Monday, May 31, 2010

Day Seventeen

Last night we had our first social engagement of VBW. We were entertained to dinner by Pam and Bob Coxon, who live near Brantome. It was a good meal and a very enjoyable occasion. We had not met before. Contact came when Pam donated to Pancreatic Cancer research through this blog, having recently lost her sister to the appalling illness. We hope to see Pam and Bob again.

Today’s walk started in slightly better circumstances than yesterday’s. Everywhere was wet but nothing was falling from the sky. This soon changed. A light drizzle ensued. Then there was a lull for a couple of hours, during which I was even able to remove my waterproof cape. As I neared the finish in St Martial de Valette, on the outskirts of Nontron, the rain started again, became more serious, and is still at it.

The newly-revamped route which Gay has been slaving over proved to be excellent. Very quiet roads running through just a few working hamlets. Nothing of note to be seen or photographed. The picture shows what I saw most of today. The only slight snag was that none of the places I passed through was big enough to host a café or a bar. I look forward to these not so much for the coffee as for the rest. I used to charge along for the full walk but have now realised the value of a short rest. A coffee, perchance croissant, ensures that this last longer than an impatient two minutes.

I covered 26 kms, bringing the total for the 17 days to 537. Total ascents today were 1157 metres.

Tomorrow, Day 18, we go to Roussines, Day 19 to St Maurice-des-Lions, Day 20 Availles-Limouzine, Day 21 Persac,

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day Sixteen

What a miserable walk this one turned out to be. It started wet, finished wet, and was wet all the time in between. In fact it started raining as soon as we arrived at Brantome yesterday afternoon. When we went out for the evening, to the pizzeria in the prehistoric cave, they were closed until June 2nd. Most other places seem to serve meals only at lunchtime. We ended up having a very pedestrian (how appropriate) snack. It was in a cave, though.

Today I walked south, as if I were returning home. Why, you demand to know. Yesterday’s walk finished at Champcevenil and Gay picked me up and drove to Brantome. Today she was to drive me back to Champcevenil, so that I could walk the next stage from C. to B. But the campsite gates were locked until 0800 so we agreed that I would do this one stage backwards. I walked from B to C, and Gay picked me up again in Champcevenil, in exactly the same cemetery car park where I yesterday had a shower and lunch.

I walked 27 kms, which brings the total covered so far to 511 kms. And, if I have confused you above, that means we have now reached Brantome, the Venice of the Perigord.

As I mentioned yesterday, Gay has been doing some drastic re-routing, now that I have decided that roads are more to be pitied than scorned, and especially where the GRs diverge wildly from the northerly direction.

The first fruits of this new policy come tomorrow, Day 17, when I will be walking from Brantome, not to La Beaudrigie, as previously announced, but to St Martial de Valette. Day 18 will be to Roussines, Day 19 to St Maurice des Lions.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day Fifteen

Today’s walk took me to Champcevenil, from Milhac d’Auberoche. Gay picked me up in Champcevenil and drove us to Brantôme, where we shall stay the next two nights, it being one of our favourite places. All three towns are in the Dordogne departement.

There is still a troglodytic element in much of the Dordogne. In Brantôme, for instance, many of the shops are in caves, with a normal shop front. Many of the people live in caves, with a normal house front. This evening, we shall dine in a cave, where people used to live 8,000 years ago, and our pizza will be cooked where those people prepared their own food. How cool is that?

I walked 33.5 kms, giving a VBW total so far of 484. Total ascents today were 1608 metres, which is quite enough.

On the way, I walked through a place called le Boute du Monde – the ends of the earth. It was certainly the end of the road for these vehicles, seen near there. There were more, including some old American army jeeps.

The navigation officer is in the throes of some drastic rerouting, which will probably mean that we shall not be going through some of the places on the published schedule. I will list the changes when they have taken place. In the meantime, anybody planning to meet us in the next couple of weeks should contact us before doing so.

Now Coming To You On Facebook!

Nicola and Karen tell me that Vic's Big Walk now has its own Facebook page.

Here is the link:!/group.php?gid=103871062992919

Friday, May 28, 2010

Day Fourteen

27.5 kms today. I have been walking for two weeks and have covered 450 kms. How am I feeling? A bit tired towards the end of each walk (even a “short” one like today’s) but OK an hour or two later and ready by the next morning for another effort. My feet are certainly in better condition than they were a week ago. Amazingly, I have not lost any weight, yet we are not eating big meals and have not even had any wine, except for a small amount on the three occasions we have eaten out.

We are parked in a wood, a simple camping ground attached to an interesting premises. Monsieur breeds geese for foie gras. There is also a hangar and an airstrip as part of the ensemble – monsieur’s son is a keen pilot and in fact was in the air when I arrived here after walking from St Leon.

Gay had done such a good job of ironing out the kinks in GR36 that from St Leon to here was only 23.5 so, after a cup of tea, I walked on another 4 kms to the point where I will start tomorrow morning. I was showered, dressed, and we had eaten lunch before 1330.

Oops! Nicola just pointed out that I have not said where we are. We are at Milhac d'Auberoche. Tomorrow night we shall be in one of our favourite places - Brantome.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day Thirteen

“Flower of the Aquitaine” – a line from the Mark Knopfler song “Done with Bonaparte”. There are lots of wild flowers here, of course, as in the rest of France. As the picture shows the really dominant one at the moment is the poppy.

