16 May

Dear Humphrey

I am in the fine city of Niort (well worth a visit) although most of the population seem to be training for a marathon.. runners everywhere.. little wonder as it has some lovely parks running along the Sevre Niortaise river. Also it has one huge Castle built by our Henry 11 and Richard the Lionheart. We were’nt Brexiteers in those days! Any way just had an average pasta dinner and sitting here with some ice pack around the ankle. It is ok walking but not so good when I stop. Anyway thought I would give it some respect and ice it and hit it with anti inflammatories. That it is any fit state at all is due entirely to Sarah McDonald who did something magic to it when we were in Ireland.

Covered a few miles since I last wrote and with Anna Kasket’s help been busy on social media and Norfolk Radio trying to promote the interests of the unpaid carers. I have plenty of time to think these things through and do the calculations. Do you know there are 7 million unpaid carers ( not including your mistress,  as dog carers don’t count) and based on the value for money delivered by them in Norfolk ( 100,000 saving the NHS and Social Services 1.6 bn a year) saving the government £112 bn a year. There is a lovely lady who follows me on Twitter called Katy Styles whose husband has Motor Neuron Disease and she was asked to give evidence to Parliament about her lot.. that was two years ago and the Goverment have still to produce a strategy on acknowledging and supporting these hidden heroes. You would have thought £112 bn was worth a strategy! She has a petition out which needs signatures https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/209717

See if you can get lots of people to sign it. It’s a ‘no brainer’.

So what of life on the walk? I walk a lot on on metalled Farm tracks, very minor roads ( on which unlike UK there is hardly any traffic) and some pedestrians only tracks .. one today reminded a bit of Dorset

Reminder of times gone by

There is a barking dog behind every fence and sometimes they are huge causing me to keep checking behind me to see if like you they can clear their fence. There are banks of wild flowers and hanging wisteria. There is a cuckoo in every wood and some red squirrels. Along the rivers and I have followed a few there are endless little holdings.. sort of allotments where presumably the owners come to to escape and do a bit of fishing. Some are better kept than others but all are locked and each has its own loo! There are some big farms, big fields and expensive kit interspersed with some more modest cattle and dairy holdings.

I mentioned rivers which sometimes one is required to cross. Usually there is a bridge, some dodgier than others and I am always suspicious of those where some of the planks have been repaired which suggest some might now been in need of repair! However I encountered one set of stepping stones

The stepping stone challenge

At first sight this looked ok even with a 11 kg pack. A third of the way across I negotiated one tricky jump and continued on until I came on this

The farther stone was a good deal higher than the one I was on. The log did not look as though it was staying there for too long and would certainly not if I trod on it! I was thinking to myself it would be awfully wet not to try but then again I would get very wet if I did. After a careful risk assessment I decided discretion prevail over stupidity and turned around only to have to renegotiate the first awkward   step. All’s well that ends well and I found a way round.

I have  seen no other pilgrims yet although I am soon to join the Route from Paris and Tours. Lots of bikers and runners. The saddest thing is that all the villages, small and medium size French towns are dead. Parthenay in particular had all its shops up for sale. The only active businesses are the odd boulangerie and the estate agents. The super markets have taken the life out of these beautiful historic places. Even the Office of Tourism was closed in Parthenay!

I have been hosted by some lovely people in interesting houses. In P the entrance to the place looked like something out of Dickens but behind the  decrepit  front door were the most charming couple in a sixteenth century apartment with all mod cons.

I think I have said enough. St Jean d’Angely on Saturday, the Gironde by this time next week and Bordeaux by the following weekend. Helluva a long way to go for a bottle of wine!

Here are some other random photographs..

An interesting church
A grand chateau
A hole in wall I could hardly get through.. ‘camel: eye of a needle’?
A possible Pilgrim travelling somewhat lighter

lots of love

your friend and master

11 May

Dear Humphrey,

Here we are in Montreuil-Bellay nearly a third of the way into my journey and so far everything holding up pretty well although I cannot deny being pretty pooped at the end of every day.

The early mornings are best, walking through woodland listening to the dawn chorus, neighing horses and friendly frogs.. the reptiles not the people. France seems to have a lot in every stretch of water and they make a wonderfully friendly noise. Cocoa would love them! And of course there is always the attentive and fiercely protective dog around every corner. Here are two:

The guard dogs

We have passed through some lovely country; left behind the dairy farms and the hay cutting and now seeing a lot of vineyards (it’s called the Loire) and also some big farms.

We have visited Angers where they house a huge tapestry called the Apocalypse. It’s really huge and I cannot think what the artist was ‘on’ when he designed it…multi headed dragons and multi headed dogs.. and at one point ten men in a bed! Think we will be better off with the Bayeux tapestry.

