30th June 2018

Dear Humphrey

Well, apart from getting to the bus station and then to the airport and persuading Ryanair to take my faithful stick on board, the journey is over.

I am overwhelmed by the support I have received and the donations coming in. It all seems a little unreal. Many others including my dear brother Tom have covered this distance and much more. Indeed the supervisor in the office in Santiago handing out the certificates said to the lovely lady from Ireland who was producing mine for 2400 kms, ‘we get one of these every ten days’. Well I am pleased to be part of that ‘elite’ if it means more profile for the Carers. We still have got some way to go so don’t let that put you off. For these purposes I am prepared to accept any suggestions of being a ‘real hero’!

Now I should say that I write this after a wonderful celebratory lunch with friends most recently met, including Lewis from Bolton whom I met when  lost about three days ago,  and then a small team he had befriended and to whom he introduced me on arrival in Santiago. Then there is Matt the Kiwi professional rugby player whom I first met in St Jean  Pied de Port and guided out of there up the Pyrenees. I had not seen him  for two weeks since when he had met up with a beautiful Texan Lauren. What a delight to see him here. I had beaten him in by 24 hours I am proud to say! The Camino has a strange way of ensuring it all ends on a positive note.

This morning I bumped into Chris the Indonesian who now lives in Sweden and he guided me to a haircutter! Also I went to my favourite cafe to get breakfast. From there one one can see new arrivals coming through and who should be there but my hardened French ‘Caminadors’ whom I have introduced before.

Yesterday on the day of my arrival it was, by choice, a very low key affair. I met a lovely Scotsman who works for the BBC in Glasgow on the way in. He has done a number of different  Caminos and had the grace having taken my photograph nearing the end

Arriving

to allow me to enter the square on my own understanding that it is a pretty emotional moment.

Thereafter it was time to oneself for a while reading all the wonderful messages from you all and trying to understand why, as it all seems a little unreal. I am here but how on earth did that happen!!

Thereafter I joined the queue (40 mins) to get my Compostelle (proof of distance) And then wandering out to find Lewis ftom Bolton keen to introduce me to all his mates and give me a drink!

Eventually I found my air B&B booked by Edwina. Great! Off with the back pack and into a lovely shower and then to the Cathedral for Mass and that angelic singing.

I wish I could insert the music but that defeats me!

On my way back to the B&B about 10 pm in the rain I saw in amongst a crowd of people enjoying the evening an older lady with a back pack making her way in. I am ashamed to say I did not think quickly enough to cheer her on her way. I hope she had someone to greet her and a bed to go to.

But What a day and how well I slept!

Today I wondered what was I going to do, if not walking . Well after breakfast, a haircut and shopping, I bumped into the crowd with whom I had lunch and the ‘rest they say is history’!

I did attend the final mass this evening and the Bishop did say something in English which resonated.  He said all those who embark on a long journey do so with some trepidation and fear that the distance will overwhelm them, but if that journey has a destination and a purpose, step by step you will get there. And that just about says it all!

A Final Enough.

Thanks for all your support, Humphrey

your friend and master

28 June.. Nearing the End

Dear Humphrey

One more day! It all seems a bit like a dream reflecting back on the last 78 days. Until now I have been careful to stay ‘in the moment’ as they say not daring to look back or very far forward. But now with just 30 kms or so to go and all limbs still functioning I dare to allow myself to be a little introspective.  Forgive me if it is a little ‘over the top’!

What amazing support I have received from the send off in Lynn, the hospitality of family and friends on my journey through England, the companionship of my brother Tom, Richard Pemberton, Alexander Matheson, Antony Wells, Michael Gurney, Geoffrey Probert and Nigel H-P on the walk, the wonderful messages on social media, the support and coverage of all the other media outlets especially Radio Norfolk’s Nick Conrad and the incredible work been done back home by Anna (Kasket), Chrissy Lloyd Owen, Michelle Corfield and the team at the Community Foundation who have been busy publishing all the material.

Well I have just spent the day ambling through the oak and eucalyptus woods of Galatia along paths padded with pine needles and bark. Lots of pilgrims including a few Australians who must have felt at home. I met a huge Mexican family of eight plus some sons and daughters in law and grandchildren. They had been to a family wedding in Barcelona and  been persuaded by Dad to do the last 150 ks of the Camino. There is also a splendid team of Camino hardened Frenchmen who I keep bumping in to who have come from Le Puy

Some of the Mexicans
The French team

I have been thinking about the journey through England, the happy dinners had with all our hosts, the Bishop of Ely in his pinny (his promise to pray for me seems to have worked! Thank you Bishop) and the mud and slurry of Chequers and Dorset; about the journey through France beginning with the ‘orage’ at Mont St Michel and a real nervousness about what I had embarked upon, the happy days I spent with Geoff and the loneliness and tedium of certain stretches and more recently my journey through Spain and the endless examples of courage and endurance by fellow pilgrims.