I left Sarlat early this morning. The first kilometre was descent into the town centre, then I climbed over 500 metres in the next two kilometres. Soon after I had left the city limits I was into bewilderment mode, because where my next planned junctions and changes of course should have been, there was instead a bypass under construction, which had obliterated all sign of what was on the map. Nothing daunted, I pressed on.

Much of the day was spent walking in rain. Miserable, but much better than the three thunderstorms we had yesterday, which fortunately waited until we were at our base for the night.

We have arrived at St Leon sur Vezere, after a walk of just over 30 kms (total 423 kms so far) and the now expected total ascent of 1276 metres.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day Twelve

Last night, just after we went to bed, the mother of all thunderstorms arrived. There was a colossal amount of rain. I’m sure it wasn’t coming down in drops, just being poured from that huge bucket in the sky. It was like being in a carwash for a couple of hours, with added sound and light effects. In its own way, it was magnificent. We were glad not to be in a tent.

Today I walked from Souillac to Sarlat-le-Canada, famous for its lovely old buildings and for its huge and splendid markets.

I also walked, as you can see, from the ancient province of Quercy into the ditto of Perigord, from the current department of Lot into the same of Dordogne (I think Napoleon brought in the departments) and from the region of Midi-Pyrenees (in which I have been walking, except for the first few kms on the first day and an aberration on the second day, for the whole of VBW so far) into Acquitaine, of Eleanor fame.

Gay, having moved V-Force One on to Sarlat, walked out 6 kms or so to join me for the last bit of the walk. Where we met was in a forest – actually, almost all of today’s walk was deep in forest – where loggers had clearly been at work this morning, churning up the track –already sodden from last night’s rain - so that it turned into that sort of clay which keeps getting thicker and thicker on the bottom of the shoes and one keeps getting taller and taller. Gary Glitter clay, we call it, because it reminds us of his ridiculous shoes.

We had no sooner arrived at the campsite, had a shower and lunch, than the next thunderstorm arrived.

I walked 33.5 kms, 393 so far. I also climbed 1452 metres. All that talk of how many Ben Nevises I have climbed got me to thinking. I should have been keeping a proper record of this, and will go back over the routes with my trusty Satmap Active 10, but I have actually already climbed Everest on this trip, as well as walking nearly 400 kms.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day Eleven

It was an early start from La Bastide Murat this morning. Partly because it was forecast to be 31 degrees, the same as yesterday. That is far too hot for this type of activity, especially when the summer has been so reluctant to arrive and there has been no acclimatisation.

Another reason for the early start was that we tend to wake up as the light filters into V-Force One, and the birds start to sing. That is normally just after five at this time of the year. So I am usually walking well before 7.

Yesterday, however, I awoke to hear a bird ringing dem bells, and my mind decided it was time to rise. It took me some time to realise that it was a nightingale, and that the time was only 2 a.m. Because I had switched into getting-up mode, I slept only fitfully after that. And one does need a good night’s sleep every night when walking over 30 kms a day.

We are at Souillac, I have walked 31.5 fairly uneventful kilometres today and 359.5 kms in VBW so far.

The pics show a wonderful building next to yesterday’s campsite, a lonely walker approaching Vers a couple of days ago, and the old abbey here in Souillac

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day Ten

Today I walked from Marty, near Vers, to beyond Montfaucon. 33.5 kms, which means that I have walked 328 kms so far, in the first ten days of VBW.

I had a bit of trouble with my navigation at first. I am entirely dependent on the Satmap Active 10. Gay works out the course on maps, then I feed it into the Active 10. All I have to do then is follow the course as it appears on the device. Well, the course was in there when I started off, but the other ingredient for successful navigation was missing. We were so deep in the gorge of the River Lot, with huge battlement-like cliffs on either side, that the device could not “acquire” enough satellites to give me a fix, I walked for over 8 kms before the device suddenly locked on and knew where we were.

It was very rural, some track, some roads. The first town I came to, or, as I see it, the first coffee, was La Bastide Murat, after about 23 kms. Gay had already paused here to check out a bar for me, then texted me of its whereabouts. I duly went there, had a coffee, while thrusting a VBW card at each English voice I heard. Resultant chat with one couple finished with them giving me a small donation for Pancreatic Cancer research. This was in cash, but fortunately PCUK have provided me with a purple collecting container, so it will go in there. Maybe I should walk along with this.

I walked on to Montfaucon, where Gay was waiting. The plan was that if I felt OK by this point – about 28 kms – I would walk on a while to take a chunk out of tomorrow’s walk. I felt fine, so after another coffee, and again depositing my rucksack with Gay, I did another five and a half kms to the agreed meeting point. Gay will drive me back there in the morning to start the next stage. I’m not sure she would have picked this particular spot if she had realised just how narrow the lanes were just there, but fortunately, today there was no contradictory traffic.