Getting out of Angers was a little frustrating. In order to ensure the walkers have an agreeable journey they tend to route one around the industrial bits. But in the case of Angers it was a long way west and east and not a lot of South which is the way I really want to go!

Also we have to share these routes with bicyclists and as France seems to be on one permanent holiday (they have had three public holidays already this month with one more to go! ) there are a lot of them. As both Geoff and I are a little hard of hearing, we tend to be constantly mown down. We have discussed possible solutions. There is extensive scope on G’s back pack which is huge and in which he carries his lap top and we thought of a placard ‘Two deaf  English men.. Attention svp’ Or rear view mirrors attached to our hats/ heads in some way. All other suggestions welcome.

Very Sadly Geoff leaves tomorrow. He has been a great fillip and organises all places to stay and where to eat. He is an expert on tripadvisor. I will miss following this:

Rear view of GP

Back to the gite d’etape tomorrow

Our accommodation last night requires some explanation. GP had identified a chateau belonging to a Shaun Trenchard and ever curious he had booked us in there to discover whether they be related to his great friends (also wel known to me) the Trenchards. Such was his expectation of style and elegance, GP had to remove his black pants (of a size and the which Mike Tysonwould be pleased wear) from the drying line on the back of his pack before we arrived. We had also identified what appeared to be shortcut to the Chateau through a wood to its rear. We were prevented from so doing by a huge wall which GP was keen to find a way through. Thankfully I persuaded him it would be better to arrive by the front gate. I mention this because we subsequently discovered that the principal business of our hosts was raising wild boar 🐗 behind this wall! 

On arrival st front gate (shut) we brushed ourselves down ready to meet the undoubtedly stylish chatelaine or staff! One thing which alerted me to the fact that might not be as we anticipated was a row of marigolds planted in a line to each side of the  solid steel gate. Our intercom call to the house was answered by a cheerful voice and the gate was soon opened by a youngish girl woman called Beatrice dressed in jeans and a T shirt who we slowly discovered was our hostess and that her husband Shaun was back in England doing we were not sure what but amongst a number of his other interests was being in a rock band and at some point during the evening we were treated to some of his music.

We were not in fact staying in the chateau which itself was falling down and owned by another, but in the stable block which had been refurbished very stylishly at ENORMOUS expense to house boar shooting parties. Beatrice was extremely attentive and keen to show us the boars in the boar pen. One of her dogs only had three legs, a victim of an attack.  To our horror Beatrice leapt in to the pen armed only with large stick in order to drive them out of the cover. Later she was to inform us on one occasion she had been pinned to the fence by a wounded boar which Shaun then shot. We were treated to a video of Shaun in his absence Putin like stripped to the waist with shaven head splitting rows of three foot Long logs with one blow of an axe seemingly in an attempt to get him in to the Guinness Book of Records. Another photograph we saw of our absent host showed him in combat kit, dark glasses armed with a very large semi automatic rifle. Clearly not a man to upset and by this time GP was thinking no relation to his friends!

The whole set up just did not stack up. The very expensive decor tastefully done, Beatrice the local girl from the suwho now married to this Putinesque character and she did all the housework, cooking, etc for these large house parties in addition to feeding the boar and overseeing the man drilling the maize crop who later joined us to tidy up the cold boar sausages and mashed potatoes we were served for dinner! And also share in the bottle of wine we had ordered.

Any way dear Humph I am probably boring you but it was a memorable and extraordinary evening. Our room, suffice it to say, was very comfortable.

Finally you should know what wonderful support and encouragement I am getting from the Carer groups on twitter and elsewhere. To hear about how what I am doing gives them an opportunity to spread the word about what they are doing and the challenges they face.. is humbling . The more followers we can encourage to learn about it all the better. In a way that is more important than the money raised. But both are key.

With lots of love

your friend and master

 

7 May

Dear Humphrey

Having just read my last post, which sounded a bit downbeat (true!), I thought I should  let you know that we had a good day yesterday and have just spent a night in a very comfortable chambred’hote. Our hostess is very attentive and gave us a delicious supper while her poor husband outside was chained to a mower cutting the grass. When we asked her whether he could join us, she said certainly not! and it was clear she had no plans for supper for him. After all it was Sunday night. Apparently he has only recently been allowed a ride on mower. Having said all that he has done a great job and it is a beautiful house with a view across a river to and old mill.

