Friday, April 30, 2010

We Have Lift-Off!

16 days to go and we have moved a little nearer to being ready.

The picture is of the LibDem's battlebus, currently in use during the UK election campaign.

But yesterday we took delivery of our own battlebus, the mobile base for VBW. And we had our first drive of it. Or at least Gay did, as she is the one who needs to rapidly acquire experience of it because, starting in two weeks, while I walk, she drives. For 70 days.

Today we are taking it for its first overnight outing, so that we can test the accommodation and faciliities.

The next posting will have pictures of it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Snow Forecast!!!

I took this picture at an altitude of 650 metres, 360 metres above Quillan, where I started the walk, this morning. The gorge in the distance - actually the Defile de la Pierre-Lys - is the one we drove through last night (and back again this morning). The restaurant and hotel, where we had Gay's birthday dinner (complete with fanfare music and a roman candle accompanying the sweet) is at the far end of the gorge. This is Le Rebenty, and it proved to be most excellent, as we had been advised. We shall go again.

The temperature this morning was 24 degrees, the day is fine. This is the sort of weather we have been having lately. But a neighbour told us, in full shock horreur mode, that we have snow forecast for May 5th. We don't want too much of that sort of thing, because that is only 10 days before I start the Grand March.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Maximising Protection

I walked 36 kms yesterday, but very few today. But I have a doctor's note.

Today was the day I had to go back to the eye hospital in Toulouse for them to measure the rate of deterioration with my serious retina problem. so it was up and out of the house before 6.30. Even leaving at that time we hit the rush hour in Toulouse, but we had allowed for that. We even had enough time to negotiate the traffic chaos in the hospital area, where a tramway system is being installed direct from the city centre to the hospital itself - and beyond, I believe. The hospital complex is massive and is currently undergoing a huge rebuilding program, which means that the retina department was today in a completely different building, having moved into the maternity building since our last visit last November.

Lots of flashing lights again. The result was good news. My retina problem (pattern dystrophy) has stabilised. I was signed off for another 6 months but advised again in the strongest terms to maximise my eye protection from the sun's rays, which severely exacerbate the problem.

There was a bit of excitement when a man came along the corridor in his pyjamas, holding his arms before him and bearing a towel across his wrists. Not some bizarre religious ceremony - the clue was given by the three extremely tough-looking gendarmes who accompanied him and never let him out of their sight. Their bullet-proof vests and guns indicated that this small person was an extremely dangerous prisoner from a high-security gaol.

On the way back we called in to Pamiers to ogle our new battlebus, which is standing proudly in the showroom, awaiting its immatriculation so that we can drive it away for Gay to practise driving a 7-metre vehicle. Then we have to take it back shortly before the start of VBW, for the special VBW decoration to cover it overall.

Gay's birthday today, so I owe it to her, after all that driving (she had to drive home because my eyes were still dilated), to not spoil the rest of the day by going off for a walk. In fact, we are away to a restaurant which comes highly recommended but which we have not yet tried. This involves a drive through the alarming gorge from Quillan towards Perpignan. They have accommodation so we shall be staying overnight.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Walking Through France - Day By Day Detail

This is the plan. I hope I can stick to it. If I do, it will get me to Caen/Ouistreham on 27th June 2010, in time to catch the ferry that evening to Portsmouth, arriving in England on the morning of 28th June.

If you double-click on the chart it will enlarge so that you can read it.

In the near future I will post a similar plan for the English section of VBW.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Send In The Hills

21 days to go.

I have walked well over 100 kms this week, with another day still to go. I was a bit cautious last week - I especially avoided hills - because of the damage to the arch of my left foot. And next week I may lose several days to eye hospital visits and battlebus testing.

The arch seems to be much better now, especially since I found a gel pad - intended for use under the heel, but flexible enough and fortunately not cupped - to place inside my sock on top of the arch, protecting it even more from the pressure of the shoe lacing area.

