Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bouncing Back

I just had what could be my last walk of the year. The temperature has really bounded back from the minus 7 or 8 Celsius we were experiencing just over a week ago. Today it is in the mid-teens, as it was yesterday.

One of the results of that is early morning mist. As I climbed 300 metres from Quillan to the Col du Portel I was in and out of this mist, and into brilliant blue sky and bright sunshine The effect was quite eerie at times.

When I was at the highest point, looking down, I was well out of the mist, which was still enveloping people at the market down below - people who still had no idea what a fine day they were in for once the sun had burned off their chilly blanket.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


So, we are about to enter 2010. The year in which I will attempt to walk an average of 30 kms a day for 70 days. To go back in time from where I am now to where I started. To reverse my steps, in terms of geography and timescale. While recognising that there is no going back from the 70 years of age I will hopefully achieve next July.

Among the things I have accomplished towards this end, in 2009:

More than 4,600 kms of training walks.
The route decided on and maps acquired.
A major sponsor (Columbia Sportswear) on board.
Lots of support on my blog and various forums.
A campervan on order, for base and support vehicle.
A decision to use the walk raise funds for Pancreatic Cancer research.
Significant press coverage to publicise the fund-raising.

Less welcome has been the return of the knee injury which, several years ago, finished my career as a competitive athlete.

Even less welcome than that has been the discovery that I have a serious problem with my eyes, which will only get worse, for which there is no treatment, which will prevent me reading and which means already that I can not see the tracks on the maps for which I have spent a small fortune. Could it be that I will accidentally be retracing Eric Newby’s Small Walk in The Hindu Kush? This is the book I am currently reading and I have been struck, once again, by how very ill-prepared so many of these people were for such major undertakings.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Starting At Zero

A beautiful day today. Started out at zero degrees, then warmed up to about 10, which feels OK after a cold spell.

Walked 22 kms today. 91 for the week, which is not bad for Christmas week with a couple of really wet anti-tramping days. Over 4,600 kms for the year. I don't suppose I shall do too many more before we hit 2010, the Chinese Year Of The Big Walker.

Those are the Pyrenees in the distance. Doesn't look too warm higher up, does it?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mulled Wine and Baby Horses

While much of Europe, including Britain and northern France, suffered from a much-too-white Christmas, we had rain putting a dampener on things.

The intention, as last year, was for Gay and myself to walk to Nebias through the woods and return across the plain. A total of 16 or 17 kms and an excuse for the mulled wine and mince pies when we got home.

But it was raining much too heavily for that to be enjoyable. As I have said several times, during VBW itself, I will have to ignore the rain because the daily kilometres must be covered or the target will not be met. At the moment I have the luxury of selecting comfort over a soaking - also I hope that in May-July the temperature will be above yesterday's 4 degrees.

In the afternoon the rain eased off for a while so we did a sedate 4 kms round a truncated "Baby Horse 6" course. Not that we have seen a horse, baby or not, on that circuit for some years now.

But we still had the mulled wine and mince pies, of course!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


A topsy-turvey couple of weeks, walking-weather-wise.

First it was so cold that the winter dressing dilemma arose - the amount needed for the first hour was much too much for the rest of the walk.

Then the snow was getting so deep it was really strength-sapping. Then the bits where I had to walk at the side of the roads became impassable because of piled-up, melted then frozen-again snow.

Then the temperature rose just a few degrees above freezing and the snow disappeared as if it had never been here.

I think we need these very cold spells so that when the temperature, as now, creeps up just a little bit, it feels positively warm. If we had come down to 8 degrees from, say, 20, we would think it was cold.

Still, it's nice to think that, in a couple of weeks, we shall be in the southern hemisphere for a final burst of warm weather training for the Big One.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Thank Goodness I Was Born In July

Just walked 34 kms from Puivert. The only people I saw - one man and child in the village of Rivel, after 27 kms. All the way it wasold, wind in the face, slip-sliding at various points on packed snow and re-frozen snow melt.

But a happy thought struck me. Thank goodness I was not born in February. Then I would have been starting VBW in December and looking forward with trepidation to a possible 10 weeks, 30 kms a day, of such winter walking!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Girding Up The Loins

A shorter walk than normal today. My usual thing on Sunday, after the shopping trip to Esperaza market, is to drive to Quillan, have another coffee, gird up my loins, and walk back to Puivert with the usual climb through the woods. Although almost all of the route is off-piste, there is one section of quiet road, about 2 kms. The edges of that road (which of course are where I walk) consist, at the moment, of packed snow, shoved aside by snowploughs and traffic. This makes the middle of my 16 kms route dangerous and to be avoided.