Le Plessis

Our lunch break yesterday Arrived just as we passed a rural ‘gite’ run by a charming lady who had been busy attending her lovely garden. She was delighted to allow us to use her garden for our ‘pique nique’ . But as there is no such thing as a free lunch, on our way out she was keen to tell us that her granddaughter was struggling with some translation for her final exam and so for a good half hour Geoff and I struggled to make some sense of a rather strange passage about photography and geometry

Our lunchtime hostess

As I write this early in the morning, the dawn chorus  is active with one particularly voluble cuckoo competing with a pigeon.

If you are interested in buildings and castles here Is a view of Pouancé taken when I was on my knees . When you get through or around the commercial environs the French medieval towns and buildings are wonderfully preserved.

Pouancé

soon time for our breakfast. Hopefully our ‘lawn mowing’ host will be allowed one!

Hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend. I hear it has been very hot. Have you found a pool of water to lie in.

Looks like ‘another bl..day beautiful day’ here to day! Just 15 miles to our next b&b

lots of love

your friend and master

 

5 May

Dear Humphrey

I am exhausted! We had a very long hot walk today and it looks like we have another one tomorrow. I am with Geoff Probert now. Remember we went to stay with him in his lovely house in Suffolk and you ran off at the end of the day. Not an unfamiliar story!

GP joined me now three days ago and has been great company. He has been very helpful booking places to stay but we decided that the one he has booked for tomorrow is too far away and so I found one I thought was  little closer. He then cancelled his booking only for us to discover I had just booked us in to the same place! Such is our state at the moment.

My ankle has been much better or at least was until we entered a farm yard today and some large Labrador took objection and came for us causing me to jump out of his way. It is a bit sore as a result.

Otherwise we have been walking through some beautiful country quite a lot on little  roads with some excursions on to tracks. Yesterday we went most of the day on a disused railway track .. very easy walking and today was perhaps pay back time.

Anyway onwards we go. Hope all is well at home. Give my love to mum

your friend and very tired master

2 May

Dear Humphrey

First of all I see you too have blog https://humphreybagge.wordpress.com/  Thankyou so much for your first post and I am sorry to hear Coco is trespassing on your territory. I am sure Mum will be back soon to let him out.

Meanwhile back in France I have completed the third day. The journey started with a pretty horrendous time at Mont St Michel in something of a storm. 

A lot people running with nowhere to go. However having left the coast on a very desolate and deserted track on the coastline I headed inland, the weather improved and I reached my first stop in Saint James.. yes there are a lot of places with that name on this route. There are very few ( in fact no other) pelerin (pilgrims) on the route so far and the only other companions appear very curious as to what on earth I am up to

My first night I spent in what is called. ‘Chambre D’hote’ and I was provided with an apartment with a choice of three beds a bath and a shower all for 20 euros. Dinner was laid on for 14 of us.. 4 courses .. what generosity. All the others were travelling by car and the conversation (all in French of course) appeared to be about how they got lost trying to find Mont St Michel and the guest house. My only contribution was to say it was easier on foot!

Day 2 was a lovely day.. not too long.. sunny and beautiful country. Again a lot of curious animals but no others! The route is well marked and it always of great comfort to see

this on the odd lamp post. It occurred to me that of course this is something very familiar to you!

Day 2 ended in a ‘gite d’etape ‘ a local community hostel. Having not prewarned I called a number and the wonderful Roland abandoned his day off and came and opened the place up. Once again I had the place to myself .. only a choice of 14 beds and two showers and the kitchen to myself all for 11 euros! Then Roland scuttled off to find me some food and a bottle of wine. There are some wonderfully community spirited people here. Also I have noticed they are all very positive about greeting one with a handshake. I was sitting in a cafe this morning and the owner came in and took the trouble to come over and shake my hand.

Today I have had a bit of rain.. got lost a little.. but arrived in Fougeres a medieval fortified town by lunch having left my gite at 7 after a very cold night. I have had a very radical haircut as they say it is going to get warm. So don’t get surprised by the new look. Gordon Ramsay might even try it! I have been warned of the reports in the UK press of a plague of deadly mosquitoes lurking in the south. So lots to look forward to. I have been joined this evening my fellow past High  Sheriff of Suffolk Geoffrey Probert who arrived drenched from head to foot. Good start! We progress together for the next week or so starting with a ‘grande etape ‘ of 34 kilometres.

Keep blogging. Missing you all. ..

your friend and master

 

29 April

Dear Humphrey

Having collected you from your kennel this morning and caused such huge excitement, I need now to explain my absence.

We had a wonderful week with friends in Connemara and Mum had a very happy birthday. The weather was great. Lots of sun, a fair amount of rain but it never got in the way. We did some walking, golfing , a little boating and lots of eating. So much so that I managed to put back on what I had lost in my three weeks walk across England.