This week I have thrown caution to the winds as regards hills. The one pictured is a steep hill between Rivel and Puivert, which I use on the 24 kms walk home from Lavelanet, once I have come off the rail trail. It doesn't look much, does it, but it climbs for several kms. And this morning Gay and I did our usual down and up to Quillan, which drops from 600 metres to 290 metres, then back again via a peak of 650 metres.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Le Battlebus Nouveau Est Arrivee!

After a bit of a nervous time wondering whether we would actually have a vehicle for our moving HQ, kitchen, bedroom, et cetera, for VBW, the supplier in Pamiers has just 'phoned to say that it has arrived.

At last! But of course we can not have it yet, because the paperwork is with the immatriculation (registration) authorities. They will send it back "express" but this still means we will not have it until next week. By which time we will have less than 20 days to go before the walk. Hopefully that, bearing in mind all the other things we have to do for preparation, and in real life, will give us enough time to give it a few test runs and get any snags sorted out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Swords Into Ploughshares, Railways Into Canals?

26 days to the start line.

Having spent several afternoons going over the entire route through France and dividing it into roughly 30 kms sections, trying to ensure that there is a campsite always at the end of the section (and failing on that point) I now know that I will be walking 1300 kms in France. Together with almost 700 kms in England, that means I will be walking about 2,000 kms altogether - a figure I have been bandying about, but which I had hoped to undercut somewhat.

Today I tested my foot on the 32 kms walk from Mirepoix to home. The foot seemed to hold up well.

I hope not too much of my route northwards will be on tracks like the one pictured. This is part of the Voie Verte near Mirepoix. Since the track opened (it was converted from a redundant railway line) the whole 37 kms from Mirepoix to Lavelanet has been well drained and pretty dry. But some time before Christmas this section of the track changed character. It had clearly been flooded - I can only presume by an agricultural irrigation accident, which has covered the track in inches of clay. Not only is the clay glutinous and slippery, but it collects rain and prevents it from draining away. Maybe they are turning the Voie Verte into a canal?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Am I Getting Warmer?

Two posts in one day! The year seems a little slow to warm up. The car was again screaming an ice warning at us (below 3 degrees Celsius) as we drove to Lavelanet for me to walk back. And although it was a bright sunny day after it got going the forecast was for a maximum of 14 degrees, and I don't think that was exceeded. Still, in the sun, and walking vigorously, I was well warm.

The track, which I noticed last week was the wettest I have ever seen it, especially inside the old railway tunnels, is much drier this week, which is good news. This track is fairly open, and dries quickly with the sun and the wind, but as I head north I am sure that many trails will be permanently in the shade because they are narrower, with tree cover on each side – they will not dry so easily.

I walked 18 kms. The news from the foot is that although I still have some discomfort, it doesn’t affect my walking, and I don’t think it was any worse after the walk than it was before.

The picture shows what a Big Walker wears for a day like today - when you need enough to keep warm enough before the start, but don't want to wear too much while at full pelt.

And the combat equipment?

Anti-dog device (classified);
Miniature tape recorder - for writing blog on the move and for other bright ideas;
Mobile telephone;
Container for sunglass covers, to fit over ordinary specs in light of severely damaged eyes;
Said sunglass covers - applied;
Foreign Legion style cap for further protection of aforementioned eys and back of neck;
Small video and still camera; pedometer; rucksack with water bladder, foul-weather gear,
Banana and various other bits of kit;
Stomach containing one Jesse's bun and a grand creme.

Missing are the Leki Poles - not used today, and what will really be a vital piece of equipment during Vic's Big Walk proper, which starts 4 weeks tomorrow. That is the Satmap Active 10 navigation device, without which I will be totally lost.

Big Foot Lacing.

This walk is known as Vic’s Big Walk, therefore some people know me as Big Walker, despite my compact dimensions. With the problems I have been having lately, presumably my left end-of-leg thing should now be known as Big Foot.

I thought the picture (if you double click on the picture it will increase in size) would be interesting, to show the way I am currently lacing up my shoes, or at least the left one, to relieve pressure on the arch. I did some research on arch problems similar to mine and found that they can frequently be caused by lacing too tightly. And of course once you have the pain, the lacing, even if you loosen it off, aggravates the feeling, even if it is not doing any more damage.