How lucky I have been with my health and general fitness. Everything seems to have held up. Having said that every twinge causes a certain anxiety particularly in the early stages as it would have been disappointing to have retired early. But now apart from a stabbing sensation above the left shoulder blade all is in good order. I will have a lot to thank for when I arrive in the Cathedral.

I have no idea how I will react on arrival. I know the pilgrims’ mass can be very emotional and the singing sublime. My lovely German friend from the earlier Camino I did, said then ‘James .. you will end with a laughing and a crying eye’ . I think he will be right.

Finally I have been so privileged on this journey to wave a flag for the Unpaid Carers and those organisations who support them. I have learned so much about their challenges and the value of the contribution they make to our Social Care system. They deserve all the praise we can give them. Have a look at this video clip to understand what it is all about and if you have not done so already please press the ‘Donate’ button below and be as generous as you can afford.

Thanks for passing all this on Humphrey!

With love from

your friend and master

PS. I will of course be sending a post card from Santiago but I am thinking that will be in a more celebratory mode!

26 June…Letter from Galicia

Dear Humphrey

This morning I passed the 100 kilometre marker

60 miles to go!

This means I only have to cover the equivalent of a walk  to Yarmouth to finish the journey! …passing the Norfolk Show on the way through!

It has been hot and hard walking but early in the morning and before the sun takes hold, quite beautiful. My wonderful friend Nigel HP joined me in Pontferrada and we had a great three days together covering many topics of conversation and reminding our selves of some of the less religious songs of our army days. Of course it was he who remembered most of the lyrics!

Somewhere I picked up a cold en route. Little wonder sharing dormitories with so many strangers! This did not make climbing the steep ascent to O’Cebreiro, one of the higher points on the route any easier. This was where I said goodbye to Nigel.

We did bump into a lovely Spanish couple who were finding the journey quite a challenge. Asked why they were doing the Camino as it did not seem to be their idea of good fun, they explained they had had to wait a while for their first child to arrive and they just wanted to say thank you.

A grateful couple

Some other photographs of my journey through Galicia

Galicia

‘Under the spreading chestnut tree.. ‘

And so onwards to Santiago..

Keep those donations pouring in. Thank you all so much for your support. It means a lot to me but a whole lot more to the Carers.

with love from

your friend and master

 

 

20 June: One week on and 150 miles plus

Dear Humphrey

It has been an arduous week. A planned rendezvous with Nigel H-P of Radio HP.. very important for media purposes!.. in Pontferrada tomorrow meant I had to average 37 kilometres a day for a week. Seriously it will be wonderful to see him and so motivating and flattering he should come for just three days. So With just 32 to do tomorrow I will have achieved it! I am afraid there has not therefore been a lot of time to write.

After a morning in Burgos doing a little shopping ( cannot think now what for but probably drugs!) and viewing the huge and magnificent 13 century Cathedral ready for services after 9 years and completed in entirety in just 39 years requiring 8 metres of rock to be removed to make room for the foundations, I left for Hornillos where on brother Tom’s recommendation I was to call in on a restaurant run by an Irish lady, which of course I did. I mentioned this to her but without giving any names and she took one look at me and said ‘He is not called Tom, is he? After two years he was obviously a memorable guest!

Well this little afternoon jaunt of 24 ks put me well behind the required average. However the ‘meseta’ which is the area between Burgos and Léon is good for covering distance. Flat and pretty featureless it requires ‘a head down and go’ mentality sometimes for up to four hours at a stretch. Getting into a rhythm is essential .. allowing oneself no distraction and no reason to stop. Pre dawn starts allow one to enjoy magnificent sunrises and the cool of the day

Dawn on the Meseta

However there are also some horrendous parts usually going into or or out of the bigger cities

Leaving Leon

One particular section is 16 kilometres straight with nothing to be seen and the village which marks the end point and rest only appears in sight 100 metres before. This was one daughters introduction to the Camino. The family might be known to some.  Peter , son James who had been with his dad before and Alicia joining for the first time. They live at Crick in Northamptonshire. I hope things got better for them.

The occasional gem and the poppies are a welcome distraction

Poppies

 

I promised a little on Accomodation last time. Each village or town will usually have a selection of Albergues, some municipal (usually the cheapest at about €5 ) some private costing c $ 10 and May be some church ones done on a donation basis. Beds are usually bunks and I have trouble with a top bunk as does the poor person beneath me!

A typical bunk room

Showers and loos usually pretty good. You never get a dirty loo on the Camino or at least I never have! Hostels or hotels are sometimes a tempting option .. your own room, shower and loo and no snoring but cost a little more.

