Walking without a donkey: France 6

Granville 6.5.27 Rain – the only walking I did today was around town.

Pretty gardens and houses in Granville.

Granville is a seaside resort in Normandy,  on a rocky promontory, and once a renowned cod fishing town. I arrived on foot yesterday and, due to the holiday weekend there was a lack of beds in the places I was moving on to. The tourist information were very helpful,  as was the woman at the Auberge de Jeunesse where I was lucky enough to find a bed. This morning it rained heavily so I stayed longer than planned.

Dull weather outside the Youth Hostel (Auberge de Jeunesse) but the sea.

I visited an internet cafe (see below for details) for breakfast: croissant, tea, wifi, and the use of a computer for my writing, which was most productive.

Plant pots bring some greenery into the city.

Later I found a creperie but ordered an omelette by mistake. One couple both had buns, two couples were each in matching black and white. Everyone drank cider, so presumably we were all tourists! I was the only one alone, and there was no wifi, nor salt and pepper!

La Courtine, crêpes and cider in a bright, clean bistro-style eateries.

Most bars do not seem to serve food. Some have bought croissants and have them in paper bags behind the bar to sell to customers, and I think, from observation, that you can get a take-away or have your own food and eat it there if you buy a drink.

Attractive colours, designed to please the eye.

By then the wind had died down and it was only drizzling. In the old town, I spotted Vennelle de Saint Michel, just like Edinburgh vennels (narrow pedestrian streets) quaint even in the drizzle.

A Normandy side street reminiscent of Edinburgh ones.

There are some nice shops in the Old Town and I enjoyed the one with artisan makes by a range of local crafters.

One of those 360 degree photos.

I returned to the Modern art museum again and rather cheekily managed to get in for free (there is a ticket which allows entry for both the Modern Art and Christian Dior museums, and as I did not visit the latter I asked for two visits to the former!).

Christian Dior museum.

I wanted to see the photo exhibition, Jeux de Construction by Jaques Faujour again as it made quite an impression on me yesterday.

MamRa museum of modern art, Gravillr
Apollinaire: and on rainy days

Faujour takes photos of people set against a variety of interesting backgrounds. He uses lines, broken lines, brings things into perspective, and above all, tells stories.

On a second viewing there is more to them than I had originally seen: he is always looking for a story. I see a photo which could have been of me when I was in Paris 35 years ago, before my ‘proper’ adult life began.

Young people relax in the Parisian shade.

You can get some stunning views of the port from this end of town.

Even though the weather is still dull.

Internet Câfé Picorette, 24 Rue Saint-Sauveur 50400 Granville.

La Courtine creperie, Granville –

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/MobileQueryBBox-g951898-d4334052-La_courtine-Granville_Manche_Basse_Normandie_Normandy.html

Walking without a donkey: France 5

Saint Martin de Bréhal to Granville 5.5.17 11 kms 2.5 hrs

I left the Camping de la Vanlée before 8am to find breakfast. I had given no Shiatsu and hoped that that would give me time to write the night before, but I was too tired after the walk and all that fresh air.

After the howling wind interrupted my repose, now there was the soothing sound of the waves, a man trying to start his boat motor after tractoring it backwards into the water, and the odd seagull. It was cold though.

Grey pointed rooves and white walls are typical of the architecture along this part of the coast. There are huge rocks along the landward edge of the beach and I can already see Granville, a much bigger town, coming into sight. Hmm, hungry!

’Attention un viper’ said a hennaed woman with an alsatian. ‘I want to see one’, I thought, eyes to the ground, but no.

Soft grasses, swooping swifts, watching the horses on the beach, and hearing the tiny chuck chucking bird sounding the alarm as it hovers with wings going 100s of flaps to the minute.


On I walked, my knee complaining again. What does it do, I ask myself? It makes me pay attention to how I step, how my weight is distributed.


People warned me it would not be the same walking the second time (after the Camino Francés, Via de la Plata, and Sierra Calderona in Spain), and they were right of course: I have changed; I have reflected; written about my experiences; and integrated many of them. The pleasure is equal, however.