I haven't mentioned the climbing since the very hard day when I climbed one and a half Ben Nevises, but every day I climb at least one Ben Nevis, or, if I don't manage that, at least a Helvellyn or a Snowdon.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day Nine

We are at Vers, pronounced to rhyme with Bears. Strangely, one kilometre before Vers is a village called Bears, which is not pronounced to rhyme with bears. I walked here this morning from Concots. Our original estimation of the distance was 30 kms, but after Gay finished sorting out shortcuts – using the new policy of ignoring the GRs if they wander about too much, it had been whittled down to 22. So I actually walked past Vers, where Gay had booked into a very pleasant campsite next to the River Lot. We had met by arrangement at La Truite d’Orėe – the Golden Trout – in Vers, for a coffee, before I walked on to Marty (Jeez! Frasier!). I left the rucksack with Gay, which really put a spring in my step. Unfortunately, I also left the bottle of water she had just bought me to carry the last 5 kms. Some people are just born to be plonkers.

The reason for walking past Vers, even though we are camping here, and making the 22 kms up to 27, was to take a chunk out of tomorrow’s planned route, which would otherwise be well over 30.

So my walk today was 27 kms, the same as yesterday. But what a difference. Yesterday, the shortest walk so far, was also the most tiring, possibly a delayed reaction to the very hard day on Thursday. I was really dragging my feet the last few kms, and was feeling a strain in my back. Gay walked out to meet me and asked why I had such a list to port. I hadn’t realised, but I was suffering from something I have seen discussed in walkers’ magazines – so called “leaning over syndrome”, where there is an involuntary leaning over to one side or the other, which comes on during a long walk. That’s what was putting such a strain on my back, of course. Apparently we all tend to lean a little, which is why, when blindfolded, we always walk in a circle, and why people get lost in woods when they think they are walking in a straight line.

Today’s walk, the same distance as yesterday, felt like a stroll in the park, and put me up to 295 kms for VBW so far.

Blackpool won the day at Wembley, by the way. I know that because two of my daughters and one of my brothers texted me excitedly with the news.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day Eight

We are at Concots. 268 kms down. Just a few to go :-)

Glory be! Today I had my first walk of under 30 kms – 27 kms in fact – thanks to some nifty work by my navigation officer, and ditching the Grandes Randonnėes for the day.

I seemed to spend most of the day walking past military bases and training areas. Gay had picked a road which took a more direct line from Caylus to Concots than the GRs. It became obvious that one reason the GRs skirted the are could be because nobody is allowed near it. I have never seen so many signs saying “Domaine Militaire – Defense d’Entrer”, so many truck carrying passels of soldier boys, or heard so much gunfire. Since I lived in Stone, near an ammo factory, in the early 60s.

I am always impressed by how tough and fit and smart French soldiers seem. We have a parachute regiment based in Carcassonne and the Foreign Legion at Castelnaudary, so we often have these troops on exercise nearby, or tramping past the house with blackened faces and guns at the ready.

Here’s an interesting story – at least I think it is. Yesterday when I arrived in Caylus, I couldn’t find the campsite, where Gay and V-Force One were already ensconced. It was lunchtime, so as usual in a French village (another superb mediaeval one) there was nobody to be seen in the streets. I went to a point where I could here voices from an upstairs window, and I hallooed. A voice replied. It took me a few goes to find which window the head was popping from. The head said, “Do you speak English?”

It turned out to be Alistair Hamilton, a very Scottish name, but a very Welsh man. In fact a Cardiff supporter. Now today, the day after I was speaking to him, Cardiff are playing Blackpool at Wembley. The winner will enter the Premiership, what used to be the First Division (this is soccer I am talking about). At least two of my brothers are avid Blackpool supporters. Blackpool used to be one of the top teams and Gaile, my late first wife, in whose memory I am doing this Big Walk to raise funds for Pancreatic Cancer UK, had two uncles playing in the famous “Matthews Cup Final” of 1953, which Blackpool won. In fact one uncle, Harry Johnson, was the captain of the team and the other was Stanley Mortensen, the only person ever to score a hat-trick in a Cup Final at Wembley, unlike Stanley Matthews, who didn’t score at all. If Blackpool win today, it will be back to the glory days for them after decades spent in the much lower divisions. At least one of my brothers will be at Wembley today, and so will all the family of the aforementioned Alistair Hamilton.

So that was enough of a coincidence. But add to that the fact that Alistair and his wife are next week off south to camp in, yes, Puivert, where I live and where I started VBW 8 days ago.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 7

We are now in Caylus, a place we realise we have visited before. I have walked 33 kms today, which took only 6 hours (a short walk after yesterday) from Penne, and 241 kms for the 7 days.

An uneventful day spent mainly marvelling at the splendid scenery of the Gorges de Aveyron and such places as St Antonin Noble Val, 12 kms back down the road, and providing the bridge picture.

I have learned something from yesterday’s experience. Although most people walking the GRs do so to enjoy the rurality and the challenge of the great rough outdoors, I have a different objective – I need to get North. It is no advantage or pleasure to me, to walk for over 9 hours to cover only 38 kms and to advance, as the crow flies, probably on 20 kms in the right direction. From now on, if the road is a better choice to get onwards, and if it is a quiet road, then the road it is for me.

Oh, and the shoes? They do feel slightly roomier around the toebox. Thank you, Colin, Liz, Ang and Paul. And especially Gay, who worried these old shoes back to life.