I write this now ( a day later) sitting in a launderette waiting for my few garments to clean and dry themselves! The final day into Pontferrada has been the most challenging yet. A bit of ‘up’ to start with and then 14 ks of descent over ghastly terrain. For some reason in addition to the heel issues my big toe joint on right foot decided it did not enjoy the journey.. agony.. down to 2ks an hour but all the time thinking about my current two heroes Steve whose feet look like this

And he is still walking! And the lady from Brazil who has twisted her ankle and broken a rib and she insists she is going to get to Compostela

The stubborn lady of Brazil

She says the rib is better with the packs on but it is getting them on and off which causes the pain. It’s the ankle which slows her up!

Any way I have made it to within a week of the finish line. It will be wonderful to have Nigel HP to get me through the next three days. We still need £25,000 to reach the funding target. I am hoping lots of people are waiting to see me finish. All I can say is that I will however and it is a HUGE incentive to see the sum increasing.

Finally since this all about carers I would like to share with you a scene I observed while having a drink in the square in front of the beautiful San Isadora  in León. Among a number of others I watched a couple, the man in a self propelled wheel chair armed with a camera and his wife who had parked him in the centre of the square to take photographs while she took time out to attend to her iPhone a short distance away. She was constantly checking on his whereabouts as he manoeuvred himself about and at one point he disappeared into the church and she became a little anxious until he reappeared. She was obviously the Carer wanting a little time to herself. I dared eventually to I introduce myself to them trying to explain why. They were from the Canary Islands. I was not able to discover precisely what was his illness but he was not able to speak as well as being whee chair bound. She could speak a little English but at no point was she prepared to say she cared for him. It was a no compreno moment and I am left wondering whether it was language issue or a total lack of preparedness to accept she looked after him. I realise I have a lot to learn.

I am really tired and I am afraid in rather a lugubrious mood. Might be something to do with the gin and tonics they pour in Spain and yes I am now in a bar in a thunderstorm and have moved from the launderette!

Lots of love from

your friend and master

14 June: A day in the life of a Pilgrim

Dear Humphrey

As I lie in a comfortable bed in a modest room in 2 star hotel in Burgos enjoying the luxury of my own bathroom and having decided to ‘go short’ today ( only 20 ks) I thought I could share with you a typical day in the life of a Pilgrim.

Having tossed and turned in my bunk bed from one side to another for most of a night, I begin checking my watch from about 4 onwards. There is usually a fair amount snoring going on around one and I have yet to find out what is the collective noun for snorers but it is certainly not a ‘choir’. By about 5.30  it is time to feel my way quietly to the washrooms (you could not call it a bathroom given the multiplicity of ‘conveniencies’. Brush teeth always. Shaving will depend on whether I can find a plug!

Oh yes I should mention that walking at this time of the morning is a challenge. I can no longer feel anything under my heels. They are both completely numb. Also the tendons having tightened up overnight don’t allow one very easily to balance or move forward very easily. This makes creeping around silently a challenge.

Back to the bunk and then follows the difficult task of ensuring (a) that one puts ones pants on the right way round and the few other items of clothing one wears and (b) that I have gathered together all my possessions and placed them in the right watertight bag before stuffing it all in the back pack without disturbing my neighbours.

Having crept out of the bunk room, time for Breakfast: Well at this hour it usually comprises a pot or two of yoghurt ( you can only buy them in packs of four and so they need to be consumed before they go fizzy) and a banana.

On with the boots (as long as they are still there!) , fill the water bottles and then on with the pack. The weight of the pack rests predominantly on hips and not the shoulders which requires the waist band to be clipped and then ‘hauled’ in to ensure this occurs.  I met one Pilgrim a day or so ago who told me that such was the weight loss the buckles were now meeting in the middle and no more tightening was possible.  Mine is heading in that direction!

Grabbing my faithful stick ( which I am now worried an airline won’t allow me to take home when the moment arises.. any tips on this from anyone would be helpful) I head out in to the breaking day. The weather has been hard to predict. Rain usually threatens but does not occur. Then you start walking! Always hard at the start of a day to get one’s bearings and find the right way out of whatever town or village you are in. But having achieved this, I head off in the hope that the next village will have a cafe open and I can find some coffee and more to eat.

On the way one may spot another figure or two who have departed early and then begins the process of working out whether you will catch them or they you depending of course if they are in front or behind. Speed differentials are usually marginal and so like lorries on dual carriageways it takes forever to catch up and, if you are not inclined to say anything more than ‘Ola and Buen Camino’ , overtake!

About nine-o-clock the bikers are out and about. At first when approaching from behind you hear voices and think to yourself  ‘that guy is walking very fast’ then with a rush of wind and a loud series of ‘Buen Camino’ a   peleton  of ‘MAMILS’ tear by.