Kids are rock-pooling, there are colourful beach huts, and many people stop and ask about me and what I am up to, as I enter Granville. I regard a man taking advantage of the breeze, and flying a kite in figures of eight.

The swimming pool amongst the rocks on the edge of the sea is deserted at this hour. There are steep green cliffs with a beach at the bottom. As I climbed, I inadvertently entered a cemetery with great views across the bay. Huge mausoleums and ancient crosses are all crowded together.


I turn right on the outskirts of the town, getting accustomed to the traffic noise, and a house straight out of ‘Madeline’, a book by Ludwig Bemelmans (and film), which I shared with my daughters when they were young.

Then I saw a sign which I spontaneously followed to the Jardin (garden) de Christian Dior. I sat in the sun (and wind), shut my eyes and listened to the water, and to a particularly tuneful chanteuse (bird!). I smell the roses, and imagine that my walking baton is an elegant cane and I am strolling in my couture garments in the 1950’s.

Dior had a life shorter than mine has already been, and this gorgeous place captured my imagination. (See below for ticket information).


It turns out that the walk I am on, ‘mon chemin’, actually passes through the garden, though I had lost it and only come on a whim!

There are wonderful views from the Dior gardens.

Back down at sea level there is a hideous casino – how do town planners allow these buildings?

I suppose the casino has a sort of gothic (as in bell tower with bats) air about it.

The Hotel de Jeunesse is hard to find and shuts for a long lunch. The woman was brusque, but kindly phoned through to other places for me as it was a holiday weekend, though everywhere was full.

I had a room to myself, and was forced to stay a second night, which of course turned out to be propitious as the next day it poured with rain.

There are no shortage of municipal toilets here – I could have relieved myself at every corner!

Fetchingly decorated loos at Museum.

I recommend the Café Pulperia in an attractive row of shops etc very close to the hostel – the crab salad was in a plastic pot but it, the wine, and the fresh fruit salad were all delicious (€11) and I sat for ages with the wifi. There is also an Internet café next door which I spent hours in the next day (writing out of the rain).

I wander up to a church I can see.  A nice woman walks up the hill with me and tells me walking is good for the heart. Unfortunately the Eglise Saint Paul is, like many I tried to visit this month, shut for repairs.


You can buy anything you want here in the busy shopping steets, with so many cars, and pretty corners. I find a public park, Les Jardins, with llamas, peacocks, chickens, goats, and 2 black swans each on one leg, all happily coexisting.

My late afternoon walk takes me to the old town at the far side and up steep steps. The buildings are worth seeing as is the Modern Art Museum,  a collection of books and art work with visiting exhibitions.

From landscape painting,
to original essays gifted to the collector.
From Rodin,
and Colette.

I walked back via the port.

And here are a few extra photos to persuade you that Granville and the surrounding area are well worth visiting.

I was walking GR223 Normandy coastal walk.

Camping de Vanlées – Rue des Gabions – 50290 BREHAL Tél. : 02 33 61 63 80 / Mail : camping.vanlee@wanadoo.fr

Two of the outdoor spaces at the Jardin de Christian Dior.

If you want to visit Dior’s garden, it is free. If you would like to see the house (and there is a charming tea garden), you can get free access to it if you pay to visit the Modern Art Museum, or vice versa.

Walking without a donkey: France 4

Regnéville to Saint Martin 4.5.17 19kms 6hrs. Part of the GR223 Sentiers des Dounaniers (see La Manche tourist website).

I relished the good political talk with Sophie last night by the fire, admired the pretty beams and attention to detail in her interior, and loved the simplicity of unrolling the futon for Shiatsu on the sitting room floor – it is such a great way to communicate with kind others. I slept in another comfy bed, with a great shower, and we drank wine together.

Outside the cottage window there is a blackbird’s nest, and we spied on them in the morning before I left to walk to Saint Martin. Regnéville is a very pretty village and I traversed it twice because I left my baton behind the first time!


It is 8.25 and all is soft and verdant in the morning, misty light. The places which were rubbed yesterday (mostly my shoulders where the rucksack straps are) feel tired.  There are lots of fleeting pains as I begin. Ah yes, I remember that happens as I begin day 2.