Day Six Extra

When I came down out of the wilderness yesterday, after over 9 hours of walking, the first thing that caught my eye once I hit a bit of blessed flat road, was a wonderful field full of poppies. The next thing was, walking towards me, carrying the Vic’s Big Walk Battle Flag, Ang and Paul, Australian friends who live next door in Puivert, It must have been an even longer day than I thought – when I left “home” this morning there had been no suggestion that they would visit us. In the meantime, they had driven all that way, had lunch with Gay, an accompanied her during the long wait to discover what had become of me.

There must be a story behind that, and here it is. I foolishly set out on this walk with two brand new pairs of shoes. They are the same type and size of shoe which I have worn, without complaint and with much pleasure, during 12,000 kms of training. I don’t know whether they are marginally smaller around the toe box than my previous pairs, or if it is just that I am walking so much more, especially with vicious ups and downs and consequent slamming of my toes into the front of my shoes, but as a result, I now have several severely damaged toe nails, which are eventually going to come off.

In order to set out with new shoes (so that I would have enough sole to last me the whole trip) I gave away two part-used and very comfortable pairs to my friend Colin. But while I was out on yesterday’s marathon walk, Gay had contacted Ang and Paul, got them to contact Liz and Colin, retrieve the gifted shoes (what did Colin think of that? Vic Heaney, the Indian giver – but Colin, all this was done without my knowledge!) and bring them up to a rendezvous at Penne, where Gay and I were to spend the night.

I have to say it was very nice to see Ang and Paul, the best neighbours we have ever had. We had a bit of a chat and they went home. We have previously met Ang for lunch in Sydney and I believe our next appointment is in Winchester at the end of June.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day Six

What a long day this turned out to be. I started walking at 6.40 and finished at 16.00, having walked for over 38 kms. I hadn’t intended to walk so far – that’s a long story, mainly about poor estimation. But even if I had, I would have thought maybe six and a half hours, not over nine houses, as it turned out.

The terrain was dreadrul for walking. It was it all up and down, even more than the previous days – not only did I walk almost a full marathon today, but I also climbed a total of 1905 metres, which is one and a half times the height of Ben Nevis, Britains highest mountain.

That would have been hard, but it would not have slowed me down much. The tracks for almost all of those kilometres was either loose stones or knobbly bigger stones, the sort of surface I really dislike, especially coming downhill, and especially with the state of my eyes.

Picture this wonderful little scene when I was about two kilometres from the end, where Gay had made me some lunch several hours earlier – there was a sign across the track – the GR46, one of France’s major pedestrian highways – accompanied by a fence. The sign said that the route was closed and please refer to something which was so curled up I couldn’t read it. Curling was obviously in vogue, so I did the same with my lip and climbed over the fence and another one a few hundred metres further along. After walking so far today, and over 200 kms in the past 6 days, I was not going to go back to please some bloody-minded farmer.

As usual, I have some nice piccies to post, but they fail to load through Internet Everywhere. I will add them when I can.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day Five Extra

Thanks to a donated Internet connection, I just managed to add photographs to the last few posts.

From here on, the walk becomes very rural, with even less chance of a decent connection via my dongle. I may manage to post, but quite likely without enough signal strength to add pictures. I will come back and add them whenever I can.

Don't forget, double-clicking on any of the pictures will enlarge them.

When Gay came to the tourist office, seeking information about Internet access, there just happened to be a journalist here. He is interested in the story of Vic's Big Walk for Pancreatic Cancer research, and came across to V-Force One to make an appointment for this evening. He is coming at 7 for interview and photographs, then he is giving us a lift to the pizzeria. This is extremely convenient because it is where I finished walking this morning - Gay and I will walk back to the campsite, and in the morning I will start out on the track I seek, which just happens to start about 20 metres from our vehicle.

Day Five

Today’s walk was a little shorter, at 31.5 kms. That’s 170.5 kms for VBW so far, in total.

Again, most of it was quite hilly, with a total of 837 metres climbed today. I think it was even more yesterday.

I have now finished the road section of the walk. From here on it will be mostly Grandes Randonnées, or walking tracks. These tend to wander about all over the place, sometimes with big loops of, for instance, 10 kms, which only advance you 2 kms on your way. Where this happens, wherever possible, I will use roads as shortcuts to intersect the loops.

We are camped at Salvagnac, 14, 13, or 11 kms, depending upon which signposts you read, from Lisle sur Tarn, where I stopped for coffee and a text message from Septimus – who is on a walking cruise (work that one out) in Norway.

I saw a welcome sign as I came into the village – “pizza au feu du bois” – pizza made in a wood-fired stove. Our journey from here on is even more rural, passing only through small villages, and I thought I had left the prospect of pizzas behind me for a few weeks. I do like a good pizza, so we shall be off to that restaurant tonight. By a strange coincidence, tomorrow we shall be having Penne – that is the name of tomorrow night’s stop, but all Italophiles know that it is also the name of one type of that other traditional Italian dish, pasta.

I have no broadband dongle signal here, although we have just made a telephone call quite successfully to Penne.

The tourist office is nearby. When Gay asked if there was anywhere locally where we could access the Internet, the lady behind the counter said we could log in on her WiFi. So here I am.

The pictures show a lovely old watermill at St Pierre, just after I started out this morning, and what seems to be a Martian spaceship, not far from where I finished today's walk.