I found a website which showed several alternative and ingenious methods of lacing the shoe to deal with this problem. One of the other methods on the website was a little odd in that you had to lace the shoes completely in reverse, so that the knot is at the bottom; this may or may not do the trick but an obvious disadvantage of it is that you have to loosen the whole lace all the way down the shoe before you can remove the shoe from your foot.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Speeding Around

Today, between driving 100 kms to Pamiers and back to try to ensure that we will actually have a battlebus by the time I start VBW (we are assured that the vehicle will be in our hands next week), and visiting the gendarmerie in Chalabre to find out what is the matter which is "of concern to me", I managed a tentative 9 kms walk to test out the foot.

The foot seems no worse after the walk, so tomorrow I will try it out over a somewhat longer course.

As regards the gendarmerie, what they had to tell me was that they have a letter from the Italian police, asking why I have not responded to the demand they sent me (this is the first I have heard about it). Apparently I was speeding in Italy last September (!!) and I now have to pay a fine in France for it. I have never heard of this sort of International cooperation between police forces over motoring offences. It cost me €165 for doing 95 kph in a 70 kph limit zone. This was during a drive from Rome all the way into France, which as far as I can recall is motorway all the way. I have a vague memory of there being, for whatever reason, a 70 limit at some point on the motorway. Obviously this takes one somewhat by surprise. You can't slow down until you see it and they probably have a speed camera just at that point to pick up a lot of easy money.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Foot Cleared, Battlebus Delayed

Those are the two items of news for the day, apart from the note found when we returned home - a note which asks us to ring the Gendarmes in Chalabre (we have just driven past their place on the way home from Limoux) to discuss something which "concerns us".

Just been to the doctor and he says it is OK to walk on the foot. The pain was probably caused by the damage inflicted on the top of my arch by having my shoes laced too tight. I have done some research on the internet and it does seem that this can result in a pain which feels like a broken bone.

I think I do sometimes tie the shoes too tight because otherwise they feel too unstable when walking on uneven ground or loose rocks.

Yes, the battlebus is delayed again. If you recall, a couple of weeks ago when we found the original one had not arrived, we ordered another type because we were assured it was available and could be in Pamiers within 5 days. This 5 days rapidly changed into 2 weeks after we signed the order form. That 2 weeks expires about now, but a phone call this morning said it would not now arrive until next week. This is getting very tight for us to test it out. Not to mention the adhesivage, which I now believe will not happen.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

... Disaster Downgraded To An Inconvenience, I Hope

I am now pretty sure that I have not broken anything in my foot. I am doing lots of icing and not walking at all. I hope a few days rest, some gentle stretching then a cautious easing back into walking will do the trick.

One of the perils of living in such a rural area is that, although the French health system is most excellent, it is not so easy to pop along to see a specialist. I hope I won't need one.

What is a bit alarming is the thought of something like this - necessitating several days rest - occurring while VBW is happening live. I will be on a pretty tight schedule and not able to spare a few days off.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Is This A Disaster?

Some pain in the top of my left foot after a 27 kms walk (I added a few kilometres, thinking it would be my 30 kms walk for the week) from Lavelanet on Friday.

Did the Col Portel (over 600m) to Quillan (290m) and back (via 660m) with Gay on Saturday morning. Pain now severe. Have I broken one of those small bones in the foot?

Lots of icing yesterday, while making a start on planning each 30 kms stop of VBW. Amazingly, there are campsites at almost every one of the 16 stops I have already planned.

The foot seems a little easier this morning, but have wisely decided not to walk for a few days while it - hopefully - sorts itself out.

There are 34 days to go until the start.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Leki Faux Pas

Some more equipment I have been testing recently is a pair of Leki Makalu trekking poles. I have seen people using these for many years and have usually thought two things. One is that the user must be German because it only ever seemed to be German people using the poles – that has changed recently and the poles are much more international. The other is that the user must be a poser because I couldn’t see that they performed any function except possibly helping you to keep your balance on rough and rocky terrain.