And so the day progresses. I usually try to do 2 to 3 hours without a break as that way you cover the distance. Occasionally I allow myself the luxury of looking back and am always happily impressed by what has been achieved. It’s fun to find a fellow walker who is going at about the same speed. Conversations help pass the time. Temptations in the form of cafes and bars come and go. Sometimes the lure of a donut is too much.

Lunch may be just a quick sandwich or if time allows a sit down lunch.

Afternoons are tougher as the legs and feet tire. So it is always good to have the bulk of ones distance done by 2pm. Anything above 15 ks after lunch is a challenge and means one won’t get in before much before 5 and then there is a lot to do after that like washing pants, socks and shirt and getting them on the line so they are dry by time I go to bed. Socks always take the longest and if still damp I take them to bed with me, which is all very well until the midnight visit to the loo and you find when taking down ones pants, they have fallen into the loo!

i never have time to read and usually too exhausted. Anyway there is also lots of work to be done like writing these letters, doing the social media work, and even some media interviews, which some of you may have heard or seen. (Thank you so much to everyone for all supportive messages. They keep me going! )

Supper might be provided. Quality varies enormously but bread is always an important part. Whoever said ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’? Otherwise a sortie in to the village or town to find the best ‘pilgrim Menu’ deal. They are remarkably good value like 12 euros for three courses of variable quality usually accompanied by a glass or two.

Usually in ‘bed’ by 9.30. Mattresses vary and that dictates the night ahead. I turned up at one hostel in a monastery which had been highly recommended, climbed up some steep stone steps in pitch darkness  to ‘reception’ Where I was told to remove my boots only to discover that all mattresses were on the floor which I knew my back would not suffer and so then have to reverse the process to exit and find somewhere else.

Accomodation is a whole new subject and I am not sure can be done in time before my battery expires. Any way this part of the story is best accompanied with pictures of bunk rooms etc which I will collect over the next few days.

I have now reached Burgos. I  think I have a little over two weeks and about 470 ks to go. It’s been so cold which is fine when walking but gets to you in the evening. Let’s hope the sun comes out a bit but not too much. Lots of lovely people on the trail but I am tending to move ahead of most and so meeting new faces all time.

Enough for now

with love

from you friend and master.

 

10 June

  1. Dear Humphrey

It’s Day 60 and I have now walked over 1000 miles. I am about 15 miles west of Logroño and will be continuing westwards for another three weeks. Legs etc in pretty good shape but right Achilles v painful when I stop walking! Simple answer is to keep walking and I am now targeting 30 to 40 kilometres a day.

There are so many lovely people on the walk, some of displaying huge courage in overcoming injuries and general lack of fitness. Christopher, the New York  police officer who, having overdone it on the first day and now contends with blisters and multiple other strains, walks at snails pace but continues until he has covered at least 24 ks even if it means starting at 6am and ending at 10 pm. He knows everyone as they all overtake him at some stage! When he discovered the cause I am walking for he immediately gave me €100 as he had had to care for both his parents casualties of 9/11. Joan who has undertaken this 500 mile journey having had a double knee replacement 5 months ago ( she has still to give me the name of her surgeon!) Joshua, a ‘little person’ being helped and accompanied  by a a lovely girl from Sydney. There are lots of others to mention but one of my favourite is ‘Vape’ from China who has a cheeky sense of humour. He is the one on the right..

Vape from China

The Camino itself is now is all about massive landscapes, country scenes, beautiful churches, banks of of wild flowers and birdsong.

View west
Sta Maria de Eunate
A Shepherd his dogs and his flock

It is a way along which pilgrims have trekked for hundreds of years seeking solitude sometimes, quiet  companionship with a fellow traveller at others and very often an escape from the outside world. And here comes ‘the gripe’.. and this is all being WRECKED by the wretched middle aged men in Lycra on bikes who bawl at one to get out of the way as they rush headlong at huge speeds down narrow paths causing one to leap into the nearest hedgerow and then have the cheek to shout Buen Camino as they pass. Someone has got to do something about this!

Two mornings ago my pilgrimage nearly came to a sad end. I was heading downstairs on my way out to put my boys on when I bumped in to an Englishman heading home carrying a pair of boots which I happened to notice looked remarkably like mine only to discover they were. He had an identical pair but two sizes larger! What a stroke of luck. It coincided with another strange event. My godson Harry Hadden Paton is starting as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady on Broadway and has been nominated for a Toni award. His proud Dad sent me a WhatsApp about it all which I received overnight but opened that morning. That previous night  before I saw the message I had dreamt I had been offered a part and was about to go on but did not know my lines! Explain that one!

Please pass on my thanks to all for their messages of support and in particular who have said this letter is never too long!