This blog entry may appear late because I am finding it very difficult to get connection to the Internet. I have a dongle for the Orange Internet Everywhere service – but it certainly does not work everywhere.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day Four

The pics show (a) strange sign which indicated, shortly after I started to walk this morning, that I was even more of course than usual, and (b) my advance party coming out with V-Force one to meet me after 35 kms.

Today I had a pretty uneventful walk - although another long one of 35 kms, from Auriac sur Vendinelle to a lonely crossroads in the middle of nowhere, about 5 kms north of Lavaur. So far I have walked 139 kms since Saturday morning.

At last it was a really fine day, the first we have had for several weeks (and don't forget that about 4 or 5 weeks from now it will be the highpoint of summer).

It was pretty hard walking again - one thing that is really being confirmed in my mind is that there is not much of France that is flat.

With about 5 kms to go, Gay met me in Lavaur, where she had been doing some shopping - including for a longer USB extension so that I can place the dongle outside the Faraday cage which this vehicle so proudly has, but which probably helps to prevent bloggery. We had a coffee and, in my case, a small patisserie before I walked on. This is the first time that I have tried breaking the walk up a bit instead of just charging on to the finishing post. I wondered whether the break would help or hinder me - whether rigor mortis would set in or if the rest would regenerate my legs. I have to say that I think the latter is true. Maybe I should not just set out and charge on for 30-odd kms without stopping, as I usually do.

The regeneration came in useful because the last 5 kms, to the point where we had agreed that Gay would meet me in V-Force One, was all uphill. A worthy finish to a day of ups and downs, geographically.

Gat then whisked me off to a very rural campsite about 7 kms away. Tomorrow morning whe will take me back to the crossroads, where I start the final road section before setting out on the Grandes Randonnees tracks on Day 6. Then it will be mainly traffic-free GRs all the way to the port at Caen/Ouistreham.

These blog entries will appear late because I am finding it very difficult to get connection to the Internet. This is likely to be the pattern for the whole of this trip because we are travelling through such rural areas - also France is very hilly so there are lots of dead areas for telephone reception. So there will likely be several days without blog entries, then a rush of several, like this batch.

Day Three

Thanks to Nicola for holding the fort and putting an entry on here so that everybody would not think I have disappeared.

Today’s walk was from Salles-sur-l’Hers to Auriac-sur-Vendinelle (all these places can be found on Google Earth).

The walk was without incident and was, unfortunately, 36 kms, which means that I have walked a total of 104 kms in the first 3 days of VBW. I could do with a shorter stage soon. I am averaging well above the 30 kms a day I set myself, which in itself is pretty demanding.

The picture is of a windmill between Belesta and Le Vaux. This is obviously an area for windmills. As I came into Le Vaux there were 3 windmills in less than 100 metres

These blog entries will appear late because I am finding it very difficult to get connection to the Internet. This is likely to be the pattern for the whole of this trip because we are travelling through such rural areas - also France is very hilly so there are lots of dead areas for telephone reception. So there will likely be several days without blog entries, then a rush of several, like this batch.

Day Two

These blog entries will appear late because I am finding it very difficult to get connection to the Internet. I have a dongle for the Orange Internet Everywhere service – I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that it should be renamed Internet Nowhere. As I send this, it seems that I have enough signal strength for words, but not for the picture I am trying to place on here. I will add it when I can.

I walked nearly 40 kms yesterday. 34 of them were for VBW, from Puivert to Mirepoix. The rest were walking into town and back a couple of times, once in the afternoon to find an Internet café -because I had very poor reception with my dongle - and in the evening for a pizza.

Today I walked from Mirepoix to Salles sur l’Hers (we have a river Hers and a river His in this area), which was again 34 kms, rather than the 30 I had expected. So I am already 68 kms along my route.

I nearly had a disaster just as I set out from the café where I had breakfast before saying goodbye to Gay. I had walked on 50 metres when I realised that the koala attached to the brim of my hat was no longer there. I turned round and it was lying on the pavement outside the café.

Also on my hat I have a New Zealand badge. Our friend Denise of Alexandra, in New Zealand, gave Gay and myself one each to carry throughout VBW “so that we would know our New Zealand friends were with us all the way”. The koalas, again one each, were donated on Friday evening, when our Australian friends Ang and Paul gave a farewell dinner for us. Similarly, they are to remind us that our Australian friends are supporting us throughout the walk

Internet in the woods.

Hi Everyone, the surrogate blogger here. Nicola (Vic's daughter for those who don't know me or know of me). I'm posting as Dad and Gay's camps for the past two days have been in areas that have no Internet reception, and I know some of you out there are anxiously waiting for news. We have managed to exchange a few text messages while Dad is walking, however, and the news is that everything is going according to schedule. Total kilometres walked as of last night (end of Day 3) clocked up to 104. Dad hopes to pass through a town today, where he will look for an internet café and post his blogs for days 2 and 3 (already written and waiting to posted!) en route. This might be a regular occurrence during the walk, as the route is an extremely rural one.
Day 4 well underway, and when I spoke to Vic about 10 minutes ago, he wasn't even slightly out of breath, in spite of the fact that I know there are a lot of hills out there!!!
Go, Vic, Go!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Watching The Clock

It is said that Mussolini made the trains run on time. Vicini pulled into what was Mirepoix station, but is the campsite for our first stop, 4 minutes late, at 1334. I had given an estimate that, if I started VBW at 0800, I would arrive at the end of day 1’s walk at 1330. I didn’t know then that most of the well-wishers who turned up to see me off would walk with me for a kilometre or so, and that we would walk through the village, complete with Evelyn’s magnificent banner held before us by Gay and Ang.