So Gay dropped me off at Nebias (pictured above) for a 6 kms amble through the countryside to home.

Despite the weather I have managed to walk 68 kms this week, which takes me over 4,500 kms for the year. Clearly, as it is December 20, I will not be adding much to that before we hit 2010. But it is a bit of decent groundwork, is it not?

Saturday, December 19, 2009


More snow is falling. Conditions are too dangerous for walking today, so we have spent some time on mapping out some of the French section of VBW.

I mentioned some time ago that I have bought scores of maps, nearly 50 for France alone. But there is a problem. Because of the serious and deteriorating disfunction of my eyes, I can not see the dotted lines (on some maps - on others it is a solid line, of a different colour! - these maps are all part of the same series!) which represent the Grandes Randonnees, or walking tracks.

Gay can see them, so she has been highlighting the tracks in bright and broad yellow. At the moment I can make that out - I just hope that I will still be able to do that between May and July next year.

I will have the same problem with the English Ordnance Survey maps, but once I get to Oxford and move onto canal towpaths, I shall be laughing, as the lines are wonderfully clear, and of course there are not as many chances for taking a wrong turn.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stowing Away

After yesterday's experience, I stocked up with a decent pair of gloves at Lavelanet market before setting off for the 24 kms march back to Puivert. The temperature was -7 degrees Celsius.

It is 2 kms from the town centre to the start of the track which takes me most of the way. At the start of the track, as usual, I paused to extract from my rucksack the camera, the tiny tape recorder, the telephone, the pedometer, all of which I hung about me in accessible places.

Then I started walking. Then it started snowing, heavily. I stopped again (had to take my gloves off!) to stow away all that vulnerable electronic equipment.

Lavelanet is in the Ariege, whereas we live in the Aude. Surprisingly, there had been no snow on the ground in Lavelanet when I set off. This quickly changed as it snowed for most of my way home. Fortunately, because the temperature was below zero, my equipment (apart from my shoes) did not become wet.

The picture above was taken just before I came off the Voie Verte, with about 8 kms to go before reaching the warm and dry.

It continues to snow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When Will I Be (G)loved?

Here is another snow picture. Further falls are not now forecast for today but there may be some on Saturday. What we have is not enough to be a nuisance, which is more than I can say for the temperatures.

As I took this photograph of the chateau de Puivert during my walk this morning, the thermometer stood at -4 degrees Celsius and my gloves felt useless. I think it is the first walk during which I have kept my (begloved) hands in my pockets.

Apologies to the Everley Brothers for the title of this post - they get worse, don't they?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Snow Good To Us

"talesfromagarden" commented thus on my blog yesterday:

"Oh lucky you to have snow to go home to!Please post some photos!I know it will not help your walking but it would look so nice for christmas coming!
Keep up the good work and happy walking!"

Well, by the time we arrived home from Italy yesterday there was not so much snow here. Presumably it had thawed away a bit but then the temperature plunged so much that last night was a record in France for electricity consumption.

I took the above picture while walking home from Quillan this morning. There is more snow on the way tomorrow, when we were scheduled for a 100 kms round-trip to Pamiers for a car service. We have just managed to get that changed to this afternoon. Snow may look pretty, but it is pretty hazardous, especially in a hilly area with every road being twisty and every turn is on a rise or fall in the road.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow ...

No walking today. We were soaked while out yesterday morning and the rain has not stopped since. We don't have the appropriate kit with us to counter that, having travelled with Mr Ryanair and his "hand baggage only or you pay lots for checked luggage" policy.

So It is a cowering indoors type of day. The rain is scheduled to continue falling until after we leave tomorrow morning. We fly from Rome to Girona then drive home, from Spain to France and from the coast to the mountains. It could be an interesting journey . I understand that at home it is thick with snow, with more forecast to fall before we arrive.

I am hoping the snow does not stick around too long. Hopefully I will pack in a few more kilometres before the end of the year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Etruscan Walking

I have managed to squeeze in almost 80 kms of walking this week, despite our transfer to Italy for the second half.