Today I encountered a back pack which appeared to have its own legs

An autonomous back pack

Actually it belongs to a lovely American girl called Katie who has borrowed her brothers! She is a physio and has joined her dad who has his old back pack and so that makes two walking back packs

Two autonomous back packs

Enough!

with lots of love from

your friend and master

7 June and into Spain

Dear Humphrey

Yes I know it is a while since I last wrote but I got locked out of the system and needed a new password. Thankfully Chrissy Lloyd Owen was there to help, as always.

Mum tells me the last letter was too long. I did not know you would be sharing them with her but having looked again I think she was right.

It is early morning and I have sneeked down from the dormitory which I am sharing with a large snoring Pole and his mother and aunt. He made them go far too far yesterday and the mother crawled in about 8 pm and was very unhappy. The albergue is superb and we are being so well looked after.

Covering a longish period in short, it has been a ‘camino’ of two very contrasting halves. I have moved from the flat featureless (apart from the forest pines) monotonous landscape (bit like walking round Thetford Chase for six days) which is Les Landes to the foothills and higher ground of the Pyrenees. Also in five weeks in France I met less than five fellow travellers. But since joining the main Pilgrim route in Ostabat-Asme I have met and seen many from all parts of the globe. In this refuge we have the Poles, a Dutchman, German, Chinese, Belgian, Jo from Japan and another Brit.

As for the weather I suppose I have been lucky. Very cloudy and usually threatening rain but without it happening. Having said that the thunderstorms when they hit are not that much fun. They say the chances of winning the lottery are the same as those of being struck by lightning. If so I will be betting on the lottery more often! But it has been a good walking temperature.

I am now 5 miles short of Pamplona. The walk over the top of the Pyrenees on the day before yesterday was very unpleasant. It started by meeting up with a Kiwi trying to find his way out of St Jean P de P being misled by a bunch of Basque walkers. Matt is a pro rugby player and as you can imagine very fit. He stayed with me for a while but then literally ran up to find food. His coach had instructed him to put on 10 kgs! Not easy on the Camino! As we trekked higher the rain got more persistent and very cold. I rescued a young Welsh girl who was close to hypothermia ( another Pilgrim apparently succumbed and had to be taken down) . I walked for a while with Jean a French engineer from Grenoble, I encountered two lovely and very brave ladies from Mexico who were a little surprised by the conditions. Eventually we all descended on the huge converted monastery at Roncesvalles. Very different  to my last visit when the refuge was huge but chaotic. Now it is run very well by a team of Dutch volunteers and someone has spent a lot of money as it housed hundreds of us very comfortably. All of them mostly new arrivals sharing their stories of their journey over the top.

This reminds me of one of my stays in one guest house in France. You may recall that a day or two before I had been housed in a converted garden shed. On this occasion my ‘land lady’ showed me on arrival into an untidy garage and when I started to enquire as to where I was to sleep, she laughed and said that this was where I had to put my boots.

As for the ‘cause’, and thanks to Anna Kasket and my wonderful family, we have succeeded on generating huge interest in social media and among friends and in particular on the petition asking the Government to produce a strategy for unpaid carers.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/209717

An Action Plan was published this week but it is not thought this does the trick. So please if you will sign the petition.

As for the fund raising , we are half way to the target. Thank you so much to all those who have generously donated. I am hoping there are lots more out there who are waiting to see if I finish!

Thank you all for your wonderful messages of support. They have propelled me through the mud in England, the Landes in France and now over the Pyrenees. Onwards!

Enough! This letter is already getting too long.

With love from your friend and master.

 

28 May.. more from Les Landes

Dear Humphrey

Tonight (Monday) I am sharing a two bedded bunk room with a young Parisian Moroccan who was in bed when I arrived at 6.30 and apart from asking me when I was planning to leave only to tell me he was going at 5.30 am, has said nothing and has only risen from his bed to roll one of his own and smoke it. I am wondering what’s in the tobacco or alternatively I am checking to see their are no prayer mats facing south east.

This happy encounter has arisen after a long and tortuous walk over 9 hours along mile after mile of dead straight roads or tracks through a vast expanse of pine forest. It would no doubt be of great interest to the Forestry Commission involving huge areas of clear felling and replanting using enormous machinery and vast stacks of unsawn timber either on trucks or on the side of the road.