That little perambulation undoubtedly added a few minutes, so I think the reputation of the …ini family as railway schedulers is still intact.

The walk through the village was a bit wasted really, because nobody was about. Even the bar was not yet open. We saw one old lady I didn’t recognise.

The pictures above, of the official start of Vic’s Big Walk, were kindly supplied by Ang, who retains the copyright. In addition to the small and hardy band who braved yet another cold morning, came the enterprising journalist Christian Morales, who will be placing a fascinating piece in the Independent and Mid Libre newspapers. There is already a story and pictures today in the rival newspaper Depeche du Midi.

Later, as I was legging it along the Voie Verte towards Mirepoix, I saw a runner coming towards me, going at a decent pace. I wondered what on earth he had on his head, but as he came nearer I realised it was a large black Catalan beret. I was surprised when he shouted “Good luck Vic, see you in August”. It was the redoubtable aforementioned Christian Morales.

Several people have said that one of the things that will happen during VBW is that I will meet new people, some of whom will become friends.. Of course I will. This week I have already met two journalists and a professional photographer. All excellent, friendly people.


70 minutes to go!

And I wish the weather was better. At least it is dry this morning, which is more than we can say for the last few weeks. And the temperatures have been so low! Almost every morning since we came back from New Zealand before the end of March, the car temperature monitor has screamed "ice" at us, meaning the temperature is below 3 degrees.

We had a new twist on this yesterday. You remember that we had to spend half of the last day before VBW driving over to Pamiers - a round trip of 110 kms - to the motorhome dealer, because the water heater in V-Force One did not work.

This is what had happened. Apparently there is an ice detector in the vehicle as well. If the temperature falls to 3 degrees, it jettisons all the water from the fresh water tank! So then of course when you switch the heater on, nothing happens.

Soon I will be setting out on the madcap caper I have been planning and training for over the past 2 years. I am touched by the messages of support I have received over that time and especially yesterday - some of them very emotional. I will do my best to live up to all your expectations.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Battle Standard

Our friends and neighbours Evelyn and Ian live and work in Ireland and come here whenever they can. When I first started bruiting it about that I was going to do VBW, they said they would come here specially to see me off, and they would walk part of the first leg with me.

Unfortunately, although Ian arrived a couple of days ago, Evelyn did not because of problems ultimately caused by the famous volcanic ash from Iceland.

But look what she sent as a gift borne by Ian. She has obviously laboured long and hard over this banner. The details are applique. And look at that Columbia shoe!

Tonight our other friends and neighbours Ang and Paul are hosting a farewell dinner for Gay and myself, which was supposed to be attended by Evelyn as well as Ian, who will still be there. We shall miss Evelyn tonight and at the start of the walk, but the banner will be proudly displayed at every stop along the way. It will wave outside V-Force One like a standard outside a crusader tent.

Words Of Encouragement

1 day to go.

We are receiving many messages of support and encouragement today. Here is a particularly eloquent example from Rod and Caroline King, who we shall visit in Reading along the way.

Hi Vic n Gay,

Hope you have managed to get all the V-Force One teething problems out of the way.

Good luck to both of you as you commence your epic journey tomorrow.

We hope that all your physical and mental preparation holds you in good stead over the coming 10 weeks.

We also hope that the weather is as kind to you as it was to us on our recent journey:

That the terrain ahead does not present any unforeseen or unwelcome difficulties.

And, most of all that your body and limbs carry you safely to your ultimate objective.

Hope you enjoy the countryside and all the new acquaintances you are bound to make along the way.

In brief, enjoy you walk! (Drive safely, Gay). And see you at the end of June.

Very best wishes,

Rod and Caroline.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Not In Hot Water

2 days to go.

Yesterday we were supposed to stay overnight in V-Force One, at the Puivert campsite, to test out such things as the water heater. We have used the heater, the night we spent in St Girons (funny, it was raining then, and it still is, without much pause in between) a couple of weeks ago, but it was plugged into the camp mains. There will be some nights in the vehicle when we shall not be on a camp - those nights the gas has to provide the heat.

We didn't spend the night on the campsite because we had to go over to Pamiers for a missing insurance document - today is a public holiday and tomorrow is taken as a "bridge" to make it a long weekend.

So this afternoon Gay toddled through the rain to the campsite, to try out the water 'otter. Guess what? It doesn't work at all, even when plugged into the mains. I suspect that while doing some other work in there this week, something else has become disconnected. Now we have to go back to Pamiers tomorrow - if they are open and have not taken the "bridge" - to get it fixed. And as you can imagine, we had other things planned for tomorrow because the following morning we are off.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coiled Spring

3 days to go.

I hadn't planned to do much walking this week, partly because there are lots of preparations to make for a 3-month absence, and to make sure V-Force One is stocked for the journey. Also I need to make sure that I take enough kit, especially sufficient changes of walking kit for a trip during which we may find access to laundry facilities a bit thin on the ground.

The other reason for not planning much walking is to let my legs recover from the hard months of training and to store energy so that at 8 am on Saturday morning I leap from the starting blocks like a coiled spring, so to speak. So I have been doing about 5 kms a day, and that has not been a walk as such, just ground covered while pottering around doing the necessary.