History is so visible here. Just outside my daughter's garden is the ruin of an Etruscan building. I say ruin, but it is a very solid looking piece of work, which has been there for at least 3,000 years and will probably still be there in 5,000 CE.

The Etruscan civilisation is one of many that Rome conquered and absorbed during its ascendancy. It is said that almost no aspects of the Roman civilisation were originally their own. Clearly the renowned durability of Roman building is something they picked up from the Etruscans.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

East is East and West is West

I have managed to pack a few walks into this week, but tomorrow it is back to another mode of transport, the great silver bird. We are travelling east but are confused because the picture above is of our Italian family, who look distinctly western, do they not?

The good news is that we have received our new modem and now have full connection with the outside world.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Little Versailles

It seems ages, so it probably is, since I did a walk of more than 30 kms. I rectified that today by walking from Mirepoix to Puivert, a distance of 33 kms.

After the first few yards of track, where I saw a woman with a dog, I saw nobody until I was in the middle of Chalabre, 23 kms later.

This view, snapped from the Voie Verte, the old railway track, is of the Chateau Lagarde with a backdrop of snowcapped Pyrenees. According to an information board it was known as the “little Versailles of the Languedoc”. It was certainly massive, but has been in ruins for some time.

The placard, which is not new, says that work is going on to restore it to its former glory.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


A break in this week's atrocious weather has given us a couple of fine days. It has also given me a chance to sneak in a couple of 18 kms walks.

This means I have been able to salvage 52 kms from what looked like being a walkless week, replete with hurdles both meteorological and medical.

Not much of a total for a Big Walker, but more than the average bear, methinks.

I seem to be heading for a total of not much more than 4,500 kms for the full year, which is probably a decent grounding for the Big One next year.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Meeting Some Resistance

I have not been for a walk in the past 7 days. This has been due to two factors. The first is that almost every day since then has been spent at one hospital or doctor, either for my eyes or Gay’s back.

The other is the weather. It is 3 degrees outside and lashing down with rain. A couple of hundred metres above us it is falling as snow. This is of benefit to some – 23 ski stations in the Pyrenees are opening this weekend because of the received bounty from the sky.

Of course they are also higher than we are. One of my walks last week with my baby brother started up on the Plateau de Sault, where some of the ski stations are situated. On our way back from a shopping trip to Andorra, Gay dropped Septimus Willem and myself at Espezel for a 20 kms walk home.

We deliberately diverted to the site of the Maquis du Picaussel. Here 400 members of the French Resistance camped out during the German occupation of World War II. They were supplied with weapons and sustenance by the RAF. From that height (over 1000 metres) they (the resistance, not the RAF) could see if the Wehrmacht made a move in their direction and this kept them safe throughout the war.

The Wehrmacht were not too pleased about this, so, at the last moment, as the Allies advanced and the Germans were in retreat, they decided to teach the Maquis a lesson. It was too much trouble to try to find them on the plateau (why did they not bomb them?) so they destroyed the town of Lescale a few hundred metres below.

Our walk took us via the memorial building at the Maquis camp, on a scramble downhill to Lescale, then on quiet roads back to Puivert.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Bright Lights Of Toulouse

Last week’s yomping with SW took me over 4,200 kms for the year so far.

This week I have not yet done much walking. Monday was spent at the hospital in Toulouse, about my eyes. In fact two hospitals because I was sent to a third one. The particular combination of problems in my eyes is causing some consternation in the medical fraternity.

After becoming familiar with a huge variety of machines, most of them involving very bright lights and numerous doctors (3 on Monday alone), I have now been given a very clear picture. I have a problem in both retinas for which there is no treatment, anywhere in the world. It will get worse. I also have cataracts on both eyes but they are not yet bad enough to take any action and in any case the other problem is the one causing me visual problems – cataract operations would not give me any perceivable benefit. New spectacles would similarly be of no use to me. There are some special Omega 3 capsules which may slow the degradation by 40%.

Not so good, then. But within the last week we read about the first successful retina transplant (or was it an artificial retina?), just completed. Conveniently, it was in France.

Tuesday morning we were at a different hospital – this time for Gay’s back. As we drove into Quillan it was raining heavily (also yesterday). As we returned, the rain stopped for a while to reveal the hills all around, covered in snow which is now well below 1000 metres (we live at 500 metres).

We are still without an Internet connection at home.