Cuttlefish are daubed amongst the detritus from the sea; birds are collecting bits and pieces for their homes; stationery, white cows are initially silent.

It is really calm: there are so many distinctive bird voices, one or two cars, and now the cows are lowing, but no people. Instead I am having conversations with loved ones in my head. It is when there is external quiet that I can hear their voices answering my questions.

A cuckoo calls, a blue tit balances sideways on a reed. Birds of prey instead of airplanes, hovver with their magnificent eyesight. There is the ‘chack chack’ of the chaffinch, and then I remember the prediction of the Tarot before I left: a person about to walk on sand – of course, a beach, not a desert, although then it comes to me that I will visit a ‘desert’ in a few days time.

Around the corner is the beach and a dog rolls happily. School kids draw circles and collect seaweed, stones and shells to decorate them with. I realise that 99% of the joint pain I had when I left Scotland has gone.

There is the yummy odour of hot coffee and bread as I pass through Briqueville sur Mer, and a sweet, sweet smell as I then enter an avenues of trees.

Fields of potatoes are on one side, and banks of wild flowers, not unlike those I am familiar with in Kent, on the other.

I enjoy the long, sandy drives, the oniony leeks growing, and the ripples of white fleece lifted by the breeze protecting a crop I cannot see.

 

Fields of perfect lettuces

I make quite a big mistake then, walking on without seeing any way-signs. I went back to ask a man working his plot, and he confirmed I was right, but at the next junction I was pretty sure I was not, so back I went again. Bless him, he came after me, thinking I had misunderstood his French, but in fact he had told me where the road was and not the ‘chemin’. I stopped then for lunch,  disappointed and frustrated, but the spot was so beautiful, and as I restocked, I knew that that attitude is useless: when I walk I get there when I do. That is just that.

In the caravan place I pass I glimpse a couple through the window. He reads the paper and she writes postcards. There are questions from others as I go on my way: ‘toute seule?’ ‘Without your husband?’ I think I must be quite unusual walking like this on my own in these out-of-the-way places.

A beach stretches into the distance, and there are more children, this time pushing each other in go-karts. A horse rider trots past, speaking on his mobile phone. I spot a white heron, or at least I think that is what it is, and later there is a sign, ‘heronerie’.

Horse rider in the distance
Go-karts lined up

I really struggled to find somewhere to sleep that night. It is surprising that the La Manche tourist board recommends stages / études which have no hostels, only hotels and expensive (though lovely looking) bed and breakfasts. Reader, it is, sadly, twice as expensive to walk in France as it is in Spain. I considered bringing a tent, but was assured camping was forbidden and was not confident enough to chance it.

So I found a very expensive bed (€30) at a campsite that had no cafe, shop, kitchen, or laundry facilities. I was not impressed. I walked quite a way into the village, on the advice of the kind receptionist, but there was no food to be had anywhere in the evening, so I contented myself with lunch left-overs. The wind howled all night, and tried very hard to lift the tent off the ground.

My bed in the tent.
And the tent itself.

La Manche website http://www.manche-tourism.com/gr223-coastal-path

Walking without a donkey: France 3

Agon-Coutainville to Regnéville 3.5.17 22kms approx. 8 hrs.

Gallette and cider – last night’s meal.
View from my bedroom window at Agon-Coutainville.
Goodbye to Carla and Nicholas, the Tsubook couple.

I leave Agon-Coutainville at 9.15am and it is quiet as I make my way along the promenade. There is the sound of my feet, and of the sea in the distance. It is low tide and there is a smell of seaweed.

Along the promenade the evening before I leave Agon-Coutainville.

The air is cool on my skin, and I am getting into a rhythm, with a dull, white-grey sky overhead; and swirls of brown, shining water with almost yellow sand to my right. In contrast are the massive stones nearby where they are fortifying the sea wall. It is ‘home from home’ really, reminiscent of Edinburgh / Scotland.

Can you see Nicholas hiding? Also taken the day before.

It is the beginning of this new walking meditation, with lighthouses on both edges of my peripheral vision. There’s a man with a cigar between his lips, his dog trotting along in a blue harness; clear instructions on a municipal sign not to collect too many shellfish and to beware of the right season / size when you do; and a bike cycling over the do not cycle sign.