Just as well I hadn't planned to do much. It seems every day there is an emergency and a unplanned drive to somewhere, unlike Puivert, which has shops and businesses. Yesterday it was a drive to Lavelanet to resuscitate the dongle. Today we had to go even further, at very short notice, to Pamiers because our vehicle insurance had not arrived in the post and the the insurance office is closed tomorrow because it is a national holiday and Friday is being taken as a "bridge" - a day off to make it a long weekend.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dead As A Dongle

4 days to go.

The publicity is hotting up. Columbia have done a magnificent press release, which they are going to send to various newspapers as I travel up the country. So they have so far only sent it to 3 newspapers in this area. Already a journalist and photographer have been round to the house. Tomorrow we have a photographer coming to capture V-Force One and Gay and myself strutting our stuff in Columbia kit.

There has also been a marked increase in people reading my blog, and in donations to Pancreatic Cancer research. We have been very touched to receive several cheques from people in the village, who we know are not awash in money.

I have just tested the dongle for my laptop, to find it doesn't work any more. So we had to dash over to Lavelanet, between journalists and photographers and well-wishers, to find why not, or possibly to buy a new one!!

Seems that because we didn't use it for a few months while we were in New Zealand, the card expired.

Never mind, after a bit of teeth-sucking, they just gave us (i.e. no charge) a new card, and all is well, I will be able to blog on the move.

Monday, May 10, 2010


5 days to go.

V-Force One has been away over the weekend, being dressed in its finery. We collected it this morning. Doesn't it look superb? As always, if you double-click on any of these pictures,it will enlarge.

Two L:ittle Boys - No Two Little Toys

5 days to go.

Here is a story which warmed the cockles of my heart (what on earth does that mean?) this morning. There have been several generous donations over the weekend to Pancreatic Cancer research, the very needy cause for which I am just about to walk 2,000 kms. But this one tops the lot.

£20. Not the biggest donation I have had, but certainly not the smallest. And it comes from two little boys who have given up their total income for the week. My grandsons in Italy left this message on the donation page:

"Alessandro and Francesco would like to donate this week's pocket and cinema money to this worthy cause and tell their super granddad he's the best. xx Donation by Alessandro and Francesco xx 09/05/10"

Thanks boys - I am not the best - you are!

My granddaughter Alexandra and my eldest grandson Joshua also contributed over the weekend to the fund in memory of their beloved Nana. Alex and Josh are also the best, as they well know.

I wanted the fund to reach 50% of the target before I set out. This wonderful gesture by my offspring's offspring puts us just £68 short of that goal. Over to you.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Vic's Big Schedule

6 days to go.

Above are my pretty definitive routes through France and England. Double-clicking on either picture will enlarge it. If you single click on it again, it will fill the screen.

Please note that there is a slight change from the French route I published a few days ago.

I had jumped a date - 6th June was missing. Nobody spotted this. Now I have corrected it and the dates for all the subsequent stages have changed by one day. Also, as a result I have inserted a rest day on 25 June, otherwise I would have arrived at Ouistreham on 26/6 - the ferry is booked for 27/6.

You will note that while walking through England I diverge from the route straight up the canals. This is so that I can visit various places in Staffordshire and Cheshire where I lived and worked for many years. If I am behind schedule I can miss out this diversion and press on up the canals.

Also, I should say that the pace through France is extremely punishing. If illness or injury force me to fall behind schedule, the dates may change. Again, if this makes me cross to England later than planned, there is some leeway in the English schedule which hopefully will allow me to catch up.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ingenious donations

7 days to go. After tomorrow's 18 kms walk I am going to tick over at about 5 kms a day until I start at 8 am on 15th May.

I am moving into a higher gear as regards reminding people that this mammoth walk is to raise funds for a very seriously deserving charity - Pancreatic Cancer research.

My fund has received may generous donations. We need much more.

Some people are finding ingenious methods of raising funds for this cause.

Jennifer Mellgren in Grenoble sold English books at a function. She donated 1 Euro from each book sold.

Mike Preston, who has already made a personal donation, organises quizzes in Valbonne, where he lives. The proceeds from his next quiz are earmarked for the fund which has been set up in memory of my late first wife Gaile Heaney. If you are nearby and would like to attend the quiz, here are the details:

Fish & Chips & Quiz Night at Brittain’s Restaurant, Valbonne
Friday May 21st. at 7pm.

Join us for our fifth Fish & Chips & Quiz Night
€17 for your meal, a drink (wine or tea/coffee)+ €3 Quiz participation
Advance booking required. Play individually or in teams of up to 4 people.
Comments and suggestions welcome to Mike at :

Money collected will be allocated 50% to prizes and 50% to a charity to
raise funds for Pancreatic Cancer Research.
Returned prizes will also be donated.

The April Quiz raised €90 for alcohol dependency research
March - €35 for the Lawrence Dallaglio Foundation,
February - €182 for Guide Dogs for the Blind and Helping Hands

Reservations : Brittain's Restaurant : 04 93 12 03 97
website :


If you can't make it, you can just click the "donate" button to the left and top of this page, and follow the self-evident instructions.

Thanks for your help

Just Giving

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Friday, May 7, 2010

I'm A Lumberjack And I'm OK

8 days to go.