And so it has been for the last three days or so since leaving Bordeaux but not without incident.

i last wrote when sharing a dormitory with a lovely French couple who had been kind enough to share their supper. As I finished my letter I believe I mentioned the lady’s snoring potential. Well it proved considerable. I discreetly searched out my ear plugs as husband was still very much awake. The night was by no means calm and when getting up the next morning the dear man asked tentatively if I had a good night. Lying I said ‘yes’ and then headed off at high speed to catch the ferry across the Gironde to head for another gite d’etape in Pian Medoc run by some charming nuns, one Irish and the other Spanish. Passed through Margaux on way there and checked out the price of some fine wines … £1200 a bottle but sadly no room in my back pack. Got caught in a storm and sheltered in Château Senejac. The gite this time was already occupied  by a bavorous threesome. Two women who were heading to Bordeaux to catch a train home and a man who was suffering badly from shin splints. Pleasant enough that evening but at 5.30 am they all three were getting up and for an hour and a half conducted a full scale breakfast party notwithstanding my telling them after a long while to shut up. Eventually they left as did I a while later. On my way in to Bordeaux on the outskirts I managed to avoid yet another horrific down pour by taking refuge in a Pharmacy. Those who know France will have observed that every village or town however small all have at least one pharmacy and ofte more. The French must all be total hypochondriacs. At this point I am ashamed to say I decided to have done with the rain and catch a bus in to Bordeaux. (Anyone who wants a refund let me know!) That took some doing because no-one could understand what I wanted until I learned they are pronounced ‘bewse’. Sitting comfortably on the bewse I spied with mixed emotions the three bedraggled and very wet companions from the night before. … ‘serve them right’ and total humiliation but more of the former than the latter.

Really enjoyed Bordeaux. It is a great and very buzzy chique  city with lots going on including a huge food fair where I got my supper.  I put myself up in a lovely little hotel. Bought some new boots. And was highly impressed by its cathedral and keen to get my pilgrims passport stamped there. The stamp in French is called,rather awkwardly for us English, ‘a tampon’, and so you can imagine the reaction of an American tourist whom I mistook for one of the Cathedral staff when I asked where I might find a tampon! He said ‘jeez that’s the first time I have ever been asked that! ‘

Since Bordeaux it has been hard and solitary work and will continue to be for the next three days. The first night out of the city in Barp my host who ran the local Pizza Hut put me up in a converted garden shed. Amazingly they had managed fit a bed a shower and a loo in to it as well as all their keep fit equipment but no room for a basin. This was the first time I have had to clean my teeth in a shower. The large good looking Labrador who shared the artificial turf with me outside the shed was also keen to make his mark which fortunately I noticed before treading in it.

I stayed last night in  town called Muret, which looks a bit like an American one horse town.  Pleased to arrive there in good time but somewhat perplexed when the first person I saw was an elderly lady wielding a rifle. Unsure as to whether to proceed or dive for cover, she turned and saw me and in gest (as I hoped) I threw my hands up causing the doves at which she was apparently targeting to fly off!

It’s getting late now and my mobile is about to tell me it’s  had enough I.e needs charging and my Moroccan friend is restless!

Lots of love

your friend and master

 

23 May and more news from France!

Dear Humphrey,

Hope all well at home. I hear there has been a lot of wedding planning and much progress made in my absence. Your mistress is doing an amazing job in my absence and probably better off without me!

Last wrote when in St Jean d’Angely since when there has been more drama of which much more in a minute. I got lost going out of St J.. lost my sense of direction and found myself going north and so had to retrace my steps back through the centre no doubt much to the puzzlement of the early morning crowd. After that and recovering my rhythm (very important for covering distance) I had a lovely mornings walk meeting up with Maxus a carpenter ( formerly sound engineer) from Paris. He travels fast! We came across the annual soap cart racing track, downhill and then towed back to the top. Lots of fun being had. Lunch at a picnic site where Maxus proceeded to cook himself lentils and boiled eggs etc and I left him after consuming my usual ham sandwich, tomato and an orange for desert ( Best moment of the day)

I had reserved a ‘chambred’hote’ ( a French B&B) and my hostess, whom for reasons which become apparent, I will just call V came and collected me as they lived a short distance off the route. We arrived at a very nice house in a lovely garden. My quarters were in an adjacent building and very comfortable. I had tea in the garden with both V and her husband.  He had just won through to the finals of the local tennis competition and was clearly a serious player having been to Rafa’s tennis school. He was very proud of his garden but a little troubled by ‘Les taupes’. But the only instrument with which he had to tackle them appeared to be a trowel and apparently no traps. I was in the process of referring him to Chris Boone but as things turned I never did.

After the usual routine of washing both clothes and self,  and then down loading some music and a book, I made ready for dinner which I was told would be with them. The bar b q was light in the pool house and then I was told he would not be joining us as he was feeling unwell.. too much sun and tennis. After a ‘pineau’ ( cognac aperitif.. very good specialty of the area) or two, we ( V and I ) finished our starter and the main course being burnt sausages and duck.. clearly her mind was on other things… was served. She went to check on husband and returned to say he was not at all well and ( as I understood it as she spoke very fast French) she was calling the doctor and possibly an ambulance. As I sat there wondering whether I should be attending the bedside, trying to recall how you identify a stroke, eating the dinner or frankly not being there at all, she eventually returned. Again it was hard for me to follow but the general gist was that she had concluded he was fine and just making an unnecessary fuss. But then it went further and again as I understood the drift of it she was saying how fed up with him she was, too much work,  not enough attention, no holidays, too many moves. She was obviously not very happy. Hard to know how to handle it all (a) when not sure precisely what said and (b) certainly incapable of giving advice in French! So after dinner, thinking was no more than just a bad night, I made polite excuses, said I am sure it will be better in the morning and off to bed.