Quite dull, the day I set out.

‘Doucement’ (gently) says a woman to her wolfhound. There are 100’s of child sounds, like a grounded flock of seagulls, who turn out to be from a sailing school, with its neon orange and white sails.

Sailing school, children playing.

Now the thumb of one hand is hot and the other cold. I think it is something about the details I notice when I am walking.

Historical photo of children on the beach in 1956.

Snippets of my bad dream come in and out of my head. Worries: Will my knees hold out? Is my backpack too heavy? But then it is like someone is holding my hand once again, and I remember this.

The sun starts to come out.

I wasted 10 minutes looking for someone to ask the way. Note to self: look with more care and if in doubt, keep going forward!

As I cross the dunes, a horse and rider cross my path. It’s the first time I have seen someone on his mobile while riding! It is slow walking on deep sand with the smell of the cyprus (or cedar?) trees, and the sounds of crows cawing. The sun is trying to come out, and it is windy. Once again I am reminded of home, this time the links at Gullane.

More detail now I am getting into my stride: a snail precarious on a stalk of grass; swifts or swallows darting across my vision; hearing a cuckoo. There are so many familiar flowers from hillside and garden: brambles, buttercups, veitch, and the sweetest smelling hawthorn, which I suspect is the scent that, in years to come, will take me back to Normandy.

The sweet smell of may. 

There is a bird with equally sweet tweets, intermittently, above my head; and very very loud crickets (or grasshoppers?) which are competing with the chattering mini birds.

The ‘randonnée’ signs I am starting to get familiar with – sometimes tricky to spot.

At the Pointe d’Agon, one rather slow hour later,  there is a soft brown bird with white stripes which flies 360 degrees around me at eye level – you know, those birds which do little, repeated, staccato swoops.

A memorial to the young men lost in the war.

Tightening the straps to stop them chaffing my shoulders, I stride on, fire-engine-siren bird calls to my right;
neat turf, wet to kneel on; and uneven pits of soft-sand bunkers. The world seems to be all a-tweet and I think to myself, I could walk along here like this forever.

The sweet almond scent is continuing to surprise me if I am looking down. A bird whistles at me, challengingly, through an avenue of pines. I can feel my tummy relax.

An oval of standing stones, a modern sculpture.

There are not many insects compared to all the birds: a wispy white flying something, a stubby black fluffy caterpillar, but not much else.

One of the many lighthouses. This one on the edge of the main estuary between Agon and Regnéville.

When I am amongst the trees I can hear the wind, but not otherwise. Here begins the long sweep around the bay, and I could do with a cup of tea.

One of the many attractive signs to help you position yourself.

The tide is way out, so there are beached boats balancing on their rudders; sharp marine grass; and broken shells underfoot. Buttercups totter in the cold windyness. I hear a distant church bell and smell the sheep as they say ‘huh huh huh’.

These signs are getting familiar and give quite accurate indications of distance and time between stages.

Here are the first group of fellow ramblers/randonneurs coming in the opposite direction. In all my walks to Mont-Saint-Michel I do not see a single other backpacker.

This poster shows the different sorts of shellfish.

Washes of miniature, dead crabs, and piles of oyster shells litter the path. Fields of broadbeans are beside me. At noon there is finally sun and butterfly #1.

Now there is a gorgeous odour of cow parsley, scuttling spiders on the clay, and pods of empty cells the size of my hand -dry and papery. Ah, I am stiff now, tireder, and assailed by the smell of dung!

Crossing La Sciene river, after 3 hrs, and a most welcome cuppa (I will come clean: I had to go back for my baton), I then realised my beloved Coquille Saint Jaques shell had broken off and gone forever, but I was given an alternative by the kind hostellier at La Bonne Auberge at the same moment.

I cross and skirt around the mouth of the Est. Pass Tourville sur Siene, and there is a stretch of long wet grass with a very narrow gulley to walk in. Here I suffer my first fall – I think I topple because I am hungry.

Flat, white-ended little birds are bounding through the reeds like rabbits. Carla’s delicious sourdough pizza is a welcome mid-day lunch in the sun.