Now I am at Portsmouth harbour and about to board the overnight ferry to St Malo. It is as cold down here as it was when I left you in Norfolk. I have to say leaving home and you all was not easy. I am going to miss you all but I am sure the time will fly by and I know Mum is going to be very busy with all the wedding plans and her history group.

I am a bit nervous about taking on this adventure. I have no idea where I will be staying for the next few nights. My guide indicates only camping sites in a number of places where the recommended day’s travel ends and so with no tent and no sleeping bag I might need a few tips from you on how to sleep on the ground and stay warm! I am going to miss my lovely bed.

Geoff Probert is joining me for a week on day three and I know he has been researching accommodation very wisely!

I am overwhelmed however with the support I am being given on social media for the cause and by the hugely generous donations. Big thanks to my friends at Ryston Park Golf Club, whom you know well and who are laying on some charity days in support.. no doubt delighted we are not cluttering up the course! Big thanks too to many others. They are all spurring me on and hopefully provide you with a good reason for letting me go.

So here’s hoping the sun shines,  the legs, knees and tendons behave themselves and a warm wind blows gently on my back!

‘A bientot’ my friend.

your friend and master

 

22 April

Dear Humphrey

I thought you might like a letter from our holiday in Connemara. I know you will be having a wonderful time yourself with all your friends in the kennels but   a short description of where your ‘mum’ and I are spending a week with our friends might appeal.

We are halfway through our time here at Currarevagh House. The first team of friends including your ‘sister’ Tocky and her fiancé George with whom we have just spent a wonderful three days have departed and the next team are about to appear.

The Currarevagh House is owned and run by the lovely Henry and Lucy Hodgson and it is utter paradise and the best place in the world to spend time with friends. Milly (see attached) is always there to greet one 

The hospitality is unmatched. Everyone rushes home for the teas. Lucy’s dinners are Michelin star. The rooms and beds are home home from home. Breakfasts usually last until about 10.30 before everyone has decided what they are going to do for the day whether boating, walking, sightseeing, or golf. And if you thought it always rained on the West Coast well it does sometimes but take a look at this 

Mum and I found this yesterday. And I was able to broadcast my latest report for the blog by way of contrast to earlier ones from muddy England

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We went shopping in Oughterard this morning and Mum was looking for a shop which sold tweed which others in the party had found yesterday. So she asked a lady where is the shop which sells tweed. The lady responded by telling her that the pub over the road are very welcoming and they have lots of toilets there! Which then leads on the conversation we had on the great walk up the hill which followed the shopping expedition. Mum was telling me that Owen and Jane Jonathan who have been staying here with us had been out in Ireland a long time ago and they had come on a camping holiday in Owen’s Spitfire   She said ‘Oh I had no idea he had a licence’ to which Jane said ‘Oh yes of course’ and she continued to believe in Owen’s prowess as a pilot until I suggested it might have been a 🚗!

Such is life here in Ireland. Lots of fun and friends and a great respite before I head off next week to France and recommence the pilgrimage.

Milly sincerely hopes you will be able to join us next year.

Meantime be a good boy and see you very soon.

with love

from your friend and master.

15 April

Dear Humphrey

Well you might see me before you get this. Never mind as you might like to read about it all anyway.

At about 5.30 yesterday afternoon Michael Gurney and I arrived on the beach by Weymouth. What a welcome sight that was but I need to keep reminding myself that I have a long way to go. So far I have walked for 18 days, been through 11 counties and covered 287 miles. That’s nearly 11 marathons!

My friends and family have been a huge support, accompanying me (Michael did all the map reading and gate opening yesterday… one time up to his ankles in slurry trying to undo a Gordian knot as clearly the unfriendly farmer did not welcome ramblers) .. ferrying to and from their lovely homes, feeding me and encouraging. Loved seeing Alec and Vivi Armitage on our final dinner hosted by Nigel HP in his local and wonderful pub.  I fear life may not be as easy in France.

The last two days through Dorset have been very beautiful with the exception of a couple of incidents. The first happened having walked quite a way through waterlogged fields then to be confronted with a river of slurry which needed to be forged. Having examined all the available options including calling for helicopter support we decided there was nothing else for it but to wade through. After that nothing was going to stop us. The second I have mentioned trying to undo knots ankle deep in the stuff.