Well how wrong I was! By the time I went down for breakfast he had left apparently to prepare for the final. V then kindly undertook to show me the main sights of Saintes, a really lovely small city and well worth a visit. Eventually and rather late for my liking I headed off to Pons about 29 ks off. A pretty uneventful day although long and hot and eventually arrived at my new b&b which V had kindly introduced me to run by Ingrid a friend of hers who had been an opera singer. I was greeted by Oliver the husband who showed to a very comfortable room, produced a cup of tea and an ice pack for the ankle.

Once again having run through the usual routine, I prepared for the dinner. I came down and had a look round Ingrid’s lovely garden and then who should appear but V! This time things had clearly got worse. There was much reference to husband having a ‘coeur noir. At first I thought this might have been a medical term and appeared duly concerned about his health until she then showed me a text from him saying he was not coming home tonight and spending with night with ‘une amie’. Again I was ‘lost for words’ in more ways than one! There was reference to avocats and having to go back to work. Really truly tragic story but she was at the angry stage and so no consolation needed. Any way Ingrid appeared to be handling the situation and giving her sound advice.

One wonderful interlude to the evening was Ingrid’s singing and her three dogs really joining in as the chorus. One for Britais’s Got talent definitely.

An interesting evening. Breakfast the following morning V was still there. More conversation over breakfast but distracted when Ingrid asked me if I voted Brexit. ‘No’ I said proudly.. wrong answer as she is a leading Frexiteer!

This time I made good my escape earlier to head for Mirambeau. Moving into big vineyard country now but where there was grain I noticed it was beginning to ripen.

During the day I had taken the precaution of booking in to a monastery / presbytery overnight as an antidote to my previous two! Pere Jean a priest just over from The Congo was my host and cooked me dinner and produced a delicious bottle of wine. Charming man with a brother in the US and six sisters still in the Congo. He said he had heard of a recent outbreak of Ebola there but still confined to a region. Otherwise all was relatively calm there.

Tonight I am in gite near Blaye with a lovely couple who cooked me dinner. Unfortunately I think we have a snorer. Need to find my ear plugs. Tomorrow is a long day..35 ks to just outside Bordeaux. This time in a nunnery!  Will be  crossing the Gironde in a ferry and walking  through an expensive wine list!

Humphrey, every garden and farm I pass by there is always a dog to ‘greet’ me. I am never quite sure whether they are friend or foe. Nor, I suspect, are they of me! Almost always they are the other side of a fence but not so on one occasion yesterday when I had this dachshund snapping at my heels!

Enough for now. Be a good boy and look after mum and Cocoa, who I hear was put most of the night last weekend and they needed you to find him.

with love

your friend and master

PS.. some photographs of  the last few days

Exit from Pons and escape! 
Saintes
More of Saintes
The journey to do
Ingrid and Oliver
Pete Jean

19 May A tribute to Phil

Dear Humphrey,

Here I am in St Jean d’Angely after 20 days walking from Mont St Michel and 38 days from Daisy Farm. My new guide tells me I have 16 days to the Pyrenees and it takes about 4 weeks after that to Compostela. So not far off halfway…but I must not get ahead of myself!

This letter will be mostly about the extra-ordinary night I spent two nights ago in Beauvoir sr Niort. I had had an uneventful walk from Niort and thought I was fixed up for the night at some camping site. Having circumnavigated the village (large) at least twice and found the only likely place I dared to ring the bell and was met with what appeared to be a friendly Labrador. But the moment I put any foot out of line he became very ‘defensive’.. quite right too. Well it turned out this was not the place and they had no room any way and the place I had booked was 20 miles back in the direction I had just come.

I then discovered the only other likely bed might have been in what called itself misleadingly, as it turned out, L’Auberge de Voyageurs,. Dejectedly I retired to the only cafe in town where the wonderful barman started ringing round to see what he could find with no luck until Guillaume  local builder appeared and said he had a friend nearby who would put me up… did I mind a ‘dry toilet’ . Well this was the first clue as to what I was in for. ‘He leads a very simple life’ says G. Beggars can’t be choosers so off I went with G.. quite a little drive wondering how I was going to get back in the morning. ‘Don’t worry’ says G ‘I am sure he will drive you’. When we arrived we let ourselves in to I can only describe as a 19 century hovel. .. looking round I could see a number of possible places I might be invited to sleep, none of which filled me any sense of comfort.

