their premises. It dates from 2600 B.C. and shows a goat and a goatherd. The goatherd is used now as the company logo and features on every bottle of wine.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Savaged by EIGHT dogs!

It seems my concern about protection from dogs is timely. Our friend Jan from New Zealand left a comment on the blog which referred me to an attack on a woman jogger in New Zealand by 8 pig hunting dogs. Jan says she knows nothing about pepper spray, but hopes I will carry some sort of defence. I coudn't agree more, Jan.

Here is one of the many articles from around the world, about this dreadful incident:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More on Dog Deterrence

Some interesting comments on yesterday's posting about deterrence for nasty dogs.

Kristalfr recommends the use of a Dazer - an ultrasound emitter. I first saw these mentioned when I was browsing a SkyMall catalogue while flying in USA. When I got home I had a look at their website. All the reviews from their own customers expressed dissatisfaction. Yesterday I looked at Amazon reviews of the same gadget. There were more satisfied customers, but they were all about getting dogs to stop barking, rather than getting them to stop ripping off your arm. One even suggested that you need to use the Dazer several times over a period in order to train the dog. Not quite what I would have in mind while being attacked while walking.

Kelly carries a prpper spray and has had it examined by security guards, without confiscation. I am not sure that means the gendarmes would have the same attitude, but it is interesting, nevertheless.

Thanks to both Ks.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Unfriendly Dogs

As promised in the midst of the heatwave, I have started the week off modestly with a walk of 10 kms. I decided that yesterday but, as it happens, this morning was nice and cool and I could much more comfortably (than last week) have walked home from Mirepoix.

I don't think I mentioned that last Monday, as I started on the Voie Verte, I met a lad with a dog. The dog, to show it was entirely under the boy's control, sneaked round behind me and bit me on the bum. No harm done, but the previous week, one of the few people I saw on the track had a rottweiler with him. What if that had thought of trying out its industrial-standard teeth on me?

I have never had much of a problem with dogs, but the more I read about people doing long distance walks in France, the more I read about vicious dogs. Maybe I should take some precautions. I am not very keen on carrying a stick with me (as if that would be much defence against a rottie!) because I like to have my hands free and swinging.

What about pepper spray? The aerosols are a very handy size. Even with one permanently in the hands in areas of danger, it would hardly be an impediment.

They are clearly obtainable. For instance on this website:

but I am not sure of the legality. I get conflicting messages. So far the consensus is that in France it is legal to buy pepper spray, legal to own it, but illegal to carry it! And the police will turn a blind eye to women having one in their handbags. What about old men having one in their rucksacks?

If anybody knows the answer, or has advice, I would be keen to hear via e-mail (details under "my complete profile", or by a comment on this blog.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

One Step Forward With Route Planning

I took another day off, consistent with my recent enlightenment about not pushing things in the heatwave we have been experiencing. As it happens, last night we had a thunderstorm and rain all night long, which cooled things down decidely. It would have been a comfortable day for walking, for a change.

But, having decided to rest, we planned a few things to do. One of these was to go to a vide grenier at the tiny village of Villefort nearby. On the advice of my route-planning consultant Usas, in Australia, I have been looking for an understandable catalogue of the Serie Bleue maps which would give me plenty of detail both of roads and, hopefully, off-road options where possible, as I progress up through France during VBW. Usas tells me I will need in excess of 30 maps (out of a total of 350 for the whole of France). At 8 or 10 Euros a throw, this is an expensive exercise, especially if I buy maps I don't need. And yet I have nowhere seen a method of finding out exactly which maps I need. Today I found a solution to the problem.

At the vide grenier a man was selling Serie Bleue maps for 1 Euro instead of 8 or 10 Euros. He had lots, but unfortunately most of them were round the coast of France. I managed to get a couple I will probably need in Dordogne.

More importantly, I also got a catalogue, which he threw in for free, which showed all the 300-odd Carte Bleu maps superimposed on a map of France. So I can draw my pencil line between the main points and see which maps I need to buy.

I have walked 81 kms this week, bringing the total for the year to 2822 kms

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Yesterday afternoon I was working away on my computer when I heard a war starting outside. Large vehicles were hurtling past, sirens were sounding, and planes were zooming round the sky, very low down.

I went outside to have a look, thinking that some filming was taking place. Several movies have been filmed in or around Puivert Castle while we have lived here. The RAF were very active during WWII, dropping arms and supplies to the Resistance camp at the Maquis du Picaussel, standing at 1000 metres in front of the house. Possibly some filming in connection with that?

But the planes seemed to be those used for dumping water, and a total of 16 fire engines went past the house. The planes were circling only a couple of kilometres away, if that. A forest fire, then, the scourge of Southern Europe in this type of weather.

Today we discovered in the local paper that there was a total of 4 fires, within a couple of hours, between here and Villefort, a tiny village a couple of kilometres away. At least 3 of them were started deliberately and the police swung into action with road blocks to try to trap the firebugs within the area. Nobody caught so far. What sort of person does this sort of thing?

Battery life

You may remember this on January 2 this year, when I was singing the praises of the Omron pedometer which my lovely wife gave me for Christmas.

I have just replaced the battery, which is a CR2032. So the batteries last for about 7 months. Just thought that information may be useful to anybody else who has the pedometer, or who has bought one on my recommendation (I know of at least one).