I have recently been persuaded otherwise and I have a pair. My initial thought was that I needed one as an extra leg on hilly, scrabbly, loose, slippery, wet or skiddy ground. I went into a shop in Ambleside to get one. I made a point of going into this particular shop - . Head for the Hills There are many shops in Ambleside selling outdoor equipment but I have bought stuff from this shop before and the people in there are particularly friendly, helpful and charming so I bought my walking poles there.

I went in talking about the one pole for extra balance and the very nice lady said that it would surely be better to have two because they are actually beneficial when walking long distances as they help propel you and they give upper body exercise - which is something that, at the moment, with spending so many hours a day walking – I am not getting any of. So I plunged for a pair of the Leki Makalu poles. Another benefit of the poles is that with each step, weight is transferred from the legs to the arms, thereby relieving pressure on the knees, which can only be good when one has a suspect knee.

The tips are described in the blurb as diamond-tipped. There were plastic covers over those tips. I assumed “diamond” meant pointed and I am sure I have seen some of these poles with pointed ends. I misunderstood some advice and thought that you had to leave the plastic covers on, particularly when walking on asphalt or stone. On my first test walk, a few days ago, with the poles, I was appalled to find, when I got home after 10 kms on soft track with some stones, that the points had burst through the plastic covers and the points were no more, in fact that the ends were extremely blunt and flat.

So I contacted Head for the Hills and after a bit of toing and froing of e-mails with misunderstanding on both parts, I discovered that the ends were never flat. They are actually made of tungsten and will last for several years. That in fact the ends – far from being pointed - are concave to give a better grip on the ground. Also that the plastic covers are there just to protect the ends in transit, or rather to protect people from the tips, which, although not pointed, could do some damage to passing skin.

So, all’s well that ends well. I have used the poles several times now. I am quite happy with them and I am even more pleased than I was before with Head for the Hills in Ambleside, which I thoroughly recomment, and here is their website:

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Service Offert par : Mairie de Auriac-sur-Vendinelle

It started raining yesterday morning as I started my very wet walk from Quillan to home. It rained solid for 24 hours and we have a waterfall within 20 metres of this house, a waterfall we see only a few times per year.

Not much walking today because we have been out in the car checking the route for the first 4 days of VBW. As you know, I am going to be walking through France mainly on the Grandes Randonnees, long distance walking tracks of which there are 160,000 kms in France. Enough to girdle the earth several times.

But for the first 4 days I shall be walking on roads because there is not a GR which goes directly north of here. The GR7 actually passes through Puivert, but it wanders all over the map and I would waste several days if I used it.

Gay has spent several afternoons with the maps and came up with a route to Lisle sur Tarn, a logical place for me to join the GR system, 140 kms from home. All the roads she picked were white roads, which means they should be quiet enough to walk. They were - she did a fantastic job.

There were sensible places to camp at 30 kms intervals, except at the end of Day 3, when we found ourselves in Auriac. There was no campsite, so we went into the Mairie to ask if there was anywhere we could park up for the night. "Wild" camping, not on a campsite, is quite normal in France but we wanted to make sure we would not be turfed out in the middle of the night by the gendarmes, which is what would happen in France.

The Maire himself greeted us, gave us permission, took us round meeting his staff and telling them of my great project, then took us out round the town, demonstrating various places we could park.

I think we now have full authorisation.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why UK, Not France?

I received a message this morning, like so "I do not want to detract from the great job you are attempting to do. My question is why donate to the UK and not to France where you live."

That's a reasonable question and it deserves an answer, which was:

"Thanks for your message and your good wishes.

The first objective of the walk is the symbolic 70 day walk from the house where I now live, to the house where I was born, to arrive on my 70th birthday. English people are more likely to understand this symbolism and in fact it was English people who suggested that I should use the event to raise money for a charity.

Also, I am better able to blog and otherwise publicise in English - in fact although I can make day to day conversation, I am incapable of writing large amounts French.

The reason I chose this particular charity is because my first wife Gaile died from Pancreatic cancer and she was English. In many ways this is something I am doing for my daughters.

So I am far more likely to raise money from an English audience.