We went round the back where we found my host Phil , as he was introduced, in his back yard fixing his Alllen Scythe in preparation for a mornings work in the vineyard. Well immediately he cleaned off the grease from his hands and proceeded enthusiastically to offer some of his home brewed beer.. actually very good. Well his neighbour must have a nose for these things because he appeared almost instantaneously. Lot of talking and a bit of drinking and when that bottle was finished we started on the dandelion wine and at the same time a bowl of nuts ( walnuts I think) but very black and aged were produced and crushed and we were all invited to pick at these. During the course of conversation the idea of driving me back to my start point cropped up but Phil said he would not be going there until midday.. why did I not spend the morning with him in the vineyard? Well I came up with some feeble excuse like I had to be in the next place to ensure I did not find myself in the same situation with no bed and that was 32 kms away. Things were not looking good when the other two left after two more bottles of dandelion wine!

Phil returned to fixing his Allen Scythe and then showed me to my room which turned out to be two flights of very dodgy stairs up to the attic where in were two beds, one without any bed clothes and one with but certainly not made up and goodness who or what had been in it last. Phil went to shake out the duvet and was instantly covered in a cloud of feathers, remarking this was strange as it had never been like this before! Quite when was the last time was not clear. I choose the unmade bed and a blanket.

On the way down he was busy explaining the light switch system ( unlikely to have passed any inspection) and asking me to switch off all lights when not in use. I said ‘of course’ and made some mention of the cost. Well this was the wrong and the right remark because he said it was nothing to do with the cost and then gave a half French half English lecture on the dangers of nuclear energy and our misuse of power. I was happy to oblige as I hardly dared touch any switches.

Next dinner.. I was invited to stir a pot of unidentifiable food except for one large aubergine skin while Phil engaged on the telephone. Actually whatever it was it tasted not at all bad. I think his mother had something to do with it. She lives 20 ks away and there was mention of a girl friend in Paris who might had something to do with aubergine. ‘When she last here?’ I enquirer discreetly but got no decipherable answer.  Over dinner an idea had occurred to him, which when he told me immediately reminded me of the look on my dad’s face when he discovered a number of us would be home for a weekend in late spring or so. This was about moving the now not ridden semi wild horses from their winter quarters to the summer pastures. This was a distance of a mile or so down the busy A134. This required a team of us to open and close gates and if unlucky to be asked to hang on to one or more of these horses. If I was to say that on one occasion I saw Lawrence Godfrey suspended between two horses his feet not touching the ground for the entire distance covered at some speed, you will have some idea of what this involved. Now Phil had decided this was an opportunity to move his bee hives and the deal was that if I could help him with this he would be able to drop me off.

At this point desert was served.. basically a pot of goats milk yoghurt. I tucked in to mine and was halfway through it when he said to me ( in his usual half French half English) this was something he had made three years ago! At which point he burst out laughing at the look on my face!.. saying sorry he meant three hours ago!

Phil was the most delightful charming and enthusiastic guy. He was obviously very bright and had chosen to drop out. He was living the real good life. ‘Rien est perdu’ .. nothing is thrown away. Everything stored neatly for another occasion and always willing to share everything. He ran an open house.. all are welcome and one man stayed for four years! Probably the last person to sleep in the bed!

He refused to allow me to wash up. You are my guest for 24 hours. Before bed we had to wedge some sponge foam in to the aperture on the hives to trap the bees inside while asleep. You can imagine how pleased they were going to be when they woke up! So we agreed an early start before the sun was up would be a good idea!

Amazingly after I had put thoughts of mice possibly rats and electricity shortages to the back of my mind , I had a really good nights sleep but waking early. Phil had laid up breakfast. He managed only on what was left of the nuts and like a little squirrel prized a whole bowlful of nuts from what looked to me like a load of spent shells.

Time to transport the bees. He took me over to hive and asked me to listen to the activity inside. It was pretty clear to me they were all very much awake and annoyed at not being able to get out. First they had to be lifted and placed carefully in a very little trailer which we did straining every sinew to be as gentle as possible. Then we set off at least 4ks down a very bumpy track. By this time I was thinking they would be hugely pissed off! We arrived at the site which was the other side of a thorn thicket through which I realise we were expected to carry the hives. Well having cleared the sight with two of his very ancient hand scythes, the time came for the final move. ‘Don’t trip’ says Phil ‘this is very dangerous ‘ . I hardly needed telling. We got the hives in place and I then scrammed not waiting for the removal of the sponge and expecting to see my friend disappear in a cloud of angry bees and not knowing what to do if he did.  All was well!

Phill dropped me off in town and gave me his address (and I gave him mine!) saying anytime I wanted to drop by the door is always open. What a lovely man.

My friend and host

You will have had enough of me by now. And it’s time to find something to eat.

with lots of love

your friend and master