Now it is time to get the pole out and I hope there are no tics. Yes of course I am lying in my bra – there is no-one for miles around and I am sure I need the money vitamin D.

Hidden by the grass

After my sunbathe when I watch the art-deco black and white butterfly (symbol of transformation), I feel re-energised, taste some wild garlic, help myself to a leaf of wild mint, chew a sprig of fennel (to remind me of last year’s Camino), and enjoy the church with a cock in top.

The lilac and honeysuckle are both out, but the map showed I was actually in the sea, and I started to feel lost. It is now extremely wet underfoot. The smartly coutured ducks cheer me up,  but there is a lot of improvising having to go on on these wetlands.

Nature is wonderful isn’t it? I spot urea coloured dungflies blending in. And there’s time to reflect: it turns out I forget what I have said quite often, though I hear myself denying that I have ; and of course, I realise once again that I have absolutely no idea of the future and how it will turn out.

By 4.30 I am so stiff and glad to arrive at Regnéville. Last night I searched Shiatsu practitioners in Normandy. The lovely Sophie Blondel was at the top of the list and miraculously lived at my next day’s stopping place. I phoned her on the off-chance ( in French btw!) and not only did she pick up the phone,  but she immediately said yes I could come and stay with her in return for Shiatsu.

So that’s what I did. What a star. How amazing to be the sort of person who just says ‘yes’! We had the best evening, what with the session, chats about our work (turns out we share the same teacher in Suzanne Yates), and her adorable cottage.

Walking without a donkey: Paris 2

27 – 30 April

28.4.17 Walk Villa Sainte Croix to Musée Eugene Délacroix

Isabelle’s lovely flower display

Whilst in Paris I was living with the generous Isabelle; Shiatsu practitioner, mother, and overall fantastic woman. Both she and youngest daughter, Isobel, recommended that I visit the Musée Eugene Delacroix, so today’s walk is from the north of Paris to the Left Bank.

I first traipsed up Saint Ouen and took a detour to Place Saint-Jean to see the striking St Michel church. Back around the corner I spotted the familiar French phrase cut in stone: liberty, egality,  fraternity.

Next was the shopping street of Avenue de Clichy selling espadrilles for €6 (I hope I did not make a mistake deciding not to buy a pair). I was once more walking, without my rucksack this time, through bright sun at 12.45 and after a frustrating morning trying to move money, my feet were once again on the ground.

I could feel myself slowing and calming. My spirit was easing. Now I was starting to enjoy my surroundings so that when a gentleman saw me taking a photo of motos and flowers and asked me if I was interested, I could answer in French in a relaxed sort of way.

I am reminded that I have everything I need here. I reassure myself, all is fine, yes, everything is going to be fine. There are lots of people sleeping rough on the streets of Paris, even a woman with three small children. How lucky I am in comparison.

As always, when I walk, my loved ones come to mind, and as I can not afford to buy and carry all the presents I might like to for them, I decide to take photos instead and send those.

At least they will know I am thinking about them: an umbrella with the Eiffel Tower on it in the Galeries Lafayette (when I go in for the toilet) for one daughter, a collection of pretty things for the other, delicate white porcelain for my sister, Tin Tin paraphernalia, eye-catching graffiti.

For Alice

On the Rue de Clichy there’s a bar (or is it a pub?) called The Coq et Bulldog, presumably representing a good French /British relationship.

In Trinité there are restaurants from all over, and a grand church covered with scaffolding overseeing a park where people are eating lunch between kisses.

Every cafe is completely full of working lunchers sitting outside in the welcome sun.

As yesterday, I am constantly moving from local area to posh one, to steets which are run-down. The Galeries Lafayette department store is simply enormous. The Opéra is stunning.

I usually prefer small, independent cafés, but today I know I can rely on Starbucks where my phone’s wifi will be recognised without having to enter a password, plus I will be able to charge it, and sit for as long as I like to write. I am grateful to have this time.

It rains! Nay, it pours, as I traverse the Pont du Carousel, walk beside the Seine, and there is a book seller straight from the film Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen.

Square Gabriel-Pierné
Square Honoré Champion

Musee Eugene Delacroix is just great. I really liked the juxtaposition of a gladiator floored by a lion, and three studies of cats lying down!