Most of the work of Pancreatic Cancer UK is devoted to research to try to make some advances against this terrible illness. Benefits flowing from the research will benefit pancreatic cancer sufferers in all countries, not just Britain.

I understand the reasoning behind your question but I hope I have explained why I am doing as I am."

In fact a very high proportion of the donations made so far come from countries other than Britain.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Twelve And A Half Million Steps

There are 40 days to go.

I clocked up 108 kms in the week ending yesterday, which brought me to exactly 1,000 kms for the year to date.

This is the level of training I want to maintain between now and VBW-day, 15th May. Enough to maintain my level of fitness, but not so much that I segue into the same level of intensity (200 kms a week) that I will need during the walk itself. I think you will agree that 10 weeks of that will be quite enough, without piling on the agony.

I should line up at the start with about 1,600 of training in my legs this year, about 10,000 kms in total accumulated since the inception of the project almost 2 years ago. That's 12 and half million steps

The only other thing I will make sure of doing in the next 6 weeks is to have at least one walk of 30 kms per week, so that I don't forget what that is like.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Not Swimming

I have lost count of the times I have been asked by people (with a triumphant air of "I've caught you out on this one!) what I am going to do when I reach the channel, if I am supposed to be walking from the South of France to the North of England.

Well, what do you think I am going to do? And no, I am not going to walk round and round the ship all night. Be reasonable.

Gay and I have just had an intensive afternoon with the maps, and there is now another bit of swimming I am going to avoid. I have published my proposed route several times on this blog, most recently on March 5th. In the section "From Oxford", where I am walking mainly on canal towpaths, I emerge from the Rufford Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Tarleton and then take the Douglas to Preston. Closer examination reveals that the Douglas is a navigable river, not a canal, and therefore will probably not have a towpath for me to walk on.

This, plus all the wandering around from East to West and back again and again which the canals do after Middlewich, means that part of the route (from Middlewich to Blackpool) is being rethought.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Satmap To The Rescue

When I set out to walk the 23 kms from Lavelanet this morning the temperature was 0 degrees. When I arrived home it had risen to the mid to high teens. What does a feller wear?

I have been trying out a few bits of kit while walking this week. One - the Satmap Active 10, as pictured, has become vital to VBW. With the currrent and rapidly deteriorating state of my eyes, all the maps I have bought (about 800 Euros worth) are useless to me as I can not see the tracks.

Satmap have supplied me with the Active 10 and all the necessary cards at a peppercorn price. Unlike all the other GPS devices I have seen for walkers, this requires no fiddling about with computers, downloads and knowledge I don't have. Even computer geeks are pleased about that.

You simply insert the card required, in this morning's case the (SD) card for Midi-Pyrenees, and the map for that area appears on screen. The main walking trails through France - the Grandes Randonnees - appear as a bright purple broad line, which even I can see. As I should be sticking mainly to GRs for well over 1000 kms through France, I could just follow the line, making sure that I did not branch off onto the wrong GRs at junctions.

But it is also possible to insert your own pre-planned route by prodding at the joystick. Your route then appears as a yellow line. This will be very useful for cutting out the great loops, frequently intersected by a more direct path, which the GRs seem to delight in taking. If I had stuck to GRs this week, I would have walked many further unnecessary kilometres. As it happens, I was walking tracks which are well known to me and keeping an eye on the Active 10 to see how they related to the GRs. I learned a lot.

I think without the Satmap, I would have had to give up on VBW altogether.

You find out more about the Satmap Active 10 by clicking on:

Or you can see an independent review of the device here:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Substitute ...

Was that not a song in the 60s? By The Who, if I remember correctly. It included the words "the simple things you see are all complicated", which is certainly true. We expected to be driving round in our McLouis campervan by now. It seemed a simple arrangement, with plenty of time allowed for it to happen.

But that is not to be. Maybe it is tempting providence to tell you this, but we are now hoping to have the above Burstner vehicle before the middle of April.

To remind you, this is going to be our travelling base, moved on 30 kms each day by my wife and support team Gay, while I stroll the highways and byways between the South of France and the North of England for 10 weeks.

Fingers crossed!