This is the start of the Voie Verte at what used to be Lavelanet railway station. On Monday I walked from the other end of the VV, at Mirepoix, to Rivel, then the quiet roads home. Today, for the last time before VBW, I walked from Lavelanet to Rivel, then the same way home. The Voie Verte is 37 kms in length.

We have noticed, while driving around in the past few days, the number of fallen trees by the roadside. Obviously many have been in the road, but have been cleared off. All this the result of the snow, the sodden ground, and the high winds this week.

As I walked along the old railway track, I met more people than usual. Most of them were gangs clearing fallen trees from the track. Little did I know that when I arrived home I would be doing the same thing. One of our reine claude (greengage) trees had fallen across a neighbour's fence. As the neighbour is over 80, and as in a few days we are going away for several months, the answer was obvious - never mind the 24 kms just walked, I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Natural Disasters

9 days to go.

The rains continue (at least it is washing away the snow). The meteo gives us the same for at least the next 5 days, which is as far as they will forecast. The electricity was off again for hours yesterday. Walking is miserable and uncomfortable.

Of course everybody is complaining. But at least nobody is dying or losing their homes (unlike in the terrible storms in France earlier this year).

Look around the world. Natural disasters are so common we don't even hear about some of them. A couple of days ago Nashville, Tennessee, had the worst floods in its history. 13 inches of rain fell in two days. 17 people were drowned in Tennessee. The cigar store Indian above looks even sadder than usual.

That is thousands of miles to the west of us. But to the East? My daughter Karen is in Saudi Arabia. The desert, right? Desert means lack of rainfall. But this is a message she sent me the same day that Nashville was reeling from floods:

"We had terrible storms yesterday. Thunder and lightning and rain like I've never, ever seen. The streets were rivers, the gardens were flooded, our kitchen was flooded. It took Kenny 6 and a half hours to get home (it normally takes 30 minutes) and six people died in the floods. It's forecast again for this afternoon!!!" The other picture above is of the Saudi floods.

So, we are uncomfortable with our unseasonal weather here, and it will make the tracks a mess for VBW. It will probably slow me down. I shudder at the thought of walking 2,000 kms in this sort of weather. But is is a disaster?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Second Winter Of The Year

10 days to go.

I wasn't sure what sort of weather to expect in May - it can be pretty variable. As I mentioned before, we have seen 11 degrees and 36 degrees - on consecutive days! But I did not expect, as I did this morning while walking the 18 kms from Quillan to Puivert, to be wishing I had brought my gloves with me. It was 4 degrees, but with a very strong wind and its accompanying chill factor

It snowed heavily all day yesterday, and lay thick upon the ground. On the Sault Plateau, only a few kilometres away but much higher, the conditions must have been much worse, which is probably why our electricity was off for 7 hours. This morning in Quillan we saw snowploughs fuelling up to head that way again.

Here, fortunately, it rained during the night and washed much of the snow away. But my walk this morning, down familiar tracks, was a bit of an eye-opener. I have never seen the tracks so wet. They resembled what they call in New Zealand "braided rivers". At one ford I cross regularly, over an intermittent stream, where I have never seen more than a trickle, there was a raging torrent. I had to grit my teeth and wade across, knowing that my shoes and socks would be sodden for the rest of the walk.

The local papers this morning are full of stories about the weather and the "return to winter". Record low temperatures for May were recorded in Carcassonne. also in Carcassonne this is the first time in 50 years that there has been snow in May, although I suspect that here, much closer to the huge Pyrenees mountain chain, there has been May snow much more recently than that.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Snow in May

11 days to go, and this is the view from our window this morning. And although you can't see it in the picture, the snow is still falling heavily.

Not ideal. I don't fancy trudging north through snowdrifts. Even if, as I assume (why?) the snow has cleared away by 15th May, it will all add to the muddiness and sogginess of the tracks, making progress slower and more tiring.

But, as they used to say to us in Cyprus when we lived there, with a shrug of the shoulders - "What can you do?"

Monday, May 3, 2010

And Now, For Positively The Last Time ...

12 days to go, and today, for the last time before VBW - possibly for the last time ever - I walked the 34 kms from Mirepoix to home, mainly on the old railway track. This week, as for the last few, I will walk about 100 kms. Next week, apart from Saturday and Sunday, during which I will walk the first two stages of VBW, I will be ticking over at about 5 kms a day, gathering my resources.

The weather has turned a bit grim here. It has been raining all weekend and is set to do the same for several more days. Tomorrow the forecast is for 5 degrees maximum - I remind you that this is the South of France and it is May. In other years we have seen consecutive days of 36 degrees and then 11 - but 5!!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

V-Force One

14 days to go.

By popular demand, here are the first pictures of the Battlebus, now redesignated V-Force One. The special "Vic's Big Walk" decoration will be added soon.

Starting two weeks today, this will be our home for 3 months or so. Commander Gay will fly V-Force One on 70 consecutive 30-kms missions while I clear the ground on foot. Then we shall faff around in UK for a while before meandering our way homewards.

We spent our first night in the module last night, having driven over to St Girons, approximately 100 kms from here and one of our favourite places. Pity about the weather, but it seems we are stuck with it for the next few day. Wet is the word, but at least we have heard no more about the threatened snow.