But we have also enjoyed some glorious moments, as would you no doubt!  Happy Conversations with shepherds and others on the route,  gambling lambs on green escarpments on the Downs, and disturbing a cock pheasant enjoying a sunny afternoon with two girlfriends… one of the girlfriends headed off on a short flight in to a field of rape with the cock in hot pursuit with rape in mind when another cock alerted to the approach leapt high in to the air to defend his territory. We were not able to observe the outcome. We came upon a particularly beautiful church in Compton Vallence and spent a few minutes there in quiet reflection enjoying the birds song outside. Could easily have stayed there for a while longer. We met Alan on our way through Frome St Quentin. He was stood by a little stream, apparently the source of the river Frome and there by the pool of water was a little brush hung on a post which he had placed for walkers to clean their boots, which of course we did thinking we had a clear run through to Nigel HP our next host. How wrong we were!

Other highlights were the coffee shop in Sherbourne were we met a small group of cheerful retirees (men) who meet there everyday. I suggested they looked to me like the Dorset equivalent of  ‘Last of the summer wine’ which they took in good heart but there was no sign of Nora Batty!

Its been a great couple of weeks. Challenging but rewarding. Little rain amazingly but just managing the aftermath. Time for a rest to sort out the physical niggles.

Stay with me till the next episode. Might write to tell you about The holiday in Ireland.

Be good

from your friend and master

12 April

Dear Humphrey

Just finished a long day from Mere to Sanford Orcas just north of Sherbourne. The weather has been good but the going underfoot very challenging. They produce a lot of milk and cheese round here and the reason is obvious as there is a lot of grass and water.  Having squelched ones way across a waterlogged field one is then presented with the challenge of opening a gate through which a herd of cows have already spent some time creating an unholy quagmire or climbing a dodgy stile!

Scanning the map I have been looking for alternative routes. One looked ‘quite’ promising as it called itself a ‘lane’ albeit ‘Hangman’s Lane’. It lived up to its name!

I have been following the Monarchs Way which is allegedly the route which Charles 11 took when escaping after the Battle of Worcester. Well you would not expect it to follow a straight line, would you? More like an escape and evasion exercise!

All sounds a bit bleak but I have been staying with some wonderful friends. Sister Rozzie has been nursing me notwithstanding it is she who has the new hip. Antony and Julia Wells ferried wined dined and A with Puzzle the spaniel accompanied me off the Plain and towards the Dairy quagmire which he successfully managed to avoid by leaving at just the right moment! Also been hosted by Wendy and Chris Braithwaite who suffered with great generosity the muddy boots and dishevelled Pilgrim.

Three others who are much more worthy of note.

One man whom Antony and I met steaming towards us with great intent armed with two poles, a head bandana and covered in mud from head to toe. He was striving to be the first man to do the Monarchs Way in one go.. all 500 miles of it in 12 days.. unbelievable given any conditions let alone these. He had time to impart some advice to help with sore achilles which I have taken on board but it has yet to work.

My nephew-in-law Neil Jeffers who is the senior pilot with the London Air Ambulance who is now most of way through the Marathon Des Sables. Doing brilliantly raising money for the Ambulance

Finally Antony Wells tells me of a friend who is guiding a blind man from Lands End to John O’G . It’s branded  ‘ Blindmanwalking ‘ in aid of a charity. It all has to be done on roads and if you have walked any distance on a busy road you will begin to understand what a frightening and dangerous challenge that will be. Talk about unpaid Carer!

Losing brother Tom from the walk was a bit of blow for lots of reasons but especially for his precision when it came to navigation. However Navigating has become easier since minutes after leaving Tom I bumped into a team of once year trekkers ( one being Tom Sheldon) who immediately bought me a pint and introduced me to View Finder an app which tells you where you are and which way you are walking which comes in particularly handy towards end of day when frankly I could not tell you whether I am walking uphill or down!

Finally excitement on Salisbury Plain. I had planned a route across but when I looked more closely took me right through the Larkhill Artillery Range. Even as I tried to circumnavigate I could hear the heavy thump of high explosive getting ever nearer . I tried unsuccessfully to video a war correspondents report but sadly for sound effect purposes they had redirected their fire elsewhere. I thought that might have been worth a bob or two.

Hope All is well at home. Coco is behaving himself and Mum coping with her sore back after her first yoga lesson.

Tomorrow Friday 13th I head off with Michael Gurney to meet up with Nigel and Bumble HP. Some who know Michael from army days might say that is not a propitious move.  He has come armed with all the necessary maps and his usual unbounded enthusiasm. I will however be sure to cross bridges before he gets there! More seriously it is lovely to have him with me.

Lots of love for now. Two more days to the coast and then I take a rest for it is Tor’s  birthday and we love to spend it on West Coast of Ireland. Time for repair of right Achilles’ tendon and left hip. Then off to conquer France and Spain.

your friend and master