Garden of the Eugene Delacroix museum

Later I lounged in the beautiful garden, shut my eyes, enjoyed the scents of roses and listened to the bees by my ear. I breathed out relaxedly. There are purple periwinkle, geraniums, yellow wallflowers and white honesty. Lovers wandered just like they are supposed to do, speaking each other’s languages.

Rue Mazarine, wisteria
Institut de France
You know where, in the rainy background

Today I make sure I am back for dinner on time.

Typical view of the Seine. Getting dark as I walk back.

Walking without a donkey: Paris 1

April 27 – 30 2017

Walk 1: Gare de Lyon to Villa Sainte Croix. 7kms 27.4.17

I arrived in Paris in the late afternoon after a soothing flight direct from Edinburgh. The security there was very trying: I rarely fly and so every time I do the rules have changed. It became apparent that you now have to fit all your fluids into one tiny plastic bag which has to be sealed. This meant I had to ditch several newly-purchased items, and if I ever have to hear that woman calling out to us ‘guys’ about these frustrating rules again, I think I might scream!

At Charles de Gaules, I was reminded how silly it is to change money at the airport because of the dreadful exchange rate, but I liked the clean, pink toilets – much better than any public ones in the UK.

After much deliberation, and a pleasantly warm sunbathe (yes, I am sorry reader, I rolled up my trousers although I drew the line at stripping down to my bra), I took the bus to Gare de Lyon (€18), and started my first walk across the city to the north.

There is a gorgeously lush clock tower at Gare de Lyon (67m high) with its pale blue clock face, smooth, grey-domed top part, and decorated within an inch of its life (no photo).

I love the Paris architecture in the evening sunshine.  Colonne de Juillet, Place de la Bastille

Remember to look left before I step out onto the cycle paths, I told myself, as I automatically looked right and only narrowly avoided a fleet of commuter bikes.

There are massive statues standing at the junction between each step of this walk: Places des République and Bastille, for example.

Place de la République

The corner cafés, familiar from so many movies, were filling up with after-work drinkers. It was becoming a fine evening – large groups of men were playing boules; fashionable guys riding mopeds were zooming in and out of the traffic and sliding to conspicuous halts in front of giggly groups of girls; stylish kids were streaming out of school in the weak sunshine; and of course there were traffic hold-ups contributing to the poor city air condition.

I particularly enjoyed walking along Avenue Deaumesnil, with its charming under-arches embroidery and fabric boutiques, art school, and book shops.

Walking on, I was surprised that I was not struggling at all with my large back pack after 5 months break from carrying it.

I came to the Place de la République with open-air table tennis and gangs of scateboarders extraordinaire. They performed their tricks with a nonchalant air, as soon as they knew I was watching, eager for an audience.

My tummy was rumbling as I approached Gare de L’est, so I tried out my French by buying that lovely sort of bread which is cool in your mouth and has air holes. I had to open the cheese packet with my teeth because of course you can not bring a knife to France on the plane.

At Barbés there were peanuts for sale, fresh garlic, and limes. The people sharing the pavements with me looked as if they might well have been doing dodgy deals. There were potentially dangerous disputes erupting at every turn. 

A wonderful array of restaurants from around the world lined the streets, and I could have very easily exchanged all sorts of things or bought a cheap phone or a yam, or got hair extensions.

And then, a few paces on, I segue into a new area and I am amongst a different type of pedestrian. It is now quiet, no excitable voices, the women wear red lipstick, and their heels clack on the tarmac.

 Great art deco-type decoration on this Louxor Palais du Cinéma, Boulevard de Magenta.

At Monmartre there’s a man living in a tent on a roundabout. The sweet odours of May 1st holiday posies, lillies of the valley,  are everywhere, as are the police and their guns – presumably as a result of all the recent terrorist troubles.

Time is passing and it was starting to get dark.  My frequent photo stops, memo writing, and Google map consulting has somehow extended the predicted 1.5 hours to 5, and I am grateful that my hosts are understanding when I roll up really late. There’s a meal waiting, wine on the table, and much kindness directed my way.